By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

We were doing an entertainment feature on the popular Country Western singer. Loretta Lynn. A movie of her life had just been released called “The Coal Miner’s Daughter.” A reporter and I were to accompany her on part of her tour, showing her life on the road. She had followed the style of so many musical stars and had her own Greyhound type bus outfitted with a private bedroom for herself and bunks and a lounge area for her band and they would travel from gig to gig in comfort.

The reporter and I flew to Baltimore, MD, where we met the tour at a large sold-out auditorium. The star was getting ready in her dressing room by the time we got there. We were greeted by her road show manager who gave us a run down on the format of that night's show. I asked him from where I could shoot and if there were any restrictions on what I could shoot. I was told that I was free to shoot from the wings on either side of the stage for as long as I liked, and, if possible, could I work without flash?

These were pre-digital days and my paper wasn't publishing color, yet, so I was able to tell him that I could certainly shoot without flash, given the great lighting on stage, and a black and white film rating of ASA 1600 using Tri X developed in Acufine.

Show time. Loretta was introduced and received a standing ovation from the crowd. I stood in the wings and squeezed off frame after frame, eschewing the use of my motor drive to lessen any extraneous noise. I made shots with every lens in my bag and was able to get some great expressions as the famous country western star poured her soul into her heart wrenching songs.

After about 20 minutes, I was approached by a beefy, cigar chewing character. "Who da hell are you?" he demanded.

"Who da hell are YOU?" was my response.

"I'm da union rep for the stage electricians' local, wise ass. And I don't like you shooting pictures using our lights," he shot back.

I explained who I was, showed him my press credentials and explained that I was here at the invitation of Loretta Lynn.

He wasn't impressed. "If you shoot one more F%#$!@% picture, I'm shutting off the F%#$!@% lights and shutting down the F%#$!@% show."

Oh, shit! That's all I need. Wouldn't that be a dandy way to start off this assignment which was supposed to last for another couple of days? Oh, what the hell. I certainly had enough good shots already in the bag. As much as I hate to be bullied, why create unnecessary problems. So, I put down the camera and walked away. As I stood watching the show from the wings, Loretta's road manager came up to me and asked, "What was that all about?"

I explained it to him and he told me, "Bullshit. He has no right to do that. He's just trying to shake you down for a payoff. You go ahead and shoot all the photos you want. If he causes any trouble, we'll pull Loretta off the stage and he can explain that to the crowd."

I told him that I had more than enough good shots from this show and rather that take a chance and create a problem, I was comfortable kicking back for now. The show went on uninterrupted.

After the show, I was introduced to Loretta Lynn who was charming and gracious. The troupe was staying at a local motel that night. We would all depart in their tour bus for the next show in Medina, Ohio, in the morning, . It was taking place at the renown Ohio State Fair grounds. Now, I’ve been to some country fairs and I’ve been to some state fairs. But, this was the grand daddy of them all. The fairgrounds were huge with three midways complete with an assortment of rides and exhibits and all kinds of attractions. Ms Lynn performed in a big, open arena to a large and enthusiastic audience.

Her first show was on at about 8 PM and she had another show at about 10 PM. There was a good hour between shows so I took advantage of the break and wandered around the fairgrounds. At one point I found myself in a rather deserted and blacked out area that housed some of the 4-H and animal exhibits. They were all shut down for the night and the place was empty, dark and rather foreboding.

I was walking down a lane between tents, heading toward a lighted area of the fairgrounds, when I saw ahead of me a rather large group of teenagers approaching.

Being from New York, I sensed a feeling of apprehension come over me. In my neck of the woods, a large group of teenagers in a dark, deserted area often spells trouble for any poor slob who happens to be alone. Even if nothing physical occurs, there will often be some verbal abuse. I fought the instinct to turn and run. But, I did start looking for...for what? A cop, a witness, any friendly face, some lights. Sanctuary, anything.

But, this wasn’t New York. This was Middle America. This group of young men approached me and as we drew near enough I saw that they were looking me directly in the eye and I heard each of them say as they passed, “Howdy”, “How are ya?”, “Hello” “How ya’ doin’?” and the like.

God bless America. There’s hope.

Dick Kraus





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