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One-On-One: Art Shay

For the last several decades, his photographs have brilliantly captured the defining moments in our city's history. In this special one-on-one interview, Chicago Stories host John Callaway and legendary photographer Art Shay discuss the stories behind the pictures. The interview is punctuated with some of Shay's most memorable photographs.

Art Shay survived 29 bombing missions over Germany during World War II before becoming one of America's premier photojournalists, shooting thousands of memorable pictures for Time, Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and countless other publications. His new book Album for an Age not only confirms him as a world class photographer, but also reveals him to be a remarkable writer and storyteller. In this Chicago Stories, Shay discusses his experiences covering The Mob, countless celebrities and politicians, and tragic moments in Chicago history. Callaway also explores Shay's family life, and the tragic murder of his son.

An excerpt from Album for an Age
From Album for an Age
Copyright 2000 by Art Shay
Ivan R. Dee, Publisher

The manuscript of Some Came Running was over a foot thick. I photographed James Jones, then, like me and my Life writer Roy Rowan, in his mid-thirties. Jones proudly hefted the ultimate flop of a movie in the workroom of his farmhouse in southern Illinois. I preferred the shot of his lunging at me with one of his twenty-seven hunting knives.

"I got $750,000 for it," he said over and over again. "Much more than for From Here to Eternity—including movie rights. Later he told Rowan and me, "You know, I had sex with all the women in Eternity except Deborah Kerr—and most of the men." That would have included Montgomery Clift. Not the kind of information a family publication like Life would have used in those days.

Jones's mentor, Lowney Handy, stood at his side proudly nodding. She was in her early fifties, busty, sly, and so fond of Jimmy. Basking in the tolerant smile and shrug of her rich and loving husband, Lowney ran a nearby writer's colony for young postwar novelists. Jimmy was her prize, but she made no bones about loving the world of young writers. "Every Friday night I send Jimmy into Terre Haute across the river to play sandwich with two cute whores," Lowney told us. "He gets drunk there, rolls around with the girls, then comes back here ready to write another week." One of the pictures Life ran showed Jones drunk, hanging on a lamppost outside the Terre Haute brothel.

Lowney Handy hinted that occasionally she was extremely close to her boarders. "I like to mother the boys," she said. "It's what writers need."

That night Jones hosted a party for some of the colony members. "Lowney's reading manuscript back at the colony," Jones said. "I got these teachers coming in. You gonna see some real action."

Rowan and I socialized with the young ladies but were more interested in Jones's behavior, specifically in watching how the stud qualities he continually broached would work out as Life picture coverage. We watched Jones like two of the night owls coursing the prairie outside. He went to the john twice, made a flat-out proposition to one of the teachers, was playfully rebuffed, danced a few times, and played some of his beloved Django Reinhardt guitar records. His sex score: zip!

When the other guests had gone, Jones dragged us to the kitchen table.

"I screwed the small one three times," he said, shaking his head in awe of his own performance. He leaned toward Rowan and me. "This is what I like best about parties, getting together with some buddies afterward, to talk about what happened. That's why I'm never getting married. Here we are, three men of the world in our mid-thirties---let me ask you guys something. Did either one of you ever try it dog-fashion?"

Rowan and I exchanged fleeting glances speaking reams in both directions. Here was a guy obsessed with sex, who had made a fortune putting Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster on that famous beach making love with the tide coming in...This guy who had what we judged to be a lusty writing coach...And here he was asking us a kindergarten question about sex!

"What're you gonna do next?" I asked Jones before we left.

"Either go hiking along the Great Divide," he said. "Or learn skin diving in the Bahamas."

"Could I go as photographer?" I pitched.

"Sure," said Jones.

"Would you mind if I got an assignment for us from Sports Illustrated?" I asked. "With an advance?"

"Better and better," he said.

I called Sports Illustrated's managing editor Dick Johnston, an old friend, and put Jones on. After a few minutes Jones hung up and put his hand out. "They've already got something on the Great Divide. We're goin' to skin-diving school, buddy. Let's get some scuba stuff and charge Sports Illustrated."

The Jones story had a strange codicil for me. Some months later Jones phoned me to say, "Hey, I met Marilyn Monroe's stand-in down in the Bahamas—;Gloria Mosselino—and we got married. Now we're getting ready to move to Europe." He invited me and my wife to his farewell party on New York City's upper west side. Florence and I went to the party, which was held around an open steamer trunk that dominated the living room. Periodically Jones or Gloria would stuff something into the trunk. Adolph Green and Betty Comden sat with their little chihuahua who doggedly and (to me) disgustingly kissed both of them on their lips, begging for food morsels. The show people sang and cracked wise. Jimmy took my picture ("like Upton Sinclair taught me") until I got better, and if I got to Paris with my friends Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir, to call him for a party. We could bring Sartre and Camus. Lots of alcohol flowed.

"You look like Scott and Zelda," I said as we parted.

"Yes, yes," Jones yelled. "That's who we are. Scott and Zelda." They left in the morning to live and breed in Paris. He sent me a couple of picture postcards, a manual on starving yourself into health&—and I never saw them again.

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