NEWS NEWS AND MORE NEWS I am going to get all of my memories down, before I forget what I remember!. . . . quote from Stanley Forman

26Aug/122

Roland Oxton, The Man Who Was The King!!!

Fir­ing Squad! Cap­ture of a perp in Boston’s South End, late 60s or early 70s, Roland Oxton Photo.

Rol­lie Oxton, Pulitzer Prize Win­ner, my hero, men­tor, friend and I got to work with him at the old Record Amer­i­can where I started in this busi­ness.  Rol­lie was the King of his era. He cruised the streets of Boston for parts of 3 decades, always there when it happened.

Recently I made con­tact with his son David, the head of the art depart­ment at the Gov­er­nor Dum­mer School in Byfield, MA. We have exchanged emails and now I get a chance to dis­play some of his great images and talk about my hero.

When I was a kid grow­ing up out­side of Boston (Revere) and news­pa­pers were an impor­tant sta­ple of our lives, I got to see Rollie’s pho­tos all the time. I would look at news­pa­per and day­dream about being able to stay up all night and chase police­men, fire­fight­ers and be where the action was, just like him.  Once when I was with my father rid­ing in down­town Boston I saw him cruis­ing wear­ing his trade­mark hat. I was thrilled to have got­ten a glimpse of him.

In 1966 I got to join the paper where Rol­lie worked.  He was a God in the indus­try. If Danny Shee­han of the Globe was Cap­tain Mid­night, Rol­lie was King Mid­night. Globe peo­ple might dis­agree with me but I think Rol­lie almost always had the best pic­tures. They were great work friends and great com­peti­tors. Every­one knew and liked him. He knew them all, police, fire­fight­ers, pimps, pros­ti­tutes and a lot of the street peo­ple.  Some­times when I got to work his overnight shift dri­ving around in the marked com­pany car peo­ple would yell out “where is Rollie?”

Most of the other news pho­tog­ra­phers were in awe of him and every­one had a Rol­lie story about his great­ness. Ollie Noo­nan, Jr., another great Boston pho­tog­ra­pher who died in Viet­nam in a heli­copter crash while work­ing for AP had a great Rol­lie story. Ollie was work­ing the overnight shift for the Globe and responded to a build­ing fire on Com­mon­wealth Ave., in the Back Bay. There was fire show­ing and a woman was on a bal­cony wait­ing to be res­cued.  He looked around and no Rol­lie.  Wow, he thought he was finally going to beat the Mas­ter. Then the fire depart­ment throws their lad­der to res­cue the woman and who is stand­ing next to him, Rol­lie. It just did not hap­pen unless Rol­lie was there.

Boston Fire­fighter Mike King yelling for help at a Boston Fire, 1970s.

When I began Rol­lie was using a Mam­i­flex 120mm film cam­era.  A machine shop had set up an adapter on the side of his cam­era, which gave he a tooth­pick like han­dle to maneu­ver. This han­dle would snap into grooves on the adapter. Each groove was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of focus feet for the lens as most of the pho­tog­ra­phers from the 4/5 era zoned focused never focus­ing through the viewfinder. It must have worked, as his images were sharp as a tack.

He took so many great news pho­tos, and he could do any­thing there was to do with the cam­era but his best stuff was break­ing news. The day after the ter­ri­ble Sherry Bilt­more Hotel fire in 1963 he had a wrap around photo on the cover of the paper show­ing mul­ti­ple lad­ders up to the build­ing and peo­ple being res­cued while oth­ers had their hands out the win­dows hop­ing to be saved.  The Sherry Bilt­more Hotel was at 150 Mass Ave approx­i­mately where the Berklee Col­lege of Music now stands.

I haunted him, beg­ging to be able to ride with him and like myself he would rather be by him­self.  I was relent­less in my request and started show­ing up on Wednes­day and Sat­ur­day nights hop­ing to ride with him.  Some­times he would let me in the car and other times he would say “not tonight.”

Brighton mur­der vic­tim on Royce Road. Roland Oxton Photo

One Sun­day morn­ing we were cruis­ing through the Back Bay near Here­ford Street with me bab­bling and Rol­lie lis­ten­ing to the radios when he yells out Royce Road, Royce Road, I think it is in Brighton but please look it up.

