Can You Keep a Secret?

Can You Keep A Secret?, FAMOUS PEOPLE, Uncategorized

“Can you keep a secret?”

That question always seems to grab my attention like a bad joke I always keep falling for. I’m not in the business of keeping secrets. That  just  goes against the grain of what I do in the world of distributing information in the form of imagery to the public.

So, of course I responded, “Sure. What is it?”

The voice on the other end of the conversation was Glen Campbell’s publicist.

“Glen is turning 60 next week and Kim (his wife), Debby (his daughter) and some of his family and some folks in the business are throwing a surprise birthday party for him there in Branson. We need some photos of the party for distribution and for the family.”

This was a happy time for Campbell following a less than productive period when his music sales seemed to have fallen off the public’s radar. He had a theatre in Branson (The Glen Campbell Goodtime Theatre) and ticket sales were strong. He had a home in Arizona for the off season and golf in his off time. And, he had a wife that he often credited during backstage dressing room interviews with helping him to turn things around.

The surprise party was to be at a Branson restaurant that had been closed for the event on a Sunday afternoon the day before his actual 60th birthday on April 22, 1996.  The three or four dozen invited guests huddled in the dark as Campbell and his wife arrived for what he thought was a quiet Sunday afternoon dinner.

Among some of the guests he seemed particularly surprised to see was Jimmy Webb who wrote and collaborated with Campbell on many of his hits including, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston”. At one point Campbell and Webb took to the microphone and keyboard and entertained the guests with songs from some of their collaborative work.

Jimmy Webb and Glen

Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell entertain guests at his surprise 60th birthday party.

Guests who couldn’t make the trip to Branson sent video greetings. Campbell and his family watched and enjoyed with much laughter on a big screen. The only subdued moment came when Campbell watched a video greeting from Annie Denver, John Denver’s ex-wife. Campbell had recorded “Annie’s Song”, a piece Denver wrote and also recorded as an ode to his wife in the early 1970’s.

Glen and Kids

Glen and family members watch video greetings from friends who couldn’t make the party.

I remember Campbell and his wife watching her greeting and responding to himself, almost inaudibly, “Annie, Annie…awe Annie.” Perhaps he was remembering the same demons in his life that had plagued John and Annie Denver. Little did anyone know that a year and a half later, John Denver would die in a plane crash.

Good times can be fleeting for anybody as the Campbell family all too well knows. As his 78th birthday approaches on April 22, 2014, he has been moved to a care facility for Alzheimer’s patients. The seconds in his own “Goodtime Hour” may have ticked away but he leaves behind a treasure trove of hauntingly beautiful songs for the rest of us.

John S. Stewart


When “Funny” Throws Its Hat Into The Political Ring

FAMOUS PEOPLE, When “Funny” Throws Its Hat Into The Political Ring

I was rarely the “pool” photographer during political campaign seasons. Those coveted spots are usually assigned to the staff photographers of the major news outlets. They travel with the candidate in the motorcade and are generally granted closer access resulting in better photo opportunities. At least that is the conventional thinking.

In the days when news organizations’ budgets were bigger, those major news outlets (The Associated Press, The New York Times, etc.) would hire freelance photographers like me as support for their staffers during campaign stops. I would carry out tasks like taking their film, processing and captioning a couple of their best images and a couple of mine and transmit them. With shrinking budgets and advances in digital cameras, those types of assignments went away. Now, staffers can have an image into newsrooms around the country or their editor’s computer long before the event is even over.

I liked being the support photographer. I had credentials which gave me access to most places but also the freedom to explore photo possibilities without fear that I would miss “THE” shot because I wasn’t right with the candidate.

One of the best opportunities to “explore photo possibilities” came in June 1996 during the Clinton-Dole presidential campaign. Sen. Bob Dole was on a campaign swing through southwest Missouri and was to overnight in Branson, Missouri the country music tourist mecca. I parked myself at the hotel where Sen. Dole was to stay. A couple of hundred tourists had gathered on one side of the parking lot and a handful of local VIP supporters were in a roped off holding pen on the other side.

