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Little Man with Big Camera
Jeff Pearlman
October 06, 1997
Izzy Kaplan took pictures in an era when buffoonery was practiced as an art
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October 06, 1997

Little Man With Big Camera

Izzy Kaplan took pictures in an era when buffoonery was practiced as an art

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While on assignment in New Orleans in 1922, Israel Solomon Kaplan, a man who hid his ethnicity only slightly better than Richard Simmons hides his leg warmers, was bombarded by notes sent to his hotel room. The first was from the Ku Klux Klan, which was roaring with power in Dixie at the time, warning him to get out of town within 24 hours.

The second was, again, from the KKK: "Get out of town in 12 hours or else." The third was a final threat: "You now have only six hours to get out of town."

Kaplan, a little man with nerves of Jell-O, moved his bed against the door, disconnected the phone, took a double dose of sleeping powder and still slept nary a wink. The next morning a telegram was delivered to his room. Its message was the most alarming of all: Proceed at once to the Ku Klux Klan conclave and get a photograph of the Imperial Wizard, Dr. Hiram Evans.

So here was Kaplan, a New York Tribune sports photographer, looking down at a death sentence delivered unceremoniously by his employer. According to a feature story in the March 9, 1940, edition of Collier's that recounts the episode, Kaplan had been sent to New Orleans to cover spring training with the New York Yankees and other related stories his editors came up with. But this was something totally different. This was a Jew having to stroll up to KKK headquarters carrying a camera.

"I should like it a peecture of de beeg boss—what you call him, de Imperial Gizzard?" Kaplan told a robed guard, his Lithuanian accent strong on each word.

"What's your name?" snapped the Klansman.

"Israel Solomon Kaplan," he replied, emphasizing each syllable.

The guard slammed the door in Izzy's face. A few minutes later he reappeared and said, "The Imperial Wizard will see you."

Kaplan quickly entered the building, waddling past a swarm of hooded goons and up to the exalted Evans. He pulled out the telegram and gave it to Evans to read.

Evans looked Kaplan up and down for a moment and then—to the shock of his gathered brethren—removed his hood and gave a grand political smile. Kaplan's flash exploded like a cherry tomato, each click accompanied by a loud poof! and a burst of light. Kaplan took a few more shots, then signaled to Evans that he was finished.

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