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AP photographer Marty Lederhandler dies at 92

March 26, 2010 | 11:47 am


Marty Lederhandler, an Associated Press photographer who captured on film every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton, covered the D-Day landing in 1944 and climaxed a 66-year career with an iconic shot of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, has died. He was 92.

Marty Lederhandler died Thursday at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., said his companion, Sheila Barkow. He had suffered a stroke Feb. 17. He retired from AP in 2001, saying he wanted to "give someone else a chance to do the things I’ve done."

Over more than six decades, the New York City native covered every kind of news and chalked up a roster of celebrity subjects perhaps unmatched by any other lensman of his time.

"Whether you knew his name or not, you probably knew many of Marty’s photos, because he brought us all up close to the presidents, world leaders and legendary personalities who shaped history," said Tom Curley, AP president and chief executive. "We are forever indebted to Marty. He was the consummate professional and a beloved colleague for so many years, whose keen eye for the right moment and the revealing image helped AP to document history for news audiences around the world."

Among his favorites, he told an interviewer in 2001, were Marilyn Monroe in husband Arthur Miller’s Manhattan apartment and Winston Churchill in financier and presidential adviser Bernard Baruch’s.

Churchill had just returned from delivering his famous "Iron Curtain" speech at Fulton, Mo., Lederhandler recalled. "As I knelt in front of his chair for the shot, Churchill growled, ’Don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes.’"

His other subjects over the years were a panorama of the 20th century’s proud and profane — every New York mayor from Fiorello LaGuardia to Rudy Giuliani; Haile Selassie; Eleanor Roosevelt; Queen Elizabeth II; Elizabeth Taylor; Sophia Loren; heavyweight champs Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali; Gen. Douglas MacArthur; gangster Frank Costello; convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg; bank robber Willie Sutton; Bertrand Russell; Aristotle Onassis; Groucho Marx; Malcolm X; Anwar Sadat; Yasser Arafat; Nelson Mandela; Frank Sinatra; the Beatles; and Luciano Pavarotti.

When asked, Lederhandler had stories about most of them.

Many world figures were photographed at the United Nations, which Lederhandler covered on a regular basis.

"Without his consummate skill and untiring professionalism, many great moments in the history of the United Nations would have gone unrecorded," former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a letter to AP.

One occurred at the 15th General Assembly meeting in 1960. Lederhandler happened to be standing beside Fidel Castro when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev suddenly charged up and wrapped the Cuban leader in a bear hug.

His color camera out of action when his arms were pinned in the sudden crush of bodies, Lederhandler nonetheless was able to capture the moment with his black-and-white camera — and only he got a photo.

Lederhandler told how he missed one of showbiz history’s most famous shots, of Marilyn Monroe standing on a Manhattan subway grate during filming of the movie "The Seven Year Itch."

When Monroe’s skirt suddenly billowed, revealing her lingerie, other photographers caught the instant — but not the AP man, because, he explained ruefully, "I was standing on the wrong side."

Lederhandler was born in New York City on Nov. 23, 1917. He and an older brother, Harry, became interested in photography as teenagers, and both made it a career — Marty with AP and Harry with rival news agency United Press.

He joined AP in 1936 and on retirement in late 2001 held the news cooperative’s record for longevity on the job. His career spanned the history of modern news photography from cumbersome large-format cameras to high-speed and color film, into the digital age.

Two weeks after the German dirigible Hindenburg crashed and burned while landing at Lakehurst, N.J., on May 6, 1937, a packet was delivered to the AP photo desk in Manhattan. Its contents were prints of AP Wirephotos showing Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Rudolf Hess and other top Nazis. The photos had been shipped by the AP Berlin bureau aboard the airship and survived the disaster, though scorched and charred around the edges.

After being spread on a desk and photographed for a story, the pictures were about to be thrown away when junior employee Lederhandler scooped them up and took them home. In 1998, he gave them back to the AP, which made an unexpected centerpiece for the news agency’s century-and-a-half birthday observance.

Drafted into the Army in 1940, he became an officer and on June 6, 1944, led his Signal Corps camera team ashore with the 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach, toting two carrier pigeons along with his camera gear.

But when he attached film canisters for the pigeons to return across the Channel to England, the second one, evidently confused, flew inland instead.

A month later, U.S. troops capturing Cherbourg found a German army newspaper left by fleeing Germans with one of the photos on Page 1, duly credited to "U.S.A. reporter, Lt. Lederhandler."

Always resourceful, Lederhandler once paid $10 to a hotel photographer to take a group shot at a closed-to-the press aviation industry dinner, and from that was able to enlarge an image of the camera-shy Charles Lindbergh.

And when New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and his bride, Happy, honeymooned in Venezuela in 1963, Lederhandler bypassed the airport departure; instead he bought a ticket on the Pan Am flight and wound up as an extra guest at the Rockefeller ranch, airmailing exclusive pictures back to New York.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Lederhandler was at the AP office in Rockefeller Plaza when terrorists crashed two hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center.

He crossed the street, took an elevator to the Rainbow Room restaurant atop the 70-story GE building and shot photos of the twin towers ablaze in the distance with the Empire State Building in the foreground, standing vigil over a chaos-torn city.

The widely published picture appeared on the cover of New York magazine and a best-selling book. Lederhandler said later that the experience had spurred his decision to retire at age 84.

"Marty Lederhandler photographed WWII and 9/11 and a great many things in between. Whether it was a soft photo feature or a hard news story he was the consummate professional and always a true gentleman," said Santiago Lyon, AP director of photography. "He will be truly missed, but his images will live on."

Besides Barkow, survivors include his brother Sol and sister-in-law Jacqueline, as well as another sister-in-law, Ruth.

-- Associated Press

Photos: New York skyline on Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: Marty Lederhandler / Associated Press. Marty Lederhandler in 1998. Credit: Associated Press / Ed Bailey