Tucked in among the VIPs, I decided this was the best bet for a close encounter with the senator. But, across the lot in the tourist sector there seemed a slight disturbance. An older gentleman holding a sign on a stick was talking excitedly to a couple of younger men in suits who were in turn talking up their sleeves. This could only mean one thing: There was an incident and the Secret Service was involved. I was on the move to see what this was about.

Pat Paulsen asks Sen. Bob Dole to talk

1960’s comedian Pat Paulsen holds a sign asking Sen. Bob Dole to talk during a 1996 presidential campaign stop. (Copyright John S. Stewart/

The issue was not his sign that read, “Bob, Let’s Talk…Pat.” It was the stick on his sign. The Secret Service has a “no sticks” rule when you…anyone, including media…are near a candidate. Sticks of the literal kind like the one on the sign and “sticks” of the tripod kind that photographers use, are banned when in striking distance of the president, vice-president or wannabes.

While the agents were insisting the stick be removed and the man was proclaiming his rights as a citizen, the mood didn’t seem particularly tense. In fact, I thought I could detect suppressed grins on the normally stony faced Secret Service agents.

Who is, “Pat”?

Then it hit me. Pat was the “Pat Paulsen for President” from the 1960’s through the 1990’s. He was a semi-regular on  Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and a regular on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour that earned him an Emmy in 1968.

I stood back and watched as Pat obediently removed the stick and handed it over to the agent who retreated from the scene. Pat continued with his stick shtick to the delight of the tourists within earshot.

I called out, “Pat…Pat…Pat Paulsen.”

He looked at me and pointed to the bling of media credentials and cameras hanging around my neck and said, “You’re with the press! I need to talk to you.”.

Before he could get started, I urged him to come stand with me in the VIP section explaining that Sen. Dole might work (shake hands) the tourist crowd but would for sure work the VIP area where the moneyed donors were penned up.

For the next couple of hours Pat, his wife Noma and I stood and waited for Sen. Dole to arrive. We talked about his past television experiences and when I asked him about his almost 30 year campaign for president, the straight-faced and never out of character Paulsen said, “I am a serious candidate.” That might not be too far from the truth since he did end up on several states’ primary tickets.

Pat Paulsen and Bob Dole in stare down.

Comedian and tongue-in-cheek presidential candidate Pat Paulsen engages in a stare down with 1996 for real presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole. (Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/

Finally, the motorcade arrived, the senator stepped out, waved to the tourists and was ushered over to the VIP section. Upon seeing Pat, Sen. Dole said, “Hello. They told me you were in the crowd.” With that, the two assumed sort of “stare down positions” like two boxers sizing each other up at the weigh-in.

Sen. Bob Dole says, "I don't really know what to say."

After a few moments of staring at each other in silence, Sen. Dole turns to me and says, “I don’t really know what to say.” (Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/

The senator showed he was no match for the king of deadpan when Dole broke the silence turning to me (for whatever reason) and said, “I don’t know what to say.” The two then joked and talked for a few more minutes and called it an evening.

After the stare down ran its course, the normally deadpan Paulsen and usually subdue Dole share a laugh. Paulsen's wife, Noma is at far left. (Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/

After the stare down ran its course, the normally deadpan Paulsen and usually subdue Dole share a laugh. Paulsen’s wife, Noma is at far left. (Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/

Pat provided much-needed comedic relief during sometimes tense election seasons. For me, he provided an evening of entertainment for what is usually a tiring several hours of standing around. We communicated a couple of times after these photos were taken and I sent him the one of  them staring at each other. Unfortunately, Pat passed away from cancer less than a year later.

His gentle humor is missed in a time when so much humor has a sting to it.

John S. Stewart




Unlike fishermen, photographers usually don’t like to talk about “the one that got away”.  But, I have decided to swallow my pride and add my story of the one that got away to the LEFTeyeSTORIES files.

In the summer of 1993, the midwest was drowning in what was being called a hundred-year flood. Seeing an opportunity to help as well as an opportunity for some feel-good public relations,  country music tourist destination Branson, Missouri, decided to have a fundraiser in the form of a nationally televised telethon.

