ALFRED EISENSTADT AND ME

I thought I might reblog this piece. Which is when I discovered that my reblog function is — AGAIN — not working. I will have to — AGAIN — get in touch with WordPress and have them fix it. Meanwhile, I’m happy to share these memories.


In the early 1990s, Garry did a feature about Alfred Eisenstadt and Lois Maillou Jones, both of whom lived on the Vineyard and had been given Presidential Medals of Honor for their work. We became friends with both artists. Eisenstadt was in his early 90s, Lois Maillou Jones in her mid 80s.

We own a signed print of this portrait of Robert Frost. It hangs downstairs in the den.

We own a signed print of this portrait of Robert Frost. It hangs downstairs in the den.

I had been an admirer of Eisenstadt’s work as long as I’d been taking pictures. I shot my first roll of film on Martha’s Vineyard in 1966. I had stayed at the Menemsha Inn where (serendipity!!) Eisenstadt lived from late spring till Labor Day. Books of Eisie’s work were all over the inn. In bookcases, on tables. Most of the books featured his landscapes of Martha’s Vineyard.

I was using my first camera, a Praktica with a great Zeiss 50mm lens. Great lens, but no electronic light meter. No electronic or automatic anything. It had a crank film advance.  A bare bones camera. I had brought half a dozen rolls of black and white film with me and I used them all.

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It was ideal for a beginner. I had to take a light reading with a handheld meter. I had to focus the lens, set the shutter speed and f-stop. Choose the film speed — though you only had to set film speed once when you loaded the camera.

It wasn’t a lot of settings to learn, but they were and are the essentials of photography. My 50 mm lens was a prime. No zoom. It was a good piece of glass and moderately fast at f2.8. No flash.

If I wanted a close up, I could move in. Wide shot? Run the other way. I learned photography in a way those who’ve only used digital cameras with zoom lenses can’t learn. Most of today’s photographers have never held a camera that doesn’t include auto-focus, much less taken a light reading.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does.

The camera was a gift from a friend who had bought a new camera. Armed with the camera and determination, I followed Eisenstadt’s path. I discovered where he’d taken each picture, figured out how he’d gotten the perspective.

I duplicated his shots down to the clump of grass behind which he’d crouched to create a foreground.

Photo by Alfred Eisenstadt

My first roll of film was brilliant — except the photographs were copies of Alfred Eisenstadt’s. He taught me photography by giving me foot prints to follow. By the time I was done with those first rolls of film, I had learned the fundamentals. I’m still learning the rest and I’ll probably never be finished.

When I actually met Alfred Eisenstadt, it was the most exciting moment of my life.

As we got to know Eisie better, I asked him to autograph his books for me. He didn’t merely autograph them. He went through each book, picture by picture.

He was in his early 90s and had forgotten many things, but remembered every picture he’d taken, including the film and camera, lens, F-stop, and most important, what he was thinking as he shot. He could remember exactly what it was about the image that grabbed his attention.

For example, the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, he said he was walking around Times Square with his Nikon. When he spotted the dark of the sailor’s uniform against the white of the nurse’s dress, he knew it was what he wanted and shot. Light, contrast, composition.

We spent time with him every summer for 5 years until he passed. We were honored to be among those invited to the funeral.

Although we were sad Eisie was gone, we found things to laugh about. Knowing him was special and some memories are worth a chuckle. I don’t think Eisie would have minded.

YOU WILL NEVER ESCAPE YOUR PERMANENT RECORD

While binge watching Star Trek: Next Generation, Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) disobeyed a direct order given by Captain Stewart, er, I mean, Jean-Luc Picard. Although he survived his misadventure — barely, I might add — Picard told Geordi that regretfully, he was going to have to “put this incident on your permanent record!”

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Oh my god! His permanent record. Even in Star Fleet, you cannot escape your permanent record. It’s four hundred years in the future and they still have that record.

Back in our golden olden days, the thing that was held over our heads — the most serious threat any school official could make  — was that whatever dreadful thing we’d done would go on our permanent record. From elementary school through our working years, we were warned our permanent record would follow us. Marks against us might even (gasp!) prevent us from getting into college at all. In which case we knew we might as well die on the spot. If you didn’t go to college, you would never have a decent job or find someone to love. And you definitely would not go to heaven.

I knew that right into the marrow of my bones. Didn’t you?

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The Permanent Record is (was) (will be) The Rock of Ages. Huge, unchanging.

No matter what else we do with our lives, everyone will know about our misdeeds. All they have to do is check the record. They’ll know I sassed my twelfth grade social studies teacher (he deserved it or worse) in May 1963. That Garry ran over his allotted time reporting a news event in Boston and was not even repentant when confronted with his foul deed! The evil that we do will be revealed.

