Slightly polished draft, still needs more work, sorry!

Master Holographer
Director of Research of The Fine Arts Research and Holographic Center
Loren Billing's #1 Son
(Who undoubtedly sold her out to the Russians)

Hamming it up

And the last name is spelled with 2 f's and 2 n's, if you are trying to find scholarly papers or patents that can be attributed the Master Holographer of Gallery 1134. But I can guarantee that the search would be fruitless, but the legend is unequalled in its nuttiness!

I first met John Hoffmann in the summer of 1979 when I took the Introductory Course at the Fine Arts Research and Holographic Center. He looked around my age, (turned out to be a year younger than me, he being born in 1953), and seemed to have a headstart on me in the search for the ultimate hologram. And he deemed me worthy of joining him in the quest, starting with hanging out with him after class, we would usually go to out to a bar called O'Banions and dig the latest sounds from the likes of The Ramones, Devo, The Stranglers, Buzzcocks, etc., even getting to dance with one of my fellow students, Melissa Crenshaw! We were also joined occasionally on our Tuesday night prowls by John's Teaching Assistant, Victor Heredia.

The four of us really bonded at Navy Pier, a concrete peninsula north of the river on Chicago's Lakefront, when the Gallery 1134 crew got the opportunity (though Bob's connections) to set up an exhibit of holograms during an annual civic celebration called ChicagoFest. As is typical of doing something for the first time and having to invent your own new wheels, and with only John and Victor the only usable manpower, the show was way behind schedule. Eventually, Loren, albeit begrudingly, (as she was always suspicious of others' good intentions as she never had any herself), accepted the volunteers' offers. Here's an overhead shot of the scene below, with more views here of what all the excitement was all about.

Chicago's Best

Thanks to proving my worth at this event here, (like selling a hologram of his home planet Saturn to the Jazz Great Sun Ra when he and his Arkestra performed on the stage behind the exhibit, and much to Loren's credit, she sat through the whole concert, with about only another couple dozen people there), and intercession on my behalf by John to Loren, who he said had her doubts at first but he persisted and persuaded her to let me become one of her Illuminati. And I guess I won her over, as she confided to Dr. Jeong that I was a good teacher, and that recommendation got me working for him!

So I got to know a lot about Johnny H., the mental name I have christened him, as everyone loves a Johnny, like Johnny Angel, Johnny Thunders, Johnny Rotten, Johnny Yuma (who also was a Rebel), Jonny Quest, etc. He had a reputation as being not just a smart kid but a smart-aleck kid, as in just one of the most amazing coincidences in my life, when I was just starting my night school holographic education under Professor Hoffmann, my day job was teaching mathematics at a Catholic grade school, and my best drinking buddy there, Tony Fiore, better known to the kids as "That Mean Mr. Fiore", broke a yard stick on Johnny H. in 8th grade for throwing snowballs on school property. Mr. Fiore started teaching 8th grade the year I was in 8th grade, but not at the school that he taught the young Hoffmann.

John had this thing for Tang, the drink of astronauts.  He would drink that and coffee all day long. Smoked Kools, like one of the brothers. Never would wear a jacket outside.

One night we went to a magic bar on West 63rd Street by the airport.  After parking the car, we went to the front of the place, and couldn't find the door until we figured out that the door knob was one of the coachlights, so cleverly was it disguised.  After walking across the threshold, police sirens and lights go on, and everyone already sitting there turns around and looks and laughs.  Perfect, we thought. 

The headlining act at this place was a mnemonist and hypnotist, I forget his name.  First he distributed pages of the current Time magazine and had people in the audience request him to recite the page they were holding and he would read it from memory verbatim.  We were amazed by this feat of raw memorization, which he had to have done in the last couple of days. 

The amazement really began when the magician asked for volunteers to be put under his spell.  Johnny H. once again stepped up to the stage that night and joined the motley assortment of willing victims.  He put everyone through their paces, doing stupid things to themselves, but his grand finale was making the entranced think first that the audience was naked, Johnny was then craning his neck to see into the crowd, then told them that he was naked as he paraded in front of them, this frumpy lady that was up there shrieked and put her hands over her face as he strode right in front of her, but fully clothed in actuality, John was just laughing, but this poor unfortunate just convulsed when the prestidigitator exclaimed that they were all naked and she scrunched herself up into a little ball to hide.

And then, to top things off, he gave each one of them a post-hypnotic suggestion.  John's was to go to the bathroom immediately, like in an emergency urination whenever his lips touched liquid.  He did that three times, always coming back from the bathroom thirsty but running back there and forgetting why he ever had to rush there.  He got snapped out of it, but I definitely do believe in hypnotism now.

He had this fantasy for going to jail.  "Don't you ever want to," he would query me, "Just for one night, just to see what a was like?"  "No way man, Victor Morales was there for eighteen months.  lt didn't sound too pleasant for him."

