Sunday, May 23, 2010

Robert Oppenheimer

Robert Oppenheimer was a theoretical physicist at the University of California who was tapped as scientific director of the Manhattan Project. After the war, he took up the directorship of the Institute of Advance Studies at Princeton. There are many pictures in Life magazine and in a few he is not engaged in the consumption of some form of nicotine.

He cut a natty professorial figure perhaps due his patronization of the old line tailors at Langrock. See this review of his biography American Prometheus by Stuart Mitchner in Princeton's Town Topics {thanks to C.Sharp}:
Finally, one photograph that is absent from the interesting assortment in American Prometheus can be found in Philippe Halsman's Jump Book, a collection of jumping luminaries the photographer put together in the late fifties. The photo shows Oppenheimer performing his jump in front of a blackboard at the Institute. It is at once a spectacularly uninhibited and absolutely, gravely determined upward leap, one arm raised high above his head (his face peering straight up), the jacket of his elegant three-piece suit flying open, his well-polished black shoes well off the ground. Halsman calls the leap "metaphysically spectacular." It's nice to know that even after the 1954 inquisition that supposedly "broke" him, the director could still reach for the sky. Look closely and you may be able to make out the Langrock label on his open jacket. According to American Prometheus, while most of the Institute's permanent scholars walked around in sports jackets (not to mention Einstein in his old sweater and baggy trousers), Oppenheimer could often be seen wearing expensive suits hand-tailored for him at Langrock's on Nassau Street. It should be added, however, that at least one witness reports occasionally seeing him "in a jacket that looked as if it had been eaten by gerbils."


heavy tweed jacket said...

Great post. Interesting quote from the biography. I really like the jacket in that last photo. I'm also taken by how uncluttered the office is by the absence of a computer/printer, phone/fax machine, audio, and all the other electronics that we can't seen to live without these days.

Quiet American said...

HTJ - Good point. In those days, professors actually had secretaries. Those were the days.

C.Sharp said...

Thanks for the mention. I missed it the first time around.