You might want to see Lamont Cranston, because the Shadow Knows.

So, here’s the deal. Now and forever, every one of us has a permanent record in which all our misbehavior is cataloged. I know because I’ve been told. I’m not sure who has custody of these records, however. As far as I can tell, everyone on the planet has one, so there must be a gigantic storage unit somewhere, where everything is filed. That’s a lot of records to keep.

But they aren’t being stored around here. I’d have noticed a building that big.

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I expect when we die, if there actually are Pearly Gates and a gatekeeper who decides if we can enter, he will be clutching a copy of our permanent record in one angelic hand. That’s right. You talked back to your teacher in fifth grade, cut school in high school. Told a professor the dog ate your final paper in college. Now, you won’t go to Heaven.

Sorry buddy. Your permanent record just caught up with you.

MASKED MAN

Who was that masked man? He left this silver bullet.


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“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again! … With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early west! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! The Lone Ranger rides again!”

In this day of superheroes, I want my masked man back. And his horse. And his faithful companion.

I grew up with the Lone Ranger and Tonto racing around my bedroom. Until I got the wallpaper, I was sure he was the Long Ranger … as in “he rode a lot and covered great distances.”

Other girls had Fairies and Princesses, but I had “Hi Yo Silver, the Lone Ranger Rides Again!” Although my walls did not play music, I could hum well enough and I had many a long chat with Lone and Tonto, Silver and Scout as I lay abed in the evening pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince my mother to let me have a horse.

Come back, Masked Man! More than ever, I need you now!

JACKIE ROBINSON DAY – EPILOGUE – Garry Armstrong

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Twilight was frosty at Fenway Park on Friday, April 15th. Income tax deadline day for some, JACKIE ROBINSON DAY for those of us who jammed the baseball shrine in Boston’s Kenmore Square. Pilgrims and Players, everyone wore number 42 in tribute to the man who broke baseball’s racial barrier and stirred a nation’s conscience 69 years ago, with World War Two still casting a long shadow.

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Grantland Rice’s archaic litany, “It’s not about winning or losing, it’s how you play the game”, echoed silently as a winter’s night chilled the crowd. Arch rivals, Boston and Toronto, displayed respect instead of animosity. Batters picked up the catcher’s mask in flashes of sportsmanship rarely seen these days.

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Big Papi stole second base, likely to be his only stolen base of the year and sent the crowd into a frenzy. The pilgrims erupted with joy and players on both teams broke into smiles and laughter.

An image of the young Jackie Robinson split the jumbo screen with a replay of Big Papi’s theft of second.

The message was clear.

For one night, 2016 Boston was 1950’s Brooklyn. You could almost hear Vin Scully’s poetic calls of the plays by Jackie Robinson and the other fabled Boys of Summer.

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It was parka and gloves weather as the game wound down but few left the ball park. Eventually, the Red Sox prevailed over the Blue Jays.

The crowd slowly filed out, songs filled the night. “Sweet Caroline” mixed in with “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” The image of Jackie Robinson in his prime filled a neon billboard. A night to remember.

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See: VIN SCULLY, JACKIE ROBINSON AND A LOSS OF INNOCENCE – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG for the rest of the story.

VIN SCULLY, JACKIE ROBINSON AND A LOSS OF INNOCENCE – by GARRY ARMSTRONG

A friend is taking me to a Red Sox Game at Fenway Park today. It’s the middle of April but the weather still has a Norman Bates quality. So, I’ll layer up, topped off with my retro Brooklyn Dodgers tee-shirt and hope for the best. It’s Jackie Robinson day in the Major leagues and everyone is wearing the fabled #42.

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April 15, 2016 – Fenway Park

April marks the beginning of the new baseball season where hope springs eternal for all teams. The haves and have-nots. It’s also the time we open the cookie jar of old memories, mentally racing around the bases to those days when we listened to our boys of summer on the radio.

Vin Scully was a 20 something rookie broadcaster, calling his first season of Brooklyn Dodgers games.

The Korean “conflict” dominated the radio news which preceded the important stuff, BASEBALL. The Brooklyn Dodgers were “America’s Team” in 1950. Vin Scully was a new breed of sports broadcaster. He mixed in stories about President Truman’s desegregation of our Armed Forces and “discontent” about the integrated Dodgers’ team.

Scully used phrases like “Goodnight, sweet Prince”,  after Jackie Robinson turned in another memorable game amid jeers from rabble-rousers. It was curious to this young fan who dreamed of becoming a team-mate of Jackie Robinson, Peewee Reese and Duke Snider. I’d wear Dodger Blue with pride, I promised myself.

