Three Mini-Gems

By Irving Bennett, O.D.

Handling a Movie Star

HelenKellerPortraitDr. Harold Blinder (PCO ’43) always had his optometric practice in Manhattan. Because of its unique location at midtown Manhattan, he was tapped for optometric services by a variety of famous and not-so-famous entertainment personalities. One particular instance sticks out his mind and he told the tale at a recent Southwest Retired Optometric Luncheon.

It was 1962 and Dr. Blinder got a call from Arthur Penn, who was the director for a movie called “The Miracle Worker.” It starred Ann Bancroft and Patti Duke. According to Harold Blinder, Mr. Penn wanted to know if “I knew what eyes blinded by scarlet fever or meningitis looked like” so he could make the star of the movie about Helen Keller look authentic. A strange question but Harold promptly said “Of course. Come over to the office and I shall show you.”

HelenandPattyColorLong story made short, Director Penn came to the office and Dr. Blinder showed him pictures of blind eyes and together they decided on the look they wanted. Helen Keller’s corneas were severely scarred. Contact lenses were designed for actress Duke and she was made to look authentically blind. The lenses were full scleral ones and they were not the easiest lenses to insert and remove.

To solve the problem one of Dr. Blinder’s faithful (and talented) staff attended all of the close-up shoots for the picture in order to be on hand as the official “contact lens inserter.” That worked well until the director decide to shoot some close up scenes on a Memorial Day weekend, an official holiday; Blinder’s staff was not in town.

Harold to the rescue! The film shoot was done in a large warehouse in New York City, made to look like a room. All day long while scenes were shot and re-shot, Dr Blinder baby-sat his movie star patient and, of course, became integral part of an Academy Award winning film. Too bad but he did not get any film credits.


An addendum to this Gem is a conversation I had with Mel Wolferg, former President of the AOA and President of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. Dr. Wolfberg recalls a dinner held in New York City in the 1960s that was sponsored by the Better Vision Institute. Wolfberg was seated at the table with Helen Keller, her sister and her secretary and watched as the entire conversation between the three including his verbal remarks were put into sign language. He remarked that Ms. Keller had a perpetual smile on her face and (to be sure) a halo around her head.

Getting Vision Testing for Driver License RenewalsMotoristVisionImg

Dr. Martin L. Kalmanson, and 88-year old retired optometrist from Brooklyn, tells about the events that led up to revising or adding mandatory vision testing to New York motor vehicle laws. It was in the 1960s and here is his story: “I was president of the Kings County (Brooklyn) Optometric Society when the members demanded that something be done about the poor situation regarding the issuance of driver licenses by New York State.

“We involved a man who had recently lost his vision but still had a legal license to drive. We invited him and a member of the local press to come to the Motor Vehicle office in downtown Brooklyn on Fulton Street. The following ensued: he tapped his way into the office followed by several of us. In a loud voice he announced that he had come to have his license renewed. One of the clerks responded with a shout that he should proceed to window #5. He replied that he was blind. One of the clerks came out from behind the counter and led him to window #5 where another clerk helped him by filling out the proper form. When asked to sign the form, he reminded the clerk that he was totally blind whereupon the clerk guided his hand holding a pen so that he could make his mark with an X,

“After a few minutes, he was issued a new driving license and the clerks cheerfully wished him good-bye. Of course, this was possible because the law at that time did not require a vision test for renewal. Indeed, one could renew through the mail!

“After due publicity in the news media, we in Brooklyn believed the legislature was so moved by this incident to agree with the NY Optometric Society that passing a vision test must be a requirement for renewal.”

Scholarships for Optometric Students in Florida

Dr. Ed Walker of Tallahassee, FL reports an interesting happening in the early 1950’s. Dr. Walker remembers when Dr. Judd Chapman, Past President of AOA, and he visited Dr. Doak S. Campbell, President of Florida State University.

As Ed recalls it Judd asked Dr. Campbell, “What can we do to get optometry better known by the public?” Campbell promptly responded, “Get state supported scholarships for optometry.”

With the help of others, Ed Walker walked the halls of the Florida Legislature and managed to get the first state supported scholarship for optometry passed in our nation. It was based upon the optometrists practicing in an “area of need”. Dr. Walker said that “Bill Chapel, Speaker of the House of Representatives, stated to me that the Board of Optometry should administer the program, not the Department of Education (which administered the medical and dental scholarships). This allowed Florida to have an optometrist in each of the 67 counties in Florida. And, even more important, this, then, helped optometry later pass TPA legislation because ODs practiced convenient and accessible to our entire population.”

Interesting story connected with the effort to get TPA legislation in the sunshine state. Dr. Walker recalls that “As an aside, after the Legislative session was over (as reported to me by Jimmy Kines, the Governor’s Chief of staff,) Governor Farris Bryant had prepared a veto message for the bill. Dr. Herb Stevens of Gainesville, a good friend of the Governor, was called to get in touch with Governor Bryant in Hawaii to remind him that he had helped us with this legislation by speaking for the bill in Committee. And Governor Bryant then let the bill become law without his signature.”

The optometric scholarship program was discontinued when Nova University created an Optometry College in Ft. Lauderdale.


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