Abraham Zapruder: The Man Behind the Film of JFK's Assassination

Abraham Zapruder recorded the most famous home movie in history.

ByABC News
November 18, 2013, 10:47 AM

Nov. 18, 2013 — -- The 26-second film often regarded as the most famous home movie in history was shot by a Texas dressmaker who initially didn't even bring his camera to work on the overcast day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Abraham Zapruder, 58 years old at the time, was a dress manufacturer who owned Jennifer Juniors, Inc., which was located across the street from the Texas School Book Depository.

Zapruder, a Kennedy fan, left his Bell & Howell film camera at home since the morning was overcast. At lunchtime, Zapruder's assistant urged him to go home and get the camera before the president's motorcade came by.

He went home, got the camera and headed back to Dealey Plaza to watch the procession. He found an elevated concrete block to stand on in order to get a good vantage point for his film. He climbed up and his receptionist stood behind him, in case he got dizzy.

Later that day, Zapruder would recount the next few moments to ABC News' Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV.

"As I was shooting, as the president was coming down from Houston Street making his turn, it was about a half-way down there, I heard a shot, and he slumped to the side, like this," Zapruder said, demonstrating what he saw.

Watch Abraham Zapruder's interview with WFAA from day of the shooting.

"Then I heard another shot or two, I couldn't say it was one or two, and I saw his head practically open up, all blood and everything, and I kept on shooting. That's about all, I'm just sick, I can't..." a distressed Zapruder trailed off.

"I think that pretty well expresses the entire feelings of the whole world," WFAA program director Jay Watson said on-air.

At the time of the interview, the TV station was still processing Zapruder's film and they had not yet seen the footage that would soon become an iconic recording of the day's tragedy.

Zapruder's roughly 26-second film would be the only known recording to capture the entire assassination.

Watch full televised coverage of the national tragedy from November 22, 1963.

After screening the film for Secret Service agents, Zapruder agreed to sell the rights to "Life," but did not want the film to be exploited. He sold the rights for $150,000 plus royalties, according to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

He gave $25,000 to the widow of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit, who was allegedly killed by Lee Harvey Oswald about 45 minutes after the assassination when Tippit stopped Oswald to question him.

The Warren Commission, the group that investigated Kennedy's assassination, and the FBI relied heavily on the film to piece together the events of the day. Zapruder testified to the commission in 1964.

He died in August 1970 of cancer at the age of 66.