Join 3,520 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The FBI has a "Do Not Contact" List?
June 6, 2012 2:55 PM   Subscribe

The Feynman Files. For the first time, FBI records for Dr Richard Feynman have been released to the public. They document the Bureau's apparent obsession in the 1950's with outing him as a communist sympathizer, and include notations from several background checks as well as interviews with his colleagues, friends and acquaintances.
posted by zarq (43 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are 361 pages, and at least some of the information in them is redacted. However, page 64 notes that a 1956 Los Angeles Times article explained why Feynman's wife had petitioned for a divorce:
"...the appointee's wife was granted a divorce from him because of appointee's constantly working calculus problems in his head as soon as awake, while driving car, sitting in living room, and so forth, and that his one hobby was playing his African drums. His ex-wife reportedly testified that on several occasions when she unwittingly disturbed either his calculus or his drums he flew into a violent rage, during which time he attacked her, threw pieces of bric-a-brac about and smashed the furniture.

posted by zarq at 2:59 PM on June 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


Surely You're Joking a Communist, Mr. Feynman!
posted by axiom at 3:10 PM on June 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


I thought it was common knowledge that he was feeding valuable bongo secrets to the Republic of Tuva the whole time.
posted by theodolite at 3:13 PM on June 6, 2012 [14 favorites]


Anyone smart or independent minded is apparently under suspicion, where the FBI's concerned. That alone should tell you something about the values that particular institution really holds dear.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:16 PM on June 6, 2012 [22 favorites]


I was a bit startled about the "choking" of his wife in the divorce complaint. I was also surprised that there was no mention of his womanizing, which was referenced in his biography by Glieck, beyond pg. 228 of the report,
"..about Dr. Feynman at various times had been visited in his, Dr. Feynman' s. apartment by certain ladies, but he) J did not know the identities of these ladies or the purpose of their visits."
posted by jadepearl at 3:29 PM on June 6, 2012


Subversion of America must be stopped. Realistically that would mean the FBI has to be stopped, or fixed.

For longer than I've been alive, people like nuns, and peace protestors, and hippies too high to even tie their own shoelaces, have been consistently targeted as dire threats to national security. Wow, committed pacifists are soooo terrifying to this (apparently-not-so) mighty nation.

Wouldn't it be nice to get all the axe-grindiness and political corruption and politically-motivated vindictiveness and blindness out of institutions like the FBI?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:46 PM on June 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


It starts getting interesting around p. 110, where there is a vicious attack on Feynman, apparently written by one of his friends or acquaintances:

I believe that this man is a master of deception, and that his greatest talent lies in intrigue, not in physics. In matters of intrigue Richard Feynman is, I believe, immensely clever -- indeed a genius -- and he is, I further believe, completely ruthless, unhampered by morals, ethics, or religion -- and will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve his ends.

If this man is not a loyal citizen, he is extremely dangerous from the standpoint that he possesses an unusual personal magnetism which enables him to charm or fascinate individual persons or groups if he chooses to do so and to convince them of whatever he wishes them to believe about himself or about the ideas which he wishes to present. [..] He is a superb showman and he counts heavily, I believe, on his reputation of being funny and on his disarming, boyish manner to cover activities he does not want the world to know. And he apparently deliberately seems to cultivate the appearance of being careless, happy-go-lucky, and absent-minded for a number of reasons -- in part, it would seem, because these are effective devices for keeping people from looking beneath the surface -- and because they make more acceptable the fact that he often breaks his word.

posted by verstegan at 4:06 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Haha the passage verstegan quotes reads like so much haterade. YOU MAD [ANONYMOUS FORMER COLLEAGUE] BRO?!
posted by basicchannel at 4:11 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be honest, that second paragraph sounds like some thoughts I had after reading SYJMF! and thinking about what might be between the lines.
posted by fleacircus at 4:20 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sounds like it was written by someone whose safe he cracked in Los Alamos.
posted by Spatch at 4:21 PM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


and will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve his ends.
Fortunately, those ends were basic physics and bongo playing.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:25 PM on June 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


Wasn't Richard Feynman basically a "Pick-Up Artist" before that was a thing?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:33 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love the FOIA tag but perhaps an FBI file tag too for the FBI's special brand of crazy and stupid, such as Ernest Hemingway's FBI file.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:38 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your tax dollars at work.
posted by John Cohen at 4:43 PM on June 6, 2012


Feynman is on record as having been solicited by Harry Gold (who ran both Klaus Fuchs and David Greenglass, the Los Alamos spies) to give information over and he said, basically, that he didn't want to have anything to do with it. (Gold channeled his information through Julius Rosenburg, which Ethel, we are told, typed up.)

