Freezing People Is Easy

Clockwise: Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Kirsten Wiig, Christopher Walken, with Errol Morris in the center.

By Mike Darwin

Sometime in the next few months, it seems likely that Director Errol Morris’ take on Bob Nelson’s account of the cryopreservation of James H. Bedford, We Froze the First Man, retitled Freezing People is Easy, will go into production. The title is at once sarcastic, brilliant, inspired and accurate, because, as readers of Chronosphere already (should) know, freezing people is anything but easy. While there have been many movies made that touch on cryonics, use it as a plot element, or even rely on it  as a major enabler of the story, this will be the first film about cryonics. It is, of course, quiet possible for a film about  cryonics to be good – even great – and still be bad for it. This film offers substantial possibilities for both of those elements to be in play.

Perhaps the most important thing to beware of is that the script is not based solely upon Nelson’s heavily (positively) biased and often inaccurate memoir, but also upon the searingly acerbic episode of Ira Glass‘ popular Public Radio International (PRI) radio show, This American Life (full program at this link). What’s more, Glass is also a co-producer of Freezing People is Easy. It is possible to listen to the This American Life episode, entitled Mistakes Were Made, and forget the context in which it was aired on PRI – as part of a series of pieces on scumbags in public life who refuse to take responsibility for their bad acts.To know that this so, one has only to read this excerpt from the review of that broadcast by cryonicist, author and social psychologist Ronald G. Havelock, published in the May, 2009 issue of  Long Life, the news organ of the Cryonics Institute/Immortalist Society:

“First of all, I think we should absolve Nelson of blame for what happened. This poor
man was struggling with a task which was way over his head. He deceived himself, as
others have before and since, with the notion that many people would flock to cryonics
once they realized that it had a real possibility of working. he greatly underestimated
the length of time it would take for cryonics to become popular. We are still
waiting. More importantly, he also greatly underestimated the basic requirements for
making it work, the first of which is to have an adequately funded and competently
staffed facility with the ability to maintain itself over long periods. I think he gambled
that, something like that mythical ball field, if he started it and had real capsules
filled with liquid nitrogen, they would come. Those who actually came, including the
famous Dr. Bedford, came with hope and desperation in their hearts but they came
empty-handed. How could they imagine that this service would be free? Simply put,
they took advantage of this man, and he returned the favor by promising much more
than he could possibly deliver.” [1]

It is also possible to forget that, first and foremost, Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Guardian, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara: center photo in montage above) is a documentarian with a clever, often indirect, but always ruthless approach to making film show the truth and expose hypocrisy.

Zach Hem authored the script and while his narrative talent might be questioned on the basis of his botched effort in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, he also wrote the script for the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction, which is a surprisingly intellectual meditation on life, death and the power of the mundane to make life worth living. Helm’s take on Nelson and Chatsworth should be especially interesting, because his perspective in Stranger Than Fiction and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium suggest he may favor the intrinsic value of the individual life; the issue which makes or breaks a viable approach to a “cryonics friendly” perspective in any work of art.

 Somehow I doubt it though, and the casting of Paul Rudd (CluelessAnchorman, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Dinner for Schmucks) to play Nelson does nothing to reassure me. It has also been reported that Owen Wilson and Christopher Walken are on-board – one wonders what their respective roles will be; Norman Bedford and Robert Prehoda?  Or perhaps Walken will play Bob Ettinger? If, as rumored, Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig also joins the cast, will she play Nelson’s then wife, or the author of We Froze the First Man, Sandra Stanley, to whom Nelson was confiding the details of Dr. Bedford’s cryopreservation and with whom he was reportedly having an affair at that time?

The book is rich in characters familiar to those with any history in cryonics: Saul Kent, Curtis Henderson, Bob Ettinger, Robert Prehoda, Dick Jones (aka Dick Clair), Dante Brunol, MD, Stella Gramer…and many more. It should be a fascinating exercise to see which, if any, of these supporting characters makes it into the film by name, or in a clearly recognizable way.

