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Abraham Zapruder (May 15, 1905 – August 30, 1970) was an American manufacturer of women's clothing best known for his home movie documenting the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
Zapruder was born on May 15, 1905, into a Russian Jewish family, in the city of Kovel, the Russian Empire. He received only four years of formal education in Russia. In 1920, amid the turmoil of the Russian Civil War, his family emigrated to the United States, settling in Brooklyn, New York. Studying English at night, he found work as a clothing pattern maker in Manhattan's garment district. He and his wife Lillian (1913–1993) married in 1933 and had two children.
In 1941, Zapruder moved to Dallas to work for Nardis, a local sportswear company. He was first listed in the Dallas telephone directory in either 1948 or 1949. In 1949 he co-founded Jennifer Juniors, Inc., producing the Chalet and Jennifer Juniors brands. His offices were in the Dal-Tex Building, directly across the street east of the Texas School Book Depository.
At the time of the assassination, Zapruder was an admirer of President Kennedy and considered himself a Democrat. Not originally intending to bring his camera to work in order to film the motorcade, Zapruder, at the insistence of his assistant, retrieved it from home before going to Dealey Plaza.
The camera was an 8 mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series Model 414 PD—top of the line when it was purchased in 1962. Zapruder waited atop a concrete pedestal along Elm Street, his receptionist Marilyn Sitzman prepared to steady him from behind, and began filming as the President's limousine turned onto Elm Street in front of the Book Depository. The next 26.6 seconds were captured on 486 frames of Kodak Kodachrome II safety film.
Walking back to his office amid the confusion following the shots, Zapruder encountered The Dallas Morning News reporter Harry McCormick, who was acquainted with Agent Forrest Sorrels of the Secret Service's Dallas office. McCormick offered to bring Sorrels to Zapruder's office. Zapruder continued to his office where he sent his assistant Lillian Rogers to find a Secret Service agent, in case McCormick failed to find Sorrels. McCormick did find Sorrels, outside the Sheriff's office at Main and Houston, and together they went to Zapruder's office.
Zapruder agreed to give the film to Sorrels on the condition it would be used only for investigation of the assassination. The group took the film to the television station WFAA to be developed.
After it was realized that WFAA was unable to develop Zapruder's footage, in the late afternoon it was taken to Eastman Kodak's Dallas processing plant where it was immediately developed. Because under the Kodachrome process different equipment is required for duplication than for simple development, around 6:30 p.m. the developed original was taken to the Jamieson Film Company, where three additional copies were exposed; these were returned to Kodak around 8 p.m. for processing. Zapruder kept the original, plus one copy, and gave the other two copies to Sorrels, who sent them to Secret Service headquarters in Washington.
While at WFAA, Zapruder described on live television what he had seen:
JAY WATSON (Station WFAA Dallas): [...] And would you tell us your story please, sir?
ABRAHAM ZAPRUDER: I got out in, uh, about a half-hour earlier to get a good spot to shoot some pictures. And I found a spot, one of these concrete blocks they have down near that park, near the underpass. And I got on top there, there was another girl from my office, she was right behind me. And as I was shooting, as the President was coming down from Houston Street making his turn, it was about a half-way down there, I heard a shot, and he slumped to the side, like this. Then I heard another shot or two, I couldn't say it was one or two, and I saw his head practically open up [places fingers of right hand to right side of head in a narrow cone, over his right ear], all blood and everything, and I kept on shooting. That's about all, I'm just sick, I can't…
WATSON: I think that pretty well expresses the entire feelings of the whole world.
ZAPRUDER: Terrible, terrible.
WATSON: You have the film in your camera, we'll try to get...
ZAPRUDER: Yes, I brought it on the studio, now.
WATSON: We'll try to get that processed and have it as soon as possible.
Late that evening, Zapruder was contacted at home by Richard Stolley, an editor at Life magazine (and first editor of the future People magazine). They arranged to meet the following morning to view the film, after which Zapruder sold the print rights to Life magazine for $50,000. Stolley was representing Time/Life on behalf of Publisher Charles Douglas Jackson. The following day (November 24), Life purchased all rights to the film for a total of $150,000 (an inflation adjusted equivalent of about $1.125 million in 2013). Zapruder gave the first $25,000, about $187,000 in 2013 dollars, to the widow of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit, who was murdered on the same day as President Kennedy.
The night after the assassination, Zapruder is said to have had a nightmare in which he saw a booth in Times Square advertising "See the President's head explode!" He determined that, while he was willing to make money from the film, he did not want the public to see the full horror of what he had seen. Therefore, a condition of the sale to Life was that frame 313, showing the fatal shot, would be withheld. Although he made a profit from selling the film, he was so disturbed by the nightmare he had filmed that he did not keep a copy. He never owned or used another camera again.
On November 22, United States PRS Special Agent Maxwell D. Phillips sent a hand-written memo to Secret Service head James Rowley, stating that, "According to Mr Zapruder the position of the assassin was behind Mr Zapruder." But in his testimony to the Warren Commission Zapruder was less certain:
LIEBELER: Did you form any opinion about the direction from which the shots came by the sound, or were you just upset by the thing you had seen?
ZAPRUDER: No, there was too much reverberation. There was an echo which gave me a sound all over. In other words that square is kind of — it had a sound all over.
Zapruder added that he had assumed the shots came from behind him because the President's head went backwards from the fatal shot, and because police officers ran to the area behind Zapruder.