Capturing history

Meet Henry Grossman, the photographer whose images -- especially of JFK and the Beatles -- remain iconic landmarks of a ripe period in American history

The following script is from "Capturing History" which aired on Nov. 10, 2013, and was rebroadcast on June 1, 2014. The correspondent is Morley Safer. David Browning, producer.

Last November, we marked the 50th anniversary of two defining, but very different moments in American history: the assassination of a young president who represented the hopes and dreams of a new generation, and, a few months later, the arrival in this country of four young Englishmen who effectively changed the culture of not only America, but the world.

John F. Kennedy and the Beatles. What they had in common was a photographer who catalogued their rise to power. Tonight, we take another look through the lens of Henry Grossman.

Henry Grossman: I love this picture. Look at that. I was a photo journalist. I was trying to capture what was happening, what was going on. I wasn't interrupting them and saying, "Oh, wait a minute, I gotta do that again." What is it seize the day, seize the moment?

[Henry Grossman: Smile. Stay right there. I like the light.]

"I was trying to capture what was happening, what was going on. I wasn't interrupting them and saying, 'Oh, wait a minute, I gotta do that again.'"

Over half a century ago, this picture changed Henry Grossman's life. John F. Kennedy, in Boston, where Grossman, a student, often photographed visiting VIPs.

Henry Grossman: This is taken the day he announced his candidacy for president. I gave him a copy of this and he called it his eyes portrait. He was very young. And unknown.

Morley Safer: You were pretty young yourself.

Henry Grossman: I was about 22, 23. Yeah.

The encounter compelled Grossman to hit the road, tagging along on the Kennedy campaign.

Henry Grossman: The crowd wanted him. Liked him so much.

Morley Safer: Why did you decide that you wanted to follow JFK around?

Henry Grossman: Personality was great. And it was an opportunity to photograph a man who could become president. Wasn't that fun?

A famous image taken on Wall Street.

Morley Safer: They're looking up at what, people in windows was that it?

Henry Grossman: People in windows. They were beginning to throw confetti.

Another captured the savvy candidate posing with the Statue of Liberty.

Morley Safer: You were clearly a fan of his.

Henry Grossman: I was a fan of his, yes.

Morley Safer: Did you go to great pains to make him look good?

Henry Grossman: You didn't have to try to make him look good.

Henry Grossman: There I was.

After the election, he was a familiar face in the White House.

Henry Grossman: The president is just signing a picture here for me. We called him Jack all during the campaign and even when he into the White House except not when people were around, because then it was Mr. President. This one I like because it looks like I'm an adviser to the president. And, uh, there's Jack with a bandage on his face because he bumped his head when he picked up a toy or something that Caroline had dropped.

Another famous image. A windblown JFK. It was published around the world.

Henry Grossman: I gave Jackie, a copy of that picture 'cause I loved it. And a friend of mine said she looked at it and she said, "I think it's my favorite picture of Jack." Which was very inspiring, very nice.

Morley Safer: What was your reaction when you heard he was killed?

Henry Grossman: Oh, God. Sorrow. How deeply can sorrow be felt for the loss of what would have been, what could have been, what might have been, what was?

This was the front page of the New York Times the day after John Kennedy died. The portraits of the fallen president -- and his successor- - both taken by Henry Grossman.

He later photographed the former first lady at home in New York.

"How deeply can sorrow be felt for the loss of what would have been, what could have been, what might have been, what was?"

Henry Grossman: She was very photogenic, very quiet. She could be sharp and strong.

Morley Safer: Tough.

Henry Grossman: Yes, lovely but tough.

And he traveled with Robert Kennedy during his presidential campaign. Shortly before RFK was killed, Grossman caught him catnapping during an exhausting day on the road.

Henry Grossman: It's an eerie picture to me. Knowing what happened to him and having known what happened to his brother, my God.

Like many talented photographers, Grossman also had great luck being in the right place at the right time. This theater in New York, for instance. Today it's home to David Letterman. Fifty years ago, a revolution took place here.

Henry Grossman: I lived a block away and so I walked over here with no anticipation, no understanding of what I would find. There's an English word, "gobsmacked." I was gobsmacked.

[Beatles: Ah. Ah, Ah, Ahhhhhhh -- - Shake it up baby now, (shake it up baby), twist and shout, (twist and shout).]

When Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles to America, 73 million viewers were watching. Henry Grossman was there, shooting for Time Magazine.

Henry Grossman: I guess I shot a first couple of pictures of the guys on stage and what they were doing.

We talked onstage at the very spot the music was made.

Henry Grossman: And then when I looked around and I could see the hysteria on some of these girls, tears streaming down their faces. "Wow, look at that. Look at that. Look at that."

[Beatles: She wouldn't dance with another (ooooh) since I saw her standing there.]

Morley Safer: It's fascinating that these kids probably couldn't hear the band for their own voices, right?

Henry Grossman: I don't think it mattered.

Grossman figured that first glimpse of the band was probably his last.

Morley Safer: Did you feel or did they feel that this was just a flash in the pan?

Henry Grossman: I'm afraid they did. I was speaking with George in London at his house once. He said "Henry, who knows how long this is gonna last?" And that was 50 years ago, before they became icons of the century.