But will Freezing People is Easy get made, and if so, what will be its fate? Cryonics has been around for 50 years and attracting international attention for almost all of them. Thus, it should come as no surprise that there were two previous efforts to make movies where cryonics was the subject of the film, most notably, a film of Norman Spinrad’s darkly comedic and politically (left) loaded science fiction novel, Bug Jack Barron. For over 30 years, there were regular reports from the Hollywood intelligentsia (an oxymoron, I know) that Bug Jack Barron was to be made by Universal Studios, directed by Costa-Gavras, with the script written by Harlan Ellison. The story of why Bug Jack Barron never made it onto film has the same bizarre, cursed and insane quality to it as does the history of cryonics itself.

The story of why Thomas Berger’s (Little Big Man) novel Vital Parts never made it into production is even more tragic,  and the links with cryonics go deeper. The first go-round at Vital Parts the movie, was in 1971, with a when director Hal Ashby (Being There Harold and MaudeThe Landlord and Let’s Spend the Night Together ), with Walter Matthau was slotted to play the principal character in the novel, Carlo Rheinhart (a long running character of Berger’s whose middle aged make over in this novel was reportedly inspired by Bob Nelson), the loser in the midst of a mid-life crisis who is seduced into involvement in the bizarre world of cryonics by the seemingly transtemporal Bob Sweet – a man from Rheinhart’s distant past who seemingly knows too much to be merely human.

Berger had visited the Cryonics Society of new York (CSNY) repeatedly to gather background information for his book, so it is no accident that a Mr. Softy ice cream  truck features prominently in the novel; Gillian Cummings (aka Beverly Greenberg), who was later to die tragically in the CSNY facility, drove a Jolly Tim’s ice cream truck to help pay the liquid nitrogen bills for her father, Herman Cummings (aka Herman Greenberg). And it is also probably no accident that the creepily mysterious bob Sweet shares the same last name with on the most prominent cryonics patients of the time; the liberal (“negro rights”) activist Marie Phelps Sweet, later lost at Chatsworth, along with the other Cryonics Society of California (CSC’s) patients who were also in the custody of Bob Nelson. Matthau’s son, and the apple of his eye, Charlie Matthau, was later to become a signed up, bracelet wearing cryonicist who was condemned to watch his father die by inches while doing everything in his power to both keep him alive (he kept portable defibrillators in his father’s home, car and work places) and unsuccessfully persuade him to make cryonics arrangements.

Left to Right: Walter Matthau, Charlie Matthau and Hal Ashby.

The next go round at turning Vital Parts into a movie was in 1987, with the irascible, reclusive and heavily drug abusing Ashby trying to make a comeback from his exile to television with another important, quirky film. This time Danny deVito had been recruited to play Rheinhart, and, in an inspired bit of casting, Gene Hackman had agreed to play Bob Sweet. During a meeting between Ashby and the producer Jerome Hellman to discuss finalization of the production of Vital Parts, Hellman became aware of what appeared to be “traveling phlebitis” in Ashby and shortly thereafter actor Warren Beatty became aware of Ashby’s symptoms, ultimately resulting in Ashby’s seeing an oncologist who diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer, from which he subsequently died in December of 1988.

The two other films which feature cryonics as cryonics (e.g., medical time travel) are screenwriter Mark Andrus’ and director W.D. Richter‘s  1991 Late For Dinner; a treacley, train wreck of a film which reviewer aptly described as a film “so meticulously scrubbed of what we generally think of as entertainment value that the result is mostly a quirky, dawdling snooze,” and the truly, irredeemably awful 1985 film Stitches, starring the late Eddie Albert, Parker Stevenson, Geoffrey Lewis, and Brian Tochi. Oh yes, and I almost forgot to include the garbled and largely incoherent Vanilla Sky (starring Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz) by the otherwise brilliant director Cameron Crowe, of which Stephan Zacharek of said: “Who would have thought that Cameron Crowe had a movie as bad as Vanilla Sky in him? It’s a punishing picture, a betrayal of everything that Crowe has proved he knows how to do right….But the disheartening truth is that we can see Crowe taking all the right steps, the most Crowe-like steps, as he mounts a spectacle that overshoots boldness and ambition and idiosyncrasy and heads right for arrogance and pretension — and those last two are traits I never would have thought we’d have to ascribe to Crowe.” While I am no superstitious mystic, the ill fated bad luck attached to cryonics – in an out of film – makes me want to shout out a warning to all and sundry involved with Freezing People Is Easy, to “Run as far and as fast from the project as you can for both your personal and professional lives.

