Remarks by Marvin Korman at the Arnold Newman Memorial, February 2007
I don't suppose any of us here will ever be without the presence of Arnold Newman. If we hear a piece of music by Stravinsky, surely Arnold's wonderful image of the open grand piano with Stravinsky's head barely visible in the lower left-hand corner will be there in our mind's eye. When we see a Picasso painting at MoMA, we are likely to envision one of Arnold's iconic images of the great Spanish master. Whenever the monumental personalities of the last half of the 20th century are discussed -- whether they are in the arts, entertainment, government or the sciences -- there is an Arnold Newman image to enrich it.
The amazing thing to me is that Arnold was the least affected celebrity I ever knew. He could have been your accountant, your doctor, your old college professor, your 'yer or barber or bank teller. Albeit a very literate, well-read, politically-savvy, intellectually-curious accountant, doctor, 'yer, bank teller! In spite of the fact that he had become one of the most admired and honored photographers whose singular images of the rich and famous had brought him recognition throughout the world, he never changed from being the kid from Atlantic City who wanted to be a painter. Whether he was talking about the quality of Zabar's smoked salmon, or the time he photographed Mondrian, or a meeting he had just come from with the French consul, or the success or failure of the Miami University football team – whatever -- he never changed his tone or demeanor. He was always Arnold – warm, loquacious, funny, human.
I first met Arnold in 1975. I was working at Columbia Pictures where one of my responsibilities then was to prepare the company's annual report. That year, a new management team had taken over and I thought it would make sense to feature them in the report. What I didn't want was a series of dull head shots – I wanted to show them in action, in their environment, so to speak. I explained this to Steve Elliot who was one of the principals of Elliot, Unger & Elliot, the commercials division of Columbia. Steve had been a fashion photographer before he became a cinematographer. I figured he would know a good "still" photographer who could do the job.
"You need Arnold Newman," he said.
"Yeah . . . but . . . he's may be too good for this crowd."
"Here's his number. Call him. I promise he wont bite you."
So I did – and he didn't bite me. He was the easiest person I ever talked to. No pretense. No airs. And fun.
Arnold sent me a copy of one of his books so I could show my bosses what they were getting into. The portraits of David Ben Gurion, Alfred Krupp, Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Carl Sandburg, Zero Mostel, Eleanor Roosevelt – literally blew them away. But, remember these guys were tough "movie moguls." I was concerned whether gentle Arnold Newman could handle them.
The first of these men to be photographed was Alan Hirschfield, the president of the company. When we walked into his office, he announced – without looking up from the papers on his desk, that we had 15 minutes – maybe 20.
Courageously, I spoke up: "Alan, that's not fair. Mr. Newman needs to set up his lighting, he needs to arrange the shot. And we agreed, you were going to give him at least an hour."
But Hirschfield was unmoved. He was used to paparazzi clicking on the run.
"15 minutes it is," he said.
"But . . . Mr. Newman needs . . . "
At this point, Arnold interrupted. "It's OK. If 15 minutes is all we have, we'll manage. Why don't you leave us now and we'll call you when we're done."
I went back to my office, angry and disappointed – and certain that my nice annual report would start with a blurry, bar mitzvah-like snapshot of our president.
Fifteen minutes came and went, and then a half hour and then an hour. I couldn't wait any longer. I went back to Hirschfield's office, knocked on the door, waited a half second and went in. Arnold and his assistant at the time were packing up their gear, and Arnold was telling Hirschfield the funny story about the time Picasso made a pass at his dear wife, Augusta. Hirschfield had his jacket off and his sleeves rolled up and was opening the draperies of one of the windows that had been closed during the shoot. I noticed, too, that the objects on his desk had been rearranged, and that a box containing a 35mm film reel somehow was now in a prominent position on the desk, and a copy of Weekly Variety was on a chair next to it.
The 15 minutes had become . . . well, more than an hour. Somehow, Alan Hirschfield, the tough movie mogul, had succumbed to the charm of the kid from Atlantic City.
The rest of the sessions – including the ones involving the studio executives in Hollywood -- were a piece of cake, and the 1975 annual report was a beaut!
There was one incident involving this project, however, that Arnold never let me forget. On the flight to Los Angeles, as was my custom, I brought my own sandwich -- even though we were flying first class. (I hated airline food – then and now.)
It was a corned beef sandwich from the Carnegie Deli. Arnold didn't seem to mind until I asked the stewardess for a glass of milk. To Arnold, a glass of milk with a corned beef sandwich was unconscionable, outrageous, un-American -- and a stigma that would live with me for the next 32 years. Imagine being introduced to Isaac Stern at one of Arnold's and Augusta's gatherings, in that wonderful apartment on 67th Street, with these words: "Oh, Isaac, meet Marvin Korman. He's not a bad fellow but would you believe it, we were once on a plane together and he brought his own pastrami sandwich -- and then had the gall to order a glass of milk to go with it! Can you imagine?"
You will notice that it wasn't bad enough that it was a corned beef sandwich – it had, over the years, become pastrami. I guess that only heightened the wickedness of my deed. Arnold took great pleasure in that story – and like most of his stories he told it over and over and over again.
I will miss hearing it – and I will continue to miss Arnold.