That said, there was a large effort by the cold war hawks to discredit the Los Alamos scientists, who were, by and large, speaking against the aggressive use of the bomb. (Even Edward Teller, for a while.) They were portrayed as eggheads who were out of touch from political reality; their apoliticism was cast as being disloyal. And the fact that most of them were Jews in the 1950s was just icing on the cake to the FBI, where it was probably considered common knowledge that Jews are loyal to their Russian brethren, and thus, to Soviets.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:44 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The man played the bongos. That's a beatnik right there.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:00 PM on June 6, 2012


For longer than I've been alive, people like nuns, and peace protestors, and hippies too high to even tie their own shoelaces, have been consistently targeted as dire threats to national security. Wow, committed pacifists are soooo terrifying to this (apparently-not-so) mighty nation.

I'm not dismissing your point, but it's worthwhile to remember that you're seeing this from a post-Cold War "beating the Soviets was inevitable in hindsight" perspective. Deep in the 50s and 60s, when there were plenty of people on both sides with itchy trigger fingers and a LOT of nuclear weapons ready to roll, hippies and pacifists were plausible (not likely, but plausible) collaborators with the Soviets who had made very extensive efforts to infiltrate American institutions. That it was vastly overblown by the Red Scare and McCarthy's ilk (and J.E. Hoover), that doesn't mean the Soviets weren't trying.

And it also doesn't mean that, in 1955 or 1965, the jury really was out on whether western-style capitalism or Soviet-style single party command economies had more staying power.
posted by chimaera at 5:02 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


That it was vastly overblown by the Red Scare and McCarthy's ilk (and J.E. Hoover), that doesn't mean the Soviets weren't trying.

So you agree that it was vastly overblown to be targeting Richard Feynman?
posted by DU at 5:32 PM on June 6, 2012


I do agree that it was vastly overblown to be targeting Richard Feynman.

I deleted a paragraph that followed the gist of which was that even in the Cold War, the FBI collected info on major figures who seemed insufficiently zealous about the US, when total annihilation was a very real prospect, and nowadays they seem to have no problem disappearing people entirely to Guantanamo after a bunch of assholes, at their most successful ever attack, killed a few thousand, and what that says about modern political reality in America being arguably worse now than in the Cold War.
posted by chimaera at 5:43 PM on June 6, 2012


Man, the 1950s sucked - if you weren't a conformist WASP, there'd be plenty of people who would brand you a god-hating, anti-American Communist.

But unless there's actually something very juicy and unexpected in the redacted sections, the core of the above complaint seems to be that Feynman was not religious, not a true Republican (he even made fun of president Eisenhower, for jeerer's sake!), and he did things that normal people just don't do. (You don't say!?)

That being said, while the accusations drip of overblown paranoia, they do have some foundation.

Yes, he did cultivate a reputation for picking locks at Los Alamos. On its face, that's the kind of thing that could get your average Joe arrested and convicted of espionage right there. But in Feynman's case, he had direct access to much of the sensitive information through his work there, and was providing a lot of the content himself anyway. And if his books are a true account, he seems to have repeatedly divulged the weaknesses in their security that he was finding (even leaving notes that he had been the culprit).

Yes, he did write letters in code while working at Los Alamos (the letters were to his dying wife). And while this is in keeping with his playful, boy-geniuous, rule-breaking persona... you'd also think he'd be smart enough to know not to mess around with such things during a time of war while working on one of the most sensitive and important projects ever.

And on one of his trips out of Los Alamos to see his dying wife, he borrowed the car from someone who later turned out to be a spy (and IIRC a communist sympathizer) who snuck military secrets out of the base in... the very car Feynman borrowed.

And yes, Feynman even wrote about a long term plan to befriend a locksmith, win his trust, and subtly drop a few offhand comments about lock-picking in order to pump the guy for secrets that he might not otherwise divulge except in confidence to a 'friend'. Even more suspiciously, IIRC specifically Feynman was interested in how the locksmith opened one of the most important safes on the base (the general's safe) without tools... turns out he tried the default combination.

