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Episode 21: I witness

Episode 21: Andy Sachs and Jay Cassidy — “I witness”

Hi, this is Deborah Holdship, editor of Michigan Today.

In this episode of “Listen in, Michigan” I have a story that started 50 years ago at Michigan Daily. Seemed pretty straightforward at the time but it takes a major unexpected twist in the present. It starts on May 15th, 1968 and student photojournalists Andy Sachs and Jay Cassidy join the Detroit press corps tracking Robert F Kennedy as he campaigns for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. Little did they know at the time they were capturing some of the final images of RFK’s life. He was assassinated three weeks later. But on that day in Detroit, it was just another assignment. And these guys were pretty confident and competent and they held their own alongside the national press. They were standing in convertibles elbow to elbow with the likes of Life Magazine’s Bill Eppridge and other pretty well-known people shooting pictures of an energized crowd literally engulfing RFK’s open-air motorcade.

Well, one day in late 2017 Andy Sachs heard from a friend who’d seen his photo on the cover of the RFK biography Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews of MSNBC. Andy had licensed some of his pictures from that day to Getty Images but this was the first Andy had even heard of this. And that’s when the story takes a turn. If you’ve seen the book, RFK is leaning from an open-air convertible and an aids arm is wrapped protectively around his waist. The car is surrounded by kids a crowd of mostly African-American boys and hands are outstretched and an exuberant sort of wanting. A man holds a young girl aloft in one massive hand and she’s reaching out to Bobby clutching an eight by ten of the candidate. And he smiling at her. It’s like the most gorgeous image you’ve ever seen and it’s Andy’s. But the book jacket from Simon and Schuster read Bill Eppridge that photographer from Life magazine. And his only consolation: Bill Eppridge was a great photographer. And if anyone’s credit is going to show up on one of your photos…Well? I spoke to Andy about is legal struggles to correct the photo cover credit and you can read the story at michigantoday.umich.edu. I also reached out to Jay Cassidy, the Oscar-nominated film editor, whose latest project is the remake of “A Star is Born” starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. In the phone conversation that follows, Andy and Jay recount that day 50 years ago and take us back to the streets of Detroit in May 1968. The first voice you will hear is Andy Sachs.

Andy Sachs: Take a look at that! That’s where we were 50 years ago. That’s how far we’ve come. Where this one man, no no bulletproof that girl leans right into the crowd wants to touch everybody, everybody wants to touch him. We didn’t think we were chronicling history, exactly, on the day. I think what really struck me harder, which made more impressions on my own psyche is that 50 years later is when our work really starts to have extraordinary value.

Jay Cassidy: It’s the idea of there’s a certain witness of events and these are items that are direct witnesses to the event that can’t be argued. You know?

Sachs: You can’t dispute a crowd size.

Cassidy: Yeah exactly. So that’s the importance, you know, as you say 50 years later that we certainly didn’t anticipate and weren’t thinking about at the time. Part of the reason that I was involved in photography was that you were a witness to certain events. And I think you understood that role might not have been able to articulate it at the time but you know what stories are told from these pictures. But they say being there is the first draft of history.

Holdship: The next voice you’ll hear is Jay’s, who much like Andy, had no idea the historical trove of imagery he was sitting on.

Cassidy: Well what was always interesting about The Daily photographs was you’d shoot them, you’d process them, and then you pick two maybe that would go in the paper. And then you wouldn’t look at them for a long time. His assassination certainly made me go back to the pictures right afterward to just see what I had. I don’t know if you know, I donated my collection to the Bentley Library and you had to scan them, and I sort of made the decision “well let’s just scan them all”, because if you don’t know really what you had because you haven’t looked at them 45 years. And you didn’t really look at them hard on the day. The reasons you chose a picture or somebody else chose from your contacts a picture for the particular day’s paper, there’s a whole other set of considerations when you look at it later and out of that context, so I was amazed at what was there.

