Sunday, June 20, 2010

Who Is He?

We’ve All Seen His Photograph, But Never Heard of Him 
Waiting for the “Hindenburg” to arrive at its mooring mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey, were about 22 still and newsreel cameramen. Practically all of them took pictures of the disaster. Nearly all of the still photographs are practically identical to each other; certainly it would be impossible to assess authorship from the intrinsic nature of the images. Merely as a few examples, we can name  several photographers whose pictures of the “Hindenburg” crash are as similar to Shere’s as two peas in a pod: Charles Hoff of the New York Daily News; Gus Pasquarella of the Philadelphia Bulletin; Bill Springfield of Acme-NEA; Jack Snyder of the Philadelphia Record. Then there was Murray Becker, of Associated Press, whose picture of the disaster was selected for publication in Great News Photos.
 In fact there was almost a surfeit of pictures, by so many photographers, of the Hindenburg crash; perhaps never before had a disaster been so thoroughly documented by the camera. The next morning, the New York newspapers were full of the images; the World-Telegram carried no less that 21 pictures of the flaming Hindenburg and its survivors. The New York Post ran the photographers over seven papers, the Daily Mirror, nine. The story, and the pictures, appeared in newspapers everywhere. The New York Sunday Mirror even ran full color shots in its 23 May issue, taken by Gerry Sheedy on 35 mm Kodachrome. 
Any one of these photographers might have taken the image of the “Hindenburg” explosion which is so clearly etched in any viewer’s mind. More likely, our memory is an amalgam of several pictures by different photographers seen over the years in different circumstances. 
But it is Sam Shere’s image which is featured in The History of Photography and for this reason it is appropriate to add a few details of his life and career. 
Sam Shere - Born Samuel Shereshewsky, in Minsk, Russia, c.1904, Shere was brought to America by his orthodox Jewish parents and grew up in the Lower East Side of New York City. His father was a  hat maker, who wanted his son to be a doctor.  Unfortunately, young Samuel could only tolerate school until the seventh grade. 
His first job was carrying a tripod for Pathe News cameramen, at a wage of a $1/day + lunch. After following the cameramen to five-alarm fires,  naval yards, and parades, he was settled in his career. He wanted to be a news photographer. 
Resigned to young Sam’s choice of a profession, his father bought him a 4x5 inch Speed Graphic camera, the standard equipment for a newspaper photographer at the end of World War I (1918). Within a year, Sam had sold his first photograph: a picture of a young girl walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan during a New York snowstorm. The New York Illustrated Daily News bought the picture for $7. 
At this time, however, Sam’s interest in photography was in conflict with his even greater interest in going to sea. He signed on as a mess-boy with oil tankers plying between New Jersey and California via the Panama Canal. Even though he spent most of his time on board ship for the next 10 years he quickly found that  life at sea was not  incompatible with professional photography. He soon had an on~ship darkroom and managed to freelance during stays in port. 
    One of these stays lasted for a year, in 1923, when Sam Shere (the name had been abbreviated the previous year) became a photographer for the New York Evening Graphic for $50/week. But he was soon missing the smell of the sea, and signed aboard the S.S. George Washington as ship’s photographer. After one transatlantic crossing, he visited Germany and bought one of the new Leica 35 mm cameras, for $42 “and spent the next few years on the other end of ridicule, enduring  sarcastic  remarks and innuendoes from American news photographers who regarded the Leica as a ‘toy’.”  
In spite of the constant ribbing, Shere persisted in carrying the Leica everywhere,  along with  the Speed Graphic, and is now credited with pioneering the use of the discreet 35 mm camera in American news photography. 
In 1926, he became ship’s photographer for the S.S. Leviathan (flagship of the United States Line).  He made good money for those days,  earning  $300-400 per round trip across the Atlantic, by selling pictures to the passengers as momentos of the voyage, public  relations shots for the shipping line, portraits of notable passengers, and  scenics of icebergs and storms.  
Altogether Shere made 126 crossings of the Atlantic on the Leviathan. While disembarked in Europe, waiting for the return voyage, he began freelance work for the prestigious International News Photo (INP),  a part of the 
William Randolph Hearst publishing empire. In 1934, Shere left the sea to take a full time position with INP  It  was  also the year that Shere’s persistence with the  Leica led to a celebrated  scoop.  During the first arraignment of Bruno Richard Hauptmann a suspect in the Lindberg  kidnapping  case, Shere smuggled his small camera into the court room and, unnoticed, shot exclusive pictures of the proceedings.
 The Leica was also used the following year for a major story on the inside Sing Sing prison. Shere claimed that the series would have been a total failure if it had not been for the speed, ease and silence of the miniature camera. 
“(It) gave me mobility and did not attract much attention from the inmates.  I  was able to film, for the first time, candid shots of the prison’s  rock pile, fire department, flag making shop, a cell block,  the prison parade, the warden’s office, the execution chamber and adjacent  autopsy rooms... My  ‘toy’  was gaining its place in news photography through these  series.” 
By 1937, the date of the Hindenburg’s explosion, Shere had paid his dues as a news photographer, withboth 4x5 inch and 35 mm formats. He was not only in the right place at the right time, but also he was “primed”  to take picture advantage of every situation, such as Hindenburg’s arrival. 
Ironically, Sam Shere was reluctant to take the assignment, which was considered a routine one.  He had been assigned by his editor at INP to get some good “society type” shots of the celebrities leaving the airship. 
“I had come to think of myself as a “hard news’ photographer, and sort of resented the assignment,” Shere recalled. “I just wanted to get my pictures and get out of there.” 
After waiting for over three hours in drizzling rain, the airship came into view through the evening murk. 
Suddenly the dirigible exploded.  
“I had two shots in my big Speed Graphic,” Shere said. “But I didn’t even have time to get it up to my eye.  I literally ‘shot’ from the hip - it was over so fast there was nothing else to do.”  Out of 4 x 5 film, Shere switched to his Leica and began taking shots of the passengers and crew members fleeing the wreckage. “Only one of these pictures – because they were so ghastly and graphic, were ever used...” 
Asked to comment on the significance, and fame, of his photograph, Shere replied: “Many photographers got similar shots.  I guess I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right  time.  I don’t really think it my most singular feat.” 
After 1937, Shere’s career as a news photographer was extraordinarily varied. A few highlights include:  a  story on  the return of Wrong-Way Corrigan using carrier pigeons to deliver negatives from the SS  Manhattan to New York (1938);  photographing the Duke of Windsor, who had abdicated  his throne, in the Bahamas (1940);  an Atlantic Air Patrol which was cited as the most outstanding news event of  the year (1941;  the World War II invasion of Sicily (1942); several stories for Life beginning more than a decade of work for this  magazine (1943); the  Lepke execution  and  Dewey presidential campaign (1944); VE Day reaction and Pearl Harbor investigation (1945); death of Al Capone (1947);  construction of the SS United  States (1948). 
Sam Shere shot his last assignment in Ireland at the age of 75 and died in poverty in government housing on July 8, 1982. 
Sometimes we toil away at our profession, do it well, but go unnoticed. Sam Shere “invented” 35 mm photojournalism, took one of the most famous photographs in history and died virtually alone and penniless. What a shame.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Want to live to 114?

