tv Frank Johnston Oral History Interview CSPAN September 17, 2017 7:09pm-8:02pm EDT
frank johnston courtesy of the dolph briscoe center for american history at the university of texas austin. >> we want to find out how your career began. i know your father was the chief retired for for the philadelphia inquirer but that's not mean that you would be a photojournalist. how did you become one? >> it started with the photographers at the philadelphia inquirer. i used to go back and harass them in the dark room. i ended up in the print barrel upside down. that was my first taste of photography. i was enamored with what they did in the business. hathaway -- my father mysed away just before 15th birthday.
forew what i wanted to do the rest of my life. i was on a mission to those on to the news media somehow. i was lucky enough to do that. out of the marine corps newspplied at apy pictures. hee balls in new york -- t were sonew york said we tired of getting your letters stop theecided to you.rs and hire thet to know austin and
president had been shot in dal las. dayd been with him the before. he and jackie. they were going to send me to dallas with him but there was a dinner in washington. havingocrats disagreement. texas. why he came to i was transferred to philadelphia. >> before we get away from your upi stint here in austin. present in that
fateful moment when lee harvey oswald was being transferred from the police station and he was shot. you were there with a camera. >> i relieved to the overnight person, photographer that sunday morning. we thought they were going to during thewald night. they did not do it. they arranged him on sunday morning. i received the overnight guy and i was there from 5:00 in the morning at the base of the driveway across from the lockup area until they brought oswald to transfer. they were going to transfer him in a car and put a blanket over him. there are going to use a decoy
courthouse.to the out,they brought oswald he was within three feet of me gun.bob ruby fired the we were all thrown to the floor. evers the first time they did videotape on a spot news story. nbc was there. they kept replaying it. they kept doing that for weeks on end to illustrate the story. that was the beginning of my career. i remember being thrown to the ground and i was shooting with an sp nikon.
hospital. after that it seemed like an hour but it was probably five minutes. the drivewaying up because i did not know dallas at all and i had only been at the police station in the hallway. i had to practically lived there for a week. when i got to the end of the driveway, i remember looking for a telephone. i called the bureau and they said we saw you on tv, you get any pictures? i said i got pictures but i don't know, it happened so quickly. as quickly as you saw television. they said, where are you? and ithe telephone down look to see where i was.
i remember than sending george, upi,as a lab guy from truckled up in a pickup and 50 me your film. i handed it to him. welloked at me and said, baby, you really ran into it this morning, didn't you? he told me i had been with years, iess for 30 developed a lot of film but when i processed your film i froze. it never happened before. he said i started to think about how important the image was i
was about to develop and he said i never had a roll of film so important in my life. he told me this story after. that was really the beginning of my time. testify atenaed to the ruby trial. they called me to testify the second week. me, everyed to kid time i send you to dallas something happens. i said nothing will happen, i'm going to court. i photographed jack ruby doing the walk in and walk out. up saying the first week
you did not get called. on theay, everyone sat ator, we had a press room the far end of the courtroom and tit dead ended. colleagues, i'm going to tell the office it is quiet. i had my cameras around me. and ied past the elevator did not realize what my competitors was behind me. he was going to do the same thing. i get down to the end of the pe.lway and there is a l sha
there were two doors to the courtroom. to the hallway and scream.woman there is a guy with a gun to her head. head first into the doorway. i did not get any pictures because it happened so quickly. hadnt to the hallway and he disappeared. empty two hostages in the courtroom. he came in with a different
hostage, there is no light in the hallway and he makes a right-hand turn and he is h eading to all the people. guy has a gun and he is going to kill jack ruby. everyone is all the way at the far end of the building. i'm sliding down the wall going that way and he is three feet away. he says to me, you take another step and i'm going to kill her. s rangers onwo texa the opposite side against the wall. belt.d a 45 in his the other detective slammed the fire door which locked me
behind. i said i have to get out of the building and get back to that courtroom. there were people in line waitin g to get in during the court session. escape, went down the fire escape, i have my andra flopping flying. i get around the building and who do i run into. gotten around the corner. the street with the hostage. head. a gun to her
the light was low. i remember the light being so low, i was shaking so bad from afraid illed i was picture.s up the i had one frame. hit the floor. line, we lay in the tree for hours. we were the last out of there. each chopper that came in got fired at. godsend.ines were a they risked their lives to come
and this story ended up as an icon for some of the written stories. at thed i worjeked with army, he had been in the and worked for stars and stripes. he said who shot this, you dad. phil no.ncle he said what happened to this fella. onlyd this is the photograph i have in my den from the war. my wife used to say he may do just fine.
