Putnam, a photographer and a collector of classical French literature, lived in the West Village. He was friends with Diane Arbus, and they sometimes took photographs together at the Hudson River docks. He recalled, "Diane and I often talked about France. She couldn't get over the fact that I stlll spoke French like a native. Sometimes I'd translate Proust for her, or Charles Trenet lyrics. She told me she'd had a French nanny as a kid and had once believed she spoke French fluently, but no longer could remember a word of it."
During a Mad staff trip to Germany in 1980, Putnam died of pneumonia.