Ken Darnell, Snake Wrangler
Credit: Photograph by Michael Edwards
Ken Darnell grew up in Columbus, Georgia, the son of a furniture-store manager. After majoring in chemistry at Georgia Tech, Darnell went to law school at night. During his second semester, he came down with mononucleosis and dropped out, planning to return the next year. By then, though, he'd passed the bar exam, and soon he was practicing patent law in Washington, D.C., where he became a member of the local herpetological society. He'd always liked snakes.

He took a side job as a business manager of a venom laboratory in Baltimore, and his assignment was to bring back a few hundred snakes for someone else to milk. In his unpublished memoir, 'The Venom Gypsy,' Darnell writes, "Now here I am, a business manager of a venom laboratory who has never even picked up a venomous snake, and I either walk away from the 40 snakes glaring at me through the Plexiglas walls of that 'snake wagon,' or I save the venom for research."

Once he'd milked the first one, he was hooked, and soon Darnell decided that he could run a better venom operation than the Baltimore lab, which was about to go out of business. "I just kept it going," he says. "It's important that somebody does it.Venom saves lives."