So yes, cultivating a playful reputation as a rule-breaker who picked locks and wrote in code for fun would indeed be an excellent prophylaxis against getting caught, i.e. a great way to hide in plain sight.

But without any evidence of actual wrong-doing, none of this really speaks to him being a communist or disloyal.

Rather, it is far more likely that it is exactly what it appears to be - the behavior of an exceptionally intelligent, independent thinker who didn't care for authority or conformity. Yes, of course someone who did calculus in his head for fun would be in a better position to see more moves ahead than your average Joe and use that to his advantage (e.g. manipulate people). And no doubt he got away with a lot of things others could not, simply by virtue of his fame and position.

So yes, those accusations do make a compelling reason for keeping him away from a dog-and-pony political appointment by the president, but not for the reasons stated. Feynman (as far as I'm aware) was not a communist or disloyal; but he was an unpredictable loose cannon. But although he's not the guy you'd want photographed shaking hands with the president, he's most certainly the guy you want telling Niels Bohr why his assumptions about the Manhattan Project are wrong, and definitely the guy you'd want on, say, the review of the Challenger disaster... someone who will speak his mind, damn the consequences.

(Highly recommend: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!)
posted by Davenhill at 5:52 PM on June 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


...during which time he... threw pieces of bric-a-brac about...

* bric-à-brac (origin French), curios such as elaborately decorated teacups and small vases, feathers, wax flowers under glass domes, eggshells, statuettes, painted miniatures or photographs, and so on

No ordinary genius, indeed.
posted by rh at 6:01 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Man, the 1950s sucked

Yeah. The government would never do anything like this today.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:04 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Man, the 1950s sucked - if you weren't a conformist WASP, there'd be plenty of people who would brand you a god-hating, anti-American Communist.

Whereas today if you're not an evangelical conservative, you're branded a god-hating, anti-American communist.

Progress!
posted by dirigibleman at 6:29 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was also surprised that there was no mention of his womanizing, which was referenced in his biography by Glieck

Also see the wonderful autobiographical work, "Surely you're horny, Mr. Feynman"

Seriously, every other story in that book is him talking about picking up different women. The book is dripping with ego, and at the same time a certain kind of awkward social naivety. It's an interesting look into genius, and regardless of its flaws, the last chapter on responsibility and ethics in science makes it worth it.
posted by formless at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wasn't Richard Feynman basically a "Pick-Up Artist" before that was a thing?

Swear to god, there's an entire chapter on negging in SYJMF!
posted by formless at 6:53 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a big kid. Not surprising.

Also: Bric-a-brac Bric-a-brac Bric-a-brac
posted by Trochanter at 7:34 PM on June 6, 2012


A lot of the material dates to a period when he was being considered for an appointment as scientific advisor to President Eisenhower. And yeah, it's funny to us now that he was picking safes at the Manhattan project, but should the army have presumed that he was (a) a good guy; (b) absolutely discreet, even when talking to his colleagues; (c) always careful to re-secure classified material?

As it turns out the Manhattan Project had been penetrated and nuclear information was being sent to the USSR. It may have helped the Soviet nuclear program; it certainly helped their assessment of Western technology. Feynman was going out of his way to attract attention - of course they investigated it. This was their job. His innocent japes may have distracted counterintelligence forces from real spies, but in any event there was absolutely nothing surprising in the fact that he was an object of suspicion then, or later.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:49 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Who are you and how did you get in here?"

"I'm a locksmith. And I'm a locksmith."
posted by kirkaracha at 7:55 PM on June 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah. The government would never do anything like this today.
The same thought crossed my mind. But there are degrees of difference, like racism in the 1950s vs. today, or Cold War paranoia vs. paranoia over terrorism.

FWIW I meant that commend for Feynman's accusers, not the government. If an embittered former acquaintance wanted to ruin your career in the 1950s, they could write a letter to the FBI and accuse you of being a communist. Being a "communist" was a thought crime that didn't require much more evidence than accusations or a few questionable associations. And if the label stuck, you could be blacklisted, have your career ruined, and be shunned from former colleagues and friends who didn't want to risk the same fate.

