This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
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.
At this point—around Christmas 1966—I was, again, about to give up. Then I saw a preview screening of Antonioni’s Blow-Up. As I watched actor David Hemmings studying frame after frame of his roll of film on which he thinks he has caught a murder in progress, I was back in the developing room at Bernie Hoffman’s lab, waiting for the one clear frame to emerge. When Hemmings returned to the park where he had shot his film, I made up my mind to give the Nix film one last try.
I called the RCA man and asked if there were any other companies that could electronically scan the film. He mentioned two: General Electric and Itek. Afraid that General Electric, like RCA, would shy away from the project on the ground that it was too controversial, I decided to try Itek, a firm I had never heard of. It was on Route 128, outside of Boston, the RCA man told me.
Our Boston cameraman set up an appointment with Howard Sprague, assistant to Itek’s president Franklin T. Lindsay. I flew to Boston. Sprague told me that he was very interested in the film and said that Itek would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate publicly the sophisticated techniques it had developed for classified use. Itek would publish its findings; UPI would, I hoped, finally find out just how important our film was.