AP NEWS

An extraordinary life: Idaho man has photographed it all

February 24, 2018

In this Feb. 17, 2018 photo, photographer Vic Graybeal, 94, shows off a picture he took of musician Louis Armstrong and movie star Sheila McCrea at his home in Twin Falls Idaho. Graybeal has outlived most of the folks he photographed over the years, celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Louis Armstrong, and Twin Falls locals Clarence Smith and grocer Joe Shelby, to name a few. (Pat Sutphin/The Times-News via AP)

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Vic Graybeal has outlived most of the folks he photographed over the years — celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Louis Armstrong, and Twin Falls locals Clarence Smith and grocer Joe Shelby, to name a few.

Graybeal began his career at KLIX-TV, the Magic Valley’s first television station even before the station was up and running. As photo director, he spent 17 years with the station and its successor, KMVT, before moving to the College of Southern Idaho to develop the fledgling college’s audio-visual department. A 70-year Mason and 30-year Shriner, Graybeal has donated 137 of his photos to the Twin Falls Public Library.

While his years behind a camera are long gone, his memories from back in the day remain crystal clear. At 94, Graybeal is still going strong.

Many of these memories are tucked away inside a makeshift photo gallery in a shed in his backyard in Twin Falls, among hundreds of his photos and memorabilia from days gone by.

“I’m kind of a collector,” he said.

Standing in his shed, Graybeal vividly recalled the suicide of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway. Graybeal was on the golf course that morning in 1961 when a police car came screaming in.

“Are you Vic Graybeal? We’re to take you to Ketchum. Ernest Hemingway is dead,” he remembered the men saying.

Once in Hemingway’s home, Hemingway’s friend Chuck Atkinson kept Graybeal from photographing the body. Hemingway’s wife claimed the shotgun blast to the head was an accident; she didn’t admit it was a suicide till months later.

During his years as film director at KMVT, he got to know Montana motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, a frequent visitor to Twin Falls.

“Knievel was quite an artist,” he said. “A landscape painter.”

Graybeal and his wife, Marian, had lunch with Marilyn Monroe in 1956 at Gracie’s Diner at the North Fork Store near Ketchum. He said he felt sorry for the blond bombshell standing out in the cold wind in a flimsy dress during the filming of the 20th Century Fox movie “Bus Stop.”

But his favorite celebrity was trumpeter Louis Armstrong, who got off a plane carrying a big bag of Planters peanuts.

“He just got back from Europe,” Graybeal said. “He said he didn’t like the food there, so all he ate was peanuts and Coke.”

The list of celebrities photographed by Graybeal goes on and on: heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey feigning a swing at Joe Shelby during a promotion of Shelby’s Market, radio broadcaster Paul Harvey fishing at Blue Lakes, movie stars Sheila McCrea and Smiley Burnette, country music stars George Jones and Johnny Horton, local musician Eustacious “Musty” Braun and television personality Holland “Happy Holly” Houfburg and his band, the Double H Buckaroos.

He pointed to a photograph of then-Rep. Gerald Ford, then pulled from a shelf a photo of a T33 Air Force jet that crashed in December 1955 near Twin Falls.

Pilot Lt. Clyde Seller of Williams Air Force Base in Arizona made an emergency landing on U.S. 93 north of the Perrine Bridge. The jet touched down at 100 mph just behind a northbound 1954 Chevrolet carrying Clarence Smith, his wife and daughter to a Christmas party in Jerome.

When Seller saw Smith’s station wagon cruising along at 40 mph in front of him, he leapfrogged the jet over the car, clipping the Chevy with its wing. The jet peeled off the roof of the car like the lid of a sardine can, then spun into the desert. No one was badly injured and Graybeal later photographed Smith driving the roofless car down a Twin Falls street on its way to the repair shop. It’s one of his favorite stories, he said.

Graybeal graduated in 1941 from Hayward High School in California, and later was drafted into the Army. When serving in World War II, he met Twin Falls photographer Bob Leazer, who introduced him to the camera and dark room. Among hundreds of photos in meticulously labeled albums from the war, is a photo he took of a New Guinea native holding the head of a Japanese soldier.

After the war, Graybeal came to Twin Falls to hunt pheasants — and ended up staying.

“I’ve got somebody I want you to meet,” a cousin told him. He married Marian Teasley in 1948 on Valentine’s Day.

“She was a classy woman,” he said. They were together until her death about 12 years ago.

To keep fit, he walks nearly every day. He still drives, and he volunteers three days a week at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.

But he’s had to give up golf since losing his swing.

“I’ve really had an extraordinary life,” he said.

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Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com

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