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Bill Bridges:

An Inventory of His Papers and Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Bridges, Bill, 1925-2003
Title: Bill Bridges Papers and Photography Collection
Dates: 1951-1979
Extent: 78 boxes, 2 oversize boxes (36.2 linear feet)
Abstract: The Bill Bridges Collection is comprised of approximately 100 color transparencies, 6,650 prints and contact sheets, and 18,950 negatives. Bill Bridges worked as a photographer for publications including Life, the Saturday Evening Post, and West, and many of the photographs in this collection reflect that occupation. Included in the collection are photographs of film and television stars, political figures and interesting geographic locations, such as the small mining towns of Arizona.
Call Number: Photography Collection PH-00374
Language: English
Access: Open for research. Please note: Transparencies may be accessed but require 24 hours advance notice. Negatives cannot be accessed without curatorial approval. Light sensitive materials must be viewed under low-level lighting. Some materials may be restricted from viewing. To make an appointment or to reserve photography materials, please contact the Center's staff at photography@hrc.utexas.edu.



Acquisition: Gift, 1979
Processed by: Mary Alice Harper with assistance from Jillian Patrick, 2008
Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


William "Bill" Carpenter Bridges was born May 13, 1925, in Palestine, Texas. Bridges was the only child of Oscar Burnett Bridges and Ruth Carpenter Bridges, two vaudeville veterans. (In 1915 his parents drove Birth of a Nation around the country, his father serving as road manager and his mother playing piano accompaniment to the movie.) Although born in Palestine, Bridges spent most of his youth in Houston where his father owned several movie houses. Every day after school Bridges joined his parents at one of the theaters, where he sat in the office and did his homework until the last movie ended. Once Bridges was tall enough to reach the counters he helped out selling concessions while his mother sold the tickets and his father ran the projectors. When the last show of the night ended the family went out for a big bowl of chili before they headed home to bed.
Following his graduation from Lamar High School in Houston in 1943, Bridges moved to College Station where he enrolled at Texas A&M University. After just several weeks he transferred to the University of Texas at Austin where he enrolled in the Bachelor of Journalism program. However, before completing even one semester of college, Bridges was drafted for World War II.
Bridges began his military training at Keesler Field (now Keesler Air Force Base) in Biloxi, Mississippi and was part of the last graduating class of Army Air Force cadets. Largely due to the success of the Allies' air attacks, Bridges' class of cadets was "given" to an Infantry division to be retrained as riflemen. Bridges was sent to the 86th Infantry Division at Camp Polk, Louisiana. He was then relocated to Camp Howze in Gainesville, Texas, where he joined the 103rd Infantry Division. On the 15th of September, 1944, the 103rd began its journey to the European Theater of Operations, passing through Camp Shanks in New York, and sailing to Marseilles, France. After a couple of weeks in Marseilles, the 103rd moved to Docelles, France, and into the Vosges Mountains where they engaged in battle with the German Army. Following the Vosges Mountain Operations, the 103rd went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and a lesser known battle called referred to as Little Bulge, more commonly known as Hitler's Nordwind Operation. It was during Little Bulge on January 19th, 1945, that Bridges was taken prisoner by the Germans in Sessenheim. Hitler's original orders were to execute all prisoners, but miraculously Bridges and his fellow riflemen were spared and instead were marched to Stalag 13. From here he was sent out on "kommando" duty to a work detachment in Marktsteft, Bavaria, where he worked at the local brewery (Privatbrauerei Kesselring). Eventually a rumor spread that Allied troops were approaching, so Bridges and several other POWs hid for several days so as to avoid transfer to another work detachment. The American troops never arrived. Bridges and the others were re-captured but were spared execution by the pleas of the townspeople who feared General George Patton would level their town in retaliation. Bridges and his fellow prisoners were marched for two days until they were rescued near W├╝rzburg by the 29th Infantry Division.
Following his rescue, Bridges was transferred to a hospital in England and treated for his many maladies, including blood poisoning, hepatitis and malnutrition. After a month or so in England he was placed on a hospital ship and sent to Boston. Once States-side, Bridges spent an additional five months in hospitals before being sent to Hot Springs, Arkansas for further recovery. Upon his return to Texas, Bridges was determined to keep himself out of any further infantry affairs, so he joined the Counterintelligence Corps (CIC), an Army Reserve Military Intelligence outfit. He worked for CIC until he was discharged in 1946.
