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
By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)
People are always asking me if I’ve ever photographed celebrities
during my long career as a newspaper photographer. Of course I
have. Working for a newspaper in the New York Metropolitan area,
it would be odd if I hadn’t. New York City is a mecca for
celebrities of all shapes and sizes. Naturally, there are show
biz celebs from stage, screen and tv. Musical celebrities abound,
from Opera to Hip-Hop. There are sports stars from every major
league team in any sport you can name. And politicians? Hah! You
can’t walk anywhere without tripping over them. A camera
is a magnet to them. Having the United Nations headquartered
in mid-town ensures that there will be heads of state from all
the world in attendance whenever there is a big meeting of the
What I am saying is that in my 42 years with Newsday, I have
drawn my fair share of celebrity stories. Then comes the next
questions. What were they like? Who was the most interesting?
How were they to work with?
I can never answer those questions with any simplistic answers,
but I would generalize by saying that I have always found that
the more important or famous the personality, the easier it
was to work with him/her. It was usually the starlets or the
that gave me the most trouble. There were exceptions to this
rule, of course, but whether it was a sports celebrity or a
star, the bigger the talent, the more gracious the personality.
Sometimes the young personalities weren’t the problem.
More often than not it was their mothers who created the headaches
I once had to photograph a very young Jodie Foster after her
first starring roll in “Taxi Driver.” She seemed
to be more nervous about me photographing her during our reporter’s
interview than in the interview, itself. It was probably because
her mother was in the room with us and kept directing her how
to appear before the camera. I wonder if the film’s director,
Martin Scorsese, had the same problem.
I had the exact same problem with another starlet during another
interview. Brooke Shields was in New York to promote her first
starring roll in “The Blue Lagoon.” Oh, Lord, protect
us poor newspukes from the tenacity of stage mothers. Good grief!
But, believe it or not, the worst case of “stage mothering” that
I ever experienced came not from the parent of a show business
personality, but from the mother of a young girl who was a paper
carrier for my own newspaper.
Newsday was being delivered by young boys and girls who earned
some spending money by carrying the paper to our readers’ doorsteps
after school each day and on weekends. In order to increase circulation,
our Circulation Department would offer incentive programs to encourage
these youngsters to try to sell more subscriptions by offering
cash and gift prizes. Newsday would run “house ads” in
the paper to promote these programs to entice more young people
to become carriers. Our staff photographers would be called upon
to photograph various scenarios to illustrate this.
One day I drew such an assignment. I was to make a photo showing
a carrier girl skiing through a snowstorm to illustrate that
our stalwart young employees would brave the elements to bring
to your doorstep. There were several obstacles that had to
be overcome. One; it was summertime. Two; the young girl who
was to be photographed
as the skiing carrier girl had never skied before. Three; neither
had I. And four; her mother accompanied her.
The public relations person from our Circulation Department
who had conjured up this scenario had decided that we could
this illustration by photographing the girl in our photo studio
against a roll of white, seamless background paper with boxes
of soap flakes emptied in front of a large floor fan to serve
snow. The PR girl brought some borrowed skis and asked the
child to dress in winter outerwear.
I met the PR girl, an art director from our Art Department,
our young model and her mother in our photo studio. While the
and the art director went over their requirements with me,
the carrier girl and her mother went into the dressing room
into her winter garments. When she came out, two things were
obvious. The winter clothing was fine, except that it was not
skiing. And, she had no ski boots with which to snap into the
ski bindings. She was wearing sneakers.
There was no time to send out for the required equipment so
we held a little brain session and decided that I was to photograph
the girl from the knees up. Having her holding the ski poles
serve as the graphic element suggesting that she was skiing.
OK. It was time to get to work. I rolled down the seamless
white backdrop, set up my camera and arranged the studio lights
the weak winter light that was the norm for the northeast.
I moved the large floor fan in front of the spot where the
pose and made sure that it was close enough to cause her scarf
to flutter behind her.
