I have often said that my early career as a staff photographer took place in a context that could only
be described as Runyonesque. I am, of course, referring to the renowned newsman, author and screenplay writer, Damon Runyon. He was born in 1884 and died in 1946. His stories were peopled with odd-ball characters, the most well known of whom were the gamblers and minor hoods in the stage play, which later became the movie, "Guys And Dolls."

As a newspaper photographer from the 1960's through 2002, I met many a character who fit the Runyon mold. Most of them were my associates at Newsday (Long Island, NY).

Over the next few months, I will introduce you to them. In many instances, I have changed names in the fervent hope that I not be thrashed for having exposed their idiosyncracies to the world. It is not my intent to ridicule or criticize anyone. The antics and the events about which I write did truly take place. Time may have dimmed the exact dialogs but I write these journals depicting these people as accurately as humanly possible. I hope that you will find them as interesting and as zany as did I.




By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

People are always asking me if I’ve ever photographed celebrities during my long career as a newspaper photographer. Of course I have. Working for a newspaper in the New York Metropolitan area, it would be odd if I hadn’t. New York City is a mecca for celebrities of all shapes and sizes. Naturally, there are show biz celebs from stage, screen and tv. Musical celebrities abound, from Opera to Hip-Hop. There are sports stars from every major league team in any sport you can name. And politicians? Hah! You can’t walk anywhere without tripping over them. A camera is a magnet to them. Having the United Nations headquartered in mid-town ensures that there will be heads of state from all over the world in attendance whenever there is a big meeting of the General Assembly.

What I am saying is that in my 42 years with Newsday, I have drawn my fair share of celebrity stories. Then comes the next set of questions. What were they like? Who was the most interesting? How were they to work with?

I can never answer those questions with any simplistic answers, but I would generalize by saying that I have always found that the more important or famous the personality, the easier it was to work with him/her. It was usually the starlets or the wannabes that gave me the most trouble. There were exceptions to this rule, of course, but whether it was a sports celebrity or a show business star, the bigger the talent, the more gracious the personality.

Sometimes the young personalities weren’t the problem. More often than not it was their mothers who created the headaches for me.

I once had to photograph a very young Jodie Foster after her first starring roll in “Taxi Driver.” She seemed to be more nervous about me photographing her during our reporter’s interview than in the interview, itself. It was probably because her mother was in the room with us and kept directing her how to appear before the camera. I wonder if the film’s director, Martin Scorsese, had the same problem.

I had the exact same problem with another starlet during another interview. Brooke Shields was in New York to promote her first starring roll in “The Blue Lagoon.” Oh, Lord, protect us poor newspukes from the tenacity of stage mothers. Good grief!

But, believe it or not, the worst case of “stage mothering” that I ever experienced came not from the parent of a show business personality, but from the mother of a young girl who was a paper carrier for my own newspaper.

Newsday was being delivered by young boys and girls who earned some spending money by carrying the paper to our readers’ doorsteps after school each day and on weekends. In order to increase circulation, our Circulation Department would offer incentive programs to encourage these youngsters to try to sell more subscriptions by offering cash and gift prizes. Newsday would run “house ads” in the paper to promote these programs to entice more young people to become carriers. Our staff photographers would be called upon to photograph various scenarios to illustrate this.

One day I drew such an assignment. I was to make a photo showing a carrier girl skiing through a snowstorm to illustrate that our stalwart young employees would brave the elements to bring Newsday to your doorstep. There were several obstacles that had to be overcome. One; it was summertime. Two; the young girl who was to be photographed as the skiing carrier girl had never skied before. Three; neither had I. And four; her mother accompanied her.

The public relations person from our Circulation Department who had conjured up this scenario had decided that we could accomplish this illustration by photographing the girl in our photo studio against a roll of white, seamless background paper with boxes of soap flakes emptied in front of a large floor fan to serve as windblown snow. The PR girl brought some borrowed skis and asked the child to dress in winter outerwear.
I met the PR girl, an art director from our Art Department, our young model and her mother in our photo studio. While the PR girl and the art director went over their requirements with me, the carrier girl and her mother went into the dressing room to get into her winter garments. When she came out, two things were obvious. The winter clothing was fine, except that it was not suitable for skiing. And, she had no ski boots with which to snap into the ski bindings. She was wearing sneakers.

There was no time to send out for the required equipment so we held a little brain session and decided that I was to photograph the girl from the knees up. Having her holding the ski poles would serve as the graphic element suggesting that she was skiing.

