Out of high school, Oppenheimer sold ladies' fur coats until Terman helped get him accepted into Stanford. After his college career fizzled, he headed south, to Hollywood, once again bearing a letter of introduction from Terman. But this time, he didn't need the professor's help. Waiting for an interview as a radio writer, he overheard two writers talking about why their scripts had been rejected. Oppenheimer left, rented an apartment, began typing and returned that afternoon with a completed script. He was hired on the spot for the Fred Astaire radio show for $125 a week.
For all that, and his genius-level IQ, Oppenheimer labored under an astounding handicap that went undiscovered until he joined the Coast Guard: his eyes didn't focus on the same spot. Until he was 29 years old, he saw two of everything. It made for inexplicable childhood headaches and social difficulties, but it was those same problems that he said made him a great comedy writer. When Lucille Ball asked him to create a new TV program for her in 1951, he handed her "I Love Lucy." "I hit upon the idea of a middle-class working stiff who works very hard at his job and who likes nothing better than coming home at night and relaxing with his wife, who doesn't like staying home and wants a career of her own," Oppenheimer once told The Times.
The files show that, in 1953, when all of America was stopping for a half-hour every week to watch the Ricardos, Terman wrote Oppenheimer that he was "thrilled" by his success, adding, "You have certainly reached the top of the heap." But Oppenheimer liked tinkering in his workshop better than watching TV and came up with more than 20 patents, one of them for a forerunner of the TelePrompTer device, and another a live-performance laugh track system. It was not TV Guide but Popular Mechanics that once called Oppenheimer "a bona fide genius."
Lucille Ball called him "The Brains."
When Frederick Emmons Terman and his sister, Helen, were little, their father administered his IQ test to them. He found that both children met his definition of gifted and he added them to his study of little geniuses.
Fred Terman lived up to his father's expectations, eventually even overshadowing him in the Stanford community. With an awkwardness around people but a gift for engineering, the younger Terman became an assistant professor at age 27 and wrote a handbook on radio engineering that is considered the bible of its field.
After the war, Fred Terman became Stanford's dean of engineering and, a decade later, provost. He recruited top faculty from around the nation and built up Stanford's reputation as a premier university. Perhaps his greatest achievement was inspiring the creation of the Silicon Valley. By leasing some of Stanford's vast acreage to the fledgling electronics industry in the 1960s, Terman tapped into a cash cow for Stanford and created a market for its bright new graduates. At his death in 1982 at the age of 82, he had helped found several new electronics firms; he created corporate lightning in 1937 when he brought together two of his students, William Hewlett and David Packard, to start a company in a garage. He even suggested their first project--an oscilloscope--and scrounged up the first $500 to get them started.
Helen Terman also lived up to her father's expectations, and how different his expectations were says much about Terman's dealings with the women in his study. While her father and brother held great sway on campus, she got a job as a switchboard operator in a Stanford dormitory, eventually becoming a campus administrative assistant. Ironically, the man who wrote reams of advice to kids he never met gave his own daughter little encouragement. While Fred's file is stuffed with newspaper clippings and letters, hers is nearly empty. She died in 1973 at the age of 70.
In fact, from his wife and daughter to his female graduate students, the eminent psychologist appeared not to understand women nearly as well as men. "Lewis Terman was baffled by the women in his study," wrote Shurkin. Men outnumbered women in the study 856 to 672. "While he seemed to feel he knew how to measure the success of his men . . . he admitted he could not figure out how to assess the lives of his women subjects." It took studies by Terman's successors to conclude that the women in the study, while constrained by the male-dominated culture, were ahead of their time: like women in the 1990s, more of Terman's women had careers, more waited longer to have children and more remained childless than the general population.