Speaker So the first question to ask is, what is your clearest memory of Robert Cappa, if you have one otherwise just any memory of of Cappa arriving at your house or taking you somewhere?

Speaker Never you. My first recollections of Robert Capa were when my mother told my brother and I that she was going to have a guest over and and she wanted us to to get dressed up and look nice. And I guess I was about nine and my brother was four and a half. So we had no idea what this was all about. But this very dashing guy arrived at the door and my mother, I could just see her melt. You know, this this was perhaps the love of her life, I don't know. But she was really she just became animated and happy and she hadn't been all that happy, you know. So this was a change that I noticed immediately as to my brother Jason and. And he was just absolutely friendly, outgoing, made us feel relaxed, and we went outside and played some basketball. Kicked a soccer ball around, he's just very natural guys, I remember my first impression was that he was great.

Speaker And so that first day he went outside with you played around.

Speaker Yeah. And over a period of a few few weeks or months, I guess it's hard for me to remember, you know, all the chronology of everything, because it was a short time, you know, in 1950, 51, I guess around there I was nine and 10 and.

Speaker And he was just a great guy, I was. Always felt good to be.

Speaker In his company, what do you know, anything like a father figure for you?

Speaker I'm more of a friend, more of a friend in the sense that he didn't live with my mother, but saw her on occasion. And and then when in the summer months, my brother and I would go to our father's place, my mother and cappa would go to to Paris or to Europe. And there was, you know, this wonderful sense of freedom. She had, I guess, to to be rid of us kids and to be with the one she loved. Did you ever go to Paris? No, I didn't know. I didn't know. I didn't go to Europe until I was, you know, in my late teens. And of course, now I go all the time. But at that time, it was a mysterious continent to me.

Speaker So where she went with that?

Speaker Yes, a mystery, but she always was full of life when she got back and.

Speaker It was a good thing.

Speaker I don't know much about your mother, I haven't seen any pictures of her and what she was like, what kind of person she was when she was a very you're doing so you're just starting to tell me what your mother was like.

Speaker Yeah, well, my mother was a beautiful woman who was born in Toronto. Nineteen seventeen. She moved with her family to Batavia, New York, where she went to high school. She got a scholarship to go to Antioch College, where she was a theater major and. Was in many. Full productions, you know, the major stuff there was the Antioch Area Theater, which was a groundbreaking. The school itself was a groundbreaking liberal arts college that had its own theater and there was a community theater as well. And so she excelled in the theater and I guess eventually went to Hollywood, where she lost out on a part to gale storm. And this is just what I've been told kind of things. She moved to New York in 1939 or 40 and met my father, who was a jazz impresario, producer, critic, political left wing idealist. And I guess they were both. In the right place at the right time, and and so they married I was born in 1942 and my father got drafted into World War Two and my brother was born in 1946 when he just got out of the army. And in 1948, they were divorced.

Speaker And my husband and I started that. Well, it's OK. I don't know. You know, it's OK for me to just go back to OK. Yeah. In 1930. Right.

Speaker OK, please. Role playing.

Speaker In 1948, my parents were divorced and my mother, brother and I lived in the village at 86 MacDougal Street, where that's where I grew up. My.

Speaker Mother was.

Speaker Worked various jobs, she had a job with a graduate Institute of Book Publishing at NYU. She worked for a doctor. She had various jobs. I wasn't totally aware of all of the things that she did. I was concerned with trying to get through school. Greenwich Village in those years was a real sort of Italian neighborhood with bohemian influences and coffee shops and restaurants and pizzerias and all the good stuff. I really. This was my my reality and her reality, we lived in a community garden, all rows of brownstones with a garden connecting both McDougal and Sullivan streets. So there was this incredible kids paradise outside. This is where Walker and Yossef Stewart lived amongst many families that we all got to know. My my mother had her own scene there, and and I think when Caracappa was around was when she really came to life.

Speaker That's so interesting, many people have said that when he walked into a room, there was an energy charge or there was something.