Any way you look at it, the film promises to be a deep wallow in black comedy. That’s normally a genre I really appreciate, and often enjoy. This time, I’m not so sure. Robert F. Nelson (aka Frank Bucelli) is a bad man – a man who did enormous damage to cryonics, but more importantly, to the lives of the many people he defrauded and destroyed; not the least of which are the 10 cryonics patients whose loss were a direct or indirect result of his actions.  It is probably too much to hope that Helm’s and Morris’ effort could be as dark and well executed a black comedy as Peter Berg’s Very Bad Things, which Roger Ebert aptly summed up as not “a bad movie, just a reprehensible one. It presents as comedy things that are not amusing. If you think this movie is funny, that tells me things about you I don’t want to know.” That’s the movie that should be made about Nelson. The question is, should it be a movie, let alone the first movie, made about cryonics?


[1] This statement is so wrongheadedly stupid on so many levels, it is hard to know where to begin in critiquing it. A good place to start would be by noting that Dr. Bedford hardly came “empty handed” to Nelson, or to cryonics. Instead, he came bearing $250,000 1967 US dollars ($1,714,832.83 in 2012 dollars) all of which was subsequently spent on his cryopreservation. It should also be pointed out that the majority of the families of the patients lost at Chatsworth, and at the Cryonic Interment facility on the East Coast (as well as some of the patients themselves), paid exactly what Nelson asked of them at the time: $10,000 to $15,000 in ~1973 US dollars, or $53,099.29 in 2012 dollars; substantially more than what the Cryonics Institute now charges for whole body cryopreservation today. Finally, this statement neglects the finding of the civil court that found Nelson guilty of fraud and for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

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14 Responses to Freezing People Is Easy

  1. Mark Plus says:

    Errol Morris interviews Saul Kent in a documentary titled, “I Dismember Mama”:

    • chronopause says:

      Ah yes! How could I have forgotten that gem! I also realized, halfway through my sleep cycle (and thus why I am up at ~0800), that I had forgotten to mention and comment on that incoherent mess of a cryonics-driven film, Vanilla Sky, by the otherwise flawless Cameron Crowe; something I have just now remedied. Pedro Almovodar’s version was considerably better – but still far, far off the mark. And coming from a master like Almovodar, it might fairly be classed as a disaster – and it is certainly his worst film.

      While cryonics may not be uniformly box office poison (and it certainly isn’t box office gold) it has most assuredly been creatively and critically toxic to virtually all of the films which have embraced it. Why is that? I think the better part of the answer to that question is that most great/good film is all about narrative and humanity (or lack of humanity). To incorporate those things into film or literature successfully, the writer and director (at a minimum), must be able to understand cryonics, including all its nuances and implications, and allow them to interact in a coherent and humane way with the characters in the work. Since almost no one “gets” cryonics but cryonicists (something to be expected, if you think about it), the artists who try to capture what it is really about end up committing their own cluelessness and confusion to digital celluloid or print. Virtually all of the films (and almost all of the novels) written about cryonics, or using cryonics as a central theme, have the same feel as does that of a secondary school or sophomore college essay that was ground out by a student who sat down to write, convinced they understood their chosen subject, only to discover (and be unable to correct) the fact they really hadn’t the vaguest idea of what they are writing about. The effort thus becomes a tragic and usually convoluted exercise in documenting the creator’s utter ignorance of the subject they have chosen to enlighten themselves, and the rest of us upon. — Mike Darwin

      • Mark Plus says:

        So if you had the money and the authorial control to make the cryonics movie you want, what would it show, and how?

