By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 5, 2005
Brian Blaine Reynolds, 89, who died June 2 of kidney disease at a hospital in Herzliya, Israel, was a man with two names, two countries and, for all practical purposes, two identities.
Under his original name of Hy Peskin, he was one of the finest sports photographers from the 1940s to the 1960s, capturing the greats of baseball, basketball, boxing and golf in some of the most memorable images in sports history.
As Brian Reynolds, his legal name for the last 40 years of his life, he founded an organization now called the Academy of Achievement that brings together the super-accomplished for an annual gala weekend in which they rub shoulders with one another and serve as an inspiration to hundreds of students.
Although Mr. Reynolds had no active role in the academy for the past 20 years, the Washington-based organization now run by his son continues to be one of the world's most dazzling gatherings of international celebrities -- Nobel Prize winners, heads of state, star athletes, titans of industry, scientists and entertainers.
If the dual worlds of Hy Peskin and Brian Reynolds intersected, they did so in his pursuit of people of rare mastery and renown.
As a photographer, he created some of the most remarkable images of 20th-century sport: Joe DiMaggio completing his majestic swing in the 1949 All-Star Game; a through-the-ropes view of boxer Carmen Basilio, his face bloodied and his eye swollen shut, at the moment he lands a right hand to the face of his opponent, Sugar Ray Robinson; the brooding glare of football great Jim Brown; character studies of baseball superstar Ted Williams; and perhaps the most famous golf photograph ever, Ben Hogan's dramatic 1-iron shot on the 18th hole of the 1950 U.S. Open in Merion, Pa.
"He just took the best damn sports pictures ever," said sports photographer Neil Leifer. "He was simply the best."
Mr. Reynolds, a self-described poor kid from Brooklyn, originally wanted to be a sportswriter and began his career during the Depression at the old New York Daily Mirror. He switched to photography when he found out he could make more money.
By the 1940s, he was freelancing for the leading magazines of the era -- Time, Life, Look, the Saturday Evening Post -- often taking pictures from startlingly fresh angles. He said that his pictures of the Brooklyn Dodgers, sometimes shot from the roof of Ebbets Field, made both him and the Dodgers famous.
"He had a way of doing sports action photography that was revolutionary," Leifer said. "Hy was never sitting in the same press box as everyone else. Hy was running around, crouching in an aisle."
Leifer, who was a consultant on Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" movies, said Stallone wanted the fight scenes to look like Hy Peskin's boxing photos of the 1950s, in which two battered men stalk each other through a moody haze of smoke.
Using advances in film speeds and lighting, Mr. Peskin was credited with taking the first sports action photographs in color. His new technique landed him a job with Look magazine and, in 1954, he became one of the first photographers hired by the newly formed Sports Illustrated magazine.
For the next 10 years, he traveled the globe, covering the Olympics, the World Series, football championships and boxing matches. His pictures were used on 40 Sports Illustrated covers, and some contributed to the fabled Sports Illustrated jinx. One week after his Jan. 31, 1955, cover photograph of skier Jill Kinmont, for instance, she was paralyzed in a skiing accident.
Typically using a Speed Graphic and a Rolleiflex, he had a knack for capturing both the decisive moment of sporting drama and the inner drive of athletes. He found new views of the action that conveyed the beauty as well as the brawn of sports. Some of his loveliest images portrayed the sensitive grace of figure skating.
When he was working, he could be as competitive and pugnacious as the athletes he covered.
"He was very abrasive," said Leifer, who first met him in 1958 and considered him a mentor. "A lot of people didn't like him. He looked like a union organizer. He was one tough, scrappy guy."
In addition to sports, he shot magazine feature photos of writer William Faulkner, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. His favorite pictures, shot for Life magazine in 1953, were of a young John F. Kennedy sailing with his bride-to-be, Jacqueline Bouvier.
In the early 1960s, he became interested in other ventures and, among other things, helped organize the World Series of Sports Fishing with Ted Williams. By 1964, believing his Jewish name to be a liability in fundraising, he legally became known as Brian Blaine Reynolds -- using the middle names of his three sons. That year, he also launched the first gathering of what became the Academy of Achievement.
Under his leadership, the academy brought together prominent people from a variety of fields -- Elizabeth Taylor, Elie Wiesel, Linus Pauling, Johnny Cash and Willie Mays, among dozens of others -- to meet one another, receive awards and talk with top high school students.
"My dad called it a true-life gathering of Mount Olympus," said Ron Reynolds, a California restaurateur.
Mr. Reynolds financed the early years of his all-star academy with his photography and later received corporate donations and sold tickets to the glittering annual gatherings.
His wife and children helped run the business, and, over time, differences emerged. By 1985, Mr. Reynolds's youngest son, Wayne Reynolds, was managing the organization.
The younger Reynolds continues to operate the academy with his wife, Catherine B. Reynolds, who became notorious in 2002 for rescinding a $38 million pledge to the Smithsonian Institution when the museum refused to let her control how the money would be spent. Her intent was to build a "hall of achievement" that would, in effect, be a museum version of the Academy of Achievement.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Reynolds began to file lawsuits against his son in at least four states, charging "collusion, fraud, conversion, breach of implied covenant, false imprisonment, denial of due process, duress and slander," in an effort to regain control of the academy.
A California jury ruled in 1990 that Wayne Reynolds had improperly pushed his father out of the academy and awarded the elder Mr. Reynolds damages of $800,000 (later reduced to $200,000). After another lawsuit, Mr. Reynolds was granted a monthly pension of $10,000 from the academy.
In recent years, he lived in California and in Plano, Tex., near Dallas. He also became known as such a litigious person, usually representing himself in court, that in 1995 a Texas television station did a story about his frequent court cases. He served time in a Texas jail for contempt of court.
After years of not touching a camera, Mr. Reynolds -- reverting to his professional name of Hy Peskin -- came out of retirement in his eighties to photograph a boxing match between a man and a woman for Sports Illustrated. In 2002, he was featured in an HBO documentary on sports photographers. By then, his worlds had almost completely diverged. Few people who knew him as Brian Reynolds had heard of Hy Peskin, and vice versa.
He was building a home in Israel at the time of his death.
His first wife, Blanche Reynolds, died in 1978.
Survivors include his wife, Adriana Reynolds of Herzliya and Plano, whom he married, divorced and remarried; three sons from his first marriage, Evan Reynolds of McKinney, Tex., Ron Reynolds of San Marcos, Calif., and Wayne Reynolds of McLean; two sons from his second marriage, Brian Jeremy Reynolds and Preston Blaine Reynolds, both of Herzliya and Plano; and a granddaughter.