Sit down," Dr. [Kerns] Powers smiled, "I have an interesting proposition for you." "Marvelous," I replied, visioning myself being transferred to Guam or other parts east.
"A call came through," he continued, "from Harry Olson, who wanted to know if you would be interested in assisting Dr. Zworykin in the preparation of his memoirs."
"Yes," I said, surprised to hear the force and immediacy of my response. I knew the man hardly at all, only as a distant visionary who was somehow responsible for television. And having worked with many topflight scientists and having for many years wanted to write a play about a scientific archetype, I was overjoyed at the prospect of having one of the world’s greats just simply drop into my lap for clinical observation.
"Well," I heard Dr. Powers continue, "I’ll call Harry and set up an appointment with him and Zworykin for you. This may just possibly be one of the more important milestones in your career here."
"Very possibly," I smiled back. "Thanks for the offer."
The phone was ringing as I got back to my office.
"Go over now, they are both waiting for you."
I looked up Zworykin’s office number, told my secretary where I would be, and walked out in the crisp morning air.
"Come in, come in," they both said as I entered the office.
"Mr. Olessi, this is Dr. Zworykin," Dr. Olson said as he pulled out a chair for me.
Zworykin offered his hand and indicated I should sit down.
"Dr. Powers told you what we wanted to talk to you about?" Olson inquired.
"Yes," I replied. (p. i)
"Would you be interested?" he asked.
Yes, very much so."
Dr. Zworykin opened a desk drawer and took out a black loose-leaf notebook.
"I began writing my autobiography some years ago," he said as he handed it to me, "but I never got beyond the Second World War. Now, before I become a vegetable or worse, my wife wants me to finish it."
I took it from him.
"How can I help?" I asked.
"I have great difficulty with the English and since you are an editor, and understand the technical terminology, perhaps you could work with it. You take it and let me know your answer in a few days."
"Fine," I said, standing up. "I’ll let you know as soon as I look at it." He extended his hand, smiled, and I left.
I read through the manuscript that evening. Incredible, of two of the most cataclysmic events in the twentieth century, the Russian Revolution and television—one he had survived and the other he had created, for he was the first to physically devise the two essential parts of the modern electronic television system—the Iconoscope (the first electronic television pickup tube used for television transmission) and the Kinescope (the electronic television receiving tube used for the reception of that picture). Before his discoveries, existing television technology was almost exclusively preoccupied with mechanical methods of reproduction and transmission.
I called him the next day for an appointment. He said to come right over.
I suggested two alternatives I might follow, one as a biographer and the other as editor of his autobiography. I stressed the latter role more (p. ii) strongly since he had written most of it himself. However, whatever approach was used, I felt the manuscript as it presently existed, had one genuine lack: he as a living, feeling human being was rarely in it. Not having the slightest knowledge of what he was like, I could not determine if such a lack was the deliberate omission of a reticent man or simply that he felt the facts of his life more important than an inner view of a scientist’s hopes, aspirations, and personal feelings.
As I spoke of this to him, his eyes began to smile, dispelling any doubt I could have had as to the richness and complexity of this personality that he did not choose to thus far reveal in what he had written.
"I tell you something," he began, "I have known many great concert artists. When I had the chance to personally meet them, I was easily disillusioned by what they projected in their art as compared to what they actually were like."
"Meaning," I asked.
"That perhaps you are looking for something in me and what I have written that is not there."
Which, of course, convinced me even further.
So began my quest to reveal to myself and perhaps even himself, a complexity this marvelous human being kept well hidden, everywhere but in his eyes. I sensed in him very early in our subsequent relationship a vast amusement for the foibles of mankind and an absolute unbiased optimism in both the potential and promise of science if intelligently applied to the problems facing mankind.
*The compiling of the book was interrupted for almost a year when I wrote, produced, directed, and edited a half-hour biographical film about Dr. Zworykin for The New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority. The film was first aired in December 1971. (p. iv)
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