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|| News Item: Posted 2005-10-29

Jerry Cooke: 'A Gentleman Photographer'
Legendary Sports Illustrated staff photographer and director of photography dies at 84

By Brad Mangin,

Photo by Jerry Cooke

Photo by Jerry Cooke
Legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Jerry Cooke died on Thursday, October 27, 2005 at the age of 84.

"It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of legendary Sports Illustrated photographer and former Director of Photography Jerry Cooke," said current Sports Illustrated Director of Photography Steve Fine in an email he sent to his staff on Friday morning.

"For more than half a century, you couldn't attend a Kentucky Derby or an Olympics without running into Jerry at the finish line. Some of his more notable pictures include Cathy Rigby on the balance beam, Bobby Fischer pondering his next move, and Bob Hayes winning the 100 at the 1964 Olympics," Fine said.

"He had 47 covers for this magazine (his first was Oct. 11, 1954) but his work also appeared in Life, Time, Fortune, National Geographic and Paris Match. His photographs are in permanent collections in museums in the US and Europe," Fine added.

"Jerry has been a friend of mine for 45 years. I just saw him a month ago in his home in East Hampton, Long Island," said Neil Leifer on Friday night. Leifer got to know Cooke in 1960 when Leifer first started shooting regularly for Sports Illustrated.

"Jerry was the closest thing to James Bond that the photography world has ever seen. He was a world traveler. He spoke five languages fluently: German, French, Italian, Russian and English. He could cover an event wearing a sports coat and slacks. He never got dirty. He was a gentleman photographer," Leifer added.

"I learned how to be comfortable from Jerry. He taught me how to check into a first class hotel. He was a very strong influence on me. He taught me things you don't learn in school," Leifer said.

Cooke was one of the first people Fine worked with at Sports Illustrated in the late 1970's. "He was one of my earliest influences. We lost an icon, a legend, a character and an incredible photographer. He put his mark on photojournalism and was a terrific guy to hang out with," Fine said on Friday night.

Cooke was born in Russia in 1922, emigrated to the U.S. in 1939 and started taking pictures in 1940. Cooke came to New York in 1939 and went to school for a while. His aunt was one of the founders of an agency called Pix, and through her he got to know many photographers. At Pix he worked in the darkroom as an assistant. Then his aunt loaned him a small Rolleiflex and he started taking some pictures. Then he evolved into a photographer.

Photo by Jerry Cooke

Photo by Jerry Cooke
When he was 18 or 19 years old and attending Columbia, Cooke took an aptitude test and the verdict they came out that he was best suited to be an actor, which he thought was pretty funny. And the second choice they came up was a lawyer.

One of his first assignments for Life magazine was photographing rats that had invaded the city of Buffalo. Cooke got a picture of a rat that had its tail caught in a trap and was about to bite it off as he arrived on the scene in a farm shed. That was the lead picture in the story.

Later in his career Cooke became very involved in ASMP, becoming the president in 1951. During this time Cooke was very active in the negotiations ASMP had with many of the magazines trying to improve day rates and photographers rights.

"Jerry understood that this is a business. He was a wonderful photographer and a very good businessman. I learned a lot from Jerry. He was quite comfortable financially because of his strong business sense. When you traveled with Jerry he spent more time on the phone with his stockbroker than his editor," said Leifer.

Cooke had six or eight of the first 20 covers of Sports Illustrated, because it started in the fall in 1954 and there were certain sports that they couldn't get at, like football; it was too late. The magazine had to use last year's stuff, or whatever they could get their hands on. Those were all pictures Cooke took for Life.

When he was Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated, Cooke was responsible for bringing aboard a few young photographers from Los Angeles: Richard Mackson and Peter Read Miller.

"He was a funny guy. He was very kind and helpful," said Peter Read Miller. "Cooke was the Director of Photography when I first started working for the magazine. We worked together during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. We covered gymnastics. He had a great eye for things- I really respected him as a photographer."

"Born Yuri Peter George Kutschuk in Odessa, Ukraine in a sugar refinery owned by his grandfather, Jerry was 84 when he died on Thursday. Many of us owe our start in the business to him. He will be sorely missed," concluded Fine.

"Jerry loved taking pictures. He was very good at it," reflected Leifer while taking about his longtime friend.

"Don't worry Steve, I got the finish line," is what Cooke always told Fine at the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, in May of 2006 the Run for the Roses will have to be run without the Gentleman Photographer.

To see an online tribute to Jerry Cooke please visit this link:

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