15-52 Segment 2: Photographing the Beatles: A friend looks back

Synopsis: If you’re a Baby Boomer then you know all about the excitement and frenzy that occurred when the Beatles first arrived on the scene and traveled to America. We talk to a photographer who not only took many memorable pictures of the Fab Four, but who also became their good friend. We discuss what the musicians were like, how he gained their trust, what it was like to photograph the Beatles and other luminaries of the time, and how the profession of news photographer has changed in the last 50 years.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guest: Henry Grossman, professional photographer of the Beatles and others, author of the photographic book, Places I Remember: My time with the Beatles.

Links for more info:

Places I Remember: Photographing the Beatles

Marty Peterson: More than 50 years ago, the Beatles released their first album. Anyone who was a teenager in 1963 remembers the excitement the four mop-topped musicians generated when they landed on US shores a year later to appear on “the Ed Sullivan show.” They were welcomed by the hundreds of screaming girls in the audience and one Time magazine photographer whose pictures captured the energy of the moment. Behind the camera was Henry Grossman, and he would go on to take thousands of intimate photos of the Fab Four. Many of these never-before-seen pictures are now included in Grossman’s book, “Places I Remember: My time with the Beatles. Little did Grossman know that that magazine job would turn into a decades-long friendship with the rock group that endures today….

Henry Grossman: Time magazine sent me to photograph the Beatles at The Ed Sullivan Show. The Daily Mirror of London saw the pictures and then sent me, I think the next week or so, to Atlantic City to photograph The Beatles. And then, the following year, The Mirror called and said, “Can you go to Nassau for us? For the Beatles. They’re making Help!” So I went down there, spent a week or so down there, came back to New York for the pictures, showed them to Life magazine before I sent them off to England, and Life said go back. So I went back, and there I was. I spent time down there, went to Austria and London with them.

Peterson: They looked like they were having a great time during their visits to the States, appearing on TV and at concerts. Grossman says that what you saw then was what they were truly like…

Grossman: Everything you just said about them being fun and having a joy about them was absolutely true. There’s a saying by Emerson that I love, “Stop talking. Who you are speaks so loudly I can hardly hear what you’re saying.” They were like that. They were fun. You know, Ringo saw the book and he said, “My god, I didn’t think these would still exist after all this time, and it brings back all the liveliness and fun of what it was like.” And that’s what they were like. You know, when I was photographing them, the clothes they wore were not costumes. That was what they wore. That was who they were. They weren’t dressing up for other people, they were dressing up for themselves.

Peterson: Grossman liked all the Beatles, but he says he was closest to George Harrison, who impressed the photographer with his intelligence and insight…

Grossman: I was listening earlier in the year to a tape I have I made at George’s house, we were just talking. And he’s talking about philosophy and life and I marveled because I had a college education and here’s this guy a couple years younger than me telling me things that were just so ahead of me philosophically. Incidentally, he said to me on the tape, he said, “Who knows how long this is going to last, Henry?” Well, it’s lasted, hasn’t it?

Peterson: The Beatles were millionaires many times over, but Grossman says it didn’t seem to go to their heads. It did, however, help them make memorable music together and individually…

Grossman: I went over to George’s house once and there was this sitar on the wall. I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a decoration. I said, “George, what is that?” He reached up, took it down and started tuning it, and he said “It’s a sitar, but I can’t find anybody to teach me how to play it.” I looked at him and I said, “George, you make a lot of money,” and he smiled. And I said, “George, you could probably afford to find the best sitar teacher in India and bring him here to teach you how to play.” And that year or the following year he went to India instead. That enabled him. The money was an enabler. I was at Ringo’s house and I walked in and there was music playing and I said, “My gosh, Ringo, that’s great sound. What kind of speakers are they?” He said, “I don’t know, Henry. I just like the sound.” So that’s the kind of thing. They were enabled by their success and by the money, and they used it. I mean, John was recording on his own when he was killed. Who was paying for all that recording? He had the money to pay for it. I don’t know who was paying for it but money, later, was not a problem.

Peterson: It’s amazing that a magazine photographer could get so close to the rock group and remain close for years to come. Grossman says they just hit it off right from the beginning…

Grossman: Well I became friends with them, so I was familiar. For example, one of my favorite pictures I took in Nassau of George sitting at breakfast with them. And George came, sat down across from me at the table and I said, “George, wait a moment, I’ve got to take a picture. And I took a picture. It’s one of my best pictures. He looks like what I would expect Hamlet to look like if I were going to cast Hamlet. However, I looked at the contact sheets. I wasn’t taking pictures at breakfast. I had my camera with me, but I was not taking pictures of everybody eating breakfast. You know I wasn’t taking pictures to surprise them, to sell them to fan magazines necessarily or anything like that. I think they trusted me.

