While Tony Esparza has spent 45 years behind CBS' camera, Anita Chabria finds that his professionalism, demeanor and, of course, his photographs have come to epitomize how the network PR arm is seen.CBS photographer Tony Esparza stood in the balcony of New York's Hammerstein Ballroom a few weeks ago, looking down on 140 top television stars who represented not only the history of the network, but his own history as well. Gathered together to celebrate CBS' 75th anniversary, they were posing for Esparza's camera to recreate a famous photo for the company's 50th anniversary - a picture Esparza had snapped 25 years earlier. In fact, Esparza has been a CBS photographer for 45 years, shooting hundreds of Hollywood's most famous names - from Rita Hayworth to Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson - for publicity shots that have appeared in an equal number of outlets across the globe. But this anniversary shot, complete with a stage filled with dozens of actors he had photographed many times before, held special meaning. "The producer prefaced the whole thing by saying, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we will now do a historical photo. Please look up to the balcony, where the esteemed Tony Esparza is waiting,'" he recalls. "Not only did they applaud, they cheered. And I heard, 'Go, Tony.' I'm not one to let my head get really big, and I hate egos, but to have true respect from the people I work with is something." While there is no doubt Esparza is a valued part of the CBS publicity team and a favorite of the celebrities he has worked with, winning respect as a network photographer has not been an easy task. In an industry that often confuses fame with talent and quality with price, working as a low-profile in-house photographer is not considered a glamorous gig. Some stars even balk at the idea of not having a famous shutterbug behind the lens. Esparza has spent decades convincing his subjects that not only is he qualified to take their pictures, but that he just might be the best man for the job. "We're corporate, and there is a stigma," he says of the network's three-person photo department. "I have run across that a lot. That to me is an insult, because [CBS] has been doing it the longest. We know the formula. We know where the picture is going, how it's going to be used, what the reaction is going to be. The thing that amuses me more than anything is that when I finally get to work with these people, they tell me or their press person tells me, 'These are really good.' To myself I go, 'Hello, this is what I do. This is what I've always done.' It is a battle." But it's a fight that Esparza wages with grace and kindness. Known throughout the industry for his gentle, manly demeanor, Esparza considers himself an ambassador for CBS, and is constantly aware that the network is being judged by his behavior. "I have to be very loyal," he says. "I highly respect this job and the network. There are a lot of photographers in Hollywood better than I am, but I am in this unique place, and it's important to have a good rapport between myself and [my subjects] -for CBS and for me." Esparza grew up in a Latino neighborhood in LA called Chavez Ravine, best known for the forcible eviction of its occupants to make way for Dodger Stadium. His love of photography began when a cousin gave him a Brownie camera at age nine. At 12, he won a blue ribbon in a YMCA Boy's Club photo competition, and his interest was cemented. "From there, I always kept it in the back of my mind," he says of photography. After earning a degree in journalism and photography from East LA College, he took a job in 1959 as an assistant to the photo editor at CBS, earning $62 a week. Despite numerous other offers over the years, and side jobs with outlets like The New York Times, Esparza says he has never wanted to leave the network. It's "the greatest job in he world," he says. "There is only one CBS on this whole planet, and I am a senior photographer here," he proudly proclaims. "How unique is that?" He cites the many opportunities that working at CBS has given him, especially when it comes to travel. "I have gone around the world so many times, I can't even remember anymore," he says. He has been to Russia to snap Mary Tyler Moore for a special, taken pictures of David Copperfield in China, covered Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Puerto Vallarta, and has tracked the cast of The Amazing Race across several continents. Esparza has also photographed every president since Truman, and snapped four Olympics. Although his list of accomplishments goes on, Esparza says his greatest achievement is the way he's done his work, not the work itself. "I like to think I made it here not so much because I'm a terrific photographer, but because I was a good person to [the subjects]," he says. "I tried to show them that I was part of a really good company and a really good system of public relations," he says. "It's all PR. It's about 10% Eastman Kodak and 90% being able to work with people, touching them and making friends." ----- Tony Esparza 1959-present Publicity photographer, CBS. Began as an assistant to the photo editor, is now the network's senior photographer. He has snapped pictures ranging from every US President since Harry Truman to the Olympic Games
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