A LENS DIMLY
This is not an easy assignment; writing about someone whom, after many years of working together, I have come to love and admire. The reason that it's difficult is because in order to tell this story, I have to talk about the old Stan that I first came to know before I can talk about the new Stan that he became. Bear with me.
The old Stan came to work at Newsday as a brash, loud and annoying young kid. Actually, I wasn't a whole helluv a lot older; maybe ten years, but he seemed so much younger..
Stan had come to us via the now defunct NY World Telegram and Sun. Those of you who have been around long enough will recognize that any newspaper containing more than one word is the result of the amalgamation of failing newspapers having been bought or absorbed by another paper. At one point in New York City's history there was a NY World, a NY Telegram and a NY Sun. Stan had worked there, at the World Telegram and Sun, first as a copy boy who was a go-fer and did odd jobs. But he always carried a camera with him and chased police cars and fire trucks around the city on his own time as well as on company time. This led to him being assigned to the Photo Department. He was the last employee left at the paper when it merged with two other failing papers to become the World Journal Tribune. That's when he was hired by Newsday.
Stan showed up for work on his first night and it soon became evident that if he had been given every assignment on the books, he would have willingly gone out and covered them all. He was that eager and ambitious. He had so much pent up energy that none of us ever wanted to sit next to him at meals. His legs were in constant motion, even as he sat, and his eyes were always scanning whatever room we were in, as though he expected spot news to break out in front of us and he wanted to be the first one to pick up a camera and record it for posterity. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad trait for a newspaper photographer. But, for the veterans on the staff who knew that the likelihood of spot news breaking out in the Old Country Diner was nil, trying to have a leisurely meal with Stan at the table was like trying to have dinner on the Titanic after it hit the ice-berg. We had been issued beepers so that the desk could reach us with any breaking stories. Stan would constantly hit the test button on his which would then emit a loud series of chirps to indicate that it was working. He needed to know that his beeper was working in case the world came to an end, he would be able to go out and cover the story.
When Stan joined us, he went on the night shift and due to my increase in seniority status, I went on days. I didn't get to see much of the old, young Stan in action but I certainly heard many of the stories being told by those who were getting to know him. Because of his penchant for spot news stories, he spent a lot of time in the Newsroom when he wasn't out on the road. He could always be found pestering the news desks for any hint of a hot story so that he could be on his way to the scene before the word got back to the Photo Editor who would then assign a photographer. The News Editors were getting annoyed at his persistent snooping as was Sully, the Night Photo Editor, who had to field the complaints coming back to him. So, one night they all got together to connive a scheme to dampen his ardor; or at least, to try to break him of an annoying habit. Late one evening, when all the photographers were back from their jobs, souping film and doing captions, the phone at Sully's desk rang. He picked it up and listened for a moment.
"OK," he said. "I'll get someone right on it." He slammed down the phone and shouted to Bill Senft. "Hey Bill, get going. A plane just went down at Kennedy Airport. There was an explosion and lotsa loss of life!"
Senft grabbed his cameras and tore out of the office. He jumped into his car and smoked out of the parking lot...right down the street to the Stewart Diner. He and the rest of the staff were in on the gag.
Stan grabbed his bag and was halfway out of the door when Sully stopped him.
"Where the hell are you going? I need you to finish developing your film and then do your captions."
Poor Stan spluttered and fumed. Here was the story of a lifetime and he wasn't going to get to roll on it.
The phone rang again.
Sully shouted to another photographer. "Get your ass down to the airport. They city is calling out every available piece of emergency equipment and there's a call out for more medical help! This is a big one."
Stan was steaming. His legs were shaking a mile a minute as he banged out captions on a typewriter while the other photographer tore out the door; on his way to the diner.
The next phone call had another shooter on his way to cover a hospital where the dead and injured were being taken. One more phone call and then Stan and Sully were the only ones left in the department. That's when Sully got up and put on his coat. "It's quitting time," he announced. "I'm heading for the Stewart Diner to meet the guys. Wanna come?"
It took awhile before Stan realized what was going on. Did that cure him? Nah. He was always a news hound. He was like the Dalmation at the firehouse. Whenever the sirens went off, he and the dog would be in the truck, waiting to go.
There are so many stories.
