Palmer, Hunter, Ali, Namath, Abdul-Jabbar—surely one of these notables is the person most often photographed by SI. Not quite. In fact, it's not even close. The most-photographed distinction would likely be a tie between Anthony Donna and Manny Millan.
While the picture at right is the first we've published of Donna and Millan, they have posed for lighting and exposure tests for all the above-mentioned superstars. Occasionally they have even been stand-ins for the likes of Secretariat and, more recently, for the winning dog at Westminster. Donna and Millan are staff photo assistants. Most of their work, especially at this time of year, involves setting up electronic flash equipment in arenas all over the country. It is not uncommon for one of them to arrive at an event shepherding some 30 cases of equipment weighing about two tons. The next trick is to wrestle all 30 cases into the catwalk system 70 or 80 feet above the hockey rink or basketball floor. Once this is accomplished they still have to make all those lights work.
Then, just when everything seems ready, the photographer arrives and complains that, well, he "really wanted those front lights further back and the back lights closer in." Back up to the catwalks.
May 18, 1975
When the game starts, Donna and Millan must keep an eye on the lighting to make sure it continues to flash properly, remaining poised for quick trips up to the catwalk just in case. They also double as instant psychologis s, assuring the photographer that he's really doing well: "I can see you got the cover on the last one," or, "Don't worry, you'll get it in the next period." They also are reloading cameras and protecting the photographer from the crowd.
Donna and Millan are different in their approach. As Photographer Neil Leifer tells it, "Millan and I went to shoot Chuck Wepner. Everything was ready—and it was time to wet Wepner's face to simulate sweat. 'Hope this water is not too cold, Chuck,' said Millan, patting the contender between the eyes with a sponge. 'Sorry, Chuck, but this really has to be done.' Millan was so apologetic that Wepner barely noticed that his pants were getting as wet as his face.
"One week later, same picture. Only now Donna is the assistant and Ali is the subject. Says Ali, 'This water is freezing.' Donna replies, 'Sit still, I warmed it up myself,' and he belts Ali with another sponge full. Ali's head moves from the spot where it should be. Donna—who stands all of 5'5½", weighs 140 pounds and wears contact lenses—releases another vicious splash to the face and says, 'Look, Ali, when you move, you're out of the frame, so stay still.' The champ obeys, of course."
But Donna and Millan's capabilities extend beyond setting up strobes and pacifying—or terrorizing—heavyweights. According to Photographer Tony Triolo, who does not drive, they are also mighty good chauffeurs.