Scientist have determined, at the time of birth, a healthy child has a life expectancy of approximately 114 years. Whether we make it to the ripe old age of 114 is determined by the type lifestyle factors we choose to pursue.
The following list was determined by the National Institute of Health (NIH). It is not a complete list, but highlight some of the more dramatic lifestyles. The additions and subtractions impact our projected 114 year life span dramatically. 
Factors Influencing Life Expectancy
1. Mother lived to be 80 - add 4 years
2. Father lived to be 80 - add 2 years
3. Parent, grandparent, or sibling died of cardiovascular disease before age 50 - subtract 4 years
4. Parent, grandparent, or sibling died of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, ulcer, stomach cancer, or breast cancer before age 60 -  subtract 2 years for each
5. Above average intelligence - add two years
6. More than 30% overweight - subtract 5 years
7. Eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, and stops eating before feeling full - add 1 year
8. Smoke two or more packs of cigarettes a day - subtract 12 years. Smokes between one and two packs a day - subtract 7 years. Smoke less than a pack  a day - subtract 2 years
9. Moderate or light drinker of alcohol - add 2 years. Heavy drinker - subtract 8 years
10. Exercise briskly at least three times a week - add 3 years
11. Graduate from college - add 4 years. Attend college but did not graduate - add 2 years.
12. Works as a professional or manager - add 1 year. Works as an unskilled laborer - subtract  4 years. 
13. Income above average for age and occupation - add 1 year. Income below average - sub tract 1 year.
14. Over 60 and still working - add 2 years
15. Married and living with spouse - add 1 year
16. Men: Separated or divorced and living alone - subtract 9 years (not alone - subtract 4  years). Widowed and living alone - subtract 7 years (not alone - subtract 3 years).
17. Women: Separated or divorced and living alone - subtract 4 years. Widowed and living  alone - subtract 3 years (not alone - subtract 2 years).
18. Never married woman - subtract 1 year for every decade after age 25
19. Never married man - subtract two years for every decade past age 25 living alone
20. Personality: Aggressive - subtract 5 years. Depressive - subtract 2 years. Flexible - add  two years. Happy - add 2 years. Risk-taking (e.g. leaves seat belts unfastened, takes a  dare) subtract 2 years
21. Has at least two close friends - add 1 year
Let’s see. According to the NIH, we began with a life expectancy of 114 years. If you smoke two packs a day, never graduated from high school, are overweight, live alone, a boozer and have a Type A personality you’ll be lucky to live through puberty.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Do You Remember?

