Santa Maria, San Juan PR, and Mary Feder Part 2

I.C. RapoportPhotojournalism, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

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THANKS TO CAPTAIN GALVÃO and THANKS TO RICHARD STEEDMAN

Part Two   (January, 1961)

When I rang up Dick he was excited to hear that I was down on the island and we made a lunch date to meet at my hotel. He was curious as to what it looked like inside having watched it being built over the past year. When we finally connected on the Miramar’s sunny patio, he had in tow a quite attractive young woman of nineteen who had flown down to the warmth of the Caribbean from New York a few days earlier. Dick told me they had only just met the night before at a prenuptial party of two mainland expatriates who had, ironically, met at a previous wedding the year before. As she told me later, she had agreed to a lunch date with Dick the night before and dinner as well.

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MARY FEDER, Condado Beach, San Juan Puerto Rico, Jan.1961

Her double meal booking was more about not having the money to eat well as it was about being with Dick. I can still remember to this day what Mary looked like and what she was wearing at noontime that 27th day of January, 1961. Her long brown hair was pulled back and piled in a large bun onto her head. Her eyes were like yellow islands floating in huge, white pools. Perhaps the largest eyes I had ever looked into. Her mouth was pouty and her lips were full. Her neck was narrow and long and the off-shouldered sundress accented that even more. The dress was beige and when she sat across from me at a glass topped table on the patio, she hiked her skirt hem up onto her thighs to get as much sun on her as possible. She had beautiful legs. You can probably guess. I was immediately struck by her beauty.

Dick introduced her as Mary Feder who lived in the Washington Heights district of Manhattan, not very far from the motorcycle garage Dick and I frequented years earlier. As we caught up on our lives, I could not take my eyes off this lovely girl. It turned out that Dick and I couldn’t have lunch after all. He had received word that there was a hastily called press briefing at Isla Grande, the nearby Naval Air Station regarding the Santa Maria. ‘Ah, yes,’ I must have thought. ‘The missing cruise ship.’ The reason I was in San Juan though I was so distracted by this young woman, I could care less about press briefings and hijacked ocean liners. There seemed to have been a break in the story, Dick interrupted my thoughts. Knowing that Match would expect me to be there on top of the story, I gave Mary my copy of the New York Times and told her to charge anything she wanted from the hotel café to my room.

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Dick Steedman, left, outside the San Juan Star, San PR, Jan. 1961 with (unknown reporter)

Dick and I led a group of the Miramar journalists off to the briefing at the airfield. There, in a room crowded with reporters, we learned that the hijacked ship, having eluded all searches, had been sighted off the coast of Brazil. Both Dick and I shot photos of a Navy Commander pointing to a map of South America with a ship symbol, you guessed it, placed just off the coast of Brazil. It may have served the purpose of the local newspaper but I knew in my heart that Paris Match would never use that photo. What they wanted was picture of the cruise ship, on the ocean, sailing off the coast of Brazil. Better yet, pictures taken on the ship, pictures of Captain Galvão. Upon returning from the press briefing I called Stephane at Match’s office in NY. When I gave him that the ship had been located – he had not heard the news yet – he told me to stand by and be ready to fly to Recife, if I was needed. They would check flight schedules from San Juan.

Mary had waited for us at her table in the sun her beige dress still hiked high on her thighs. Dick was still off calling his office with the latest news. While he was gone, I tried to make some headway with Mary, making small talk. She later admitted to me that she found me a bit ‘full of myself’ but still, attractive. With my ‘aviator’ Ray Bans, Dunhill cigarette holder, suntan shirt and trousers, I certainly looked the part of a world-class photojournalist. After speaking with his office, Dick had to return to get his film into the lab and processed quickly. And that was when fate turned towards me. Dick, having felt responsible for Mary’s afternoon, asked if I would please entertain her until he finished his work and would come and take her out on their planned dinner date. Needing to have a Brazilian Visa in my passport should I need to go to Brazil, I asked Mary to come with me to the their Consolate. We spent the entire afternoon in each other’s company and electricity began to flow between us. In just a matter of a few hours I was smitten with this girl. Though she carried the not-very-Jewish name of Mary, it became apparent in our discussion that both her mother and father were Jews, her father having been born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire (now the Ukraine) and he was a kosher caterer in Manhattan. And, besides, I had a Jewish aunt named Mary. This Mary had lived with her family in Washington Heights, but because of the construction of a lower roadway to the George Washington Bridge, she and her family moved to the Briarwood section of Queens. I was living in the Bronx. Washington Heights was a long, but not uncomfortable walk from my home. But Queens? The expression Geographically Undesirable – GU – seemed pretty apropos. My new infatuation (call it: falling in love) would soon enough be tested on those hour long subway rides on the D train, changing to the F train and getting off at Van Wyck.

