Ann Zane Shanks, Photojournalist and Emmy-Nominated Producer, Dies at 93

Courtesy of Bob Shanks

Her camera captured the likes of Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Jason Robards and John Wayne.

Ann Zane Shanks, a photojournalist, author and producer and director for television and the stage, died May 11 of breast cancer at her home in Sheffield, Mass., her husband announced. She was 93.

Shanks’ photographs have been published in most of America's leading magazines, including Time, Look, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Redbook and Woman’s Day, and her work appeared in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in one-person shows at the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Transit Museum and the New York Historical Society.

She captured iconic heroines of American feminism like Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Judy Garland.
Shanks photographed a young Jason Robards as he appeared in his career-making turn opposite Fredric March in the original 1956 Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and she caught John Wayne wearing a girdle on the set of the 1967 film The War Wagon.
“Hey kid, promise me you won’t publish this picture till I’m dead,” Wayne asked of Shanks, a promise she kept.
In her final year, Shanks completed a comprehensive, 700-image volume of her photographs called “One Woman Show: The Photographs and Life of Ann Zane Shanks.”
“As you marvel at the extraordinary output of Ann Zane Shanks over a 60-years career, you find yourself asking: What part of history — or the world — did she not witness and capture for posterity with her all-seeing eye?” Frank Rich wrote in his introduction.
Shanks collaborated with her husband of 54 years, Bob Shanks, on four television movies, including CBS’ Drop-Out Father, which starred Dick Van Dyke as a middle-aged man who leaves a high-pressure advertising job.
The couple also produced and directed documentaries as well as the 1970s syndicated series American Lifestyle, which told the stories of great Americans through their homes. It was hosted by E.G. Marshall and then Hugh Downs.
A Day in the Country, narrated by Kirk Douglas, was a visual journey about Impressionist painting for PBS that earned husband and wife an Emmy nomination for outstanding informational special.
“Never be in an Emmy category with Jacques Cousteau; he always won,” she once said.
Ann Shanks produced Lillian, starring Zoe Caldwell, for Broadway in 1986 as well as S.J. Perelman in Person, an off-Broadway production toplined by Lewis Stadlen, in 1989.
Her first film was a short, impressionistic look at Central Park, viewed from the Shanks’ apartment at 135 Central Park West. It was purchased by Columbia Pictures in 1970 and played at Radio City Music Hall.
A native of Brooklyn, Shanks graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, then entered Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh to study theater but stayed only a year. After another year at Columbia University, she landed a secretarial job at the Museum of Modern Art and decided to pursue photography as a career.
Edward Steichen bought two of her photos for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, she took lessons with the legendary Sid Grossman and attended classes taught by Alexey Brodovitch, fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar.
Then came her 1955 one-woman show at the Museum of the City of New York that featured her documentation of the destruction of the Third Avenue El, the last elevated railway line to operate in Manhattan.
Seven months after her first husband, textile engineer Ira Zane, died in a 1959 plane crash near LaGuardia Airport, Shanks married Bob Shanks, then a talent coordinator for Jack Paar’s The Tonight Show.
Their son is John Shanks, a Grammy-winning pop-music composer, producer and guitarist.
Shanks published four books: About Garbage and Stuff (1973), Old Is What You Get (1976), Busted Lives: Dialogues With Kids in Jail (1982) and Ann Zane Shanks Photographs (2003).
“I could never wait for life to find me,” she once said. “I was driven always to go out and find it. I never so much attracted the lightning as I sought it.”
Other survivors include children Jennifer and Anthony, grandsons Tom, Patrick, Dylan and Jackson, daughter-in-law Colleen, son-in-law Stephen and Anthony’s partner, Richard.
Twitter: @mikebarnes4
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