        • chronopause says:

          The short answer to that is that I am, like 99.9999% of the rest of the people on this planet, a film consumer/critic, not a filmmaker. My hunch is that you could tell the meanest, most gruesome story in the history of cryonics, say what happened to Steven Mandel, to little 8-year old Geniveve de la Potier, or to Paul Geneteman – and if you told it properly and righteously, you’d have the most powerful pro-cryonics media tool ever created.

          Consider Steven Mandel: a young aeronautical engineering student in love with the idea of space travel and biological immortality – enamored of the classic SF of the 1950s and ’60s. He’d be 68 today, and so would all of his secondary school classmates and his girlfriend. Twenty years from now, one of those school friends, or his girlfriend, or both, could easily conceivably opt for cryopreservation using techniques bordering on perfected suspended animation. They spend another 50 years in the cold bath before they are recovered. But they are recovered, and it is at that point that they find their thoughts inexorably drawn back to Steven and to his sad fate at Chatsworth, the details of which they set out to explore and understand over 100 years later. And beyond that, they reflect on what might have been if only, if only things had been just a little different. If, in response to Fred Chamberlain’s relentless questioning, Nelson had broken down and opened up about the desperate fix he was in and Steven had remained cryopreserved and Chatsworth had never happened. How would the Steven these people knew as a boy, and as a young man, react to the world that they now inhabit and which had rescued them? Tell that story deftly with emotion and humanity and you have a bright beacon of hope as well as a powerful cautionary tale and a splendid eulogy.

          The point is that the vilest tragedy can become the most inspirational and transcendent story in the hands of a gifted writer, providing his values, his heart and his head are all in the right place. That doesn’t happen very often in the larger, non-cryonics world, because such talent is rare. As a result, it will be even less likely to happen in the small sphere of cryonics per any given unit of time. Perhaps once a century? Well, anyway, even so, we’re halfway there. Or maybe it will be tomorrow, because such events are like winning the lottery, in that if you play long enough, you will eventually win, and each time you play you have the same chance of winning as you did the time before, and that you will have the time after. — Mike Darwin

  2. Mark Plus says:

    Mike, you quote Ronald Havelock as writing:

    “More importantly, he also greatly underestimated the basic requirements for
    making it work, the first of which is to have an adequately funded and competently
    staffed facility with the ability to maintain itself over long periods.”

    Kind of ironic, considering that cryonics organizations still haven’t reached that stage in a lot of ways.

    • chronopause says:

      The Havelock piece disgusted me more than it enraged me. The determined and blinkered ignorance of the man is astonishing. He says he based his own conclusion on repeatedly listening to the PRI (NPR) interview with Nelson. Well, howdy do! A genuine historian, or even third rate newspaper hack he will clearly never be! For starters, to not know that Dr. Bedford provided $1.7 million in today’s dollars for his cryopreservation is inexcusable. To also not know (or consider) that Norman Bedford (the person responsible for disbursing that money) readily paid every expense and every bill required to maintain his father in cryopreservation is not merely careless, it is reprehensibly vicious.

      And I know whereof I speak because Dr. Bedford was in our care (due to me, I might add) for many years; and Norman and Cecilia Bedford never missed, or were even late on a payment, nor refused any reasonable request for necessary expenses. In fact, they refused to accept offers of free floor space from Cryovita, or of free labor, insisting on paying for everything they received at full market value. The experience of Galiso, Inc., and of Trans Time, Inc., both of whom cared for Dr. Bedford for many years (in aggregate), was exactly the same. Norman and Cecelia Bedford had an exquisite nose for bullshit, incompetence and fraud. They could smell it a mile away, and by the time I made contact with them, they were so weary and shell shocked from dealing with flim flam artists and incompetent dreamers in cryonics that it took many, many months to gain their trust – and even then, they were hyper-vigilant for many more after we undertook Dr. Bedford’s care.