Before I asked the art director to spill out the soap flakes
in front of the fan, I held a rehearsal. I asked the young
strike a pose as though she were speeding downhill to deliver
Newsdays, one of which was prominently displayed under her
arm. She stood
there, ramrod stiff. There was no expression on her face; no
animation in her pose.
This would never do. I left my position behind the camera and
tripod and walked over to her.
You have to pretend that you are actually skiing down a snowy slope
with the frigid wind blowing right in your face,” I explained
to her. “Try it, again.”
She shifted her feet a little but still stood there like a
No, no,” I exclaimed. “You have to be an actress. We’re
here in this studio in the summer. But, you have to show the
camera that you are skiing downhill in the snow and freezing
She grimaced her face. Her mother said, “No, no, dear.
I gave the mother a look. “No, darling,” I said to
the girl. “Don’t listen to anyone but me. I need you
to look really cold. And don’t stand so straight. I want
you to bend at the knees and hold your ski poles under your arms,
in a tuck position.” I didn’t know a thing about
skiing, but I had watched enough Winter Olympics to pick up a
Don’t slump, dear,” her mother called out.
I ignored her and continued to coach the girl until I felt she
knew what was expected of her. Then I went back behind the
camera and viewed the scene through the viewfinder
Bend your knees a little more,” I coached. “Can you
feel the wind and the snow stinging your face as you tear down
the slope? It’s cold. Can you feel the cold?”
She was responding and believe it or not, this ridiculous scene
in the studio was starting to look believable.
Give me some snow,” I shouted to the art director. She
poured out the contents of the soap box in front of the fan,
there was a winter snowstorm on our improvised ski slope. My
finger stroked the shutter release button. And a split second
shutter opened and the strobes flashed, I heard…
“ Look at the camera and smile, dear.”
OUT! OUT! I want everyone except the art director out of the studio.
I can’t have people contravening my instructions to the
Momma went ballistic. “Who put you in charge of this session?
You’re only the photographer.”
Oooohhh. That didn’t sit well with me. I shoved my face into
hers and said, “I’m the one responsible for making
a photograph that tells the story.”
She countered with, “That should be the art director’s
And I said, “Well, no one here seems to be taking responsibility
for getting the proper emotion and response from your daughter!”
Momma muttered and fumed and the art director came over and
I should take charge of this shoot.”
I said, “Certainly. I have no problem with that. Here’s
the camera. It’s all set up. All you need to do is press
the button. The motor drive will keep exposing film as long as
you hold down the button.”
With that, I stormed out of the studio and went to the cafeteria
for a cup of coffee. Jeez! Am I a prima donna, or what? But,
what the hell. I couldn’t let people get away with that
crap, could I?
Needless to say, the art director and the PR lady ran up to
the Director of Photography with stories about how rude I was.
beeper went off as I was having coffee, with orders to report
to the boss’s
The coffee had settled me and I was calmer as I confronted
the boss and the two angry women.
The Director of Photography said, “What happened? I hear
that you gave everyone in the studio a hard time and that you
were rude, aggressive and confrontational to the model and her
I explained, “That’s their side of the story. While
I certainly over-reacted in the end, I feel that I really had justification
for what I did.” I related my side of what had happened
and how every attempt that I made to get the young model to look
she was actually skiing was circumvented by the mother interruptions.
The PR lady chimed in that I was not in charge of the shoot.
I conceded that point but I also brought up the fact that the
had no experience as a model and was merely standing straight
and stiff and that was unacceptable. No one else stepped in
to do anything,
so I had to.
I was told that the shoot had been rescheduled for the next
day, with the same cast of characters and that I would have
to the mother.
I can’t do that,” I said. “You’ll have
to assign another photographer.
OK,” said the boss.
Later on he took me aside and said that I probably had every
reason to behave the way I did, but he had to play the politics
other people. Another photographer re-shot the ad. I don’t
know if he had any problems or even if he was able to get a decent
shot. All I know is that the ad never ran.