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Kirk Douglas, the Junior Birdman

By the later 70's, the AP had begun to shoot a little color film, even though 99% of the market was still black and white transmissions for newspapers. The color slides were sometimes used by television, displayed behind the newscaster on the many stories for which photographers were present, but the TV crews weren't.



Actor Kirk Douglas does the Junior Birdman look on French relevision, a fleeting moment that happened only once. (photo © Randy Taylor)

We were instructed to shoot "a frame or two" of color headshots when we got the chance. Veteran actor Kirk Douglas was speaking on a French radio show, making the rounds. (To put the timeline into perspective, his son, Michael Douglas, had co-produced his first film a year earlier. It was "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" which swept the Oscars.) I'd shot all the "important" pictures of the highly animated actor speaking into a microphone, when I dutifully pulled out the color camera.

Quite by surprise, Mr. Douglas put on his Junior Birdman mask. I clicked the shutter, then panicked. That was the shot I needed in B/W. Normally, we'd shoot our one 24 exposure roll and leave early. "There's a deadline every minute" was a popular phrase at the AP. And, indeed, with subscribing newspapers worldwide, there were many publications that "went to bed" as the clock ticked past each hourly time zone. But, I stayed until the broadcast was over. I really needed that shot in black and white.

I may have been a stringer at the time, not yet staff. I do remember that I briefly explained to Mr. Douglas that I was new and that I'd be in big trouble if I couldn't get that shot again. Would he mind terribly if ... He gave me a big, sympathetic smile and said No. "There are some moments," he explained "that only happen once in life". He was right, of course. The reality was that he understood the nature of journalism better than I did.

Back at the bureau, I told my favorite editor about the color shot. He suggested that it could only hurt me to show it to the AP. I wouldn't be praised for getting a great shot in color. I'd instead be chastised for missing the decisive moment in black and white. So, for the last 20+ years, this photo has sat unappreciated in my personal files. I assume the statute of limitations for being angry at ex-employees is past, and I can now share this classic image with the world.

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