We were there in about 8 min­utes; Rol­lie jumps out of the car, cir­cles the para­me­ter as I am still try­ing to get a shot and says lets go. I did not think he took a good photo but next day there it is a great shot of the body in front of the police cruis­ers headlights.

In the late 50s or early 60s, Rol­lie was assigned to take some pho­tos of the home­less and street peo­ple hang­ing around the Boston Com­mon. He took a photo of a per­son sup­pos­edly drunk on a park bench with empty bot­tles of liquor around her.  Albert “Dap­per” O’Neil a local politi­cian found out the photo might have been set up and took on the Record Amer­i­can. He set up at their Winthrop Square build­ing in down­town Boston. Dap­per had a car with signs and a mega­phone stand­ing in the mid­dle of the Square shout­ing out nasty’s about the paper.

Fully involved build­ing fire, 50s or 60s. Roland Oxton Photo

I worked the photo lab for many years on Sat­ur­day morn­ing and brought him in a cof­fee every week. One Sat­ur­day I walked in around 730 and told him there was a big fire on Tremont Street, the C. Craw­ford Hol­lidge Depart­ment Store was fully involved. It was oppo­site the Boston Com­mon, he cursed as he ran out know­ing he had been by there shortly before he came to the office. He must have been at the fire ten min­utes, took a cou­ple of pho­tos, came back and owned page one.

One night after some civil unrest in the City I was assigned to ride with him so he would not be alone. We were dri­ving around the South End and some­one made a deroga­tory remark to him. Rol­lie got out of the car and had a con­ver­sa­tion with the man as I stayed in my seat think­ing we were going to get shot or some­thing. He feared nothing.

Up close and per­sonal is the way Rol­lie work­ing, as close as you could get to the fire and before yel­low tape. Roland Oxton Photo

Later in the overnight there was a fire in Rox­bury. We both went and my pho­tos sucked. I was tired and shot noth­ing of any inter­est. He took a cou­ple of his images and put my name on the cap­tion sheet so I would not look foolish.

This is from an orig­i­nal clip I have. David Oxton pieced it together via Pho­to­shop. Roland Oxton Photo.

 

The morn­ing after the Guilded Cage explo­sion Jan­u­ary of 1966, on Boyl­ston Street in Boston’s “Com­bat Zone” he came into the office at the end of his overnight shift and the edi­tor, Sam Born­stein asked him if he had any­thing good and Rol­lie replied no. He printed one photo, an over­all of the destruc­tion; another wrap around and Sam could not believe Rol­lie said he did not have any­thing very good.

Boston Fire­fighter Paul Stan­ley work­ing of a rope from Lad­der 15 res­cues a woman from the Charles River. They set up on the Mass Ave. Bridge for the res­cue, early 70s. FF Stan­ley retired this year and his last day on the job work­ing on Res­cue Two had a maas­sive fire in East Boston. Roland Oxton Photo

Rol­lie did not get excited over many of his pho­tos but the one of Paul Stan­ley res­cu­ing a woman from the Charles River really turned him on and another one where sev­eral Boston Cops cap­tured a sus­pect with their guns drawn from the oppo­site side of a fence he enjoyed.

On another occa­sion he comes back from his shift and prints a photo of a car fire on the Xway but this time he had the car explod­ing and peo­ple includ­ing fire­fight­ers run­ning from the wreck­age.  He left a short cap­tion and went home.  As soon as the edi­tors saw it they were on the phone to him ask­ing for more infor­ma­tion, he was so hum­ble about his skills.

In the late 60s there was a short-lived riot on Blue Hill Avenue in Rox­bury. It began with the tak­ing over of a cou­ple of wel­fare offices and ended with a group of angry folks run­ning down Blue Hill Ave from Grove Hall destroy­ing many mom and pop busi­ness who never recov­ered. Rol­lie was asked to start his shift early incase some­thing hap­pened and of course it did not hap­pen till he got there.

He also knew how to make nice fea­ture pho­tos and got many good sun­rise pho­tos around Cas­tle Island of morn­ing fish­er­men.  He worked Sun­days so he did many Easter Sun­rise Ser­vices. Another beau­ti­ful photo he made was a push­cart per­son mov­ing his equip­ment into place early one morn­ing. He knew how to use what­ever light there was or they wasn’t. He could do it all.