Sachs: One of the frames that I didn’t pick to publish back in 1968 has been selected because I sent about a dozen images over to Getty Images back in 2006. Robert Kennedy seemed like he was a historic figure and I thought I should get these pictures in front of the world. And then one day a friend of mine he wrote me an email that said, “I saw your photograph on the cover of the Chris Matthews book”, and I had seen that book advertised and had seen Matthews hold it up, but I thought, “oh it was probably from one of those swings in the campaign, one of the cities,” and my friend Paul Lee said, “It looks like it’s your picture,” that I shared from contact sheets of the Detroit visit with with Mr. Lee. We check with the bookstore and sure enough there was a picture that looked like it could have been one of mine, but it was credited to Bill Eppridge on the dust cover. So I thought well he must have been just shoulder to shoulder with me in that convertible that day and you know there it goes it’s kind of Life magazine guy you know, they get the money shot. But I wasn’t convinced so I sent a copy of the picture that I had with Getty and also a copy of the book cover from an ad. I sent it out to Jay actually and asked him, did he think they were identical, and he said there’s no doubt they were the same frame, but it had Bill Eppridge’s name on it. So that began a saga with the publishers Simon and Schuster and still is ongoing today. The text person in the art department swapped out a picture that they had dummied in shot by Mr. Eppridge, so I guess I knocked him out of the cover spot but they did not cover the detail, they did not get that credit line changed.

Holdship: As maddening as the error is, Andy still remembers Bill Eppridge fondly. He learned a lot from him that day 50 years ago. Eppridge died in 2013.

Sachs: He was someone who I knew about from his work in Life Magazine. He shot a remarkable photo essay that they ran under the story title as Needle Park. And it was I believe in New York City, he got really up close with this whole group of drug addicts. He then was 26 when he did that work when we ran into him he was 29. And I looked up to him as the veteran Life Magazine guy. But really he was only 9 years older than me. And I just watched the way he handled himself from the way handled the cameras and it was kind of instructive because you can’t pick that stuff up by reading a book on photography. He was very very dapper he wore a suit jacket and a tie with a four-in-hand windsor knot and he seemed to be able to keep all those things looking good throughout the day where the pictures I’ve seen that Jay shot of me I looked like I was pretty disheveled trying to keep up with everything. It was it was exciting to be with those guys. It was like you were a trumpet player and Miles Davis invited you up to sit in with his band.

Holdship: Okay on stage in a moving open-air motorcade, that is. I don’t know about you but I love hearing about all the streets and the specific locations of the motorcade.

Cassidy: I just remember we went to the airport and that’s where we got on the bus ride into Detroit to Cadillac square where the first van was which was a very large rally. I think he actually maybe went into the hotel. There’s I think there’s a hotel on Cadillac square.

Sachs: The Sheridan Cadillac, it would have been.

Cassidy: Yeah, I think that was actually the first stop and then the motorcade was formed and the photographers were in the following car or the leading car. That’s kind of where it formed. And then after this quite large rally, I believe the next stop was the AME Church. I looked at all the pictures last night and there was some event going on with the AME Church ‘cause there was kind of a banner. I remember his speech inside because I also remember because of the pictures that he had like maybe 8 or 10 year old boy who he brought up and was introduced to the crowd and and and he spoke very eloquently about the future of this kid. The audience was quite moved by his short but quite poignant speech. It was a very it was very chaotic and the crowds I think were, especially at Cadillac square and then outside the hotel, I mean they were, I don’t think they quite anticipated what they were going to have there. Like going up 12th Street, every third block, the car would stop and the crowd would surround them and he’d either shake hands or give a little impromptu talk. After they left the church they went up 12th Street and then over across, I don’t know what street, to the Hamtramck region.

Sachs: And I think we went up Jefferson Avenue and I have a picture of the candidate underneath overpass that says Jefferson Avenue walkway.

Cassidy: Oh yeah. Chance has a lot to do with being in the right spot to take any kind of interesting photographs and sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you aren’t.

Sachs: The most interaction I had with him was standing. I believe I was standing on the left side of him and he reached out to shake some hands and someone grabbed him really hard and he started to lose his balance and I put my camera down and kind of jerked him back upright and just grabbing his shoulder and I think I might have said thanks. That might have been the extent of our conversation. I think a lot of people and myself included looked at Robert Kennedy as his brother incarnate. This is as close I’m going to get to his brother who I really liked and was taken away from us five years earlier. And this guy offers hope to our country and I had a great hope that he would become the next president and never in the back of my mind…

Cassidy: It was clear he had evolved from the lawyer who was on Roy Cohn’s staff from when he was Attorney General and evolved as a politician and as a human being. I think that was clear from everything he said.

