A Tribute to Stanley Tretick

by Dirck Halstead

Stanley Tretick died earlier this month.

He was a photographer for United Press International, then Look magazine. He covered wars, Hollywood, and took some of the best known photographs of the Kennedy presidency. Among them is the famous shot of the first family riding in a golf cart at Hyannis. His picture of John, Jr., in the Oval Office, crawling through the opening in his father's desk provided us with bittersweet memories during the last few weeks.

He was a news photographer in the old tradition, then blossomed into a highfalutin "photojournalist." 

He really enjoyed telling "war stories," as most photographers do, so let me share a few of them with you.

Stanley had been a Marine (a fact of which he was very proud). During the Korean War, he was covering the bloody retreat from the Chosun reservoir, after U.S. forces had been overrun by the Chinese. Casualties were horrendous, and after slogging through the snow for days, Stanley managed to make it to an airstrip north of Seoul. Flights in and out were few and far between, and he needed to get his film to Tokyo to be edited in the news pool darkrooms. He waited in the cold for days. Finally, a lone DC-6 put down. It belonged to the Naval Commander in the Asian theater. Stanley, who hadn't had a shower or shave in weeks, walked out to the plane, leaving his 4x5 Speed Graphic in the operations hut. An immaculately tailored Admiral emerged from the plane, to be confronted by this apparition. Stanley, without hesitation said, "Admiral, my name is Stanley Tretick. I'm a photographer for Acme Newspictures, and I need a ride back to Tokyo." The Admiral, wincing from the malodorous fellow before him replied, "If you are a photographer, where is your camera?" Well, considering the situation, this was just too much for Stanley who shot back, "If you're an Admiral, where is your f-----g boat?" Stanley got his ride.

UPI assigned him to cover John Kennedy during the 1960 presidential race. Both Stanley and the candidate had a roving eye for the fairer sex. According to Stanley, they had a system. When Kennedy was working crowds during campaign appearances, if he spotted a "jumper" (a pretty woman jumping up and down with excitement), he would make a subtle sign to Stanley, who was following in his wake taking pictures. Stanley would then invite the lucky girl to drop by the candidate's suite for drinks.

This bond of trust Stanley formed with Kennedy did not go unrewarded. After JFK's election, Stanley wanted nothing more than to be assigned full-time to the Kennedy White House. But UPI would have no part of giving such a plum assignment to one photographer. They wanted Stanley to share the assignment in a normal rotation. When he told Kennedy of his problem, the President-elect told him to go to any publication he wished, and tell them that the President had guaranteed him exclusive access on a regular basis. Stanley took the offer with the presidential guarantee to Look magazine, and almost immediately was made a staff photographer in charge of their Washington coverage. 

During the ensuing years, Stanley began to spend more and more time covering the movie industry. His first major Look cover, on a movie, was the beautiful cast of Valley Of The Dolls. He formed friendships and was loved by some of the biggest stars, people like Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, to name a few. He touched the lives of thousands of people, garnering respect from the lowest grunts in the Marines right up to the commander in chief.

Stanley was a tough guy, with a heart of gold. He will be missed.

 This site is sponsored and powered by Hewlett Packard