Do you remember when your parents left the front door unlocked and ghettos were neighborhoods? Do you remember when the American flag stood for freedom and we didn’t need laws to protect it?
Do you remember when celebrities actually did something to be known as a celebrity? Do you remember when criminals were despised and not on the best seller list, and when taxes were only a necessary nuisance?
Do you remember when sagging pants meant low on the hips, not around the thighs. And what’s the deal about girls showing off their thong underwear and boys parading around so everyone can see most of their boxer shorts?
Do you remember when the poor were too proud to accept charity and the clergy talked religion not politics? Do you remember when clerks and repairmen took pride in pleasing their customers and songs had a tune that you could sing-along with. 
Do you remember when people knew what the Fourth of July stood for and you never dreamed the United States could lose at anything. Do you remember when the world looked up to the United States. 
Do you remember when a Sunday drive was a pleasant outing and not an ordeal. Do you remember when people sacrificed to make our country great? Do you remember when people valued what they had and enjoyed reading something other than their e-mail.
Do you remember when receiving a free education was a privilege and students respected their teachers and elders. Do you remember when politicians were patriotic and meant it, and when everyone knew the difference between right and wrong, and there were no gray areas.
Do you remember when you considered yourself lucky to have a good job and proud to have it.
And, do you remember when you could enjoy sex and the only dying involved a broken heart.
Do you remember . . . 

Friday, August 28, 2009

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Yesterday I received an e-mail from my favorite neighbor Sandy Mitchell telling me to go to the enclosed web site ( and watch the little kid on the left of Tennessee Ernie Ford. “He’s so cute!” The site was wrapped in doilies and was led by a old kinescope of Ernie singing a song surrounded by kids. 
As he sang, one of the kids really got into the rhythm and he truly was really cute.
However, below that “video” were three from the late Art Linkletter’s show, “The Kids Say the Darndest Thing.” In one, Linkletter introduced the segment by saying the kids are all between the ages of 6-9 and “I follow two rules: 1- I don’t tell them what to say because they can say things much funnier than I can tell them. And, 2- I don’t tell them what not to say because they are innocent and whatever they say would never embarrass me.” Not surprisingly, they were sometimes funny, sometimes embarrassing, but always entertaining.
I’ll not spoil your viewing by picking my favorites, but below are a few I remember from long ago watching Art Linkletter and listening to my own kids. He had a wonderful rapport with the kids, much like Bill Cosby when he reprised the show years later after it had gone off the air - remember his Jello commercials..
From memory and I don’t remember the specific questions asked, but they are fairly obvious.
“Well, I guess that’s the last we’ll see of her...”
“Big boys sleep alone and three-year-olds are too big to sleep with me.”
“Superman sleeps by himself.”
“Daddy, Daddy! Mommy didn’t sleep with anyone while you were gone.”
“Dad, did they get their money by genetics or did they earn it?”
I think the reason that stories about children are always popular is the fact that, for the most part, they’re always honest.
Children hug when they feel like hugging and kiss only when they want to express emotion. The things that make them the greatest gift, however, is the fact that they never say they love you unless they mean it.
You know, growing up is not all its cracked-up to be.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Skivvy and the Bayou City Boogie

