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Carpet Cleaner Wins Nobel, but Only Briefly

October 14, 1987|From Associated Press

When carpet cleaner Donald O. Cram was awakened at 6:10 a.m. today by a call from Sweden congratulating him on winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, he laughed heartily and then hung up.

"I thought it was a joke, a very well-done joke with the accent, the long distance, the background noise," said Cram, a 38-year-old carpet cleaner. " 'This is great' is what I said, but what I meant was it was a very well-done prank."

But when Tord Ganelius, secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences of Stockholm, called right back, Cram realized the joke was not on him. The academy had confused him with Donald J. Cram, a 68-year-old professor at UCLA who was the real recipient.

"That is incredible," the real winner said when a reporter told him about the mix-up. "I'm really tickled. There is some chemistry involved in carpet cleaning, but it's a little different than my brand."

It wasn't the first time the two Crams had given rise to confusion. In the late 1960s when Donald O. was a chemistry student at USC and Donald J. was a professor at UCLA, they got mail addressed to the other and misdirected telephone calls.

"Once I sent a note to him saying the city was not big enough for both of us," said the carpet cleaning Cram, who lives in Altadena and operates ServiceMaster carpet cleaning service in Pasadena.

"He said we'd meet at high noon and shoot it out," laughed the Nobel Prize-winning Cram. "That was 15 or 20 years ago."

The two have never met, but the carpet-cleaning Cram once met the wife of the Nobel-winning Cram, he recalled.

"Once, when I was in the American Chemistry Society," he said, "I went to a meeting and a woman came up to me who was quite a bit older than I was. She said, 'You're the young man I wanted to see,' and gave me a hug. I wasn't married then. And then I saw her name tag. It said Mrs. Donald Cram."

During Cram's second phone conversation with the Swedish Academy, "I asked if he was calling for a professor at UCLA and he said he wasn't sure. Now I got a bachelor's in chemistry in 1971 from USC, but I'm sure none of my undergraduate work was of Nobel quality, so I told him, 'I'm not the Donald Cram that you want.' "

The carpet-cleaning Cram, father of three and expecting a fourth child, said his children thought the mix-up was "great." The youngest, Anna Marie, 4, "already thought I was famous," he said.

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