Anyone who was anyone in the entertainment business (and many in the “Who?” category) showed up in B-town wanting to do their part and get a little face time on national television. This included billionaire Ross Perot, who had just the year before made an unsuccessful bid for president.

I was there working for The Ozark Marketing Council and a couple of publications. I was also hoping to sell a few other photos on speculation.

Bob Hope was scheduled to be up next. I had already seen him backstage and he looked very frail so I was thinking that I better get shots of him because there may not be another opportunity. Then a hand on my shoulder and a whisper in my ear told me of another plan.

A happy-go-lucky Ross Perot walks from his chartered helicopter at the Grand Palace in Branson, Missouri. Following are Beth Wanser, the pilot and an aid of Perot. (Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Beth Wanser of the Ozark Marketing Council was telling me that Ross Perot was sitting in his chartered helicopter outside the theater and was going to fly to the Grand Palace to meet country singer Billy Ray Cyrus who was still riding the wave of  his big hit, “Achy Breaky Heart”. There was one seat left on the helicopter and I could have it but we had to go now.

From the theater where we were to the Grand Palace is about a mile and a half, if that far. The problem was the traffic. It would have easily taken an hour by car so the helicopter was a good option.

Beth and I made our way past a few other glaring photogs and TV videographers to the helicopter that was already warming up with rotors turning. I headed to the copilot’s door thinking that’s probably where the vacant seat would be. Instead, the door popped open and that distinctive head with those distinctive ears spoke in that distinctive high-pitched Texas drawl that could be heard in spite of the noise and whirling blades above,  “Son, you ride in the back. I’ve got it up here.” So I got in.

Five minutes later we were on the ground behind the Grand Palace. A waiting van whisked us the remaining 100 yards to the backstage door. Perot was particularly jovial. “Son, where do you need to sit with all your equipment?” and “Son, you go on ahead if you need to. You need to get the pictures.”

When we got to the backstage door, Beth led the way through a maze of cables, equipment and stage hands to the green room which normally would have been filled with performers waiting to go onstage. For now it was the place where Beth had arranged for Perot to meet with Billy Ray Cyrus.

Just before we entered the green-room door, one of Beth’s colleagues pulled her aside. Perot continue on into the green-room and I followed, raising my camera in anticipation of  the pending Ross Perot/Billy Ray Cyrus hug-fest.

The room was large, furnished with chairs and coffee tables filled with finger food for the performers. It was also completely empty. Perot and I  stood there for a moment; Perot staring straight ahead and me staring at his back. I lowered my camera and in that instant, he spun on his heel and looked straight at me.

The happy-go-lucky, former presidential candidate I walked in with had transformed into a scowling Elmer J. Fudd. All that was missing was the steam coming out of his ears.

An unhappy Ross Perot

A less than pleased Ross Perot makes his way out of the "green room" backstage at the Grand Palace after being stood up by Billy Ray Cyrus. Beth Wanser (L) and Lisa Rau (R) stand aside. (Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

And there it was, the missed shot: Ross Perot standing with hands on hips looking straight at me and anger oozing from his pores. It was perfect; I had a wide-angle lens to capture the empty room behind him and since I’m a head taller than him it was a great angle. The only problem was that my camera, now hanging around my neck,  might as well have been a concrete block sitting at my feet because I couldn’t get it back up to my face fast enough before he shot past me towards the door spewing, “MISFIRE! MISFIRE!”

Like an angry warrior spraying the room with machine gun fire, he shot in rapid succession at nobody in particular, “THAT’S WHAT THIS IS, IT’S A MISFIRE AND WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU HAVE A MISFIRE IS YOU JUST GO ON, SO THAT’S WHAT I’M GOING TO DO. I’M GOING TO GO ON BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THIS IS, IT’S A MISFIRE!!”

Ross Perot is a smart man and not used to being stood up. He figured it out really fast. I had to get the news from Beth Wanser and Lisa Rau, director of public relations for Silver Dollar City (who owned the Grand Palace at that time) and co-owner Peter Herschend who had all huddled together trying to calm Mr. Perot down.

