At this point, the question was how to proceed. Jones Harris wanted the publicity which only a national magazine could provide, but he seemed reluctant to carry his research any further. Additional research in to the film would be extremely costly. UPI was unwilling to pay for it, since there would be no immediate financial return (UPI does not sell exclusive stories and it is impossible to assign a dollar value to a wire service scoop). Also, there was always the chance that further analysis would reveal that the shape which seemed to be a man was nothing but a mass of shadows, so that a great deal of money would be spent for what would finally be an epic nonstory—about a frame from a film no one had heard of which proved only that there was nothing remarkable to be seen. But if this sort of nonstory could hardly succeed as a wire-service piece, it could very well go over big on the cover of a national magazine: a blown-up frame of the knoll, a while circle drawn around the shadowy shape, and a bold title reading “WAS THERE AN ASSASSIN ON THE KNOLL? See page 6.” So, though as a journalist I hated giving up control of the story, as a businessman I realized that it made more sense to take it to a magazine than for UPI to go on with it.
I approached Life. The magazine seemed the natural customer for our film; it owned the best film of the assassination—the one mad by Abraham Zapruder, for which Life had paid $150,000. I spoke with Dick Billings, an assistant editor at Life, and set up a second meeting at which Jones Harris would be present. The non-Oswald-grassy-knoll-rifleman theory was, after all, Harris’s perception, and he had paid for the research. Billings listened to Harris, looked at the film, saw the shape, and was interested. He told us that he had just read the proofs of Inquest, Edward Jay Epstein’s book on the Warren Report, which for the first time cast respectable doubt on the report’s reliability. Billings was unable to interest his superiors at Life, however. They felt that they had already given sufficient space to the Kennedy assassination, Billings said.
Having lost out with the editorial side of Life, I approached the picture side at Newsweek. Photo editor Tim Orr didn’t know what to make of either of the pictures or of Harris’s theory. He made it quite clear, however, that he felt that, as a UPI client, he was entitled to the pictures as a matter of routine. I left, taking the pictures with me. His response had frightened me. I knew that UPI and UPI Newsfilm were separate corporations, but if clients were not going to recognize this distinction, my peddling of what they thought was theirs by right could only lead to trouble. The film went back into a vault at the Chase Manhattan Bank.
Then Jones Harris began to dine out on the story. Word spread fast. A European journalist wrote an article about a firing from the knoll. Other assassination buffs began to inquire about the film. CBS came over to view it. Nobody knew how to handle the story; nobody wanted to assume the cost of further investigation.
In this story full of start and halts, things began to move again when, in December 1966, Esquire published an article by Epstein called “Who’s Afraid of the Warren Report: A Primer of Assassination Theories.” In his article, Epstein described the man-on-the-knoll theory—and named Burt Reinhardt, Jack Fox, and me as its proponents. Esquire’s PR people, who decided that “our” theory was the high point of the issue, used it as the lead in their press release. The New York Times carried the story. I called Epstein, who told me that he was well aware that Jones Harris was the theory’s original proponent and that he had discussed the theory with Harris, but, Epstein said, Harris had refused to allow his name to be used and had suggested us as alternate proponents. Reinhardt then called Esquire, requesting that the release be changed, and the magazine amended to its original release, after a fashion: “proponent” was redefined to mean one who believes a theory should be investigated but does not necessarily believe the theory to be true.
Shortly after Epstein’s article appeared, an RCA public-relations executive—the only man in this long saga whose name I cannot recall—called to suggest that the Nix film might yield up its secrets if it were electronically scanned by devices which RCA had developed for the U.S. government. Reinhardt and I were eager for RCA to do the work. The executive attempted to get RCA clearance, but RCA found the project too controversial.