THAT WAS THE LIFE by Dora Jane Hamblin


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. . . so be as tough as you can stop you might try using phone after seeing him although eye had no luck on that today good heavens but we trust you kid best."" Life reporter Dody Hamblin is in Recife ""deploying"" the magazine's large, disunified forces in pursuit--along with 250 other journalists--of the Portuguese liner Santa Maria, hijacked by its captain in protest against the Salazar dictatorship. That short-lived 1961 sensation may have escaped you or perhaps the Life coverage--complete with one passenger's snapshots, another's write-up--has made it memorable. In any case it's of a piece with most of the coups scored here--events inflated far beyond their importance. As Hamblin, a 25-year Lifer, recognizes, the magazine's fortes were spectacles (British royalty or the Papacy, indiscriminately) and disasters; it had the staff, the money, and the push to swamp all competition. These, moreover, were ""stuff of great visual impact""--whereas it took imagination and a whole day to arrange the distant relatives at a family reunion into a spreading ""family tree,"" and genius--along with gall--to jazz up a dull royal visit by hiring a teacher of the deaf to lip-read Queen Elizabeth's remarks at her first football game. Reading Hamblin's 1001 accounts of how they got the story/how they got the picture, you might decide that TV is just the latest medium to manipulate its material and its audiences. But in touting the exploits of everyone from editors to fact-checkers and couriers, Hamblin gives the reader a grounding in the mighty mechanics and, now and again, something to think about: e.g., to get the photographs, ""one had to be there."" She lauds Life's (mostly latter-day) exposes and its ventures in mass education; but for the most part one feels more dazzled by the bravado than respectful of the result--which may, in fact, be as it should be.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1977
Publisher: Norton