      He also clearly either knows nothing of, or chose to omit, the ~ $50,000 raised by Nelson and Marshall Neel to build the Cryonic Interment hole in the ground in Chatsworth, and another on the East Coast, in Butler, New Jersey. If that money, ~ $274,540.15 in 2012 dollars, had been used to acquire a modest above ground facility, similar to the one CI initially had, there would have been more than adequate funds available to house the CSC patients with no ongoing mortgage to service.

      Particularly egregious is Havelock’s failure to take into consideration that Nelson was not the passive (and therefore somehow innocent) victim of “desperate people” coming to him to cryopreserve their loved ones. Rather, he actively sought out virtually every family of every patient out there and pitched them on how much cheaper AND better his services and facilities were. I know this because I was there and had the opportunity to talk with a number of those people first hand – people who were so smitten with Nelson’s charms that they could not, or would not listen to any cautions or concerns I was raising. At the time, I attributed this behavior to my being a 16 to 18 year old “kid.” Now, I know better; it was that incredible Nelson sociopathy.

      Russ Stanley, one of the founders of CSC, and a patient lost at Chatsworth, provided $10,000 in 1969 dollars in funding to Nelson in the form of his Santa Fe Railroad life insurance policy. That’s $63,569.58 in 2012 dollars! Others paid similar inflation-adjusted amounts – or more. Two particularly tragic and horrible cases were that of two wealthy and influential individuals; one an Assistant District attorney in Orange County, CA and the father of a small boy who Nelson aggressively took on as a patient, and the other, who was a high profile Beverly Hills attorney whose mother Nelson cryopreserved and transported to the New Jersey facility. Nelson aggressively “marketed” these two patients away from responsible service providers available at the time, principally Trans Time, Inc., (TT) who was local to both patients and their families in California, and Cryo-Span in New York! And he charged them sums of money that would have been adequate to provide quality care at either TT or Cryo-Span.

      When I confronted Nelson as a teenager in 1972-3 about where he was getting liquid nitrogen from, he told me an outrageous tale about getting the LN2 for free, because he was friendly with a bulk delivery driver who would “empty the leftover LN2 at the end of his runs into the CI tanks at the Oakwood Cemetery facility.” That really was about the only potentially believable story he could have told, because when I called around to to every LN2 supplier in the greater LA area, the response I got was, “Nelson? Bob Nelson? Do you know where he is, or how to reach him? That man owes us $XXX.00 in unpaid LN2 bills.” I particularly remember a conversation with Virginia Gregory, then President of Gilmore Liquid Air, who was more concerned with cornering Nelson to get back the two costly LS-160 liquid nitrogen delivery dewars she claimed he had absconded with (worth $6,804.18 in today’s dollars) than the many hundreds of dollars worth of LN2 she claimed he owed her company for.

      When I confronted Nelson with the account by the welder from American Cryogenics of how he could smell the flesh and hair burning of the three people rammed into a Cryo-Care dewar designed to accommodate one average sized patient, I thought the coffee cup he had begun to raise to his lips was going to vibrate right out of his hand. As his mortician, Joe Klockgether, later confirmed, that is exactly what had happened. Who does such a horrible and disgusting thing? There wasn’t enough room in that dewar for even a modicum of the LN2 required to refrigerate the patients. Isn’t that the time to call the relatives and say, “Look, we are broke, you didn’t pay, or didn’t pay enough, and we need to end this thing humanely and with dignity for all involved.” Not Nelson. His solution was to proceed in this Dahmeresque fashion, and then go out and solicit more victims – in a number of cases, people of considerable means, who had both the resources and the willingness to use them in order to pursue the cryonics care of their loved ones responsibly. This, long after Marie Sweet, Russ Stanley, Helen Kline, Geniveve de la Poterie, Louis Nisco, Steven Mandel and Mildred and Gaylord Harris had thawed out and decomposed – or had never even been cryopreserved in the first place! Gaylord Harris was exhumed from his grave in Iowa, transported to the Cryonic Interment facility in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery, and left to rot on the floor in several inches of water; his body never having been removed from the shipping container, let alone frozen. If that doesn’t constitute fraud, what does?