I was finally able to track down the photo of my sis­ter Louise hang­ing a stock­ing above a fire­place. My mother’s fam­ily recently had a get together, and it prompted me to search for some of the places she lived in Somerville, Cam­bridge and Brook­line area before mov­ing to Nahant. One of the loca­tions was Perry Street, which is the loca­tion where the photo of my sis­ter hang­ing the stock­ing was shot. The cou­ple who now own the house invited us inside to look around, and I viewed the liv­ing room where that photo was made. Inter­est­ingly, the fire­place man­tel, which looks like dark wood in my father’s old photo, is now restored to it’s orig­i­nal con­di­tion — and it is actu­ally con­structed of a light col­ored mar­ble. I’m guess­ing the old hol­i­day photo of my sis­ter was shot around 1948. I stud­ied the photo care­fully and real­ized that my father seems to have lit the photo with a light placed in the fire­place. I had always assumed that the strong light on my sis­ter was pro­vided by fire­light. It’s a great shot, and I can see why it became so pop­u­lar. David Oxton Description.

Rol­lie had made a pic­ture of his old­est daugh­ter Louise in front of the fire­place at Christ­mas time when she was very young. A beau­ti­fully lite photo with the Xmas stock­ing hang­ing and the fire­place going.  The funny thing about this photo it resur­faced every dozen or so years with a dif­fer­ent name around Christ­mas time and always got a great display.

Roland Oxton & Stan­ley For­man, Boston Press Pho­tog­ra­phers Awards Din­ner, 1978.  Rol­lie  & I share in the team Pulitzer for Fea­ture in 1979 in our cov­er­age for the Her­ald in the “Bliz­zard of 78.”

 

After Rol­lie retired I would see him and his wife at the Dunkin Donut at Bell’s Cir­cle in Revere. It was a real treat for me and I hope for him. He died in 1984. Rol­lie is buried in the ceme­tery oppo­site the Nahant Police Sta­tion.  He must still be lis­ten­ing to police calls.

His son David added some his­tory for this blog and many pho­tos of which I hope are prop­erly dis­played, as he was the best.   

My father served in the US Army dur­ing WWII and was in both Europe and Japan. He was a mem­ber of the photo corps. While in Japan, he had his own Jeep and it had the words Mar­ion Louise writ­ten on the side (the first names of my mother and old­est sis­ter). My father died in Octo­ber 1984. He was 73. He was born and grew up in Chelsea. He only attended school until the 6th grade. His father died that year, and he went out to work to help sup­port his mother.

Please visit David’s web­site and Rollie’s grand­son Timothy’s websites.

http://davidoxton.com/

 

http://vimeo.com/timoxton

Fol­low­ing are sev­eral more pho­tos and mem­o­ries of Rol­lie.  This blog was writ­ten with won­der­ful thoughts and memories. 

Roland Oxton, Archie New­man, Gene Dixon, John Lan­ders Jr., on the set as extras for the Brinks’ Movie late 60s or early 70s.

Leo Tier­ney, Archie New­man, Roland Oxton, Dan Shee­han at the BPPA Awards Din­ner and Rol­lie hold­ing the Rams­dell Tro­phy which he won 5 times.

 

In Dorch­ester there is a Rox­ton Street and one night Rol­lie and I went there so he could send a photo to his son Ronald who was serv­ing in the Army.

 

In 1979 I wrote a let­ter to Roland on his retire­ment. David Oxton sent me a copy dur­ing our recent cor­re­spon­dence. 33 years later and I still had the same mem­o­ries and thoughts although I had for­got­ten about this later.

 

Rol­lie in Winter!

 

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Very nice arti­cle. David is my cousin and is a great pho­tog­ra­pher him­self. So glad to hear such nice words about my uncle. Funny story. Rol­lie took a pic­ture of my par­ents at the alter get­ting mar­ried and in order to get it posted in the paper he had the cap­tion say they were going to hon­ey­moon in Paris. They really went to Nia­gra Falls.

  2. It’s really a cool and help­ful piece of infor­ma­tion.
    I am sat­is­fied that you shared this help­ful info with us.

    Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.


Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.