Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What ever happened to the old-fashioned fire-eating press photographer? 4

My favorite of the New Christy Minstrels.
The group performed at half time of Super Bowl IV

Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson had great protection when
he dropped back to pass. Notice how clean his uniform is
compared to the other players.

Coach Hank Stram and the Chiefs leave
the field at halftime of Super Bowl IV.

One Chiefs fan was so happy she cried.
Or maybe it was because of all the runs
in her stockings...

Final scoreboard shot at Super Bowl IV.

View from the top row of the Sugar Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings mascot and Chiefs cheerleaders
before the game.

Coach Hank Stram was head and shoulders above
everyone else on the field at the end of the day.

The late Steve Kulmus, Star photographer,
always was a natty dresser, even on the sidelines

A Chiefs fan endorsed the prevailing Kansas City sentiment.

Chiefs cheerleaders do their stuff.

The hot air balloon never got very far off the ground at halftime.
In fact, it nearly settled in on the crowd. The long lens compressed the view and
made the lighter-than-air craft seem closer to the masses than it really was.
Although it was close enough to make some people duck.

Part of the photo pack


"So, what do you have from the game?"

At the moment that Kansas City Times managing editor Bob Pearman asked me that question I had not thought much about my eight rolls of Ektachrome from Super Bowl IV, which the Kansas City Chiefs had won by beating the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7. I worked for Star Magazine and our deadline for my Super Bowl stuff was weeks away. Bob, however, was kinda desperate because most of the film from the other three Star Super Bowl shooters got fouled up in the paper's negative processing machine. I shot trannys for the magazine, not negative film, and had it souped at Custom Color. Consequently, at least I had images. By the way, for you younger readers, the Kansas City Times was (The Morning Kansas City Star).The line of explanation was inserted underneath the Kansas City Star flag on page one, in italics and parentheses.

We set up a Kodak Carousel projector in the tiny magazine darkroom and started clicking through images. I had shot the game with a publication date in mind that was a month or more off, so I concentrated more on non-action images. Let the daily guys worry about that.

Fortunately, I did do some action photos from the sidelines.

As we tediously went through all the unedited photos, there was one that froze my clicking finger in mid-air.

Despite being displayed as it was on the middle-yellow darkroom wall and partially interrupted by my Nikon calendar for 1970, the photo popped out from all the others.

"That's it!" We both said simultaneously.


Lou Penella was the rookie of the year for 1969, American League, KC Royals. His home was in Tampa, so a writer and I flew down there to do some words and pictures for the magazine. As it turned out, Florida was having one of the coldest January's on record. Shooting Big Lou running on the beach was a bit of challenge. His face kept turning blue.

But we somehow got it all done, the writer went back to KC and I stayed on for a couple more days to catch Lou at the gym and at few other haunts.

Even before I left for Tampa I kept looking at the map and thinking, "Hmmmm....New Orleans is just across the Gulf. Why don't I see if I can talk the Star into letting me hop over and give them some additional coverage on the Super Bowl. Heck, the big game was only a few days away and the home town team, the Chiefs were playing in it again. Seems reasonable to me."

A bit of a digression, but the Chiefs had played in the very first Super Bowl in 1967, losing convincingly to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10. We all hoped for a better outcome this time...

I was a bit surprised actually, when I got the go-ahead to fly over to New Orleans and shoot the game. I had to buy more film and some clean underwear, but otherwise I was more than ready. Chomping at the bit as it were. And, since I was booking my own flight, I went first-class on Eastern. Quite commodious circumstances.

At that late date there was not a motel, hotel room or dog kennel available, so I crashed with a Star photographer John Vawter, and Star writer, Fred Kiewit. Nobody got much sleep. I was too excited, and John and Fred spent most of the time drinking and carousing in the French Quarter.

The big day, January 11, 1970 arrived with showers and temperatures in the mid-sixties. Before the kickoff, the showers stopped. The natural grass field was soft. Clouds remained, which made for better pictures. That direct sunlight was brutal on chrome film.

Half time was, for the era, pretty spectacular. The New Christy Minstrels performed, a hot air balloon didn't rise as it was supposed to, and we sideline photographers enjoyed a hand-delivered, hot meal of crab, lobster, and fixins'. Amazing it was. Never before had I been treated to such delights at a football game. Stale donuts, cold coffee and

At the conclusion, the Chiefs had won, 23-7 of course, and the real grass field was a muddy mess. As fans filed out of the stadium, one local came up and engaged me in conversation. At length, he asked if I had time for a cup of coffee, but I declined, realizing that all the while he had been looking more at my camera gear than me.

At about the same time, I heard my name on the stadium's loudspeaker, "Roy Inman, report to the press box immediately." Oh no, what now...

On the phone was Fred Kiewit. His first question was "Roy, who won the game?"

It seems that Fred had literally been out all night drinking in the French Quarter and missed the game entirely. Problem was, he was supposed to write the page one color story of the Chief's Super Bowl.

So I drained my memory banks and told him everything I knew about the game and the peripheral goings-on. I will say that Fred was one helluva writer and a phenom at taking information over the phone and making it sound as though he was on the spot. A very good rewrite man, as the old time news heads used to say. Good thing, because he would need all of his considerable skills that day. Sure enough, when I read the page one story under his byline, it was as though he had seen it all in person. I did recognize some of my phrases though...I said it in New Orleans and it came out in Kansas City.


