Bonnie Crosby’s Inseparable Link to Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Dodgers
By Palmer Hasty
Bonnie Crosby, a Brooklyn native, was born January 17, 1940, and lived at 3108 Brighton 5th Street until she was in the 3rd grade. She currently lives in Naples, Florida, and this week celebrates her 73rd birthday. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle recently conducted a phone interview with Bonnie to find out more about her life, past and present, as well as her memories of a special time in Brooklyn during the 1950s when the borough’s home town team was none other than the mythical Dodgers. Bonnie is also the proud daughter of a famous Brooklynite, the legendary award-winning New York photojournalist Barney Stein.
For two decades, from 1937-1957, her father was the official photographer of the Brooklyn Dodgers. During his photojournalism career Stein worked for the New York Post and photographed the Pope, U.S. Presidents, gangsters, glamorous Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Wyatt, yet, it is said that nothing gave him more pleasure or notoriety than his role as the official photographer for the Dodgers, affectionately known as “Dem Bums.”
As a baseball photojournalist Stein captured moments on film that have become some of the most famous and beloved baseball photographs in the history of the sport. Bonnie was not only a fan of her father’s great photography, as a youngster she was also an avid Dodger fan. She was close friends with many of the great ball players of that era, and their families. (Just to drop a few names: Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Carl Erkstein, and Hall of Fame stars Jackie Robinson, Duke Synder and Pee Wee Reese).
From 2005-2007, to commemorate her father’s work (and the Dodgers) Bonnie co-wrote the book “Through a Blue Lens: The Brooklyn Dodgers Photographs of Barney Stein, 1937-1957” with sports writer and historian Dennis D’Agostino. D’Agostino wanted to write a book about the Dodgers, but since their move west to Los Angeles it seemed that every nook and cranny of Brooklyn Dodger history had been written about.
But D’Agostino did not give up. He said he figured that Stein must have left a larger collection of photos (especially from the 1950s) than was available to the public via newspapers and publications, and that collection was more than likely with a Stein family member somewhere. D’Agostino was right. He said he knew that Stein had a daughter who had drifted away from sports and become a well known dancer, and he was told she was living in Florida. So he set out to locate Bonnie. After D’Agostino connected with Bonnie in 2005 via an email he found on the website she created to memorialize her father’s photos (www.barneystein-photography.com), he received a package containing stacks of scanned copies of her father’s surviving photos.
So they discussed a book idea and together the two of them decided the best way to do a book would be to send copies of the photos around to members of the extended Dodger’s family who were in the photographs and still living, and ask for comments. They published the book in 2007 (Triumph Books), the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers exit from Ebbets Field to Los Angeles in 1957. It is a unique book in that it is not just another “history” of the Brooklyn Dodgers, as it is more like the ultimate memoir and tribute to the Dodgers and her father’s one-of-a-kind pictorial legacy with quotes from the players, the executives, and the families. As D’Agostino said in the book’s Preface, instead of a history, “Please try to imagine it…as a family album…of one of most famous families in American history.”
In 2008, Bonnie was invited to mount an exhibition of her father’s photographs in North Collier Park, Naples. When she gave a talk to introduce the exhibition to the public, she said she was flattered and humbled, she had no idea; “There were so many Brooklynites from the Naples area that seemed to come out of the woodwork to visit the show.”
Barney Stein was born in Brooklyn in 1908 and attended Stuyvesant High School. His photojournalism career spanned over 50 years, beginning with a job at the Brooklyn Times Union in 1929. Stein was a lively, witty, and very well liked character in his day, and close friends with the Dodger ballplayers, the executives, and their families. His relationship with the team and management was both professional and, as “Through a Blue Lens” testifies, very personal. Many of his classic black & white sports photographs from that era have become indelible images etched in the collective psyche of baseball history. Many of his photographs that would be classified as personal, were published in “Through A Blue Lens.”
Stein was not only a celebrity himself, he was a brilliant photographer with a natural instinct for the moment. For example, the dramatic shot of Jackie Robinson sliding into home during a “straight steal” from third base in the first game of 1955 World Series against the New York Yankees. And the powerful photograph of Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca sitting in the clubhouse weeping with regret after Bobby Thompson of the New York Giants slammed a game-winning home run off Branca to win the deciding game in the National League playoffs in 1951.
During the 1950s, his daughter Bonnie was a young teenager wearing, as teens did back then, those long mid-calf skirts and saddle oxfords with bobby socks. She was also a Dodger baseball fan who accompanied her father to the games. She was allowed to sit in the photographer’s cage with her father at Ebbets Field. In Through A Blue Lens, she recalled that experience.
“I would often hold my father’s ‘flash’ attachment for his camera and accompanied him on the field before the games. Players would often ask him to take special photos of them, and often there were VIP’s there who wanted to be photographed with the players. I also remember sitting in the photographer’s ‘box’ high above the box seats between home plate and first base. It was very scary walking on the catwalk to get to the box. You could see straight down-and this bridge-type contraption wasn’t very steady if there was a strong breeze.”
