Abraham Zapruder

Abraham Zapruder

Eddie Barker: Abraham Zapruder, whose film of the assassination was studied at length on last night's program, was standing up on this little wall right at the edge of the grassy knoll. Now, shots from behind that picket fence over there would have almost had to whistle by his ear. Mr. Zapruder, when we interviewed him here, tended to agree that the knoll was not involved.

Abraham Zapruder: I'm not a ballistics expert, but I believe that if there were shots that come from my right ear, I would hear a different sound. I heard shots coming from - I wouldn't know which direction to say-but they was driven from the Texas Book Depository and they all sounded alike. There was no difference in sound at all.

The following may be of interest to those who would seek a glimpse at the beginning, even though it tends to raise questions about the only piece of evidence that we know is real, intact, unaltered, and 100% without blemish. Qualities that are curiously absent from the character of the one who filmed it...

Consider:

Abraham Zapruder-White Russian affiliation, 32nd degree Mason, active member of 2 CIA Proprietary Organizations: The Dallas Council On World Affairs and The Crusade For A Free Europe;

These two organizations were CIA (backed) Domestic Operations in Dallas whose membership included:

Abraham Zapruder, Clint Murchison (owner of the Dallas Cowboys at that time) , Mr. Byrd, (owner of the Texas School Book Depository), Sarah Hughes, who swore LBJ in as the 36th President while Air Force One was still on the ground in Dallas, George DeMohrenschildt, (CIA contract agent AND best friend of LHO), George Bush (also close friend of George DeMohrenschildt), Neil Mallon, (mentor that Bush named his son, Neil, after), H.L. Hunt, & Demitri Von Mohrenschildt (George D's brother).

In 1953 and 1954 a woman named, Jeanne LeGon worked side by side with Abraham Zapruder at a high end clothing design firm called, Nardis of Dallas. Jeanne LeGon designed the clothing and Abraham Zapruder cut the patterns and the material for her.

Incidentally, Abraham Zapruder's obituary mis-states the date/year that he departed Nardis of Dallas, incorrectly citing 1949. The correct year was 1959, [the same year that his "partner in design" Jeanne LeGon became known as, Jean LeGon DeMohrenschildt... She had married Lee Oswald's BEST FRIEND (to be), CIA Contract Agent, George DeMohrenschildt!].

I didn't have my camera but my secretary asked me why I don't have it and I told her I wouldn't have a chance even to see the President and somehow she urged me and I went home and got my camera and came back and first I thought I might take pictures from the window because my building is right next to the building where the alleged assassin was, and it's just across 501 Elm Street, but I figured - I may go down and get better pictures, and I walked down. I believe it was Elm Street and on down to the lower part, closer to the underpass and I was trying to pick a space from where to take those pictures and I tried one place and it was on a narrow ledge and I couldn't balance myself very much. I tried another place and that had some obstruction of signs or whatever it was there and finally I found a place farther down near the underpass that was a square of concrete I don't know what you call it maybe about 4 feet high.

After the first shot - I saw him leaning over and after the second shot - it's possible after what I saw, you know, then I started yelling, "They killed him, they killed him," and I just felt that somebody had ganged up on him and I was still shooting the pictures until he got under the underpass - I don't even know how I did it. And then, I didn't even remember how I got down from that abutment there, but there I was, I guess, and I was walking toward - back toward my office and screaming, "They killed him, they killed him," and the people that I met on the way didn't even know what happened and they kept yelling, "What happened, what happened, what happened?" It seemed that they had heard a shot but they didn't know exactly what had happened as the car sped away, and I kept on just yelling, "They killed him, they killed him, they killed him," and finally got to my office and my secretary - I told her to call the police or the Secret Service - I don't know what she was doing, and that's about all. I was very much upset. Naturally, I couldn't imagine such a thing being done. I just went to my desk and stopped there until the police came and then we were required to get a place to develop the films. I knew I had something, I figured it might be of some help - I didn't know what.

Mr. LIEBELER - Are you in business here in Dallas, Mr. Zapruder?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - Yes.

Mr. LIEBELER - What business are you in?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - Manufacturing ladies dresses.

Mr. LIEBELER - The manufacture of ladies dresses?

Mr. LIEBELER - I understand that you took some motion pictures at the time assassination?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - That's correct..

Mr. LIEBELER - As you stood there on this abutment with your camera, the motorcade came down Houston Street and turned left on Elm Street, did it not?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - That's right.

Mr. LIEBELER - And it proceeded then down Elm Street toward the triple underpass; is that correct?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - That's correct. I started shooting - when the motorcade started coming in, I believe I started and wanted to get it coming in from Houston Street.

Mr. LIEBELER - Tell us what happened as you took these pictures.

Mr. ZAPRUDER - Well, as the car came in line almost - I believe it was almost in line. I was standing up here and I was shooting through a telephoto lens, which is a zoom lens and as it reached about - I imagine it was around here - I heard the first shot and I saw the President lean over and grab himself like this (holding his left chest area).

Mr. LIEBELER - Grab himself on the front of his chest?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - Right - something like that. In other words, he was sitting like this and waving and then after the shot he just went like that.

Mr. LIEBELER - He was sitting upright in the car and you heard the shot and you saw the President slump over?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - Leaning - leaning toward the side of Jacqueline. For a moment I thought it was, you know, like you say, "Oh, he got me," when you hear a shot - you've heard these expressions and then I saw - I don't believe the President is going to make jokes like this, but before I had a chance to organize my mind, I heard a second shot and then I saw his head opened up and the blood and everything came out and I started - I can hardly talk about it [the witness crying].

Mr. LIEBELER - That's all right, Mr. Zapruder, would you like a drink of water? Why don't you step out and have a drink of water?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - I'm sorry - I'm ashamed of myself really, but I couldn't help it.

Mr. LIEBELER - Nobody should ever be ashamed of feeling that way, Mr. Zapruder. I feel the same way myself. It was a terrible thing. Let me go back now for just a moment and ask you how many shots you heard altogether.

Mr. ZAPRUDER - I thought I heard two, it could be three, because to my estimation I thought he was hit on the second - I really don't know. The whole thing that has been transpiring - it was very upsetting and as you see I got a little better all the time and this came up again and it to me looked like the second shot, but I don't know. I never even heard a third shot.

Mr. LIEBELER - You didn't hear any shot after you saw him hit?

Mr. ZAPRUDER - I heard the second - after the first shot - I saw him leaning over and after the second shot - it's possible after what I saw, you know, then I started yelling, "They killed him, they killed him," and I just felt that somebody had ganged up on him and I was still shooting the pictures until he got under the underpass - I don't even know how I did it. I knew I had something, I figured it might be of some help - I didn't know what.

Donald Purdy: What is it about the normal paths of bullets which leads you to the conclusion that these diagrams illustrating the photographs, permit you to conclude that the bullet did not pass through both men?

Cyril Wecht: The inescapable fact that unless a bullet, especially one fired from a high speed weapon, reasonably high speed, approximately 2,000 feet per second muzzle velocity - unless it strikes something of firm substance, such as bone or something else, that that bullet will travel in a straight line.

Donald Purdy: Mr. Chairman, I would ask at this time that the item marked JFK exhibit F-245, which is a blowup of frame 230 of the Zapruder film, be entered into the record... Dr. Wecht, in your opinion, could Governor Connally have incurred the damage to his wrist which is described in the medical reports and still be holding the hat as shown in this photograph?

