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Bleckman put news events into focus ; 'On the Road' brought him fame

Whether it was tumbling around in a small plane piloted by an 80-year-old woman or trying to keep a speeding bicycle messenger in focus while sitting on the back of a motorcycle as it squeezed between Manhattan buses, Izzy Bleckman made sure the viewers of the CBS Evening News saw it all.

The award-winning cameraman shared some of his memories and video of his best work Monday at Niagara County Community College as a guest speaker at a professional development seminar.

Bleckman, 75, who now lives in Akron with his wife, Mary Roseberry, shot plenty of hard news for CBS from 1966 to 2002.

But he will be best remembered for his work with reporter Charles Kuralt for the "On the Road" series of human-interest vignettes that anchormen Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather often used to wrap up the newscast.

He showed a highlight reel of "On the Road" features and confessed that before they were released as a DVD set by Acorn Media last year, he had never seen many of them.

That was because he was traveling, either with Kuralt, a sound technician and an electrician in their special bus, or he was shooting a news assignment.

Kuralt would record a voice-over, and the unedited film would be shipped back to New York by whatever means possible, and someone there would assemble the finished piece.

"I always meant to send a thank-you note to those editors," Bleckman said.

In those presatellite, pre-Internet days, the film often was sent by a means that would be illegal today.

"The surest way was to go to an airport and find a flight for JFK, and go to the gate -- can you imagine going to the gate by yourself today? -- and we'd look for somebody who looked reasonably responsible, a man with a tie or a lady who was well-dressed.

"We'd walk up with a film sack that said "CBS News" on it and say, 'Ma'am or Mister, we work for the Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and if you take this on the plane with you, when you walk off the plane there will be someone there to pick it up,' " Bleckman said. "We never lost a roll of film."

Bleckman survived the experience with the 80-year-old stunt flier, and he won an Emmy Award for using one of the first handheld video cameras to chase the bicycle messenger as he weaved in and out of Manhattan traffic.

But one story stood out among all the others: a Thanksgiving piece with the Chandler family of Mississippi, former sharecroppers who sent nine children through college and welcomed them and all their grandchildren back for the holiday.

"The Chandler family is the killer for us. It was just beautiful," Bleckman said.

Bleckman was out of work after leaving the Army in 1958, and he went to Chicago, where he worked as a janitor in a film processing lab used by newsreel companies and TV networks. He learned film technology, and in October 1963, Movietone News hired him.

Newsreels were dying in the face of TV news, but when John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas Nov. 22, 1963, Movietone sent Bleckman there.

On Nov. 24, Bleckman filmed Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy's killer, as he was escorted off an elevator in Dallas Police Headquarters. He then ran down a hallway to bypass a crowd of reporters to get another shot, and he filmed Jack Ruby shooting Oswald to death.

Because of that and other coups, Bleckman was hired by CBS in 1966.

Bleckman ended his career on the "Sunday Morning" show, which is how he met Roseberry. She was doing public relations for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra when Bleckman came to town for a story on financial troubles for symphony orchestras. They've lived in Akron since 1998.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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