Union Tribune

November 21, 2003

History, caught on film
Small movie camera pictured JFK just before he was killed


Like many baby boomers, Louis Marotta of Scripps Ranch recalls where he was 40 years ago when then-President John F. Kennedy was shot.

He was a 7-year-old sitting in a Dallas elementary school.

But his father, Anthony Marotta, was 5 feet from the presidential motorcade, pointing a Bell & Howell 8 mm movie camera at his hero.

Just before Kennedy was shot, the president stared directly into Anthony Marotta's camera.

The camera remained forgotten on a closet shelf in their home in Texas for more than 30 years, Louis Marotta said.

Since the camera was discovered, the film it contained has been cited in several documentaries and now resides at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

The museum is in what had been the Texas School Book Depository building, where authorities say assassin Lee Harvey Oswald fired his rifle.

"Little did (my father) know that this passion to see the president and this inexpensive camera would one day come together in a historical moment," said Louis Marotta, 47, a speech and language pathologist at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.

Anthony Marotta, who was 33 when he filmed Kennedy, died in 2000 at age 70.

Inspired by his father, Louis Marotta began collecting Kennedy memorabilia.

He said he has a room of items ranging from a letter from an insurance company promising payments to Oswald's mother following his death to the original psychiatric evaluation of Jack Ruby, the man who killed Oswald two days after the president was slain.

Louis Marotta, who has lived in San Diego for more than a decade, almost lost his "Kennedy Room" to the Cedar fire that consumed parts of Scripps Ranch.

"I thought I would lose everything," he said. "Neighbors who stayed behind put the fire out several times and saved the house from burning down. Had they not been there, it would have been all but destroyed."

Over the years, he has walked the streets near Dealey Plaza and the grassy knoll hundreds of times, trying to piece together what happened there on Nov. 22, 1963.

His father, who had been a part-time photographer, told the story of what he saw that day to the oral history archives at the Sixth Floor Museum.

A transplanted New Yorker, Anthony Marotta worked at the Statistical Tabulating Co. in Dallas and was an avid Kennedy fan. Kennedy wasn't as popular with others in his office.

On the day of the assassination, his bosses admonished him for wearing a Kennedy button. Co-workers criticized him for taking his lunch hour to catch the president's motorcade.

As the cars approached the intersection of Main and Field streets, Marotta had a curbside position. He filmed the car that carried the president and first lady Jackie Kennedy, as well as then-Texas Gov. John Connelly and his wife, Nellie.

Kennedy "just looked right at him," and then his father heard shots, Marotta said. "There was a lot of chaos. Everyone was very nervous. He kept hearing, 'He's been shot. He's been shot.' "

Although there were many still photographs of Kennedy taken that day, movie footage was quite rare, said Stephen Fagin, oral history coordinator at the museum. The most famous is the movie footage taken by Abraham Zapruder, an amateur photographer who captured the assassination on film.

Marotta's film was less than a minute and did not capture the shooting. But it is important nonetheless, museum officials said.

"Those films like Mr. Marotta's will build a montage of the entire route Kennedy had taken," Fagin said. "These films are only five to eight seconds of history, but when you put them together, it's like a giant jigsaw puzzle that is solved. The film preserves not only the memory of what happened, but adds a rich human quality to it."

Along with his father, Louis Marotta was interviewed as part of the oral history collection, which includes everything from eyewitness accounts to political leaders recalling their memories of the assassination. So far, the museum has 280 oral histories, Fagin said.

Anthony Marotta received many offers to sell the film. Oliver Stone, director of the movie "JFK," wanted it. Others did, too. He turned them all down.

"I was so very proud of dad that day," Louis Marotta said when his father turned over his camera to the museum. "I knew that was one gift that would forever live on."

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.