Following his discharge Bridges decided to return to his studies at the University of Texas. But before going back to Austin he enrolled in, and successfully completed, a flight training program at a small airport outside of Houston. Around this same time Bridges met his future wife, Anne Elizabeth Barbour (1923-1985) of Yazoo City, Louisiana. They were married in 1947 and had two children together, Ward Burnett Bridges (1948-1981), and Kate Barbour Bridges (b.1950).
After receiving his pilot's license, Bridges re-enrolled at the University of Texas in the Journalism program. He was halfway through the spring semester of his junior year when he was informed that his G.I. Bill had expired; the flight training had accelerated the remaining time on the G.I. Bill. At that time, in 1950, a person with a Bachelor of Journalism (B.J.) degree was making $34.50 per week, and a person without a B.J. was making $31.50 per week. Given the small difference in pay, and with a wife and son to support, Bridges was forced to forego his final year of school and strike out on his own.
Bridges began his journalism career originally intending to become a magazine art director. While studying at the University he worked for the Texas Ranger, a student-published humor magazine. After leaving school, Bridges moved his family to Houston where he got a job working on Texas Industry, the magazine for the Texas Manufacturers Association. After a couple of years in Houston, Bridges moved the family again, this time to El Paso where he landed a job as associate editor of The Pipeliner, the corporate magazine for El Paso Natural Gas. After a couple of years there he found he was spending more time searching for a new job than working on his current job, so on January 1st, 1955 he resigned.
The year 1955 proved pivotal in Bridges' career. Following a job prospect from Road & Track magazine, once again Bridges packed up, loading his wife, son, daughter, cat and parakeet into their two cars and headed for Los Angeles. Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Bridges learned the job at Road & Track was already filled. Needing immediate employment, Bridges took a job with the Los Angeles Harbor Commission photographing incoming ships. On weekends he supplemented his salary by working at the newly opened Disneyland were he drove a canal boat through Fantasyland. Around this same time Bridges also enrolled at the Los Angeles School of Design, but given his work schedule Bridges found little time for his studies, so again he left school.
Bridges' first big break in the field of photojournalism came in 1957 when he got a job as a freelance "runner" for Life magazine. His first assignment was to cover "Ditch Day" at Cal Tech University. He arrived on location armed only with one camera, a Rolliflex, fitted with a 50mm lens. Nonetheless his resulting images were published in an article titled "Light Turns for Spring Fancy." For the next four years Bridges continued to work as a runner for Life. Although never hired to be a staff photographer, financially this arrangement suited Bridges. In the same year he would have earned $18,000 as a staff photographer, he earned $30,000 working as a runner and doing other freelance work. The quality of his worked grew during this time, and Bridges credits Life with teaching him just about everything he ever learned about photography. In 1958 his talent was recognized by the Art Directors Club of Boston which gave him an award for his photograph, from the same year, of Robert Stack.
In 1961 Bridges left his job as a runner and began working for the Saturday Evening Post, which was in the process of changing its format in an effort to compete with Life. Bridges was hired as a staff photographer, and during his eight years at the Post his photographs illustrated well over 100 published stories. These stories were some of his most memorable and include his the coverage of John F. Kennedy's funeral, the state of mental health care in the United States, the case of Dykes A. Simmons, Jr. (an innocent American held in a Mexican prison), and poverty in America. Bridges was greatly honored when several of his photographs were selected to be part of an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution titled "Profile of Poverty" (May-June 1965). Bridges remained with the Post until the magazine ceased production in 1969.
After the Post folded, Bridges maintained his workflow by hiring an agent, Franz Furst, and redoubling his freelance efforts. He took on assignments from magazines as well as corporations, including Exxon and General Electric. Unfortunately by the late 1970s failing eyesight forced Bridges to shelve his camera equipment.
After retiring from the field of photography, Bridges turned his talents towards cooking, writing, and helping his wife, Anne, with her antique business. In 1981, after several years of extensive research, his The Great American Chili Book was published. Sadly that same year tragedy struck when his son, Ward, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Then in 1985, just four years later, his wife Anne died of cancer. For the next three years Bridges coped with his losses, but continued to dabble in antiques. Then one weekend while working at an outdoor antique market, Bridges met his future second wife, Charmane Halsey (b. 1936) of Michigan. On Valentine's Day in 1989 the couple was married, and later that year they moved to Bridges' home town of Palestine, Texas. Bridges continued to pursue his writing career, writing articles for Simple Cooking, and had hopes of publishing a book on barbeque.
Bill Bridges died of a stroke at his home in Palestine on December 16, 2003.

