The "young fellow" was Robert Zimmerman—the same man who won three awards at February's Grammys under the name he had already adopted, Bob Dylan. He had arrived in New York City from his hometown of Hibbing, Minn., in January 1961 to visit the hospital bed of his ailing idol, folksinger Woody Guthrie, and to try his luck in the fertile music scene of Greenwich Village.
Russell met up with the 20-year-old troubadour at Gerde's Folk City, a Village club where Dylan performed. "He was a nice young kid, very polite," Russell recalls. Planning to pitch a magazine feature on the fledgling singer, the photographer shot Dylan in the tiny, sparsely furnished West Fourth Street apartment he shared with then-girlfriend Susan ("Suze") Rotolo. "It was unusually clean, neat and well-organized," Russell says. "Most bohemians were slobs." Rotolo, now a book artist who still lives in the Village, was 18. She remembers the time fondly. "Everyone would hang out in coffeehouses, jazz and folk clubs," she says. Dylan was already honing his inscrutable image. "Nobody knew his name was Zimmerman," says Rotolo. "This was the time to develop his persona."
Russell's story, alas, was not to be. The Saturday Evening Post's editors, he says, "were quite enthusiastic" until he played a demo of Dylan's debut album, Bob Dylan. "Their jaws dropped, and they asked if it was playing at the right speed," he says. Russell, now 68, went on to work as a photo editor at McGraw-Hill and Newsweek. He forgot about the photographs until he began sorting through old work recently. When he filed them away 36 years ago, he says, "I thought Dylan was just another starving young artist with promise."
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