I have often said that my early career as a staff photographer took
place in a context that could only be described
as Runyonesque. I am, of course, referring to the renowned
newsman, author and screenplay
Runyon. He was born in 1884 and died in 1946. His stories were peopled
with odd-ball characters, the most well known of whom were the gamblers
and minor hoods in the stage play, which later became the movie, "Guys
a newspaper photographer from the 1960's through 2002, I met
many a character who fit the Runyon mold. Most of them were
my associates at Newsday (Long Island, NY).
the next few months, I will introduce you to them. In many
instances, I have changed names in the fervent hope that I
not be thrashed for having exposed their idiosyncracies to
the world. It is not my intent to ridicule
or criticize anyone. The antics and the events about which
I write did truly take place. Time
may have dimmed the exact
dialogs but I write these journals depicting these people
as accurately as humanly possible. I
hope that you will find them as interesting and as zany
as did I.
A LENS DIMLY
THE DAY SULLY WAS FIRED
By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer
Sully was a mean spirited son of a bitch. He held a grudge
longer than any man I have ever known. He’s probably still pissed
at me for whatever reason, and he’s been dead for over twenty
He was the Night Photo Editor when I was hired at Newsday.
And being the new man, I got to work nights and that meant
for Sully. He was a bulky, white haired man who had been a
shooter for the old Nassau Daily Review Star, which was later
by the Long Island Press. He was an old Speed Graphic man and
had difficulty adapting to the changes wrought when 35mm cameras
introduced. He was a mediocre photographer, at best and Newsday
probably "promoted" him to Night Photo Editor to get
him off the street.
He treated the photographers in his dominion like vassals and
we were constantly running errands for him. If his car were
being fixed, he would have his lady friend drop him off at
on her way to work as a waitress in some hash house. And one
us would have to drive him home at 1 or 2 in the morning when
we finished work. He was addicted to goobers; those chocolate
peanuts. He would ask…ask Hell…he would tell one of
us to pick up a box of goobers on the way back to the office. Sometimes
when we called in after completing an assignment, one of us would
be dispatched to pick up some boxes of frozen franks from Nathan’s,
a popular hot dog joint in pre-MacDonalds Long Island. He had a
commercial account to shoot publicity photos for them at some of
the events they staged, and more often than not, one of us would
end up shooting the pictures under the guise of it being a news
job. Sully got the money and the hot dogs. We got just another
assignment added to our schedule.
This was contrary to the ethics proscribed by Newsday management
but none of us ever thought to use this against him. What was
even more damning was the commercial account that he had with
Democratic leader. Sully would dust off his old 4 X 5 Speed
Graphic from time to time to shoot campaign stills for Democratic
and try to get the newspaper to run them. Without his credit
line, naturally. That kind of thing was expressly forbidden.
I guess that Sully was in his late 50’s when I first entered
his domain. His eyesight wasn’t too good which didn’t
help when he was squinting through the optical loupe we used
to view the 35mm negatives on the light table. He invariably
the worst shot that you had. Once, as he was about to pick
my shots by punching the edge of the film with a conductor’s
ticket punch, I had the temerity to point out that the frame
that he was
about to select wasn’t as good as frame 16. He glared
up at me from where he was hunched over the light table and
the conductor’s punch across the roll of negatives until
he got to frame 16. Then with a malevolent grin, he moved the
cutting part of the tool to the center of the frame and removed
circular portion of the negative that I had favored. It happened
to be a shot that I particularly liked and now it was destroyed.
I blew my cool and laced into him with a barrage of verbal
invective. That put the frosting on an era of “grudge” that
set the tone to our professional relationship for the rest
of our association
Several days later, after I had forgotten about the incident,
I reported to work on a rainy afternoon. It was late spring
had endured a particularly wet season. That day, the rains
were heavy and soaking. Being situated on a large island where
of our landmass is measured in inches above sea level, we were
prone to local areas of flooding on days like this. I had already
called in and received a couple of grip and grin assignments.
But when I phoned the desk after my first one, Sully dispatched
to Great Neck, on the north shore of Nassau County, where a
neighborhood had reported impassible roads due to flooding.
I drove up there
and photographed the local citizenry coping with the high standing
water in the road. I phoned in, again and Sully sent me to
Amityville, to check out more flooding. Now, that was on the
diagonally across the island, in the next county. I made some
in and was dispatched to yet another flood, this time in Oyster
Bay, on the north shore, back in Nassau County. It took one
or two more calls to realize that the bastard was zig zagging
back and forth across the island in a manner that ensured that
be logging the most mileage for the least amount of return
for my effort. I also realized that any complaint on my part
only result in more accumulation of grudge, so I just slowed
down and finished out my shift in silence.
After that, whenever Sully was about to make a bad choice of
negatives, I would say, “You might want to take a close
look at that shot, Sully. I had camera movement on that frame.
And the next
one, too. But, the one after that looks sharp.” I was
preying on his blurred vision. He would peer into the loupe,
looked fuzzy to him and he would end up picking my choice.
Ahhh, sweet victory.
There were occasions when the oppressed were able to get in
some small measure of revenge for being the oppressed. One
with several hours left until the end of the night shift, Sully
dozed off at his desk with a half eaten box of goobers spilling
onto his lap. This was a common occurrence, especially on a
slow night when all the staff was back early from their assignments.
If no big story broke, the remaining shooters would just pack
up and go home at the end of their shifts, without disturbing
boss. Sully would wake up eventually, look at the clock, lock
up and go home. On this night, however, the peasants turned
ahead by a couple of hours and then went upstairs to the lunch
room, got some coffee out of the machine and waited. Every
so often one would sneak down to Photo and peek in through
Eventually, the reconnaissance paid off. Sully woke, looked
at the clock, turned off the lights, locked up and went home.
did the remaining shooters.
Of course, he realized what had occurred when he got home and
saw how early it was. The next night, retribution was his.
photographers weren’t out shooting, they were back at the
paper mixing darkroom chemicals and drying prints. This was normally
the responsibility of the darkroom techs. OK. The photogs realized
that some punishment for their prank was justifiable. But this
went on and on and on. I told you that the man was capable of holding
a grudge for an inordinate length of time and eventually it wore
on the beleaguered crew. After weeks of this they went to the Director
of Photography with their tale of woe, pleading for some respite.
When Sully arrived for work, that afternoon, he was summoned
to the office of the Assistant to the Publisher where he was
with his sins. He was also told that management was aware of
his extra-curricular freelance work and that and his harassment
the night staff was to cease immediately upon pain of instant
dismissal. There would be no further warnings. AND, there were
to be no reprisals
against the photographers who had brought these events to bear.
Sully was not one to take lightly such humilities. No sooner
did he return to his desk in the Photo Department than he started
against the sources of his pain.
You bastards don’t know what you’ve gotten yourselves
into,” he fumed. “When that little bald-headed F____
leaves here for the day (referring to the Director of Photography),
I am in charge, here. And you will do what I want. Not what he
No assignments were given out that night. Instead, the photographers
spent their shift doing every menial and demeaning task imaginable.
The next afternoon, Sully was fired.
Every year, on the anniversary, the photographers involved
have gotten together and had a beer to celebrate “The Day Sully