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The only known recording of Robert Capa

“Bob Capa Tells of Photographic Experiences Abroad” was broadcast on October 20, 1947 on the 8.30am morning radio show "Hi! Jinx." The interview was part of the press relations surrounding the publication of Slightly Out of Focus, his autobiographical novel chronicling his adventures during World War II published by Henry Holt and Company that year.
“Hi! Jinx” was national program on NBC radio that started in 1946 by Jinx Falkenburg and Tex McCrary. The husband and wife team were pioneers of what became to be called the talk show format.
This recording is the only known recording of Robert Capa.

October 20, 1947, 8:30 am at the morning radio show “Hi! Jinx.”

Tex McCrary (T) : Warscapes, more tight spots than any person alive and a lot of everyone is living. Well, now, Bob, you are on, and incidentally, you can’t talk with a cigarette in your mouth. That’s tough. You are on, but tell me, the last time we met you were strictly a photographer but now, after reading your new book, Slightly Out of Focus – that’s the title of the book I repeat, that’s not a literary criticism of the book, Slightly Out of Focus is the title. You stopped being just a photographer, you’ve become a writer as well. How do you feel about this new life of yours?

Robert Capa (C) : Oh, Tex, I don’t know, I can tell you that when my book came out fortunately, I wasn’t here, so I wasn’t sweating at it at all. I was in Moscow, and I was up at the embassy, and looking through the papers, I found New York Times, the daily Times, which had a fairly big review, which I read through about two or three times and couldn’t make up my mind, if it was favorable or not. So I went home with it, there John Steinbeck, with whom I was travelling, kind of was looking at my pains.

T: He’s had a lot of experience reading reviews of his books, how did he feel about the review of your book?

C: Oh, he said first that if I want to be any intelligent or something like that, I should not read them. So I got ashamed, and then I went usually to the bathroom to re-read my review.

T: For the fifth and sixth time….

C: Yes, he was disapproving of the whole thing.

Jinx Falkenburg (J): But you liked that first review that was in the New York Daily Times, Bob?

C: No, I couldn’t make up my mind, he was patting me on the back and kicking me some other place. But then … we left shortly after, and when we got to Prague, I wanted to buy every American newspaper, sure enough, eager for other kind of information and little bit seeing if my book is in it. So I found Time Magazine and as my terrific surprise Time Magazine was kind of favorable. Was saying things…

T: Well, I thought you are one of the family a little bit.

C: Yeah, but they like to be mean to the family.

T: Oh, that’s true, it’s true.

J: So, you felt better in Prague that you had in Moscow.

C: Oh, in Prague I was sure, that now I made it. But for that I had to run down to Budapest, and there I found other magazine, which again, e-ee, said, that the pictures were terrific, but as a writer I was frivolous.

T: Oh.. (Giggles)

C: So, then flying home, again there, I found the Sunday Herald Tribune, which said that I was just like a kind of miniature Goya, or something like that, that made me feel terribly well…

T: It said you were great.

C: Oh, terribly great, and I was in every respect all right. But unfortunately I bought the Times again, and it was the Sunday Times reviewer, who declared, that I was about the dullest man he ever read.

T: (Giggles)

J: Oh, how awful! I hope you kept reading the Tribune!

C: No, what happened to me, I haven’t seen a review since then.

J: You haven’t.

C: No.

T: In other words, now you are taking John Steinbeck’s advice. Incidentally I understand that he … we won’t name the hotel where you worked, but I understand that he got you out of bed this morning, cooked your breakfast. Does he do that every morning?

C: Oh, he is writing very hard on the Russian trip, and we work kind of together, he gets up early and cooks breakfast, can’t deny that.

J: Is John Steinbeck a good cook?

C: Yeah, he is a very good cook. He can make soft-boiled eggs in three and a half minutes.

J and T: (both giggle)

T: That’s very good. But now let’s back to the story you were shooting in Russia and by shooting I mean photography, I don’t mean being shot at or shooting at somebody….

J: Yes, let’s back about the trip and find out about the trip.

T: How was it working in Russia? I mean we, on this side of the Iron Curtain, Bob, we got an idea that you have got sixteen guys with guns looking over your shoulder every time you take a step and then you have to battle censors to get anything through. What is it like working with the camera on the other side of the Iron Curtain?

C: You see, you said already twice Iron Curtain, and I don’t know, I do think the main Iron Curtain is a kind of pocket Iron Curtain; everybody is carrying it at his own head. The other Iron Curtain, I don’t know. It does exist a little bit, maybe as borders are concerned, but I didn’t have much trouble.

T: You mean you shot whatever you wanted to, and had no trouble with censorship?

C: Oh, this never happens that way, you know that.

T: Oh, no, I was gonna say that’s too perfect.

