Category Archives: Biography

John G. Morris – 20th Century Little Big Man

Capa,_D-Day1In 1964 Thomas Berger published Little Big Man. Filmed later as an anti-war parody by director Arthur Penn, the satirical novel recounts the exploits of 111-year-old Jack Crabb, as he wanders through the history of nineteenth-century western America. Along the way his life intersects with the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, and Custer. Through it all he has a front row seat to the so-called “winning of the West”— and he doesn’t like what he sees.

Crabb was a fictional character but each era seems to have its real life Jack Crabbs–  people whose long lives spanned critical historical events, and whose actions, usually associated with their work, influenced events behind the scenes. One such real life character is John G. Morris (1916 –  ). Quietly Morris became a key figure in the story of the 20th-century through his photo editing. He was on the scene in downtown Los Angeles early in 1942 to photograph the first wave of Japanese men, women and children being packed off to internment camps in the high desert. He then went to London as Life magazine’s lead photo editor in Europe during World War II and was in charge of coordinating the visual coverage of the Western Front. It was Morris who managed to save a handful of historic images shot by Robert Capa at D-Day when it was feared the entire set had been lost when damaged in development. Morris went to Normandy himself shortly after the invasion and snapped some memorable photos of his own. After the war, while at Ladies Home Journal, Morris published Women and Children of the Soviet Union with photos taken by Robert Capa. The photos provided Americans with a rare glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at the onset of the Cold War.

His career spans tenures with Life magazine, the Magnum photo agency, Ladies’ Home JournalThe Washington Post, The New York Times, and the National Geographic magazine. He knew and worked with the most celebrated war chroniclers of the times– Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, Ernest Hemingway and David Duncan to name just a few. While he was the photo editor for The New York Times during the Vietnam War, Morris put Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl” and Eddie Adams’ Saigon execution and John Filo’s student crying at Kent State on the front page — photos that greatly affected public perception of the Vietnam War. Morris is passionately anti-war, and much like Jack Crabb, it becomes abundantly clear upon listening to him speak that he doesn’t like what he sees. View an excellent documentary about John G. Morris called Get The Picture.

Career:

Daily Maroon (The Chicago Maroon), University of Chicago student newspaper, 1933-37

Pulse, University of Chicago student magazine, Editor, 1937-38

LIFE (magazine), Editorial Staff, 1939-46 : New York, Los Angeles, Washington, London, Chicago, Paris

Ladies’ Home Journal, Associate Editor (Pictures), 1946-52

Magnum News Service, Editor, 1952-63

The Washington Post, Assistant Managing Editor (Graphics), 1964-65

Time/Life Books, editor, 1966-67

The New York Times, Picture Editor, 1967-74; Editor, NYT Pictures, 1975-76

Quest/77-79, Contributing Editor, 1977-79

National Geographic, European Correspondent, 1983-89

The Mysterious Death of Ruben Salazar

RubenSalazar44 years ago, on August 29, 1970, Ruben Salazar was killed by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy during a peace march against the Vietnam War in Los Angeles. His death is the lasting legacy of a pivotal moment in the Chicano-American civil rights movement. The antiwar march, known as the Chicano Moratorium, was nearly 30,000 strong and thus the largest Mexican-American rally to date. Along the way an “incident” sparked chaos giving sheriff’s deputies the pretext to move in with force, rushing the crowd with billy clubs and tear gas. It soon became the biggest and bloodiest riot in L.A. since the Watts riot in 1965.

Salazar had worked for years at the Los Angeles Times but by the time of his death he had moved on to KMEX, where he felt he had more freedom to report on issues important the Chicano community. By August 1970 he had become the most influential Latino journalist of his day and over the years his criticism of the authorities’ treatment of the Latino community had grown increasingly strident. While covering the march, Ruben took refuge in a nearby cafe when things got too hot in the streets. The cafe was quickly surrounded by the police. What happened next has been the subject of heated arguments ever since. The only certainty is that Ruben Salazar never made it out alive.  The LA County Coroner ruled the killing a homicide but the deputy who’s gun fired the fatal shot was never charged. The L.A. Sheriff’s Department held out until 2012 before releasing its records of the case, and then only to settle under the pressure of a lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. That information has broadened our understanding of the events but by no stretch has the controversy been cleared up. As reported earlier this year by the LA Times the “legacy of Ruben Salazar has reached folklore heights since the journalist’s suspicious death in 1970 at 42.”

Check out these Ruben Salazar resources on the Web:

The LA Times Ruben Salazar Files

Watch The PBS Documentary Here:

Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle

Trailer:

An Ode to Woody and Jack

Road Trip

Autobiography: back in high school I was moved to a new state and a new school. I didn’t take to it too well and ended missing the last half of my sophomore year. I just never showed up. The new school didn’t know who I was and never even bothered find out where I was!

Looking back, ironically, it was during that period that I acquired what turned out to be a most influential education–  I began reading what I wanted to read rather than what someone else wanted me to read. And some of the first books I picked up–  Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Dharma Bums and Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory— changed my life. After that all I wanted to do was hit the road, and so I did. I spent much of the next five years ramblin’, by thumb, by Hound, and with friends, traversing much of the country and western Canada. I made it to nearly every state, many of the national parks, and a ton of concerts and festivals along the way. With countless hours and miles of two-lane blacktop under my feet I learned what an amazing place this country really is– equal parts beautiful, intimidating, scary and awe-inspiring. So here’s to Woody and Jack:

Take it easy, but take it” — Woody Guthrie

Book Review: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

 

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By Rick Perlstein. Essential reading for those interested in understanding the creeping divergence in American politics over the last 50 years. This detailed description strongly challenges the dominant narrative among many historians that there was a widespread coalescence around progressive, liberal, political solutions in the country under JFK and in the early years of LBJ. And that those tendencies represented the spirit of the age, only to come crashing down in the jungles of Vietnam. On the contrary, Perlstein shows that through it all there was a strong conservative reaction gestating just out of plain sight. He posits that LBJ’s landslide victory in 1964 was as much a product of a bumbling Goldwater campaign, bad timing and a devious opposition as it was a statement of national political consensus. The Goldwater revolution was just put on hold temporarily only to burst into the open sixteen years later with the coming of Ronald Reagan. In many ways Goldwater’s shadow is as long today as are those of JFK and LBJ. Highly recommended. RF