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What do you talk about with a first wife whom you haven’t seen for 25 years?


Removing my first wife from my Who's Who entry
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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It was an inauspicious start of the marriage which 25 years later collapsed completely. But probably it collapsed in an emotional way many, many years before. But why do I tell you this long story? Because the story that one has to know about me, but it has something to do with this Who's Who business. My second wife, with whom I then had another child, my son Dale, three years later... and that was not an accidental child... felt very guilty about this, because for her it was adultery that I’d committed and where she was the third party in this. And I understand this. And she never met my first wife, but she wasn’t proud of what we did, so to speak. And she didn’t want to have anyone know that I’d married before, and particularly not this position that I married her really only, you know, a couple of weeks before she gave birth to a child. Now the fact that we moved to Mexico and did it in Mexico and then two years later moved back to the States, was of course very simple because the people that we knew... first of all, we didn’t have any common friends before and then we moved to another place and moved then to Michigan, so it was all very simple. So she didn’t... and I very early in my life was asked to present my biography for Who's Who, and she asked me not to mention... in fact she really basically asked me in so many words, just be Stalinist about it, erase it from my history, and I understood this although I was reluctant to do it, because my first wife did not deserve to be removed from... you know, like Trotsky was from Soviet history, because Trotsky played a big role... this is a bad metaphor because there is nothing Trotskyite about my wife. Trotsky I only picked because he got murdered in Mexico by Stalin... but I agreed to it. So when you look at my Who's Who in terms of dates, I moved the marriage back one year, so my daughter was born in 1950 and I moved the marriage to 1949 although it was really just a couple of weeks later.

So once having done this, you don’t correct this very easily and it is rather funny that where some people met me in the middle '40s when I had been married to my first wife for six years, and then they met the second wife eight years later, because it was this transition in Mexico and so on, and they knew her very little and they thought it was the same woman but she looked somewhat different and I, of course, never let on... and I remember there was an Englishmen who was so very puzzled because he kept telling my... 'You know, we met before,' and my wife said, 'No, we have not met before.' It was another wife. And I didn’t clarify this, not for a long time.

So she was not in my Who's Who, but then when I got divorced 25 years later, there was no reason to sanitise this. Furthermore she never wanted me to have any contact with my first wife, and I didn’t because I just... I  went along with that because I understood that this was not maliciousness. It was a much more complex feeling on the part of my second wife not to want to deal with that subject. And I could understand that.

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: Mexico, United States, Dale Djerassi, Norma Lundholm

Duration: 4 minutes

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008