Kennedy’s Assassination: How LIFE Brought the Zapruder Film to Light

Fifty years after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, TIME and LIFE present the story of how editor Richard Stolley flew to Dallas from Los Angeles within hours of the murder; how he tracked down a 58-year-old amateur-film buff named Abraham Zapruder; how he purchased Zapruder’s home movie of the assassination for LIFE magazine — and what all of that ultimately came to mean for LIFE, for Zapruder, for Stolley himself and for the nation, then and now.

It’s unlikely that any 26 seconds of celluloid have ever been discussed and dissected as thoroughly as the chilling scene that Zapruder captured that day in Dallas, in a movie known ever after as “the Zapruder film.” The jittery color sequence showing JFK’s motorcade moving through the sunlit Dallas streets — leading up to the utterly shocking instant when a rifle bullet slams into the president’s head — is still, five decades later, one of the 20th century’s indispensable historical records.

(See more key frames from the Zapruder film on LIFE.com)

Having flown from L.A. that afternoon, Stolley was in his hotel in Dallas just hours after the president was shot. “I got a phone call from a LIFE freelancer in Dallas named Patsy Swank,” Stolley recently told TIME producer Vaughn Wallace, “and the news she had was absolutely electrifying.  She said that a businessman had taken an eight-millimeter camera out to Dealey Plaza and photographed the assassination. I said, ‘What’s his name?’ She said, ‘[The reporter who told her the news] didn’t spell it out, but I’ll tell you how he pronounced it.  It was Zapruder.’

“I picked up the Dallas phone book and literally ran my finger down the Z’s, and it jumped out at me — the name spelled exactly the way Patsy had pronounced it. Zapruder, comma, Abraham.”

Related: Creating Camelot: Jacques Lowe’s rare look at the Kennedy family

Related Topics: , , , , , , , , , ,

Latest Posts

CHICAGO, IL. USA. September 2014Chicago police officers look for evidence after four people were hit as they stood in the parking lot of a Pizza Hut at 67th Street and Stony Island Avenue around 10:40 p.m. Monday Aug 25. A 16-year-old girl was shot in the thigh; a woman, 22, was wounded in the neck; another woman, 18, suffered a graze wound to the stomach; and a man, 26, was shot in the leg. Nobody died from their injuries ( Photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz)

Photojournalism Daily: Dec. 8, 2014

Photojournalism Daily is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Read More
Spanish Riding School performs in Amsterdam

The Best Pictures of the of the Week: Nov. 28 – Dec. 5.

Cadets

Face to Face with Europe’s Military Cadets

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 20,293 other followers