Happiness, to paraphrase the late John Lennon, is a warm remote.
Having taken inspiration for the song Happiness Is A Warm Gun from the cover of a gun magazine bearing that headline, (which had taken its inspiration from Peanuts creator Charles Shultz’s 1962 tome, Happiness Is A Warm Puppy), its heartening to learn that wireless TV remote control inventor Charles Polley, who passed away on May 20, 2012, at 96, approached its ergonomics with the snub-nosed revolver in mind.
The universal levers of power had seldom been more populist, or essential.
“The flush toilet may have been the most civilized invention ever devised,” Mr. Polley told an interviewer in 2002. “But the remote control is the next most important. It’s almost as important as sex.”
Polley’s popper reached shops in 1955; Zenith had introduced its wired precursor, the Lazy Bones—who could make this stuff up?—in 1950.
A decade later, 83% of the U.S. population topped 280 pounds, but we’d found enough spare change in our upholstery to undergo group-rate liposuction. (I did make that stuff up—the details, anyway—but it passes the Test of Truthy.)
And in the Town’s Biggest Game on Mad. Ave., Polley could take solace in knowing that his handy zapper rather indirectly would inspire Product Placement, Gerbles-Shot-From-Cannons, messaging-disguised-as-programming and all manner of sticky intrusiveness, out-of-sphere thinking, badly chewed manicures and premature retirements to the south of France—or at least Jersey.
Let’s be honest (really): Polley’s “almost as important as sex” quote ranks with Muhammad Ali’s best for undiluted, zany hutzpah, and—despite its self-evident hyperbole—couldn’t possibly have been press-agent crafted. Polley was 86 at the time, retired and, as far as Zenith goes, all but forgotten.
That quote, off the cuff, and from an engineer no less, is an even clearer signal of his pure brilliance. Can any among us imagine, say, Zuckerberg rappin’ so sly (disregarding Social Network and the Aaron Sorkin Factor)?
Polley clearly felt passed over. Zenith’s next remote, the Space Commander, was the model that truly hogged the media attention, selling 9-million units before its early 80’s relegation to many millions of attics and catchall kitchen drawers.
Polley had endured a good few decades to ponder all of that—and he made no bones, lazy or otherwise, about feeling slighted as the true originator of the wireless remote.
So let us now praise great, if little known, men who were deft of tongue and possessed the ingenuity and vision to devise the gadgets we need—or want, anyway.