Sachs: He was sympathetic but he talked straight you know, I was 20 years old. What do you expect from your country and your government? That the best leaders among us would be slain. I was in tenth grade I think 11th grade when John Kennedy was shot. Life just stopped for those four or five days until he was buried. That left a real mark on me and then to fast forward the clock to when he was in Detroit and I was watching the California returns on television. It was really sad, but on the other hand, I thought okay I guess this is the America I live in.

Cassidy: And don’t forget Martin Luther King a month before or two months before, I mean that was a very traumatic year for the country in 1968. I mean it was well documented that there was this group in the crowd especially at Cadillac Square and in front of the hotel that was kind of an extremist group that would put these signs out that said: “Bobby Give us your blood, all of it”. You know I look at the pictures in front of the hotel the people with that sign actually got quite close to Kennedy. These crowds were enormously appreciative and adoring especially when you get got up on 12th Street, but there you know that the seeds of American extremism were well planted.

Holdship: But Andy and Jay didn’t really think about much other than work before them for the Michigan Daily. Both credit the Michigan Daily with helping them grow up as young men and grow into their careers and successful photojournalists and artists.

Cassidy: Listen the Kennedy campaign encouraged university presses. They knew that that was a strength that they could take advantage of by allowing someone such as me and Andy and I feel, I think Okrent went on that trip is the writer. Am I right?

Sachs: Um it was Phillip Bloch who wrote about Detroit. And then I think Okrent went with us to Indiana. Both Jay and I were carrying rangefinder cameras which I think gave us a little more credibility in the eyes of the working national and international press photographers, because those tools were quiet, precise, lightweight. They were really the gold standard of photojournalism for a lot of people and he had one and I had. We owned a lot of our gear outright, the paper didn’t buy a lot of camera equipment for the for the photographers. I thought okay this is a big deal, I don’t think I had, what’s the word, ridden in one of these big motorcades like this where they had open cars for the news cameraman and the still photographers and that was a real treat because they kept you a fixed distance from the action even though it was continuously changing. I talked with a friend of mine the other night, and she said well you know when you’re 20 years old you don’t think you’re inexperienced.

Cassidy: It helped us as teenagers grow a lot, the Michigan Daily, because we were thrust into a situation where you’re dealing with adults and you have to deal with them because that’s the mandate of the paper.

Sachs: If I look back at the pictures of me that Jay shot for instance I look pretty green and kind of unkempt but I was concentrating on what was going on. We kind of knew the ropes and we were going to go about our job and get some good pictures from the day. Do you have any sense of that Jay?

Cassidy: Yeah you know the ethos of The Michigan Daily was that we’re a national newspaper and we’re going to cover stories like a national paper. So when there was activity on a national level in the geographic area the daily covered.

Sachs: And beyond the geographic area.

Cassidy: And beyond that’s true.

Sachs: Mary Robinson and I went to Cape Canaveral because we didn’t think they should they should shoot a rocket to the moon without us witnessing it.

Cassidy: Yeah so I mean that part of that certainly is the arrogance of youth too, kind of. But at the same time, it’s why the paper was respected because it did assume a kind of an attitude that said well there’s the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Michigan Daily.

Sachs: Well maybe not in that order. (laughs) No, we were spunky. And you know many people working on the paper in that era went on to work for those other papers. On a campus it was like we had journalistic exercises maybe once a month in the late ’60s. There’s always going to be a demonstration or a march or a big football event even. We didn’t have to walk out more than three or four blocks from the newspaper office to run into an event that will train you and tax you and teach you how to discover these things and they did Kennedy when he was out there. He wasn’t a big guy but he was agile and he could move. His body language was expressive and I think that it helped us a lot too.

Holdship: Well it certainly helps when you have a subject that leads into the scene and leaned into history the way RFK really did. Okay, I hope you enjoyed this episode. Read more about Andy’s issues with Simon and Schuster in the story at michigantoday.umich.edu. And you can also view some of his amazing photography there. Jay’s archive can be accessed at U of M’s Bentley Historical Library. Find more episodes of “Listen in, Michigan” at Tune-in, Stitcher and iTunes as well as at Michigan Today under the podcast tab. Alright, it’s time to go enjoy some summer in Ann Arbor!