it is the one thing that has always haunted me. he said we should find this man, which he did. me, hether had contacted knew i took the photograph years phil hend i told lived in atlanta, georgia and always had this hanging in their home. his brother told me on his 14th birthday richard was killed by sniper. i never knew that for many years. story --did this
and they colorized it. in the meantime, a fellow calls pbs. seeslks in the office and this photograph. he calls the publicist for pbs said, i have never been able to get a print of this picture. he said i've never been able to get a print of this picture, it is a picture of me. she said, i think you are -- she said i beg your pardon. it turned out -- she says you should call the photographer, he lives in washington. is dead. oh no he
photographed. i said i will make sure you get a print. asaid can you send me picture of yourself back then. i said would it be possible for me to fly up with the writer and i would like to see you. up.aid, sure, come on immediately. said, frank, i cannot tell you how much we appreciate you coming up here. she gave me a hug.
says, beatss me and wereast time we sitting in church together. then i knew. before i flew up there, i call this man's brother. i told him what had happened. i told him i will let you know as soon as i know. he said call me tomorrow morning, meaning the next day. i was up all night with mike and i go back up to a hotel and it is 6:30 in the morning and i picked the phone up to call and rob had been a marine also. i am saying to myself, i cannot
do this. man,not do this to this not over the telephone. marine, i'm fellow having a hard time dealing with this. said, i have to call him. i do not know what i'm going to say. i was scrambling, i was scared. i got wrong on the phone and the first thing out of his mouth was , j, what you think. do you think? important whatre you think. to bringsible for me him down to atlanta? what you guys to meet. toflew to atlanta, we went
too. he is the real brother i nver ever had. >> there is a lot more to photography than aiming and s hooting. 9th marinesrom the ofe an incredible group brave men. a story.ng we got on thehow subject of where he was going on vacation, he said he was going on vacation to southeast asia. i said i was just over there a few years ago. it is a great place to go back. he said i was there during the
war. he said i was a marine. i said what out there for you with? he said i was with 1 9. anwa.d if he was at a mortar man a a nwa. talk about a one in a million chance. i said i was one of the guys there and i thank you for saving my life along with another friend of mine and getting us out of there really. oit is a small world in many ways. photography makes an amazing circle. >> i want to get you to talk briefly about the moment you your photographic archives at the briscoe center.
>> i was approached by don carleton who is a man of vision. too many times in ortography film gets lost destroyed. ver surfaces and it never gets a chance to surface because of that kind of a situation. -- don approach to me i when don approached me i atught how did he find me all and i asked if he had the right feller.
told me whaten he i was going to put together, thought that is amazing. texas, that isof where i started out, in austin. body chills up and down my o think aboutd t it. the better home than university of texas could i put anything i ever did. i am thankful to join an incredible group of photojournalists. lot of people i worked with
in the field in vietnam and other places, to be included as part of that group, that is the way i felt about my whole journey, it has been incredible. has managed, she to carry me in here. what a team. themi start to talk about to my friends, i think back, he could have ended up -- it could have ended up in a basement somewhere thrown into a trash compactor like so many people's work. it is soot know what they toss everything.
don got to us just as the negative time an -- just in the knick of time. with youryou to end experience photographing that tragedy at jonestown. i know you covered that. in. was the first guy very quickly, one of our reporters was with congressman ryan and they were at the runway jonestown when a group of men came in and shot everybody. killed them. left of the to the
front wheel of the aircraft way.thers went the other they were killed. flewie escaped and he back to georgetown where we all flew in to. i came up in the middle of the night on a charter to collect belongings because we thought he had been killed. we win into the door and there was -- we went into the door and firstwas charlie filing a person story.
