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My daughter Pamela


Relationship with my mother in later life
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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My father really adapted to the United States very readily even though he had to learn English and practise again medicine and so on and liked the country. My mother never did. She was a typical Viennese refugee for whom, like thousands of others, most of them staying in New York, going to Viennese Konditorei and things like that... replicating Vienna in Manhattan, which of course you can do. There were so many others there who always thought everything was better in Vienna and an illusion of Vienna, which may never have existed, but certainly didn’t exist at that time. And had no use really for the United States and was very unhappy for the rest of her life there, and really stuck to me. I mean was with me because she wanted to basically own me, and she was not very happy with my first wife that I was married. The only time she didn’t live with us was when we were in Wisconsin, but then she wanted to move in with us. And my first wife tolerated it all, which I think was absolutely amazing, and then she came to Mexico with us. And then when I got divorced and came up with my new wife and baby she wanted to take over again. And my second wife, within a week or two there, she was still fairly vulnerable from just having a child... and this divorce, and I mean it was just last minute marriage and so on, and she said she couldn’t take it. Either... I’m going to have to choose between two women, either her or or my mother. By that time she had driven me to extreme because she blackmailed me in part through suicide threats, which she probably... I don’t know whether she ever meant them really and she certainly had, she had access to pills and so on. But she a couple of times took extra sleeping pills, but it was something she would kill. And I can’t take it any longer and we literally broke off. I said, you have to return to the United States. I’ll certainly support you, but I can’t... we can’t do that, and it essentially broke off.

And in some respects it was the best thing for her because she then decided to get a physician’s licence again and then practice medicine in a... in a hospital. So she was really self-supporting but we had no relations until late in her life when she probably had Alzheimer’s. And when I then visited her in New York she didn’t recognise me anymore and died a couple of years after that. So that was a very, you know, very complicated relationship. I mean she certainly was an extremely effective and I could say even good mother during my teenage things when we were still in Vienna when she, you know, she... There were no other men there anymore. We lived in a large apartment. My grandmother was there and then she died, but she... she had a good practice and everything else. So but that post-emigration thing was just horrible.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Alice Friedmann, Samuel Djerassi

Duration: 3 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008