4 Shots of One-Shot Frony

G.D. Fronabarger - Gary Rust recognized at Kiwanis 07-20-1967I’m sure G.D. Fronabarger – better known to everyone in Southeast Missouri as One-Shot Frony – must have thought, “That kid’s crazy wasting four shots on a Kiwanis Club presentation.” (I took four, but only three were different enough to show here.)

Frony, who was the Missourian’s photographer from 1929 to 1986, was best known for lining up a group of people, then growling around his ever-present cigar, “Don’t blink. I’m taking one picture.” True to his word, he’d press the shutter release, then walk away.

The negative sleeve is slugged Kiwanis Club – Frony 07-20-1967. That’s in one of those months that is a black hole in the Google Archives, so I don’t know what’s happening in the photo.

Gary Rust was there

G.D. Fronabarger - Gary Rust recognized at Kiwanis 07-20-1967Gary Rust, who would become a newspaper magnate a few years down the road, was one of the three men being recognized with Frony. He’s on the left in the photo at the top of the page and on the right in this photo. I don’t know who the man in the middle was. Note Frony’s cigar. I don’t know if he ever smoked it or if he just chewed it to death. I tried to blow up the name tag on the man at the lectern, but “Wayne” was all I could make out.

Fred Lynch keeps him alive

G.D. Fronabarger - Gary Rust recognized at Kiwanis 07-20-1967

Fred Lynch, who has been a photographer at The Missourian since 1975, keeps Frony’s photos alive in his blog, f/8 and Be There. Some of his early work goes well beyond straight newspaper photography and approaches art as much as anything can that is destined to have a life of 24 hours.

By the time I got to know Frony, he was burned out from shooting 59 years worth of those Kiwanis Club meetings and the same annual events that had come around 59 times. I wrote about Frony in 2009 and published my favorite picture of him.

In it, I talked about how surprised I was to hear Frony defend a controversial spot news photo I had taken and how our relationship changed after that. We were never close, but I had the feeling that Frony finally conceded that “this kid might just make it as a news photographer.”

 

One-Shot Frony

GD Fronabarger c 1967

Everyone’s been shot by Frony

There’s probably nobody who lived in Southeast Missouri between 1927 and 1986 who hadn’t had his or her picture taken by One-Shot Frony.

G.D. Fronabarger started working at The Southeast Missourian in 1927 and stayed 59 years.

When I knew him, he was called One-Shot because he seldom took more than one picture per assignment. He’d line up a group shot with 50 people in it, growl through the cigar clenched between his teeth, “Don’t blink. I’m taking one shot,” push the shutter release and walk off.

He and I had a somewhat tense relationship in our early days. I was a reporter who got paid $5 for each shot that ran… when one ran. Because most of the staffers liked my candid style, as opposed to Frony’s more formal posed pictures, they’d connive to slip assigments to me on days when they knew Frony wasn’t available. He was gruff with everybody, but it always felt like he was a little more gruff with me.

Frony defended a controversial picture

Barge fatalities 12-05-1966That all changed after I went out on an early-morning spot news run Dec. 5, 1966.

A 19-year-old and another man were cleaning the inside of a closed barge with gasoline when they were overcome by the fumes. I took a front-page picture of the young man laying face-down on the cold barge deck while rescue workers lifted his partner out of the hold.

It was the first body I had ever seen outside of a funeral home – certainly the only one of someone my age – and it was one of the few I can recall The Missourian running. Seeing that, and writing the obituary of a kid I went to kindergarten with, showed me just how fragile life is. I never forgot it.

Predictably, the paper came in for a lot of criticism

I was surprised one day when I was in a coffee shop and overheard Frony defending “the kid” who took the picture to someone who was bending his ear. After that, Frony treated me a lot differently. Maybe he felt like I had paid my dues and had what it took to be a real newspaper photographer.

Fred Lynch is preserving Frony’s early work

Southeast Missourian Photographer Fred Lynch

I dropped in to see Fred Lynch, a Missourian photographer since 1975. I had seen his work over the years, but had never met him. While we were sharing war stories, he said that he was involved in a project to digitize all of Frony’s 4×5 negatives.

Frony was an early adopter of 35mm technology. He showed me a long telephoto lens one afternoon, and I asked what he planned to use it for.

“I’m going to stand here and shoot corruption in Illinois,” he groused, without a hint of a smile.

Fred pulled out a series of prints that showed a completely different side of Frony, the photographer. There were images that would qualify as art in any museum. He managed to capture a portrait of his era in a way I hope my pictures do.

I’m not sure how The Missourian will ultimately use the photos, but I’ll be first in line to buy the book if they publish one.

Frony’s Twister Tornado Warning Alarm

Tornado Warning Alarm owned by G.D. FronabargerI happened to be in town when many of Frony’s possessions were auctioned off. (A copy of the picture of him on the river front was one of the things that sold. I was touched that he had hung onto it for all those years.)

One thing that caught my eye was a Twister Tornado Warning Alarm. It was a quirky device that had a metal can in the middle. If the air pressure dropped suddenly, a buzzer would sound and a light would light. It had no practical use, but it was neat.

Auctioneer sweetened the deal

I bid two or three bucks and figured I had a clear shot. The auctioneer, though, wanted to boost the bid, so he threw in two pairs of Frony’s old shoes. One was an orangish color not seen in nature. NOW folks were getting interested. I think I finally had to go to five or seven bucks for my trophy, plus the bleeping shoes.

I felt foolish enough buying the Twister Torado Warning Alarm (which, by the way, is on permanent loan to the Mark Steinhoff Memorial Museum in St. Louis), the shoes made me feel REALLY foolish.

Frony Shoes are still in service

Frony Shoes, modeled by Matt SteinhoffIt turned out that Kid Matt, who was in high school at the time, thought they were the most comfortable things he’d ever found. And, showing that he had inherited his fashion sense from me, he insisted on wearing them in public.

I asked him the other night what ever happened to his Frony Shoes.

He was more than happy to pull them out of his closet to pose for this picture.

I guess you could say that the Steinhoffs have walked a mile in Frony’s shoes.