Barry Smith: Poor Orville nixes opportunity |

Barry Smith: Poor Orville nixes opportunity

Barry Smith

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. So, like any good, patriotic American with a strong sense of history and community, I watched a TV show about it.

The program, which aired last week on the Discovery Channel, was called “JFK Conspiracy.” A large part of the show was spent retracing JFK’s ride through Dealey Plaza using photographs and home movies that were shot at the time.

Every known image captured in that final stretch was painstakingly plotted via computer simulation in order to see if anything suspicious could be found lurking in the shadows.

Of course, the definitive images of the assassination are from the famous “Zapruder film,” shot by dressmaker Abraham Zapruder from atop a cement abutment. As a result of this 26-second bit of amateur filmmaking, “Zapruder” is a household name. Chances are, when you think assassination, conspiracy and cover-up, you think “Zapruder.”

You don’t, for instance, think “Orville Nix.”

Before watching this program, I NEVER thought “Orville Nix.” But now I can’t get the poor guy out of my mind.

See, Zapruder had abutted himself between the presidential route and the famed grassy knoll, where some believe there lurked a second gunman. So Zapruder, who was busy filming the presidential motorcade, didn’t get any footage of what was behind him.

But Orville Nix, according to the TV show, was also there that day with HIS movie camera, and he was on the opposite side of the street ” probably because the good spot on the abutment had already been taken ” which means that right after the fatal shooting, his camera was pointed right at the grassy knoll.

So, why isn’t the name Orville Nix as popular as Abraham Zapruder? Let’s face it ” both are equally fun to say out loud. Well, according to the TV ” and I’d be a fool to argue with the TV ” the biggest reason we didn’t see Kevin Costner playing the Nix film over and over again is because it turns out that Nix pretty much sucked as a cinematographer.

The photography experts on “JFK Conspiracy” went to great lengths to point out that Nix was using INDOOR 8mm film for this blatant OUTDOOR assignment. This would have been forgivable, had he engaged the appropriate compensating filter on his camera. Which, of course, he didn’t.

Had he done so, according to the Discovery Channel photo experts, the shadowy area of the grassy knoll ” the place where the second gunman was surely lurking ” would have been clearly visible on the film. As it stands, though, Nix’s knoll footage is black and murky and totally inconclusive. For all we know, the second gunman could have had a full picnic spread out on that knoll, and Nix’s shoddy camera work still would’ve missed it.

“Had he used his camera properly,” said one photography expert, “this would have been the most important film in history, solving a mystery that has haunted the nation for decades.”

“What an absolute, total freakin’ loser,” the other expert replied.

OK, he didn’t actually say that, but you could totally see that that’s what he was thinking.

Talk about a patsy.

Poor Orville. He probably didn’t even want to leave the house that day, but his wife made him. She also probably made him buy the camera to film their daughter’s school play ” the one that was indoors. He didn’t care about film stock or filters or grain or shadow density, but he now seems to be bearing the brunt of blowing the cinematic opportunity of a lifetime.

The Zapruder film was eventually acquired by the Justice Department for their continued investigation into the Kennedy assassination. In 1999 they awarded the Zapruder family a $16 million compensation. Even though Orville had by that point been dead for over 25 years, I still bet he never heard the end of THAT one.

So, four decades later, I can’t help but think that the real victim on that fateful day in Dallas wasn’t the president or his wife or his son or even the American Dream.

It was Orville Nix.

Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at

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