THROUGH THE YEARS
by Otto Rothschild and George R. Watson
In the early 1900s, the job of being a news photographer in Los Angeles was a difficult one. The standard tools of the trade in the early years were 5x7 Graflex cameras and glass plates along with magnesium flash powder, two kinds, fast and slow burning, set off by a percussion cup.
A news photographer could be recognized by his pyrostained fingers and the smell of singed hair from the flash powder. He didn't have a very high standing in the journalism profession and was low man of the newspaper totem pole. Most reporters treated him as an office boy with little respect.
Ben Hecht's play, The Front Page, was going strong. One of the main characters was a news photographer with questionable reputation, unshaven, ill‐mannered, loud, blearyeyed, baggy pants with a whiskey bottle sticking out of his hip pocket, a press card in the band of his slouchy hat, and a man you wouldn't trust your wife or daughter with for five seconds.
The race tracks provided rooms in the clubhouse for the sports writers with hot meals and liquor. News photogs were not allowed to use the facilities in any manner.
Many fights took place between news photogs and movie stars during this period, with lawyers finishing a close second.
The pay was quite low in the early days of news photography. In 1923, a seven‐day work week would earn you $18. In 1927 the top pay was $45 a week for six days work.
The Depression forced employers to reduce pay from $45 a week to $32 a week ‐‐ if you were lucky enough to keep your job.
In 1937, the first five‐day work came into being. And $50 a week was considered good pay.
An incident in 1936 when Perry Flower was attacked by a male movie star at a race track when Fowler photographed the star with his girl friend, gave rise to the first formal organization of news photographers in Los Angeles.
Howard DeCoursy, then manager of International News Pictures and George Watson who was then manager of Acme News Pictures Syndicate, formed the "Hollywood Press Photographers Association" to: exchange ideas, improve the quality of news pictures, and to get the recognition they believed news photographers were entitled to.
The group had 24 members with George Watson as president and Howard DeCoursy as vice‐president.
The Hollywood Press Photographers Association decided to put on an annual dinner for the editors and movie stars of the Southland. Watson and DeCoursy met with the studio publicity men at the Hollywood Athletic Club for a dinner to plan the first dinner. During this planning dinner, DeCoursy left the table in pain and died of a heart attack.
The dinner became a reality and was called "The Flashlighters Ball." The movie stars there to help make the first dinner a success were Eddie Cantor, Tom Mix, Martha Raye, Deanna Durbin, Nelson Eddy, Ralph Bellamy, Jeannette MacDonald, Gene Raymond and many other stars.
In connection with this first dinner the Hollywood Press Photographers Association published a 16‐page book called "Fuzzy Focus." The book was edited by Jack Stratton and Frank Filan. Racetrack passes were given to the photo engravers for the cuts used in the first "Fuzzy Focus" edition. The 3,000 copies cost the Association $69. Newspaper writers in the book were Louella Parsons, Phil Sinnott, Erskine Johnson and Matt Weinstock.
The first dinner in 1936 was a great success and the LAPD was needed to hold back the crowd that showed up for autographs. The news photographers were all dressed in tuxedos, and more than 1,500 jammed the Biltmore Bowl. Ed Schalert, movie critic for the L.A. Times, wrote that there were more stars and celebrities at the Flashlighters Ball than any other social event of its kind to date. The news photographers had won recognition and were on their way.
During the first years of the HPPA, there was great unity among their membership. Members of the Association boycotted the Mayfair Ball at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, which, at the time was the biggest annual social event of the year. The hotel management refused to let news photographers inside the hotel. The only picture used by the media of this event was a shot of the cameramen in their tuxedos, sitting with their cameras, on the curb in front of the hotel.
Another incident which showed the nation that ihe news' photographer would not be shoved around and their boycotting of the Rose Bowl game between Stanford and So. Methodist. Stanford had sold the motion picture rights of the game to a San Francisco film company, and restricted the local newsreel men to 100 feet for the entire game.
After some disagreement between the Los Angeles and Hollywood contingents of the organization, it was dormant for a while. But in 1943 the organization was reorganized under the presidency of Frank Bentley, and the name was changed to the Los Angeles Press Photographers Association. A new constitution was drafted by Sam Sansone and Dick Whittington.
Editors dinners were an annual event until 1952 when it was decided to expand the dinner to include more people could be raised for charity. The fomal dinner dance lasted all night and ended with a chuck wagon breakfast. When all the bills were counted, the LAPPA discovered they were in debt to the tune of $11,000.
The membership rose to the crisis. An emergency committee was formed and on Paul Calvert's motion, it was voted that each member be asked to loan $40 to the organization. This raised approximately $2,000 and paid off a few of the smaller creditors. $6,000 was still owed to the Statler Hotel.
Then, in 1954, after considerable research the board of directors decided to launch a yearbook. The name, Just One More was suggested by Phil Bath, and the book became a great success.
Just prior to this first JOM, in 1952, the Association published "50 Years of News Photography" and since it was printed on blue paper was called the "Blue Book."
After two editions of JOM, the Statler Hotel bill was paid off, and the Association was in high gear again.
Another year and at a dinner party at the Elks Club, checks were presented to every member who had loaned the Association $40 or more four years earlier. Just One More continued to be published each year and today is considered the best of its kind in the nation, and has resulted in much prestige for the Association.
In recent years the installation and awards dinner for the membership has become a popular event. Through the efforts of Bob Garrick the early dinners were held at the Budweiser Brewery in Van Nuys. In recent years the dinners have been held at the Castaways, the Queen Mary, the Princess Louise, the Proud Bird, the Bonaventure Hotel and the New Otani Hotel.
In 1969 the name of the Association was changed to the Press Photographer Association of Greater Los Angeles to allow photographers in the outlying areas of Southern California to belong to the Association.
Before this, membership was limited to news photographers in the Los Angeles intercity area.
Since 1962 when the Mirror News and L.A. Examiner were folded, there had been few members eligible to belong to the Association.
In 1975, an addition was made to the board of directors. The board voted to name a chairman of the board. He is the immediate past president and his duties are to assist and advise the president. He is also an active member of the JOM book committee.
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