Cyril Wecht: No; absolutely not. In F-245, which is a blowup of Zapruder frame 230, we are told under the single bullet theory that Gov. John Connally, for a period of approximately one and a half seconds, has already been shot through the right chest with the right lung pierced and collapsed, through the right wrist, with the distal end of the radius comminuted and the radial nerve partially severed. I heard some vague reference to a nerve in the prior testimony, but I didn't hear the followthrough discussion that I was waiting for about nerve damage. There was nerve damage, yes, to the radial nerve. And the thumb which holds this large Texas white Stetson that is required for it to be in apposition with the index or index and middle fingers to hold that hat is innervated by the radial nerve. Note in F-245 that the hat is still being held and Governor Connally is not reacting. This is again a very alert individual, under a very special circumstance, and I do not believe or accept for one moment the story that we must accept under the single bullet theory that this gentlemen, at this point, one and a half seconds previously, has already been shot through his chest, through his wrist, and into his left thigh.

Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, is it your opinion based on this exhibit, JFK exhibit F-245, that Governor Connally is not yet injured in any way?

Cyril Wecht: Yes; that is my opinion.

Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, Is it possible that he had been injured prior to this frame but has not yet manifested a reaction?

Cyril Wecht: NO; I do not believe so, not given the nature and extents of his wounds, the multiplicity and the areas damaged, I do not believe that.

Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, given the nature of his wounds, how much prior to the time that he manifests a reaction is the earliest he could have been struck?

Cyril Wecht: Well, a fraction of a second, again, an infinitesimal moment. It is possible that a fraction of a second earlier he could have been shot, although I do not believe that. Please keep in mind that now we must correlate that with the Governor's own version, and remembering that this bullet was traveling 2,000 feet per second muzzle velocity, much faster than the speed of sound. Please keep in mind that it does not seem at all likely. I doubt that it is possible that he had already been struck. The panel (of experts assembled by the House Select Committee on Assassinations), to the best of my recollection, was in unanimous agreement that there was a slight upward trajectory the bullet through President John F. Kennedy, that is to say, that the-bullet wound of entrance on the President's back, lined up with the bullet wound of exit in the front of the President's neck drawing a straight line, showed that vertically the bullet had moved slightly upward, slightly, but upward. That is extremely important for two reasons. One, under the single bullet theory - with Oswald as the sole assassin, or anybody else, in the sixth floor window, southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository Building, you have the bullet coming down at a downward angle of around 20-25 degrees, something like that, maybe a little bit less. It had originally been postulated, I think, by the autopsy team, and the initial investigators, at considerably more. How in the world can a bullet be fired from the sixth floor window, strike the President in the back, and yet have a slightly upward direction? There was nothing there to cause it to change its course. And then with the slightly upward direction, outside the President's neck, that bullet then embarked upon a rollercoaster ride with a major dip, because it then proceeded; under the single bullet theory, through Gov. John Connally at a 25 degree angle of declination. To my knowledge, there has never been any disagreement among the proponents and defenders of the Warren Commission report or the critics, about the angle of declination in John Connally - maybe a degree or two. We have that bullet going through the Governor at about 25 degrees downward. How does a bullet that is moving slightly upward in the President proceed then to move downward 25 degrees in John Connally. This is what I cannot understand. My colleagues on the panel are aware of this. We discussed it, and what we keep coming back to is, "well, don't know how the two men were seated in relationship to each other." I don't care what happened behind the Stemmons freeway sign, there is no way in the world that they can put that together, and likewise on the horizontal plane, the bullet, please keep in mind, entered in the President's right back, I agree, exited in the anterior midline of the President's neck, I agree, and was moving thence by definition, by known facts, on a straight line from entrance to exit, from right to left. And so with that bullet moving in a leftward fashion, it then somehow made an acute angular turn, came back almost two feet, stopped, made a second turn, and slammed into Gov. John Connally behind the right armpit, referred to medically as the right posterior axillary area. The vertical and horizontal trajectory of this bullet, 399, under the single bullet theory is absolutely unfathomable, indefensible, and incredible.

Cyril Wecht: Yes; I believe F-246, which is a blowup of Zapruder frame 237, demonstrates that Gov. John Connally has now been struck.

Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, what is it about his movements that leads you to the conclusion that he has been struck?

Cyril Wecht: The body is turning, the cheeks are puffing out, there is a noticeable grimace on his face, in contrast, for instance, to F-245, Z-frame 230, and there seems to be some dishevelment of his hair. These features can be seen very dramatically also one frame later, F-247, or Zapruder frame 238, which I remind you is one eighteenth of a second interval away, and you can see the hair movement, the twisting of the body. There is no question in my mind that the Governor has now been hit.

Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, referring again to the JFK exhibits F-229, F-272 and F-244, which are the frames immediately before and the frames after the sign, you discussed the fact that the men did not line up in a horizontal trajectory?

Cyril Wecht: Yes. The panel, to the best of my recollection, was in unanimous agreement that there was a slight upward trajectory the bullet through President John F. The vertical and horizontal trajectory of this bullet, 399, under the single bullet theory is absolutely unfathomable, indefensible, and incredible.

Garment manufacturer Abraham Zapruder was a spectator at Dealey Plaza who captured the entire shooting sequence with his cheap movie camera. Life magazine immediately snapped up the film for an untold sum. Although Life ran several frames in its cover story on the Warren Commission Report, the motion picture itself had never been shown in public. (Not even members of the Commission had seen it.) Now it had surfaced, courtesy of La Bell France.

The Zapruder film is horrifyingly graphic. It shows Kennedy clutching his throat as a shot from the rear goes through his neck. There are agonizing moments as he slowly slumps forward in the limousine. Then his head literally explodes, sending up a blood-mist halo. The force of the hit rocks him back so violently into the rear seat cushion that it is compressed. He bounces forward as Jackie grabs for him. There is no mistaking that he was killed by a shot from the front. Suspect Lee Harvey Oswald was at the rear.

I rushed to Hollywood with the film to have it analyzed by experts. They pronounced it authentic, probably a second or third generation copy. I then understood why Life, which had taken a stand in support of the Warren Report and featured Gerald Ford's rendition of how the no-conspiracy conclusion was arrived at, had kept the film sequestered. In fact an anonymous caption writer at the magazine had described the head-shot frame as a shot from the front, and a number of subscribers received copies with that caption. But the press run was quickly stopped at tremendous expense, and the offending plate broken and replaced by one whose caption was in conformity with the official position.

One of the central premises of Bloody Treason is that the Zapruder film was altered by members of the cabal that murdered President Kennedy, as part of an effort to at least partly conceal the plot and the plotters. This notion has gained increasing credibility in recent years, but I must concede it is an idea that part of me wants to reject outright, because I just don't get it. The Zapruder film as it has been known since the 1970s is convincing evidence of a front shooter and thus a conspiracy. To dwell on alleged alteration strikes me as counterproductive, missing the forest for the trees.

As I understand the overall argument, frames were deleted from the film in order to hide evidence that Kennedy was shot from the front, which of course would destroy the lone nut scenario. The original film was seized by the conspirators and altered using what was, in 1963, sophisticated yet rather commonplace equipment. Traces of the forgery inevitably remained, but were not ferreted out for many years.

There are undeniable problems in the film, such as whether the Presidential limousine came to a stop during the fusillade. In the conventional Z-film it plainly does not, but numerous eyewitnesses gave sworn testimony that it did, or at least that it slowed down (also not observed).

