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Article By Charlie Huisking
In Warm Springs, Ga., 50 photographers and newsreel cameramen jostled for a shot as the hearse carrying Franklin D. Roosevelt's body headed to the train station.
Suddenly, Life magazine photographer Ed Clark heard the strains of "Goin' Home," a favorite song of FDR's, being played on the accordion. Turning, he saw Navy bandsman Graham Jackson playing the tune, his face showing anguish and tears streaming down his cheeks.
"I thought, 'My God! What a picture,' " Clark said. "I took three or four shots with my Leica, hoping that nobody else noticed."
No one did. Clark's exclusive photograph took up a full page in the April 17, 1945, issue of Life, which was devoted to Roosevelt's death. The picture came to symbolize a nation's grief.
That shot may be the 87-year-old Clark's most famous photograph, but it was only one click of the shutter in a remarkable career that took this genial, unassuming Nashville native everywhere from the White House to foreign capitals to Hollywood sound stages.
Like Forrest Gump, Clark -- who is now retired in Sarasota -- seemed to be on the scene whenever history was being made.
He photographed a scowling Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. In 1955, he became the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union in 30 years. On Dwight Eisenhower's final day as president, Clark was the only journalist permitted in the Oval Office.
He covered John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign, and captured the private JFK, too. In one of Clark's favorite shots, a beaming Kennedy peers into a crib at his daughter, Caroline.
Clark shot Life features on Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Desi & Lucy, Gable & Lombard and Bogart & Bacall. He photographed Gene Kelly splashing down the street on the set of "Singin' in the Rain."
But Clark chronicled the lives of average Americans, too -- from Nebraska wheat farmers to black children crowded into a segregated Arkansas schoolroom.
"I feel so fortunate to have witnessed so much," Clark said. "I think my generation saw more history than any other. That's the way it seemed to me, anyway."
Now, a new generation will have the chance to discover Clark and his work.
Clark is being featured in the February issue of The Digital Journalist, an on-line magazine dedicated to expanding the scope of journalism through the use of new technology. The magazine, created by Time photographer Dirck Halstead, has joined forces with the Herald-Tribune to tell Clark's story because the Herald-Tribune Co. is an unusual multimedia organization that includes television, print and a web site.
The Clark feature will consist of linked material on Halstead's site (http://digitaljournalist.org) and on the Herald-Tribune's Newscoast (www.newscoast.com), along with television coverage on SNN-6. Online, viewers will be able to see Clark's photographs and hear him share anecdotes from his days with Life.
Halstead says Clark belongs in the company of such other distinguished Life photographers as Alfred Eisenstadt and Carl Mydans. Together, they made Life a journalism powerhouse in the magazine's heyday in the '40s and '50s.
"Ed was the photographic voice of Middle America," Halstead said. "He came to his assignments not as a cosmopolitan guy, but as the down-home boy from Tennessee that he was.
"During the postwar period, as he covered Nuremberg and sent back the first shots from Paris after the war, he reflected America's growing awareness of the world and its role in it. As the country experienced these things, Ed was experiencing them for the first time, too. So, in his body of work, you really see America."
The walls of the Sarasota home that Clark shares with his wife, Joyce, are filled with his photos -- dramatic black-and-white shots of storm clouds over Notre Dame, photos of presidents and prime ministers and movie stars. There are also framed letters of appreciation from Eisenhower and Jackie Kennedy.
Health problems have slowed Clark in recent years, but his mind is agile and his sense of humor keen. Asked how he got his first job as a photographer, Clark chuckled. "I lied," he said.
Still a teen-ager at the time, he told the editor of the Nashville Tennessean that he was an experienced photographer when, in fact, he knew virtually nothing about cameras.
But he learned quickly, and soon was hauling a heavy 8-by-10-view camera and rickety tripod to assignments. "Covering a parade once, I used too much flash powder and nearly blew myself off the roof," Clark said.
He became a stringer for Life in 1936. In 1942, he was offered a contract, but turned it down because he didn't want to move to New York. "I was raising two young boys, and New York didn't seem like the place to raise them," he said. "And frankly, New York scared the hell out of me."
But Life eventually gave him a contract anyway, and allowed him to make Tennessee his base for a few years. After returning from his postwar assignments in Europe, Clark joined Life's Los Angeles bureau, where he specialized in shooting Hollywood's royalty.
His easygoing manner must have served him well. When Humphrey Bogart married Lauren Bacall, Clark was the only photographer invited to the reception. "Bogart told me it was because I was a gentleman," Clark said.
One day, a friend at 20th Century Fox called to tell Clark that the studio had just signed "a hot tomato," who turned out to be Marilyn Monroe.
"She was unknown then, so I was able to spend a lot of time shooting her," Clark said. "We'd go out to Griffith Park and she'd read poetry. I sent several rolls to Life in New York, but they wired back, 'Who the hell is Marilyn Monroe?' Later, though, they did a cover of my shot of Marilyn and Jane Russell in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.' "
When Eisenhower was elected president in 1952, Life asked Clark to move to Washington, to take advantage of Clark's friendship with press secretary James Haggerty.
"I had wonderful access to Ike, and he was a joy to photograph -- very expressive," Clark said. "But he was rather austere. He didn't like to small-talk."
Clark had much more affection for Kennedy, whom he first covered for Life while Kennedy was a senator. "We spent days shooting at the Kennedys' home in Georgetown," he said. "Once, when we were having lunch, I asked if I could get a shot of him with the baby, Caroline. Jackie said no, that she was upstairs asleep. But Jack bounded up the stairs, and I followed."
The shot of an awakened, wide-eyed Caroline staring at her father so pleased the president that he hung it in the Oval Office. Jackie asked for 75 copies, Clark said.
When he was on assignment, "the days were never long enough for me," Clark said. "Even now, I still love holding a camera, looking through the lens to see what I can see."
Asked what he would tell young people thinking of a career in photography, Clark was emphatic. "Don't do it," he said.
But as his face broke into a grin, he added,
"Don't do it unless you want to work harder than you have in your life,
and have more fun than you could imagine."
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