How a future Hollywood producer, at just 16, became a Pulitzer photo finalist
In time he would become a movie producer and bring to the screen films with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars — “The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games” and “Invictus,” to name a few. But in 1944 he was a 16-year-old high school senior who loved to take pictures and thanks to a bit of luck — and hustle — became a contender for the Pulitzer Prize in photography.
Mace Neufeld was a senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City and one day in November 1944 was on his way to work as a photographer for Mangels, a dress store. He was making 25 cents for each dress he photographed.
While walking on east 15th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues, Neufeld noticed a taxicab stop at a building across the street. He saw a soldier on crutches struggling to get out of the taxi. A window opened in the building and someone shouted, “Sammy’s home!”
A man came rushing out of the printing shop on the ground floor of the building. The man, Sammy’s father, along with Sammy’s mother, embraced the young man, his mother giving her wounded soldier son a kiss on the cheek.
Neufeld, who happened to be carrying his Kodak Medalist 1, 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ camera, ran to the middle of the street and, with no traffic coming, snapped one photo.
“I didn’t want to intrude on this emotional event, but at the same time I knew I wanted the picture,” Neufeld said. “I had mixed feelings.” After getting that one shot, Neufeld went on to work.
Later that evening he went into his darkroom in his parent’s apartment and developed the film. It was the last frame on what was probably a 24-exposure roll, from what he remembers. He accidentally clipped one corner of this last frame. He thought it looked pretty good and the next day he showed it to a friend who suggested he sell it to the newspapers.
Neufeld went down to New York Daily News and asked to see the photo editor. The editor’s secretary brought the picture to the photo editor, who then came out to see Neufeld. The photo editor asked how much he wanted for the picture and Neufeld said $500, “which was an enormous amount of money.” The editor offered $250 and Neufeld accepted, for one-time usage.
“He asked me to leave the negative with him, but I was nervous about doing so, so I waited for him to make a copy negative. I went over to International News Photos and asked for the editor there,” Neufeld remembered. “They sent the picture into him and the photo editor came out and asked how much I wanted for it. I said $500. He offered $250. I told him I had sold it to the Daily News for one-time usage. I asked if he could pay more. He said no because the Daily News has the rights to publish it once.
“So, reluctantly, I accepted the $250. I left the negative with him and waited again until he made a copy negative and then I went home with $500 in my pocket.”
The Daily News wanted the soldier’s name so Neufeld returned to the apartment and learned the man’s name was Pvt. Sam Macchia, a 21-year-old New York native who had been wounded in both legs by a mortar shell in the battle for the town of Saint-Lo in northern France. He had been overseas for 17 months. Neufeld never saw him again.
Subsequently, the Daily News ran the photo, on a full page, on the back cover of the Sunday rotogravure section. The New York World Telegram Sun printed the photo as the “Picture of the Year.” He entered the picture into the first Eastman Kodak National High Salon of Photography and took the first prize of $100. He also got a call from a company in Chicago, which wanted to use the photo as a war poster. Neufeld agreed to that too.
He later found out his photo has been on the short list for the 1945 Pulitzer Prize.
As recounted in the book “The Pulitzer Prize Archive: Press Photography Awards, 1942-1998,” Neufeld’s photograph was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1945, along with several other photos of war scenes, such as “Family Reading of Son’s Parachute Landing” by Victor Peterson of the Indianapolis Tribune and “American Soldiers Marching under the Arc de Triomphe” by Frank Prist of Acme Pictures. Neufeld’s photo was labeled “Warrior’s Return — a Wounded Veteran Greeting Family” by Morris Neufeld, as he was known then.
As it turned out, the Pulitzer judge gave the award to a photograph that, technically, didn’t qualify for the award because was not taken in the correct year. The award went to Joe Rosenthal for his iconic picture of Marines planting the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, Japan, even though it was shot in 1945. (The awards are handed out for work of the previous year.)
But as John Hohenberg wrote in “The Pulitzer Prizes,” the photo “swept aside the technicality that only photographs taken in 1944 were eligible for the 1945 prize. Rosenthal’s was the picture that had dominated the front page of almost every American daily newspaper, that had been reprinted abroad, that had touched off a wave of patriotic pride in American fighting men rarely matched in American history.”
Neufeld’s photo may not have won the Pulitzer but it was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, part of a photography collection curated by Edward Steichen.
Neufeld got interested in photography when he was 10 years old. His Uncle Joe Robbins had a drugstore in Yonkers and had a darkroom in the back, where he showed young Neufeld how to make a print. The boy was hooked and soon obtained his first camera.“I used my camera to take pictures of my cousins, friends, street scenes and anything I though might be interesting,” Neufeld said. “I thought I was a really good photographer.”
His first job was at the dress store, and he got the job through his father, who was a friend of the owner of the Mangels women’s wear chain. He worked there two days a week for about three hours each day. He worked there until he graduated from high school. After high school he was offered photography scholarships at the University of Ohio and USC.
“My parents didn’t want me to be a photographer and they said I had to go to college first and if then I wanted to, I could do that. They also didn’t want me so far from home, so I applied to Ivy League colleges and got into Yale. As I went to school I got occupied with other things even though I still took pictures and had brought my enlarger up to Yale and set up a darkroom. But it effectively ended my photography career.”
Another career, one with moving pictures, beckoned.
Neufeld, now 85, went on to produce, along with “The Hunt for Red October,” other films based on books by Tom Clancy, “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger.” He also produced, among other works, “The Sum of All Fears,” “Bless the Child” and “The Omen.”
Neufeld became a collector of African and Oceanic art and these works, painting as well as sculptures, are on display throughout his house in Beverly Hills. On one wall, in a modest frame, hangs his photo of Pvt. Macchia.
The photograph still brings Neufeld back to the moment he ran out into the street to capture a family’s joy. It reminds him, he says,” that I probably would have been happier being a photographer than a movie producer.”
Photos (top to bottom):
Photo taken by Mace Neufeld of Pvt. Sam Macchia returning from World War II and being reunited with his parents on the streets of New York City in November 1944 and taken by Neufeld while Neufeld was a senior in high school. Sam had been in the Army since 1942 and overseas for 17 months. A native New Yorker, Sam was wounded in both legs by a mortar shell in the capture of St. Lo, France, in July 1944 and was awarded the Purple Heart.
Mace Neufeld holds a photo of Pvt. Sam Macchia on March 26 in his Beverly Hills home. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times)
U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment of the Fifth Division raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan, on Feb. 23, 1945. (Joe Rosenthal/Associated Press)
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