Another issue that Twyman focuses on is the speed with which limousine driver William Greer turns his head at two points in the shooting sequence. According to Twyman, the speed of this head turn is a physical impossibility, and further proof that key frames were deleted from the film. There are filmed recreations of the head turn (no subject could do it the way Greer supposedly did) and discussions of calculations intended to show it couldn't be done.

These may be Twyman's most powerful demonstrations. But at this stage I am still sitting on the fence on the question of film alteration. Suffice it to say that proving the allegation the Zapruder film was tampered with is not a simple task. Respected researchers have staked claims on both sides of the question; this is not an issue that will be resolved any time soon - if ever.

A US arbitration panel put a price on the world's most famous home movie yesterday when it agreed to award $16m in compensation to the family of Abraham Zapruder, whose 26-second film of the assassination of President Kennedy has become a national relic. Lawyers for the Zapruder family had been asking for $30m in return for surrendering the film to the national archives, but they called yesterday's ruling "thorough and thoughtful". However, a dissenting member of the three-member arbitration board argued the award was too large for a damaged strip of 8mm celluloid.

Abraham Zapruder, a dress manufacturer, was standing by the route taken by the presidential motorcade through Dallas on November 22, 1963, and was filming the event when the fatal shots rang out. The colour film shows the president grab his chest after the first shot, before his head disintegrates under the force of the second bullet.

Just after the assassination he sold the footage for $150,000 to Time-Life magazine, which published individual frames but did not allow the film to be screened in its entirety. Meanwhile, it became the iconic focus of the ceaseless controversy over whether the shooting was part of a conspiracy. Time-Life gave the film back to the Zapruder family in 1975 for a nominal $1.

Arbitrators were called in when lawyers for Mr Zapruder's heirs and the government failed to agree on fair compensation following the decision by the Assassination Records Review Board ruling in 1997 that the film should be declared the permanent possession of the US people.

Government experts pointed out that even an original manuscript of a President Lincoln speech had only raised $1.5 million at auction, and that the US should not pay much more for the film, especially as the Zapruder family would retain the copyright.

The Zapruder lawyers argued it was a unique artefact like a Vincent Van Gogh painting or an Andy Warhol print, and should be valued accordingly. The panel ruled by 2 votes to 1 that: "The Zapruder film is one of a kind".

There have also been interesting developments from the crime scene, perhaps the most important of which may seem like a no-brainer: The famous 26-second Zapruder home movie of JFK's murder contains original undoctored photographic imagery of the assassination. This authentication was deemed necessary by the Assassination Records Review Board, created by Congress to oversee the release of JFK records, because a vocal faction of JFK conspiracy theorists in the 1990s started claiming that the film had been surreptitiously altered to hide evidence of a conspiracy. (Their theory refuted, these conspiracy theorists abandoned the JFK field for greener pastures of 9/11 speculation.) However, this isn't to say that there aren't some legitimate and uncomfortable questions about assassination-related photographs.

"The only caution I have in the photographic record concerns the JFK autopsy material," says Richard Trask, a photo archivist in Danvers, Massachusetts who has the world's biggest collection of JFK assassination imagery, and has written two books on the subject. "That is an area that always makes me pause. What was happening during the autopsy if there was a cover-up or just incompetence, I don't know. It is the only area of the JFK story that I have some doubts about."

As well he should. The JFK medical evidence is worse than a mess -- it is a documented national scandal that awaits decent news coverage. The new evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the photographic record of Kennedy's autopsy has been tampered with by persons unknown. The sworn testimony and records developed by the Assassination Records Review Board in the late 1990s allow no other conclusion.

Among the key post-Stone revelations in the JFK medical evidence:

Autopsy photographs of Kennedy's body are missing from government archives, according to sworn testimony from doctors and medical technicians involved in the autopsy. The origins of other autopsy photos in the collection cannot be determined.

Two FBI agents who took notes during the autopsy gave detailed sworn testimonies rejecting the so-called single bullet theory which girds the official story that Oswald alone killed Kennedy.

Dr. James Humes, the chief pathologist at JFK's autopsy, admitted under oath that he destroyed a first draft of his autopsy report. Humes had previously only admitted to destroying his original notes.

Dr. Gary Aguilar, a San Francisco ophthalmologist who has written about the autopsy, is emphatic. "The medical evidence is really stark evidence of a cover-up in my view," he says. "The story is so extraordinary that it is hard for some people, especially in mainstream media organizations, to come to grips with it. There's just no doubt that there were very strange things going on around the president's body that weekend."

Sounds like a paranoid fantasy? More than a few of the people who participated in the JFK autopsy have sworn to it.

Saundra Kay Spencer was a technician at the Navy's photographic laboratory in Washington. She developed the JFK autopsy photos on the weekend after Kennedy's death. She kept her oath of secrecy for 34 years. When she spoke to the ARRB in 1997, Spencer displayed the efficiency of a career military woman. She was well prepared with a sharp memory for the details of her involvement in the amazing events of November 22-24, 1963. Her testimony, after reviewing all the JFK autopsy photographs in the National Archives, was unequivocal. "The views [of JFK's body] we produced at the [Naval] Photographic Center are not included [in the current autopsy collection]," she said. "Between those photographs and the ones we did, there had to be some massive cosmetic things done to the President's body."

FBI agent Francis O'Neill was present during the autopsy and took notes. In 1997, he also viewed the photographs. Referring to an autopsy photograph showing the wound in the back of Kennedy's head, O'Neill said, "This looks like it's been doctored in some way. I specifically do not recall those -- I mean, being that clean or that fixed up. To me, it looks like these pictures have been. It would appear to me that there was a -- more of a massive wound. ." O'Neill emphasized he was not saying the autopsy photographs themselves had been doctored but that the wounds themselves had been cleaned up before the photograph was taken.

James Sibert, another FBI agent present at the autopsy, had a similar reaction to the photos. "I don't recall anything like this at all during the autopsy," he said under oath. "There was much -- well, the wound was more pronounced. And it looks like it could have been reconstructed or something, as compared with what my recollection was."

What both men were objecting to was the lack of a big hole in the back of JFK's head which would be somewhat indicative of a so-called blowout wound caused by a shot from the front.

The retired FBI agents were especially scathing about the single bullet theory positing that one bullet caused seven non-fatal wounds in Kennedy and [Texas] Governor Connally and emerged largely undamaged on a hospital stretcher.

They took notes on the autopsy as Dr. Humes examined Kennedy's body. Both said the autopsies concluded the bullet that hit Kennedy in his back had not transited his body. But chief pathologist Humes took another view in his autopsy report, writing that the bullet had emerged from Kennedy's throat and gone on to strike Governor Connally. But Humes's credibility is undermined by the ARRB's discovery that he destroyed not only his notes, but also his first draft of the autopsy report without ever revealing its contents or even existence.

Sibert later told a JFK researcher of the single bullet theory: "It's magic, not medicine."


Buyout fallout: Tribune slashes pages 20 percent, sets early deadlines

Dick Stolley, the legendary journalist who landed the Zapruder film of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination for Life magazine and who went on to launch People magazine, has died.

Stolley died Wednesday at age 92 at a hospital in Evanston, Ill., according to friends of his family.

An editor in the Los Angeles bureau of Life at the time of the assassination, Stolley flew into Dallas a few hours after Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, 1963.

