The Heroes of the Yellow Fever Experiments in Cuba
R A D I O P R O G R A M
THE SHELL SHOW
The Heroes of the Yellow Fever Experiments in Cuba -- June
to December, 1900
9:30 - 10:30 P.M. May 15, 1937 SATURDAY
A couple of weeks ago when Daylight Saving Time came in, I
turned my clock back. As a matter of fact I turned it back so
far, I found myself in 1900. Everybody was singing "There'll
Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight" ---- but down in Cuba,
they were pretty worried about the cause of Yellow Fever.
There were a lot of experiments going on, and the great hero
of these experiments was Doctor Walter Reed. In tonight's
drama the part of Dr. Reed is played by one of America's fore-
most character actors . . . Arthur Byron! And here he is -
(BYRON ENTERS . . . . APPLAUSE)
Cuba, in July of the year 1900, - 37 years ago. In the labor-
atory of the American Yellow Fever Commission, sweltering in
the heat of the tropical night, young doctor John Carroll
stands listening to the words of his chief; Dr. Walter Reed . .
So, Dr. Carroll, tonight we have come to the end of our trail;
a trail that has led into a blank wall. For all we know, the
yellow fever microbe doesn't exist.
Doctor Reed . . . perhaps yellow fever isn't caused by a
microbe or virus.
Well, then what do you think does cause it, Doctor Carroll?
The devil only knows. But when men are dying by the hundreds,
we can be very sure something is causing it, even if our tests
That is a wise observation, Doctor Carroll, but all it proves
is that we are on the wrong track.
Then what track shall we take? If we can't find the germ, how
are we going to fight it?
There is one more possibility.
What is that, sir?
You mean a mosquito bite produces yellow fever?
But that's old Doctor Finlay's crazy dream. He's been preach-
ing that fool theory for nineteen years. It's ridiculous!
Perhaps, but we have failed so far and we can't afford to ignore
any clue, no matter how fantastic it may sound.
Well, assuming the mosquito is the cause - - how would you prove
By experimenting, of course.
But how can you experiment, Doctor? Yellow Fever only attacks
human beings. If it attacked animals then we'd have something
to experiment on.
Then we must experiment on men!
It is the only way, Doctor.
But hwere can we find a man who would be willing to undergo
the tortures of yellow jack? Burning fever, sweat, aching
bones - awful stomach retchings - and then the cold, choking
fingers of death - No one would do it. You can't find that
kind of human guinea pig.
Yes, Doctor Carroll, we have one.
We have one? Who?
(SOUND: KNOCK ON DOOR)
Yes, come in.
(SOUND: DOOR OPEN)
REED (FADING ON)
You sent for me, General Wood?
Oh, yes, Doctor Reed. Sit down, please.
Doctor Reed, I asked you to come here because of certain rumors
that have come to my ears.
I know you are in complete charge of the American Yellow Fever
Commission in Cuba, but I am the Governor-General of this
Island. I am responsible for what goes on here.
Yes, General Wood. I know that.
Then will you please tell me, frankly and honestly, in what
work your commission is now engaged?
We are seeking the cause of yellow fever by experimenting with
a type of mosquito known as the Stigomyia.
And how are you conducting those experiments?
I'd rather not disclose that, sir, until we arrive at some re-
Then I suspect the rumors I heard are true.
That you were experimenting on yourself.
Well... as a matter of fact it is true. Humans are the only
ones who can contract the disease so some human must risk his
life that others may live.
I'm sorry, Doctor Reed, but I can't let you do it.
And why not, sir? My life is my own.
No, Doctor, your life is important for the work you are doing.
You must conduct the experiments, not take part in them. I
am sure we can find others who are willing to be martyrs for
But we haven't the right to order men to risk their lives.
But we have the right to ask for volunteers, Doctor. Every-
one of the American soldiers here in Cuba now came, knowing
that they were to face death. Either death from a Spanish
bullet or the deadly Yellow Jack. I am sure we can find
volunteers for your cause - a far greater cause than victory
on the battlefield.
I am a doctor, General, and I have seen men die.. but I could
never ask a man to face that kind of death.
Very well, I shall send out the call for volunteers myself.
That is your privilege, sir.
And your duty is to continue your experiments on these volun-
AS YOur say, sir. I shall be ready to experiment, General
Doctor Reed, these are the volunteers, sir.