Eventually, Sully was gone and shortly thereafter, I got a shot at the Night Photo Editor's desk. It didn't take long for me to get a read on Stan's methods. The one thing that bothered me the most was his obsessive expenditure of film. I wasn't concerned about the cost. That was somebody else's worry. What bothered me was that I had to edit my way through mounds and mounds of negatives each night when Stanley returned from his assignments. He would shoot sixty or eighty frames on a simple head and shoulder assignment. Most of our assignments would end up as one shot in the paper, if a picture was even used at all. If a county official held a press conference Stan would come back with four or more rolls of film. The problem was that each shot looked like the ten shots previous and just like the next ten shots. Stan used a motor drive on each of his cameras and he always hit the button and held it down. It was like editing movie film. He would shoot a burst and then he might change his angle and shoot another burst and then change to another lens and shoot another burst. If he had two or three assignments that night, I would be confronted with an awful lot of exposures to edit down to the one or two that would actually be selected to be printed. This left me very little time to finish all the crossword puzzles that appeared in the various newspapers that lay on my desk.
I would tell him to edit his own film down to four or five of what he considered to be his best shots on each assignment and then I would cut it down to a couple to be printed. This would send him into a state of shock.
"But, but, but....you don't understand," he would splutter. "These are great shots. This would make a terrific picture page."
"Of what, Stan?" I would say. "A page of friggin' head shots?"
And the battle waged. When I was back at my desk, busy with my puzzles, Stan would select another dozen or so frames. Which led to Jimmy, our darkroom technician, storming up to my desk with a fistful of Stan's film screaming, "I thought you were gonna put a leash on him!"
Even after I cut out that little subterfuge, Stan would wait until we went out for our meal and would then sneak into the darkroom to print up a stack on his own. Then he would go out to the Picture Editor and try to sell him on the idea of a picture page.
In desperation, I went to Harvey, our Director of Photography, and suggested that I be allowed to send Stan out with an old 4 X 5 Speed Graphic. I reasoned that Stan would still be able to shoot as much film as he wanted. But, having to go through the mechanics of loading a film holder into the back of the camera, pulling the dark slide, cocking the shutter and then focusing and composing the shot before firing and then having to insert the dark slide, remove the film holder and turn it around to repeat the procedure before making the next shot, might make him think twice before shooting so rampantly. I knew in my heart that a few weeks of that would turn Stan into a capable photographer who thought about what was in his viewfinder before pushing the button. I cut my journalism teeth on one of those old boxes and it certainly taught me the discipline that I wished to share with Stan. But, Harvey turned me down. He was afraid that Stan might miss a good assignment because he wouldn't have the versatility afforded by the 35mm cameras that were now being used. We both agreed that Stan had to be broken of his uncontrolled shooting habits. He was an excellent photographer and always came back with good pictures to go with the stories, but he just didn't have the confidence to wait for the proper moment to make THE picture. THE picture was always there, but an editor had to wade through a ton of other frames to find it. He started his motor drives going as soon as he entered the room and didn't stop until he ran out of film (so to speak.)
I was getting desperate. I was having to work late in order to finish my crosswords. So, if Harvey was concerned that Stan might blow an assignment if I made him work with a Graphic, I would have to operate within the parameters of the 35mm film format. One night, in lieu of working on puzzles, I sat down with a carton of 35mm Plus X and another of 35mm Tri X, the two black and white films that we used in those days, and I cut them down to 3 frames on each roll. I taped on a label to each roll signifying that it was a 3 exposure roll. My thinking was that he could use the versatile 35mm camera on the run-of-the-mill assignments, but would have to stop and change film after every three shots. For any major story, he could use regular film cassettes. That should do the trick. But, once again, my scheme was vetoed by the Director of Photography, who just didn't want to take a chance on screwing up an assignment. Curses!!
I begged to be put back on the street. It really had nothing to do with my frustrations with Stanley. I had had enough of the general frustrations of being an editor instead of doing what I loved most; being a shooter on the street.
And so, at one point, I found myself working with Stan and a couple of other photographers, as a team covering the National Democratic Convention in New York City that nominated President Jimmy Carter for a second term. We were all doing a great job and getting some really relevant pictures in the paper every day. Marv was now the head of the Photo Department and was with us at the Convention to oversee the photo operation and to edit the film each night. He was having his problems with Stan's overshooting and kept cautioning him to be more selective. We had to have our film developed at the UPI Bureau at Madison Square Garden where the convention was being held. By the time we got our film back at the end of each night session and banged out some quick captions for the edited selection, a messenger was waiting to rush the film the 35 miles back to the Newsday office to be printed up and sent to the Picture Editor. We were always on the edge of deadline.