Peterson: Not only did the Beatles come to trust him, but so did their manager…

Grossman: And i’d been to their homes as well, as a friend. As a matter of fact, Brian Epstein called me when Life magazine was syndicating these pictures and said, “Please don’t use those pictures. I hear they’re being syndicated. Because we’ve never even let a British photographer into their homes.” So I said, “Okay, but why?” And it turns out that he didn’t want the public to be reminded that two of them were married and had children, or whatever. One of them had children. But, the next day I got a telegram a cable from Brian Epstein saying, “Please disregard phone call. Have just seen the pictures. Can I have a set?” So, I went everywhere as a friend. I was invited to George’s home, I’d call George when I was in London and he’d say, “Come on over.” So I’d go over and he’d say, “Let’s go over to John’s. Let’s go over to Ringo’s” whatever. That’s how it happened.

Peterson: However, Grossman recalls that the other photographers weren’t very happy that he was so close to the Beatles…

Grossman: I went to Wales to photograph them with the Maharishi and there were press waiting outside and I knocked on the window of the door where The Beatles were staying and John pushed aside the curtain, saw that it was me, opened the door, took me by the arm and took me inside. And the press outside started yelling, “Why is he going in?” And John looked out at them and said, “Henry’s a friend of ours. He travels around the world with us. If you were friend of ours, you might be in here also.” So that was the difference.

Peterson: The Beatles much-publicized break-up was something that Grossman says he didn’t anticipate. However, he did know that they were done touring together as musicians, due to the deafening “enthusiasm” of the thousands of fans that greeted them at every concert…

Grossman: No I did not see them wanting to go their separate ways or a break-up coming at all. I do know that they had said that they probably weren’t going to be doing more concerts because they couldn’t hear the music from the yelling. People were yelling so loudly. On my first trip with them to a concert in Atlantic City in ’64, I had pictures of a policeman standing at the foot of the stage holding his ears. Not for the music. Holding his ears because the crowd was screaming so much. That’s what they said they stopped because of. But I didn’t see any of it coming. Had I seen it coming, I might have shot more.

Peterson: Grossman talks fondly of his time photographing The Beatles and of their friendship. He says that these days celebrity photos are a whole different kind of business …

Grossman: First of all now it’s a lot of paparazzi people chasing people down the streets and all that kind of stuff. I did photos for Jackie Kennedy when she lived in New York. I would go to her apartment after getting a call to go and do a photograph for her. But if she saw me on the street — and I know people who were photographing her and selling for thousands of dollars, the pictures they shot on the street — if Jackie saw me on the street she’d say, “Henry, what are you doing here?” I would have been embarrassed. I would have sunk into the ground. And the other thing is today there’s a hell of a lot more control of pictures by celebrities. I think Elizabeth Taylor probably had approval at that time. I know she did. But most people were not given picture approval. It was just not done by the magazines. It was a lot easier then.

Peterson: Grossman has photographed hundreds of famous people in his career – from stars of film, theater and music to heads of state, philanthropists and authors. He is noted not just for taking memorable pictures of these luminaries, but also for capturing the mood and milieu surrounding them…

Grossman: What I like about the book is that now I am certain I was a good photojournalist because Kevin, the designer, recognized what the situations were. No only that I took a picture of John smiling, or Ringo laughing, but I showed you why they were smiling and laughing. There’s a series of pictures in this book that I love of Paul telling a joke or a story to the guys and John is laughing and Paul is gesturing and laughing. A whole sequence of them, maybe six or seven pictures. It’s marvelous. And the way they’re laid out, if a magazine were doing something on The Beatles in Nassau, they might have run one picture of that. But the sequence itself would make a whole little story in a magazine. And Kevin laid it out in ways that you see not only that we were on a little boat going to a location, but they were together and enjoying themselves and laughing and all that kind of stuff. And there’s a picture of me, by the way, in the book. I’m sitting on the steps with them and John is combing my hair. Ringo is not in the picture because Ringo took the picture with my camera.

Peterson: You can see all of the excitement and quiet times in the lives of the Beatles in Henry Grossman’s book, Places I Remember available from Curvebender publishing at curvebender.com. To see some of Grossman’s photographs of the Beatles and other celebrities, log onto his website at HenryGrossman.com. You can also find the links and information about all of our guests at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Reed Pence. I’m Marty Peterson.

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