Ed Wesly MEETS STEPHEN BENTON

(Originally written in WordPerfect 5.0 in the late 1980's)

The first time I met Dr. Stephen Benton was at an OSA meeting held here in Chicago in the Fall of 1980, when I first started working at Loren Billing's place, which calls itself a Museum of Holography, sometimes going under the more pretentious title of Fine Arts Research and Holographic Center, having its roots as an out of the way kooky Bohemian art gallery showing stuff like Cosmo Compoli's Spumoni Village, which they never returned.  I was the emissary from there to invite the conference attendees to visit Gallery 1134 (its not so original gallery name, which I always prefer to use, because if you look at those digits upside down on your pocket calculator you get the appropriate summarization of the joint.) after the scientists were done with their sessions.  I was chosen to do that because the two main men, Johnny Hoffmann and Victor Heredia were on strike.

The reason John was on strike was because he had made some diffraction gratings for a couple of laser light show guys, Tom Rust and Floyd Rolfestadt. Loren had forbade him from making the gratings there because of a deal that fell through with the light show guys.

"All they wanted you to do was run their lasers while they MADE ALL THE MONEY!" she ranted.  So it was a no‑no for John to make some beam multiplying gratings for them since they didn't appreciate his talents properly.
 
Actually it would have been more appreciative of his talents to make the gratings, but try explaining that to a looney tune like Loren.  But John, being a good guy and still wanting to hang out with the guys with the big lasers, made them anyway.  But kept it a secret from Loren.

Until that big dummy from the laser show, having called Loren up about something else, said in passing, "Oh, tell John thanks for the gratings." Smoke came out of the ear that wasn't on the headset of the phone.  John tried to play it off by claiming that yes, he had indeed made them, but at my home lab.  That didn't work, so he was on the shit list.

For some other reason Victor got thrown into the same doghouse, I forget why but it really doesn't matter, so Loren decided that she wasn't going to talk to them directly until they apologized or something.  And until then I was to act as the interpreter. 

"Tell your friends that they can't play their radios in the office," Loren directed.  "OK, guys you heard her."  "No, you say what I just said!"  "OK, Loren said that you guys can't play your radios in here."

So all day long for two or three days these two guys would come into work and try to fill up every square on a piece of quarter inch ruled graph paper with pencil lines, but the twist was to see who could do it the slowest without actually ever coming to a complete stop.  So they would be looking from their own papers to the others, making sure that there was always some motion.  There is a lot of strength involved in trying to control the teeniest bit of nano‑motion.  Loren and Al Ornelas (a co-founder, may he rest in peace) and her husband Bob Billing (may he not rest in peace!) kept up business as unusual, while I continued to translate.

The convention was underway, and it was decided for me to put on my suit and go.  I checked it out.  There was a little exhibit of holos and Benton had some of the early rainbow color stuff like the chessmen that Fred Unterseher is looking at in the first National Geographic with the holograms on it.  I got John to come down and look at it, and he acted like a wiseguy to Benton, asking him some kind of a lame ass question. 

Then I made the invitation for the optical scientists to come to the Gallery.  And what a crew it was that came!  I looked at the name tags, and asked, "Hey aren't you the inventor of the Bromine Vapor bleach, and sure enough it was, Andrejs Graube, the man with the biggest feet I had ever seen, standing there in the lab that Larry Lieberman had vacated only months before.

Glenn Sincerbox, from IBM, of supermarket checkout hologon scanner fame, told me to send a list of our alumni to him for possible job opportunities, I expected to hear from him after I sent the stuff, (so that I could make a break for it!) but it had probably been intercepted before it got to me by Loren, along with the reprint that William Graver, of silver halide gelatin fame, had promised to send, but she probably gave it to John who would have told her that it probably didn't work but that if she would let him he would work out that idea so that it would be better.  Lloyd Huff was bugging Loren about where she found those 14" diameter paperboard cylinders that they used for the Multiplex displays but she wanted to keep it a secret.

But before these guys got there, a truce had been made with John and Victor, and they cleaned the joint up ‑ so well, that every piece of optics was taken from the all tables.  John had so many secrets that he couldn't afford to have these guys see his new and novel approaches.  (Yeah, like an electrostatic film holder that didn't work.) So the 9' x 16' L‑shaped table under the stairwell to the basement was completely devoid of anything, which prompted Benton to remark to Jean‑Marc Fournier, as they looked at the thing, "Gee, everyone should have one of these in their basement!"

The tour wound up in the office in the basement at the front of the building.  I remember standing with my friends, John and Victor, watching little Loren wagging her finger in front of whole head and a half taller Benton's nose, telling him that she has such a genuis there, he has so many good ideas and he can make holograams bigger and brighter than you and he'll be so famous, so Benton just took it all in, and then walked into the room where we standing in amazed disbelief. 

With a tone as surly as Bob Billings's, Benton surveyed us all and stared at John and said, "OK, who's the master holographer?" John's voice cracked as he slipped out "Me."  Benton just turned around in disgust and walked out the room.

So that was my introduction to one of the truly great Gods of Mt. Holympus, the inventor of the white light transmission hologram, better known as the rainbow hologram, or as he liked to hear it called, the Benton hologram.  Later on we would have a good laugh at Symposia recollecting this bizarre event.

And what of Loren Billings?  She's still there, keeping the old casket factory/art gallery/holography museum open, still awaiting the day when holography will be a household word.  No one's seen John Hoffmann for about 10 years, who knows if he's alive or in jail.  (When I had asked him what was the best beam balance ratio while I was a student there he wouldn't tell me because he was writing the definitive paper on it and didn't want to say anything until it was printed in Applied Optics.  I'm still waiting on it.)  Victor and I still hang out every once in a while, finding it hard to believe that we lived through all this lunacy and survived.  For 3 or 4 people died as a result of Gallery 1134.  But that's another story.