Abraham Zapruder

How much did Life pay Abraham Zapruder for the rights to his assassination film?

A Dallas clothing manufacturer made the most important movie of all time. Abraham Zapruder set out to record a visit from John F. Kennedy and ended up chronicling a national catastrophe. For 35 years his 18-second color film—jerky, soundless, devastating—has fueled, refuted, or confirmed a hundred assassination theories. Zapruder (below right, in a live TV interview the day of the assassination) was deeply shaken by his role as an eyewitness to the tragedy. Says his son, Henry Zapruder, of Washington, D.C.: “He felt the loss of the president foremost, but the black mark on Dallas hurt him very deeply too.” Adds his daughter, Myrna Ries, of Dallas: “In spite of that horrible event, he loved Dallas till the day he died.”

• He was born in 1905 in Kovel, Russia. His only education was four years of Hebrew school.

• In 1920 he immigrated to Brooklyn and went to work as a patternmaker. He married Lillian Shapovnick in 1933. Eight years later, he moved to Texas to work for Nardis of Dallas and later established two labels of his own, Chalet and Jennifer, Jr.’s.

• On November 22, 1963, Zapruder was at work, awaiting the presidential procession. His employees persuaded him to return home and fetch his 8-mm Bell and Howell movie camera. His secretary, Marilyn Sitzman, accompanied him down to Elm Street, where they climbed atop a concrete structure to get a better view.

• Zapruder later testified before the Warren Commission: “I heard the first shot, and I saw the president lean over and grab himself…For a moment I thought it was, you know, like you say, ‘Oh, he got me,’ when you hear a shot…but before I had a chance to organize my mind, I heard a second shot, and then I saw his head opened up and the blood and everything came out…then I started yelling, ‘They killed him, they killed him…’”

• He sold the rights to his film to Life magazine for $150,000. After his death on August 30, 1970, Life sold them back to his family for $1. Since 1978, the original has been stored at the National Archives. The Zapruder family allows scholars to use it for free but charges for commercial use; Oliver Stone, for example, paid $40,000 to include snippets of it in JFK.

• Last year the federal government declared the original film the property of the American people. Zapruder’s survivors requested $18.5 million in compensation. Although private appraisals place its value as high as $70 million, the Justice Department’s first offer was only $750,000. Negotiations are still under way.

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