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Biofile: George Kalinsky Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: World-renowned photographer. 2001 International Photographer of the Year. Official photographer for Madison Square Garden.

Hobbies/Interests: “I love to play basketball. And I was just at Michael Jordan’s basketball camp in August. I like tennis. I went to Pratt – I love to do artwork.”

Favorite Movies: “I guess Raging Bull. Do other people say that? I saw Jake LaMotta last night at an event at the Hilton. 83-years-old. He walked in the ring. His brain still works beautifully. You know what I also like? Pretty Woman. I just love that movie, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.”

Favorite TV Shows: “60 Mintues. I’m not really a great TV watcher. I enjoy The Apprentice.”

Musical Tastes: “I’m more into Broadway and show tunes types. I like Billy Joel and Elton John and Sting.”

Childhood Dream(s): “I wanted to be a political and or sports cartoonist. I used to draw serious cartoons. And I used to love to paint portraits. My dream was to play centerfield for the Yankees. In 1962 the Orioles offered me a contract to play at AAA Rochester. I turned it down because I felt, eventually in my life I was going to be a better artist than baseball player.”

First Job: “Worked at my father’s juvenile furniture store on Long Island.”

Early Career Moment: “I was in Miami on vacation, and interviewing at the Miami Herald for a sports photographer job. As I was walking down Fifth Street, I saw Muhammad Ali walking. So I followed him into the Fifth Street Gym. Angelo Dundee stopped me. I had a camera around my neck. He said, You can’t come in here unless you pay a dollar. I said I’m the photographer at Madison Square Garden. He said, Okay, come in, comedian. The Miami Herald put one of my pictures on the wire and it ended up all over the world. Then John F.X. Condon of The Garden hired me for boxing. And the Knicks hired me for 50 cents a picture.”

(Sketch by LeRoy Neiman.)

Pre-Work Feeling/Mindset: “I sort of look at myself as like a TV announcer. My job is to communicate the event in pictures. But I want to be able to take the very best pictures of anyone at the event. The feeling of being focused – to take the best pictures – has never left me. I feel I have the best job in the world – to be able to travel and be at the events that I’m at.”

Favorite Meal: “[Laughs] I used to say mashed potatoes. I’m one of those guys who loves everything. I could go from spaghetti to sushi to steak to fish. I’ve got a good answer for you – anything my wife cooks. She actually studied all over the world with five-star chefs.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Vanilla. I take that back. Peach.”

Childhood Heroes: “I was quite young but I felt like Jackie Robinson was one of the great – this is beyond sports – I felt that man did as much for America and the world as anybody. Specificaly for human rights. I felt he never got the credit that he deserved. I feel he’s one of the – not African Americans – one of the outstanding Americans – ever. What he did to pioneer human rights is unparallelled. My favorite player was Willie Mays. My favorite vision of watching sports was watching Willie Mays run after a fly ball. Because I never saw a ball that eluded him. If it was in the air, he caught it.”

Greatest Career Moment: “That’s pretty easy. I got a phone call from PMDA and they said I’m up for International Photographer of the Year. I thought it was a crank call at first. The competition was Richard Avedon, Salgado and Richard Curry. So I said, Yeah, sure, I’m gonna beat out Richard Avedon. I got a call about a week later from Dave Willard from Olympus Camera Co. and he said, We have elected you “The International Photographer of the Year.” The  award dinner was at Disney World (in 2001). That was really a great day.”

Most Painful Moment: “The greatest circus clown ever was Otto Griebling. I just happened to go to a circus performance with my son (in 1972). I noticed that Otto looked very sad that day, like something was wrong. After the performance, I went in and asked him if I could do anything, there seems to be something wrong. Can I help you? His face looked terribly sad. He just layed down on the bench to sleep, he put some newspapers under his head as pillows. I was compelled to take a picture of him. And it turned out he never woke up again. An hour later he was dead. What was happening was he was dying from throat cancer. It was a painful moment  because I felt bad that I couldn’t help someone that needed help.” 

Favorite Subjects To Shoot: “Muhammad Ali. He was so great at having charisma. He was such a showman. Also Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bill Clinton. Not too many people have charisma on that level.  And you like photographing people like that. The more charisma someone has, the more there is to photograph. Nobody has the charisma that Ali has. Pedro Martinez has charisma.”

Funny Career Memory: “Nothing I can really talk about that’s really…(pause). It’s crazy that I can’t think of something. Most people come up with a hundred things. I just can’t think of anything really funny. I photograph so many funny people, that make people laugh. I think one of the greatest performers is Bill Cosby, who brought the house down with the Globetrotters. He played for the Harlem Globetrotters for a dollar a year. There was a situation in tennis where John McEnroe was playing (Guillermo Vilas at MSG in the year end Masters tournament). And some guy was cheering him on, but he was doing it a little too loud. McEnroe was about to go over and say something and it turned out the fan was Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones. Ron Wood was a McEnroe fan. And you know how much McEnroe is a guitar fan. So that was kind of funny.”

Favorite Vacation Spot: “I like Vermont. We have a house in Vermont – Dorset, outside Manchester.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “I like people who basically show honest character, who are forthright but loyal and sensitive.”

DOB: April 14th. Birthplace: Hempstead, NY

Family: Wife, June; son, Lee; daughter, Rachelle.

George Kalinsky official web site

George Kalinsky on meeting Frank Sinatra for the first time

(Note: George is a fixture at New York sports events and an old friend, we finally decided to sit down at the US Open one year and do a Biofile. It’s a classic… – SM.)

About Mark Malinowski