Lee Lockwood Remembered

Lee Lockwood (1932-2010), a photojournalist who made his name with influential 1960s articles about Fidel Castro and an American prisoner of war in North Vietnam, was a member of the National Writers Union from 1989 until he retired in 2006. He died on July 31 of complications from diabetes.

Lee Lockwood (1932-2010), a photojournalist who made his name with influential 1960s articles about Fidel Castro and an American prisoner of war in North Vietnam, was a member of the National Writers Union from 1989 until he retired in 2006. He died on July 31 of complications from diabetes.

According to an obituary in the August 7 New York Times, Lockwood viewed his work as a photojournalist as an instrument of social change. A freelancer, he was associated for many years with the Black Star Agency, which sent his work to newspapers and magazines around the world.

Lockwood also wrote books. His most famous, Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Castro: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Today’s Cuba in Text and Pictures (Macmillian, 1967), was based on a week-long, smoke-filled interview for Playboy in 1965. The book covered a wide range of topics, from Marxism, the Cuban missile crisis, and American race relations to sex and prostitution. Lockwood explained in the introduction why he wrote the book: “We don’t like Castro, so we close our eyes and hold our ears, Yet if he is really our enemy, as dangerous to us as we are told he is, then we ought to know as much about him as possible.”

While in Cuba, Lockwood obtained a visa to North Vietnam, the scene of another famous article. That made him the first outside photographer allowed there in more than a decade. Lockwood’s 28-day visit was chronicled in a long, heavily illustrated cover article for the April 7, 1967, issue of Life magazine. As the Times notes, “In words and pictures, Mr. Lockwood portrayed the life of a country then under heavy bombardment by United States forces: bare, ruined villages; deserted factories; a boy with a missing leg, lost to a bomb,” as well as scenes of everyday life.

 

One of Lockwood’s subjects was American Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Richard A. Stratton, who had been shot down and captured in January 1967. Clad in striped prison pajamas, Stratton read a “confession” denouncing U.S. bombing over a loudspeaker and then bowed on orders from a prison official. Lockwood’s photo of Stratton bowing, given a full page in Life, was reproduced around the world. Coupled with Lockwood’s description of Stratton – “His eyes were empty.… His expression never changed.” – the State Department soon after charged the Vietnamese with brainwashing. However, in a Times interview in 2008, Stratton called his actions merely common sense: “You are being tortured, and all you have to do to get them to stop is say the same thing that Bobby Kennedy is saying.”

Lockwood joined the Boston Chapter of the NWU in 1989, inspired by the opportunity to belong to a fighting union. The 1954 graduate of Boston University with a degree in comparative literature showed an avid interest in computers in the early 1990s when other writers were pooh-poohing the emerging technology. Members remember that he gave an informative workshop on that topic for the Western New England Chapter. A review of Boston Chapter doings yielded this from 1993: “Lee Lockwood wanted more on-line exchange of information and ideas, so he pressed the NWU to make our bulletin board an active networking service.”

The major arena where Lockwood contributed his many skills to the NWU was the Grievance and Contract Division where from 1992 to 2005 he spent about 90 percent of his time as a contract advisor. Phil Mattera, the long-standing National Book Grievance Officer, remembers: “Lee was also the member who brought the NWU's first grievance (in 1994) involving an electronic book. Playboy Enterprises was putting together a CD-ROM compilation of interviews from the magazine and planned to include Lee's Castro piece – without asking permission and without more than token compensation. Unlike other contributors to the magazine, Lee had never signed over all rights. After getting publicity for the case in Publishers Weekly, The Wall Street Journal   and other publications, we got Playboy to pay Lee a $1,000 fee.”

Having members of Lee Lockwood’s reputation certainly enhanced the NWU’s stature and encouraged similar writers to join. We salute Lockwood’s many professional achievements and contributions to the NWU as we continue to advocate for freelance writers’ rights which greatly concerned him.

Note: If you wish to send a few words of remembrance to the Lockwood family, you may do so via the online guest book.  It’s interesting to note that Richard Stratton posted the following message there: “Lee's 1967 Life Magazine "Bowing Picture" ensured my release from Hanoi in 1973. For this my family is forever grateful. Deepest sympathy from our family to yours.” One hopes Lockwood knew that. 

Susan E. Davis
National Contract Advisor
Book Division Co-Chair
New York Chapter Co-Chair

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