Not Business as Usual
•  By Heather O. Milke

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Dogmatic Made Good

If you were a GW student in the mid-1970s, you may remember Ben Hollis, BA ’76. He was the classmate trying to insert his noggin into a speaker at a Little Feat concert at Lisner Auditorium or simulating Wrestlemania with classmate Dan Uslander, BA ’77, out on the quad. But he was even more infamous as the front man for a band made up of GW students called “The Dogmatics,” a popular attraction around campus.

“Some feel it’s a shame that Pete Rose isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it’s a bigger shame that the Dogmatics isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” says friend Richard Morris, BA ’77, with his tongue firmly in cheek. Morris, an investment banker in New York City, adds: “Hollis was Frank Zappa and Bill Murray rolled into one. He was one of my idols.”

So whatever happened to the unpredictable, improvisational dude whose songs covered such timely topics as granola, disco, and pornography? Today, he’s living comfortably in West Lakeview, Ill., with his wife, Julia, and his two teenage stepdaughters, Rebecca and Valerie. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in American literature, Hollis drifted back to his native Chicago, cut his long, sandy-colored hair, and headed for The Second City, one of the country’s best-known improvisational workshops. “In the years after college, I wrote ad copy, drove a Checker Cab, and even got a modeling job for Budget Rent-a-Car,” he recalls. “That job required that I cram my 36-inch waist into a pair of 32-inch waist blue jeans and try to smile warmly.”

Hollis finally got his show business break in 1987 when he became co-host of “Wild Chicago,” a popular magazine-type show on the PBS affiliate, WTTW. Dressed in a safari outfit—complete with pith helmet—Hollis focused on the wild and wooly side of the city. Three years later, feeling burned out, he left to join an advertising agency. Nine years and a marriage later he resurfaced with two similar programs: “Ben Loves Chicago” and “Ben Around Town.” The three shows won a combined six regional Emmy Awards. “We did segments on a guy who paints skulls in his basement and a family that lived in a house directly under a skyway,” he says.“Every so often, a truck or a snow drift would fall into their living room.”

Former classmate and Dogmatics guitarist Bradley Stevens, BA ’76, of Gainesville, Va., recently attended Hollis’s 50th birthday party in Chicago. “Ben has been on television a long time in Chicago,” says Stevens, who is a successful portrait and landscape artist. “When we were out and about, people constantly recognized and approached Ben. It was like being with a celebrity.”

Hollis credits A.E. Claeyssens, the late GW literature professor and creative writing teacher, with helping him to find his voice. “Claeyssens taught us to put what was in your gut on the page and not to worry so much about form,” says Hollis. “He made you feel like he cared about you. He was so well respected that his lectures were taped and are available in the GW library.”

Currently off the air, Hollis is pitching a new TV show, “Chicago Creates.” The idea is to provide aspiring performers with TV exposure. Between TV gigs, Hollis has concentrated on his music again. (You can learn more at He combined some of his golden oldies with new material and released a CD, “Live Your Life.” Tim Tobias, a well-known local pianist and owner of the Beachaus Music in Chicago, thought so much of Hollis’ material that he offered to not only produce and play on the CD, but he also helped him form a band to promote it.

The CD is an eclectic mix of styles that ranges from jazzy compilations to country ballads to straight rock and roll numbers. “Playing live again is great fun, but the music business isn’t exactly waiting for the next 50-year-old superstar to emerge,” Hollis says. “I’ve got enough material for another CD, but I seldom write new songs anymore. My songwriting comes from angst and disillusionment, but now I’m too contented. That’s great for the soul but bad for the artistic process.”

Bill Glovin, BA ’77

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