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22 November 1963

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  • 22 November 1963

    The following is another true story in the ongoing saga (or soggy?) of the life of little ol' me. After my discharge from Uncle Sam's Army in June 1962, I worked for Western Electric for a few months, but the job was driving me dingy. Literally. I was repairing telephone ringers on an assembly line. With little hope of ever advancing from that position, I decided to return to the vocation I had begun in high school; photography. My dad told me I could do anything I wanted to do, all I had to do was be persistent. That advice helped me to get a foot in the door at United Press International Newspictures in Dallas.

    22 November 1963

    It was a Friday morning much like any other in Dallas, and I reported to work at 7:00 AM right on schedule at United Press International Newspictures on McKinney Avenue. I had worked there for nearly a year and was very familiar with the routine. This morning held a major difference, though, in that Dallas would be hosting the President of the United States. It was our job to be sure that the world had a ringside seat to everything he did or said while there.

    My job included loading 4” X 5” film into the canisters for the “Telephoto” machine, processing that film and any 35mm or 120 film brought in by the boss or other photographers, and printing all photos for use by the Dallas Times Herald (or Times Terrible, as I called it). Occasionally I was assigned to shoot an inconsequential news event. Jerry, the boss, and George, the photographer/ assistant office manager/gofer, were busy getting ready for a big news day. Jerry would meet the president's plane at the airport, and George and I would man the office and keep our normal flow of photos going out to clients.

    Fred, a news-side flunky (the UPI news department shared the building with us picture side folks), was assigned to run errands between the office and Market Hall where the president would be speaking. He was sent to familiarize himself with the route and parking areas so he would have a minimum of lost time. He was later than we expected on returning. We were just beginning to be concerned that he might have gotten lost or something when he dashed in the door, red-faced and carrying a rifle.

    “I'm lucky to be here!”, Fred yelled. “I pulled up in front of Market Hall and the cops wanted to search my car.”

    “You DIDN'T!”, Jerry glared at him.

    “I forgot my rifle and targets were in the trunk. I went to the range yesterday and was tired when I got home, so I was going to take everything out this morning. Then I woke up late, and, well, the cops thought I was some kind of assassin when they found my rifle in the trunk. I need to stash this in a closet.” He had finally managed to convince the cops he was a genuine UPI employee and there on UPI business, and they told him to take the rifle home and don't come back with it. Fred was a funny guy, and he had the whole office in an uproar by the time he finished with his tale.

    Jerry packed his camera bag with film and headed for the airport. I continued processing film and making prints.

    The Dallas UPI office was southwest division headquarters and responsible for getting current news images out to the various newspapers and TV stations that subscribed to our service. Many of those clients had facsimile machines that delivered the images directly off the leased phone line, but some had to be served by US Mail. George went through all of the overnight photos and decided which ones to ship to the mail clients.

    Shortly before noon, George told me to take the Albuquerque package to the downtown post office and hurry back. I hopped into my new 1963 Corvair convertible and hustled to the post office. On the way back to the office, I saw a motorcycle officer pull up in the intersection just ahead of me.

    “Wow! I bet it's the motorcade!”, I said to myself as he climbed off his bike and held up his hands to stop traffic both ways. I pulled up near his bike and jumped out with my camera. Sure enough I saw the motorcade coming from my left. I prefocused my Yashica-Mat camera on the spot where I expected the president's car to be, estimated and set the exposure, then waited for the car to appear in my viewfinder. I saw JFK's smiling face and pressed the shutter release, cranked the film advance and took two more shots as the motorcade continued out of sight. As soon as the intersection cleared, I jumped back in my car and continued to the office, thrilled that I had a picture of the president for my scrapbook.

    Jerry had just come in from the airport, and the office was abuzz with activity. He handed me several rolls of film and told me “I need these yesterday!”. I took my roll out of my camera and loaded it into the tank with Jerry's film. I had just poured developer into the tank when I heard someone shout, “Shots fired at the motorcade!”. George came running into the darkroom and told me to drop what I was doing and take him to Parkland Hospital. “I can't, George! I've got film in the soup!”. “Jerry will take care of it, now let's go!”, George yelled as he dragged me out of the darkroom.

