I’m very lucky because 30 years ago, by chance, my friend Martha Shulman, the great cookbook author, introduced me to John Morris and his writer wife Tana Hoban. They were all living in Paris. Tana, a very successful photographer and children’s author, died a few years ago. But John turns 100 today in Paris. The greatest photo editor– and a renowned photo journalist himself–has made it a historic century.
John was a star here in the States as a young man: he was photo editor for Life Magazine during World War II. When the war ended he became executive editor of his friend Robert Capa’s brand new Magnum Photo Agency. In his long and storied career, John also worked for the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Ladies Home Journal. If you say his name in real journalistic circles, the people who know ‘know.’ John Morris is a legend.
Think about it: he worked with Capa, with Cartier-Bresson, with all the greats. John is living history. He’s published many books to document his adventures. The one to get is “Get the Picture: A Personal History of Photojournalism.”
At least once a year I still visit with John in the Soho-like apartment in the Marais that he shared with Tana, his third wife. He was married to each wife for 20 years until their respective deaths. I didn’t know the other wives but Tana, the last, was a pistol, and they were madly in love. They were inveterate travelers and adventures, and Paris, Martha likes to say, was their oyster. Despite walking with a cane, John has a lovely lady friend in her 80s, still loves to travel and often lectures on his history, on Capa and Magnum, and the way photojournalism made World War II come alive. Nothing was ever the same.
In the thirty years since John settled in Paris, he’s been active in other ways, too– organizing and being an activist for Democrats Abroad. There are probably thousands of stories of meetings in the Morris apartment to protest everything from Reagan to the Bushes to Trump. But it hasn’t only been rabble rousing. In 2014, Andrea Mitchell featured him in a piece on NBC News on the 70th Anniversary of D Day. John dedicated a commemorative wreath at Normandy. He was just 97, so why not?
I don’t know if he’ll finish it, but John is working now on his grand opus, a huge volume of stories and photos. He’s the last link to a world that has since been digitized and minimized. He’s lived a beautiful life of achievement and public contribution, and as he made history so he’s become it, too.
Happy Birthday, John!