Kennedy’s Assassination: How LIFE Brought the Zapruder Film to Light
50 years after JFK’s assassination, LIFE.com presents the story of how an editor named Richard Stolley flew straight to Dallas from Los Angeles within hours of the assassination; how he tracked down Zapruder; how he purchased the film for LIFE magazine — and what all of that ultimately came to mean for LIFE, for Zapruder, for Stolley himself and for the nation, then and now.
Having flown from L.A. that afternoon, Stolley was in his hotel in Dallas just hours after the president was shot, “when I got a phone call from a LIFE freelancer in Dallas named Patsy Swank,” Stolley remembers, “and the news she had was absolutely electrifying. She said that a businessman had taken an eight-millimeter camera out to Dealey Plaza and photographed the assassination. I said, ‘What’s his name?’ She said, ‘[The reporter who told her the news] didn’t spell it out, but I’ll tell you how he pronounced it. It was Zapruder.’
“I picked up the Dallas phone book and literally ran my finger down the Z’s, and it jumped out at me — the name spelled exactly the way Patsy had pronounced it. Zapruder, comma, Abraham