Samuel Morris Passman: Dallas lawyer represented Zapruder in JFK home movie negotiations


by By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 1:15 PM

Samuel Morris Passman had one transaction that stood out among the many he handled for a multitude of clients over his nearly 70 years as a Dallas lawyer.

Mr. Passman represented Abraham Zapruder during negotiations for rights to the Dallas dressmaker's 8 mm home movie of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Passman, 96, died Wednesday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas of complications after a fall at his home.

Private services will be at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, where his ashes will be placed in the columbarium.

"Sam taught all of us about how taking care of our clients is really important," said Greg Sampson, a shareholder with Passman & Jones in Dallas. "He really got involved in his clients' businesses and their lives. He represented many families for generations."

Mr. Passman became a part of history by helping Mr. Zapruder cope with both the business and emotional demands created by his home movie.

Mr. Zapruder wanted financial security for his family and to avoid the perception he was profiting from the tragedy, according to news accounts of the negotiations.

At a Nov. 25, 1963, meeting with Life magazine's Los Angeles bureau chief and Mr. Zapruder in Mr. Passman's office, the lawyer suggested that the first of six annual $25,000 payments be made to the family of J.D. Tippit, the police officer killed shortly after the president.

"I remember thinking that whatever fee Zapruder paid the lawyer, Passman had just earned every penny with that inspired suggestion," Richard B. Stolley, the Life executive wrote in 1988. "Zapruder, who earlier had worried aloud to me about the Tippit family's future, agreed without hesitation; and his donation of $25,000 two days later earned the public applauses it both deserved and was meant to elicit."

The Zapruder film negotiation was typical of Mr. Passman's career, Mr. Sampson said.

"Sam really was very good at finding out what people needed and helping them," Mr. Sampson said.

Mr. Passman was born in New Orleans and grew up in Galveston, where he graduated from Ball High School. He earned bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Texas at Austin in 1935.

Mr. Passman served as a major in the legal department for the Army Air Forces during World War II.

After the war, Mr. Passman settled in Dallas, where he practiced law with two firms before founding Passman & Jones in 1952.

Mr. Passman represented generations of families who owned businesses, including some that participated in the earliest days of the Dallas Apparel Mart and Dallas Market Center. He retired in 2004.

Mr. Passman is survived by his wife, Jeanne Passman of Dallas; a son, Donald S. Passman, an entertainment attorney in Beverly Hills, Calif.; and four grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to a charity of choice.