In the five minutes it took to fly to the Grand Palace, Billy Ray Cyrus’ people had decided it would not be a wise thing for the singer to be photographed hugging, shaking hands or even standing next to the then still politically hot Ross Perot. It might alienate some of Billy Ray’s fans.

So, Ross Perot’s “Misfire” became my “Misfire”. End of story, almost.

Years later Lisa Rau and I were talking about the misfire photo-op and she said, “Let me tell you about the rest of my day that day.”

She went on to tell me that she was assigned to drive Billy Ray around Branson and let him see the sights. One of the things he wanted to do was go to the Factory Outlet Mall and buy some shirts. So she took him to a store using the back door while the store manager politely asked the shoppers (mostly women) to step outside for a few minutes. The manager then locked the door.

With the store secured, Billy Ray walked onto the sales floor and wasting no time, stripped off his shirt.  He then began trying on shirt after shirt leaving the unwanted ones on the floor. All the while, the displaced female shoppers pressed their faces against the store’s windows and squealed with delight.

After he made his final selections and checked out, Billy Ray was ushered out the back door. The store manager then unlocked the front doors and the ensuing scene resembled  something like a miniature Black Friday shopping frenzy. The female shoppers were scrambling to pick up and purchase all the shirts he had tried on and left on the floor.

Happy shoppers. Happy store keeper. No memorable photo…but that’s OK; it makes for a good dinner story now and then.

John S. Stewart

Andy Williams-A Class Act

Andy Williams-A Class Act, FAMOUS PEOPLE
Debbie and Andy Williams

Andy and Debbie Williams.

Celebrity for the sake of “celebrity” has never had much appeal to me. I think that’s a plus when photographing famous or nearly famous personalities in one on one photo sessions.  It sends a subliminal message of, “I’m not here to stroke your ego” and lets them know that the annoying  “star stuck fan” is not in the room.

Honestly, I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to who’s who and who did what in the show biz world. I let the reporter on the assignment do that homework. Some of these folks have egos so large it was difficult being in the same room with them and others were actually humble and interesting to talk to. But then, that’s like it is in the non-celebrity world. Right?

In a word (or two), Andy Williams is the epitome of class, good taste but also personable and seemingly in touch with the real world.

In the ten or so photo shoots I have had with him, he never tried to control the shoot and was open to and tried to accommodate ideas I had. He was game when I wanted to hire a flatbed truck so he and “Herkimer” (Gary Presley) could stand next to a Highway 76 road sign some nine or ten feet in the air.

Andy Williams and "Herkimer" (Gary Presley) pose for a magazine cover on 76 Country Music Blvd. in Branson, Missouri.

Andy Williams and “Herkimer” (Gary Presley) pose for a magazine cover in Branson, Missouri.

The photo shoot was for a travel magazine cover that was to illustrate the two flavors of live entertainment in Branson, Missouri. Everything was in place. The truck was in place next to the sign. Camera, lights and Herkimer were all in place. With exposure readings taken and camera adjustments made, Andy drove up from a feeder road to 76, rolled down his window and said, “We’re going to have to make this fast.” Pointing to the traffic on 76 and tourists on foot he expressed some concern.

He was right, but we got through the shoot. Within two or three minutes after Andy climbed up on the truck, traffic on Highway 76 began to stop. Car doors opened in the middle of the road and tourists with cameras in hand began crowding around the truck. Within another minute, I had helped him off the truck and he was back in his car headed to  his theatre.

The whole shoot was over in less than five minutes with fewer than 20 frames of a 120mm roll of film exposed but the editors were able to select one for the cover.


Andy and Debbie Williams and Sophie, a German Short-Hair Pointer, share a moment in the Moon River Theater apartment where he relaxes between shows.

Most  other photo shoots were in or around the more crowd controllable setting of his Moon River Theatre or his spacious apartment/dressing room and adjoining courtyard at the theatre. His wardrobe closet is larger than some dressing rooms I’ve seen and is meticulously arranged with shirts, pants and of course sweaters of the same design grouped together.

Andy Williams at the piano

Andy Williams at his dressing room piano.