Maybe he was busted for something, all of his parking tickets caught up to him, but Bob was supposed to be taking care of all that.  Maybe the CETA police caught up to him.  One time the Chicago cops caught up to him on all his parking tickets, back when they could put you in jail for that.

An older gentleman, Dr. Henry Morgan, came into town to give a lecture.  He drove all the way from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he had been working at some Oak Ridge Accelerator there, and had been one of TJ's graduate advisors.  He was telling Loren how TJ published somebody else's results prematurely, I guess just to steal the thunder, and so that got him in good with her.

Build a laser

So John and I and this professor went out to eat on Loren's dime and we ended up at the Golden Ox's buffet.  lt was all you could eat for $12, and it was all great fun.  We had a contest to see who could eat the most jumbo shrimp, and it was Henry who did it.  This buffet was in the basement of the place, and a sing-a-long was going down down there.  Nobody my age was singing, since we didn't know the words, but Henry and others of his era were.  He said that was quite common for his generation, and it was pretty cool since the music was non-stop, somebody was always singing even though people were eating.  lt just goes to show how radio and TV and rock and roll have destroyed these kinds of traditions, when people made  their own entertainment, and were not embarrassed to sing in a community.

While we were drinking and eating, he kept mentioning the airplanes that he would always see flying overhead of where he lived, probably carrying pot from Mexico.  He didn't seem to get upset about it, so we figured he might be hinting about something.  He also kept mentioning how he wanted to buy a little shack and enjoy a Jimmy Buffet "Wasted Away Again in Margaritaville" home style of existence.

After dinner, before we split up, I was going to pick up a college buddy, the Rassenfoss, at the airport and these two were going to Loren's old storefront apartment on the South Side where John was staying. We asked him if he wanted to smoke some hash before I blasted off, probably the last of that stuff that I have ever seen.  So we got a good buzz, Henry told us that he would sometimes fly one of those airplanes he had mentioned at dinner, so he could afford his bungalow, since his government retirement money wouldn't let him.  I took off for 0'Hare, ready for more adventure.

But what happened to those guys turned into a nightmare.  Since Henry didn't know where to go, John led.  He turned the corner on a red light, but Henry didn't follow directly behind, and you guessed it, John got pulled over and taken to the cop shop because there was a warrant out for him for all the parking tickets and maybe even no driver's license.  Since John apparently vanished into thin air, this poor man had to find Loren's place, and sleep in his car, a Honda Civic, luckily he was only 5' 4" so he fit in it OK, in front of the joint, hoping that John might show up.  John couldn't reach me because I was out barhopping with the Rass and didn't get in until 5 in the morning, while Henry called Loren but they wouldn't have answered their phone after midnight.

Honest to God, he claimed that one time he was.  That's why he was into holography, a new medium, and he was going to create the greatest body of work in the medium that anyone would ever see, That's how he got in good with Loren from the beginning, telling her all his inspirations that he would dream up, and she would be the patron which would make it all come true.  But all these ideas were just secrets, between the two of them.

The only "art" piece that I know of by John is his famous "Hologram of an Electrical Outlet Being Replayed by a Light Seemingly Plugged into the Hologram".  He's done some commercial stuff, "Party Girl", Chicago Symphony 100 year anniversary brochure, etc., but the one person show of his at Gallery 1134 that was going to happen in the fall that he kept telling everybody about has never materialized, even after 10 years. And of course, his piece de resistance, a 4" by 5" of the statue Picasso sculpted for Chicago.

What is it?

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'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.

What were Hoffmann's scary skills that made Loren claim that she had the rising young Holo-Messiah working for her? Let's peak at his resume, and you can see that spelling wasn't one of his talents, as both Professional and Background are misspelled in their header.

Hoffmann resume

Hoff Res 2

No one who was ever involved with the Museum of Holography that I have ever talked to recollects any memory of John Hoffmann designing systems there. And when I showed this resume, which I picked up at a local SIGGRAPH event, to Dr; Jeong at Lake Forest College, we could not stop laughing, as he would know if John had ever researched anything there.

John versus Victor
I was under the impression when I was taking classes there that John and Victor were the best of friends. As it turns out, that was not the case.

What a bunch of stoners!

There's more to the back story but I reserve the right to write it another day. But it was building up to the moment below.

He put the nails in Victor's coffin by telling Loren that he knew that Victor had bought some weed from LaserSmith. How did he know that? Because I was there, too, scoring, but of course John didn't buy anything, that cheapskate. Of couse he would be bummng joints from us, but it didn't work in reverse.

