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From The Vault Of Art Shay Classic: A Love Story From The Greatest Generation

By Art Shay in News on Aug 29, 2012 6:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. In this week's look at his photography archives, Art reflects on a 70-year love affair.)

(Ed. Note: Florence Shay, Art Shay's wife of 68 years, passed away on Aug. 22, 2012 after a lengthy bout with ovarian cancer. This week we're re-running a post from Nov. 30, 2011 where Art lovingly reflects on their relationship. We hope you enjoy it. — Chuck Sudo)

I fell in love with a smart and beautiful camp counselor 70 years ago in the fabled Catskill Mountains. We were both 18. I was the camp bugler and she was a counselor who edited the camp newspaper. There was friction between us because she was from the sidewalks of Brooklyn and I was from the dark alleys of the Bronx. Franklin Roosevelt was in his second term as President — our camp bus had stopped in 1936 to let his caravan of prehistoric Packards pass along Bronx River Parkway on its way to Hyde Park. I shakily took the grinning icon's picture with my father's Kodak: FDR in his Western-style slouch hat; cigarette holder aimed to the sky; crutches hidden; Eleanor beside him.

The world was girding up to go to war. News of the Holocaust reached us from the very few refugee relatives we met. They told wild stories of their escape from Germany. What did that have to do with our lives? Florence and I didn't have an inkling that our puppy love and the war would sculpt our lives into interlocking monuments, that we would one day produce children like the ones who awoke to my bugle's Reveille; went to sleep with its Taps echoing in the mysterious mountains across Sackett Lake; and suffered the editing of their stories by a still-beautiful, now-famous woman who would one day edit many of my books and, indeed, from her famous shop in Highland Park, IL, sell books to three governors, rock stars like Billy Corgan, and befriend luminaries like David Mamet, Joseph Heller, Nelson Algren, Paul Newman and intellectual sports figures such as B.J. Armstrong and several other Bulls and Bears.

I suppose I should share one quintessential Florence story with my new international audience: I took her along to shoot Burt Reynolds in his prime for an interview with the great Roger Ebert. As soon as Florence, starry-eyed, said she very much liked Burt Reynold's beige leather shirt, Burt started to take it off to give to her, then stopped. "I can't give it to you; it was given to me by a nice lady of your generation."

"Dinah Shore!" Florence guessed.

Reynolds nodded yes at Florence's absorption, then casually placed his room key — 515 at the Arlington Hilton — face up on the table, and gestured with his chin at the key.

Roger caught the signal and let Florence conduct the rest of the interview. On the way home Florence kvelled, "I can't believe a bona fide movie star was ready to give me the shirt off his back, and instead showed me his room number. Not bad for a mother of four!" I'm lucky she's never understood just how sexy she was. Through the years we've both sadly watched Burt's career never make it past Room 515.

Before (as Nabokov said, talking of subway grifters) I pass out a few snapshots, I should explain that Florence and I will have been married 67 years when our LA-based daughter, a copyright and trademark lawyer, takes us to dinner tomorrow night at George's" What's Cooking" restaurant and smiling George greets us as if we had climbed the Acropolis to celebrate.

Actually, 67 years (more than most of you readers have been alive) is a tough climb but, as you can see, well worth it.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.