The Movie Star
Travelers on Atlantic Boulevard now cross the San Pablo River from Jacksonville to Atlantic Beach by way of a high rise bridge, but years ago there was a much lower bridge. Folks reached the old bridge by a causeway and a series of small bridges over the marsh. When the old bridge was removed, the causeway and small bridges were left in place for fishermen, and for canoeists and kayakers to launch their boats.
The old causeway has very little traffic and makes an excellent place for photography. One fall afternoon, I drove over to try my luck. On a spit of land between the river and one of its tributaries, old wooden buildings sat in various states of disrepair. The paint on the south wall of one building had been devastated by the sun and wind. The patterns of the peeling paint looked alluring, but nailed to wall was a large “No Trespassing” sign.
A couple of sailboats were anchored in a cove, but the wind and tide had turned them so that their uninteresting aft ends pointed towards the shore.
I walked along the road and saw that the ditch alongside was filled with trash, old building materials, and even a kitchen sink. But nothing worth photographing.
The road dead-ended at the river, with the way blocked by a big pile of broken pavement and dirt. Off to the right, I finally saw something interesting. It was a concrete pillar about two-and-a-half feet tall, and set into the top were at least a dozen bolts, all set in a circle, their heads submerged in the concrete and nuts atop some of them. I looked at it and tried to determine what it had been. I suppose a pole of some kind had been bolted to the top of the pillar.
But, I saw it as a photographic challenge. To photograph the bolts, I would have to get close. That meant the depth of the in-focus image would be very, very shallow. The only way to expand the depth of field was to shrink down the lens opening using the lens f/stop control. Making the lens smaller meant less light for a given time, so I would have to expose for several minutes.
Then I saw I had a more immediate problem to solve. The scene was in the shade, and with the lens “stopped-down” there was not enough light for me to see to focus the camera. What to do? I remembered I had a flashlight in my bag. I tried shining the light onto the scene, but it was not bright enough to make any difference. I turned on the flashlight, placed it beside the nearest of the bolts, and pointed the flashlight directly at the camera. I could see the glowing bulb and focused on that. After removing the flashlight, I made my exposure and knew that I had something unusual.
I walked back to the cove, and set up my camera there. I could see that I had a good landscape scene, but to be really good, I needed the wind to change direction and blow one of the sailboats around so that it’s side faced me. I was under the dark cloth focusing when I sensed something behind me. I pulled the cloth off my head and turned around.
“That sure is a big camera,” a small, smiling man said to me. He looked about 65 and was dressed in a khaki shirt, khaki shorts, a khaki baseball cap and deck shoes. Blue.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s an 8×10 view camera. There aren’t many of us crazy enough to carry such a camera anymore.”
“That’s my boat out there, you’re trying to take a picture of. The Ox.”
I looked more closely. It was a two-masted sailing ship of a design I had not seen before. I had a blunt bow as well as stern. “What’s the design called?”
“I built it myself. It’s built like that to haul cargo, and I’m headed to the Caribbean to do just that – haul cargo from island to island.”
I didn’t ask what cargo. “Have you built other boats before?”
“Oh, yes, I lived in Los Angeles and built several boats. In fact, I built one that my daughter and I sailed from California to Australia all by ourselves. I was hoping to get some more acting jobs down under.”
“You were an actor.”
“Oh, yes. I was pretty good on a horse, so I was in a lot of the old cowboy movies and TV shows. I was usually an un-credited extra, but I got a few speaking roles. I had a pretty good time until the cowboy shows became unpopular.”
I couldn’t imagine this man on a horse, but he did look like a sailor. “How long will you be here? I might come back and try to get a shot of your boat when the wind blows it around.”
“I’ll be here a week or so, depending on weather. My name’s Will Corry, by the way.”
I introduced myself and wrote down his name. The sun was setting, and it was obvious the wind wouldn’t change. I packed up and went home.
I developed my film and realized the bolt photo wasn’t much good after all. There was just not enough depth of field.
A few days later, I logged onto The Internet Movie Database and looked up Mr. Corry. There he was – several episodes of “Have Gun, Will Travel”, “Gunsmoke”, and “The Kraft Suspense Theater.” He had reprised his Kraft role in the movie “The Strategy of Terror,” starring Hugh O’Brien and Barbara Rush. He also had a small role in “Wild In The Country,” starring Elvis, Hope Lange and Tuesday Weld.
And there was more. He had written an episode of “Gunsmoke” and also the movie “Two-Lane Blacktop,” which starred James Taylor and Warren Oates. A further search on Google revealed that he had also written a book, “The Voyage of the Sea Lion.” It was the story of his cruise from California to Australia with his daughter and her puppy. When they set sail, the daughter was only two-years old.
“I’m an idiot,” I thought to myself for the umpteenth time. “Will Corry was the most interesting thing you saw that day.” I packed up the camera and headed back to Atlantic Boulevard intending to take Mr. Corry’s photo with his ship in the background.
The Ox was gone. I’ve driven past the area hundreds of times since, and haven’t seen the strange little ship again. It was an important lesson for someone who usually photographs sticks and stones and bolts sticking out of concrete. Sometimes one should think about photographing people.