    The trip to Parkland was a white-knuckle flight to George, who held onto the dash with both hands as we flew out Harry Hines Boulevard at 85 mph. We were passing police cars that were running code 3. George told me that as soon as I let him out at the hospital, I had to find Frank Cancelaire, the UPI White House photographer. He had been in the car behind the president's car in the motorcade, and he should have some great photos. There was already a crowd forming at the hospital when we arrived, and I asked George, “How am I supposed to recognize Frank?” George replied, “Just look for an old guy with white hair and cameras hanging around his neck.”

    I made a U-turn, let George out in front of the hospital, then went down a block and U-turned to go back. After another U-turn put me back in front of the hospital, I noticed Bob Jackson, a Times Herald photographer, walking with a white-haired older man. I rolled down the window and yelled out, “Hey, Bob! Where can I find Frank Cancelaire?”. The older guy's head snapped up and he yelled back, “Who wants to know?”. He and Bob came to the open car window, where I told Frank to give me his film to take back to the office. He didn't know me from Adam, and he refused to give up his film. I showed him my UPI press card, complete with photo, and Bob vouched for me. Frank finally relinquished his film, and I made a hurried (but not 85 mph) trip back to the office.

    Upon entering the office, I saw a madhouse of activity. News-side was agitated as a stirred-up ant mound. In our office, the first thing I noticed was my photograph of JFK in the motorcade rolling on the transmitter drum. Jerry slapped me on the back and told me I did good getting a motorcade photo, as all he had was “grip-n-grin” handshaking pictures from the airport. Mine was the only motorcade photo we had at the time the story was published on the wire, so it went worldwide with the story. I explained all that to say that it was not a great photo as photos go. The only recognizable face in the picture was the president, but I happened to be in the right place at the right time with a camera in my hand.

    Frank's film turned out to be a major disappointment. He had airport shots similar to Jerry's, but his photos of the shooting consisted mostly of people's butts sticking up in the air as they dived for the grass of the “grassy knoll”. I got a call late in the evening from my cousin, who claimed he was standing right beside the president's car when the shots were fired. He said he knew he had a prize-winning photo. I told him to get me the film ASAP, and he could negotiate with UPI for any financial reward. He brought the film to the office within the hour, and I processed it. He had a blurry image of the right rear fender of the president's car and a few pre-motorcade shots around Dealy Plaza. He was disappointed when I told him what he had, but he was extremely angry with me when his film got shipped to New York with the rest of the film that was shot that day. He never got to see any of his pictures. I didn't fare much better. Although I got a copy of a “coverage” shot late that evening showing my photo on the front of 5 major Japanese newspapers, the only print I got of my photo was one I pulled out of the trash can in the darkroom.

    I worked 27 hours straight through, leaving the office at 10:00 Saturday morning with instructions to go home, take a shower and be back in the office by 11:00 AM. I spent most of Saturday making followup photos of Dealy Plaza and the School Book Depository building. By the time all of that was processed and printed, I was a seriously tired young man.

    Sunday I was assigned to wait at the “sally port” entrance to the county jail and photograph Oswald as he was transferred from the city jail. I was there with a few dozen other photographers/reporters, and we were bemoaning the fact that he was running late. We heard an ambulance screaming up Commerce Street, and as it passed, someone commented, “That was probably him.”. It was. We didn't get the official word for another 20 – 30 minutes. We found out later that Bob Jackson got a photo of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald. Bob later received a Pulitzer Prize for that photo.

    Monday I was sent to Grand Prairie to get photos of the rifle range where Oswald was alleged to have practiced. I got a pic of the range owner holding a bullet-riddled target that wasn't Oswald's. Big deal. I made photos of the Texas Theater, Jack Ruby's club, Oswald's house, anybody who claimed to have ever known him, etc.. Another big deal.

    The story slowly wound down in Dallas, and our office routine returned to a semblance of order until the trial of Jack Ruby began.

