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The Leopold and Loeb case


Newspapers, school and religion
James Watson Scientist
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[Q] What age were you when you were reading newspapers?

Probably... well, certainly, you know, the war broke out in '39 and I was then 11. I was reading... I know I was reading actively then. I was certainly aware of the Spanish Civil War, which was ended in '38, so by ten, and I think we got... I don't know how we got Time magazine, but that was certainly in the house. And Life magazine came in, so certainly Life was when we went into the war, that wasn't until '41, that's the time of Pearl Harbor, then I would have been a very active reader.

[Q] Right. So what about school?

School was at a local, it was called Horace Mann Grammar School. We lived in a neighborhood, probably where in '33 some of the houses might have been pre-World War I, but there were still vacant lots about, so there were still some building sites and, I think, the grammar school I went to was thought to be a good one. You know, no one had felt... it was the Irish, there were no Italians in the neighborhood, it was Irish, Jewish, German. So the Irish kids went to Our Lady of Peace Parochial School, and maybe 10% of my class was Jewish, the Press twins, Charlie Frankel, who was a good friend of mine, he afterwards became a journalist in Honolulu. And I was conscious of them being Jewish, only because of the Jewish holidays, when we would have school but no real work. So there'd be no exams, so during the Jewish holidays, school was, sort of, fun.

[Q] But was school of interest to you? Was this something you enjoyed?

I liked it. I think I went off, I couldn't sing, in the gymnasium I was very weak, that is I couldn't do push-ups, I couldn't do pull-ups, maybe finally I did. I was probably, compared to the average boy, one or two years retarded in, you know, when I started to grow, so I was shorter than my sister whose final height was 5.2. So...

[Q] Were you picked on?

No, not much. Someone said that was to be an advantage. I was in a co-educational school. If I had been in a boys only it would have been harder, so... and I might have been picked on more because I was small. I was always slightly frightened by the boys who went to the nearby Parochial school, which if you'd meet them on the street, you know, I would have thought they would have gone after me because when I was 8 or 9, I was taken on Sunday to church because my mother was a Roman Catholic. I was given religious instruction for First Communion, and which I think was 10, and then I began, you know, going and saying prayers and going to confession.

[Q] Were you a believer then?

I don't think so. Well, hard to say. I know by 11 I stopped going to church. Maybe it was 12, but on Sunday mornings I'd go bird-watching with my father and it was aided by the fact that his dislike for the Church, so Fr Coughlin's magazine, weekly magazine, was on sale right outside the church on Sundays and my father detested Fr Coughlin.

[Q] He didn't go to church, I take it.

Oh no, my father would have described himself, I think, as an agnostic, you know. He didn't... couldn't know there was no God, but didn't see any reason for believing it and had a particular dislike for the Catholic Church because he was very pro-England and, of course, the Catholic Church where everyone, in where I was, was Irish. And, you know, the Irish problem was something I was... no one ever talked about it, but, you know, my father was big friends for the United States for France and England. And so, when Fr Pacelli became Pope Pius, I know my father disliked him because, I think, you know, he'd been in Germany before and my father liked Jews. My mother was essentially reasonable, she never saw any, and I don't think ever had any Jewish friends but my father did, probably starting with Leopold and Loeb.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Martin Raff Walter Gratzer

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Tags: Time, Life, Horace Mann Grammar School, Charlie Frankel

Duration: 7 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010