      Let’s presume to stretch credulity beyond all reason, and assume that Nelson really was the damsel in distress he claims to have been. Are we to further believe he was tied to the railroad tracks with a gag in his mouth? What would any ethical or moral person do in such extremis? “ASK FOR HELP,” comes to mind as high up on the list of open options. But in fact, Nelson did the exact opposite. When people inquired with concern over the welfare of the patients in his care, he boasted about how well he was doing, and told fantastic lies about installing new alarm systems to warn of a possible loss of refrigeration!

      Shortly after Bedford was cryopreserved, Nelson, Ettinger and Curtis Henderson had discussed the wisdom of neurocryopreservation (they were interrupted by an angry Elaine Ettinger, who thought it horrible PR). If Nelson was so trapped that he was going to do something so gruesomely ineffective as partially thawing out and literally stuffing (it took hours) three patients into a dewar that then had no significant room for refrigerating LN2, why didn’t he remove their heads and pursue their continued ADEQUATE care as neuros, in that fashion? In fact, Fred Chamberlain told me in 1973 that he had raised that very possibility with Nelson, and that Nelson’s cryptic/equivocal response had given him some hope that that was the course he might have, in fact, followed. Fred later noted that it was this possibility that further stayed their hands in labeling Nelson a fraud.

      Finally, there is the presumption that CSC and Chatsworth were a shocking and tragic incident in an otherwise moral, law abiding life. I believe a thorough investigation of Nelson’s (Frank Bucelli’s) past in Boston, MA is likely to reveal a very different story. I say this because I saw a Pinkerton report (background check) done on Nelson by CSNY, circa 1966. It is now lost. It’s contents, as I remember them, were not at all consistent with the model of Nelson as a poor, innocent soul who got in over head in cryonics. Indeed, anything but. — Mike Darwin

  3. Cryoken says:

    Good grief, Mike. Your hatred for Nelson clouds your judgement. You know a lot about the history of cryonics, but you don’t know everything about Nelson’s operation. In fact, you know very little. But you’re willing to throw out numbers and supposed facts for public consumption that are pure BS.

    You mention that he raised $50,000 to build the Chatsworth vault. He never had that kind of money. He had the $10,000 that he got from Russ Stanley and nothing more. That money also helped to pay for dry ice to keep the first three in temporary storage, and other minor expenses. Marie Sweet and Helen Kline had no money. Prove otherwise!

    Also, you mentioned this Pinkerton report to me in an email a few years ago. I asked for details then and I was open to carefully consider whtever you told me it contained. I never heard back from you. Here I see you bringing it up again. Where are the details? And by the way, what does it say about you and Curtis Henderson that you were running credit and background checks on Nelson when the CSC first started up? You also leave out the fact that Curtis SENT Dostal to Nelson because he considered her to be nuts and a pain in the ass. DeBlasio and Mandell were unhappy with the operations of the CSNY and wanted out. Mandell came to Nelson, not the other way around. She brought Deblasio to Nelson, not the other way around (they were boinking each other at the time).

    The more people learn about the Chatsworth operation, the more they tend to be sympathetic to Bob Nelson. Sam Shaw, the reporter that wrote the This American Life presentation did extensive research and interviewed a number of the principals, including over 20 hours of taped interviews with Nelson and me, came away sympathetic to Nelson. Everyone can see that he made mistakes. That he was not perfect, but most can see that his heart was in the right place. You had one conversation with Nelson over coffee and you present yourself as the ultimate expert on what went on in an operation that you were not a part of. You use half-truths mixed with lies to paint an ugly picture of a decent man. If the general public should believe everything that you write about Bob Nelson, then should the general public believe that you were boinking guys on the operating table at Alcor? I don’t think either would be fair or reasonable. I don’t believe the mean things that Larry Johnson wrote about you, and I hope that the people reading your posts don’t believe everything you’ve been writing about Nelson.