C: But, I was last winter in Turkey, to shoot a movie for March of Time, certainly it was a country, which was supposed to be friendlier disposed than Russia, and I had all interest too that I get that picture through, and I had certainly more difficulties to shoot in Turkey than I had in Russia.

T: Well, how would you compare working under American press censure during the war and Russia today?

C: Er, now this is again something very different, and I would not compare, I just brought up Turkey for no other reason than to say that there are different parts of the world where cameras and press was always a kind of taboo, and more east you get, less they like you with a camera, for many, many reasons, and most of them no good.

J: But Bob, you said you didn’t even have the correct papers to cover all the cameras and film that you took with you on your trip to Russia.

C: I had none really because we just applied for our visas, here, in New York, and were in Paris when we got them. Kind of from one day to the other, we could not go to the consulate to get some special papers, and we figured that our airplane would put us down at Moscow airport, there will be some kind of, if not red carpet, but some small carpet laid out on which I can bring in my film. The way how it happened, we came in from Stockholm and our airplane came down in Leningrad for custom inspection, and I had two Russians came into the plane, open every suitcase and ask what is that, and I said film, and then he said harasho, and they said what’s that and I said more film, and he said nu, and I said da, and then looked again and thinks I had flashbulbs, and I said nu da, and he closed everything…

J: (interrupts) And that meant are all right and you could come into Russia with your film and…

C: (interrupts) Yeah, and then we got to the Moscow airfields we found no carpet of any color, indeed, nobody asked for a passport, or anything, but nobody was there even to take us to town. So we hitchhiked in, for four days nobody even realized that we were there, we were sleeping in borrowed beds in Hotel Metropol. After that, we kind of got somebody who came along with us, and when we asked that we wanted to go to Stalingrad then we got to Stalingrad, and when we said we wanted to see Georgia, we went to Georgia, this whole thing was a great surprise to us and everybody else.

J: But I should think because you and John Steinbeck were shooting pictures and writing a story for the Herald Tribune and also a book, that they would’ve planned your trip, even the Herald Tribune office in Moscow would have arranged your moves.

C: Well, you are overestimating the influence of established American newspaper in Moscow, because unfortunately for themselves, they cannot do anything like that, so they were rather, and rightly, jealous of our trip. I think it had much to do with, maybe, Steinbeck’s reputation, and, maybe, very much to do that we said from the beginning what we wanted to do, which was a very simple thing, that we just wanted to, not to go into politics, but see how those people live, and we said that we are going to write and photograph everything what we see, that we are not going to be favorable or unfavorable from the beginning, but we never promised that we are going to, not to say something what we want to say for or against them. Now, somehow they trusted that attitude much more than people who go in saying that they are terribly favorable and become professionally unfavorable at the moment I get out.

T: Tell me how did have much trouble getting your film out, what happened when you brought out your negatives back?

C: Oh, that was a funny story, because you see, during that whole time I was trying to get a decision on censorship, and I never was told if I can bring those films out uncensored, developed, undeveloped, etc. The very last day before we left suddenly I got a telephone call to turn all my films in, to censorship. So, young man came, I gave him my films, and I was really unhappy for 24 hours. Next morning on the airfield the young man came back and he had a box and the box had strings around it, and a plombe on it.

J: What on it?

C: A plombe, you know…

T: A seal.

C: A seal.

J: Oh.

C: And they said, this seal you need for the border, so you cannot take it off, on the border, someone will take it off of your films. So I was flying that plane with that sealed box in my hand, they didn’t tell me they cut something out or not. They didn’t tell me there are films in it or sand, so I shook the box, I kind of weighted it figuring, is it the same weight than it was before and I was really sweating. In Kiev they took off the seal, and when the plane took off again in the air, I began to drag all those three thousand negatives to try to find out what was missing.

J: And you found that film was in there, they hadn’t replaced your film with sand.

C: No, no, they haven’t replaced, and most of it was in, indeed very little was missing, and rather unimportant ones, I think just to…

T: To prove that they could censor it.

C: Yeah, you know how censors are.

T: I certainly do.

J: Well, Tex and Bob Capa, here is a story that no censor would wanna kill and I wanna to tell you about it right now. Tex did you ever have Severin coffee in anyone else’s home?

T: Sure, Jinx, lots of times, why?

J: Well, wasn’t it just as rich and good as it is when we have it at home?

T: I’d love you gonna say when you make it. Of course it was, Jinx, but where are you driving at?

J: Well, I am just proving, that no matter who makes Severin coffee is always richer tasting, and that’s because Severin is richer tasting coffee.

