Unless they start handing out Nobel Prizes for negotiating an end to sibling rivalry or turning tweets into literature, the chances of me getting my hands on one seem slim to none. Nonetheless, Bob Dotson asked me to produce his American Story about Dr. Mario Capecchi, a Nobel-winning scientist whose worked has paved the way for all cancer research.
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Capecchi's story is amazing: As a toddler in Italy during World War II he survived on his own, traipsing around the country for years as a street urchin until the war ended and his mother was freed from prison and found him naked, dirty and hungry in a Rome hospital.
Yeah, that's a run-on sentence. Imagine living it.
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Of course, there's much more to our story. But, even if you saw our entire spot, there are lots of colorful tidbits that we couldn’t fit in; that Capecchi's mom found him on his 9th birthday and brought him a little Tyrolean outfit; that his grandmother was an Impressionist painter (the paintings in the background of our story are by her); that he's a mean tailgater at football games.
Sweden on the line
We also didn't have room to tell you about how Capecchi learned he'd won the Nobel. The phone call he’s spent two decades hoping for finally came at 4:30 in the morning. Capecchi's wife, Laurie, answered and thought it was a practical joke when thickly accented voice said “Hi, this is Sweden calling.”
Apparently when you win a Nobel, an entire Scandinavian country calls to “clear the line.” It’s actually just the call to tell you they'll be calling: That way when they really call, you are fully awake and don't pass out and drop the phone or think it's an unwanted telemarketer. Like you might confuse a Nobel Prize with getting your air vents cleaned?
We also didn't have time to tell you that the University of Utah has honored their laureate with a road named Mario Capecchi Way. Capecchi never drives on it.
But if you are really paying attention to the story, you will notice something that will encourage young readers around the world: Capecchi moves his lips when he reads. Take heart, my second grade nephew: You are in good company!
Speaking of good company, while working on the segment I had an award-winning hotel elevator encounter. A tall guy in a black outfit and very high hair followed me in. It was musician Lyle Lovett.
I love Lyle Lovett! Breathlessly, I blurted out "I love your music!" Starstruck and nervous, I started babbling, telling him I was a TODAY show producer, why I was there, assuring him I wasn't a stalker. Then I couldn't think of a single song of his.
My new buddy Lyle asked me to send regards to Matt and Al. Still stunned, I asked the day's dingbat question: "What are you doing here?"
Of course, he was giving a concert the next day. "Would you like to come? I can get you some tickets." he graciously offered.
Tongue-tied, I went into a 15-floor explanation about going to my mother's for her 70th birthday. Damn, her, did she have to turn 70 on July 17th!? Then when we got to the 23rd floor, I thanked him as I backed out, tripping over my feet.
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But I was certain I had done the right thing — until I told the crew about my exciting offer form Lyle Lovett and how I had selflessly put family first. They looked at me incredulously. In a split second I realized I should have accepted the tickets on their behalf. Do they give out Nobels for being an unconsciously inconsiderate jerk?
By the way, I did get to hold Dr. Capecchi's Nobel Prize after he fished it out of his pants drawer. It's about the size of my palm and weighs just over 6 ounces. It's like picking up a container of yogurt — regular, not whipped.
It was lighter than I thought. But given what it represents for its winner and for everyone who has had cancer touch their lives, it's the weight of the world. Thanks for letting me hold it, Dr. Capecchi.