That night, having missed lunch with Dick (and Mary), I invited myself out on their dinner date. The three of us had a great time and as Mary would later reveal, she was attracted to me and, during the meal, wondered why she wasn’t having that date with just with me. That couldn’t happen so, as we left the restaurant in Old San Juan, I excused myself to return to the Miramar, but not before the clinching moment occurred. As we walked to the taxi stand, Mary suddenly stumbled on the cobbled street and went down on her hands and knees. Both Dick and I went to grab for her, both of us, one on each of her arms, lifted her to her feet. As she brushed off her hands and knees, Dick became overly concerned, asking her if she was all right. Did she want to sit down? Was there anything he could do for her? I, on the other hand, rubbed her hands with mine and said, “She’s okay. She’s just embarrassed.” Mary’s first thought then was “This guy understands me.” And there is no power greater for moving a woman closer to a man than when she senses he ‘understands’ her.

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                                   Mary Feder on the Beach in front of the Condado Beach Hotel Jan. 1961

Mary can firmly set the time she ‘fell for me’ as the time she ‘fell down next to me.’ A side note: after 50 years together, I can no longer count on my fingers and toes the number of times Mary has tripped, stumbled, and fallen, in front of me, next to me, or behind me. Mary has fallen in New York, Connecticut, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Paris, Rome, London, Barcelona and St. Thomas (on our honeymoon. I returned to my hotel to await a call from Match. But I couldn’t get Mary Feder out of my thoughts. Where was she? What was she doing? Did she cuddle up with Dick Steedman? I knew very little about her. I knew that she was only 19 years old and a Junior at Hunter College, (coincidentally, located at 68th Street in Manhattan, just two blocks away from the Paris Match offices on 67th Street). I would be leaving for Brazil at any moment, perhaps tomorrow, before bumping into her here, in San Juan? No messages awaited me from Match. I fell asleep dreaming not of shooting a cover picture of the Santa Maria off the coast of Belem. No, my dreams were of Mary Feder and I won’t say anymore about that. The next day, the call from Match did not come. After a breakfast on the sunny hotel patio, remembering the conversation I had with Mary while running around San Juan the day before, I recalled she mentioned getting tan on Condado Beach. I walked from my hotel to the Condado Beach Hotel and first checked out the pool area, then went onto the hot, sun-blinding beach. Searching among the oil-glistened sun-worshippers I found Mary Feder, on her stomach, lying on a towel, her bikini bra flayed open at her side.

I dropped down alongside her. She was asleep. Holding my Nikon F closer to her, I snapped a photo and the crack of the mirror and shutter awakened her. She turned, looked up at me. I could see that she was happy that I had sought her out and had found her. I was fully dressed, no bathing suit, so, I pulling off my shoes and socks and opening my seersucker shirt, I stretched out alongside her.

 

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After a while we went for a walk. Mary pulled on a baby-blue cotton pants suit. We passed a San Juan beach policeman patrolling on horseback. Mary wanted to ride the horse but the most the officer was willing to do was let her get up into the saddle and pose for a picture.

