Photographer Ralph Morse, who covered war, sports, science, celebrities, theater, and other assignments during his long career as a staff photographer for LIFE and TIME magazines, died December 7 at his home in Florida. He was 97.
Morse’s death was reported yesterday by TIME magazine, which said on its website that “no photographer in the history of LIFE magazine had a more varied, thrilling and productive career.” Morse became LIFE’s youngest World War II correspondent when he joined the magazine in 1941 at the age of 24.
He covered the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, and later on, the liberation of Paris in 1944 and the surrender of Germany at Reims in 1945. After the war, Morse covered a wide range of assignments for LIFE, beginning with Broadway and the London theater, and eventually sports, science and technology, and other subjects.
Besides the major events of World War II, Morse was witness to other historic moments of the 20th century. TIME describes his iconic shot of Jackie Robinson “one of the greatest baseball photographs ever made.” Morse also photographed Babe Ruth’s farewell at Yankee Stadium, Einstein’s funeral, the Ali-Liston fight, and other events.
According to TIME, Morse was the first civilian to fly on a Strategic Air Command B-47 Stratojet, a nuclear bomber developed during the Cold War. He was also the first to shoot color photographs of the caves of Lascaux. He also covered NASA’s Mercury space flight program.
He remained a staff photographer for LIFE magazine until it folded in 1972, then joined TIME magazine. He retired in 1988, and told John Leongard, author of LIFE Photographers: What They Saw, that he sold all his cameras and and stopped taking photographs to avoid “everybody and his brother” asking him to photograph their weddings.