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
AND THE GANG
By Dick Kraus
Newsday (Long Island, NY) Photographer (retired)
I don’t know when he became known as Frootz. I’m not
even sure if I’m spelling it right. Maybe it’s supposed
to be Fruits. His name was Al Eichorn and everyone usually called
him “Ike.” But, suddenly he was Frootz. I think it
was Jimmy Caracristi who hung that moniker on him. Jimmy was our
stoical Darkroom Tech and after he started using the nickname it
stuck and became a standard.
Frootz was an affable staff photographer at Newsday when I
knew him in the ‘60’s. He worked the street three days a
week and filled in as the Weekend Photo Editor on Fridays and Saturdays.
We were a six day a week suburban daily, back then and there was
no Sunday paper. There also wasn’t a lot to being the Weekend
Photo Editor in those days. We had maybe 14 photographers on the
staff at peak hours and peak days during the middle of the week,
and they were spread over staggered shifts and days off and were
distributed across two large counties. We didn’t cover
much in nearby New York City, like we did later on.
Seniority dictated our shifts and days off and I was a relatively
new hire so I worked 3 PM to 11 PM and my days off were Tuesday
and Wednesday. I didn’t mind. I was so happy to have
gotten the job and enjoyed being a news photographer so much
that I might
have considered working 7 days a week and longer hours. That,
needless to say, would have ended my marriage much sooner.
Working with Frootz and the gang on weekends was always a lot
of fun. Assignments were mostly very basic local soft news
events. Like a real estate story; a local politician holding
a press conference; a high school sporting event; a women’s
group planning a charity fundraiser. That would mean a bunch
of talking heads, grip and grins, ribbon cuttings and such.
nothing that would tax our simple minds and obviously, nothing
that would win any awards.
OK. So maybe that doesn’t sound like much fun. Booooring.
What made it fun was that when we called the Photo Desk at
the start of our shifts, Frootz would tell each photog that
brought in his hibachi and he asked each of us to supply something
to cook on it. Someone brought in some marinated steaks while
someone else brought in cocktail franks. Another would get
his wife to
whip up some home made potato salad and cole slaw and someone
supplied a bottle or two of wine and a couple of 6 packs of
In the late afternoon, as we straggled in from our earlier
assignments, Frootz would have the charcoal glowing red in
the hibachi. By
the time we were done souping our film, the coals would be
perfect for cooking. The grill was set up on a countertop where
were sorted. Needless to say, the counter was cleared for our
pleasure. It was situated next to a row of windows that looked
out on Stewart Avenue. This old building wasn’t one of those
new fangled hermetically sealed pieces of architecture, so the
windows could be opened allowing the smoke and carbon monoxide
to waft out into the atmosphere. It wasn’t long before
the wonderful aromas of cooking steak and franks filled the
and our mouths would water in anticipation.
Good old Frootz. The boy knew how to throw a party. After dinner,
we would clear up the place and Frootz would edit our film
and Jimmy would disappear into the darkroom to print our shots
we banged out captions on the old Underwood typewriters. When
the prints came off the drier and were matched up with the
correct captions, Frootz would hand us the evening assignments
dropping the prints off at the Picture Desk in the Newsroom,
would go home, leaving us to our own devices.
Friday; Saturday, it was pretty much the same drill. If we
had time to kill before our evening assignments, we’d usually
go down to the “Chinaman’s.” We’d have
a couple of drinks at the large bar at our friend, Arthur Lem’s,
Chunking Royal Restaurant. After which we would separate and head
out to our assignments. Sometimes one of us would have no assignment
and would be on standby. Who ever the lucky photographer was would
notify the News Desk that he would invest a dime and phone in from
time to time in case something broke. This was before 2 way radios,
cell phones or pagers. The News Desk was operating on a skeleton
crew on Friday and even more so on Saturday. The Saturday paper
was only a few pages in size, and, as I said, there was no Sunday
paper. The News Editor didn’t go out of his way to find
stories unless the world came to an end. He wanted to close
out the paper
and get home.
So the “standby photographer” would determine which
of us had the “funnest” assignment and would ride with
him. A lot of our shots were made with multiple flash and the “standby” would
hold the extra light.
On Friday and Saturday nights, our jobs were always something
like: an installation of officers for one of the many Kiwanis
Elks Clubs and Rotary Clubs; a dinner dance for the Daughters
of the American Revolution; a testimonial dinner for some judge
by the county Bar Association; stuff like that. After awhile
you got to know which organizations were fun to cover. Those
ones that seated you at a table, served you dinner and bought
you drinks. They were more than happy to please in order to
get a well-composed
and well-lit picture in Newsday. Frequently it wasn’t
just the photo that was well lit.