“It was the single most dramatic moment of my 70 years of journalism,” Stolley told “Face the Nation” in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, referring to his landing of the iconic 8mm camera footage that would become the most famous home movie in American history and the only film record of the assassination.

Getting his hands on the film was a combination of luck and skillful gumshoe reporting — and of the dominance of Life, at the time an oversize glossy and one of the biggest-selling weeklies in the country.

“I got a phone call from a Life freelancer in Dallas named Patsy Swank,” Stolley recalled for Time. “And the news she had was absolutely electrifying. She said that a businessman had taken an 8mm camera out to Dealey Plaza and photographed the assassination. I said, ‘What’s his name?’ She said, ‘[The reporter who told her the news] didn’t spell it out, but I’ll tell you how he pronounced it. It was Zapruder.'”

“I picked up the Dallas phone book and literally ran my finger down the Z’s, and it jumped out at me the name spelled exactly the way Patsy had pronounced it. Zapruder, comma, Abraham.”

Stolley said Zapruder had taken the film to Kodak for overnight developing and had three copies made. Stolley was the first reporter to contact Zapruder but not the only one. Zapruder told him to come to his house at 9 a.m. the next morning. Stolley said he showed up at 8 a.m.

“While the other reporters were banging on the door, demanding to see the film, Dick was already inside his home,” said Hal Wingo, who worked with Stolley at Life and later helped him launch People as its second employee.

Abraham Zapruder’s camera is seen during a preview of an exhibit devoted to assassinated President John F. Kennedy at the Newseum on April 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP via Getty Images

When he arrived, the Secret Service was there and took two of the copies. Other reporters had caught up to Zapruder as well. Stolley said he always wondered why the Secret Service did not confiscate all the copies. He offered Zapruder $150,000 for the reel — to be paid out in yearly installments of $25,000 over a six-year period.

“Zapruder said they had higher offers, but they gave it Life because he said Dick was the most polite and he felt if Dick acted that way, then Life would take good care of the film,” according to Wingo.

Zapruder had captured 486 frames over 26.6 seconds and after they struck the deal, the pictures were run frame by frame in Life.

“In terms of public record, I think it is very fortunate I found Mr. Zapruder,” Stolley remarked.

Zapruder insisted that frame 313 — which depicted the right side of the president’s head exploding in red, from the second sniper shot — be omitted from the original magazine runs.

Stolley is a lifelong believer that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas, Texas, before his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. AP Photo/PRNewsFoto/Newseum, File

“I think the film helped impress upon the American people that he was dead,” Stolley says. “A still picture wouldn’t have done that. America had to absorb all that.”

Stolley was eventually promoted to editor of Life and then went on to launch People in 1974, and then served as editorial director of Time, then the most important publisher in the US.


Pekin native who famously obtained the Zapruder film of JFK's assassination has died at 92

PEKIN &mdash Thanks to a polite Pekin upbringing, journalist Dick Stolley managed to finagle a copy of the most famous home movie in U.S. history: the Zapruder film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Stolley, 92, died last week in Evanston with his family by his side, according to People magazine, for which he served as founding managing editor in 1974. His storied career, which began in his teens in Pekin, included stints at the Chicago Sun-Times and Time magazine, and he eventually became editorial director across all Time Inc. magazines before retiring in 2014.

But the highlight of his reporting career came in the wake of the Kennedy's slaying, captured by dressmaker Abraham Zapruder. Stolley was not only the first journalist to contact Zapruder he also was the most patient and polite, manners Stolley credited to his childhood in Pekin.

"In terms of public record, I think it is very fortunate I found Mr. Zapruder,&rdquo Stolley told the Journal Star in 2013, near the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death.

Born in Pekin to a factory worker father and an English teacher mother, Stolley knew by age 12 he would become a journalist, according to People. He went from editing the newspaper at Pekin High School to becoming a teenage sports editor of the Pekin Daily Times.

After high school, he joined the Navy before graduating from Northwestern University with a master's degree in journalism in 1953, according to the Washington Post. He eventually was hired by Life magazine, moving up to chief of its Los Angeles bureau by 1963. On that Nov. 22, he was in the office when news broke that Kennedy had been shot. Stolley, another reporter and two photographers jumped on the next plane to Dallas.

They landed as Air Force One was taking off for Washington, carrying Kennedy's body and Lyndon Johnson, about to be sworn in as the new president. About 6 p.m. at Life's Dallas bureau, Stolley got a tip that a Dallas businessman named Abraham Zapruder had filmed the assassination on his home movie camera.

Stolley picked up a phone book and found Zapruder's home number. He called the number every 15 minutes for the next six hours, until a weary voice answered.

Stolley identified himself, asking, &ldquoMr. Zapruder, am I the first reporter to call you?&rdquo Zapruder said yes, then confirmed that he had captured the assassination on film, which he already had gotten developed. Excited, Stolley asked if he could come by to see the film.

Though sensing the scoop of a lifetime, Stolley did not get pushy. He remained respectful, as he had been taught as a boy in Pekin.

As Stolley later said to the Journal Star of Zapruder, "He was emotionally and physically exhausted at that point. I didn&rsquot press. I mean, sometimes in this business, you know, you have to press and sometimes there&rsquos a sixth sense that tells you don&rsquot press. Smartest decision I ever made."

With Stolley calm and quiet, Zapruder broke the phone silence by saying, "Come to my office at 9 in the morning.&rdquo

Stolley arrived an hour early, to beat any other reporters getting wind of the situation. He got there at the same time as three Secret Service agents.

For the four visitors, Zapruder played his 8 mm film on rickety, old projector. The room was silent, except for the tick-tick-tick sound of the projector, as they watched the grim imagery: the motorcade curving around Dealey Plaza with Kennedy waving from the presidential limousine before grasping his throat at the first shot, then Texas Gov. John Connally howling in pain from a bullet wound.

"And then comes this hideous head shot where the whole right side of (Kennedy's) head just explodes up into the air and the spray of blood and bone," Stolley recounted to the Journal Star. " And at that moment everyone in the room just &mdash as if we had been punched in the gut &mdash everybody, Secret Service and me, just went, &ldquo'Unnh!'

"It was an absolute, natural, uncontrollable impulse at seeing that wound."

After watching the rest of the film, the Secret Service agents seized two of Zapruder's three copies, then left. Other reporters had arrived, so Zapruder showed them the film. Following the final frame, Zapruder told the roomful of reporters, &ldquoWell, now. I know you&rsquore interested in obtaining rights to this film, but Mr. Stolley was the first reporter to contact me, so I&rsquom going to talk to him first.&rdquo

As the other reporters went ballistic, Zapruder and Stolley slipped into his office and locked the door. Stolley thought to himself, &ldquoI&rsquom not going to leave this office without that film. I don&rsquot care what I have to do.&rdquo

Stolley said, "Mr. Zapruder, that is a truly fascinating piece of film&rdquo &mdash then offered $5,000. As they chatted amicably over the price, the other reporters shouted at Zapruder and banged on the door. Stolley, true to his Pekin rearing, stayed kind and calm, raising the offer to $50,000.

Zapruder, visibly disturbed by the clamor on the other side of the door, said, "Let&rsquos do it.&rdquo

Stolley walked over to the office typewriter and banged out a six-line contract for Life's print rights. After they signed the document, Zapruder handed over the other copy of the film. Stolley ducked out a back door, out of sight of his irate competitors.

"Poor Mr. Zapruder had to go back and face those enraged reporters outside his office," Stolley later said.