The Brooklyn Dodgers have always been associated with a certain charisma when it came to fan loyalty, a unique bond between the players and the fans, recognized and acknowledged by anyone who knows anything about baseball history. When remembering what it was like growing up a Dodger fan in the 1950s Crosby said:
“The Dodgers made Brooklyn Brooklyn. The players were our neighbors, these were the ‘boys’ and the fans never abandoned them no matter what the season record was.” Dodger fans were resigned to their fair share of losing, but as Crosby said, “the Dodger fans were always there to console themselves with slogans like ‘Wait til next year’ and ‘Tomorrow is another day’.” Bonnie added, “It was all part of a wide-spread affection for the borough and the team.”
Bonnie told Brooklynites In Florida that she had many vivid memories of growing up in Brooklyn: “Back then you could take a trolley or a bus without fear, or just a leisurely bike ride to a friend’s house. There was a cohesive feeling, Brooklyn felt like a big neighborhood. As a kid you felt enveloped by the people there. On a bike ride you could stop at a friend’s house, or a friend of your parents, and get something to eat if you happened to be hungry. I remember at the public school we had a “Victory Garden” that was the kid’s community garden, and we could go there any time, feel safe, and enjoy nature and work in the garden. I remember taking the trolley to downtown and we’d go shopping at A&S and Russeks. A popular radio show back then, Tex McCreery and Jinx Falkenburg, was broadcast from one of the department stores. Then later, there was Jr’s Restaurant. Back then the library was a favorite place, before Amazon.com of course. I also have fond memories of Grand Army Plaza and The Brooklyn Museum. I’ll always have the vivid image of the thick forsythia vines that covered the wall of the neighbor’s garage…what can I say…I had a very, very nice childhood in Brooklyn.” So how did Bonnie’s father become the “official” photographer for the Dodgers?
Bonnie recalled that it was a coincidence. It was in the spring of 1937; Stein was on assignment while working at the Brooklyn Times Union, doing a human interest story about Prospect Park when he saw a young woman riding a horse under the scenic brick archway in the park. Stein liked the moment he caught on camera so much he decided to find out who the woman on the horse was, and subsequently promised her a copy of the photo. Stein discovered that the woman was Dearie Mulvey, wife of Dodger Vice President James Mulvey, and the daughter of Steve McKeever, the President of the Dodgers.
That was the chance encounter that led to Stein’s long term relationship with the Dodger ball players and the organization brass. Stein was invited to photograph the Dodgers at spring training camp that year in Clearwater, Florida. About that same time, Bonnie and the Stein family had moved to 1651 East 7th Street between Avenue O and P (not far from Kings Highway). When she was in the 9th grade, while Stein was a staff photographer at the New York Post and official photographer for the Dodgers, Stein took a job at the Algiers Hotel in Miami Beach. The owner of the Algiers was a die-hard Dodger fan. But in 1955 Stein, Bonnie, and the family moved back to Brooklyn and lived near Abraham Lincoln High School.
Not long after the family’s return to Brooklyn, Bonnie auditioned for and was accepted to New York City’s High School of Performing Arts on West 46th Street in Manhattan. Two years later in 1957 Bonnie was accepted to the Juilliard School, where she studied ballet and modern dance. Bonnie had a funny story to tell (or confess to with some laughter) about her acceptance to the Juilliard School. The famous American composer Morton Gould had two sons while Stein had two daughters about the same age. Gould and his sons were avid Dodger fans and Gould was friends with Stein. Gould was so impressed and grateful that Stein was willing to arrange for a photo of his kids with a Brooklyn Dodger, he offered to write a recommendation letter for Bonnie to the Juilliard School.
Four years later she was asked to be in the Spanish/Mexican production of choreographer Bob Fosse’s show “Redhead” (La Pelliroja) and traveled to Madrid, Spain where the show opened. In 1962, while still in Spain, she formed her own dance company of 20 dancers called “Los Baillets de Bonnie Parkes.” While in Spain she also choreographed for films and television, and coached Spain’s teenage superstar, Marisol, in various styles of dance.
She returned to Brooklyn from Spain in 1966 and lived on East 19th Street. It was during this time that she met her Juilliard “college sweetheart” and married Steve Crosby. Stein retired in 1970 and spent his final years in Florida. In 1993 he was inducted into the Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Fame, but his health did not allow him to attend the ceremony. Barney Stein died later that year in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Bonnie, after living in London, returned with her husband to the states in 2004 and they lived in Pittsburg, PA.
That home was sold and though they maintained a condo on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York State, she and Steve moved to Naples, Florida, where she lives today. In Naples she has been a member of the Naples Press Club, the Naples Chapter of SABR (Society of American Baseball Research). She still likes to go to concerts or attend the ballet as often as she can, and she is currently working on a book she is tentatively calling her “life story.” In 2011 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and is active in a very supportive Naples MS Community and she looks forward to visits to her son, daughter-in-law and three grandsons in Arizona.
Photos in order of appearance:
Bonnie Stein with Baseball Legend and Hall of Fame Dodger Jackie Robinson.
Bonnie Stein (right) and sister Harriet with Dodger pitcher Erv Palica.
The Brooklyn Eagle would like to sincerely thank John Rogers for permission to use the Barney Stein photos of Bonnie Crosby with Jackie Robinson and Erv Palico.