This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Harris wanted Hoffman to analyze the key frames of our original film, hoping to be able to firmly establish the existence of the rifleman. If the UPI-owned Nix film bore out Harris’s theories, it would obviously be worth a lot of money. Reinhardt and I cooperated. We produced the original so that Bernie Hoffman could make the best possible reproductions. As the custodian of the original, I worked through the winter of 1965-66 with Hoffman and Harris in Hoffman’s photo lab, searching with them for the frame that would prove, once and for all, that there was a man with a gun on the grassy knoll, where no man was supposed to be, as well as a car parked where no car was meant to be parked.
As both man and car seemed to emerge, I began to wonder how safe the three of us were. From the start, Harris had believed that some part of the government’s investigative apparatus was covering up. Certainly the malevolent powers that had executed John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald and then covered up their crimes would be able to reach me as I walked the deserted streets of midtown Manhattan with the tiny roll of eight-millimeter film clasped tightly in my had. But each night I reached home safely, the film intact.
At last Hoffman finished. He had gone as far as he could. Harris had his picture. They were interesting enough to justify UPI’s sending Jack Fox, one of our best reporters, to Dallas. He wrote, and our wire service carried, a story which said that there might have been a rifleman on the knoll—although the shadowy figure might equally well be “a brown cow grazing.”
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.