Often when I do post-show discussions, audience members ask me about books that will allow them to dig deeper into the historical events that inspire a play.
For The Farnsworth Invention, this is particularly important since there are many vital differences between Aaron Sorkin’s play and the history. Later this week I’ll post more about those differences. In the meantime, below is a list of books and films the cast and crew read or watched in preparation for the play.
Our favorite book is the Schwartz book, which tells both the stories of Farnsworth and Sarnoff much like
the play does. Other key books include those authored by Farnsworth’s wife, Elma ‘Pem’ Gardner Farnsworth, and George Everson, one of Farnsworth’s original financial backers. Enjoy!
- The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit and the Birth of Television – Evan I. Schwartz
- Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery of an Invisible Frontier – Elma G. Farnsworth
- The Story of Television, the Life of Philo T. Farnsworth – George Everson
- The Boy Who Invented Television – Paul W. Schatzkin
- The History of Television, 1880 to 1941 – Albert Abrahamson
- The General: David Sarnoff and the Rise of the Communication Industry – Kenneth Bilby
- Television: A Struggle for Power – Frank C. Waldrop and Joseph Borkin
- The First Principles of Television – A. Dinsdale
- Tube: The Invention of Television – David E. Fisher and Marshall Jon Fisher
- Philo T. Farnsworth: The Father of Television – Donald G. Godfrey
- Acceptance and Dedication of the Statue of Philo T. Farnsworth – House Document 101-188
- Television: Window to the World, The History Channel
- Big Dream Small Screen: The Story Behind Television, PBS, American Experience
Maren Robinson is the dramaturg for TimeLine’s The Farnsworth Invention.
“there are many vital differences between Aaron Sorkin’s play and the history. ”
Nice to see somebody associated with the production actually admit that.
I will second that.
Thanks for the comments! TimeLine strives to provide our audiences with the information they need to enjoy and learn more about our plays and the history that inspired them, so we have mentioned that there are differences between Sorkin’s play and the truth of history through info in our program books, study guide and discussions, and by answering questions as they come up. And this Friday, look for a new blog post from dramaturg Maren Robinson with a more in-depth look at the relationship between art and history.
That’s all well and good, but there are some of us who just question the point of presenting an “historical drama” when it is — as you seem willing to admit — such a distortion of the actual history.
There is a true story here, somewhere, and the real tragedy of this play is that it uses so much of what is true to deliver such a false conclusion (as embodied, for example, in the Farnsworth’s character’s concession to Sarnoff that the un-named engineer who “accidentally” baked Zworykin’s first photocathode plate is the real ‘inventor’ of television…).
The playwright is well aware of the decades-long effort to “set the record straight,” but rather than take a stride in that direction, this play pretty well reiterates the party line that has been handed down by the corporate victors’ PR department.
There is a case to be made that Philo Farnsworth singlehandedly invented television, and that his was an achievement of epic proportions worthy of historical notice. This play does nothing to advance that case.
So I’ll be interested to read Maren Robinson’s “in depth look at the relationship between art and history.” Just, please, don’t bend over too far backward to support the justification stated in this play by the Sarnoff character that “the end always justifies the means…”
name me one dramatization of history that is NOT a distortion of the truth.
truth is elusive, shifting, inconstant; it’s something that, in drama and music and literature and… everything (ha) is a point of contention, of perspective. this play was not intended to set the record straight because the idea of philo’s truth is, in itself, a matter of point of view.
the struggle of the underdog and the miracle of humanity are the focus of sorkin’s writing pretty much across the board. these are the things that fascinate him. one man’s struggle is a fight that is overshadowed, an accomplishment that gets swallowed up by the whole. but really, farnsworth didn’t single-handedly invent television even if zworykin, etc. hadn’t come along – he piggybacked on the progress of other great men: of edison, of tesla, etc. the point of the play is that all progress is a collective effort. all ideas belong to everyone. all accomplishments are a product of the whole; of generations of struggle, failure, and human resilience.
or maybe I’m wrong. either way, though – I urge you not to get wrapped up in the validity of producing historical dramas that may not be 100% accurate. you might lose the truth in trying to find the facts.