The following day, Life agreed to pay Zapruder $150,000 for all rights to the film. Zapruder, who would have nightmares about the film and shirk from publicity, died of stomach cancer in 1970.

In 1975, Life sold the film back to his family for $1. In 1999, the federal government bought the film from the family for $16 million.

But even decades later, Stolley never understood one aspect of that post-assassination morning. Why didn&rsquot the Secret Service agents confiscate all three copies of the film? Why relinquish control of any evidence regarding the investigation, less than a day after a president&rsquos murder?

&ldquoThat&rsquos a good question,&rdquo Stolley told the Journal Star. &ldquoIt surprised me that these government officials didn&rsquot grab it.&rdquo

Many of the film's images &mdash Zapruder had captured 486 frames over 26.6 seconds &mdash ran frame-by-frame in Life. To the Journal Star, Stolley later acknowledged that the film&rsquos excruciating detail exacerbated nationwide horror. But he says the explicitness was invaluable in underscoring the stark truth of the slaying.

&ldquoI think the film helped impress upon the American people that he was dead,&rdquo Stolley said.


Richard Stolley, Founding Editor of People Magazine, Dies at 92

He also scored a major journalistic coup by securing the rights to the Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy’s assassination for Life magazine.

Richard B. Stolley, the founding editor of People magazine, which changed the course of American publishing with its personality-driven approach to journalism and which has long been one of the most successful magazines in the nation’s history, died on June 16 at a hospital in Evanston, Ill. He was 92.

The cause was heart failure, his family said.

Over six decades with the Time Inc. media empire, Mr. Stolley was a prominent writer and editor at Life magazine, where he covered the civil rights movement in the South and the space race, among other major stories.

While at Life he scored one of the great coups in journalism, acquiring for his magazine the rights to the Zapruder film of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The 8-mm footage of the Kennedy motorcade — one of the earliest instances of a citizen capturing images of an extraordinary event — was once called the most important 26 seconds in celluloid history.

Mr. Stolley rose through the ranks at Life and was assistant managing editor when its last weekly issue was published in 1972. He then went to Time Inc.’s development group to help dream up new magazines. One day a call came from Andrew Heiskell, chairman of the company, who said that his wife, Marian Sulzberger Heiskell, a member of the family that controls The New York Times Company, had suggested a new magazine that would focus on personalities. Mr. Heiskell suggested spinning off the “People” section of Time magazine into its own publication.

When a test issue rolled off the presses, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the cover, it was an instant hit. Making its official debut in March 1974 with a cover photo of Mia Farrow, who was starring in the movie “The Great Gatsby,” People turned a profit after just 18 months and proved itself a cash cow.

In Mr. Stolley’s first four years, its circulation soared to 2.2 million, with a “pass along” readership of almost 14 million, which People said was the highest in the country.

To Mr. Stolley, the magazine’s mission was clear — to write about ordinary people doing extraordinary things and extraordinary people doing ordinary things, but never about ordinary people doing ordinary things.

The inaugural issue included interviews with the wives of soldiers missing in action in Vietnam as well as features on Lee Harvey Oswald’s widow (“Finally at peace with herself”) and Gloria Vanderbilt (“A fourth marriage that really works”).

“I think the climate in the country was absolutely right for this type of magazine,” Mr. Stolley said in 1978 in an interview with his hometown newspaper then, Greenwich Time, in Connecticut.

He said he believed that by the 1970s, the interests of readers of mass magazines had shifted away from the political turmoil of the 1960s and toward personalities. Still, Mr. Stolley said, he was never sure whether People had spawned personality-driven journalism or whether it had tapped into something already in the zeitgeist.

Either way, the magazine focused relentlessly on humans, not issues or trends. Mr. Stolley had rules about covers, which had to grab readers at the newsstand in an instant.

“He said that pretty sells better than ugly, young sells better than old, movies sell better than TV, TV sells better than sports and anything sells better than politics,” Hal Wingo, his longtime colleague at both Life and People, said in a phone interview.

Although immediately popular with readers, People was dismissed by some journalists, including some at Time Inc., as a celebrity gossip sheet, Mr. Wingo said. That prompted Mr. Stolley to break his own rules about covers. To show that the magazine wasn’t just a showcase for celebrities, the second cover featured Martha Mitchell, the chatty wife of former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, who was embroiled in the Watergate scandal. The third featured the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty.

Much of the early going was trial and error. One of his biggest mistakes, Mr. Stolley often said, was not putting Elvis Presley on the cover when he died in 1977 at 42. Mr. Wingo said it had not occured to them because the magazine had never featured a dead person before.


JFK Assassination: How LIFE Brought the Zapruder Film to Light

Film still from Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.

Zapruder Film © 1967 (renewed 1995) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Written By: Ben Cosgrove

It’s unlikely that any 26 seconds of celluloid have ever been discussed and dissected as thoroughly as those captured by a 58-year-old amateur-film buff named Abraham Zapruder on the day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas—in a movie known ever after as “the Zapruder film.” The jittery color sequence showing JFK’s motorcade moving through the sunlit Dallas streets, leading up to the shocking instant when a rifle bullet slams into the president’s head, remains one of the 20th century’s indispensable historical records.

It was LIFE magazine editor Richard Stolley who tracked down Zapruder. Stolley’s purchasing of Zapruder’s home movie for LIFE had a profound impact on the magazine, on Zapruder, on Stolley himself, and most lastingly on the nation. Having flown in from Los Angeles within hours of the murder, Stolley was in his hotel in Dallas that afternoon, just hours after the president was shot. “I got a phone call from a LIFE freelancer in Dallas named Patsy Swank,” Stolley told TIME producer Vaughn Wallace several years ago, “and the news she had was absolutely electrifying. She said that a businessman had taken an eight-millimeter camera out to Dealey Plaza and photographed the assassination. I said, ‘What’s his name?’ She said, ‘[The reporter who told her the news] didn’t spell it out, but I’ll tell you how he pronounced it. It was Zapruder.’

“I picked up the Dallas phone book and literally ran my finger down the Z’s, and it jumped out at me the name spelled exactly the way Patsy had pronounced it. Zapruder, comma, Abraham.”

The rest is history: fraught, complex, riveting, unsettled history

Film still from Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.

Zapruder Film © 1967 (renewed 1995) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza


Abraham Zapruder - History

Abraham Zapruder’s name became quite familiar to those of us who were old enough to remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Zapruder had been on the street at the exact time the attack occurred. He and his employees had stopped work to enjoy the presidential parade and had been filming the event with his personal home movie camera.

Zapruder had been born in Kovel, Volyns’ka, Russia (Ukraine) in 1905 to Israel and Anna Zapruder. He had emigrated to the United States when he was a teenager. Arriving in New York City, he lived in the borough of Brooklyn for a number of years, finding work as a pattern maker in the garment business. He married Lillian Shapovnick in 1933 and the couple had two children. By the early 1940s, he had moved to Dallas, Texas, essentially working in the same field.

After moving to Texas, Zapruder started (or co-founded) his own company called Jennifer Juniors, Inc. and his Dallas office was located in what was known as the Dal-Tex Building at 501 Elm Street, which is located directly across Houston Street from the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald is alleged to have fired the fatal shots that killed President Kennedy and wounded Texas Governor John Connally.

