"What's your real name?" That's a question Mickey Osterreicher is frequently asked. The answer is his real name is indeed Mickey. "That's what's on my birth certificate," he says. "People are often surprised that a nice Jewish family would name their son, Mickey. But actually, I was named by an uncle of mine who was a big New York Yankee fan, for Mickey Mantle."
His name isn't the only thing that's different about Mickey Osterreicher. How many people do you know who would get up at 2 a.m. every morning to work a full day on one job and then practice law all afternoon? Mickey Osterreicher did that for five years. After ten years as an award-winning photographer at the Buffalo Courier-Express and twenty-two more years as a photojournalist at WKBW-TV, Channel 7, Mickey Osterreicher decided to go back to law school. Three years later, in 1998 he was awarded a law degree, cum laude, at the University of Buffalo and was admitted to the bar in 1999.
The dual role as photographer/lawyer lasted until just about a year ago, when it became clear that his law practice had grown to the point where it required all of Mickey Osterreicher's working hours.
A recent visitor asked, "Isn't law and professional photography an unusual combination of careers?" His answer: "It is and it isn't. There are a lot of reporters that became lawyers. However, probably most of these had the law degree but never practiced. Tim Russert comes to mind." Wasn't it difficult existing on four hours sleep during the dual role days? "I was just very lucky," he said. "I went to bed at ten and got up at two. Either you can do it or you can't. It's nothing you can practice." District Attorney Frank Clark, who has known Osterreicher for almost thirty years, recalled recently "never have I met anybody who has so many varied interests and who accomplished so much on so little sleep."
A highlight of his work-study program at UB involved working as an audio engineer for the university's radio station, WBFO. In that job, he was the one to throw the switch that put "All Things Considered" on the air for the first time in Buffalo. From the radio station he moved to the Spectrum, the student newspaper at UB. It was here that he found his love for news photography, covering rock concerts and the anti-Viet Nam war demonstrations at UB and Washington, D.C.
Later, as a photographer for the Courier and as a stringer for the Associated Press and Time Magazine, he covered the Blizzard of '77, the Attica trials and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. Much of his work at these major events appeared nationally in publications like Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Star, and USA Today.
When Jack Kemp ran for president in (1988) and later as Bob Dole's running mate in (1996), Mickey Osterreicher took a leave of absence to be Kemp's personal photographer.
While at Channel 7, much of his video footage of major events such as the Lackawanna Six, the Pope's visit to Toronto, the O.J. Simpson trial and the Bills Greatest Comeback appeared on ABC's Nightline, World News Tonight, Good Morning America, A&E's Biography, ESPN, and the Weather Channel. He documented many seminal moments in Western NY history such as the heart-breaking video of Scott Norwood's wide-right field goal attempt during Superbowl XXV and Terry Anderson's first embrace with his sister in Weisbaden, Germany after his release from seven years in captivity.
|"Posing" on his parents' bed in the Bronx, NY (1952).||First set of "wheels." Along Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY (1953).|
|Mickey at his Bar Mitzvah with Bessie and Isak, Bronx, NY (1965).||Bessie and Isak on the lawn of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (1977).|
|Isak Osterreicher in his barbershop with a customer (1965).|
Mickey Osterreicher's father, Isak Osterreicher, served in the Czech army during World War II. After being captured by the Germans, he was placed in a forced labor camp because he was a Jew. He was able to escape death at the hands of the Nazis because he had O-negative blood needed for transfusions. After the war he went to Israel and fought in the Golan Heights during the 1948 War of Independence. He then made his way to the United States where he became a barber in the Bronx.
In time, Isak met his landlord's daughter, Bessie Rapoport. They were married in 1951. Bessie had been a secretary in New York City before she met Isak, but she became a full-time housewife and mother after their marriage. Mickey was born on October 16, 1952. Bessie was 45.
His early memories go back to Public School #28 in the Bronx. "When I was in third grade," Mickey told us, "there were probably six different classes of about thirty children each. These ranged from 3-1, the brightest students, to 3-6. Because my birthday was in October, they allowed me to start school when I was four, so, because I was on the younger side, they didn't put me in one of the brighter classes, but by third grade, they decided to move me to the 3-1 class. The first day at school, the teacher gave us a spelling test. She wanted us to write in script. I remember asking the kid next to me 'what's script?’ Up to then we were doing block letters. He looked at me and said 'you connect the letters.' So I wrote my answers in block letters with lines connecting them. The teacher called me up and said 'have your parents come in.' My mother spent a lot of time in school in those days. Another childhood memory involves his name, Mickey. They would never believe that this was his real name until, again, his parents came to school and convinced the teachers that his name was indeed Mickey.
