Friday, June 26, 2009

Lens of the Father

(Via Amanda Emily)
Pergola and Son
Handing down a passion is tricky business, but James V. "Smiling Jimmy" Pergola seemed to do it with ease. Maybe that's because the famed Pathe News cameraman was so consumed himself. From the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping to the the Detroit auto strikes to the Cuban revolution, this son of Italian immigrants dragged his glass through every sensation the dirty Thirties had to offer. Along the way he gained a reputation as a fierce but fair competitor, one who wasn't above bringing his boy to work. Sadly that tutelage was cut short when the legendary lenslinger boarded a United Airlines flight to do a story on the safety of Transcontinental flight. A powerful blizzard forced the plane off course; it crashed into Utah's Hayden Peak and Pergola perished with the rest of the passengers and crew. Still, his words of wisdom weren't lost on his son James, who grew up to enjoy a 45 year career as a cameraman on feature films and television. But don't take my word for it. Hear it from the grown up son - who spells out his legacy here.

And you just bought your Dad a card for Father's Day.


Amanda Emily said...

As I mentioned I had on Twitter, the details on the Indy 500 incident that made Pergola famous among his peers.

Its a long story, but I'll paraphrase it here.

Oh, he was called Jimmy, not Jim per a couple people I have talked to who knew him in person and remember him.

On to the Indy 500 incident:

Pergola was assigned to cover the 1933 Indy 500 race. When he got to Indianapolis, his contact man (field producer) neglected to arrange for Pergola's press credentials to the race. So Pergola was put into the spot in which he had to sweet talk his way past the gates. Showing up with a big green sound news truck and a telegram from the Pathe offices in New York also helped a bit in his plea to the gatekeeper.

After setting up at a "good" location, a cop showed up and demanded Pergola's credentials, which he did not have of course. Pergola was forced to move from his spot to what he at the time considered a poor spot to shoot from.

The spot Pergola was forced to move to happened to be right near the track where five cars ended up colliding, killing two people.

Pergola caught it all on film as the crash played out before his lens - and shared the footage with his competitors.

Just Me said...

Jimmy Pergola is being added to the Newseum's Journalists Memorial in Washington DC. Anybody knows how to contact his surviving relatives to let them know?

Amanda said...

@Just Me - send me an email at I have the Pergola's contact information in my notes and can forward it to you.