If one of us drew a really good one, the other photographers
would just bang through their assignments as fast as possible
join the lucky shooter at his assignment. The hosting organization
had no qualms about seating the uninvited guests at the table
and plying them with food and drink. OK, so that shot would
with three or four extension flashes. That didn’t necessarily
make it a better photo but it sure impressed the Hell out of
those being photographed.
Those were the halcyon days and life was good.
There was this one Saturday night when we each had an assignment.
Frootz had gone home and we decided to go up to the Old Country
Diner for a drink and some dinner before our assignments. This
diner was an old standby for all of us. It was situated nearby
on a busy intersection and drew a good crowd. But, Gus, the
Greek owner and chief cook, always greeted us warmly and found
The four of us sat at a booth. There was Johnny Curran, Al
Raia, Marv Sussman and myself. Al and Marv had gotten there
John and me, and were already savoring their martinis as we
slid into the bench opposite them. He and I ordered our standard,
draft beer. It was a warm summer night and the beer felt good
John polished off his with gusto and we summoned the waitress
just as Al and Marv drained their martinis. Al and Marv ordered
round of the same and Johnny and I called for a couple more
I guess the gin was taking its effect on the martini drinkers.
Before the waitress had left the table, Marv sneered and started
making derogatory comments about beer drinkers. REAL men drank
martinis. None of this pansy beer stuff would do it. Well,
damn! Didn’t that just piss me off. How dare he put me down because
I preferred beer. Anyway, I wasn’t such a big drinker
and I liked a good draft beer with my dinner and had no intention
getting snorkled just to say that I was a man for doing so.
Soon Al was adding more comments. John looked at me with questioning
Oh crap! I was young and stupid and willing to take dares with
no regard for the consequences.
What do ya say, John?” I asked my beer drinking companion. “Shall
we show them that beer drinkers can inhale martinis as well
What the Hell was I thinking? I detest martinis. They taste
and feel like thick, greasy olive oil sliding down my throat.
I was well aware of how deadly potent they were. But, the gauntlet
had been thrown and we had to stand up to the challenge. John
nodded his agreement.
Forget the beers,” I said to the bemused waitress. “Bring
us martinis, too.”
Wait a minute.” Said Marv. “Al and I have already had
a martini. We’re already one up on ya.”
I threw the taunt right back at him. “OK, make ours doubles.”
Jeez, I just kept opening my big yap making things worse. What
was I thinking. Doubles? Did I have a death wish?
The waitress brought back our order. Martinis for Al and Marv.
Doubles for Johnny and me. As we raised our glasses, the aroma
of the vermouth brought on the gag reflex and I could feel
my stomach churn. There was no backing out. I had to go through
insanity. But, I knew that I would vomit if I slowly sipped
vile liquid in my glass. Figuring that I was a dead man anyway,
I took a deep breath and held it. Then I swallowed the entire
contents of the glass in one swift, hard gulp. And, I sat back
in my seat
and waited to pass out.
The others drank their martinis in a more civilized fashion.
When they were done, Al asked if we wanted to continue the
of martini drinking (or guzzling, in my case.)
Certainly,” I said. “And, since I started with doubles,
I will continue with doubles.”
Did I now detect a look of macho admiration in the faces of
our two protagonists? Or was that merely a look of bewildered
at my incredible stupidity?
The drinks arrived. We saluted one another with our raised
glasses. I didn’t think it wise to inhale my drink in one swallow,
as I did the first time. I took smaller gulps, but couldn’t
quite get past the gag reflex caused by the vile fluid. It
was with considerable effort that I was able to hold down the
We ordered some burgers and fries to go with the next round.
Strangely, I was not yet feeling any effects from the gin and
was John. The other pair of imbibers were starting to slur
their words and looked a little glassy eyed as we started the
round. And, John and I were still drinking doubles. I’ve heard it
said that God looks out for drunks and the feeble minded. Since
I really wasn’t feeling the effects of the booze, I guess
I fell into the category of the feeble minds.
We ate our burgers. Dessert was another round.
Marv was trying to prop up his chin with his hand, but his
chin just wouldn’t stay still and he kept missing. He
tried pointing across the table at Johnny and me.
Look at zshem guyz,” he slurred. “Zhey can’t
keep zheir eyz open, zheyr zo drunk.”
Al said nothing. He just slid out of his seat and onto the
John and I paid the tab for dinner and drinks for the four
of us. John threw Al into the back seat of his car and I took
me. We covered their assignments as well as our own while they
slept it off in the back of our cars.
So, who were the winners of that little challenge match? Yeah,
John and I managed to out-drink our cohorts. But they slept
while we did double duty that night.
The funny thing is that none of us were really heavy hitters
with booze or beer. There were many others on our staff who
serious drinking problems. Compared to them, the four of us
But, I’ll tell you one thing. I haven’t had a martini
since that night. And that was over 40 years ago.