Speaker I don't really I can't quite get a sense of what that was. Well, first of all, this was a very handsome man, a very he looked rugged and like ready to go anywhere and do anything. He had dark eyes that just shined. And he was he was totally alive. And he really anybody that met him would have felt the same kind of energy. And my brother and I both thought he was great and just was hoping he'd be around more and more. And so it was a good thing.

Speaker Oh, his accent.

Speaker Yes, he had this European accent. I couldn't place, you know, what nationality. But it was very himself. I mean, it was. Everyone understood, but had this flair and dynamic to it, that was it was fantastic, he was just a real. Interesting person there. I mean, you knew it without even knowing who he was. This is somebody.

Speaker That was great, and did he ever talk to you about photography or his work or anything?

Speaker He showed us his cameras and of course, I didn't know anything about photography, but not long after that, I got a Brownie Hawkeye camera and started to take photographs myself. And I think he inspired me to do that. At this time, you know, this was before I was had found my musical calling in life, so I was just a kid finding out about the things in this world. And and I guess, you know, without really being aware of it, he was a big influence on me.

Speaker So he did it when you got your camera. Did he teach you anything about it or was that.

Speaker Well, he he he said, you know, how to look at things and see things in the way you would as if it was a photograph. You know, and I remember I used to like to take long walks in New York. I would walk up to the U.N. when it was just built in and took photographs of the U.N. I took photographs of my cat. I took photographs of everything. You know, I mean, it's. I guess it came from there somehow.

Speaker That's great. And did that make sense to you when you said think of it as a photograph, did you start looking? Yes.

Speaker And it was he he gave you that that ability to get gave me this feeling that you could look at something and hold it and preserve it and.

Speaker It was. Profound, right?

Speaker And have you I imagine you've looked at these photographs as an administrator.

Speaker Yes. And realize this I realized the significance of his work, you know, much after the fact, unfortunately, but. You know, you see the passion in his work and his, you know, ability to capture moments that no one else could conceive of. I don't think, you know, he's just. Dynamic, fantastic. I don't know the words, the right words to describe, but of course, I got to know his. Brother Cornell and Edith, his wife, and when I began to make records and, you know, I had my career as a as a singer, I got Cornell to take an album cover shot for my first Atlantic record. And what's on that cover? It's a photograph of me, a close up of my face, smiling like, you know, I was recording with this incredible all star band. And he was there and he caught it. He caught it in my eyes. And that's when I had my little pencil mustache in 1967, 65, sorry, 65. So for this, I didn't know that right after, you know, having met him, that I got this camera and started to. Document my my little world. Do you have any of those pictures? You know, I used to I think my my second marriage, I left a lot of my old archive stuff. I'm sure they're long gone. Let's talk about the next. Oh, I know. I know. But let's see. Well, I know I have them all here. Yeah. What would they like if they were. They were. Well, I don't know. I mean, I had never taken pictures before, so this was just my my point of view. So, you know, it was just seeing, you know, that I did that and this was my. My world, in a sense that I was photographing the things that I that I saw and felt about. I took many pictures in that little community garden of ours and and. It was a new way to see things. Did you have a sense that you were being, like, cool like him? I don't know if I was cool like him or ever would be, but I know that he he made my mother very happy and gave her this kind of energy that I hadn't noticed before. And and when he died so tragically, it destroyed her in a lot of ways. And my brother and I both felt that intensely.

Speaker That was the next thing I was going to ask you about. If you remember the day that you heard that he had died.

Speaker Yes, I remember. Sure.

Speaker So we were I remember in the morning that.

Speaker My mother got a phone call that. That just, you know, she went crazy, she became hysterical, and my brother and I both know what to do or what was happening, and we were told that.

Speaker Kapa had been killed in action in Vietnam and.

Speaker Then he was gone, and I remember just that that's sort of numbing feeling where everything is sort of like without sound and it lasted for me, you know, a few days. But, you know, it really it really had a drastic effect on my mother. And because, you know, he was the potential for her, her new reality, her new happiness. And it was gone. And and my brother and I both felt that that intense loss.

Speaker Did you recover that she regained happiness that you have?

Speaker I don't think so, no. I mean, she, you know, had her own her own world, I guess, that she retreated to. I mean, she carried on with her life, but it was not ever with that passion anymore. And that that sense of having this. Liveness, yeah, we're talking about yeah, just do that one more time.