(Image credit: Replica of Zapruder’s camera from the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas, TX)

When he left for work that morning, Zapruder had inadvertently forgotten his camera, a Bell and Howell Director Series Model 414 Zoomatic 8-MM unit, but one of his employees had gone to his home and picked it up for him. The office closed down in anticipation of the downtown parade. From the place where he was standing, he was able to get a good view of the motorcade and unexpectedly caught the entire assassination sequence. He actually witnessed the shot or shots that struck President Kennedy while looking through the viewfinder of his camera. Zapruder is believed to have been standing on the “grassy knoll” on the north side of Elm Street in position to be able to see the fronts of the cars in the motorcade after they made the left turn from Houston Street to Elm Street.

After hearing the gunfire, he kept the camera rolling until the motorcade disappeared under the railroad overpass. He realized the gravity of the situation, although confirmation of the President’s death was not broadcast for another half hour to an hour.

(Image credit: Findagrave.com)

Zapruder was quickly located and contacted by local and national police. His film was developed later that day and copies were made for investigators. He later received many offers for rights to publish his images, and he reportedly sold the rights to Life magazine for $150,000, out of which he is known to have generously donated $25,000 to the family of the slain Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippett. The sum was paid out in six annual installments and the first installment went to the Tippett family.

Since then, his footage has been widely distributed and was a key piece of evidence in the lengthy government investigation by the Warren Commission that followed the assassination.

Abraham Zapruder passed away in 1970 from complications of stomach cancer. He is interred at Emanu-El Cemetery in Dallas, Texas along with other members of his family. Life magazine conveyed the rights back to the family for $1 in 1975. The camera and original film footage was donated to the National Archives and Records Administration.

The JFK Act, officially known as the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, was passed by the United States Congress. Among other provisions, the Act created a collection to house all the artifacts and materials connected to the assassination and the investigation thereof. The Act also created the Assassination Records Review Board, one of the responsibilities of which was to determine which documents might be released and when they might be released. It has been reported that the Zapruder family was awarded a sum in the millions for their rights to the original film footage. The family subsequently donated their collection of images to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Texas, along with a first-generation copy of the footage and the associated copyrights. We intentionally did not post references to any of the many possible links to the Zapruder film but they can be easily found on the internet.

The Sixth Floor Museum is housed at the former location of the five story Southern Rock Island Plow Company, built in 1898. That particular structure burned after a fire caused by a lightening strike about three years later and the current seven story structure was built on its foundation. Over the next six decades, it was leased and used as the headquarters first for an air conditioning business and later a food distribution company. In 1963, it was leased by the Texas School Book Depository for about the next ten years. Dallas County acquired the building in 1977, using it for County business with the upper floors mostly remaining vacant. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza opened in 1989. The sixth and seventh floors are devoted to the life of President Kennedy and the story of the 1963 assassination. Reportedly, at least about 350,000 individuals visit the museum each year.


The Zapruder Film: A New Book Reveals the Untold Story of the Man Who Recorded JFK’s Assassination

Abraham Zapruder recorded a tragic moment in history when he captured President John F. Kennedy‘s assassination in full color on Nov. 22, 1963.

Fifty-three years later, granddaughter Alexandra Zapruder adds a fresh narrative to an old tragedy with the release of Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film. The book, out last month, delves into the story of her grandfather, who was traumatized after making a home movie that serves as the only complete record of Kennedy’s death. Twenty-Six Seconds also fleshes out the complex situation in which the Zapruder family found itself after the assassination.

“We’re living in a time where we need to have complicated answers to complicated questions. is my own inquiry into our family legacy and the life of the film,” Alexandra Zapruder tells PEOPLE. “The way that we handled the film shaped the way that the film reached the public and that shaped the way that people thought about the assassination.”

The history of the film is a complicated one.

Zapruder writes that immediately after the assassination, duplicates of the footage went to the federal government. The original film was soon sold to LIFE magazine for $150,000, and was eventually used as evidence in the Warren Commission’s investigation of JFK’s death. Many years later, the Zapruder family once again owned the film, only to face criticism, conspiracy theories and lawsuits.

Despite the hefty sum, for Abraham Zapruder the film represented loss.

According to the book, the Zapruders had great love for the Kennedy family. Zapruder’s son Henry (the author’s father) had just been assigned a position in the Justice Department under the Kennedy Administration. So when Abraham Zapruder unintentionally filmed Kennedy’s death as the commander in chief rode with first lady Jacqueline in the presidential limo in Dallas, Zapruder’s granddaughter writes that he could remember nothing afterwards “except for his own anguished screams.”

“ loved Kennedy. He was a middle-aged man at that point, an immigrant, born in Russia, and he certainly voted for Kennedy and was truly devoted to Kennedy and the family,” says Dick Stolley, the LIFE editor (and future founding editor of PEOPLE magazine) who purchased the film from Zapruder. “For Kennedy to be killed, and even worse, for literally to witness the murder through the rangefinder on his camera, was something, quite frankly, he never recovered from.”

Stolley described sitting in the room when Zapruder first showed the film to him and two Secret Service agents. (One of Zapruder’s first instincts was to get the film to government authorities.)

“We all knew what had happened, but we had no idea what it looked like,” says Stolley. “The three of us were standing and when frame 313 – when his brain sprays up into the air – all of us went ‘ugh!’ It was amazing, as if we’d all been punched in the stomach simultaneously. I’ve never seen anything like that on film or in real life.”

Not only was Zapruder reeling from what he’d filmed, the book describes a man plagued by reporters who wanted the film for their news organizations. As a result, the offer Stolley made on behalf of LIFE magazine was a “safe harbor in a sea of sharks,” Alexandra Zapruder writes.

“ very worried that would be exploited or used in a way that he would find tasteless and awful if it fell into the wrong hands,” says Stolley. “You could see it — this was a man in absolute torment.”

Since federal agents failed to confiscate the original film after they made duplicates, Alexandra Zapruder writes her grandfather felt it was his responsibility to protect the public, especially because people weren’t used to such violent images.

“He knew that the media was going to want to have it and that the public was going to want to see it. There was an inherent conflict between that and his sense that he should respect President Kennedy and protect Mrs. Kennedy from this horrible thing being sensationalized,” she says. “I think the sale to LIFE magazine really represented his best compromise.”

After the sale to LIFE, her grandfather was praised for donating $25,000 to the family of the police officer who was killed by JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. But, according to Stolley, LIFE was later criticized for limiting the public’s access to the film (private ownership and the damage of original frames also inspired conspiracy theories). According to Twenty-Six Seconds, the Zapruder family was also hit with criticism when they later reclaimed rights to the film – even more so after the $16 million sale to the government.

“I understand why people are critical about the money, but everyone in our family would have much preferred that the president hadn’t been killed, and if he had been, that it hadn’t been our grandfather who took the film,” says Zapruder.

While she didn’t write the book to create sympathy for her family, she highlighted the sense of responsibility her father later faced when regulating use of the film. Like his father, Henry Zapruder feared the violent images would be tossed about carelessly for public consumption.

“In my view, thank God it fell to him because he was such a responsible person,” she says, “and he was smart enough to understand what the issues were.”

Beyond the legacy of the film that’s been inherited by her family, Zapruder also touches on the most elemental truths found in those 26 seconds — the human story that makes the film so hard to watch.

“ is the visual representation of what we all know about the fragility of human life, that we don’t want to know … life can come to an end in an instant,” she says. “The fact that it happened to the most beautiful couple in the world, the most powerful couple in the world, the Kennedys, adds to the pathos. But if you separate from that you just see a man and a woman riding in the car on a sunny day. And then, suddenly, he’s dead.”

