York's Longest Run
By RICHARD PYLE
Associated Press Writer
people talk about a new smash hit on Broadway or a record winning
streak at Yankee Stadium, Marty Lederhandler just smiles. Nobody's
had a longer run in New York than he has.
But the man who photographed mayors from Fiorello La Guardia to Rudy
Giuliani, hit Utah Beach on D-Day, and accompanied Nelson and Happy
Rockefeller on their Venezuelan honeymoon, is hanging up his cameras
at The Associated Press after 66 years on the job.
Lederhandler, who turned 84 on Nov. 23, retired at the end of the
year. "It's time to go, and give someone else a chance to do
the things I've done," he says.
The Gotham native leaves a celluloid legacy second to none - fires,
murders, parades, sports events and plane crashes; every president
from Herbert Hoover (retired) to Bill Clinton; royals, actors, crooks,
spies, athletes, cultural icons and most top world leaders of the
He captured Marilyn Monroe in Arthur Miller's Manhattan apartment,
and Winston Churchill in Bernard Baruch's. "Don't shoot 'til
you see the whites of their eyes," Churchill growled as Lederhandler
aimed his lens.
He was standing beside Fidel Castro at the United Nations when Soviet
Premier Nikita Khrushchev strode up and gave the Cuban leader a bear
hug. Prevented by the crush of bodies from reaching his color camera,
Lederhandler got the picture only in black and white. But only he
During that 15th General Assembly meeting in 1960 - awash in famous
heads of state from Nehru to Tito - Lederhandler developed an affinity
for covering the world body.
"Without his consummate skill and untiring professionalism, many
great moments in the history of the United Nations would have gone
unrecorded," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a recent letter
Lederhandler joined AP full-time in March 1936 (he'd started part-time
the year before) and spent the next 6 1/2 decades looking at life
through a lens. At some point he began setting a new record for job
longevity every day, a sort of journalistic version of Joe DiMaggio's
56-game hitting streak.
To say he's seen it all may be an exaggeration, but not by much. Haile
Selassie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth II, Jack Dempsey, Joe
Louis, Elizabeth Taylor, Carl Sandburg, Douglas MacArthur, Bertrand
Russell, Groucho Marx, Malcolm X, Liberace, Yasser Arafat, Frank Sinatra,
Frank Costello, Aristotle Onassis, Anwar Sadat, Van Cliburn, James
Cagney, the Beatles, Sophia Loren, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and
Luciano Pavarotti are a sampling of people freeze-framed by Lederhandler's
Marty and an older brother, Harry, got into cameras as a teen-age
hobby during the Depression, and went to work at AP as $12 a week
photo messengers, learning the craft in their spare time with a Speed
Graphic they bought together.
Marty figured out how to double his income by using a tunnel to deliver
photos to the Daily News a few blocks away, pocketing his cab allowance.
But just running photo errands was heady stuff for a 17-year-old boy.
"Everything was exciting, and I got caught up in it," Lederhandler
says. "New York was the center of the world."
Drafted by the Army in 1940, Lederhandler earned lieutenant's bars
in Officer Candidate School and became leader of a six-man Signal
Corps combat photo team.
On June 6, 1944, he landed on Utah Beach with the 4th Infantry Division,
lugging his cameras and two caged pigeons to fly the film back to
England. His second pigeon fluttered into the sky, turned east instead
of west, and vanished.
A month later Marty's unit found German newspapers in an abandoned
command post near Cherbourg. "One of my photos was on the front
page. The caption was just propaganda, but the German editors duly
credited the shot to 'U.S.A. reporter, Lt. Lederhandler.'"
Lederhandler celebrated the liberation of Paris in a "three-day
Mardi Gras" with fellow war correspondents Ernie Pyle and Ernest
Hemingway, among others, and took part in the Battle of the Bulge
The ex-soldier returned to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day,
walking now-quiet Utah Beach and visiting villages he had last seen
in 1944.A man of sly wit, Lederhandler seems to have an anecdote for
every picture and constantly surprises colleagues with stories they've
never heard before.
He arrived at work one day in 1998 with an envelope containing old
black-and-white photos of Adolf Hitler and other top Nazis, burned
around the edges.
The pictures, he explained, had been sent to New York by AP's Berlin
bureau in May, 1937 - on the dirigible Hindenburg. Two weeks after
the airship exploded and burned on landing at Lakehurst, N.J., the
package was delivered to AP.
When his editor expressed no interest in keeping the fire-damaged
photos, 19-year-old Lederhandler had the presence of mind to take
them home. They became a historic centerpiece for AP's 150th anniversary
Lederhandler's first AP photo was an artsy 1936 shot of George Washington
Bridge cables "taken from such an angle that you can't tell if
you're looking up or down," he says. But he may be best remembered
for one of his last.
the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, Lederhandler crossed
the street from AP's Rockefeller Center office, took an elevator to
the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of the GE building and photographed
the blazing towers in the distance, with the Empire State Building
in the foreground.
That iconic picture made the cover of New York magazine and the cover
of "Sept. 11, 2001," a best-selling book published by the
In an odd way, Lederhandler says, the terrorist strikes helped him
decide to retire. "Twice is more than enough," he said,
referring to the 1993 bombing of the twin towers and the Sept. 11
attacks by hijacked jetliners.
Lederhandler's career paralleled the march of technology from heavy,
cumbersome Speed Graphics to high-speed film and motor-driven 35-mm
cameras - and recently, to digital cameras.
"The old equipment was limited and more difficult," he says.
"You could only carry eight to ten plate holders - 16 to 20 pictures.
You had to wait for the moment, even anticipate the moment, and compensate
for a tiny delay between the button and the shutter. But you learned
to do all that."
The old-style cameras also encouraged a decorum seen rarely at a present-day
show opening or a police station "perp walk," he says.
"Not only did press photographers wear suits, ties and hats,
everybody had the same lenses, and we had to stand back eight or 10
feet. There was some jostling, but no radio and TV microphones - nothing
like the pushing and shoving you see today."
Lederhandler's own perp walks included famed bank robber Willie Sutton
and Soviet atom spy Ethel Rosenberg, whom he pictured leaving a federal
courthouse after her conviction and arriving later at Sing Sing prison,
where she and her husband Julius were executed in 1953.
One of Lederhandler's favorite photo scoops didn't even come from
When photographers were barred from taking pictures of the reclusive
Charles Lindbergh at an aeronautics industry dinner, Lederhandler
paid a hotel photographer $10 for an enlarged image of the Lone Eagle
from a group shot.
In 1963, he scooped the competition by buying a seat on the Pan Am
flight that was taking New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and his bride,
Happy, on their honeymoon.
"Other photographers were at the airport to get the departure,
and were shocked when I walked past them and got aboard," Lederhandler
says. "I was able to make pictures of the Rockefellers on the
plane and when they got off in Caracas. My film went straight back
to Miami on the first flight, and the arrival picture made Page 1
of the Daily News, while the New York departure shots were on inside
Lederhandler was invited to the Rockefeller ranch, where he spent
the next two days following the newlyweds with his camera as they
rode horses and dined with guests.In retirement, Lederhandler says,
he wants to travel - he is a cruise ship aficionado - do occasional
free-lance jobs and serve as a consultant to AP's photo staff.
"For 66 years I've been saying, 'I'm with the Associated Press.'
I never want to stop saying that," Lederhandler said.
Marty Lederhandler's Photo Gallery