The Passing Of The Great And Little Known Of 2017

On the eve of 2018, it would be impossible to move ahead without recalling and honoring those whose life journeys ended in 2017. Their kindness, generosity and personalities have served as an inspiration for their families, friends and strangers in the past and will continue through the years to come. Some were well-known throughout North Texas; others were only known to those within their immediate sphere of influence.

While we regret the loss of these remarkable lives, we are grateful to have had them in North Texas and the legacy they have bequeathed.

Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler (File photo)

Nancy Ann Smith Wynne Chandler (File photo)

Eli (File photo)

Al Hill Jr. (File photo)

  • Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler
  • Nancy Ann Smith Wynne Chandler
  • Eli
  • Robert S. Folsom
  • E.G. Hamilton
  • Al Hill Jr.

Shelly Katz (File photo)

Cherri Oakley (File photo)

Jan Pruitt (File photo)

Liener Temerlin (File photo)

  • Shelly Katz
  • Don Malouf
  • Cherri Oakley
  • Jan Pruitt
  • Liener Temerlin

A Passing: Shelly Katz

Back in the early 1970s, international travel was a big deal with Dallas only having one airport — Love Field; photographers were shooting cameras with film; and less than a half dozen television channels were available.

The late Stanley Marcus had come up with a brilliant idea to shore up the business that tended to go downward in October — Fortnight. Each year he and his staff would turn the downtown Neiman Marcus into a luxurious mini-version of a far-away country — Italy, France, England, etc. In addition to bringing in celebrities like Sophia Loren and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., dignitaries like Lord Mountbatten and designers like Gina Frattini and Hanae Mori, one of the highlights was the fundraising Fortnight Gala that was held at the Fairmont on the first Saturday of the two-week showcase.

It was in 1974 that Japan was the country in the spotlight and headlining the Gala was legendary comedian Jack Benny. A young society writer covering the event stood in the back of the ballroom, when she started talking with a handsome gentleman with a New York accent. The two of them hit it off. He asked if she would like to meet “Jack.” It turned out that he was Irving Fein, Benny’s agent, and the comedian was warming up in a room down the hall. Thrilled at the idea of meeting the star, she didn’t hesitate.

Shelly Katz*

Overhearing the conversation between the two was a freelance photographer, who was short in stature but long on his ability to get “the shot.” His name was Shelly Katz and for local newspaper photographers, the bearded photographer was their nemesis because he was game to get “the shot” for national publications and wire services. Perhaps it was because he was lacking in height that he always managed to get that unique shot that made the final cut.

Like a bloodhound sensing prey, Shelly joined the twosome as if he were part of the young writer’s team. She didn’t mind. She liked Shelly and didn’t see any harm in his tagging along.

As they entered the room filled with Neiman Marcus execs, there was a conversation going on between Benny and his valet. The performer had been practicing with his violin, and for some reason his fingers and arms just didn’t seem right. The valet suggested that Benny was exaggerating the problem or perhaps there was something wrong with the violin. Benny protested. There was something definitely not right, and it was not the instrument.

Now, it just so happened that on this night, the Gala was benefiting the local medical association, with every heavy-hitting medical expert in town seated just feet away in the ballroom. By this time the agent was totally focused on his client and had forgotten the writer and photographer, who were watching from the sidelines.

As three of the area’s top doctors in tuxedos were brought into the room, Shelly saw an opportunity. He knew there was no way he was going to take a photo and blow his cover. But he spotted something in the writer’s hand — a small tape recorder. Quickly, he grabbed it, pushed the record button and placed it on the table near Benny. No one noticed the move. Their eyes were all on the doctor who was now seated directly in front of Benny and holding his hands.

The doctor said, “Mr. Benny, would you please say, ‘Round the rock ran the red rabbit’?” Silence filled the room. Benny’s eyes grew, as he looked at the doctor in a state of bewilderment. All breathing seemed to stop in the room. Had he had a stroke? Then looking up at the valet, Benny said, “Can you believe him? He wants me to say, ‘Round the rock ran the red rabbit.’” Immediately, the room that had been filled with anxiety burst into laughter.  

But the doctors still weren’t all that pleased and recommended his not going on stage. Despite protests, Benny acquiesced and was escorted to his suite with doctors on both sides. Before following the group down the hallway, Shelly handed the recorder to the writer with a smile. He had captured the story for her.

Benny would be dead two months later from pancreatic cancer. On the other hand, Shelly would continue on getting stories for Life, Time, People Weekly and other publications. When the world of digital photography and personal computers arrived on the scene, Shelly immediately jumped on board, “working closely with various manufacturers in developing electronic photo gathering systems as well as consulting with ABC-TV, CBS-TV and Showtime Network.”

The New York Times reported in 1991 how, 11 years earlier, “Time asked him to find a way of producing ‘clearer and cleaner’ electronic still images of a NASA space mission than were possible from shooting off a television monitor. He and NASA scientists worked out a system using available technology to get an image directly on tape as it was being shown on a monitor.”

On Friday, December 15, Shelly died at the age of 75, leaving behind a much-loved son, Andrew Katz, and a priceless collection of images from his 64-year relationship with photography. His funeral will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, December 19, at DFW National Cemetery.

* Photo courtesy of Andrew Katz