New York's Longest Run

Associated Press Writer

When people talk about a new smash hit on Broadway or a record winning streak at Yankee Stadium, Marty Lederhandler just smiles. Nobody's had a longer run in New York than he has.

But the man who photographed mayors from Fiorello La Guardia to Rudy Giuliani, hit Utah Beach on D-Day, and accompanied Nelson and Happy Rockefeller on their Venezuelan honeymoon, is hanging up his cameras at The Associated Press after 66 years on the job.

Lederhandler, who turned 84 on Nov. 23, retired at the end of the year. "It's time to go, and give someone else a chance to do the things I've done," he says.

The Gotham native leaves a celluloid legacy second to none - fires, murders, parades, sports events and plane crashes; every president from Herbert Hoover (retired) to Bill Clinton; royals, actors, crooks, spies, athletes, cultural icons and most top world leaders of the past half-century.

He captured Marilyn Monroe in Arthur Miller's Manhattan apartment, and Winston Churchill in Bernard Baruch's. "Don't shoot 'til you see the whites of their eyes," Churchill growled as Lederhandler aimed his lens.

He was standing beside Fidel Castro at the United Nations when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev strode up and gave the Cuban leader a bear hug. Prevented by the crush of bodies from reaching his color camera, Lederhandler got the picture only in black and white. But only he got it.

During that 15th General Assembly meeting in 1960 - awash in famous heads of state from Nehru to Tito - Lederhandler developed an affinity for covering the world body.

"Without his consummate skill and untiring professionalism, many great moments in the history of the United Nations would have gone unrecorded," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a recent letter to AP.

Lederhandler joined AP full-time in March 1936 (he'd started part-time the year before) and spent the next 6 1/2 decades looking at life through a lens. At some point he began setting a new record for job longevity every day, a sort of journalistic version of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.

To say he's seen it all may be an exaggeration, but not by much. Haile Selassie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth II, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Elizabeth Taylor, Carl Sandburg, Douglas MacArthur, Bertrand Russell, Groucho Marx, Malcolm X, Liberace, Yasser Arafat, Frank Sinatra, Frank Costello, Aristotle Onassis, Anwar Sadat, Van Cliburn, James Cagney, the Beatles, Sophia Loren, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Luciano Pavarotti are a sampling of people freeze-framed by Lederhandler's lens.

Marty and an older brother, Harry, got into cameras as a teen-age hobby during the Depression, and went to work at AP as $12 a week photo messengers, learning the craft in their spare time with a Speed Graphic they bought together.

Marty figured out how to double his income by using a tunnel to deliver photos to the Daily News a few blocks away, pocketing his cab allowance. But just running photo errands was heady stuff for a 17-year-old boy. "Everything was exciting, and I got caught up in it," Lederhandler says. "New York was the center of the world."

Drafted by the Army in 1940, Lederhandler earned lieutenant's bars in Officer Candidate School and became leader of a six-man Signal Corps combat photo team.

On June 6, 1944, he landed on Utah Beach with the 4th Infantry Division, lugging his cameras and two caged pigeons to fly the film back to England. His second pigeon fluttered into the sky, turned east instead of west, and vanished.

A month later Marty's unit found German newspapers in an abandoned command post near Cherbourg. "One of my photos was on the front page. The caption was just propaganda, but the German editors duly credited the shot to 'U.S.A. reporter, Lt. Lederhandler.'"

Lederhandler celebrated the liberation of Paris in a "three-day Mardi Gras" with fellow war correspondents Ernie Pyle and Ernest Hemingway, among others, and took part in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

The ex-soldier returned to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day, walking now-quiet Utah Beach and visiting villages he had last seen in 1944.A man of sly wit, Lederhandler seems to have an anecdote for every picture and constantly surprises colleagues with stories they've never heard before.

He arrived at work one day in 1998 with an envelope containing old black-and-white photos of Adolf Hitler and other top Nazis, burned around the edges.

The pictures, he explained, had been sent to New York by AP's Berlin bureau in May, 1937 - on the dirigible Hindenburg. Two weeks after the airship exploded and burned on landing at Lakehurst, N.J., the package was delivered to AP.

When his editor expressed no interest in keeping the fire-damaged photos, 19-year-old Lederhandler had the presence of mind to take them home. They became a historic centerpiece for AP's 150th anniversary observance.

Lederhandler's first AP photo was an artsy 1936 shot of George Washington Bridge cables "taken from such an angle that you can't tell if you're looking up or down," he says. But he may be best remembered for one of his last.

When the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, Lederhandler crossed the street from AP's Rockefeller Center office, took an elevator to the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of the GE building and photographed the blazing towers in the distance, with the Empire State Building in the foreground.

That iconic picture made the cover of New York magazine and the cover of "Sept. 11, 2001," a best-selling book published by the magazine.

In an odd way, Lederhandler says, the terrorist strikes helped him decide to retire. "Twice is more than enough," he said, referring to the 1993 bombing of the twin towers and the Sept. 11 attacks by hijacked jetliners.

Lederhandler's career paralleled the march of technology from heavy, cumbersome Speed Graphics to high-speed film and motor-driven 35-mm cameras - and recently, to digital cameras.

"The old equipment was limited and more difficult," he says. "You could only carry eight to ten plate holders - 16 to 20 pictures. You had to wait for the moment, even anticipate the moment, and compensate for a tiny delay between the button and the shutter. But you learned to do all that."

The old-style cameras also encouraged a decorum seen rarely at a present-day show opening or a police station "perp walk," he says.

"Not only did press photographers wear suits, ties and hats, everybody had the same lenses, and we had to stand back eight or 10 feet. There was some jostling, but no radio and TV microphones - nothing like the pushing and shoving you see today."

Lederhandler's own perp walks included famed bank robber Willie Sutton and Soviet atom spy Ethel Rosenberg, whom he pictured leaving a federal courthouse after her conviction and arriving later at Sing Sing prison, where she and her husband Julius were executed in 1953.

One of Lederhandler's favorite photo scoops didn't even come from his camera.

When photographers were barred from taking pictures of the reclusive Charles Lindbergh at an aeronautics industry dinner, Lederhandler paid a hotel photographer $10 for an enlarged image of the Lone Eagle from a group shot.

In 1963, he scooped the competition by buying a seat on the Pan Am flight that was taking New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and his bride, Happy, on their honeymoon.

"Other photographers were at the airport to get the departure, and were shocked when I walked past them and got aboard," Lederhandler says. "I was able to make pictures of the Rockefellers on the plane and when they got off in Caracas. My film went straight back to Miami on the first flight, and the arrival picture made Page 1 of the Daily News, while the New York departure shots were on inside pages."

Lederhandler was invited to the Rockefeller ranch, where he spent the next two days following the newlyweds with his camera as they rode horses and dined with guests.In retirement, Lederhandler says, he wants to travel - he is a cruise ship aficionado - do occasional free-lance jobs and serve as a consultant to AP's photo staff.

"For 66 years I've been saying, 'I'm with the Associated Press.' I never want to stop saying that," Lederhandler said.

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