mud from head in to toe. the minister of information holds a press conference and match betweena television and the minister of information, the minister of information decided no one was going to go. thelie was in the room and others said the man was one of the only survivors. please, let him go up there with a photographer. drewl drew straws and i the short straw. charlie and i flew from georgetown. we get off the airplane and t here is a helicopter. choe was a soldier in the
pper. into the gunner's seat. ground 500 feet off the and as we approach to the compound we saw all these people outside, bright colors on, the closer i am getting to the scene i began to realize no one was moving. into thewn and walked compound, there were dead people outside all over the place. upon withgroup i came a group of six people with a child between them. the child had sneakers on, they were dead. i photographed.
i got into the compound and there was a sea of bodies on the outside. there was ta throne and a sign said jones would sit, it on a sign those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. the people all have nametags on. table at the far end of the pavilion and there must thatbeen 100-200 cups and is how they dispensed to the these people. there were a hundred people dead. deadere were 800 people
outside. late in the afternoon, they told us they did not fly after 3:30. i got out of the pavilion and a heard radio. i asked the soldier whether he spoke english. i said would you call our helicopter pilot. he took off after he dropped us off, tell him we need to get back to georgetown. minutes later this chopper comes over and i thought they god i'm not going to have to spend the night here. not going toi am have to spend the night here. the had just captured
people. the army caught them. i saw all these passports that house fromrneath the all the people who live there. people got a stack of treasury checks that belong to the followers that he was cashing and putting into private accounts. he was a dead outside the doorway. we jump in the chopper, we fly five miles back to the runway and it was only a single engine. he went down the end of the runway, ready to take off. we jump out of the chopper and are waving our arms, he had to fly back over our heads. we run for this aircraft and the there was open and
seat available. charlie jumps in and i said to the pilot, you have to find room for me somewhere. i have to take the film back. it is very important. baggage door open and i crawled in and flew back to georgetown on my stomach in a baggage compartment with this film. i remember it like it was five seconds ago. we came to the airport, we get to the hotel after there are thisens and kids on bus. the reporters ran for charlie when he walked in.
friend, hed close said did you get pictures of jones. i told new york you have pictures of him. i said yes i did. we are in the taxicab going to the newspaper and develop the film and i said jim, there are hundreds of people dead up there. he said what. no one knew this. i think jones is dead, you had outside the compound -- he is dead outside the compound. they dispense some type of poison to everyone. there was nothing alive, including the animals. he looked at me like have you been -- no jim, for real.
the dark room and he processes the film and on one of the roles, i had been on the first frame of this role, i had for araphed anne anderson style story. one frame on that and then all the aerials of these dead people. he looks and says what is ann landers doing there. all theseoks at pictures i had shot. it never stopped from there. "newsweek" did not have anybody
down there. inhot some color going because i did not know what to expect. then i went back to do that for them. york tohe color to new jfk and there were nine loads of people waiting to get through customs. jim says i have to call the office and tell them we are delayed. and i said i have to call "newsweek" because they have the whole staff there and they are delaying the publication. they said do not worry, all the editors are here. remember walking down the
hallway while jim was on the phone. i looked through the doorway and i see this customs officer itting at his desk and i said am sorry to disturb you, i told him the story i'm just returning and jim and i were trying to get back to the office, they are holding newsweek magazine to do this. your friend, gosh, your suitcases, bring them to my office right away. i said jim, let's go. i said i do not have time to explain. we go to the customs officer's office with our suitcases and he opens the door and it is the crew headquarters for filing their flight plans for the pilots. , healked past all them
opens another door and we are out on the taxi stand. phones. before cell i do not have time to call "newsweek". i show up at their door with this film and they are shocked. they wondered how i got through customs in that time. the whole story was sort of ironic. the whole thing. decided to finish up the last of the photographs and copies and took it up to the publisher. there was a woman who got on the magazine and she is in philadelphia and she is talking about the jonestown story and how bizarre and how ironic. listening, i did not say a word and she finally got off in
new york. i thought, if i had said anything she would have thought i had been some sort of a nut. she never knew. , many times, itit is that way, in some cases. whatever you are doing, you don't get into it if you are lazy. >> you have given us insight into the work you have done and the iconic photographs you have brought to the public guy. .hank you for sharing >> we have a facebook question from peter. on there resources
people who died in detroit? >> you could be featured in our next program. >> up next, the presidency with edward witmer and frederick loganville. kennedy presidential library director moderates the discussion. this is about 90 minutes. host: good evening. did you know that john f. kennedy was the most photographed leader of his day? this may not surprise you. he used