Actor’s father a leading professor, researcher at K-State


A Google search of James Marsden reveals the actor who appeared in recent movies like “Hairspray,” “Enchanted” and “27 Dresses.”

But add “Kansas State University” to the search and a biography of the Regents Distinguished Professor of animal sciences comes up.

James Marsden, father of the actor, came to K-State in December 1994 with 100 percent research appointment. The Regents professorship is the most prestigious of all academic appointments in the Kansas Regents’ system of universities and colleges.


Marsden remembers the first time he knew his son would become a movie star. At age 16, the future actor James Marsden and his family took a vacation to Hawaii. The boy introduced himself to “Full House” cast members, who were filming an episode of the TV show.

“I went down to the pool one day to get him, and he was laying on a lounge chair and he had his sunglasses and was twirling them,” Marsden said about his son. “He had this total circle of young girls around him in his chair, just hanging on every word he had to say. I knew he had something then.”

Marsden said he enjoys attending his son’s Hollywood movie premieres and has attended almost every premiere. He also said he is impressed at his son’s versatility in acting roles.

“His range surprises me sometimes, and I like to see that,” Marsden said. “It’s more fun to see him on the big screen than it is on the television just simply because it’s a big screen – there he is.”


Marsden, who specializes in meat safety, came to K-State for specific research with E. coli. He said he immediately got involved with research projects related to pasteurization technologies that would minimize the risk of the E. coli pathogen.

“We have developed so many technologies now that are being used by the industry,” he said. “Steam pasteurization of carcasses was validated here at K-State. Steam cleaning carcasses with a little hand-held steam-cleaning device was developed here. Technologies that rely on ultraviolet light for decontaminating the surface of meat products – that was developed here. A whole list of technologies were either developed or validated here at the university over the past 15 years.”

Before Marsden’s K-State appointment in 1994, most food-safety research used surrogate organisms, he said.

“The work wasn’t really done with the real pathogens,” Marsden said. “It was done with bacteria that aren’t harmful but behave similarly to the pathogen. We changed all of that here; we worked right from the start.”

K-State researchers went into biocontainment-type laboratories and pilot plants where they inoculated meat with harmful bacteria. The experiments and research increased the understanding of pathogens and their control, he said.

“Really, up until that point, most of the consumer groups who were very powerful in food safety were opposed to most food-safety innovations because they didn’t trust them,” Marsden said. “They always thought the industry was trying to do something that wasn’t in the interest of food safety. When we started working with the real pathogen, they could really relate to what we were doing. They could understand what we were doing, they could support it and things started happening much faster.”


Marsden has appeared as a food-safety expert on numerous daytime and evening network news shows. He also is a regular guest on “World Business Review,” which Norman Schwarzkopf and Alexander Haig co-host.

“If there’s an issue that involves food or water or is scientific in such a way that they don’t necessarily understand it well, they bring me on to co-host it,” Marsden said. “So I ask the questions and co-host it with either Gen. Haig or Gen. Schwarzkopf so that they don’t have to carry all of the technical questions.”

Curtis Kastner, director of the Food Science Institute at K-State, said Marsden’s American Meat Institute and industrial background added a breadth of knowledge related to food safety at K-State.

“Once you get the expertise and get the program started, that lives beyond just the time we’re here because you develop the reputation, you educate the students,” said Kastner, who has directed the Food Science Institute since its start in 2001. “It has a life beyond just what we do while we’re here.”

While Marsden has a full research appointment, he also advises and researches with graduate students. Pamela Hatesohl, master’s student in food science, said Marsden is well-respected in the animal sciences industry.

“The field is very interesting to me, and he’s been very helpful,” Hatesohl said. “Sometimes it’s been a little harder because I have a family and go to school, but he’s been very helpful with that. With all of the students, he treats us as equals and doesn’t talk down to us ever and tries to help all of us learn.”


Marsden also has a rare books collection in the Richard L.D. and Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections at Hale Library. He said he started the collection in his early 20s.

During his adult life, Marsden acquired the Limited Editions Club collection from 1929 to present. Only several full collections exist in the United States, which George Macy started in 1929, Marsden said.

Marsden said Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” is his favorite book in the Limited Editions Club collection. He said he made his students read the book while he still taught because it relates to the meat industry.

“When you read the book, I always wondered myself – he was sort of a socialist and an activist. Did he just make all that up, or was it really a reflection of the way things were?” Marsden said. “And late in life, he wrote a forward for a Limited Editions Club book and he talked about the fact that he did work in those plants and he did observe those conditions in meat packing plants.”