“That is something that is true about the world that we live in,” she adds. “Everything is fragile and everything can be taken away.”


Twenty-Six Seconds : A Personal History of the Zapruder Film

Abraham Zapruder didn't know when he ran home to grab his video camera on November 22, 1963 that this single spontaneous decision would change his family's life for generations to come. Originally intended as a home movie of President Kennedy's motorcade, Zapruder's film of the JFK assassination is now shown in every American history class, included in Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit questions, and referenced in novels and films. It is the most famous example of citizen journalism, a precursor to the iconic images of our time, such as the Challenger explosion, the Rodney King beating, and the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. But few know the complicated legacy of the film itself.

Now Abraham's granddaughter, Alexandra Zapruder, is ready to tell the complete story for the first time. With the help of the Zapruder family's exclusive records, memories, and documents, Zapruder tracks the film's torturous journey through history, all while American society undergoes its own transformation, and a new media-driven consumer culture challenges traditional ideas of privacy, ownership, journalism, and knowledge.

Part biography, part family history, and part historical narrative, Zapruder demonstrates how one man's unwitting moment in the spotlight shifted the way politics, culture, and media intersect, bringing about the larger social questions that define our age.


Review of Alexandra Zapruder’s “Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film”

John McAdams is an associate professor of political science at Marquette University and webmaster of the Kennedy Assassination Home Page. He received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1981.

In writing Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film, Alexandra Zapruder is a woman on a mission. She has written to defend her family’s honor, and specifically the honor of her grandfather, Abraham Zapruder who shot the iconic film of John Kennedy’s assassination in Dealey Plaza, and her father Henry Zapruder, who for two decades controlled the film on behalf on Zapruder’s heirs.

Ms. Zapruder, and indeed the entire family, has been stung by claims that they were greedy, profiteering from an historical record that should have been the common property of all Americans, and enabling or being complicit in withholding from public scrutiny a key piece of evidence in what has been labelled (in the clichéd but appropriate phrase) the “crime of the century.”

So she is biased. But she is supposed to be biased. In would be, in fact, mildly scandalous if she did not want to defend her father, and a grandfather whom she did not know (due to his early death) but “knew” as a loving, caring, good natured family man from stories told by family members.

But biased or not, she makes a strong case – a really decisive, undeniable case – that her family has struggled to deal responsibly with both the physical artifact (the camera original film), and the intellectual property (the rights to use the images).

Exhibit A of her case is the fact that Abraham Zapruder, shattered and traumatized on the day of the assassination, refused to deal with media people wanting to buy the film, and insisted on first getting it into the hands of Federal authorities.

Then, on the morning after the assassination, an aggressive mob of media representatives was gathered at his business (dress company Jennifer Juniors) wanting to buy the film. He did not auction it to the highest bidder. Rather, he chose to deal, one on one, with Richard Stolley of LIFE Magazine. In 1963, LIFE was the epitome of mainstream media respectability, and Zapruder was concerned that the film be used “responsibly.” Abe Zapruder told several family members (and also Stolley) of a dream he had of a tawdry display of his film in a Times Square movie house. He wanted to avoid any such thing. Indeed, when shortly after the sale of the print rights, Zapruder sold LIFE the movie rights to the film, he demanded a contract clause requiring that the magazine “present the film in a manner consonant with good taste and dignity.” i

In the Hands of Life Magazine

Thus LIFE had a journalistic coup, and possessed what theoretically was a vastly valuable piece of property. In fact, it turned out to be one of history’s great hot potatoes.

Zapruder is a good historian, and she has (so far as this writer can tell) largely exhausted the primary sources on any issue she treats. Thus she has a very detailed account of the internal deliberations among LIFE executives about the use of the film. This is not always scintillating reading. But within the tedium is a clear message: dealing with the film was a nettlesome proposition, confronting those executives with tough decisions. Should frame 313, showing the gory explosion of Kennedy’s head, be published? Who should be allowed to use the film (a 1966 request from CBS was particularly troublesome)? Could LIFE restrict viewing of copies available via government channels (in the National Archives)? How to explain the embarrassing fact that the LIFE lab had mangled and ruined a few frames of the film? How should LIFE deal with bootlegged copies? Unauthorized showings of such copies were becoming more and more common, climaxing with a showing on “Good Night America” on ABC. The hassles did not wind down over the years, but rather seemed to ramp up.

During this time, Abe Zapruder had several contacts with people at LIFE, expressing concern about possible copyright violations, or that the film might be used in a way that was not “respectful.” ii Why would he care, since he had already gotten his money? Quite clearly, his concern with “good taste and dignity” in the use of his film was genuine.

So, apparently, was the concern on the part of LIFE. As Ms. Zapruder notes: “LIFE was really in a bind. There seemed to be no way to use the film in a tasteful way, and one memo after the other confirms it was the fundamental conflict of sitting on an incredibly valuable piece of property that could not be used without making too many ethical compromises that led LIFE to decide to give it away.”

Finally, in 1975, LIFE sold the film to the Zapruder estate for $1.

Back in the Hands of the Zapruders

Thus Ms. Zapruder’s father Henry became the person “who handled the film for twenty-five years and who bore the primary emotional, intellectual, and logistical responsibility for it.” iii

If owning the film was vexing for LIFE, it was at least equally troublesome for Henry Zapruder. He was, first of all, deluged with requests for copies of the film and for use of the images. A Harvard educated tax lawyer, he had other things in his life to attend to. The Zapruder estate did make some money: for networks or major film producers the usage fee could range up to $20,000 to $30,000. Was this greedy? Mega corporations or TV production companies with six and seven figure budgets for some JFK related project would be greedy to expect to use this vastly valuable piece of intellectual property for nominal fees.

Further, there was also a massive number of requests from ordinary citizens for personal copies or small-potatoes uses. Henry Zapruder charged nothing for nonprofit, teaching, research or study uses. Sometimes these uses required paying a fee to the National Archives for reproduction of the film, and sometimes Henry Zapruder paid the reproduction cost from estate funds if the requester could not afford them. iv

But with opportunities to make money came considerable vilification. Journalist Jerry Urban noted: “While the footage is under copyright protection, some believe profiteering from the historical film made by Abraham Zapruder Nov. 22, 1963 is wrong and that this home movie should be in the public domain.” v

And professor and assassination scholar David Wrone claimed: “You shouldn’t be able to copyright something like that. It should be in the public domain, just like the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s immoral, socially speaking.” vi

And lawyer James Lesar went to court to attempt to nullify the Zapruder family’s copyright. vii

Ms. Zapruder tells of how she “heard my family’s motives and morality casually critiqued on NPR and by idols of mine like Doris Kerns Goodwin.” viii She admits that, as the result of all this controversy, members of her family had developed a “bunker mentality,” although she concedes that was unnecessary, since she found most people “kind, generous and encouraging.” ix

Finally, in the 1990s, the issues were resolved with the Zapruder family donating the rights to use the film to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, and government taking the physical film, paying the Zapruders (after arbitration) $16 million dollars. And thus the long ordeal of the Zapruder family’s control of the iconic artifact ended.

Neither conspiracists, looking for evidence of a plot to kill Kennedy, nor lone gunman theorists, looking for a debunking of such theories, will find much here. Ms. Zapruder does deal somewhat briefly with the theory of Zapruder film fakery, relying heavily on the excellent scholarship of Richard Trask.

