John f kennedy and john f kennedy in a convertible.

Photo Technician Who Secretly Copied JFK Shooting Film Was “Scared Out of His Wits”

News | By Stephan Jukic | November 30, 2023

The Zapruder film has been widely viewed by now, but it might not have been if it hadn’t been for the work of a single nervous photo technician.

Robert Groden, the photo technician who made a secret copy of the 8mm film that caught the entire assassination of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy recently said that he was “scared out of his wits” in a podcast interview with the series “Who Killed JFK”.

As Groden recalls in the podcast Q&A, he was working as a photo technician at a film processing lab in New York City when the Zapruder film landed on his workbench in 1969, several years after Kennedy’s killing.

Life Magazine had been awarded rights to Zapruder’s 26.6-second 8mm silent film reel after paying the hobbyist film enthusiast $150,000 in 1963 dollars (roughly $1,430,000 2023 dollars) on November 23, one day after the tragedy in Dallas.

You can watch the whole film in this YouTube clip:

However, the magazine agency giant then sat on the footage for nearly a decade before deciding to restore it. Previous to that, they had never aired it publicly, and instead only published select screenshots from the full reel.

The Life contract with his employer was how Groden, then working with a company called Manhattan Effect in NYC as an expert in restoring and blowing up 8mm film to 35mm format for theatrical release, was given access to the Zapruder reel.

According to Groden’s description of his own work, “We blew up 8mm home movies up to 35mm made to professional grade so it can be transferred to final print but nobody else did the work, we did,”

A black and white camera on a white background.

The Bell & Howell Zoomatic movie camera used by Zapruder to shoot his film

Prior to the Zapruder contract for Life Magazine, he’d already completed a processing job converting 8mm film for a documentary about the 1969 Woodstock festival.

When the infamous 8mm reel arrived on Gorden’s desk, he got to work on blowing it up just as he had with the Woodstock footage, except that in this particular case, he also made an extra clandestine copy that nobody knew about.

“Well they brought it to us, we did it, and suffice to say that an extra copy was made that they didn’t know about.” Explains Groden.

Obviously, he wasn’t supposed to do this, and aside from the civil legal consequences he could have faced from Life Magazine, he also had at least some reason to worry about possibly darker ramifications.

As just about anyone knows today, the Zapruder film was the only piece of video evidence plainly showing an assassination mired in accusations of a widespread conspiracy to kill JFK.

This widely believed conspiracy supposedly stretched down from the highest levels of the U.S. government to that infamous day in Daley Plaza, Dallas.

It was also swirled in the possibility of involvement by not only major American spy agencies but also foreign governments and even major American Mafia figures.

In other words, it was definitely worth a few nights of lost sleep for a humble photo technician who now had his own secret personal copy of the film.

A picture of a car with people in it.

A famous still from the Zapruder film, shows Jacqueline Kennedy reaching for a Secret Service agent right after Kennedy’s shooting.

As Groden summarizes in the podcast interview, “I was scared out of my wits because I wasn’t supposed to have the film in the first place, I was afraid to release it,”

This however didn’t later stop him from capitalizing on his secret copy.

Over the following years, he wrote several books about the Kennedy assassination and eventually even aired his copy of the film with ABC’s late-night TV show Good Night America in 1975.

Since this was the first time ever that the entire Zapruder film was aired over US network television, it was considered extremely shocking.

Apparently, the CIA, Mafia and KGB were all a bit too busy elsewhere in the days before Groden’s ABC “Good Night” reveal.

Photo credits: FBI, Wikimedia Commons

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