    Stay tuned!

  • #2
    Dang, and here I thought that losing a leg was exciting . Great write up OF.
    Defund the Media !!


    • #3
      That day I was at school in the gym shooting hoops with some guys when 2 girls from my class came running in crying and told us that Kennedy had been shot , we all ran to the study hall as it had a TV in it . We watched the story for sometime but things get foggy after that so that's what I was doing , it's one of those things you always remember .


      • #4
        There's much being declassified and written about the JFK assassination these days.
        The more human interest side of this day has always been of particular interest to me. Well done, OF, well done.

        Me, 10th grade in high school in Austin, Texas. I'm walking alone down the hallway towards the cafeteria. A classmate came running full throttle my direction, shaken. He asked "Did you hear, President Kennedy has been shot with a .22 rifle?" The rest of the day was a blur; but, that one moment in time will forever remain clear.


        • #5
          Around 1966 or 67 the local gun shop had a rifle just like Oswald's , even the same scope on it , the scope was terrible it was like looking through a straw . If you moved your head even a little bit you lost the sight picture and after racking the bolt it took a bit to pick up the sight picture again . I have never felt that he was alone and did those shots that fast by himself .


          • #6
            What funny timing for this discussion. Last night we were watching the movie "Shooter ". I don't remember their names, so I'm going to call them Actor #1, #2 and surprisingly, #3.

            # 1 "What can you tell us? "

            # 2 "That's how conspiracies work son. The shooter has to die. Them boys from the grassy knoll are still buried in a sandy patch of desert out by Terlingua."

            # 3 (a rogue FBI Agent doing the right thing) "Do you have proof of that?"

            # 2 "I still have the shovel"
            Defund the Media !!


            • #7
              I should watch that, and since I'm not old enough to have been involved, I should quote it. Regularly.
              quam minimum credula postero


              • #8
                Thanks Olfart' I was in 3rd grade. They made the announcement at school and sent us all home. We did much like 9-11, sat glued to the TV watching Walter Cronkite give us the details. Very sad day!
                People without any brains do an awful lot of talking. Don't they?!
                ~the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz


                • #9
                  Here's the next installment of my brief career with UPI Newspictures, including the trial of Jack Ruby:

                  Notable Moments

                  Wednesday, 1 January 1964

                  The boss (Jerry) magnanimously offered to take me to the Cotton Bowl Game to see if I could shoot football. I had previously shot a couple of high school football games, but those were years earlier. It didn't occur to me that he was mainly putting another camera on the field at no expense to him or the office. If I shot a usable picture, it was a win-win for him.

                  My first time on a college game sideline was a whole new experience. Those players may have only been college kids, but I felt like an ant among giants.

                  Navy had been predicted to wipe up the field with Texas, but I captured an image that told the story of how reality put the skids under that prediction. My photo showed a Texas receiver leaping to make an over-the-shoulder catch as a Navy defender was falling away behind him. Texas stomped Navy 28 – 6. That photo won me an 'atta boy' from UPI headquarters in New York. It didn't show up on my paycheck, but it did go into my portfolio for future reference.

                  Speaking of pay, UPI was paying me the exorbitant amount of $64.50 a week and all the film I could eat.

                  Sunday, 16 February 1964

                  Don't you just hate when the phone rings at 3:30 AM? Especially when you're supposed to be at work at 7:00? Especially if the call is from your boss?


                  “Hey, John, it's Jerry… you there?”

                  “Uh, yeah, what time is it?”

                  “About 3:30. Hey, you wanna go downtown and shoot a big fire? The Golden Pheasant Restaurant is burning, and the entire fire department's been called out.”

                  “Uh, yeah, it'll take me a few minutes to get dressed and get down there.”

                  “Great! Come on to the office when you get through there.”

