I abandoned everything to work for Arnold Newman. In that respect, I was no different than all of his previous studio managers and darkroom printers. In the process, I broke a promise to myself. I had vowed upon graduating from NYU that I would not run back to New York, instead I would explore the West. But as soon as I spoke with Arnold by phone, and heard his enthusiasm and urgency, I was ready to hop on a plane to New York, even if my chances of landing the job were 1 in 10. As soon as my plane landed, I rushed to 67th street for an "interview." I never told Arnold that I was so eager, I arrived 35 minutes early and had to retreat to a nearby café for coffee. Wearing my best -- a pair of pin-stripped slacks -- I went to the bathroom to freshen up and upon exiting, I found the bottoms of my pants were drenched in bleach from the bathroom floor. So I went to Arnold's studio with pinned up pants, luckily it was August, so capri pants were in style. Zeroing in on my personal traits and not my appearance, Arnold interviewed me in the same cross-examination style I later saw him "interrogate" some 100 people (that was on four separate occasions, as, Arnold "went through" 5 printers in the eight months I worked for him, finally finding his best and his last – Kenneth).
If you have never been "interviewed" by Arnold, I can assure you that it was epic, strange and at the time a bit intimidating. He never asked you what you might expect. The first question that often stumped people was simply: "Are you single?" Many job applicants would venture into long, personal, complicated anecdotes. "Well I was dating someone and living with her, but we broke up because…." In fact, what Arnold wanted to know was whether you were married, as in love as he was with Gus and more importantly whether someone would ever expect you to come home early. The second question that took most of us by surprise was "Do you have your license, followed by have you gotten into any accidents?" But the best question by far was, "Are you good with tools?" Somehow I passed the oral quiz and Arnold hired me on the spot. Then, without any hesitation he immediately put me to work.
"If you want your stomach to sink – read this" Arnold hands me an ACLU envelope that reads "In America, no one -- not even the President -- is above the ''s limits and no one is beneath the ''s protections." Opening the mail was both Arnold's and my favorite part of the day. Usually it arrived conveniently at Arnold's snack time (doctor's order) – which was at 4 p.m. sharp. While I had the privilege of carefully slitting each envelope with the studio letter opener, which I imagined had lived at 39 W. 67th street since the 1950s, Arnold would begin to sip his coke and eat his sugar-free, diabetes-friendly shortbread cookies. I learned quickly not to discard a single piece of mail, even if it was offensive, pornographic junk. Arnold read every single piece of printed material, and what I looked forward to most was his commentary. I often scribbled his sarcastic thoughts in my notebook and on special occasions, I would save the postcards with photographs that inspired Arnold to say "Photography is now a dive" (that was on September 29th 2005) or "Everything is imitation these days." (which was on September 20th 2005) Such moments were history in my mind.
Arnold's last official shoot:
On December 19th 2005, Arnold photographed Jimmy Burrows and it held particular significance. At 10am sharp we arrived at the NBC Studio, security was strict and taxing. Arnold, humble as always, wore his nametag with pride – humoring us, pretending that he was just some stock photographer, yet the oldest mensch around. In the Saturday Night Live studio, Arnold photographed Mr. Burrows, Abe Burrows' son. Arnold had photographed Abe several times and had always been fond of him as a person and as a professional. While the SNL crew was setting up for the week's show, Arnold took over. The SNL staff rapidly became his crew and the studio his terrain, dolleys were moved, lights were set up, with Arnold orchestrating it all and singing tunes from Guys and Dolls – while sharing yarns about the entertainment industry and the Jewish characters of his time who had changed their names such as Abram Solman Borowitz. As you all know, Arnold was both a historian and a storyteller.