  4. Mark Plus says:

    Speaking of cryonics movies which could turn out badly for us, Will McCarthy, author of that repulsive “Bridesicle” story in Asimov’s a few years back, claims that he has optioned his story to Film4:

    • chronopause says:

      Maybe you can take heart in the fact that very, very few of the books, stories, plays, etc., that are optioned actually get made into movies.

      I just read the “Bridesicle” story, it’s available as full text here: I think possibly it’s repulsive because it is “truer” than most of the visions both cryonicists and non-cryonicists have of the future. No, not true in the specifics – they are absurd, but true in a metasense, in the same way our future is, or would be utterly repulsive to our antecedents. Indeed, repulsive even to our earlier selves, had we not arrived here so incrementally. Maybe that’s why, as a group, cryonicists so shun the past, including (and especially?) their own past history?

      I am merely ~ half a century old, and yet it is only yesterday that I inhabited a world where black people, who were not even called black people then, but rather “Negroes” (in polite society), were not only not considered fully human, they were not treated as such. They lived completely apart, even in the North, and to have a Negro family move into a white neighborhood was unthinkable! I can’t even begin to describe the revulsion and fear such a thing inspired. I remember quite well feeling a sense of (involuntary) shock the first time I saw a mixed race heterosexual couple dance and kiss in a gay bar. The reason they were in a gay bar was because in the 1970s, in Indianapolis (and in most places in the US) such a couple had nowhere else to go if they wanted an evening out. Gay men might not be completely accepting, but they were exceedingly unlikely to beat them to death. Miscegenation was a crime in many places, and in most others where it wasn’t, it could get you killed, or severely injured.

      It seems like, perhaps last month, or maybe the month before, that I was sitting in the backseat of squad car, handcuffed, because I had walked past a gay bar on my way home from work near midnight. Maybe only a day or two ago that my friends and I were given a ticket for jaywalking coming out of a very sedate and low profile gay restaurant on a quiet summer evening for crossing a deserted street (a $200 ticket, each, I might add). Divorced women did not get invited to social events in our neighborhood – and it took a long while for their social status to rise to the point where they did: AFTER they had remarried. Pregnant unwed girls were locked up in a large multistory brick building with steel bars and chain link covering the windows a few blocks from where I grew up, and that place was talked about in whispers lower than those used to speak of “Seven Steeples,” the Central State Mental Hospital.

      As a small child I often knew that family friends, acquaintances and relatives were dying of some cancer, or other dreaded disease, even though the dying person ostensibly didn’t know it. And in fact, often they did not. It was considered both humane and routine to go to great lengths to deceive the terminally ill about their condition, and many people entered their final encounter with illness still hoping to recover – indeed, it is still that way in much, no, in MOST of the world. In 1981, it was still like pulling teeth to get a physician to tell you your blood pressure and temperature during (or after) an exam, and I once had a long, protracted argument with a doctor who refused to tell me what my cholesterol was “Because it could serve no good purpose; there was nothing I could do about it and I wasn’t a doctor. If there was some treatment needed, he would prescribe it.”

      I could go and on It seems only minutes ago that I sat squirming in my seat in a movie theater watching Harry Hamlin kiss another man on screen in the movie MAKING LOVE, while fully a third of the small audience got up and walked out in disgust. THE EXORCIST (1974?) deeply disturbed and viscerally shocked many people – I was one of them.

      I turn on the TV now and I see men having oral-anal sex with other men, men engaged in rampant promiscuity in bathhouses (saunas) in QUEER AS FOLK, in the UK and the US. I see the most popular sitcom in America featuring a gay couple that makes MY skin crawl (MODERN FAMILY). I see an intensity of violence and mayhem and barely disguised sexual sadomasochism on prime-time TV that would have gotten people killed, had it aired in 1960 or 1970 – times I remember well. A number of episodes of CRIMINAL MINDS are unwatchable to me (hardened as I am) – one particularly offensive one, where a mentally disabled psychopath was about to enucleate a woman by pouring sulfuric acid in her eyes, caused me to flee the channel.