In the main part of the apartment is a grand piano with framed photos of family and friends. One of them was from friend Robert F. Kennedy. It was a photo I had seen before of Kennedy, his wife Ethel and all their children lined up in front of their Hickory Hill home. Kennedy had written on it, “Andy, If you take Ethel, you have to take the kids. Bobby”.

Andy recounted how he and Kennedy met and Kennedy asked him to join his campaign for president. Andy told him he would be glad to but that there was a problem because he (Andy) was a registered Republican. He said Kennedy responded, “Oh, that’s not a problem. We can fix that.” Later that year in the early summer of 1968, Andy would sing “The Battle Hymn Republic” at Kennedy’s funeral.

A few weeks later at another photo shoot in his theatre apartment I noticed the photo was gone. I asked Andy about it and he kind of mournfully opened a drawer where the photo, torn in several places but still in the frame, lay with the glass shattered. He explained that one of his grandchildren had dropped it and over the years the photo had become stuck to the glass causing the photo to tear. Even big stars have those everyday “Dang it!” moments.

Sophie and Andy at the wet bar

Andy cleans up after a lunch interview as Sophie waits for table scraps.

Interviews with photo shoots were usually scheduled to run over the noon hour after his morning round of golf and before the afternoon performance. That meant it was sometimes a lunch interview with lunch at his wet bar in his dressing room and almost always accompanied by Sophie, one of his favorite and really friendly German Shorthair Pointers. And that was a good thing.

After you have passed Sophie’s head to toe sniff test which is just a dog’s way of getting to know you, she makes a great photo prop…someone for Andy to interact with…a new element in the mix.

Andy Williams relaxing in his Branson, Missouri Moon River Theatre dressing room after a round of golf.

Andy Willams relaxes in his Moon River Theatre dressing room after a round of golf.

Andy Williams as Carmen Miranda at his Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Andy Williams shows his sense of humor with a stage performance as Carmen Miranda.

Every shoot I have had with Andy Williams has yielded some of the most relaxed images of any entertainer I have photographed. This even applies to those couple of times a reporter failed to tell his staff ahead of time there would be a photographer along.  That serves as a testament to him being comfortable in his own skin and OK with the moment at hand which probably has something to do with his career’s longevity. That and keeping those golden pipes healthy all these years.

John S. Stewart

Fishing with “W”

FAMOUS PEOPLE, Fishing with "W"

Three weeks before the 2000 election when George W. Bush eked out a very contested victory over Al Gore, the governor made a stop in the Ozarks in support of Roy Blunt who was running for the 7th district house seat.

George W. Bush fishing in Missouri before the 2000 election

George Bush fishes with Bass Pro Shops owner, Johnny Morris and his son in October 2000 three weeks before he is elected President. (Photo copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

He was also planning a brief rest and relaxation period away from the campaign and media as the house guest of Bass Pro Shops owner, Johnny Morris. The night before they were to go fishing together, I got a call from an Associated Press reporter telling me he had been in contact with a Bush aide and the governor had agreed to allow one still photographer to come along but no reporters or video cameras. They would need my social security number for a quick background check and since there wasn’t time to get a “Letter of Introduction” for me to present to the Secret Service, I would need to bring as much identification as I had.

Before the sun was up the next morning, I made my way to the private lake east of Springfield. When I turned off the asphalt road to the private gravel drive, two men in dark polo shirts and sport coats stepped to the center of the drive and motioned me to stop. One stepped to my window and asked, “Could we help you?”

They never identified themselves as Secret Service agents but the ear pieces and slight bulge under their coats were pretty good indications I was in the right place.

I explained my early morning mission and he seemed to have no knowledge of it and asked if I had any identification. I handed him my driver’s license, media photo ID tag, and my passport. The two stepped back and looked at each one turning them over a couple of times and spoke in low inaudible tones.

Thinking there was some SNAFU, I started to explain further who made the arrangements when one of the men looked up and said, “We know. We’ve been expecting you. Did you have any trouble finding the place?”

Relieved, I quickly shot back, “Oh, no. Not at all.” There was about ten seconds of silence while I rethought my answer and amended it to, “Well, actually I went about a quarter-mile too far and had to turn around and come back.” Still looking at my photo IDs and without looking up, the agent replied, “Yeah, we saw you.” I’m now thinking to myself, ‘You’re off to a great start. You fibbed to a Secret Service agent and he knows it.’