C: You see this is a cagey question, because you never know, if you have a prize picture or not. Because when you shoot, nearly every picture is the same to you, and the prize picture is born in the imagination of editors and the public who sees them. I had once one picture which was appreciated much more than the other ones, and I certainly did not know when I shot it. It was a specially good picture. It happened in Spain. It was very much at the beginning of my career as a photographer, and very much at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. And war was kind of romantic, if you can see anything like that.

J: No, I can’t.

C: It was there, because it was in Andalusia, and those people were very green, they were not soldiers, they were dying every minute with the great gestures. They figured that was really for liberty, the right kind of fight, and they were enthused, and I was there in the trench, with about twenty milicianos, and those twenty milicianos had twenty old rifles, and on the other hill facing us, was a Franco machine gun. So my milicianos were shooting in the direction of that machine gun for five minutes, and then stood out and said “vámonos”, get out from the trench, and began to go after that machine gun. Sure enough the machine gun opened up and moved them down. So what was left of them came back and again take potshots in the direction of the machine gun which certainly was clever enough not to answer, and after five minutes again they said “vámonos”, and they got moved on again. This thing repeated itself about three or four times, so at fourth time I just kind of put my camera above my head, and even didn’t look and clicked a picture, when they moved over the trench. And that was all. I didn’t develop my pictures there, and I sent my pictures back with lot of other pictures what I took. I stayed in Spain for three months, and when I came back I was a very famous photographer, because that camera which I hold above my head just caught a man at the moment when he was shot.

T: That was a great picture.

C: That was probably the best picture I ever took. I never saw the picture in the frame, because the camera was far above my head.

T: Of course there’s one condition that you’ve got to create yourself Bob, in order to get a lucky picture like that, you gotta spend a lot of time in trenches.

C: Yeah, this habit I would like to lose.

T: Yeah, I remember seeing you after you’d spent a lot of time in trenches in two or three ends of the last war, and somehow you never managed to lose the habit for very long.

C: I won’t lose the habit, I hope that other people will lose the habit to create those trenches.

T: M-hm. Yeah, I know what you mean. But Bob, while we’re talking about the beginning of your career, I think, let’s go back to the thing that John Hersey said about you, that you are the man who invented yourself. Can you tell us that story?

C: Yes, I just would like to say that a little bit is John Hersey who invented the man who invented himself, or something like that, you see, there are so many inventions going around about me that I rather let the impression going around, that all of them are true that will confuse everybody.

T: Ah the man of mystery.

J: You mean we’re not gonna get this true story from you, Bob Capa?

C: Oh, John wrote it already, and it’s kind of corny kind of story, because sure enough I had a name, which was a little bit different from Bob Capa, that was long time ago, in Paris, around 1934-1935, and that real name of mine was not too good, you know, it was a young man, kind of just as foolish as I am now, but younger, and on my old name I couldn’t get assignment anymore. And I kind of decided that that moment that it’s time for me to be a working man, a great photographer, etc., and I needed a new name very badly.

J: What was your old name?

C: Oh, it’s way embarrassing for me to say something there, it began with André, and it was Friedmann, that two of them hang together, let’s discard it for the minute.

J: All right.

C: So I was figuring on a new one, and I figured, that something like Robert would sound very American because that was how somebody had to sound, and figured Capa again sounding as American or something, and figured it is easy to pronounce, so Bob Capa sounded like a good name to me, and then I invented that Bob Capa was a famous American photographer who came over to Europe and did not wanted to bother with the French editors, because they didn’t pay enough. And that was a period when lot of news happened in France, Front populaire came, strikes, etc., so I just sneaked in with my little Leica, took some pictures and put Bob Capa on it, which we sold for double prices.

T: So you went around, selling the work of a non-existent cameraman…

C: Oh, I was known as his dark room man.

T: Ah, I see, you were his dark room man, the mysterious Bob Capa.

C: Yeah, then one day it got discovered, since then I stayed on to be Bob Capa, and this kept quite comfortable.

J: You just decided to stick to the name because you liked the American sounding Bob.

T: And now you came to America, I mean when you picked an American name, or had you been here before.

C: No, no, my family was here then already, but I hadn’t. So, I came shortly after that to legalize my name. But, Bob is something different, I knew Robert, but I didn’t know that Robert is Bob. Would I have known that, I don’t know.

J: And even your brother, who is now a very good photographer for Life Magazine, his last name is Capa too.

C: Ah, yeah, he couldn’t do anything about it, but he kept his first name, which is funny.

J: Cornell?

C: Yeah.

J: I think that’s a very funny name, it’s a good name.

T: It comes over very well because it’s a name of an American college.

C: I don’t know if that makes him happy…

T: We’ll start to call you Harvard Capa for the rest of this program, Bob.

C: Huu!