On the last night, after Carter was renominated and the acceptance speeches were to take place, Marv gathered us up in the Newsday Convention Bureau and laid out a plan to ensure that we got our edited film back to Newsday in time, lest the paper be forced to use wire service photos. Marv would have a messenger pick up our early film and it would be developed and waiting for us at our bureau when we finished the session. Our main priority was to get the wrap-up photos of the Prez and his family along with the Vice President and his family waving and smiling to the tumultuous crowds as the balloons and confetti rained down from the rafters of the Garden. This event usually ran late and would really impinge on our deadlines. So, Marv's plan was for each of us to shoot with extra discipline and try to hold our take down to maybe 3 or 4 rolls each. We would bring the film directly to the bureau, undeveloped. We would then knock out quick captions for the earlier selection of film and some general captions for what we had on the late, undeveloped shots and the whole shebang would be rushed back to the paper.
In theory, it sounded fine. But, it didn't take into account for Stanley's unquenchable need to cover a story in his own inimitable fashion.
As soon as the newly renominated candidates left the stand, we scurried back to our bureau with our two or three rolls of film. While we were typing out captions, Marv asked, "Where's Stan?"
None of us had seen him. The minutes ticked away toward our deadline, and still no Stan. Just as Marv was about to dispatch the messenger with what we had in hand, Stan burst into the bureau.
"Where the Hell have you been?" stormed our leader.
"Oh, man! Have I got some great stuff," Stan exclaimed. "I snuck backstage and got some real exclusive photos of Carter and his family. Real up close and personal and I was the only photographer there, until I got kicked out by security."
With that he emptied film from his camera bag as well as from his pockets. The film cassettes piled up on Marv's desk until there were about 40 rolls of film.
Marv said, "That's great, Stan."
And with one sweep of his arm, shoved all of the cassettes into a waste paper basket before sending the messenger on his way.
The color drained out of Stan's face and his knees buckled.
"But, I have exclusive shots of Carter and everyone back stage. Don't you even want to look at them?" Stan gasped.
"There's no time," said Marv. "We're over deadline as it is and I warned everbody not to overshoot and to get back here at once. Ya blew it, my friend."
I don't think that Stan ever really recovered from that blow. Even though Marv did retrieve a couple of rolls, a few minutes later and sent them to UPI to be developed. They did contain some excellent photos, just as Stan had described. Marv had UPI transmit them back to Newsday and they did appear in the next day's paper. Stan went on to become one of the paper's best shooters He did become an important team player and you could always count on him to stick it out in all kinds of weather when a story required him to stand his ground and wait out a shot. But he was constantly being admonished for his excessive zeal and his habit of overshooting.
However, life takes some funny turns and sometimes it's not so funny. At the height of his career as a shooter, Stan fell out of the sky when the helicopter from which he was shooting lost power and crashed. Stan had been covering the Long Island Marathon from a chopper. They were making shots from a low altitude near the finish line at Eisenhower Park when alarm bells sounded in the cockpit announcing a sudden loss of power. Normally, the pilot would put the rotor blades into auto rotate which would allow them to turn even without engine power, while the chopper lost altitude. This maneuver would soften the impact of a crash landing. But, Stan's bird was too low for the auto rotation to take effect and the helicopter hit the ground with force. Fortunately, there was no explosion or fire. Stan was thrown from the cockpit and lay next to the crumpled chopper. He was rushed to the hospital and after a long period of rehabilitation, he recovered but with severe limitations. He was an inch or two shorter, due to spinal compression and in constant pain. He still wears a special back brace to this day. This made it impossible for him to continue his career as the award winning photographer that he had become.
But, he served admirably as a Photo Editor doing special projects. He was the Photo Editor for our Business Pages and no man ever worked harder to enliven those normally dull pages.
And thus, in a reversal of fortune, I found myself working under the direction of the man to whom I had devoted so much time trying to break of bad habits. Stan was now critiquing and picking my photos. While I may not have always seen eye to eye with him on many assignments, I respected his opinions and I believe that he respected mine.
I know that he would have been much happier being a shooter on the streets, chasing police calls and fire engines, but he never complained and he worked long hours and gave Newsday a good bang for their buck. While he managed to annoy almost everyone with his zeal to do a great job, he was loved and respected by everyone at the paper with whom he had contact.
took a company buy-out and retired in 2002. There was a crowd
of well-wishers at our retirement dinner that February. I wish
I could say
that they came out to honor me, but, without being modest, I
know that it was Stan's charisma that brought them out.
I only hope that Stan will still consider me his friend after having exposed him to such public scrutiny.
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