      I am virtually certain that if I could transport any representative cross section of America from 1950 or 1960 into the present for a few days and give them just an average exposure to the culture – gambling, nudity, promiscuity, vestigial church going, pornography, sadistic violence, women working, a divorce rate at ~50%, men getting married to each other and kissing (and having sex) on TV, massive infiltration of pornography into every demographic via the Internet – well, they would be HYSTERICAL with REVULSION, if not completely shell shocked and catatonic. I had a hard enough time adjusting to some of these changes myself, and I was vastly better positioned to do so. The power of going from one reality to another in tiny increments is IMMENSE. I think an unconscious, but nevertheless visceral understanding of that fact, and its implications for cryonics, is one (of many) reasons why people do not choose cryonics. In McCarthy’s “Bridesicle,” what I was impressed with was his ability to capture how the future will almost certainly turn out shockingly different than what cryonics patients expect when they choose to make that leap. He gets very, very low marks in envisioning HOW it might be different, but he did succeed in evoking the metasense or metareality of a world that might well disgust us.

      Curtis Henderson and I talked about this idea a great in the 2 years before he passed. Both of us were now old enough to have seen such sweeping cultural, technological and value changes, that we had to consider and accept the fact that if we “made it out the other end” we we were going to confront a reality many orders of magnitude more shocking, repulsive and difficult to cope with than the one we had arrived at incrementally. THAT takes courage, it takes incredible courage informed by an absolutely overwhelming desire to remain alive. Most people aren’t even able to hack it when they get to future in experential increments of seconds or minutes over a period of decades. That they reject cryonics so universally and so viscerally is some considerable evidence of that. — Mike Darwin

  5. Matthew Deutsch says:

    He should’ve had the capsule vacuum leaks repaired when he noticed them. Instead he blew all of his money on constantly refilling the LN2 and repairing the vacuum pumps. His actions (or lack of actions) caused the thawing of a helpless 8 year-old girl. His heart was in the right place, but his brain was in his ass.

  6. Cryoken says:


    I noticed the link to the full text of We Froze the First Man in the first paragraph of your post. This is copyrighted material. Please remove it from your web site immediately. Robert Nelson and Sandra Stanley are the sole owners of the material and they have not given you or anyone else permission to post it online. I’ll check back in a few days to make sure it has been removed. Thank you.

    • chronopause says:

      Ken, I’ve been off the grid, hence the delay in responding to you. I will remove the URL per your request. I’m surprised that you want the URL taken down, since the book (WFFM) is the most comprehensive (and positive) statement of Bob’s account of his early activities in cryonics AND it has been out of print for decades. I posted the URL out of a sense of fair play since it let’s Nelson tell his side of the story directly. TRhere was no intent to deprive the authors of revenue, but rather to make an out of print book more widely and easily available. I note that WFFM is also available on line used for $4 on up: Obviously, neither Nelson or Stanley profit from used sales. Over the past year the stat engine shows that the link to that book has been clicked 42 times (I just checked). I note that the copy of the book at that URL that was listed here is very poor and would be unpleasant to read. Ideally, the authors should see if the book can be reissued as e-book. If that is done, please let me know and I will list the link for purchasing it. I’d be interested in a e-copy myself. — Mike Darwin

  7. Paul C. says:

    One of your comments mentions Paul Geneteman … I have not heard his story before, I don’t find him listed among those lost at Chatsworth, etc. Can you expound on his story for me? Thank you, I learn a lot from the early history of cryonics.

  8. Cryoken says:

    Thank you, Mike. I’ve sent you a reply via email. The concern about the book being reproduced was brought up by the agent for our new book. I’ll let you know if we can get an all-clear to put the link back.

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