The first time was at the 1982 lSDH @ LFC.  lt was just before the opening speech and I was sitting in the very back of the auditorium, talking with former Gallery 1134 alumni, Melissa Crenshaw, whom I had just bopped the night before after years of pining for her; Larry Lieberman, who left there in a hurry on the advice of his lawyer; Victor Heredia, who they put out to pasture but not getting any use of any of the equipment he had made for them thanks to John's backstabbing.

Then Posy Jackson recognized me and since I had met her on my mystical magical motorcycle pilgrimage to NY MOH and I went down there to say "Hi!" and then the program began and I stayed in the front row to hear Emmett Leith's famous talk on the search for the perfect hologenic object, but while that was going on I saw two familiar figures sneak in the back door and sit in the very last row.  lt was Loren and John, and they were late because they were trying to snow Mrs. Crist, TJ's hatchet lady, (Loren was no match for her!) into believing that it was OK with TJ to let them in for free because he was a trustee of their place regardless of the fact that they had pulled a fast one on him on the Sunday before.

TJ had gone down there to retrieve some stuff of his that they still had since he was beginning to wake up and smell the coffee brewing about them, which included a box of Russian holograms, the same ones that he had showed at that wonderful lecture that started it all for me in 1978.  He brought the box back to LFC, and I was there when he opened up the box for the first time in many years and took the holograms out and the top one was fine, but the next two were cracked.  Loren told him over the phone it must have happened while he had it and they must have broken while traveling back to Lake Forest in his big Oldsmobile boat of a station wagon.

Anyhow Mrs. Crist let them in to hear Emmett's lecture and would discuss the matter with TJ, after a few moments I saw Loren leave, as probably as their eyes grew accustomed to the dark they started to recognize people in the room, like the afore-mentioned four, plus the worst one of them all, Steve Smith, up by the stage taking photos.  But John stayed the whole week trying to blend in and defend himself, but at the grand finale party of this symposium, he was asking me, "What do you think?  Am I an asshole?" and I answered, "Yeah, judging by the company you keep and who you work for!"

I didn't see him for another year, almost exactly, as it was in American Science Center.  I was with Fernando Catta-Pretta, the Brazilian holographer, who wanted to bring as much holo junk back with him as possible.  So John was there, getting some lenses, taking each one out of the package and looking through it, checking for some aberration only he could see.  I started chitchatting with him, we were both tense, then seeing that there was not much point in being friendly I told him to relay this joke to Bob: "What do you get when an Irish man screws an Irish woman?  Mayor Washington!"  An obvious dig at Bob's public relations job with the abortive 1983 Daley campaign which split the white vote, which he may have lost because of a letter I had written.  Who knows if he relayed that information.

I had a plan that when I moved from the Bachelor Pad to my New Marital Residence that instead of taking my hardcore porno mags that I had acquired over the years along, (where could I hide them living with that snoopy Georgette?) that I would send them anonymously to John, in care of the Gallery.  Wouldn't that have been great to be there, I'd pack them in a heavy Newport box, it would be waiting for him on his desk when he came in, Loren breathing over his shoulder dying to know what it was, and then finding stuff like "Horny Humping Housewives", or "Bra-Busters on Parade" etc. in the box!

Or at least that's what he claimed.  I had witnessed him saying that on many occasions when we were making our barroom rounds back in the 1980's, to many different girls he was trying to pick up, that when he was in high school he had sent two scripts to Rod Serling, and that he got a letter from him saying that yes, they would become Night Gallery episodes, but then the guy died before they got around to them.  When asked what they were about, he never gave an answer, saying something about them having the copyrights, or that he might want to use them again.

And again did he use them! In 2018, he used the same excuse to get off the phone or avoid meeting up with Bob Hess or Hans Bjelkhagen as he told both of them, who were persisting to go out of their ways to meet him when they were visiting Chicago, by using as an excuse that he had to get on a red eye flight to LA to work on the reboot of the Twilight Zone series for CBS cable. However, Googling that series shows no signs of Hoffmann.. Nor does Hoffman's timeline of script submission jibe with Night Gallery's schedule or Serling's death.

Several times I reached out to him, like this note I had sent to an address that Hans Bjelkhagen had tracked down, circa 2017:

"Yo John!  Long time no see!  Anyhow I am writing you to see if you are interested in meeting up with myself and our pal Hans Bjelkhagen the next time he is in town, which is slated for the weekend of March 5th. It would be great to see you, Hans has been pestering me whenever he is in town to arrange an appointment, and he did some internet searching and came up with these e-mail addresses. Looking forward to meeting you, and discussing what a long strange trip it’s been.  If you want to give me a call, it’s 773-788-****..
Ed Wesly"

Too bad for John, he missed out on some great parties, and missed his chance for any in the future, as he passed away in April 2022. Not a single sould commented on his passing on Facebook, even after I posted there his final self-portrait, taken off the web.

Photoshop genius

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