Last Saturday around sunset, with Houston’s heat index hovering around 115ยบ, a tall, skinny man named Robert “Skivvy” Johnson robbed a McDonalds and was seen stumbling from the fast-food restaurant with several employees chasing him. 
While holding the sack and pistol in one hand and holding his trousers up with the other, Skivvy crossed a busy intersection toward a shopping center where he rushed into an O’Reilly Auto Parts Store. Sensing his predicament, he grabbed a hostage and drug her to the street. At this point, he was being chased by employees from O’Reilly’s, McDonalds and a member of Houston’s finest.
Somewhere along the way he lost the hostage when she shoved him into an Albertson’s shopping cart.  He had to do something so he hijacked the car of an 18-year-old, Lawrence Blackwell, pointed his pistol  and yelled, “DRIVE!”
He drove him to a nearby condominium where the harried bandit abandoned Blackwell’s car and literally kicked down the door of widow Miriam Trashell. Amazingly, the near-sighted Miriam was apparently expecting trouble because she immediately started firing her pistol at the intruder, who naturally returned fire – luckily neither hit anything. Houstonians become a bit testy when the temperature and humidity are high. 
Shortly, he had enough of Miriam Trashell and dashed through the remnants of her front door onto the parking lot where he accosted a driver who’d just entered. However, he didn’t get far because, for some reason, he couldn’t get the car through the security gate. He then dumped his second car and again took-off on foot.
He ran straight to a nearby Dairy Queen where he climbed inside the cab of a Ben E. Keith truck, pointed the now-empty pistol at the driver and, between huffs and puffs, demanded the truck. The brave driver yanked the gun out of his hand as the befuddled thief fell out the side door and again escaped into the night.
While being chased on foot by a Houston policeman and employees from McDonalds, the auto parts store, a Ben E. Keith meat truck driver and presumably the still irate Miriam Trashell,  he stumbled his way into a nearby residential neighborhood. 
The poor guy - I’m beginning to feel sorry for him at this point - jumps a fence where he’s attacked and bitten on the shoulder by a large gray Weimaraner. He then beats a hasty, albeit bloody, retreat back over the fence where he runs headlong into the growing posse. 
When last heard, he was being treated for minor injuries at Ben Taub General Hospital and obviously under arrest. While being handcuffed and bending over the hood of a Houston squad car, Skivvy was heard to say, “Who was that crazy woman in the apartment?”
Inspector Clouseau could not have planned a better August evening of entertainment in The Bayou City.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


