Don Whitney - In His Own Words

Harvard Rememberance / Jack Lemmon

Click Here for Dad's Correspondance with Jack

..So I went home to Wyoming Road. Mother and Dad were delighted to see me, though they were somewhat concerned that I was being released from the Navy for some sort of medical reason. When I returned to Chelsea the next morning, I was told I needn't report again for a week. The next time it was extended to two weeks. I lived at home, and enjoyed an extended paid leave. Finally, in mid January I was given an honorable discharge and released to inactive duty. I immediately applied to resume my education at Harvard under the GI Bill.

When it was known that I would be getting out of the service, I told my folks that I wanted to buy a car with money I had saved from my Navy pay. Dad had put my name in at the local Ford dealer in the Fall in 1945, and it's fortunate he did. Cars were next to impossible to get, but on my birthday, January 18, I received a telephone call from the dealer that he had a car for me if I wanted it. It was a dark blue, two door Ford DeLuxe Sedan, and I jumped at it. I paid $1110.00, without a spare tire. That would provide my transportation to and from school. As it turned out, it satisfied an absolute requirement for one of the Astronomy courses I would be taking.

But now I had a problem. Though I had only completed five semesters at Harvard, the accelerated program I had taken there while in the V-12 program, coupled with the courses I took at Cornell and at Communications School, provided all the credits I needed for graduation except for one thing – I hadn't satisfied the Language Requirement. I decided to gamble on taking a course in French History, half of which would be given in French and the other half in English. The exams would be handled the same way; half of the questions would be asked in French, to be answered in English, and half would be asked in English, to be answered in French. Being February, I had to start with the second half of the course.

One of my astronomy courses for that semester was an observing course, using the telescopes at the Observatory in Harvard, Mass. This was about an hour's drive from Cambridge or Newton, and the observing sessions lasted all night. It was an interesting experience, but I didn't get much sleep.

That Spring I started dating a girl I had met at Church around Christmas time. Janet Stillman claims she had known me for years, but I had to have Mother introduce me to her at a church dinner. For me, it was an unlikely place to meet — I was not an enthusiastic churchgoer. Shortly after the New Year, Jan gave a party and I was invited. We began to date shortly thereafter.

One of my final exams for the Spring semester was given at Memorial Hall in Harvard Square. I remember parking my 1946 Ford near the Hall, and about 100 feet from a policeman directing traffic. When I came out from the exam, my car was gone. My first thought was that I had incorrectly remembered where I had parked it, but after a few minutes of increasing panic, the truth sunk in. My new car had been stolen. I took the subway to Police Headquarters in Central Square, and reported the theft. That evening, I remember listening on the police radio from any indication that my car had been recovered, but I heard nothing. Then came a phone call; the police had located my car, and had it towed to a garage in Medford. Dad drove me over, and I recovered the car, less the radio and some miscellaneous items that were inside. The thieves had jimmied open the side ventilator window, broken the steering wheel lock, jumped the starter switch, and driven off. I was lucky to get the car back in one piece.

As for my exams, I passed the French course, but not with a high enough grade to satisfy the Language requirement. I took the summer off, and my romance with Jan began to blossom. Our favorite date was to go to the Totem Pole Ballroom, which we did on a regular basis. During one of those Totem Pole dates in early Fall, we took out a canoe during intermission, and it was there that I proposed. Jan said ‘Yes' and we went together to Bigelow Kenard to buy the engagement ring. On October 2, 1946 we became officially engaged at a party given by Jan's folks.

In the fall Jan enrolled in Leland Powers School of Radio and Theater in Boston. I went back to Harvard and took the first half of the same French course, with the same result. I missed by just a single point on the final exam. It was during this semester that I took a course in Public Speaking with Professor Packard, held in the Germanic Museum. It was a small class, and I became friendly with a young fellow who I found to have a lot of appeal. I remember an amusing episode where we grouped into pairs, and were supposed to go into the radio studio and put on a commercial. My newfound friend and his partner did an advertisement for Packard's Funeral Parlor, which was hilarious. My friend's name was Jack Lemmon, and he was to go on to great fame in the theatrical field.

At the end of that semester, I had enough schooling; I wanted to get a job, and get married. I got a letter from Harvard saying that I had passed all the requirements for a degree in Astronomy, except for the Language Requirement. I was off to start a career.

Other Excerpts:
Notes from his Dad
Being sent to Camp
Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard
Glenn Miller
Asbury Park
Harvard Days / Remembering Jack Lemmon
The Totem Pole
Engagement to Jan
Starting at AO as an Apprentice Lens Designer
Why Dick was once named David



Full Autobiography:
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Updated on Jul 1999

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