1989 – New Year’s Eve Over Times Square, NYC

I’ve been to Times Square on New Year’s Eve three times: 1964, 1965 and 1989.


The first time, I was a senior in high school. I went with two friends (I don’t remember who) and a warm bottle of Southern Comfort. We got plastered. The last thing I remember was that somebody – not me – threw the empty bottle in the direction of a police car.


I couldn’t tell you if it hit anything because we were too busy running away, cursing out whoever threw it and probably giggling at the same time.


I also recall one of the guys making out with a really old lady who was wearing a leopard or tiger skin, but that may have been in 1965.


The only thing I remember for sure in ’65 was throwing up on the bus ride back to NJ. I was done with NYE in Times Square. I don’t even recall seeing the ball drop either year, so what would be the point of ever doing it again?


Twenty-five years after the first visit, I was a successful music photographer, represented by an agency (Star File) whose office was 14 floors above – you guessed it – Times Square.


I was invited to their New Year’s Eve party. I couldn’t pass up the chance to be 14 floors above Dick Clark.

At the time, I was hanging out with photographer Eileen Polk, who is shown in the “1989 – Favorite Photos of the year” post, painting my face red at the Cat Club. She was being repped by Lynn Goldsmith and took me to Lynn’s office Christmas party the week before, where I took a crazy shot of Lynn that’s on http://bobleafe.com/ , so it was only right that I return the favor and take Eileen to the Star File New Year’s Eve party.

The plan was to pick her up at BeBe Buell’s apartment (even if she wasn’t Liv Tyler’s mom – via some collaboration with Steven Tyler – BeBe’s well-worth Google-ing). The apartment was somewhere in the upper East 20s (I think). I was to leave my car there and we would take the subway up to Times Square. There was a requirement to be inside the building by a certain time (9pm, I think) or else we’d be locked out.

What could go wrong?

It was a short subway ride – maybe 3 local stops? – and there was plenty of time to get there. At the second stop, however, the doors never opened and the train didn’t move for a LONG time. Nobody knew why and time started getting short.


After a couple of eternities, the doors finally opened and closed and the train again started moving. It turned out that there had been a robbery in another car of the train and they refused to open the doors until the cops got there, so the thieves couldn’t escape.


They also ALMOST stole our night of revelry, but we did get there just in time. Phew!


The agency office was a good size, but it shrank as more people showed up. Plus, there were only two windows looking out onto Times Square and I certainly couldn’t hog one of them with my still and video equipment, so I had to think fast.


I went out into the hallway, found a security guard and asked him if there were any empty, unrented offices on this floor that I could shoot from.




Eileen and I went back to the party, grabbed some drinks, excused ourselves and moved into our new – and very dark – private office for the rest of the evening. No one at the party knew exactly where we went (“Did they leave already?”), so no one bothered us.


Photographically, it was pretty much a big zero. I had to shoot B&W because slow Kodachrome would have come out even worse. To see anything besides whatever was 14 floors up straight across Broadway, you had to stick half of your body out of the smallish window and turn (to the right to see the ball fall, left to see up Broadway or down to see the crowds).


That meant that once I could see something worth shooting, there was nothing to steady my equipment against to minimize shaking. To add to the fun – hey, we were half-loaded – it began raining. It was especially funny to us because we knew a photographer who dragged some poor girl whose leg was in a cast to stand in the crowd for hours and hours before the ball fell. And when it DID fall, I imagine it wasn’t much fun looking up when it was raining.


THE PICTURES (sequential, as far as I can tell)


This was my only semi-sort-of-decent crowd still (Dick Clark is down there somewhere):



I combined two fairly steady shots of 1 Times Square and the ball. I THINK the left one was taken with the ball falling and the right one after it landed. If so, that would make these the last picture I took in the 80s and the first one I took in the 90s:



A little less steady is this shot, taken straight down while hanging out of the window. You can see that these windows are not exactly large. Both this and the next photo don’t show crowds, so they were taken well after midnight (the crowds hung around for a while, as you’ll see in the video):



Across the street, a chain-smoking camel was sitting on a Jockey-For-Her model near Mama Leone’s, which was on 44th St (Star File’s building was between 43rd and 44th):



Eileen gets very talkative and out in space when she’s had a few. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to hear a word………….this picture says it all:

(Sorry, E – call me)


The “Video”:

This is an absolutely crappy little video that I shot while hanging out of a window in a slightly unsober state (that would be New York).
I was using a big, full-size VHS camcorder that was semi-balanced on my shoulder. Its clock was obviously a few seconds behind at midnight.
Somebody converted it to a QuickTime file years ago. I don’t know why, but its dimensions are TINY. The sound is horrible from all those tinny-sounding horns, but at least the video shows some things that you don’t normally see afterwards, like a bunch of cops on horseback and a street sweeper pushing cans back-and-forth in the puddles.
The sound stays noisy at 12:22am, but then skips about a half-hour while I was busy trying to shoot the above stills. It returns at 12:55am much quieter.
There’s a glitch at the 3:31 mark from where two sections were joined, but despite that and all the other problems………………………it still sucks.
NOTE: after just viewing it here, it’s REMARKABLY tiny – about half the size of the one on my desktop, so be sure to hit the full-screen option. It’ll be too big, but at least you can see something.
You may wanna take a Dramamine pill first.



One Comment

  1. Dan Kibbe August 4, 2018

    Fantastic story and pictures Bob! I now watch the ball drop from the comfort of my living room. I felt like I was there too reading your story.

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