Sunday, December 15, 2013

How Life Magazine got the Rights to Zapruder Film: Finest Example of the Power of Politeness

I presume all of my readers have heard about the Zapruder film—the only movie that captured the precise moment when President Kennedy was fatally struck in the head by a bullet. [Abraham Zapruder, a Dallas businessman and a passionate Kennedy supporter, happened to be filming the presidential limousine from up close with his 8 mm movie camera when Oswald did his evil deed.]  Well, how Life magazine got the complete rights to that precious Zapruder film is a fascinating story and a powerful testament to the power of smiling and the power of being polite.  Here is a summary of what was narrated to CBS’s Bob Schieffer by former Life editor Dick Stolley on the November 3, 2013, edition of “Face the Nation.”

On the morning of the Nov. 22 assassination, Stolley was in Los Angeles. At the directions of his superiors, he immediately flew to Dallas; learned from others about Abraham Zapruder as being “the guy with a movie camera in Daley Plaza”; and met with the latter the following morning. After looking at the film in the company of two secret service agents, Stolley bought print rights for $50,000 and sent the film to Life’s head quarters in New York.

At the direction of his superiors, Stolley revisited Zapruder two days later, this time to buy complete rights for $150,000.  After the deal was done, as Stolley was speaking with one of Zapruder’s partners to get some more details, that associate of Zapruder interjected: “Do you know why you got that film?” Stolley replied “What do you mean—money?” The partner then repeated his question, saying “Do you know why you got it (i.e., the rights) and not those other people out in the hall?” When Stolley responded “I have no idea,” the partner said “Because you were a gentleman!”

© Copyright 2013  V. J. Singal

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