Don Caspar on Jim Watson, Writer: Genes, Girls, and Gamow
  Don Caspar     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jan 2001

…I think he likes to stir things up. Yeah, obviously it [what he wrote in Genes, Girls, and Gamow]’s true in all the things he’s done but I suppose that this kind of agitation its often a way of, I think, of bringing things into clearer focus as far as the science is concerned. His attitude toward private life of his friends and acquaintances, it’s sort of got a bit of sort of character—a kind of Peeping Tom. Lets say I hope this has been removed, but in the earlier version [of Genes, Girls and Gamow] there was a bit I think was quite inappropriate about Hugh Huxley and John Kendrew’s wife that you know account of his sort of spying on what they were doing and the story about Peter Pauling and Julia [Lewis] that it was really a very tragic story. I think, lets say, it’s not enhancing sort of insight into character. It’s, it was a—I was certainly very found of Peter and had been in quite close contact with him and his various acquaintances in Cambridge. I was also very friendly with Mariette Robertson, Mariette Fay, and Linda Pauling, Linda Kamb. I think Mariette very sensibly said that she has no intention of reading Jim’s book and I think it’s not clear what, say—who would really be interested in it because its sort of overloaded with characters. It may be, lets say, have some curiosity to people who know some of the characters.

I don’t know. It strikes me more in the line of things like the National Enquirer. But, you know, it sort of prying into the private lives of notable people. But you see scientists are not, this, they’re still not the interest of, let’s say, Hollywood stars or British royalty.

I mean there is one thing in Jim’s book that I did sort of personally offensive that was the incident when I had gone to Birkbeck to—one of the things I was doing was tracking down virus crystals that were left over from work that Bernal and Fankuchen had started and—first of all I went to Rothamsted where Botand (??) and Perry (??) were and found crystals and virus samples that I used to start the work—the first thing use of crystal studies on tomato bushy stunt virus. And Harry Carlisle also had inherited samples from Bernal at Birkbeck. And I went there and sort of looked through the refrigerator and found some samples of bushy stunt virus also of turnip yellow mosaic virus. And, but at first, you know, my idea was, well you know I’d collect all these samples. Rosalind [Franklin] and Aaron [Klug] were obviously also very interested in the work of the virus structure. And, you know Rosalind said, you know, wait a minute, that they wanted to start some work on this. So I had come back to Cambridge and I was sort of a bit put off by the fact that I wasn’t bringing back all these samples with me. But I was in a very bad mood when I came back because I had just bought a new suit and when I was visiting Rosalind she had a Bunsen burner with a pilot light I was leaning on the counter and I set fire to my jacket. But as I say when I got back to Cambridge I was really in a pretty bad mood. And, you know, I couldn’t blame Rosalind because clearly it wasn’t her fault. I was very irritated and one of the things that Jim complained about me was that I never would find fault with any of my colleagues. That, you know, he thought it was inappropriate to sort of always look on the positive sides of one’s friends and associates. I think he—well, I think I must have said some things about this incident with Rosalind about not getting access to all the crystals that were in Harry Carlisle’s refrigerator.

Donald Caspar, structural biologist and crystallographer, is a professor emeritus of Biological Sciences at the Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida and is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Born on January 8, 1927, he received his B.A. in Physics from Cornell University in 1950, and his his Ph.D. in Biophysics from Yale University in 1955. Caspar is interested in protein adaptability, virus assembly, protein plasticity and x-ray diffraction. He currently researches the mechanics of protein movements by executing structural studies.

He has attended many symposia at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, starting in 1961, and worked with Watson at Caltech and Harvard. He is a member of the National Academy of Science. Dr. Casper is a long-time friend and colleague of Dr. James D. Watson as well as many of the early pioneers in molecular biology, including Dr. Rosalind Franklin.