The journalist who secured the rights to the iconic 26-second film clip of President Kennedy’s assassination has died aged 92.
Richard B. Stolley, also the founding editor of People magazine, spent six decades at the media empire Time Inc., where he was a prominent reporter for Life magazine, covering a number of important, time-defining stories, including the civil rights movement. in the South and the space race.
In one of the most significant coups in the history of journalism, Stolley acquired the rights to use the Zapruder film — footage of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy — for Life after tracking down the man who filmed it.
The 26-second 8mm shot of the Kennedy column is one of the earliest examples of a civilian capturing a historical event, and is considered by some to be the most important clip in celluloid history.
Upon release, images of the murder will become one of the most recognizable and iconic images of the 20th century, forever etched into the nation’s cultural psyche. It also provided vital evidence during the Warren Commission, set up in 1964 to investigate the murder.
The veteran reporter died of heart complications in Evanston, Illinois, on June 16, his family said in a statement.
Veteran reporter Richard Stolley (pictured in 2013) died of heart complications on June 16 in Evanston, Illinois, his family said in a statement. He was responsible for tracking down the footage of the 1963 assassination of JFK
A decade after he joined Life magazine as a reporter in 1953, the job led to what Stolley described as the “single most dramatic moment” of his career.
In 1963, he flew from Los Angeles to Dallas and tracked down Abraham Zapruder, the Ukrainian-born tailor who filmed the Kennedy shooting just hours after the assassination.
The then bureau chief of Life Magazine in Los Angeles, flipped through the phone book until he found someone whose last name sounded like the name a freelance journalist had given him.
She told Stolley that the last name sounded like “Zaprooder,” so he called the one in Dallas with a similar name every 15 minutes until the man, Mr. Zapruder, answered.
“I identified myself,” Stolley recalled in the Peoria Journal Star in 1999. ‘And I said, ‘Mr. Zapruder, am I the first reporter you call?”
He was, but Zapruder refused to show him the footage that night. He arranged for the intrepid reporter to come by at 9:00 AM.
Richard B. Stolley in his office at Life magazine in New York, December 8, 1972
Stolley got there an hour early to beat other reporters. At that moment the Secret Service was there and they were all watching the silent 8mm film images on an ‘old rickety projector’.
“And then comes this horrible headshot where the whole right side of his head just explodes into the air and the spray of blood and bone,” Stolley recalled.
“And at that moment everyone in the room—like we’d been punched in the stomach—everyone, the Secret Service and I, just went ‘Unnh!
Citing Stolley’s manners, Zapruder sold him the rights to the film until he published frame 313, which shows “the right side of the president’s head explodes in red, from the second sniper shot.”
Zapruder said he decided to work with Stolley because he “acted like a gentleman,” and he said he felt he could trust the reporter and his magazine to do the right thing with the film and it with treat dignity.
Mr. Zapruder and Stolley agreed to a $50,000 fee for the exclusive rights to the film, which was soon increased to $150,000 for all rights.
The U.S. government eventually paid Stolley’s family $16 million for the rights to the film, which resides in the National Archives and later aired in its entirety on Geraldo Rivera’s show in 1975, 12 years after the murder.
It was also used in the Warren Commission, which was established in 1964 by Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the assassination. The commission used the footage to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted solely by assassinating Kennedy, but others said it contradicted that explanation.
Frame 150 from the Zapruder movie. Kennedy’s limousine just hit Elm Street, right before the first shot…
Frame 371 of the Zapruder movie showing Jacqueline Kennedy reaching over the back of the presidential limousine as Secret Service agent Clint Hill steps aboard
Pictured: The car carrying President John F. Kennedy rushes to the nearest hospital after being shot in Dallas in 1963
After the last publication of Life in 1972, when Stolley was assistant editor, he transferred to Time Inc.’s development group.
While there, company president Andrew Heiskell called the group to say that his wife Marian Sulzberger Heiskell had suggested a new magazine that would focus primarily on personalities.
Mr. Heiskell suggested a spin-off from the ‘People’ section of Time magazine, and so the ‘People’ magazine was born.
The cover of People’s Official Debut Issue in March 1974 featured a photo of Mia Farrow (pictured), who at the time was starring in ‘The Great Gatsby’
The magazine made its debut in March 1974 and made a profit in just 18 months. In Stolley’s first four years as founding editor, the circulation grew to 2.2 million, with a “pass on” readership of approximately 14 million – the highest in the US.
For Stolley, the magazine’s purpose was clear: to write about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, or extraordinary people doing ordinary things. He never wanted the magazine to be about ordinary people doing ordinary things, according to the… New York Times.
“I think the climate in the country was absolutely right for this kind of magazine,” Mr. Stolley said during a 1978 interview with his then local newspaper, Greenwich Time, in Connecticut.
The magazine’s test issue features a photo of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the cover and proved to be an instant hit. The cover of the official debut issue in March 1974 featured a photo of Mia Farrow, who at the time starred in “The Great Gatsby,” says the New York Times.
The first issue featured interviews with wives of soldiers missing in action in Vietnam, as well as articles about Gloria Vanderbilt and the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was convicted of the murder of JFK before he was killed himself.
Though popular with readers, People was rejected by some journalists who saw it as a celebrity gossip magazine.
To refute these allegations, Stolley posted a photo of Martha Mitchell — wife of former Attorney General John N. Mitchell involved in the Watergate scandal — on the second cover. The third cover featured oil magnate J. Paul Getty.
After choosing not to include a photo of Elvis Presley on the cover of People after the singer’s death in 1977, Stolley didn’t make the same mistake twice when he put a photo of John Lennon on the cover of People three years later. after his murder in 1980.
The Lennon cover edition was the magazine’s best-selling issue for a long time.
When it came to deciding who would be on the cover of People, Stolley famously said, “Young is better than old, beautiful is better than ugly. TV is better than music, music is better than movies, movies are better than sports, anything is better than politics.’
The Lennon cover edition of People magazine (left) was the magazine’s best-selling issue for a long time. Right: A continued tribute to John Lennon
Stolley was born on October 3, 1928, in Pekin, Illinois, a suburb of the city of Peoria, to a factory worker father and a mother to an English teacher. At the age of 15, he was hired as a sports editor for the newspaper in his hometown, the Pekin Daily Times.
“They didn’t want a woman to be a sports editor, so they hired a kid,” Stolley joked during an interview interview with the same paper in 2015.
He served briefly in the Navy before graduating from Northwestern University with a master’s degree in journalism before joining Life magazine in 1953, beginning what would become a landmark career.
After People magazine, he returned to Life, which had become a monthly publication, and later served as the editorial director of all Time Inc. magazines. until his retirement in 1993, although he remained a consultant for the company until 2014.
He divorced his first wife – Anne Shawber – in 1954, and his second marriage to Lise Hilboldt suffered the same fate in 1997.
He leaves four daughters – Lisa, Hope Melinda and Martha Stolley, as well as a stepson and seven grandchildren.
“My father was an extraordinary man and we have all been lucky enough to know and have him in our lives,” his daughter Melinda said in a statement.