The photo that Bob Pearman and I remarked over the next day was the one at the top of the column. Many of you have already seen it, but for those who haven't, it shows part of the reason the Chiefs won: Quarterback Len Dawson, #16, had great protection, allowing him to throw perfect spirals with precision. The Star used it on page one of the Chiefs Super Bowl special section, which Bob edited.

At the time, the American Football League and the National Football League were separate, competing entities. No one gave the Chiefs much of a chance against the "Purple People Eaters" as the Minnesota Vikings were called by the press.

This game proved to the football world that the AFL had indeed come of age.

Friday, January 1, 2010

What ever happened to the old-fashioned, fire-eating press photographer? 3

Photograph by Dale Monaghen©

Thomas Hart Benton was both crusty and kind. When I photographed him in 1971 I saw both sides.

Writer Jim Lapham and I visited Tom and wife/business manager Rita at their home and Tom's studio in the Valentine neighborhood. It was one of those houses from Kansas City's earlier days, probably build around 1920. Big fireplaces, cozy surroundings. And paintings. Lots of paintings.

Our Star Magazine editor, Howard Turtle (when he introduced himself he always added "Just like the hard shell kind") loved to recreate stories he had done for the daily paper in the 1950's. Howard, God love 'em, was big on sure things. Thomas Hart Benton was a sure thing. But I looked forward to the assignment, since I always thought Benton's work was pretty cool, and I was always in awe of artists.

We went about shooting the conversational stuff, semi-posed (if there is such a thing) portraits, and before we knew it, noon was upon us and we hadn't yet made any trannys (That's film, 120 BTW) of the man working in his studio.

Rita offered to fix everyone sandwiches for lunch, thereby saving us time and allowing us to start right in again after we ate. Both she and Tom were getting up in years, as the saying goes, and I think they wanted to get us out of there so they could relax.

I followed Rita into the kitchen and asked for a glass of water. She pointed to the glasses cabinet and the sink.

Then she said it was kind of dark in the kitchen, pointing to the burnt-out florescent bulb overhead.

"I really don't like Tom climbing up on ladders" she said, and looked over at me.

Eager to help I blurted out, "I will happy to change the bulb for you," replying to her glance and implication. "Where are the bulbs?"

"Oh, we don't have any the right size. But there is a hardware store right down the street, and by the time you get back, your lunch will be ready."

I was getting the feeling that I had been set up, but didn't mind a bit. At that stage in my checkered career, I was quite capable of becoming star struck. And in my book, Benton was a big star.

Bought the bulb, got back, changed the bulb, had lunch and commenced the color shooting in the studio with Tom.

"OK if I shoot while you work?" I asked him. Some artists are touchy about being photographed while they work, so I always ask first.

"Sure, do anything you want. Just make me look young and handsome again." I babbled something about "character lines," but realized pretty quickly that I was on the wrong path there, so I dropped that subject in mid-sentence. In what I like to think of as my approaching golden (and wrinkled) years, I now understand more fully what he was talking about.

So I got a few images, and looking back at them, I wish I would have lit things differently. In those days we had to put light on just about everything we shot inside in color. But at least I had a record of the man himself at work.

Benton had visited the sideline of a Chief's game in November of 1969 and drew sketches of the players. The end result was a bronze sculpture and a 30"x 40" oil on canvas, both titled "The forward pass." He was making clay sculptures for those two projects when I photographed him that day.

Jim and I packed up and left around 5:00 PM. I carried a bunch more equipment than now, and, darn the luck, left an extension cord at the Benton's.

So that evening I had to return to pick up it up. Tom greeted me at the door, extension cord in hand. In the background I could hear the sounds of animated merrymaking of friends around the fire, glasses tinkling. It was an inviting atmosphere, but I was not asked to join.

Instead, he said "Rita told me you replaced the bulb in the kitchen, and thanks. She also told me you paid for it." And with that he thrust a couple of dollar bills my direction. I waved them off and said something like "Don't worry about it. Glad to be of help."

"I can't have you buying my goddamn lights!" he growled, and once again pushed the money my direction.

Realizing I was irritating him and that we were at a Mexican standoff of sorts, I finally was able to muster "Consider it a gift of appreciation from the Kansas City Star." Apparently that satisfied him, and he closed the door with a snort.



Some Kansas Citians, intimates of Thomas Hart Benton, proudly acclaim to the fact that they were models for some of his paintings and murals. Crosby Kemper, for example, was a favorite. As was Harry Truman and Lyman Field.

But how many, I ask you, can say that they changed the artist's kitchen light bulb so that wife Rita could fix his dinner?

I may be one of the few, the very few, who can lay stake to such a claim...


The Thomas Hart Benton Home is now a museum located at 3616 Belleview, KCMO, and is open to the public. There is a small admission fee. To check tour schedules, call 816-931-5722.


The Photos:

This photograph of the legendary Wes Lyle (more about him later!) photographing Tom Benton at a Kansas City Chiefs game in November, 1969, was created by Dale Monaghen ©, who graciously allowed me to present it here. Benton was doing research for his football mural.

The late Jim Lapham, writer, and Thomas Hart Benton in his studio 1971.

Thomas Hart Benton portrait, 1971. He died in 1975.

Benton at work in his studio on clay sculptures for his bronze "The forward pass." He also created an oil on canvas of the same scene and also titled it "The forward pass."

His studio as it is today.

Tom and Rita.

Tom in the living room.