The Academy Awards ceremony will be bittersweet for Rochesterians. For the first time in a decade, the Kodak name will not be part of the festivities. Although seven of the nine Best Picture nominees were shot on Kodak stock, the future of motion picture film is in doubt.
More than a few us will be reflecting on the company’s legacy. Henry Clune, a former Democrat and Chronicle reporter, wrote “Main Street Beat” in 1947. Yesterday, I shared his resonating words on Rochester. Here’s what he had to say about Kodak and George Eastman:
…there is a feeling that if the great plant of the Eastman Kodak Company were removed from the city’s environs a sign might be erected on the station platform, “This was Rochester.” But the remote possibility of this tragic circumstance is rarely openly expressed.
Eastman was a bachelor whose life was neither softened by romance nor sullied by personal scandal. He was fiercely intense and at times cruelly exacting and so completely in sympathy with the doctrine of the survival of the fittest that more than once he privately advocated the use of the lethal chamber for the disposal of persons hopelessly ill, crippled, or insane…it was probably this doctrine that prompted him to (end his life) with a self-inflicted bullet…
He was a man with whom intimacy was extremely difficult, and though I knew him for many years I often had the feeling I scarcely knew him at all.
As Eastman moved from the second to final act of his life he was far from the ruthless, uncompromising fighter of his early years. Sometimes he seemed almost wistfully eager for human companionship.
Eastman fought hard for a city manager style of government, believing it would remove partisan politics from City Hall.
…the ideal of a nonpartisan city government was only briefly attained with the adoption of Eastman’s cherished plan. Today politics are as rampant in the affairs of the City Hall and the municipality is much less efficiently administered…
The author visited Eastman in his final years. Eastman was feeble and his hands were shaking. The pair watched home movies of Eastman’s gardens and children playing on the lawn.
I expressed some surprise at these. “It’s curious, Mr. Eastman,” I said, “that a bachelor like yourself should be so interested in the play of children.”
“Humph,” he grunted. “They’re a lot more graceful than those damn dancers we have down at the Theater.”
Then there was the time a Met Opera singer dined at the Eastman House.
“I can’t understand, Miss Garden,” he said perplexedly, “what it is that holds up that dress.”
“Only your age, Mr. Eastman,” she answered, tapping her host lightly on the hand. “Only your age.”
Eastman failed to blush.
If you’d like to read more, the University of Rochester published an essay online Clune wrote called, “The George Eastman I Knew.” I’d like to thank Tom Belknap for letting me read his copy of “Main Street Beat.”