“Ok, you’re fine. We just need you to step out of the car and place your camera bag on the hood.” In lieu of an electronic metal detector or wand, I was treated to an old-fashioned pat down by hand while the other agent looked through my camera bag.  No big deal and not nearly as invasive as today’s airport TSA pat downs.

“Ok, one of the Governor’s aides is waiting for you down by the dock. He will direct you and the Governor will be along shortly.”

The aide and I would be in a tiny…and I mean tiny… jon boat that was barely 10 feet long and had two bench seats wide enough for one person each. The aide would be at the helm manning the 8 h.p. motor. The second boat was a 16 foot open aluminum fishing boat. It contained three Secret Service agents (one drove) and Morris’ brother-in-law who was along as Morris’ photographer. The third boat was a first class bass boat complete with pedestal deck chairs. It contained Governor Bush, Johnny Morris and Morris’ son.

I was told my time on the trip would be limited to about 15 minutes. The Governor wanted this to be a truly private affair and there would be no questions or interview. Conditions were not great for great shots but that’s what makes photojournalism what it is. You deal with what you have in front of you. It was a beautiful crisp fall morning but the sun hadn’t been up long so light readings were still pretty low meaning slow shutter speeds for the next 3o minutes or so even using ISO 400 film. I was going to be in a less than rock solid boat so a tripod or monopod really wouldn’t help.

I stepped onto the dock and it seemed like all eyes from boat #2 were on me as I approached Governor Bush who was bent over closing up his tackle box. I introduced myself and he stood up and introduced himself and said in that GWB twang, “Boy, it’s pretty early in the morning to come out just to take some pictures.”

Everyone piled into their assigned boat and the bass boat with Bush in it backed out of the boat slip. Morris was at the helm and stopped about 20 feet from the dock and said, “Why don’t throw one out here and see if you get any bites?”

I thought this would be a better opportunity to shoot from the dock and not the boat I was in that would not be still no matter how still I was. So I scrambled back onto the dock as did the governor’s aide and as did two of the Secret Service agents. The dock was one of those with a metal roof but not the heavy commercial docks that feel firm under foot. When anyone walked, the dock gave way a little making it only a little more stable than the boat I just left.

I braced myself and camera against one of the uprights closest to where the Bush boat was. Behind me at the front of the boat slip the two agents continued to move and reposition themselves making the dock sway under me. I looked back at the aide and said, “Can you…?” nodding at the agents. He said, “Oh, sure, sure! Hey guys…can you be still?” I looked back to my left and saw two United States Secret Service field agents attached to a Presidential candidate frozen like mannequins at my request. Ok, it was a bit of a heady moment for about two seconds.

I was asking myself if he was doing this for my benefit which was a little unsettling but later learned that the bass they were going after often hang around docks and brush piles.

Bush got off his first cast I assume without any practice casts earlier because the lure landed on the roof of the dock shattering the early morning quiet only the way hard plastic on sheet metal can. His reaction and that of the others in his boat is what you see in the photo.

His second cast was better placed but still way long. The heavy bass lure designed to disturb the water as much as possible as it plows its way back to the rod remained airborne until it landed squarely on the head of one of the frozen secret service agents on the dock.

There was an audible grunt from behind me and a very concerned look from Bush who said, “Oh…you OK?” The agent dutifully replied, “Yes sir. I’m fine.”

There were no bass to be had by the dock so the flotilla of bass boat, photo boat and gun boat motored across the lake where there was a brushy shore and the casting started again. My 15 minute photo-op turned into 20 and then 25 and Bush finally said, “Well, I really would like to pull one in while you’re here but that may not happen.”

That must have been a cue for his aide because the aide indicated it was time for us to go back. No sooner had we pulled alongside the dock than out in the water across the lake we heard splashing and excited voices. We sat and listened and tried to see across the  100 yards or so. And then, when the quiet returned there came that unmistakable Texas twang, “Hey photographer. I got one.”

Oh, well.

John S. Stewart