From PS 28, Osterreicher went on to JHS 117 where he completed three years of school in two. He then attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. A number of people who attended DeWitt Clinton went on to become famous. These included Michael Battle, U.S. Attorney for the western district, Colin Powell, Burt Lancaster, and Tony Curtis.
As a teenager, he worked first in a candy store, and later at Sym's in the Bronx, one of that chain's first clothing stores. "I always liked clothes," he said. And that's a fact that's evident in his well-dressed look today. He became fascinated with news photography at an early age. "Because New York was such a big place, The New York Daily News photographers were given cars with a yellow light on the roof. These men had specific beats to cover. Each car was equipped with a police scanner, and these photographers would pretty much spend a large part of their day sitting in their cars listening to these scanners. The News photographer for the Bronx sat in a car right outside my father's barber shop. I always enjoyed looking at the pictures in the Daily News that he brought home, and I think, subliminally, it created my life-long love of photography."
Mickey Osterreicher entered UB in 1969 at the age of 16 after he graduated from high school, and, as it turned out, he would make Buffalo his permanent home. He wrote his own major at UB, something new they were trying then, and graduated cum laude in 1973 with a degree in photojournalism. As stated earlier, he returned to the University at Buffalo Law School to earn his Juris Doctor degree, also cum laude, twenty-five years later.
In college, he worked for the radio station and the newspaper. He was already working for the AP as a stringer, and for the Courier-Express a few months before he graduated from college. In 1982, when the Courier closed, he went to Channel 7. Friends like Irv Weinstein had been saying, for a long time, "You should come to television". And so, when it came down to leaving Buffalo or leaving the newspaper business, Mickey chose to take a job at Channel 7. "I love Buffalo!" he said with a lot of emphasis on the word love.
|No wig here! Signature "red afro" outside Norton Union, University at Buffalo (1971).|
|In his daily "work attire" at the funeral of Dr. Barnett Slepian, Buffalo, NY (1998).|
|Mickey with his "namesake" Buffalo, NY (1977).
Note: Mantle thought he needed a name tag.
He explains his return to law school this way: "as a journalist, I was always drawn to the court system, covering the Attica trials, meeting William Kunstler, covering a lot of the major cases here. There were a number of times when I would be at a murder scene and then later cover the trial. I had a great relationship with Leo Donovan, who was the chief of homicide then." Osterreicher made friends with the homicide detectives as well, and would do little things like bringing them a box of doughnuts on a Sunday morning. That way, when he asked to go along on a suspect pick-up, for example, they'd say things like "Mickey, you can't come with us. But, if you follow us we won't lose you." After covering the O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles he summed up the case in one sentence - "They tried to frame a guilty man!"
Mickey and Steve Boyd worked together a lot at Channel 7. One day, Steve got in the car with Mickey and said "Mickey. I think I'm going to law school." Well, Mickey had also been thinking a lot about going to law school, and so, Steve Boyd and Mickey Osterreicher decided to go back to law school together. Boyd remembered recently, "We did a lot of meaningful journalism and covered a lot of big stories and the one thing I always knew about Mickey is that no matter what story we were on, he knew everybody. I mean he knew everybody."
The walls of Mickey Osterreicher's office are full of award plaques. These include numerous regional and national awards for photojournalism as well as awards related to the law profession such as the Bar Association's Liberty Bell award, which he shared with Neil Garvey.
|Tim Russert, aid to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in the Washington, D.C. office (1975).||George Burns stops to light up his cigar during rehearsals on the stage of the Buffalo Shea's Theater (1979).|
|Art Garfunkel, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, Madison Square Garden, NY (1972).||Attorney William Kunstler, former Attorney General, Ramsey Clark and Buffalo attorney Herman Schwartz talk to their client during a break in the Attica trials, Erie County Holding Center (1974).|
|"Taking Buffalo by Storm" The Blizzard of '77, published in Time Magazine, © Mickey H. Osterreicher (1977).|
Mickey Osterreicher has also been involved in major movies. He shot still photos when James Caan was here filming "Hide in Plain Sight", and when Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn were on location in Buffalo shooting "Best Friends." Based on his Attica experience, he also served as a consultant with, now retired Surrogate Court Judge Joseph Mattina, on "The Killing Yard" starring Alan Alda.
Osterreicher numbers many celebrities among his friends. He got to know Tim Russert, mentioned earlier, when Russert was on Senator Daniel Moynihan's staff, Harvey Weinstein of Miramax films became Mickey's friend when Osterreicher shot photos for Harvey and Corky Productions. He got to know Wolf Blitzer, CNN anchor, while on assignment in Israel. "There's always a Buffalo connection" he says.
Is he different? If you've read this far you know he is. Is he disciplined? How many people can get up at 2 a.m. every day to work two jobs? Is he dedicated? One hour with Mickey Osterreicher convinces the visitor that indeed he is. Fortunately for Buffalo, he decided to stay here after college.
Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.