John McCrea was personally involved in arranging for the photograph of President Roosevelt and Vyacheslav Molotov, the minister of foreign affairs of the Soviet Union, in the president’s office. McCrea vividly described how he managed to find a photographer to take the picture and still preserve the secrecy of Molotov’s visit.
Molotov visited the United States in June 1942. He came to meet with President Roosevelt to discuss Lend-Lease aid and the opening a second front in the war. The visit was top secret, and Molotov traveled incognito under the name of Mr. Brown. On his last morning in Washington, Molotov went to the White House to say his goodbyes to the president. From here McCrea takes up the story.
[Mr. Molotov] was accompanied by his bodyguards, a tough-looking three or four, who were carrying sidearms, much to the distress of the Secret Service chaps on duty. Mr. Molotov presented this group to the President.
Shortly before Mr. Molotov’s arrival at the White House, the President called me on the telephone, and here is about the way it went. “Mr. Brown will be in my second floor study in half an hour. I want a picture made of this event. Get a photographer from the pressroom whom you can trust. Bring him upstairs and have him stand by to photograph our meeting on signal.”
“I recognize the secrecy connected with this occasion, Mr. President. I know no photographers in the pressroom, let alone one who could be trusted. And this being Saturday morning, there may not be any photographers in the pressroom anyway. But rest assured, Mr. President, I will have a photographer here when you give me the signal.”
I immediately rang up Captain Leland Lovette, the head of the Navy public relations office. I told him I wanted a photographer at the White House at once. Lovette replied that he only had one photographer on duty, and at that moment, he was in the outer office of the Secretary of the Navy, standing by to photograph the Secretary awarding a Navy Cross to someone who had distinguished himself during the Pearl Harbor raid.
“Leland,” said I, “grab that guy, get him and his equipment in a taxi, and send him to the northwest gate of the White House. Do this at once. I will meet him there and give him his instructions. This is an urgent assignment, and under no circumstances are you to question the photographer as to its nature. Do you understand?” Leland replied that he did.
I met the photographer at the Pennsylvania Avenue northwest gate. We walked up the gravel drive to the White House. As we came through the front door, the chief usher, Howell Crim, said that the President wished to see me at once. On the way up to the second floor, I briefed the photographer. “After the photographs are taken, you are to return to your laboratory, develop your film, make no prints, and bring the film to my office on the second floor of the Navy Department, front corridor. You are not to volunteer any information as to the nature of this assignment, nor answer any questions about it. Captain Lovette, your chief, has been similarly instructed by me in this matter.”
The photographer and I went directly to the President’s study. The President introduced me to “Mr. Brown.” The pictures were quickly taken. I sent the photographer back to the Navy Department in my Navy-chauffeured Pontiac and returned to the President’s study. Shortly afterwards, I took off with the official party for the Anacostia Naval Air Station where a Russian plane was ready to fly Mr. Molotov and his associates back to Russia.
The photograph was released by Steve Early, the president’s press secretary, after Molotov had arrived back in the Soviet Union