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|| News Item: Posted 1999-09-27

Leading Off: My Afternoon With Louie
By Robert Hanashiro

It was one of those usual assignments... the sports picture editor said "I need an EP (that's picture editor-speak for the dreaded "environmental portrait") of this old guy and here's the address."

Photo by Robert Hanashiro

Photo by Robert Hanashiro
After looking at the location I thought: "Hey, that's great. Just 5 minutes from my favorite dim sum joint in C'town. This will take 10 minutes to shoot and I'll be having dumplings by noon!"

But Louis Zamperini is anything but "usual" as I found out. My "10 minute EP shoot" turned into a 3 hours visit and a reminder of why I got into this business.

I showed up at Louis' office at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church loaded down with my Norman strobe kit, softboxes, stands and camera bag around 11am. I didn't leave until well after 2pm.

You see, Louie can tell a story. And they're ones you want to hear.

I learned that Louie, a high school phenom in the mile, was a member of the 1936 Olympic Team that also included Jesse Owens.

He told me about Owens. And about finishing 8th in the Olympic 5000 meters. And also about meeting Adolph Hitler.

He told me stories about running track for USC. And also about moving into a neighborhood in Torrance that didn't want Italians living there and how his family won everyone over.

I also learned his bomber was shot down in the Pacific Theater on May 27, 1943 during WWII and after 47 days adrift at sea, spent the next two years a POW of the Japanese.

Photo by
But he didn't dwell on that. He told me about meeting and going out with actress Esther Williams and being featured in a cartoon in "MAD" magazine.

He showed me the largest scrapbook I've ever seen. And snapshots of old races he'd won. He showed me his film collection of WWII movies. And he proudly told me about his children who are in the television and movie industry.

And during this time I never set up my Normans. Never took the softboxes or grid spots out of their cases. I just kept shooting as he talked... using just available light.

Before I knew it, over two hours had past and they weren't serving dim sum any more at Ocean Seafood down in Chinatown. And I didn't care.

I knew that I had overstayed my welcome in Louie's memory filled office. But he never ask "are you finished" or "how many more pictures are you going to take?" I finally broke down and hauled out one light and shot the EP I was assigned when Louie pulled out one of the large pages from his scrapbook to show me something.

But I knew the best things I had on the pc cards (that's right, I shot all digital) were the images taken while he talked. And while he remembered his life. And enlightened mine.

Louie's run in 6 Olympic Torch relays, including last year in Nagano, Japan. He's visited the land of his captors several times and he says in his heart he has forgiven the Japanese. I wish we all could be so benevolent.

Louis Zamperini will be in Australia next fall. I hope I run into him somewhere in Sydney. I know a great dim sum place there too.

(Note: Nicolas Cage has signed to make a bio-film of Zamperini's life. Tony Curtis was slated to play Louie in a movie in 1956, but it was never made. Let's hope this one gets made.)

* * *

This month's issue of Sports Shooter is very special. It marks the start of two series that should interest most of our readers. Sydney Morning Herald staffer Tim Clayton will be writing occasional stories for us as we countdown to the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia.

Tim will be giving us not only the skinny on the Olympic planning but also on life and having fun in Sydney.

If you've worked any length of time in this business, you've had some physical problems, whether it's been with your back, neck or knees. Los Angeles-based photographer Sam Mircovich will be sharing his knowledge on keeping fit in a series of articles over the next several months. This month's installment is part one on keeping your muscles fit to avoid those nagging strains and pulls that can happen when you lift a 600mm and have to run down the sidelines chasing Jerry Rice.

This month also marks the return of Cpt. Ron, who is resuming his travel tips column after a two-month hiatus during which he was running a covert operation somewhere he won't say (if he told you, he'd have to kill you).

And of course, we have much, much more!

So sit back, adjust the contrast on your monitor, turn down that Van Halen CD (the one with David Lee Roth, not that wuss Sammy Hagar!) and enjoy Sports Shooter v.12.

Robert Hanashiro
Sports Shooter

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