Also, in the 1950s it was much easier to run afoul of the more narrowly defined standards of what a 'good American' was, e.g. a conformist WASP. Businesses could advertise that Catholics, Irishmen, and non-Christians need not apply for jobs (to say nothing of more conspicuous ethnic minorities). If you were Jewish, you could graduate top of your class at an Ivy League law school and get absolutely zero job offers from the mainstream WASPy firms; you had to work for a Jewish firm, and usually you were at the bottom of the food chain, in terms of work and clients. I doubt it was much better in Academia. If you were Jewish, being lucky enough to get a foot in the door also implied that you already had one foot outside the door; you were much easier to get rid of if you didn't fit in.

The accusation that Feynman was an atheist is very damning; the 1950s was the decade when we stuck "In God We Trust" on our money and inserted "under God" into the pledge of allegiance. Godlessness was practically synonymous with communisms, e.g. "godless commie".

Today, calling someone a "communist" just sounds like a knee-jerk name that a frustrated redneck pulls from the recesses of a childhood brain when they can't articulate why it is they hate you. But it's more on par with "your momma's a whore" than "you're an al Qaida sympathizer".

But even calling someone an al Qaida sympathizer isn't really analogous, as such an association is presumptively associated with specific religious and ethnic minorities.

But calling someone an atheist... yeah, I agree, that would still probably prevent you from receiving a prominent presidential appointment.
posted by Davenhill at 8:15 PM on June 6, 2012


I'm not dismissing your point, but it's worthwhile to remember that you're seeing this from a post-Cold War "beating the Soviets was inevitable in hindsight" perspective.

I don't think I am - I held (and hold) the same views on targeting peace protestors in lead-up to and at the height of the War On Terror, when the country was terrified of being nuked by arabs. I'm seeing this from the point of view that America ought to stand for what it claims to stand for, even if this occasionally requires getting a spine and not being completely gutless about things.

Most importantly, the cold war cannot excuse this behavior, because we will always have (or imagine) a terrifying bogeyman de jour. Fear is the norm for Americans, not the exception.

Deep in the 50s and 60s, when there were plenty of people on both sides with itchy trigger fingers and a LOT of nuclear weapons ready to roll, hippies and pacifists were plausible (not likely, but plausible) collaborators with the Soviets who had made very extensive efforts to infiltrate American institutions.

That doesn't ring true on myriad levels. They were also less plausible collaborators than many people who got a pass from investigation on the grounds of Not Wearing Jeans, or (pretending to have) FBI-approved political views. The FBI was (is?) like the caricature GOP fanatic who is genuinely convinced libruls are plotting to destroy the USA, thus spying on Americans for political reasons is absolutely critical. The genuineness (or maliciousness) of that belief doesn't make it plausible, nor is it any kind of defense.

(The jeans example is real, by the way, but was a different agency, not the FBI. Agency culture was so insular and removed from reality that people were told to be suspicious of anyone who wore jeans. I'm pretty sure this was because Good Folk only mingled with Good Folk, so anyone not in a suit was Other, and the only people you meet other than those Good Folk you mingle with, are suspects. Human cognition takes the error from there and runs with it.)

FWIW, I think the political repression by the FBI stems not as entirely from poltically-blinkered fear of people they don't like collaborating with enemies (though yeah, things were so crazy that sleepers were taken seriously), but also a lot of fear that these people with their different political views could spread those empty-headed foolish dangerous librul politics to other Americans, and those voters could weaken the resolve of the nation (by opposing nuclear arsenal, for example) and thus invite attack. It's a thoroughly reprehensible abuse of power and politics however you slice it.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:15 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Surely you're horny, Mr. Feynman

I believe the title is "Horny for Shirley? Mr Feynman"
posted by zippy at 11:20 PM on June 6, 2012


The War against Communism is the old War on Terror.
posted by three blind mice at 1:58 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Deep in the 50s and 60s, when there were plenty of people on both sides with itchy trigger fingers and a LOT of nuclear weapons ready to roll, hippies and pacifists were plausible (not likely, but plausible) collaborators with the Soviets who had made very extensive efforts to infiltrate American institutions.

Two things: a) the overwhelming majority of those nuclear weapons were American until far into the seventies -- there never was a missile gap and b) anybody with any clue knew that the Soviets would never use hippies or pacifists or anybody else any halfway paranoid security establishment would immediately distrust -- if only because the KGB was as busy persecuting russian beatniks as the feds were American.

It's more that hippies and other Damned Things like that just don't fit the neat classification of good and bad American that the system cannot help but react paranoid to them; it can handle commies, what it can't handle is dropouts.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:02 AM on June 7, 2012


Richard Feynman, secret agent! posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:03 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be fair, I'd be incredibly concerned if the government wasn't completely paranoid about its scientists who knew how to (and had access to the materials to) build a nuclear device.