Vin Scully’s word portraits of the 1950 Brooklyn Dodgers often seemed at odds with the tabloid accounts of the New York Daily News and Daily Mirror. Their sports sections only talked about the games, the heroes and the goats. I only glanced at the front pages, boring stuff about politics and social upheaval.

I thought it would be wonderful if they played baseball all year round and the stories would always be about the Bums and those dreaded New York Yankees. Heck, it would be terrific to listen to Vin Scully and not those other people talking about grown up stuff. Scully even mentioned things we were studying in school and made them sound exciting. I’ll never forget his referring to April as “the cruelest month”. I’d steal that line a zillion times.

Years later, opportunity opened the door to several meetings with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and other fabled Boys of Summer. Campy was always friendly and outgoing, eager to share stories with a newbie reporter. He would say, “Life is good, young fella..you gotta appreciate it”. Jackie Robinson would often glare at Campy as he wove the stories of good times with the Dodgers. Sometimes, he would interrupt Campanella with a sharp, “Enough, Roy. Enough of that fiction.”

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Robinson would turn to me, his eyes blazing and seemingly angry. “Life isn’t a ball game, young man,” he once said.  Then, he gently patted me on the shoulder, noting that I was a good conversationalist and listener.  It was a bit confusing. It happened that way several times.

People like Campy, Peewee Reese and even a reluctant Duke Snider would share that Jackie Robinson was a very complicated man on a mission.

This week, PBS is running Ken Burns’ two part portrait of Jackie Robinson. It goes beyond myth and legend to examine Robinson, the man. The man from Cairo, Georgia was so much more than the athlete who broke baseball’s racial barrier. The inner turmoil, anger, frustration and multiple health issues took Robinson from us way too early at age 53.

This week, Vin Scully is also being honored as he begins his 67th and final year as the voice of the Dodgers. Scully, at 88 and counting, still sounds like that young story-teller I listened to in 1950.

1950. So long ago. A time of innocence for many young boys like me.

DEAR DEANNA DURBIN: I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I were discussing “legacy.” Our legacies. Such as they are. The subject matter was the basis for Marilyn’s piece yesterday (WHO HAS A LEGACY?) and left me thinking.

It’s interesting to ponder. Who will care about you after you’re gone? If you’re a public figure, you’re only famous until you’re not. I was a very familiar figure to tens of thousands during my TV news career. Now, I am frequently asked, “Didn’t you used to be Garry Armstrong?” (Yes, I was … and remarkably, I still am.)

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For the past week, I’ve been watching Deanna Durbin’s movies on Turner Classics. Who remembers Deanna Durbin? For a short period during the late 1930s and early 1940s, Ms. Durbin was one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, more popular than Judy Garland.

MGM mogul, Louie B. Mayer, screen tested Durbin and Garland as starlets. Mayer chose Garland. Universal Pictures snatched up Deanna Durbin who quickly shot to stardom, saving the studio from bankruptcy.

Durbin projected a sweet, wholesome, cute-as-dickens image that won the hearts of many people seeking options to screen sirens like Harlow, Dietrich, and Crawford. Deanna had a wonderful, rich singing voice — almost operatic. Very impressive for a twenty something, always top billed over veteran stars.

Deanna Durbin

I discovered Deanna Durbin after she had retired in 1948,. She was at the height of her fame, but decided the glitter of Hollywood was not enough. She moved to France where she lived quietly until her death a few years ago.

My memories of Deanna Durbin, 60 plus years ago and now, remain vivid. She glows with performances of “Loch Lomond,” “Going Home,” and “All Alone By The Telephone” in movies that are rather less than memorable.

“Going Home,” is usually associated with FDR’s funeral train procession. It’s a guaranteed heart-tugger when Deanna sings it in “It Started With Eve.” I usually skip through most of the film, then do a multiple replay of Durbin singing that song. It always gets to me.

I had an immediate crush on Deanna Durbin as a boy. I wanted to meet her and tell her how much I loved her. Alas, it was not meant to be. Yet all these years later, I still have a crush on her.

That’s a legacy.

SLOW DOWN, YOU MOVE TOO FAST …

The 59th Street Bridge Song – Simon and Garfunkel …

“If you could slow down an action that usually zooms by, or speed up an event that normally drags on, which would you choose, and why? … “

I would slow down everything to make all the moments last and grab every possible moment of joy before it is gone …”

Blast from the past, but it’s the right song for this moment in time and maybe lots of moments in time. One of my all time favorites.