OK. It was time to get to work. I rolled down the seamless white backdrop, set up my camera and arranged the studio lights to simulate the weak winter light that was the norm for the northeast. I moved the large floor fan in front of the spot where the model would pose and made sure that it was close enough to cause her scarf to flutter behind her.

Before I asked the art director to spill out the soap flakes in front of the fan, I held a rehearsal. I asked the young model to strike a pose as though she were speeding downhill to deliver Newsdays, one of which was prominently displayed under her arm. She stood there, ramrod stiff. There was no expression on her face; no animation in her pose.

This would never do. I left my position behind the camera and tripod and walked over to her.

“ You have to pretend that you are actually skiing down a snowy slope with the frigid wind blowing right in your face,” I explained to her. “Try it, again.”

She shifted her feet a little but still stood there like a statue.

“ No, no,” I exclaimed. “You have to be an actress. We’re here in this studio in the summer. But, you have to show the camera that you are skiing downhill in the snow and freezing cold.

She grimaced her face. Her mother said, “No, no, dear. Smile.”

I gave the mother a look. “No, darling,” I said to the girl. “Don’t listen to anyone but me. I need you to look really cold. And don’t stand so straight. I want you to bend at the knees and hold your ski poles under your arms, in a tuck position.” I didn’t know a thing about skiing, but I had watched enough Winter Olympics to pick up a smidgen of ski lingo.

“ Don’t slump, dear,” her mother called out.

I ignored her and continued to coach the girl until I felt she knew what was expected of her. Then I went back behind the camera and viewed the scene through the viewfinder
“ Bend your knees a little more,” I coached. “Can you feel the wind and the snow stinging your face as you tear down the slope? It’s cold. Can you feel the cold?”

She was responding and believe it or not, this ridiculous scene in the studio was starting to look believable.
“ Give me some snow,” I shouted to the art director. She poured out the contents of the soap box in front of the fan, and suddenly there was a winter snowstorm on our improvised ski slope. My finger stroked the shutter release button. And a split second before the shutter opened and the strobes flashed, I heard…

“ Look at the camera and smile, dear.”

I erupted.

“ OUT! OUT! I want everyone except the art director out of the studio. I can’t have people contravening my instructions to the model!”

Momma went ballistic. “Who put you in charge of this session? You’re only the photographer.”

Oooohhh. That didn’t sit well with me. I shoved my face into hers and said, “I’m the one responsible for making a photograph that tells the story.”

She countered with, “That should be the art director’s job.”

And I said, “Well, no one here seems to be taking responsibility for getting the proper emotion and response from your daughter!”

Momma muttered and fumed and the art director came over and said, “Maybe I should take charge of this shoot.”

I said, “Certainly. I have no problem with that. Here’s the camera. It’s all set up. All you need to do is press the button. The motor drive will keep exposing film as long as you hold down the button.”

With that, I stormed out of the studio and went to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. Jeez! Am I a prima donna, or what? But, what the hell. I couldn’t let people get away with that crap, could I?

Needless to say, the art director and the PR lady ran up to the Director of Photography with stories about how rude I was. My beeper went off as I was having coffee, with orders to report to the boss’s office.

The coffee had settled me and I was calmer as I confronted the boss and the two angry women.

The Director of Photography said, “What happened? I hear that you gave everyone in the studio a hard time and that you were rude, aggressive and confrontational to the model and her mother.”

I explained, “That’s their side of the story. While I certainly over-reacted in the end, I feel that I really had justification for what I did.” I related my side of what had happened and how every attempt that I made to get the young model to look like she was actually skiing was circumvented by the mother interruptions.

The PR lady chimed in that I was not in charge of the shoot. I conceded that point but I also brought up the fact that the child had no experience as a model and was merely standing straight and stiff and that was unacceptable. No one else stepped in to do anything, so I had to.

I was told that the shoot had been rescheduled for the next day, with the same cast of characters and that I would have to apologize to the mother.

“ I can’t do that,” I said. “You’ll have to assign another photographer.

“ OK,” said the boss.

Later on he took me aside and said that I probably had every reason to behave the way I did, but he had to play the politics with the other people. Another photographer re-shot the ad. I don’t know if he had any problems or even if he was able to get a decent shot. All I know is that the ad never ran.

Dick Kraus



Contents Page

Contents Page Editorials The Platypus Links Copyright
Portfolios Camera Corner War Stories  Dirck's Gallery Comments
Issue Archives Columns Forums Mailing List E-mail Us
 This site is sponsored and powered by Hewlett Packard