Fickle fortune felled his chance at fame

By Ted Blankenship | September 30, 2021

I don’t know who said it first, but the painter Andy Warhol usually gets credit for the phrase “15 minutes of fame.”

I remember thinking mine had arrived in 1945 (long before Warhol became famous, incidentally).

I was a senior at Eureka High School and a trumpet player in the marching band and orchestra. I doubled on the sousaphone because there was no one else to play it, and we did a lot of Sousa marches.

If you are old enough, you will remember that Life magazine was at its zenith then. It was a weekly publication with more than 10 million subscribers. 

It featured the work of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, including Alfred Eisenstadt, Margaret Bourke-White, Joe McNally and two Kansas photographers, Gordon Parks and Eugene Smith.

If you were featured in its pages, your 15 minutes of fame (and more) were guaranteed.

As always, Eureka took part in the Kansas State Music Festival, and we went to Emporia to compete. 

Life picked that year to do a piece on the festival. The editors chose Emporia because smaller schools would be there and might present quaint subjects for the magazine’s trademark candid-style photographs. 

In 1945, Eureka, which sits about 70 miles east of Wichita, had a population of 3,000 and about 200 students in the high school, just the right size for the kind of stuff the Life photographers were seeking. 

They asked us to march for them on the football field, and two or three photographers snapped what probably were hundreds of photos. 

I was singled out for some shots because I was playing the sousaphone, an instrument you wear when you are playing it. I am not a tall person, and I must have looked like a large instrument with short legs marching across the football field.

I was elated that I might be in a national magazine layout, even if the instrument was probably more interesting than I was. 

I learned that magazine layouts take time. A story has to be written, the layout prepared and the whole thing approved by the editors before it ever gets close to a press. 

A week passed and the magazine came out without the band layout. Then another week without it. But I still had hope. 

Then came April 12, 1945, and Life Magazine had a big story that didn’t involve the Eureka High School band. World War II was still underway, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia. 

That wiped everything else off front pages throughout the world. And our story didn’t run. My 15 minutes of fame never came. 

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