In May 1968, Michigan Daily photojournalists Andy Sacks and Jay Cassidy joined the open-air motorcade of Robert F. Kennedy in Detroit. Sacks’ picture appeared 50 years later — w/Bill Eppridge’s photo credit — on the cover of Chris Matthews’ Bobby Kennedy: Raging Spirit. Listen in, as Sacks and Cassidy relive that day in ’68. Learn more about Sacks’ work at www.saxpix.com. In addition, Cassidy recently was featured in a Michigan Alumnus video.

Judging a book by the cover

RFK in Detroit, May 15, 1968. (Image credit: Andrew Sacks.)

Andy Sacks photographs Robert F. Kennedy, Detroit, May 16, 1968. (Image credit: Jay Cassidy Collection, U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)

As a 20-year-old Michigan Daily photographer, Andy Sacks, AD ’69, so convincingly pitched LIFE magazine to let him cover a campus protest that the editor staffed it with her own guy, Bob Gomel, who flew in from New York. But she encouraged Sacks to shoot the action anyway and submit his raw film for consideration.

In the 1960s LIFE was the pinnacle, the Holy Grail, the Mt. Olympus of editorial photography. And after a few years covering student unrest in turbulent Ann Arbor, Sacks was confident and competent when it came to shooting chaos on the campus and elsewhere. When the Dec. 9, 1966, issue of LIFE landed, it was Sacks’ picture of the campus rally the editor published. It was featured in the cover story about the draft.

Call it the arrogance of youth, but Sacks took the professional coup in stride. So a few years later, when he worked alongside another LIFE photographer whose work he admired, Sacks was more intrigued than intimidated. It was May 1968 and Robert F. Kennedy had just entered a number of presidential primary races. Campaign stops brought the candidate to Detroit and Indianapolis, which is where Sacks met LIFE’s Bill Eppridge in an open-air motorcade. Eppridge’s harrowing 1965 photo essay “Needle Park,” had elevated photo journalism to an art form, and to Sacks, the 29-year-old Eppridge was a seasoned veteran. Sacks took the opportunity to watch and learn.

“Bill was deliberate, self-assured, and somewhat graceful,” he says. “He carried three cameras and he had them arranged – maybe two around his neck, one on his shoulder. And the long telephoto lens was not pointed out with the body of the camera against his hip. It was actually turned the other way and nestled into his hip to protect the equipment and move through the crowd more efficiently. Those are things you don’t learn in a book. But you could learn a helluva lot working at The Michigan Daily in 1968. ”

Fast forward

The cover image on Matthews' book should read: Andrew Sacks. (Simon & Schuster, 2017.)

The cover image on Matthews’ book should read: Andrew Sacks. (Simon & Schuster, 2017.)

When Sacks saw the cover shot on Chris Matthews’ biography Bobby Kennedy: Raging Spirit (Simon & Schuster, 2017) last year, he thought of Eppridge, whose name appeared in the cover photo credit line on the book jacket. Eppridge who had died in 2013, had a relationship with the Kennedys and the RFK cover certainly captured a magnificent moment in time: An ebullient crowd jams the street and swarms the candidate’s convertible. He is smiling at a little girl, held aloft in a large adult hand. An aide’s arm is wrapped around Kennedy’s waist, anchoring him in the convertible. The crowd is mostly young, mostly African-American, and mostly male. Hands dominate the foreground — outstretched, reaching.

But the joy so apparent in the photograph is fleeting. Kennedy would be assassinated in Los Angeles three weeks later on June 5, 1968.

Sacks recognized the setting in Detroit from his own contact sheets. Eppridge likely was riding shoulder-to-shoulder with him in the convertible camera car because the image looked much like his own. Then a friend called to congratulate Sacks on landing the book cover, and Sacks was compelled to take a closer look at a cache of 15 frames he’d previously submitted to Getty images for licensing to media around the world.

