It was a hot Sunday in August 1962 when photographer Bill Beebe received advice from volleyball players on Santa Monica Beach.
The President of the United States quit his secret service and headed for the surf.
Los Angeles Times staff photographer, Beebe raced to the ocean a mile north of the pier, where he found John F. Kennedy emerging from the water, while distraught Secret Service officers struggled to contain the joyful and stunned fans who rushed touch and talk to the president.
Beebe splashed into the water with his high-quality German Rolleiflex camera and 510-volt battery strobe to capture one of the most iconic shots of the Kennedy presidency.
The photo spread around the world and revealed an unusually approachable president, somewhat arrogant about his security, 15 months before he was killed in an open limousine by a sniper in Dallas.
It crowned a long career in Southern California newspapers for Bibi, who died on October 24 at his Santa Monica home at the age of 94.
Bibi was born in Los Angeles and moved to Santa Monica with his family as a child. Before leaving school, he entered the navy. In 1946, he was one of the first students to study photography at Santa Monica City College.
Member of the Press Photographers Association. from Greater Los Angeles for over 60 years, Beebe has worked for the Los Angeles Mirror, The Times and Santa Monica Evening Outlook magazines.
Friends recall that he was an avid nature lover and environmentalist long before the term was invented, devoting countless amounts of time to documenting and protecting the Ballon wetlands.
His long career has included photographs of Babe Ruth and gangster Mickey Cohen. Beebe retained the rights to images he created while working in the Evening Outlook; When the newspaper closed in 1998, he donated his collection of over 100,000 negatives to the Santa Monica Historical Museum.
But nothing could beat a photo of Kennedy taken near Lifeguard Tower 6, about 150 yards from what was then called the “Western White House,” the large waterfront palace of Kennedy’s son-in-law, actor Peter Lawford.
“In 1962, this stretch of beach was the center of the universe,” said Arthur Verge, professor of history at El Camino College. “It was a favorite place in Old Hollywood to get together with the political stars of the day.”
Verge says this is where the short surfboard was invented so that the daughter of a studio mogul could better handle rough surfing.
Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and the Rat Pack (including Lawford) had fun in a quarter-length block, jumping among the vast beach houses that had been owned at various times by studio executives Darryl F. Zanuck, Harry Warner and the Goldwyn family. …
The three-story houses faced directly onto the sand, onto a particularly wide beach just north of what is now Jonathan’s Club, at the foot of California Hill off the Pacific Coast Highway.
At the Western White House, Kennedy invited reporters to chat, but only answered questions from major Los Angeles newspapers – The Times and Herald Examiner.
“Mr. President, what do you have against small town newspapers?” Asked Bibi, who was also working on the Santa Monica newspaper at the time.
The president ridiculed the question from Bibi, who, like the president, was a former navy.
A few days later, when he noticed Bibi standing in the waves, his dear Rolleiflex was flooded with salt water, he smiled in recognition.
And Bibi had her historic chance.
Bibi is survived by his 71-year-old wife Sonia; daughter Suzanne Gilliland Peterson; son Bill Beebe; grandson Brett Bibi and granddaughter Christa Bibi.