(A NOTE FROM BILL BRUNS: Chuck Rapoport and I have been friends since late October 1967, when we worked as a reporter/photographer team to help produce a 12-page story in LIFE magazine about Runaway Kids living on the streets in lower Manhattan. Chuck’s photos dominated the coverage and I wrote about several of the teenagers we encountered. In the early 1970s, my wife Pam and I, as well as Chuck and his wife Mary, moved to Los Angeles and, quite by coincidence, ended up buying homes in Pacific Palisades. Chuck transitioned from his career as a photographer to become a successful screenwriter and television writer, while also marketing his photos of famous individuals: JFK, Jackie Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Samuel Beckett, Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Pilates, among others. When I was editor of the Palisadian-Post (1993-2013), we published several Lifestyle pages featuring these photos. Chuck’s beloved Mary died last September 18, and he has since been posting illuminating photos and memories on Facebook about their years together. Here’s his latest story.)
BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS.
BY CHUCK RAPOPORT
I shared my life with Mary and books.
Confession: I grew up in a household in the Bronx, New York, where the only books on the small bookcase in the living room was the complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica that some salesman convinced my Dad to purchase on the installment plan, one book arriving periodically.
I learned to read in elementary school PS 104 on Shakespeare Avenue (think of the irony). Comic books were my literature. It’s sad to think how deprived my brother and I were growing up, but we made it out of our readerless life.
My brother Mel, I say his name to keep him alive, became a physician. I went on to become quite a good reportage photographer. How fitting for a semi-literate, but ultimately writer.
So, when I first met Mary on a hot winter’s day on the steps of my hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she was a vision of loveliness and character in her beige, spaghetti strapped sun dress and sandals. I fell for her immediately. I could hardly speak or make sense. She thought I was funny.
She was a 19-year-old New York girl with long hair covered in a kerchief and a seductive smile that was as natural as the sun shining on her sling bag and her bare shoulder she carried on. And in that sling bag among the accoutrement of a young woman’s daily cartage was a book. Forgive me for not recalling its title. I admit, I was less interested in her book and the bag than I was in the curve of her bare shoulders, and the rest of her.
Cutting through the early days of courtship on San Juan’s beaches, the night air, lying on the sand, our first kisses, the months of falling in love, the kind of yearning love that burned to our core, love that demanded we be together at all costs, to hold hands walking endlessly through the City and Central Park, from east to west and back again. Stealing kisses and embraces on park benches alongside old people feeding pigeons.
But always, the sling bag and a book. Every pause in Mary’s life was filled with turning pages. Two books a week. That along with her Hunter College reading and writing assignments.
I was so glad she wanted very much to put them down to make out with me. I was one of the luckiest guys in the world. And I knew it.
Mary was elegant way above her station in life. She went to cut-rate stores that sold designer clothing. She was a size 2, so house samples were perfectly made for her body. Her sense of style demanded she have a wardrobe that mattered.
Never in jeans, always in slacks or skirt suits, silk blouses, tiny scarves in summer, larger scarves in winter. A pin or a necklace, small, hooped earrings or gold studs. Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps eau de parfum, a scent that I recognize even today as my nose seemed to be forever buried in her neck.
But, books. Yes! She told me what she was reading. She suggested I read them when she was finished but I never did. I didn’t begin reading until years passed, and I began reading the mysteries that were part of her library.
I got hooked. Hooked on books. The feared, dreaded written words, those strange, crooked symbols that competed for dear space on magazine pages that demanded my photographs take precedence.
Here’s a 2005 photo of a delighted Mary in a bookshop in Venice, Italy. Her comfort zone. Keep reading, Mary, my love, wherever you are.
More of Rapoport’s photos can be found on his website: click here.