There it was. That picture on the cover of Matthews’ book belonged to Sacks. It didn’t make the photo editor’s cut at The Daily back in 1968, but it worked for Simon & Schuster in 2017. And now some 50 years had passed, and Sacks had outperformed LIFE magazine again. This time, however, the irony came with a sting.

Re-shoot

RFK in Detroit, May 15, 1968. (Image credit: Andrew Sacks.)

RFK in Detroit, May 15, 1968. (Image credit: Andrew Sacks.)

Through a Getty attorney, Sacks says he notified Simon & Schuster of the mistake in November 2017. Matthews’ book was about three weeks into sales at that time. The New York Times bestseller is now in its fourth hardcover printing, and the publisher has yet to right the wrong.

Simon & Schuster acknowledges the error, says Sacks’ attorney, fellow Michigan Daily alumnus Stephen Selbst, BA ’76/JD ’80, of New York’s Herrick Feinstein, LLP. But the publisher, he says, rejects any liability for what it deems an innocent mistake.

“For technical reasons related to the copyright act, they hold the position they are not responsible for the problem,” Selbst says.

The publisher contends the graphic artist who produced the cover had “dummied in” a Bill Eppridge shot for an early iteration of the design, but used a Sacks photo for the final version, says Selbst. The graphic artist neglected to revise the credit before the dust jacket went to press with Sacks’ photo and Eppridge’s name in the credit line.

Though they never knew one another, Sacks imagines the late photographer would be as aggravated by the mistake as he is, “just on a guy-to-guy basis,” he says. “But, if someone else’s name is on your photo, it’s a pretty great compliment if it’s Bill Eppridge.”

Turn the page

RFK in Detroit, May 15, 1968. (Image credit: Andrew Sacks.)

RFK in Hamtramck, May 15, 1968. (Image credit: Andrew Sacks.)

A spokeswoman for Simon & Schuster confirmed in an email June 28 that Sacks’ credit would appear in future softcover editions.

But that doesn’t explain the publisher’s reluctance to right the wrong still being done to Sacks. Selbst contends Simon & Schuster manufactured the fourth printing of Matthews’ book notwithstanding the fact that the publisher was on notice regarding the error. Notably, Selbst says, the editorial staff did make revisions – to other photo credits in the book – prior to going back on press with that fourth printing. And still they missed the cover credit.

“They demonstrated by their actions that they know how to correct their errors,” Selbst says. “But they didn’t correct Andy’s.”

Selbst is now arguing the finer points of copyright law against a pre-eminent legal expert, bankrolled by an international publishing house. Michigan Today attempted to reach the publisher’s lawyer at New York’s Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, but has yet to hear back by email or phone.

“It’s a classic David & Goliath case,” Selbst says. “There is no question that Andy has been harmed. I’ve known him for a long time and have had the occasion to see lots and lots of his work. This is probably the most dramatic photo he’s ever taken.

“Today, you could never get that close to a candidate,” he continues. “You would never be able to capture that immediacy and that power. That picture is so powerful.”

So much for posterity

Getty Images licensed the photo, credited in its archives to Andrew Sacks, to Simon & Schuster for $500. The license entitles the publisher to use the picture (worldwide) on 1 million books, Sacks says.

RFK in Detroit, May 15, 1968. (Image credit: Andrew Sacks.)

RFK in Detroit, May 15, 1968. (Image credit: Andrew Sacks.)

The challenge for Selbst and Sacks is to quantify economic losses the photographer suffered as a result of Simon & Schuster’s mistake. It’s the plaintiff’s burden to prove what, if any, portion of the profits earned by the publisher are attributable to the cover photograph, Selbst says.

That is difficult to demonstrate in a court of law. The attorney hopes to make progress in the court of common decency, though, as he seeks an out-of-court settlement from the publisher.

For Sacks, the pain of this sucker punch to his artistic legacy is not likely to dissipate any time soon.

“My wife, Ann, found that even Google believes Bill Eppridge is the creator of that photo on the hardcover version of the Matthews biography,” he says. “What will Google make of the softcover volume crediting a different man for the same photograph? Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet.”

Comments

  1. Richard Bloss - BSE 1956; MSE 1957

    Really enjoyed. I was a photographer for the Michigan Daily. The summer of 1957 while I was completing my MSE.

    Reply

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