What's in a Middle Name? Ask Donald Cram, Carpet Cleaner, and Donald Cram, Nobel Laureate
11/02/1987 at 01:00 AM EST
Though they have known of each other for years, Donald J. (for James) Cram of Los Angeles and Donald O. (for Owen) Cram of Altadena, Calif., had never met. Now they are face-to-face in Donald J.'s Bel-Air home for a photo session. "Sort of fun, isn't it?" says Donald J. of their first meeting. "Very confusing," replies Donald O.
Indeed it was a confusion of major proportions that brought the two Crams together. Dr. Donald J., a 68-year-old UCLA professor, was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in chemistry this month. Yet it was Donald O. who received the phone call from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm heralding the event. Donald O., 38, earns his livelihood cleaning rugs. "Now, I do a good job on carpets, but this seems a little excessive," Donald O. remembers thinking.
The reason for the wayward announcement was simple: Donald O.'s number is listed in the phone book and Donald J.'s isn't. This was unknown to the academy's general secretary, who mistakenly phoned Donald O., at dawn, to relay the happy news. Figuring that a friend was playing a practical joke, he chuckled and hung up. "What was that?" his wife, Carol, asked groggily. "I've won the Nobel Prize," he answered. "Oh," she said and fell back asleep.
Ten minutes later the same heavily accented voice called back. "For which of my works did I get the prize?" Cram asked dubiously. "For your work in molecular structure," came the reply. "That's when I suddenly realized what was happening," says Donald O.
The Donald Crams had endured mistaken identity in the past. Years ago mail intended for Prof. Donald Cram of UCLA occasionally wound up with student Donald Cram, then a chemistry major at USC. This time around the academy eventually gave up trying to contact Donald J. by phone and sent a telegram to UCLA instead. He will share the prize, and the $340,000 that accompanies it, with co-honorees Charles J. Pedersen, an American, and Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn of France. They will receive their awards in Stockholm in December.
Although Donald J. specializes in the creation and study of synthetic organic compounds, his meeting with Donald O. led to an important discovery in an unrelated field: As students both had endured the nickname "Cramberry."