Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film

Image of Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film
Release Date: 
November 14, 2016
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In this nonfiction work, the granddaughter of the late Abraham Zapruder relates the circumstances surrounding the filming of President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, TX. For the first time, we can read not only the history of what we know as the Zapuder Film, but also how the entire family of Abraham Zapruder bore the burdens of his twenty-six second film.  

With access to family documents and exclusive interviews, Alexandra Zapruder presents a stunning history of the film. While doing so, she also weaves into the narrative the emotions experienced by her grandparents and her father who was also deeply involved in the saga. 

With the assistance of Dallas Secret Service personnel, the film Mr. Zapruder took on November 22, 1963, of the assassination of JFK, was developed and a copy made. Traumatized by the event he became more upset while watching it with his family that evening. In those first hours after the assassination, he was contacted by Richard Stolley of the Life magazine organization. Thus, she describes how very quickly a trusting relationship developed between her grandfather and Stolley.

From the outset, Mr. Zapruder was conflicted about what he should do with the film. He was sure of one thing; he didn’t want the murder of his president exploited over and over again by the callous use of his film. Stolley and Life magazine gave him assurance that they would handle his film with care. As they talked, he came to believe that Life magazine provided a life line, an escape for him from the responsibility he felt for protecting the film from an unscrupulous media.

His anxiety only increased as reporters and representatives of various media organizations mobbed his office. According to the author, they were a pack of rude, brash, pushy, aggressive, and insensitive men, Dan Rather of CBS prominent among them.

Abe was secured inside his office with Stolley. They talked about how Life would handle publication rights. Outside his office, a howling mob of reporters had flooded his factory some pounding on his office door, demanding access. Very agitated by the situation, Abe finally said to Stolley,

“Let’s get it done.”

Quickly though, Abe realized that before the clamor would cease and a semblance of sanity restored for him, his place of business, and his family he had to also sell all the rights to the film. Life magazine agreed on the spot. A deal was struck. The firestorm seemed to be over.

And thus, what came to be known as The Zapruder Film, began a twenty-two-year journey in the care of Life magazine. Kept from public view by its owners, it still created storm waves of controversy.

Analysis of the film in 1964 destroyed the conclusions of FBI Report of December 1963, and seriously challenged the Warren Commission conclusions of September 1964. And ever since, bootlegged copies of the film were used by conspiracy theorists time and again to prove or disprove theories of the assassination.

During this twenty-two-year period, Life was attacked in the rival press and sued in court for its refusal to share the film with the public and other news organizations. Finally, in 1975, tired of the controversy, the Time-Life organization returned complete ownership to the Zapruder estate for the sum of one dollar.

Shortly thereafter, the Zapruder Estate signed over the copyright to the Sixth-Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza, in Dallas, TX.

Alexandra Zapruder’s work is a personal yet scholarly effort helpful to anyone interested in looking at the broader aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. Through her work, she has revealed another victim of the murder, her family. She recounts a comment made by her grandfather, Abraham Zapruder,

“The film created a wound to the Zapruder family that would never heal.”