Beatles photo trove? Yeah, yeah, yeah
Iconic images of the Fab Four at Shea Stadium in 1966 discovered after dying journalist reveals to son hidden bin of remarkable pictures
SAN ANTONIO — They were a family mystery, lost at least 20 years. Two rolls of black-and-white film, 72 photos in all, shot in 1966 at the Beatles’ concert at Shea Stadium during the band’s final tour.
Late last year, in the forced solitude of the pandemic, former WOAI-TV investigative reporter Brian Collister found them while sorting through the small mountain of photographic prints, slides and negatives in his father’s apartment closet.
A professional photographer, Robert “Bob” Collister had died in San Antonio in 2019. He lived in New York and New Jersey most of his life, doing freelance work for East Coast newspapers and some corporate clients.
He wasn’t famous, but his eclectic assignments included state prison riots, concerts by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, members of Congress, Vice President Spiro Agnew, ballet giant Edward Villella and street scenes of Harlem in the 1960s.
“Dad was a Navy vet and he was dying of lung cancer at Audie Murphy” VA Medical Center, said Brian Collister, now living in Austin. “And he whispered, ‘I want you to have all my photography.’ Then he said I should look in the very bottom of the closet in a clear plastic bin with a purple top and I might find some stuff we thought had been lost.”
The bin held more than 100 tattered, light brown envelopes, carefully marked with a description of the assignment, sometimes including notations about the camera, lens and settings used.
One envelope set Collister’s heart racing: “Beatles 8/23/66 Shea.”
That would be the Beatles’ second concert at Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens, on Aug. 23, 1966, just three months after Brian Collister was born.
Bob Collister had been unable to find his Beatles photos for two decades — he said they never were
published — and the family had assumed the prints and negatives were lost forever.
Collister’s engaging black-and-white shots show the familiar images of ecstatic, weeping teenage girls with their faces pressed alarmingly deep into the wire fences that kept them off the stadium’s playing field.
Bob Collister exposed only two rolls of Kodak Tri-X Pan 400, a high-speed film good in low light, 36 shots of the band and 36 of the crowd and surroundings.
As he methodically sorted through photo “contact sheets” and hundreds of plastic pages holding Kodachrome slides, Brian Collister developed a greater appreciation for his father’s precision-driven craft and the profession that consumed him.
“I know that’s where I got my love for journalism,” Brian Collister said.
Bob Collister struggled for years as an alcoholic, a disease that ruined his marriage and stunted his career. Out of control and at the bottom, Bob Collister called Alcoholics Anonymous on Aug. 18, 1989 — a date he called his “birthday” from then on. Family and friends say they have no reason to doubt Collister stayed sober the rest of his life.
‘His whole heart’
Living only on Social Security, the elder Collister moved to San Antonio to be close to his son, who had a TV reporting job here. He soon immersed himself in an Alcoholics Anonymous group “off Wurzbach Parkway somewhere” and became a sponsor for those going through recovery,
Brian Collister said.
For 17 years, Collister would counsel, cajole and deal tough love to anyone who needed it, any day of the week.
“He put his whole heart into helping people,” said friend James Walker, a 72-year-old former Marine.
In summer 2019, Bob Collister was diagnosed with lung cancer and his heart was failing. After several surgeries to install and reinstall a heart stent, the end seemed near, so his son “set up camp” in the intensive care unit of University Hospital to be with him.
He touched their lives
“This parade of people would come by to see him,” the son said. “People I never knew. A young Hispanic woman. A Hispanic man in his 30s. Older people. Couples. They would come out of his room bawling like babies and just collapse into my arms like they had lost their dad.
“He had touched all of their lives,” he said.
“At a memorial, about 85 people who knew him through AA all spoke about how he helped them in their worst moments.
“I realized then that my father had not thrown everything away in his life. And weirdly, COVID-19 gave me the time to find the Beatles photos, and doing so was almost like a rebirth of my understanding for who he was.”
Brian Collister and his mother have decided to auction the Beatles photos — all negatives, prints, contact sheets and copyrights — and donate the proceeds to the Investigative Network, a nonprofit news documentary service where Collister is CEO.
It will set up a fund in Bob Collister’s name to provide workshops, training and freelance work for photo and video journalists. The photos are on its website.