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Nat Fein; Won Pulitzer Prize for Photograph of Babe Ruth

September 30, 2000

Nat Fein, the newspaper photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his unorthodox picture of a frail Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium, has died.

Fein died Tuesday at a hospital in Westwood, N.J. He was 86.

A longtime staffer for the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune, Fein was known for taking photographs that evoked life in New York in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Noted images by Fein included one of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia leading the city's sanitation department orchestra in 1940, another of an impeccably dressed Dr. Albert Schweitzer kneeling to shake the hand of a tearful little girl and another of a herd of elephants from the Barnum and Bailey circus thundering down a street, chased by a gang of children.

His most noted photograph, however, was the shot of Ruth near home plate at Yankee Stadium, taken just weeks before Ruth's death from throat cancer.

As Fein noted later, the tribute to Ruth included the retirement of the slugger's uniform number, 3. Fein, on the field with a group of press photographers, decided to go against convention and photograph Ruth from the back.

The resulting image showed the once robust Ruth, his body withered by disease, steadied by a bat borrowed from Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller. "The sports editor liked it immediately, and he planted it on the sports page," Fein recalled years later in an interview with the Bergen Record. "By the time the paper hit the streets, it was on the front page."

Fein was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the photograph in 1948 but didn't think it was his finest work.

"I didn't think it was a great shot," Fein said. He added, however, that it "got the feeling" of the moment.

Born in New York, the son of two vaudeville performers, Fein started as a copy boy at the Herald Tribune in 1932. He joined the photography department because the money was better and he fell in love with the work. He was appointed a staff photographer in 1939 and held the post until 1966, when the Tribune folded. From then on, he made a living as a free-lance photographer.

Fein is survived by a son.

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