T: Look now, we are getting some good stories out of you, but there is another one I’ve heard, a legend, about a well-known general and how you made him miss his Thanksgiving dinner. That happened in England before I got there and I’ve always wanted to know the true story.

C: Guess you were lucky because you became P.R.O. of the Air force just about one month after that thing happened. It was in 1942, when the Air force just got over to England, and I went out to Cheltenham, it was, to take pictures of the first Fortresses going over to Europe. You remember, at that time flying conditions were bad, we didn’t have much experience, so mostly, we were staying indoors in a nice English mud, briefed in the morning, and never flew. And, that’s when I got introduced to poker.

J: Poker?! The game of cards?

C: No, the game of skill.

J: Oh…(giggles)

T: A game of chance.

C: No, no. It’s a game of skill.

T: O.K.

J: All right, poker.

C: The manly art of self-destruction, how we called it. Anyway, those boys had lot of new things, like “high and low,” and “red dog,” and “bishop’s wife” and things like that which I never heard about, and I was losing my expense account quite freely. The games usually lasted until early in the morning, and one morning when it looked all right to take off, I went out with the boys and took some pictures. And, those pictures somehow went through the censor without any kind of censorship, because I didn’t see anything what would have been objectionable in it. One of them said there is a little black thing which I don’t know anything about it, in the nose, but it’s, it looks all right. So, about next week an English magazine wanted to reprint my pictures, and put on the cover that beautiful shot where I had a young man standing, the nose of the Fortress behind him, and the little black thing in the nose. Unfortunately the little black thing turned out to be the secret bombsight, and that day was Thanksgiving Day, and the King invited General Eaker and General Spaatz, who had to leave that dinner, and I was terribly much in disgrace for a long time, indeed, more than that.

J: You mean you held up general Eaker’s and Spaatz’s dinner with the King of England?

C: I had done that, and I got court-marshalled, and I got court-marshalled on the way that I became a legal war correspondent. But for this story everybody will pay 3.50 dollars for it’s in my book.

J: That’s a good idea. I’m glad. You shouldn’t tell every bit of the stories, Bob, because they are so good, you should just tell the beginning and then everyone will have to buy your book Slightly Out of Focus, the name, and get the rest of the story.

C: Oh, yeah, good friends, we are plugging like crazy here.

J: And how I love that name! Slightly Out of Focus. And Tex, you wanted to call something just “Focus”.

T: Oh, that’s another story too. But now, while we are getting stories, Bob, I think there is a very good story that I’d like to get without having to read your book again, the story about the last man killed in the war and the picture you took of that.

C: Oh, yes. That was in … just before Leipzig. It was obvious that the war was just about being over because we knew that the Russians were already in Berlin and that we had to stop shortly after taking Leipzig. And we got into Leipzig after some fight, just had to cross one more bridge. The Germans put up some resistance, so we couldn’t cross, and that was a big apartment building, which overlooked that bridge, so I figured I am going to get up on the last floor, then I will get a nice picture of Leipzig or something, in the last minutes of fight. So, I climbed up four floors and I got in a nice bourgeois apartment, where on the balcony was a very nice young man, a young sergeant who put up a heavy machine gun to cover the crossing. And, he was first putting up this machine gun in the window, but it was not comfy enough, so he just moved out on the open balcony and put up that heavy machine gun. I came out there too, and kind of looked at him to take a picture of him, but, god, the war was over, who wanted to see one more picture of somebody shooting. We’ve been doing that same picture now for four years and everybody wanted something different. By the time this picture would have reached New York anyway, probably, the headline would have been “Peace”. So it made no sense whatsoever. But, he looked so clean-cut, he was one of the men who looked like if it would be the first day of the war, he still was earnest about it. So I said, all right, this will be my last picture of war, and I put my camera, and took a portrait shot of him. And while I shot my portrait of him, from two yards, he got killed by a sniper. That was a very clean, somehow very beautiful death, and I think that’s what I remember most from this war.

J: And that was the last, you think, probably the last man killed during the official war.

C: That’s right. I am sure, that there were many last men who were killed, but, he was the last man maybe in our sector, and was just about the real end of the war.

T: Certainly a picture of the uselessness of war.

C: Very much. For me it was certainly a picture to kind of remember because I knew that the day after we would, will begin to forget. So it was a kind of clean definition that he was the last, who will not forget the war.

T: Well, Bob Capa, we’re gonna try to get you back on this program again and again. I know you are talking with John Steinbeck at the Herald Tribune forum this week, but we wanna get in our invitation now to come back whenever you can wake up this early in the morning.

J: Yes, and remember, that everyone can read these stories and more in Bob Capa’s book, Slightly Out of Focus and the stories of Russia they’ll have to wait for John Steinbeck’s book.

T: And Bob Capa’s pictures. Thank you very much, Bob Capa.