by Tom Hubbard
Emeritus Prof. Ohio State School of Journalism and Communication

We all know W. Eugene Smith the famous Life magazine and Minimata photographer. I’ve got a great story about Gene Smith; actually the “other” Gene Smith. You may not have heard of the Cincinnati Gene Smith. I worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer (1966-1968) during the last years of the Cincinnati Gene Smith’s career. I’ll call the Cincinnati Gene “Smitty” and the other one “W. Eugene” to keep this straight. (I’m working from memory so I may a year or so off in this.)
I hate to use the cliche “heart of gold” but it describes Smitty. Smitty was the AP photographer from the 1930s to the early 1970s. Smitty was the person who said “Thank you Mr. President” in Cincinnati for many years. He was a wonderful character. He had opinions and he talked LOUD. Once I saw a photographer mistakenly open his camera before rewinding the film. He quickly closed it, trying to beat the speed of light. I politely ignored it. Not Smitty. He was all over the hapless photographer; Smitty good naturedly accusing and the photographer denying.
I think Smitty knew everyone in Cincinnati (and most people in the world.) If you walked a downtown Cincinnati street with Smitty, he said “hello,” by name, to half the people he passed. He mixed his own film developer that he marketed as “Smitty’s Super Slop.” By word of mouth, Smitty’s mouth. You might walk by the AP office and hear Smitty yelling at a reluctant photographer in Philadelphia or Chicago about its ability. It developed fine grain film in one minute.
When I came to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the other photographers warned me, “Smitty’s stuff is great, but stay away from it. He changes the formula every time he makes a batch.” There were some strange chemicals on the shelf in his darkroom.
When Smitty died in the 1980s, everyone in town had great Smitty stories. Here’s the most famous; a true story. As you know, photographers cannot be on the field during a National League Baseball game. The reason for that was a controversial call in a Reds game in the 1940s. Smitty walked over to the the umpires and listened. Then, he yelled the entire conversation up to the press box (and the entire ballpark!) at Crosley Field. That was the last day photographers were on the field during a National League game.

There are hundred’s of Smitty stories but I’ll move to my point. When national media would come to Cincinnati, one of the Cincinnati photographers might mention “Gene Smith” meaning our Smitty. Usually, a visiting photojournalist would react, “Gene Smith is here?” We would smile and say, “No, we’re talking about OUR Gene Smith.”
Years after leaving Cincinnati, I finally learned that OUR Gene Smith was the original. The W. Eugene Smith you know was second.
I found it in Jim Hughes’ biography of W. Eugene Smith. Hughes relates how the beginning W. Eugene Smith applied at Life magazine and was told they were already using a lot of work from Gene Smith in Cincinnati. So, W. Eugene Smith adapted the leading “W” we know. Smitty, you never told me you were the original.
Tom Hubbard
Emeritus Prof. Ohio State School of Journalism and Communication



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