Patrick Michels
Dick the Editor makes way for Joe the Plumber.

McCain and Obama, As Seen Against the Book Depository Wall

Plenty of debate watch parties sprung up around Dallas last night, but one of the most intriguing was the one at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza -- the museum built around on the spot where Oswald took shots at Kennedy. (Oh -- or not.)

As a newcomer to Dallas, it struck me as an odd place for a party about choosing our next president. The night kicked off with a talk from Richard Stolley, the Life editor who uncovered the Zapruder film. Then, a break for wine and cheese. Finally, the debate itself, shown on a screen against the old book depository's brick wall. Out the window beside McCain and Obama all night, that familiar view down Elm Street.

Makes you wonder what kind of drinking games went down at Ford's Theatre last night.

Well, the timing was purely coincidental, museum curator Gary Mack told Unfair Park. The Stolley talk was scheduled months ago, long before the debate schedule was set, Mack said. Stolley had been booked to accompany the museum's "Filming Kennedy" exhibit, which closes this week. "It was either cancel the thing to accommodate the debate, or figure out a way to do both," he said.

So the curator audibled and gave Joe the Plumber a little screen time after Dick the Editor's hour on stage.

Stolley gamely related how he tracked down Abraham Zapruder in a Dallas phone book and bought the film for Life -- then fought everyone from Jim Garrison to a young Geraldo Rivera to protect the magazine's rights to it. Eventually, Stolley said, Time, Inc., took a dollar to sell the footage back to the Zapruder family, who turned around and sold it to the government for $16 million.

After an audience member asked Stolley how often he's approached by Kennedy researchers with questions, he told them, "That all depends on your definition of a researcher." Pulling a letter from his jacket, Stolley shared this little gem of a flame mail he got after Life's early coverage from Dallas (He warms up with an Oliver Stone story, too:

Stolley chuckled when asked if he thought he'd ever be best known for anything but uncovering the film. "There's one thing, we journalists always write our obituaries," he said. "In life and death, I think the Zapruder film will always be with me." --Patrick Michels

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