There is much more to the book. Including the uses 1970s avant–garde filmmakers made of the movie and the process by which an arbitration panel assessed the value of the camera original film – how do you value something that is utterly unique?

But the part of the book that will be most widely appealing is the chronicle of the Zapruder family. Abraham Zapruder, as a Jewish child in the Ukraine, endured severe poverty, and had to witness his brother Morris being dragged off of a train and killed in an anti-Semitic hate crime. x In pogrom-ridden Eastern Europe, such things were utterly routine. Gangs could roam the countryside, assaulting, murdering and raping Jews at will. This traumatized young Abraham.

Things took a sharp turn for the better when Abe, his mother Chana and his siblings made it to New York, to which his father had migrated years earlier. They prospered there, with Abraham entering the needle trades, eventually being able to afford natty clothes and vacations in the Catskills. He met and married his wife Lillian, and they honeymooned in Niagara Falls.

In 1940, Abraham and Lillian and their two children (Henry and Myrna) moved to Dallas, and after a stint with a women’s apparel firm, and one unsuccessful attempt to start his own company, Abe started Jennifer Juniors. The family prospered. Myrna explained that “It was a small city and all the Jewish community knew each other and it was a wonderful, wonderful place to live.” xi Abraham, like the vast majority of Jews, was a staunch Democrat, but unlike a fair number of Jews, was not at all attracted to socialism or communism. Like immigrants generally, he was intensely patriotic. He, and his family, loved John Kennedy.

The family, in fact, embraced their identity as Texans, investing in oil, and also a small herd of cattle. Abe would sometimes dress in cowboy boots and wear a ten-gallon hat, for which his family called him “Abe the Cowboy.” xii A New York Jew impersonating a Texas cowboy might seem mildly humorous, until one notices how hearteningly benign this situation was. A Jewish kid who had survived starvation and anti-Semitic violence in the Ukraine was now a man who was prosperous, safe, and part of a secure Jewish community in Dallas, Texas, USA.

But this was shattered on November 22, 1963, as he watched John Kennedy shot “like a dog” (his own words) on Elm Street. He did not believe things like this happened in America. It must have resonated with his early traumas and brought back the emotions attached to the violence and lawlessness he had escaped. The experience haunted him for the rest of his life.

Citations are to the uncorrected page proofs.

x P. 60. Zapruder, always scrupulous in her use of sources, explains that the witness testimony of her grandfather’s account of this event is not entirely consistent. But the weight of the evidence (including clear evidence that Morris died), support this version.


The Zapruder Film: A New Book Reveals the Untold Story of the Man Who Recorded JFK's Assassination

Abraham Zapruder recorded a tragic moment in history when he captured President John F. Kennedy‘s assassination in full color on Nov. 22, 1963.

Fifty-three years later, granddaughter Alexandra Zapruder adds a fresh narrative to an old tragedy with the release of Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film. The book, out last month, delves into the story of her grandfather, who was traumatized after making a home movie that serves as the only complete record of Kennedy’s death. Twenty-Six Seconds also fleshes out the complex situation in which the Zapruder family found itself after the assassination.

“We’re living in a time where we need to have complicated answers to complicated questions. [The book] is my own inquiry into our family legacy and the life of the film,” Alexandra Zapruder tells PEOPLE. “The way that we handled the film shaped the way that the film reached the public and that shaped the way that people thought about the assassination.”

The history of the film is a complicated one.

Zapruder writes that immediately after the assassination, duplicates of the footage went to the federal government. The original film was soon sold to LIFE magazine for $150,000, and was eventually used as evidence in the Warren Commission’s investigation of JFK’s death. Many years later, the Zapruder family once again owned the film, only to face criticism, conspiracy theories and lawsuits.

Despite the hefty sum, for Abraham Zapruder the film represented loss.

According to the book, the Zapruders had great love for the Kennedy family. Zapruder’s son Henry (the author’s father) had just been assigned a position in the Justice Department under the Kennedy Administration. So when Abraham Zapruder unintentionally filmed Kennedy’s death as the commander in chief rode with first lady Jacqueline in the presidential limo in Dallas, Zapruder’s granddaughter writes that he could remember nothing afterwards 𠇎xcept for his own anguished screams.”

“[Zapruder] loved Kennedy. He was a middle-aged man at that point, an immigrant, born in Russia, and he certainly voted for Kennedy and was truly devoted to Kennedy and the family,” says Dick Stolley, the LIFE editor (and future founding editor of PEOPLE magazine) who purchased the film from Zapruder. 𠇏or Kennedy to be killed, and even worse, for [Zapruder] literally to witness the murder through the rangefinder on his camera, was something, quite frankly, he never recovered from.”

Stolley described sitting in the room when Zapruder first showed the film to him and two Secret Service agents. (One of Zapruder’s first instincts was to get the film to government authorities.)

“We all knew what had happened, but we had no idea what it looked like,” says Stolley. “The three of us were standing and when frame 313 [played] – when his brain sprays up into the air – all of us went ‘ugh!’ It was amazing, as if we𠆝 all been punched in the stomach simultaneously. I’ve never seen anything like that on film or in real life.”

Not only was Zapruder reeling from what he𠆝 filmed, the book describes a man plagued by reporters who wanted the film for their news organizations. As a result, the offer Stolley made on behalf of LIFE magazine was a “safe harbor in a sea of sharks,” Alexandra Zapruder writes.

“[Zapruder was] very worried that [the film] would be exploited or used in a way that he would find tasteless and awful if it fell into the wrong hands,” says Stolley. “You could see it — this was a man in absolute torment.”

Since federal agents failed to confiscate the original film after they made duplicates, Alexandra Zapruder writes her grandfather felt it was his responsibility to protect the public, especially because people weren’t used to such violent images.

“He knew that the media was going to want to have it and that the public was going to want to see it. There was an inherent conflict between that and his sense that he should respect President Kennedy and protect Mrs. Kennedy from this horrible thing being sensationalized,” she says. “I think the sale to LIFE magazine really represented his best compromise.”

After the sale to LIFE, her grandfather was praised for donating $25,000 to the family of the police officer who was killed by JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. But, according to Stolley, LIFE was later criticized for limiting the public’s access to the film (private ownership and the damage of original frames also inspired conspiracy theories). According to Twenty-Six Seconds, the Zapruder family was also hit with criticism when they later reclaimed rights to the film – even more so after the $16 million sale to the government.

“I understand why people are critical about the money, but everyone in our family would have much preferred that the president hadn’t been killed, and if he had been, that it hadn’t been our grandfather who took the film,” says Zapruder.

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While she didn’t write the book to create sympathy for her family, she highlighted the sense of responsibility her father later faced when regulating use of the film. Like his father, Henry Zapruder feared the violent images would be tossed about carelessly for public consumption.

“In my view, thank God it fell to him because he was such a responsible person,” she says, 𠇊nd he was smart enough to understand what the issues were.”

Beyond the legacy of the film that’s been inherited by her family, Zapruder also touches on the most elemental truths found in those 26 seconds — the human story that makes the film so hard to watch.

“[The film] is the visual representation of what we all know about the fragility of human life, that we don’t want to know … life can come to an end in an instant,” she says. “The fact that it happened to the most beautiful couple in the world, the most powerful couple in the world, the Kennedys, adds to the pathos. But if you separate from that you just see a man and a woman riding in the car on a sunny day. And then, suddenly, he’s dead.”

“That is something that is true about the world that we live in,” she adds. 𠇎verything is fragile and everything can be taken away.”