At 26 seconds long, it may be the most famous short film of all time. The Zapruder film, which captured the moment of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination has been analyzed and viewed by millions since it was made on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.
Abraham Zapruder merely wanted to watch the presidential motorcade passing through Dealey Plaza when his assistant suggested that he bring along his new film camera.
Fifty-four years ago this month, Abraham’s granddaughter, Alexandra, reveals the complete story of her grandfather’s film and what it meant for the family in her new book “Twenty-six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film.”
Zapruder will discuss this fascinating story, answer questions and hold a book signing session starting at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield Township.
“I grew up in a family that didn’t really talk a lot about the film,” Zapruder said in an interview. “It was a painful memory for my parents and my grandparents. It wasn’t until after my father died that I started thinking about all the family records, and the people who were close to my father and grandparents, and others who were connected in one way or another to the life of the film.
“I’m a writer of history so it was interesting from that point of view, but as I began to educate myself on the life of the film, I began to realize how much was missing from the public story because our family had been so resistant to talking about it,” she continued. “It quickly became more than just my own effort to gather these materials and put this together, because of the bigger story that needed to be told.”
Intended as a home movie of President Kennedy’s motorcade, Zapruder’s film of the JFK assassination is now part of history. And what was lost in all of the speculation surrounding that day is the effect it had on Americans at the time.
My grandfather was very distraught and was approached by a reporter at Dealey Plaza who asked for the film, but my grandfather told him that he needed to get it to the federal authorities,” Zapruder said. “It was the head of the Secret Service who came to my grandfather’s office. They had it developed but the Secret Service didn’t take the film, leaving it with my grandfather, so he was responsible for figuring out what to do with it.”
Zapruder said her grandfather struggled with the aftermath of what he saw through the lens but also because her grandparents “loved President Kennedy.”
“Like everyone else in the nation he was devastated by what happened,” she said. “He was heartbroken. And this really isn’t something you want to be known for, let alone famous for.”
In the course of piecing the book together, Zapruder said she learned quite a bit about not only those 26 seconds but what happened after that tragic day in Dallas.
“This was first and foremost a home movie and very personal to my grandfather,” said Zapruder, whose first book “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust,” is a historic collection of actual diaries written during the Holocaust. “He was concerned with how it was handled, and the discretion and respect for the Kennedy family was paramount. Over the years that had to be balanced with the public’s need and desire to see the film.”
Life Magazine bought the film the day after the assassination, but returned it to the family in 1975.
“So it was my grandfather’s responsibility to figure out how people should handle it and that whole story was incredibly interesting to me and there was so much more there than I ever suspected,” Zapruder said.
While this certainly is a personal story, Zapruder made a point to “tackle it as honestly and forthrightfully as I could in terms of all the difficult issues the film has raised over the years.”
• If you go: 66th annual Jewish Book Fair runs Nov. 2-12 at Jewish Community Center, 6600 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield Twp. For a complete list of guests, visit jccdet.org/arts-culture-education/book-fair. Book Most fair events are free. Registration is recommended for ticketed events. Purchase tickets online, via phone by calling 248-661-1900 or in person at The Berman Ticket Office. Seats for Book Fair patrons will be held until 15 minutes before start time.