Stolley tells how he obtained film of JFK assassination

Dick Stolley speaks to cherubs July 13. Photo by Dan Waldman.

Dick Stolley speaks to cherubs about his work reporting on the JFK assassination. Photo by Dan Waldman.

Dick Stolley, founding managing editor of PEOPLE Magazine, highlighted his coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the events that followed. Stolley, who was working at Life magazine when Kennedy was killed, spoke to the cherubs at the McCormick Foundation Center Forum.

Stolley, 87, discussed how he obtained Abraham Zapruder’s film, the only footage of the 1963 murder of the president. He described the competition among reporters seeking the film and how he got it by building a strong relationship with Zapruder.

Ethan Fore said Stolley’s talk was fascinating because of how close he was to the events after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination.

“Hearing that story from someone who was alive and didn’t watch it, but experienced the aftermath and reported on it, was incredible,” Fore said.

Brian Meller echoed Fore.

“It was very inspirational because he was there in one of the most important events in U.S. history,” Meller said. “It was really cool to hear from him because you can always watch in a documentary and see it. But asking them direct questions and thinking about their answers, it just adds a different level.”

“It made me think about how in tragic situations, how I would act, and it made me think more about the profession,” Haley Weller said.

Jordan Miller said she learned valuable lessons from the talk, including the need to cultivate good, strong relationships with sources.

“He was able to be nice about it, and that’s what ended up getting him the big break with the tape,” Miller said.

Stolley talked about not only his persistence with Zapruder, from whom he obtained the exclusive film, but also his persistence in talking to the family of Lee Harvey Oswald just hours after the event.

The assassination wasn’t all Stolley discussed. Stolley talked about working as a journalist in Dallas immediately following Kennedy’s death and his long career as the founding managing editor of PEOPLE magazine. He said the publication’s mission was to cover “Ordinary people doing extraordinary things and extraordinary people doing ordinary things.”

Meller said he was impressed by the longevity of Stolley’s career and said he learned journalists had to adapt because news was unpredictable.

“Even though it was the defining moment in his career, he had a very long and successful career, so he had other things he could talk about and was very interested in talking to us,” Meller said. “I learned that you never really know when something big is going to happen. It can happen whenever.”