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"Tales of the Kodak Ektra"

Kodak Ektra CameraFor over two generations now, the camera collector's literature has been saddled with apocryphal tales regarding the Eastman Kodak Ektra camera (1941-48). From its alledged design by 'German engineers' imported by EKC to improve the breed, to the supposed left-handedness of its designer, Hungarian emigre of 1907 and EKC Apparatus Designer (1923-54), Joseph Mihalyi, to that story of the Jap spy spotted using a Kodak Ektra to photograph U.S. Navy ships from atop a hill in Hawaii just prior to that "date that will live in infamy".

Kodak Ektra CameraAttempts have been made to rectify that account of a left-handed German designer's influence in the Ektra's design, (CPCS Journal, BY DAYLIGHT, Spring '91) and the writer suggests the genesis of the latter tale is this. After the 1942 U.S. Army indoctrination film series "Why We Fight", made for the Army Pictorial Service with the then Major Frank Capra, the Hollywood movie director as Project Supervisor, there followed a series, "Know Your Enemy". In one of these films, a scene is shown of a Japanese-looking civilian standing on tropical, hilly terrain at dusk and aiming a Kodak Ektra camera at some vessels in a harbor below. With background narration by actor Walter Huston relating the dastardly deeds of "Jap spies" ii Hawaii, this was calculated to get the GIs angry, as were indeed the "Why We Fight" films. But in this scenario the props department goofed and continuity fared no better.

A question arises. Why didn't the person filming this suspicious oriental man taking pictures of the American Fleet, detain him or report him and maybe avert Pearl Harbor? Perhaps the other person was a spy also? OK. But why take both movies and snapshots - which in any case, given the film speeds of the day and filming at dusk, it's unlikely the images could prove very useful to Admiral Yamamoto.

Next question. Why is this 'Jap spy' using the recently introduced Kodak Ektra priced at more than $300 (stateside), instead of a Japanese Canon J or perhaps that Japanese favorite of the time, a Leica? Or are we to presume that no self respecting spy would consider the inconspicuous Argus C3 or Kodak 35 readily available in 1941 Honolulu! And wasn't that familiar oriental fellow, sans Ektra to be seen lurking in some of the Hollywood war films of the day? OK! OK! So it's a reenactment. But Capra, you didn't do your homework, or was it just easier to borrow one of the Ektra outfits used in training Signal Corps personnel at the Army Pictorial Center in Astoria, New York? As wartime propaganda to a select audience, these War Department films were quite effective to all but the discerning camera buff.

© 1999 - K. Kekatos

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