JFK funeral, Cassius Clay knockout, Beatles' arrival: Iconic photographer reflects on work

Bob Gomel's career began with brother's near-fatal accident

By Tera Roberson - Special Projects Producer

HOUSTON - He covered the funerals of Presidents Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. He was there the night Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight boxing champion.

And a quick stroll through Bob Gomel’s Memorial Home feels like a walk back in time to some of the greatest moments in history.

“These are the four lads, when they came to America,” said Gomel, referring to a picture of the Beatles. “We were in a private residence because the word was out they were there and we couldn’t work. There were just fans galore.”

Gomel said he and the guys spent the rest of that day hanging out at the beach.

But Gomel’s career didn't begin with celebrities.

It was chronicling his brother’s recovery after a near-fatal car accident that started it all for this self-taught photographer from the Bronx.

The female passenger riding with Gomel’s brother’s died, and the brother had to have a lung removed.

Gomel was there, camera in hand, to document it all.

“I was recording everything, and then months later, I realized it was my appointment with the picture editor of LIFE, and I hadn’t done anything except this family in crisis. And I brought him the contact sheets to show,” Gomel said.

“They offered me ($2,000) for the first look at this completed story,” he said. “Two thousand dollars to me was like winning the sweepstakes!”

From there, Gomel found himself up close and personal with celebrities.

Among his favorites: Cassius Clay.

Arnold Palmer, Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy also caught his eye.

But it was a tragedy that shocked the nation that still sticks out in his mind as his most memorable.

“I suppose first and foremost has to be the assassination of John Kennedy and the funeral that followed,” Gomel said. “My job was to somehow make an image that would best tell what was going on. There were so many possibilities there. And as luck would have it, I did get a shot.”

He also is responsible of the April 1969 LIFE Magazine cover of President Dwight Eisenhower's body lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda.

“Actually, I’m in the picture because I set up the camera remotely from the dome of the Rotunda and ran 500 feet of zip cord down the stairwells to a foot switch right in there on the press stand,” he said of the now-famous image.

Gomel said his interest has always been in telling a story through his images.

He recalled taking pictures of some kids playing their favorite sport.

“I took a $5 bill and a puck and I got up on a ladder and I blew the whistle and they came charging for that (bill),” Gomel said. “And an enormous pile-up ensued and they fell all over each other and they were laughing like hell, and that was my opening spread. It said what I wanted to say about kids loving this sport.”

After a decade working for LIFE magazine, and his work appearing on the covers of Fortune, Forbes and several books, Gomel made a career transition into the advertising world.

Decades later, he takes pride in having had the opportunity to witness so much history through his lens.

“Nothing could have been more iconic of an era as the ‘60s, and I photographed a lot of it,” he said.

Gomel's work will be chronicled with the University of Texas' Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, as a tool scholars can use to study history.

To see more of Gomel's work, click here.

To read more about Gomel, you may enjoy this article from The Buzz Magazines.

2016 Click2Houston/KPRC2