A great career defined by one 'snap'; Master of timing and anticipation got the photo" But Lennon had many great shots, many great laughs
Legendary Toronto Star photographer Frank Lennon had a unique take on his iconic shot of Paul Henderson celebrating his series- winning goal in the now-mythic 1972 Canada-Russia hockey game.
Whenever somebody asked Lennon, who died yesterday morning at age 79, about "the photo" - and many did - the lifelong prankster and jokester delighted in spinning a yarn.
There he was at this Russian arena, he would deadpan. He was staring up at the rafters, admiring the struts on the ceiling when this Red Army soldier walks by and bumps into him, causing him to accidentally push the shutter button and voila, a masterpiece.
Needless to say what really took place was that, like every other photo taken by Lennon during his long and storied career, the iconic image was the result of hard work, exquisite timing and anticipation.
Finding himself perched high above the rink in the dying moments of a hard-fought Game 8, Lennon decided to run down to ice level for the better picture. He focused his camera on the Russian goal. There was only one shot, he correctly guessed, that would matter. And, as they say, the rest was history.
"Everybody around him jumped up and (Lennon) would (later) say to me that he was amazed he had the presence of mind to keep shooting," recalled Henderson in an interview. "Everything within him wanted to jump up and shout."
Former Star publisher John Honderich said of Lennon "He was one of the greats. He truly loved his craft."
Brad Henderson, a former Star photo editor, said Lennon's famous photo cast a long shadow.
"I'm so proud and happy that he got the recognition for the photo but it, unfortunately, covered up the superlative volume of work he did over his whole career as a photojournalist," he said.
Born in Toronto on Jan. 26, 1927, Lennon was the second oldest of eight children born to Ethel and Melville Lennon.
Lennon's father worked in the Star mailing room, as did an uncle. It was the start of the family's multi-generational affiliation with the newspaper. Lennon became a newsroom messenger boy on Jan. 31, 1944.
At one point, there were seven Lennons simultaneously working at the Star, including Frank, his five children and his brother Bill. Lennon went on to work as a darkroom technician and later became a wire photo receiver.
One of his earliest tasks was to take the night bus from Toronto to Buffalo and return with photos from wire services UPI and Reuters in time for the Star's afternoon edition. As he looked at photos that poured in from around the world, Lennon decided he would become a photographer.
He moonlighted, honing his skills shooting weddings and birthdays.
When the paper finally decided to hire in-house photographers - rather than contracting the work to a photo agency - Lennon was among the first chosen. His career at the Star, which lasted until 1990, spanned the use of large-format box cameras all the way to the digital age.
Henderson says Lennon specialized in, and perfected, "honesty type pictures" that captured the expressions and moments of life that often get missed.
Lennon wore his heart on his sleeve and was sympathetic to the downtrodden, but he was also tough when it came to getting the photo he wanted. He took all kinds of photos, from crime to human interest and politics. But his passion remained photographing sports - especially hockey and football.
Lennon's son Kevin fondly recalls accompanying his father to Maple Leaf Gardens to help set up lights before Saturday night games. Later, controversial Leafs owner Harold Ballard temporarily banned Lennon from the Gardens for taking a photo of his companion, Yolanda - an incident Lennon wore as a badge of honour.
"Everybody knew Frank Lennon's corner," at the Gardens, said Kevin.
"I didn't believe people got paid to do what he did," said Kevin, describing the always-chattering police radio in his father's car. "Everywhere he went, he seemed to charm people into getting the shot he wanted."
Another former Star photo editor, Fred Ross, said Lennon represented an early generation of photographers trained with bulky cameras able to take one photo every six seconds. Getting "the" picture was difficult. In contrast, today's digital cameras can produce up to 20 frames per second, leaving nothing to chance.
"Skill involving timing and anticipation were extremely important (to get the photo) and Lennon was the master of both," says Ross.
Lennon was among the early sports photographers who took live- action photos using available light, allowing him to roam the arena for the best shot.
Paul Henderson, who became a friend of Lennon in later years, said he always marvelled at how this "humble, decent and compassionate" man was so lucky.
"Some guys do their job, but this guy, it was a love affair," said the hockey great. "Loving what you do tends to make you very fortunate."
But those who know Lennon best say that, beyond the accolades, they will remember a family man and colleague with a limitless propensity for humour.
His wife of 57 years, Helen, with whom he had seven children, said one of Lennon's favourite gags was pretending to stumble as he walked by somebody, sometimes carrying a drink. Another friend recalls Lennon having to give a urine sample at Scarborough Grace Hospital.
When the nurse came by, Lennon looked at the bottle, said it was a bit cloudy and he'd have to try again. He then - to the nurse's horror - drank the bottle's contents. He had filled it with ginger ale.
Lennon was also a deeply observant Roman Catholic who, despite a devotion to his job, always found time for his children.
"He was such a fantastic father," said a daughter, Martha Doherty. "We just had the most amazing childhood even though there were no trips and cruises.
"As little kids, we thought we were millionaires. He never splurged on himself and enjoyed spending time with us kids." After a hard day's work, he'd tell his young daughters "Come on broads, we're going out."
But what most people remember is "the photo" - Paul Henderson in an embrace with Yvan Cournoyer, Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak flat on his back, 34 seconds left on the clock.
Team Canada had struggled in the series. Toronto and the rest of Canada were on edge. Lennon froze in time a celebratory moment that set off an eruption of joy across the nation.
The Star's Christopher Hume wrote in 2002 that the image is "etched in the visual cortex of every Canadian."
The picture earned Lennon a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Press Picture of the Year and many other honours.
But Lennon raked in more than awards. The Star gave him a bonus for shooting the Henderson photo. Normally, the paper would have owned rights to the photo and collected payments for its many reprints over the years.
But legend has it that the darkroom staff were so overwhelmed with readers' requests for prints, at $5 each, that the syndication department gave out Lennon's number, in effect saying "You handle it, Frank."
That's when Lennon copyrighted the photo, making him the recipient of payments when it appeared in countless books, on hockey cards, posters, a Royal Canadian Mint coin and even a postage stamp.
Lennon leaves his wife Helen, children Judith, Kevin, Darcy, Martha, Anita, Daria and Andrea, a brother Bill, sisters Janet and Margaret, and 13 grandchildren. The family has not released the cause of death.
Lennon's funeral will be Friday at 10 a.m. at St. Michael's Cathedral, 200 Church St.
Credit: Toronto Star
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