The Essential Bond

The most recent addition to our digitized Events and Videos collection is something a little bit different.

In 1998 the Buddhist peace organization Soka Gakkai International-USA launched a traveling exhibit chronicling the life and work of Linus Pauling.  Stocked with items on loan from the Pauling Papers, the display toured the world for seven years and was visited by more than one-million people.   The exhibit came about in part because of SGI-USA’s respect for Pauling’s work, but also as a result of Pauling’s relationship with SGI founder Daisaku Ikeda, with whom Pauling collaborated on the book A Lifelong Quest for Peace.

In conjunction with the international event, the Youth Division of SGI-USA developed a stage play titled “The Essential Bond” which focused on a different sort of collaboration – that between Linus and Ava Helen Pauling.  Over the course of this eighty-minute presentation, the audience learns of many of the familiar details of Linus Pauling’s life as viewed through the prism of his relationship with his wife of fifty-eight years.  Among the topics covered are the pair’s initial meeting and courtship, their friendship with Albert Einstein, Linus’ battle with glomerulonephritis, and the couple’s long and often trying dual careers as peace activists.

John Astin as Linus Pauling.

The performance preserved on the “Essential Bond” website was staged in Pasadena on June 12, 1999.  (A second reading of the play was later held at Oregon State University in conjunction with the Pauling Centenary Celebration in February 2001.)  Directed by Shan Serafin, the production’s large cast featured soap opera star Matthew Ashford in the role of young Linus Pauling and John Astin (of Gomez Addams fame) as Pauling’s elder self.

Aside from their collaborations with SGI-USA, Astin and Pauling share another slight intersection of sorts, through the person of Astin’s father, Allen V. Astin.  Allen Astin (1904-1984) was a physicist who served for nearly four decades at the National Bureau of Standards.  A scientist of some renown, the elder Astin is most commonly remembered today for a strange and tumultuous incident that Pauling followed very closely.  Quoting from Allen Astin’s Physics Today obituary

Perhaps Astin’s greatest contributions on behalf of the US technical community were his insistence on the highest standards of scientific integrity and his opposition to political pressure.  His independence was exemplified in the famous battery additive controversy.  On that occasion Astin, as director of NBS, refused to withdraw his defense of scientific tests in which staff members had established that the battery additive AD-X2 was ineffective.  He was fired by the Secretary of Commerce on the grounds that the Bureau’s test failed to take into account the play of the marketplace.  In the face of vigorous and widespread support from US scientists, the Secretary reinstated him.  Later the matter was resolved resoundingly in NBS’ favor.

In their willingness to fight back against political pressure, Astin and Pauling were something of kindred spirits.  It comes as no surprise then, that Pauling would have dedicated an entire box (Science 14.023) of his personal papers to a detailed examination of the battery additive controversy.

One Response

  1. This is a truly wonderful play – a labor of love – that can inspire young and old alike. A big “thank you” to “The Essential Bond” team for bringing it to reality. Well researched, accurate, and creatively / entertainingly executed; a joy to watch and learn from.

    Share this show, especially with the younger generation, so that others may emulate LP’s example and change the future / world.

    An additional thank you to the “Pauling Blog” for the Astin-LP history background. As always, a fascinating and essential blog.

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