Jack Lieb went to Europe in 1943 with two movie cameras: He brought his 35mm black and white camera to film war coverage for Hearst’s News of the Day newsreels and his 16mm home movie camera to shoot color film to show to his family back home. After the war, Lieb edited the color footage into a film that he would narrate in lectures around the country, in venues as varied as the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. and his daughter’s fourth grade class in Chicago.
In the film below (Local Identifier: LIEB-JL-1), donated by the Lieb family to the National Archives in 1984, you’ll see D-Day from a perspective different than the official military film or commercial newsreel. With his personal footage, Lieb takes the viewer through the preparations in England, where he spent time with war correspondents Ernie Pyle, Jack Thompson, and Larry LaSueur, to the liberation of Paris and finally into Germany. Along the way, Lieb captured his experience on 16mm Kodachrome, filming everyday people in France and the occasional celebrity, such as Edward G. Robinson or Ernest Hemingway.
Jack Lieb’s lecture film is synched with a 1976 recording of one of his final lectures, recorded by Lieb’s son, Warren.
Jack Lieb’s film story does not begin and end with his D-Day footage, though. By the time he arrived on Utah Beach with a seaborne element of the 82nd Airborne Division, he had already spent nearly two decades shooting newsreel footage.
In 1926, Jack Lieb was a pre-med student at City College of New York. He took a summer job at Hearst and ended up with a 35mm movie camera in his hand, shooting film for newsreels. Lieb never made it back to school–he had fallen in love. Before long, he was on a boat bound for Africa, where he would spend several years filming for a Fox travelogue series called “The Magic Carpet.” While there, Lieb filmed a wide range of subjects, from ethnographic footage of a Maasai wedding, to King Albert I of Belgium’s visit to the Belgian Congo.
Eventually, Lieb ended up stationed in Chicago, where he was a regional manager for News of the Day. When the United States entered World War II, Lieb was too old to be drafted, but able and willing to use his camera to serve as witness to the action. With camera in hand, Lieb landed on Utah Beach to film the invasion of Normandy. The lecture footage shows some of the lighter moments when the war correspondents and soldiers had down time, but the job was not safe or easy. Both Ernie Pyle and Bill Stringer, who are featured in the lecture film, were killed while serving as war correspondents. Fortunately, Jack Lieb returned safely to his family in the Fall of 1944, half a year before the fighting in Europe came to an end.
Lieb spent more than twenty years with a newsreel camera in hand, finally leaving Hearst to start his own company. In an early venture described in a 1947 Billboard magazine article, Lieb pitched the concept of a syndicated television newsreel called “Teletopics” where local television stations would receive completed silent stories and newscasters would read scripted narration. The idea is strikingly similar to how local news stations receive national stories from larger organizations such as the Associated Press, but Lieb was probably ahead of his time. Teletopics didn’t take off, and Lieb started a film production company. Jack Lieb Productions made early television commercials, industrial films, and even films for the government, including one about hospital ships during the Vietnam War.
D-Day to Germany is remarkable in many ways and certainly unique in the Archives’ holdings. In addition to the obvious fact that the footage is color when most other film records of the same events are black and white, Lieb turns the camera on himself, revealing the cameraman’s perspective, which is not often evident in our motion picture holdings.
Many, many thanks go to Jack Lieb’s daughter Bette Marshall, who graciously provided most of the biographical information for this post.