Curing Polio and the Worthless Rich

Jonas SalkOn this day in 1902, the great actor Elsa Lanchester was born. In a career spanning 55 years, she made almost 100 films. A lot of people will know her from countless supporting roles like Mrs MacDougall, the nosy neighbor in That Darn Cat! But I have a crush on her for playing Mary Shelley and the Monster’s Bride in Bride of Frankenstein. She has that wonderful break in her teeth that is just adorable. But of course, she was so much more. Check her out in this great Dick Cavett interview. She’s charming in addition to everything else.

The actor Jack Soo was born in 1917. He is best known for being the very best part of one of the great sitcoms, Barney Miller. Here is the first part of the retrospective the show did after he died:

Bill Gates is 58 today. Along with Steve Jobs, he is the favorite example conservatives offer up as entrepreneurs. In a sense, they are right. But I don’t see it as a good thing. I’ve watched over the last 40 years as both men did far more to limit innovation than they did to produce it. And that’s what capitalism is all about. In general, innovation is hard. Most people don’t have that much in them. But a big corporation like Microsoft or Apple has more than it needs to crush the innovation that comes out of smaller companies. I’m not saying that Gates is an evil man. But he certainly has far more wealth than he deserves. And even more important, he should not be offered up as an example of an innovator who has helped society. There is not a single major innovation that we have Bill Gates (even indirectly) to thank for.

Other birthdays: costume designer Edith Head (1897); the great writer Evelyn Waugh (1903); the great painter Francis Bacon (1909); musician Charlie Daniels (1936); athlete Bruce Jenner (64); actor Annie Potts (61); actor Andy Richter (47); actor Julia Roberts (46); singer-songwriter Ben Harper (44); and actor Joaquin Phoenix (39).

On most days, this would be Elsa Lanchester’s. The day, however, belongs to the great virologist Jonas Salk who was born in 1914. I’m fascinated by diseases that were once so devastating but now are largely a thing of the past. One of the big ones is polio—even affecting the most famous 20th century American president. Salk (along with his own group of researchers and eventually thousands of others) developed the first successful polio vaccine. It was one of the great scientific triumphs of the 20th century.

Salk stands as the ultimate symbol for scientific greatness. He did work that helped millions of people. And just as important, he did not do it for profit. When Edward R. Murrow asked him, “Who owns this patent?” Salk famously replied, “No one. Could you patent the sun?” Of course, that didn’t stop his funder, National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later The March of Dimes), looking into patenting it. But Salk seemed to have no interest.

Happy birthday Jonas Salk!

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