A lot of the FBI's posturing was clearly ridiculous (and indicative of the time), but I'm pretty sure that it beat the alternative.
posted by schmod at 6:47 AM on June 7, 2012


Also see the wonderful autobiographical work, "Surely you're horny, Mr. Feynman"

Seriously, every other story in that book is him talking about picking up different women.


You beat me to it. Few autobiographies, short of Casanova's, have been as candid about their subject's sex drive as SYAJMF. No need to read other biographers or FBI files to learn about Feynman's compulsive womanising (which was probably driven by the trauma of losing his first wife, more than anything else).
posted by Skeptic at 7:42 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It starts getting interesting around p. 110, where there is a vicious attack on Feynman, apparently written by one of his friends or acquaintances:

Could that be Teller? Those two certainly never liked each other much, didn't they?
posted by Skeptic at 7:49 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is unsurprising (and the thing itself is pretty interesting), but each time we see something like this, we are supposed to ask what differentiates it from out-and-out Stasi shit.

Were the people working at Los Alamos given the option of doing so, and informed that they would be subject to clandestine scrutiny, or were they assigned, against their will, to a job which, unbeknownst to them, entailed the loss of their privacy?

I can't really even believe there is a discussion, here. The FBI are police. Police are supposed to investigate crimes that have already been committed. Police are not supposed to conduct investigations when there is no reason to believe that a crime was committed. In particular, it seems illegitimate to use law enforcement to vet potential presidential appointees, or to do many of the other things illustrated by the FOIA stuff on MuckRock.

(Based on the p. 110 stuff about letters "in code", I'm also wondering what secret informants would say about me and the numerous other PGP users if the FBI took an interest. The notion that protecting one's own privacy is inherently suspicious is incredibly fucked, especially since the suspicion-havers know full well why totally innocent folks would take measures to ensure their own privacy.)
posted by kengraham at 9:05 AM on June 7, 2012


I thought the death of his wife was used to frame the womanizing as understandable otherwise, it is unappealing. I just thought the disturbing sections of SYJMF were simply a true expression of his personality and feelings towards women; controlling and contemptuous.
posted by jadepearl at 11:48 AM on June 7, 2012



Seriously, every other story in that book is him talking about picking up different women.

You beat me to it. Few autobiographies, short of Casanova's, have been as candid about their subject's sex drive as SYAJMF. No need to read other biographers or FBI files to learn about Feynman's compulsive womanising (which was probably driven by the trauma of losing his first wife, more than anything else).


W... what? Maybe it's been longer than I thought since I read the book, but the only talk of womanizing I remember is in the chapter about getting taught how to pick up girls in bars. I guess I'll have to re-read it soon, but just to satisfy my curiosity, can anyone remind me of the other picking-up-women stuff?
posted by Juffo-Wup at 1:41 PM on June 7, 2012


Let me pull a relevant section from Surely Your Joking, Mr. Feynman:
Well, someone only has to give me the principle, and I get the idea. All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic.

Then that night I was ready to try it out. I go into the bar as usual, and right away my friend says, “Hey, Dick! Wait’ll you see the girl I got tonight! She had to go change her clothes, but she’s coming right back.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I say, unimpressed, and I sit at another table to watch the show. My friend’s girl comes in just as the show starts, and I’m thinking, “I don’t give a damn how pretty she is; all she’s doing is getting him to buy her drinks, and she’s going to give him nothing!”

After the first act my friend says, “Hey, Dick! I want you to meet Ann. Ann, this is a good friend of mine, Dick Feynman.”

I say “Hi” and keep looking at the show.

A few moments later Ann says to me, “Why don’t you come and sit at the table here with us?”

I think to myself, “Typical bitch: he’s buying her drinks, and she’s inviting somebody else to the table.” I say, “I can see fine from here.”

A little while later a lieutenant from the military base nearby comes in, dressed in a nice uniform. It isn’t long, before we notice that Ann is sitting over on the other side of the bar with the lieutenant!

Later that evening I’m sitting at the bar, Ann is dancing with the lieutenant, and when the lieutenant’s back is toward me and she’s facing me, she smiles very pleasantly to me. I think again, “Some bitch! Now she’s doing this trick on the lieutenant even!”

