Biography of Filmmaker Abraham Zapruder Part 2

About the man who filmed the JFK assassination Abraham Zapruder, history and biography of the filmmaker.


Abraham Zapruder (1904-1970)

A more reliable witness, the camera, capable of splitting the event into fractions of a second, saw it this way: President Kennedy's Lincoln turned onto Elm Street. The President and First Lady smiled and waved at the spectators along the curb. Suddenly Mrs. Kennedy looked concernedly at her husband (frame 204). As bystander sitting on a wall jerked his head toward Dealey Plaza (frame 207). The limousine slipped behind a street sign (frame 210) and emerged nearly a second later (frame 225), as Kennedy was grabbing for his throat and slumping toward his wife. About a half-second later, Texas Gov. John Connally, sitting in front of the President, fell forward (frame 235). Four seconds later a fatal bullet visibly struck and exploded the President's head (frame 313). The impact sent him backward and spun him to his left into his wife's arms. With her face twisted by shock, she rose up and climbed onto the trunk of the car to reach Secret Service Agent Clinton J. Hill, who pushed her back into the seat. And the limousine disappeared into the underpass (frame 377) on its way to Parkland Hospital, where John F. Kennedy would be pronounced dead an hour later, at 1:33 P.M. (C.S.T.).

Abraham Zapruder had inadvertently captured the crime of the century. He would no longer simply be the president of Jennifer Juniors, makers of ladies' garments; he would be the man who filmed the President's assassination. Two other bystanders, Mary Muchmore and Orville Nix, also filmed the tragedy, but their footage, less complete and unenhanced by telephoto magnification, lacked the dramatic impact of Zapruder's 15-second movie.

By establishing his camera's exact film speed--18.3 frames a second--criminologists were able to piece together a reconstruction of the assassination. Zapruder's film was perhaps the most important exhibit in the Warren Commission's investigation, as well as in the investigations of those who opposed the commission's findings.

It was the only piece of evidence that introduced the strong possibility of a second assassin, because it showed clearly that (1) Kennedy and Connally were hit by separate bullets fired within a second of each other, a feat impossible with Lee Harvey Oswald's bolt-action rifle; and that (2) Kennedy's head jerked backwards after he was hit by a second bullet, indicating that the shot could not have been fired from the Book Depository. Because Zapruder's film hinted strongly of a conspiracy against the President, it was later used as evidence in the Clay Shaw trial in New Orleans.

After the FBI made copies of the film, Zapruder sold the original to Time-Life, Inc., for $25,000 and donated the entire amount to the Firemen's and Policemen's Benevolent Fund. Time-Life later turned the film over to the National Archives. The camera became an exhibit at Bell and Howell's film archive.

Abraham Zapruder died of cancer at 66, in Dallas on Aug. 30, 1970. But his film will continue to burn the scene of a now familiar tragedy on the retina of history.

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