They would meet again. But for the moment, Grossman moved on, photographing, in just a few weeks time, the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Montreal. Barbra Streisand opening on Broadway in "Funny Girl." And the Supremes, the other pop music phenomenon of 1964.

Henry Grossman: Huh, let's see what these are. Oh my gosh!

His archive -- if you can call it that -- is an archaeological dig into our collective past.

Morley Safer: Why don't you just open a drawer at random and pull something out and see what surprises we'll find here?

Henry Grossman: Oh, ho ho ho ho. March on Washington. Oh, this is Eleanor Roosevelt and Mandela.

A hodge-podge of history.

Henry Grossman: Nixon.

Morley Safer: He looks pretty happy.

Morley Safer: Are you surprising yourself as you go through these?

Henry Grossman: Endlessly. Endlessly.

There's David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father, both fore - and aft.

Henry Grossman: This was the shot I shot in back.

Morley Safer: Oh, that's wonderful. Looks like a flying saucer or something.

Henry Grossman: Yes, Saturn.

There's George Hamilton as Dracula. Writer Kurt Vonnegut. Jimi Hendrix, eating his guitar. The man who would be king -- briefly -- the duke of Windsor and his American wife.

Henry Grossman: One of my favorite pictures. This is Cassius Clay, winner, after a knockout fight.

Morley Safer: Before he was Muhammad Ali.

Henry Grossman: That was the celebration. There was a strawberry shortcake in front of him and he was too tired and beat up to really appreciate it.

Beautiful women became a specialty. Jacqueline Bisset. Julie Christie. Mia Farrow. Meryl Streep.

Morley Safer: You really hung out with the babes a lot, didn't you?

Henry Grossman: Oh, do you blame me?

Many of the performers he photographed have gone on to that great red carpet in the sky. Leonard Bernstein, the conductor and composer who gave us "West Side Story." Maria Callas, in her farewell Carnegie Hall recital. Another operatic superstar, Luciano Pavarotti, in a photo that could be a Renaissance painting. And Marilyn Monroe, the night she sang Happy Birthday to JFK.

Henry Grossman: Wow. George Harrison and his Aston Martin.

But he's best known for his Beatles pictures, and for good reason. A recent limited edition book containing hundreds of previously unseen images sold out quickly, at $500 pop.

Henry Grossman: This is George Harrison in Nassau. He had obviously just gotten up. And there was a look to him that was so simple and vulnerable, but look how open and honest he is.

Morley Safer: And so ridiculously young.

Henry Grossman: Yes.

[From the film "Help!": There he is. Hey, I tried to warn him.]

He got to know them really well in the Bahamas, when they made the film "Help!" Grossman tagged along, shooting for LIFE Magazine. It was a low key affair, a far cry from the pandemonium of the Sullivan show a year earlier. The photographer and the band hit it off.

Henry Grossman: I was a fly on the wall, watching and being a friend.

They talked. They joked. Each morning, Grossman served as the band's human alarm clock.

Morley Safer: Your wakeup call to the Beatles was what?

Henry Grossman: Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I've got a wonderful feeling everything's going my way. And it did.

Henry Grossman: This is a picture that Ringo took. John wanted to make my hair long and combed like a Beatle which he tried to do. This is terrific fun for me.

As filming took them from Nassau to Austria to London in early 1965, he met the four young women who were the envy of teenage girls everywhere. Ringo and his wife Maureen, newlyweds. John and his wife, Cynthia. Paul and girlfriend Jane Asher. Pattie Boyd, George's girlfriend and wife to be.

Soon, he was welcome in their homes in London. Life went on around him. Ringo and son Jason, a chip off the old block. John and Cynthia and Julian, two years old.

Morley Safer: Everything looks very conventional, with wives and girlfriends.

Henry Grossman: That was a surprise to me, too. John's house looked very much like a straight, middle-class American house. George and John were strumming guitars and playing while little baby Julian was watching. And the wives were in the living room talking about drapes and curtains.

Grossman was there for the band's famous audience with the Indian guru the Maharishi. The summer of love, 1967.

Henry Grossman: I think they were genuinely hooked on him and what they might become through him. I don't know how long it lasted.

He took rare pictures of others in the Beatles family. Paul and his father Jim. Brian Epstein, the band's brilliant manager. George Martin, the legendary record producer.

Henry Grossman: George Martin was the kind of guy that was reading poetry in between recording the Beatles.

By 1970, the ending - the unraveling of the band -- Grossman had moved on to other assignments, other interests. Parting, though, with the greatest respect.

Henry Grossman: I loved THEM. They were terrific guys. They knew what they were doing, they knew who they were very well. They did not try to put on somebody that they're not. What was there and what you saw was what you got.

Looking at Henry Grossman's pictures, there's a sense of both joy and melancholy -- of things past and times lost. But as the novelist Robert Goddard wrote: photographs don't distinguish between the living and the dead. The pictures are always there. And so are the people in them. Frozen in the best time of their lives.

  • Morley Safer

    Morley Safer’s distinctive style and the broad range of his much-honored work have made him a giant in broadcast journalism and a mainstay of 60 Minutes since 1970.

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