Then I get a good idea: I don’t look at her until the lieutenant can also see me, and then I smile back at her, so the lieutenant will know what’s going on. So her trick didn’t work for long.

A few minutes later she’s not with the lieutenant any more, but asking the bartender for her coat and handbag, saying in a loud, obvious voice, “I’d like to go for a walk. Does anybody want to go for a walk with me?”

I think to myself, “You can keep saying no and pushing them off, but you can’t do it permanently, or you won’t get anywhere. There comes a time when you have to go along.” So I say coolly, “I’ll walk with you.” So we go out. We walk down the street a few blocks and see a cafe, and she says, “I’ve got an idea — let’s get some coffee and sandwiches, and go over to my place and eat them.”

The idea sounds pretty good, so we go into the cafe and she orders three coffees and three sandwiches and I pay for them. As we’re going out of the cafe, I think to myself, “Something’s wrong: too many sandwiches!”

On the way to her motel she says, “You know, I won’t have time to eat these sandwiches with you, because a lieutenant is coming over…” I think to myself, “See, I flunked. The master gave me a lesson on what to do, and I flunked. I bought her $1.10 worth of sandwiches, and hadn’t asked her anything, and now I know I’m gonna get nothing! I have to recover, if only for the pride of my teacher.”

I stop suddenly and I say to her, “You… are worse than a WHORE!”

“Whaddya mean?”

‘“You got me to buy these sandwiches, and what am I going to get for it? Nothing!”

“Well, you cheapskate!” she says. “If that’s the way you feel, I’ll pay you back for the sandwiches!”

I called her bluff: “Pay me back, then.”

She was astonished. She reached into her pocketbook, took out the little bit of money that she had and gave it to me. I took my sandwich and coffee and went off.

After I was through eating, I went back to the bar to report to the master. I explained everything, and told him I was sorry that I flunked, but I tried to recover.

He said very calmly, “It’s OK, Dick; it’s all right. Since you ended up not buying her anything, she’s gonna sleep with you tonight.”

“What?”

“That’s right,” he said confidently; “she’s gonna sleep with you. I know that.”

“But she isn’t even here! She’s at her place with the lieu —”

“It’s all right.”

Two o’clock comes around, the bar closes, and Ann hasn’t appeared. I ask the master and his wife if I can come over to their place again. They say sure. Just as we’re coming out of the bar, here comes Ann, running across Route 66 toward me. She puts her arm in mine, and says, “Come on, let’s go over to my place.”

The master was right. So the lesson was terrific!

Feynman continues:

When I was back at Cornell in the fall, I was dancing with the sister of a grad student, who was visiting from Virginia. She was very nice, and suddenly I got this idea: “Let’s go to a bar and have a drink,” I said.

On the way to the bar I was working up nerve to try the master’s lesson on an ordinary girl. After all, you don’t feel so bad disrespecting a bar girl who’s trying to get you to buy her drinks — but a nice, ordinary, Southern girl?

We went into the bar, and before I sat down, I said, “Listen, before I buy you a drink, I want to know one thing: Will you sleep with me tonight?”

“Yes.”

So it worked even with an ordinary girl! But no matter how effective the lesson was, I never really used it after that. I didn’t enjoy doing it that way. But it was interesting to know that things worked much differently from how I was brought up.
So, it is not a pretty picture. Glieck references the complications of his entanglements in the biography, Genius, but the biography by Krause goes into more detail. In the case of Glieck it served as the scenario set up for Feynman to be wistful of a picture of his dead first wife Arline Nussbaum in a swimsuit. This is what I can recall from reading Genius 10+ years ago so you may want to double-check.
posted by jadepearl at 2:52 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let me pull a relevant section from Surely Your Joking, Mr. Feynman:

Absolutely; that's the chapter I *do* remember it being discussed in.

I think there might be a misunderstanding; I was referring to formless' statement that "every other story in that book is him talking about picking up different women," where "that book" is Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. And in that book, outside of the chapter from which your excerpt was taken, I don't remember [but could well be wrong] any other mentions of picking up women.

I haven't read the Glieck or Krause books, although I will probably do so out of general interest now that I know about them :).
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:46 PM on June 7, 2012


I recall that when Feynman visits Portugal he was asked if he had acquired a "sleeping dictionary" yet. I can't recall whether it goes into his womanising in that country.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:19 PM on June 7, 2012


« Older Microsoft at E3....  |  Launched just last week, Calli... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments