OZZIE SWEET: With more than 2,000 magazine covers, the longtime Francestown resident left deep mark on world of photography
The king of covers
Sweet often used Monadnock region and its people as a backdrop
Legendary photographer Ozzie Sweet, who produced more than 2,000 cover photos for magazines ranging from Time, Sports Illustrated and Saturday Evening Post to Cosmopolitan, and Field and Stream, died Feb. 20, at the age of 94, at his home in York Harbor, Maine.
Sweet, who lived in Francestown for 41 years before moving to Maine in 2000, shot many of his magazine covers and other projects in the Monadnock region, often using local residents as models. But he was perhaps best known for his sports photography, especially the many cover shots of baseball players that he took for Sport Magazine during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
“People know him for his photos of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio,” said Larry Canale, a Boston-area magazine editor who worked with Sweet on a 2005 book, “The Boys of Spring,” and was collaborating with him on a new book at the time of Sweet’s death. “He would go to spring training every year. He shot all the big players, then he’d have 11 months to do whatever he wanted. He sold many covers to publishers of romance novels and magazine. He really found a niche there.”
Sweet, who was born in Stamford, Conn., in 1918, grew up in the Adirondack region of New York state and moved to Hollywood after high school, where he acted in one of John Wayne’s early movies. Canale said Sweet got his start in photography while serving in the U.S. Army in San Diego during World War II. He set up a number of simulated action photos showing war scenes, one of which made the cover of Newsweek magazine on Oct. 12, 1942. After leaving the Army, Sweet spent a couple of years as Newsweek’s chief photographer, where his subjects included Albert Einstein, Ingrid Bergman and baseball pitcher Bob Feller. The Feller photo drew the attention of Sport Magazine, and Sweet left Newsweek in 1947 to focus on freelancing, which he did for the rest of his life.
“Ozzie didn’t want to be locked into a steady job,” Canale said. “ He wanted to become a cover photographer and he set out to build a network of editors at magazines. People sought him out to do covers.”
Sweet first came to New Hampshire to visit in the 196os, according to his wife, Diane Sweet, and he fell in love with Francestown.
“He drove into town, and someone was out in front of the village store with a horse-drawn wagon,” Diane said in a phone interview on Friday. “He said that vision made him choose the town.”
Sweet married Diane, his second wife, in 1974.
“We were married in Peterborough in what’s now the parking lot of the town library,” Diane said. “It wasn’t the parking lot then. It belonged to a man who was a justice of the peace. In New Hampshire, you didn’t need a witness. We just had our dog with us.”
Sweet lived in three different homes during his time in Francestown and Diane said the town was an ideal setting for many of her husband’s projects.
“He really loved the rural feeling of Francestown,” she said. “He loved the mountains, the way everything was ablaze during autumn. He shot huge amounts of color in the Monadnock region every fall.”
Sweet often recruited local residents, frequently children, as models. Ruth Webber, who grew up in Francestown and now lives in Antrim, said she and her brothers and sisters modeled for the Colorama images — 60-foot wide panoramic shots — that Sweet produced for Eastman Kodak to exhibit at Grand Central Station in New York City.
“He used a special camera and he’d take us local kids and we’d go off some place in Francestown,” Webber recalled. “Once he built a giant snow castle and we had a huge snowball fight. Once he set up a forklift in a big field, had it covered with snow, and attached a toboggan. We all climbed on, and when he said now, we’d all give big grins and someone would throw snow. It would look like we were flying off a huge jump.... I was very young, but I remember having a crush on Ozzie. He was so sweet and kind. He was a good man, a good soul.”
Tisha Hopkins of Winchester, who works at the Peterborough Camera Shot, modeled a number of times for Sweet around 1999 for a calendar he produced for Napa Auto Parts.
“I would wear clothes that he told me to wear, standard colors, blues or greens, and then I would be posed inside the car,” Hopkins said on Wednesday. “I remember we had to drive to some location out of town and I rode with him and on our way back home from the photo shoot he almost went off the road. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not asleep.’ He had a great sense of humor. He was just really laid back and a nice guy”
Wayne Esty, owner of Peterborough Camera, said Sweet was a frequent visitor to the shop.
“He was a very jovial man,” Esty said on Wednesday. “I always enjoyed his stories from when he was a kid. He told me that he lived in upstate New York as a child. They had an outhouse at the time and he’d go out there at night, always taking a cat with him to keep him warm.”
He said Sweet had a barn full of stuffed animals that he kept for use in his photographs.
“He called himself an illustrator,” Esty said. “He was very much a gentleman — a term you don’t hear an awful lot today.”
Esty clearly recalled a sale he made one year to Sweet, just before baseball spring training started.
“He said, ‘Do you have any of those field glasses for sale?’ He didn’t call them binoculars. I said, ‘I have some nice ones.’ He said, ‘Let me look at a couple. I’m going to shoot some baseball teams and I’m going down to the beach and I can use those field glasses to see the young ladies.”
Diane Sweet said the couple moved to Maine after Sweet’s health started to decline.
“We needed to be closer to services, and Francestown is pretty remote,” she said. “We also liked the idea of the beach.”
Canale said Sweet stopped taking photos around 2007, but he enjoyed reviewing the covers that Canale tracked down for the upcoming book, to be titled “Ozzie Sweet: America’s Cover Photographer.”
“Even as his health was failing, he loved looking through the covers I brought up,” Canale said. “ It was a big kick for him.”
A memorial service was held Monday at First Parish Church in York, Maine.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT. Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or email@example.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.