Arnold Mallis (2007)

When it comes to being fondly remembered years after your death, 2007 Hall of Fame inductee Arnold Mallis probably ranks near the top of the list.

Mallis, who died in 1984 and is probably best remembered for launching his Handbook of Pest Control, was a generous, kind-hearted man who made many friends along the way.

Mallis was born on Oct. 15, 1910, in New York. His parents were Sophia and David Mallis, who emigrated from Russia in 1904 and 1907, respectively. They moved to California when Mallis was a teenager.

Early in his career, Mallis held a series of positions. While Mallis was earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in entomology at the University of California in 1934 and 1939, respectively, he worked for the U.S. Forestry Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and two pest management firms. Mallis reportedly was one of the first people to take and pass the California pest control operators examination.

In 1943, Mallis married Shirley Sperber, who graduated from Cleveland’s Case Western University and then earned a master’s degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. She taught kindergarten in both Pittsburgh and State College, Pa. Shirley lived until 2004. The Mallises had two daughters and six grandchildren.

The Handbook’s Beginnings

Mallis started working on the Handbook in 1939, and the first edition appeared in 1945. He then wrote new editions in 1954, 1960, l964 and 1969. Mallis reportedly wrote the first five editions by himself at night after he finished work.

“Mallis was one of those guys who had such a compelling interest in the subject of pest control that he wrote the Handbook without any understanding that it would sell,” remembers Dan Moreland, publisher of Pest Control Technology magazine. Parent company GIE Media publishes and markets the Handbook today.

“He did the Handbook for the love of the field, and earned the respect of everyone out there because they knew his heart was in the right place,” Moreland adds. “There wasn’t anything at the time that covered the subject. Mallis wrote the Handbook because he identified a need.”

Moreland points out that practically everyone in the industry still speaks highly of Mallis.

“He was a kind-hearted man,” Moreland adds. “He also had an appreciation for the academic side of entomology, so he bridged both worlds.”

In the late-1970s, Mallis was approached by GIE Media President Richard Foster about writing the sixth edition of the book, but this came about after Mallis had retired, and he turned down the offer. GIE then turned to using several different authors, with Mallis’ name continuing on the book.

For the past two editions, Stoy Hedges, director of Technical Services for Terminix International, has been the editorial director of the Handbook. While Hedges never had the opportunity to meet Mallis, Harry Katz did. Ninety-two-year-old Katz, a Pest Control Hall of Famer, was friends with Mallis for nearly half a century.

Looking back on his relationship with Mallis, Katz recounts, “There was a memorial gathering for Mallis at Penn State University, in State College, after his death and I gave a speech. I said that there is a legend among the Jews that the world exists because of the presence of 36 extremely righteous Jews. These people don’t know who they are, but because of these 36 people, God doesn’t destroy the world. I would consider Mallis one of these people.”

Entomologist Through and Through

During World War II, Mallis worked as a malaria control officer for the U.S. Public Health Service. From 1945 until 1968, Mallis was the senior research assistant at Gulf Oil Co. in Pittsburgh. At Gulf, he was responsible for screening and formulating insecticides for the control of household and livestock pests.

Katz remembered Mallis’ time with Gulf very well. “He maintained a laboratory where he had cultures of many different insects,” Katz recalls. “Universities would write to him for insect cultures to start raising particular insects. One time, he was visiting us in Florida when he got a letter from Gulf canceling his job because they were no longer going to make insecticides.

“When Mallis got that pink slip, I immediately called my friend Bob Snetsinger, who was a professor of entomology at Penn State University, and asked if they had an opening,” Katz said, referring to the late author of The Ratcatcher’s Child, The History of the Pest Control Industry. As it turned out, Penn State was happy to consider Mallis and set up an interview.

However, as Snetsinger remembered it in The Ratcatcher’s Child, Mallis almost didn’t get that job: “When he was driving up here for his interview, he tried to avoid hitting a dog and was involved in a car accident. He didn’t get to the interview. When we found out what happened, he came to Penn State a week later and was hired.”