ALL right, Orderly. So you're the two men who volunteered.
Yes, sir. Yes, Doctor Reed . . . . etc.
I suppose they've told you what you are to expect. I am going
to expose you to one of the deadliest diseases known to man
just to be sure - to be absolutely sure - where that disease
comes from. If our experiment succeeds it means the end of a
scourge that has killed thousands. But, you will be facing a
terrible death. Are you willing to go through with it?
Yes, sir. We'll do it . . . . . . . etc.
What is your name?
John J. Moran
I'm John Kissinger, sir.
I'm proud to know you both. Now here is what you have to do.
Back in the clearing we have built a special isolation camp,
where you will have to live for the next two weeks without con-
tact with the outside world, just to be sure you haven't had a
chance to contract yellow fever before we start the experiment.
We understand, sir.
Then you will be moved to a special shack we have built. It's
clean and airy, the rooms have been fumigated and disinfected.
There will be fifteen mosquitoes in that shack with you and you
must expose yourselves to their bites. I warn you, the risks
We're ready, sir.
Then report to the isolation camp at once.
There's just one thing, Doctor Reed. They told us the Govern-
ment would give us $200 apiece for doin' this.
Well, we'd rather forget about the money. We're doin' this for
somethin' more than money. Right, Kissinger?
Moran -- Kissinger ------- I want to shake your hands.
(SOUND: DOOR OPEN AND SLAM)
CARROLL (FADING ON)
Doctor Reed . . . Doctor Reed . . . .
Yes, Carroll, what is it?
The experment is over. Kissinger has got the fever
Kissinger! Then he must have gotten it from the mosquitoes.
There was no other way.
What about Moran?
He's still all right - but he may have a natural immunity.
Then the experiment is not over, Carroll. We still aren't
But how else could Kissinger have gotten the disease? He was
in absolutely sterile surroundings except for the mosquitoes.
But Moran is still well . . . we still aren't sure.
Doctor Agramonte reporting, Doctor Reed.
It's Christmas Day, sir, and I have a present for you.
What is it, Doctor?
At seven-fifteen this morning, John J. Moran, lately isolated
in the experimental camp, showed all the symptoms of yellow
fever. He has been removed to the hospital.
Moran has the fever! Teh our experiment is over.
Yes, Doctor. A complete success. You have proved the Stego-
myia mosquito is the sole cause of yellow fever. May I be the
first to congratulate you, Doctor Reed.
You may congratulate me when and if those two men live. A
doctor's duty has always been to save life, Doctor, but fate
has decreed that i take the opposite course. I have sent two
men to the gates of death. But sending them there has closed
those gates to thousands of others. The world shall be rid of
one more deadly enemy; we can now stamp out yellow fever. Thank
God this was not in vain.
(MUSIC UP FOR FINISH)
(INSERT KISSINGER INTERVIEW)
Thank you, Arthur Byron, for your fine performance, as Dr. Wal-
ter Reed. And now I would like to borrow one member of your
supporting cast - the man who played the part of John Kissinger.
Because that man is really Kissinger himself. And I am proud
to present him now, one of the great heroes of science - the
man who risked his life in the cause of humanity - Mr. John
Thank you, Mr. Cook.
Mr. Kissinger, how did it feel living in that shack down in
Cuba 37 years ago?
Well, as a matter of fact, it was very pleasant. The quarters
were nice and airy. The food was good - at least better than
we got in the regular army. And best of all, we didn't have to
Just a nice restful vacation, eh?
That's right. There was only one trouble.
What was that?
The mosquitoes. They were terrible.
It must have taken a lot of will power not to swat them when
they started biting you.
It did. But we had our orders from Dr. Reed and we let them
bite as much as they wanted - which was a-plenty, I'll tell
Then you finally got yellow fever?
Yes. But the worst part of it was the waiting. When the fever
finally hit me I was almost thankful because the terrible wait-
ing was over.
Well, I'm glad you lived through your fever, Mr. Kissinger.
If any man ever deserved to live, you are that man.
Well, Dr. Reed saw that I had the best of care and I pulled out
of it in two weeks.
Walter Reed was a great man.
Yes, and as far as I'm concerned so is John Kissinger. You
did a great thing, and the whole world is proud of you.
Thank you, Mr. Cook.