Scope and Contents

William "Bill" Carpenter Bridges' career as a free-lance photojournalist based in southern California from 1955 to 1979 is documented through this collection of story suggestions and assignments, narrative reports and captions, negatives, contact sheets, enlargements and transparencies, business records, correspondence, memoranda, notes, research materials, clippings, tear sheets, magazines and other publications (books, calendars, annual reports, etc.), and two scrapbooks. The collection has been divided into the following four series: I. Story Files, 1957-1977; II. Published Materials, 1957-1977; III. Business Files, 1951-1972; and IV. Personal Files, 1958-1979. All subseries have been arranged alphabetically by file title. When possible, Bridges' file titles were retained; additional descriptive text appears in brackets. For preservation reasons, all negatives and transparencies have been separated from the rest of the collection and are not generally available to researchers. Although separated physically from the other collection materials, negatives are linked intellectually to their associated materials through the container list.
The bulk of the collection pertains to Bridges' story files, most of which are represented by text documents, negatives, contact sheets, and enlargements (Series I). Many of Bridges' story files represent his career beginning as a "runner" for Life, through his years as a staff photographer for the Saturday Evening Post, and ending with his freelance work for magazines and corporations alike. Bridges saved tear sheets from, and complete issues of, magazines in which his work was published (Series II). Because Bridges maintained these files separately from his story files references have been placed in the container list to provide links to like materials. Publications represented in the collection include: Life, Time, the Saturday Evening Post, West, the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, and America Illustrated. Story subject matter covers a broad spectrum from the Hollywood celebrities, including Jayne Mansfield and Warren Beatty, to the most social issues, including air and noise pollution and drug abuse. In between are stories concerning advances in science and medicine, from nuclear rockets to health care for premature babies; the political atmosphere, including the 1960 Democratic National Convention; landmark occasions, like John F. Kennedy's funeral; and prominent figures of the worlds of sports and entertainment, including Sandy Kofax and Dean Martin.
In addition to Bridges' story files and published materials, the collection contains his business files (Series III). The bulk of these files reflect the various magazines for which Bridges worked. This series also contains correspondence documenting the sales of Bridges' photographs to individuals and publishers alike. Present too are story suggestions Bridges pitched to various publications in hopes of securing more business.
The smallest portion of the collection is a gathering of documents relating to Bridges' personal Life (Series IV). Included are family snapshots, clippings about Bridges, clippings of personal interest, a portion of his daughter's scrapbook, and her collection of clippings and press releases concerning the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees, and the 1960's Youth Quake movement.

Series Outline

  • Series I. Story Files, 1957-1977
  • Series II. Published Materials, 1957-1977
  • Series III. Business Files, 1951-1972
  • Series IV. Personal Files, 1958-1979

Arrangement by Format

  • Contact sheets, enlargements, paper material: Boxes 1-51
  • Negatives: Boxes 52-65.32
  • Transparencies: Boxes 65.33-65.40
  • Business and personal records: Boxes 66-78
  • Scrapbooks: Boxes 79-80

Copies of Art Seidenbaum's Confrontation on Campus: Student Challenge in California (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1969), and Don Fabun's Dimensions of Change (Beverly Hills: Glencoe Press, 1971) arrived with the collection and have been transferred to the Ransom Center's library.

Organizations

University of California (System).

Subjects

Actors and actresses--20th century.
Celebrities--20th century.
Mental health services.
Mental illness.
Musicians--20th century.
Politics and culture--20th century.
Popular culture--20th century.
Poverty--20th century.
Student movements--20th century.

Places

California.
California, Southern.
Los Angeles (Calif.).

Document Types

Clippings.
Contact sheets.
Film negatives.
Film transparencies.
Photographs.
Tear sheets.