Mallis was an extension specialist at Penn State from 1968 until his retirement in 1975. When he began the position, Mallis was responsible for 17 counties in the southwestern portion of Pennsylvania. Eventually, however, the Pennsylvania Extension Service switched over to a state-wide system, which allowed Mallis to make better use of his skills and knowledge of livestock and household pests.

“I mostly remember Mallis’ stories,” Snetsinger recently said. Thinking back, Snetsinger said, “When Mallis was in California, he was called upon one day by a vegetable grower who had a problem with slugs. This happened on a Friday and Mallis said he would come back on Monday with a solution. But when he came back on Monday, the slugs were gone. What had happened was a group of folks had moved into an adjoining field over the weekend, harvested the slugs and ate them like snails.”

Three Amigos

During his years at Gulf, Mallis and Katz were very close friends.

“I don’t know anyone who was closer to me than Arnold Mallis,” says Katz, who owned Elco Manufacturing in Pittsburgh at the time. “I saw him constantly when we were in Pittsburgh.”

In addition, there was another man, Andy Lund, who worked for the manufacturer Kopper’s Co. at the time, developing termiticides for the pest management industry. The three men often met for lunch at a Pittsburgh club called the Gaslight Restaurant.

“We had tremendous conversations, exchanging ideas,” recalls Katz, who now lives in Deerfield Beach, Fla. “Mallis did an awful lot for the pest control industry, much more than a lot of people realized.”

The week that Mallis died, Katz had to attend a conference in Maryland.

“I asked one of the pest control operators at the conference if he would drive me over to Silver Springs, Maryland, to see Mallis’ widow, Shirley,” he recalls. “When I went to see her, I asked what had happened to all of Mallis’ papers and books. She replied that she had thrown them out. I asked when and she said ‘today.’ So I went down to the basement to the trash bin and heaved out eight boxes of precious books and papers. I gave most of them to Stoy Hedges.”

In his book, Snetsinger reported Mallis wrote more than 20 research articles on household and livestock pests, many articles on insects and shorter historical articles on the lives of early entomologists. His interest in the history of science and the lives of entomologists resulted in the publication of American Entomologists in 1971 by Rutgers University Press.

Mallis was known across the country for his industry presentations at conferences and workshops. Consultant Jeff Tucker recalls how Mallis spoke at the first Whitmire Symposium in St. Louis, in 1980. Tucker looked back to his Whitmire records and found that Mallis spoke during an evening session on the “Past, Present and Future of the Pest Control Industry.”

“I remember being suitably aware that this was a rare opportunity, and I should cherish it,” Tucker says. “He was at the Symposium every day, all day long, and he chatted with a lot of people.”

Hollywood Hasn’t Changed Much, Apparently…

During Arnold Mallis’ rather short career in the pest management service industry, he treated the homes of many famous movie stars of the late-1930s.

According to The Ratcatcher’s Child, Mallis recalled how Pat Patterson, the wife of actor Charles Boyer, called for service because she said that a centipede had crawled on her during the night. Mallis made regular bi-monthly inspections and treatments at the home.

But because there weren’t any pests in the Boyer mansion, Mallis entertained himself by counting Patterson’s shoes as well as doing other “time killers” to spend a respectable amount of time on the service call.

  1. #1 by David Rentz on October 2, 2012 - 4:08 am

    Very useful, indeed. I met Mallis through the mail when he was writing his “American Entomologists” and he was a very pleasant and cordial person.
    D Rentz

  2. #2 by Stiv Fleishman on August 6, 2014 - 7:07 pm

    Given the anecdote from The Ratcatcher’s Child, it seems a great coincidence (although perhaps it was not) that Arnold Mallis and Charles Boyer were on the same episode of the TV panel game show, What’s My Line?, in November 1958.

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