Interviewed by: G. Lewis Schmidt Initial interview date: July 27, 1989Q: I want to start out with having Alan give a brief description of his background before he became affiliated with the Agency or its predecessor agencies and institutions, and then we'll take it from there. In the meantime, as I feel that I want to prompt him on particular subjects, I will intervene with a question. Otherwise, I will let him say pretty much what he wants to talk about. So Alan, please begin with a brief bio sketch of your background, and then take it from there.
Biosketch: Alan Fisher
FISHER: I was born in Brooklyn in 1913. I graduated from high school, Brooklyn Technical High School, was going to be a chemical engineer, and changed my mind. I started to work for the New York World Telegram as a freelance photographer, and then after a year of that, was given a job as sports photographer. In 1934 I started with them. Then I became special features and color photographer and general all-around photographer on their staff until 1942. Then I left them because I had a very good job offer to join the staff of the newspaper PM. I was on the staff for two years and did an awful lot of coverage of Army camps. I spent almost one year covering Army camps. Then I got a call from Washington from Alexander Murphy, who had been with the AP and had been our photo assignment editor on PM. Al asked me whether I'd go to South America for a six-month contract to work for Nelson Rockefeller's office. At that time, Nelson was the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. It was equivalent to modern-day Assistant Secretary for Latin America, but there was no such title at that time. So I said I didn't know whether I could get a leave of absence, and he said, "Sure, we can arrange it with Ralph Ingersoll," the publisher. They arranged it, and I arranged then to go to South America. The interesting thing was that I was given just general ideas on what was wanted, and then I went to Washington on my way to Miami to pick up the plane to Brazil, which was my starting point. I said, "Any final instructions? Specifically what do you want?" Fisher Goes to South America as Photographer for Rockefeller's IIA Program It was an assignment of a lifetime. Al Murphy said, "Just take anything that looks good to you." And those were my instructions for Latin America. I spent two years instead of two months in Latin America on a contract for Nelson Rockefeller, and I photographed Brazil, basically the war effort, industry, prominent people, politicians, and so forth. I went over to Chile after a year and a half, was sent over to Chile to cover the break in relations with the Axis, and after three months there, I was fortunate in getting there in time to cover the break. Florence came with me as my interpreter. She spoke Spanish, I didn't. Then she went back to Brazil, and Vice President Wallace came down to visit Latin America. I was assigned by Washington to cover him for the combined American press. I spent a month with him, then went back to Chile for a month, and then back to Brazil. By that time, I had been reclassified to be 1A, and I got a call from Washington. I said, "I'll be right back."
Q: 1A meaning in the draft.
FISHER: Yes. I had been 2B, essential war worker. The day I got back to the States, they decided that men over 29 were not wanted anymore, particularly married men, and I was automatically reclassified to 2B again. I was given a choice then of going back to Brazil or going over as a war correspondent with the Brazilian Expeditionary Force.
Q: At this point, let me ask a couple of questions to clarify exactly what you were doing with the Nelson Rockefeller program, the IIA program. Were you doing entirely photographic work in connection with things Brazilian, or were you trying to get out any information about the United States and its relationship with Brazil? Fisher's Role in US War Effort Pictures for Publication in US to Acquaint US With Latin America And Have US Stories Played Back to Latin America
FISHER: My job was strictly a one-way job. I was photographing and writing stories to send back to the United States to acquaint the Americans with Latin America. Because at that time, the war wasn't going too well, and our fallback position was Latin America. We were doing a lot of things in Latin America to help the Latin Americans, such as helping them build a steel plant out of Rio, bringing in equipment for them to manufacture airplane motors, heavy equipment, tractors, and so forth, raising the level of food production, and trying to raise the health standards. We were doing this all throughout Latin America, and one of the things I was to do was to photograph this effort, write stories and send them back. The Agency would then distribute them through the wire services, so they were getting a great play. But this really was a fallback position for us. In the event that we did get driven out of the States, we would fall back to Latin America. [Editor's underscoring. It is not thought that the American public ever knew of this possible fallback consideration.] So there was some strategic importance to what I was doing, but it was all the other way. In other words, I wasn't disseminating any information about the United States in Latin America. I was also covering stories for the two slick magazines that the coordinating office put out in Latin America, EM/GUARDA, which is in Brazil and Portuguese, and EM/GUARDA, which was in Spanish for the rest of Latin America. That was really much like the forerunner of Life magazine, the same format, big slick color, a very, very good-looking publication, and a very popular magazine in Latin America. So that carried stories of the American war efforts and battles and American military activity.
Q: Did you write any of those stories?
FISHER: No. No, my pictures were used for that. They were in-house stories out of Washington, but there many of my pictures used for that. Then when I went back, I went back to Washington, and there was a hiatus. I thought I would like to get into the military, because I had been offered a commission as a captain before I left for Latin America. Those positions were no longer available.