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Mary had to get ready for another prenuptial party and I had to get back to the hotel to call Match and find out what my next move would be, if there were to be a next move. I found a cable waiting for me from New York. GO TO BRAZIL, it read. NO DIRECT FLIGHT BELEM FROM S. J. U.S. NAVY FLIGHT LEAVE SAN JUAN FOR BELEM 7 TONITE. YOU ARE CLEARED. ANNI. Anni Tchaprachikoff, was a ‘cousin’ of Stephane’s, a Bulgarian refugee who ran the Match office making sure the reporters, writers, and photographers were taken care of and paid on time. Somehow, she or one of the reporters in New York, in contact with the Defense Department, discovered the Navy flight and managed to find me a seat on it. I was excited and at the same time, disappointed. Off again on another journalistic adventure was carrying me far away from this young woman I had only just met and I knew, in my bones, that she’d be the love of my life. Had I felt that about any other young woman? Yes. But, for some reason, somehow, the stars seemed to be aligning like never before. I couldn’t refuse the assignment to go to Belem, so I hurried back to the beach and found Mary. Mary was standing with John Nad, an old acquaintance from my San Juan days. I was immediately invited to the party that night which would be at John’s apartment above his print shop. He handed his card while Mary waited my acceptance of the invite.

Only I had bad news for her. I couldn’t attend the party. I was leaving at 7 that night for Brazil. Mary’s disappointment was deep. I could see her reacting to the news and so did John Nadd. He graciously backed off leaving us to deal with this setback in our budding relationship. There wasn’t much to say, I took her New York phone number and told her I was going to go back to the hotel to pack my things and check out. She said she’d come along with me. She watched as I packed. I had a lot of stuff to put into my B4 bag, extra suit and trousers, shirts and underwear, enough to last me ten days. Mary watched as I rolled and neatly stowed all of my gear and off we went. No time even for making out which disappointed both of us, but my feelings at the time were one of proceeding with great caution with this precious relationship. Mary and I said a tearful goodbye.

Mary later told me that she fully expected to never see me again. I grabbed my trench coat and luggage and cameras and taxied out to the Naval Air Station and, along with a network TV crew, was put aboard a U.S. Navy plane bound for Belem. I was excited to be on my way to a big story but with a new-found ambivalence. I was smitten, stricken with affection for this girl. If only she felt the same way about me. I sat in my plane seat, images of kissing Mary’s slender neck. Dreaming of her holding me.

“Chuck Rapoport,” a voice called out as the plane’s engines revved, preparing for takeoff, at the far end of the runway. I looked up. “Here,” I answered. “You, Richard Valariano and his TV crew, have to exit the plane.” As we stepped down the stairway we were told that several senior officers needed our seats. I was being bumped. Taken off the plane. Dropped from the trip south. Not going to cover the Santa Maria hijacking? Whoopee! Luggage and cameras taken off the plane, stranded on the distant corner of the airfield, two jeeps drove up and loaded us in then carried us back to the operations building. There, a navy officer apologized offering us rides back to our hotels. Since I no longer had a hotel, and having a staff car at my disposal, I directed the sailor/driver to take me to John Nadd’s apartment where I knew I would find Mary Feder. Mary was not enjoying the raucous party. She was no longer interested in Dick Steedman and no one else at Nad’s party appealed her. She admitted that she was thinking of me, flying off to Brazil, when front door opened and a sailor, in his white sailor suit, entered the party carrying what looked like my B4 bag. I followed on the heels of the sailor and Mary moved swiftly to me and we embraced. After explaining to her that some admiral bumped me from my flight, we agreed to leave the party and walk the beach at night where we shared our first kiss. It was exactly as I had imagined.

Match no longer felt the need to pay for my hotel, and asked me to return to New York. I moved in with Dick Steedman, into the very same apartment I had once lived back in 1959. Dick was livid. Sitting up late one night after I had been out with Mary and after I had seen her off to New York (she had to return to classes), Dick told me that if the tables were turned he would never have ‘birddogged’ Mary away from me. What could I say. I told him I was sorry that I did what I did but that I was going to marry Mary Feder. Eleven months later, almost to the day we met, that’s exactly what we did, we got married, and we stayed married. We didn’t see Dick Steedman again until 1981. He took us out for our 20th wedding anniversary in Manhattan. There wasn’t much he could say except to wish us many more anniversaries. Thanks, Dick. Thanks for bringing Mary to me that day in January, 1961