At the conclusion of our third date, I matter-of-factly announced to Tonda that I’d like to marry her. It was not really a proposal. It was more of a statement of purpose.
We were standing on the unlighted porch of her parent’s double wide which sat anchored on their 32 acre family compound adjacent to Lake Texoma. The situation was unusual, at least for me (actually, probably anybody) because I’d had a date with her sister, Starling, the night before.
Being in my mid-30s and divorced for several years, I was dating and not overtly looking for a new wife; I thought. I’d had several not-serious dates with Starling and more than several serious dates with Martha who lived in Marshall, a smallish town in east Texas.
Martha was divorced, full of life, the sister and sister-in-law of my best friends in Sherman, and was the daughter of southern aristocracy and respectability. I liked her a lot. Then Tonda, unknowingly, swept me off my feet.
I’d met Tonda briefly in Jack Stafford’s office five years previously. By briefly, I mean the encounter could have been timed in seconds. I remember her having longish red hair and a terrific smile. Unfortunately, I remember little else. 
Our next meeting was when she visited Starling after filing for divorce from Floyd, a manager of a Gibson’s store (an early rival of Wal-Mart). After Starling and I had attended something or other at the country club, we went to her parent’s house, played cards and visited with Tonda and Granny. We had a proper good time and, I’m embarrassed to say, I was now smitten with three women – two of whom were sisters with one of them not officially divorced. Tonda still had that red hair, her vivacious personality and was currently unavailable. 
Within days, in which Starling and I had another date, Tonda returned to her home and five year old daughter, Courtney, in central Texas, but you know what they say about “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
In the meantime, Starling and I had a few more dates, but my ardor had slackened considerably. Thank goodness Martha was still in east Texas.
Then one day Tonda reappeared, this time for good, and she and Courtney moved into a very tiny travel trailer (a cat could jump from front to back) that was a stone’s throw from her sister. Life was again somewhat complicated, but I didn’t care. Tonda’s divorce was officially immanent so I asked her out.
Tonda, being the kind person that she is, asked her sister, “How serious are you and Allen?”
“Not too,” replied Star. “Why?”
“Allen has asked me out and I wondered if you’d mind,” responded my non-officially divorced future wife. 
“Sure, why not,” said Starling, taking care of a third of my dilemma. 
Without me telling Martha, Martha knew that the attraction was gone. We’d last seen each other before my fateful third date with Tonda. Maybe she could tell something from the tone in my voice during that last call. Maybe she had also met someone or someone, at least, closer to her home. I’ll never know. I do know that she later met and married a surgeon in that smallish town in east Texas and hopefully lived happily ever after.
Meanwhile, Tonda and I dated with the energy that somehow thrives on the lack of sleep. I was working full time in my studio in Denison and acting in a community theater in Sherman until 10 p.m. each night. I’d then drive out to her -did I mention small- trailer. We talked until the wee hours and Courtney would either fall asleep in Tonda’s arms or had drifted off while I was in the middle of Act II.
Tonda’s divorce became final and we set an indefinite date for sometime in the future. We were now officially engaged.
One of the first persons we told was Jack Stafford, our good friend and assistant minister of our church. We asked him to officiate our marriage, but, much to our surprise, he refused, saying, “It’s much too soon after Tonda’s divorce. It will never work. I won’t do it.” 
We decided to decide later about the minister. No marriage date was set with both of us agreeing that when the time was right, “We’ll do it.”
Fall and winter passed with us blending our two families. My ex returned to nursing school in Ft. Worth to become a nurse anesthetist and I gained custody of my kids Andy and Kelly. Courtney and Kelly became sisters almost immediately, and Andy discovered baseball cards and loud music. Tonda and my ex became good friends and I discovered they are very much alike. By the way, Tonda’s ex (remember Floyd) tried to talk her out of our engagement by warning her I was “a ladies man.” I took it as a backhanded compliment, and I think Tonda just laughed.
Despite Floyd, all the kids, and the smallish trailer, one fine day in late April when the birds were chirping, the leaves were returning and the planets swung into alignment we decided, “It was time.” We got the license, called the other minister and our parents. “We’re getting married on Saturday at First Presbyterian Church and we’d love for you to be there,” was our simple verbal invitation. Jethro, my German Shepherd/Saint Bernard stood-in as best dog. We and the three kids were married on a bright sunny morning in the church courtyard, with parents and Starling as witnesses.
That afternoon our honeymoon commenced with us buying two carts piled with groceries and Tonda watching me play in a softball game. 
That was 29 years and three months ago. I couldn’t be happier. I made the perfect choice. Jack has made a lot of terrific decisions in his life but boy, was he wrong on this one.  But, we still love him and rib him about it every chance we get.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Sun and the Moon

The sun and the moon
I don’t know who wrote “the Best Things In Life Are Free” but the song writer was a wise person indeed.  Do you remember, “The Sun and the Moon. . .’?
Its lyrics are great but the author left out something– rain on a tin roof, and it should have been included. 
Last week it was thundering and raining so hard I couldn’t wait to snuggle into bed. I love the sound of rain. It’s so soothing, at least it is to me, but it scares some people. Meanwhile. I just drop deeper into sleep.
When we first moved into our new home, I was not yet aware of its night time idiosyncratic sounds and it was a pleasant surprise when I heard the sound of rain striking metal right outside our bedroom window. It’s funny how one simple sound can bring back many memories. Aromas can sometimes do that as well. And while I don’t live in the past, neither do I have any regrets about my childhood. 
The rain splashing on tin took me back to my boyhood when I always looked forward to spending the night in my grandmother’s cottage on Mockingbird Lane. She had this large evaporative cooler that hung out her dining room window. When it would rain, the sound created on that metal housing, mixed with the hum of the big fan blade was truly mesmerizing. Last week that simple sound took me back to my grandmother Mimi’s house. I miss her a lot.