I’d been a 35mm film photographer—one who knew his way around a darkroom—for quite a few years before my first SX-70 came to me in 1973. It arrived as a gift.
That single Polaroid camera changed how I thought about photography; it was my first single-lens reflex. It changed how I looked at scenes and people. It changed my finger-on-the-shutter timing. It changed almost everything about how I took pictures and how I viewed and shared them. It changed how I thought about giving.
And, without qualification, the SX-70 was an impeccable marvel of mid-century modern design. It was a perfect example of the marriage of luxury form and practical function.
I’ve written before about my adventures as a working actor in New York, living across the hall from a guy named Joseph R Manganello and managing one of his Penny Candy Stores. Manganello was a bit of a shady character, but boy-oh-boy was a good time.
After he closed his candy stores in New York, a buddy named John Flynn asked me if I’d be interested in helping him recreate the Penny Candy concept in Florida. I told him I’d help him find a location, supervise the buildout, and provide guidance on fixtures and inventory. I gave him a working timeline, and I told him what I’d charge for the project.
The location John picked was next door to a custom jeweler. People called the jeweler Levitt. He was a bigger than life character. I never did know his first name.
John’s Penny Candy Store shared a restroom and inventory space with Levitt’s store. Over time, during the buildout, I got to know him—Levitt loved expensive gadgets and technology, He called them his man toys. Levitt used one of his toys to take a photo of John and me. And that was my introduction to the SX-70. I was blown away by the Polaroid’s brushed metal body and rich leather cover. Just holding it, I knew it was a game changer; I lusted for that camera.
The SX-70 was sold exclusively in the Miami market through 1972; then, in early 1973, it was sold nationally. The camera’s price—reflecting its development costs, cutting-edge technology, and target audience—was $180. Today, adjusted for inflation, that’s a stinging $1,100. And each film pack (10 exposures) retailed at $6.40, $41.00 today. An SX-70 wasn’t in my budget by any stretch of the imagination.
The camera made unique sounds—they remain front-of-mind today. Watch, you’ll hear them—while also learning a bit about the precision guts of the SX-70 machine.
After John’s Miami Penny Candy Store opened, I flew back to New York.
Later that year, I was offered a job by Jerome Kurtz. His office was on Madison Avenue; He was head of east coast sales and syndication for Gold Key Entertainment. The job was in Hollywood. I took the job, sublet my apartment on West 75th Street, picked up a one-way ticket to the West Coast, and headed off on a new adventure.
Months passed. I was driving an MG and having a wonderful time—the sun was bright in LA, there was a swimming pool outside my front door, and I was thin and tan. I’d given my NYC renter notice, closed the apartment lease, and called a moving company to tote my furniture and stuff west.
One evening, I arrived home from Gold Key and found a note under my front door: “You have a package in the mail room.”
Inside the box I found a Polaroid SX-70, a photo, and a note from John Flynn that simply read, “The store is doing well. I appreciate you helping me get started. John”
The photo was a picture of John sitting on the brown oak floor of his store in Miami. In front of him, spelled out in penny candy, was the word, THANKS.
Today, you can buy completely refurbished SX-70s at Mint-Camera.Com—since 2009 they have made new and sold over 15,000 SX-70 Polaroid Land Cameras.