                  I arrived at the fire about 4:00 AM, grabbed my camera gear from the trunk of the Corvair and set out documenting the fire. Word from the firefighters was that four firefighters had been killed when the roof collapsed, making it the worst fire in Dallas' history. There were people, trucks, hoses and water everywhere, and the fire was still raging. I got as close as I could to the fire, trying to stay out of the way, trying to capture that one photo that would tell the whole story of the anguish, blood, sweat and tears of the firefighters. Mostly what I got was a bunch of mediocre silhouettes against a background of flaming building. Be that as it may, I kept an eye on my watch and kept in mind I had to be at the office at 7:00.

                  After processing and printing all the fire pictures I thought were suitable, I continued my usual daily grind. I filled out an overtime sheet and left it on Jerry's desk for his approval on Monday.

                  Bright and early on Monday, Jerry greeted me with “What the hell is this?”.

                  “It's my overtime sheet for the fire yesterday morning.”

                  He wadded it up and threw it in the trash. “Hey! I put in 3 hours of hard work, not including travel time.”

                  “I can't pay overtime for that. I didn't tell you to go and shoot that fire.”

                  “You sure as hell did! You called me at 3:30 yesterday morning and told me to go shoot the fire.”

                  “No, I ASKED if you WANTED to go shoot that fire. You made the decision to go.”

                  And there you have the UPI philosophy in a nutshell; take the cheap way out at every opportunity.

                  Monday, 2 March 1964

                  As we geared up for the trial of Jack Ruby, I was tasked with helping Jerry at the Dallas County Courthouse. The only photo opportunities we would have would be as Jack Ruby was led from the jail to the courtroom and back, four trips a day. We (the press) would be restrained behind ropes in the already-narrow hallway, and Ruby would be surrounded by deputies. Although we would be there to take “Hail Mary” shots (hold the camera overhead and hope it's pointed where you want it), Jerry wanted a better option. He got permission to mount a motor-driven Nikon on the wall at the ceiling in a corner of the hallway. Good old duct tape (in those days it was known as gaffer's tape) to the rescue! It didn't take long for the competition to match this, and there were cameras mounted in every corner.

                  Some of those photos are available here:


                  Jerry couldn't be bothered with being tied up at the courthouse all day every day to operate the remote camera and shoot Hail Marys, so I was assigned to that duty for the duration. As some folks have described flying, it was hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. The competition among news photographers is legend. Everyone was trying to upstage everyone else to get the best photo.

                  As the end of the trial neared, Ruby was allowed to hold a press conference in the courtroom. It was an impromptu thing, and Jerry couldn't get there in time. We all gathered around the table with Ruby on the side opposite me. There were a couple of TV cameras with lights on them and a whole host of still photographers with various cameras. I shot with my Yashica-Mat 120 camera and electronic flash until it ran out of film, then switched to my 35mm Nikkorex F (Nikon F's baby brother) and 135mm lens without flash. Because I was using a medium telephoto without flash, I was getting tight head shots lit by the TV lights. The angle of the TV lights allowed me to capture tears running down Ruby's cheeks as he spoke, when everyone using flash was wiping out those details. That got me another commendation letter from UPI NY.


                  • #10
                    Wow, you guys are old! Just kidding...don't hit me! I was born a couple of months afterwards.
                    Defund the Media !!


                    • #11
                      Mind yer manners, whippersnapper! Respect your elders if you'd like to live long enough to become an elder.


                      • #12
                        I understand that you are relatively new here, so I'll let you in on a bit of insider information . We tend to have a bit of smart assedness here. I do get that your reply was in jest, but I have to say, it fell just a tad short. In my honest opinion, something like this would have been received better...

                        Click image for larger version

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                        Defund the Media !!


                        • #13
                          Had I known where to find that image, I would have gladly used it. No offense was intended by my remark, as I thought maybe the smiley would convey. My wife has told me on numerous occasions that some parts of my anatomy were smarter than others, and I was sitting on the smartest part.


                          • #14
                            Lol OF, absolutely no offense taken. My only point was that we enjoy a good banter.
                            Defund the Media !!


                            • #15
                              Don't know if it would be your photo or not OF, but I have an original newspaper from Lubbock TX from the day after Kennedy was shot.