Speaker That one that the change.

Speaker Oh, OK, I'll just ask you again whether she recovered.

Speaker I don't think she ever. Recovered from the loss of this true, true love that she had. I know she, you know, had so many aspirations, hopes of them being together.

Speaker And so it was tragic.

Speaker I'm wondering a little bit whether this event had any effect on your feelings about the war in Vietnam?

Speaker Well, this was the early 50s when it was the French who were mired and in a civil war that, you know, had to do with colonialism.

Speaker It had to do with, you know.

Speaker The major change, it made me aware of a part of the world that I had nothing, no context to at all. And so when the Vietnam War, when when the U.S. got involved in 1963, I guess I knew it was a can of worms. I surely didn't want to go. It had every kind of, you know, aspect to it, especially with, you know, the loss of Cuba that I knew it was a bad place to be. Were you able to avoid. I fortunately, fortunately, I had a knee injury and a knee operation with a beautiful scar across my knee and I was rejected. This was before the war and had become full blown. And so I'm sorry, son, but you're not good enough for this man's army.

Speaker I said, okay, so those were all of my questions, except this is something that I'm going to ask everybody if you had to sum up Cappa and three words.

Speaker Three adjectives or whatever.

Speaker What would they be and you can take your time, whatever it takes to think of that.

Speaker Well, he was very dynamic as a person, he was intensely warm. I don't know exactly the right words, I only knew him a short time, but I saw the the energy that he gave, you know, out freely to, I'm sure, everyone he met.

Speaker But to my mother especially, you know, he.

Speaker Turned her on, I guess, and I think that that, you know, he was fearless, he was just larger than life and a lot of ways.

Speaker That was great. That was great. There was one more question, if you remember, any Josepha woman interviewed here in Boston said she remembered him coming over to. I think your house housemate was your mouth and you guys just going nuts running all over the place. And I think we could describe a really fun situation like that.

Speaker Well, he would come in and the first thing or do it, you know. How about you guys come outside with me or play in, whether it be basketball or, you know, football or baseball or anything. I mean, he was just a natural person, you know? I mean, naturally, gregarious, friendly. And and, you know, I mean, my brother and I both remember him, you know, really fondly as being anxious for him to come over. If our mom said, hey, you know, Kappus coming over, which was a good feeling because you because you knew he wasn't, you know, going to ignore us or, you know, it was going to be fun to treat you like an equal or was it like you little kids know we were kids, you know, we were just kids and. But we were. Jimmy Hammon's kids, and I think he like my mom a lot.

Speaker He clearly did. Do you have any anything else that I haven't thought to ask you that you might want to say for the.

Speaker Neither influences or specific memories or things your mother told you about him or.

Speaker Well, you know, there wasn't, you know, that that kind of there wasn't enough of a relationship. I mean, there was the potential of them getting together and, you know, making a home together and stuff that that seemed imminent. But it never came to be. So, you know, I don't have the kind of insights that that I would have, of course, if he had had lived with us, you know, but the the moments that that I can recall and that I shared with him were were wonderful. He was just a true, truly dynamic guy. And everyone that knew him, you know, you could tell the admiration in there and the way they spoke of him or to him, you know, he was just a fantastic guy.

Speaker People say, oh, many people have said he was very quiet.

Speaker Well, he was very warm and open and didn't seem quiet with my mom. I don't know.

Speaker That's good. That's great, John. Great. Really great. All right.

Speaker Terrific. How they met. Yeah. Like, I don't know. I think you never would know. Yeah, there were mutual friends. Magnum had its offices in New York. And I know I went up there with my mom a few few times to to Magnum. And there were all these incredibly talented photographers. And I think Josepha worked for Life magazine and they used Magnum for a lot of their shots and.

John P. Hammond
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"John P. Hammond, Robert Capa: In Love and War." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 17 Jan. 2002,
(2002, January 17). John P. Hammond, Robert Capa: In Love and War. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"John P. Hammond, Robert Capa: In Love and War." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 17, 2002. Accessed May 25, 2022


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