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George Hurrell put glamour into the Hollywood portrait

AuthorsArtArts and CulturePaul McCartney

Stars had faces in the golden age of Hollywood. And for many years, photographer George Hurrell, the father of the Hollywood glamour portrait, captured their allure, glamour and indefinable charisma.

Known as the "Rembrandt of Hollywood," the groundbreaking photographer is the subject of "George Hurrell's Hollywood: Glamour Portraits 1925-1992," a biographical coffee-table book by writer-photographer Mark A. Vieira, who knew Hurrell for more than 15 years.

Using interviews, archival documents and 20 years' worth of his own diaries, Vieira creates a portrait of a brilliant, complicated artist who had a great working relationship with the stars and a mercurial personality with studio chiefs. "He told Louis B. Mayer to go to hell," Vieira said.

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An outcast after a 1943 scandal — "he broke the rule, he got involved with a model" — Hurrell was working as a unit still photographer to pay off his debts when Vieira met him in 1975. Down but not out, Hurrell emerged from obscurity in the early 1980s.

There are 420 exquisite black-and-white and color images featured in the book, from the collections of Michael H. Epstein & Scott E. Schwimer, and Ben S. Carbonetto, of such Hollywood royalty as Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, James Cagney, Norma Shearer, Marlene Dietrich and Errol Flynn, as well as Hurrell's later portraits of Harrison Ford, Paul McCartney, Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, who wrote the foreword to the book.

"This man was a trailblazer," said Vieira.

Before Hurrell, who died in 1992 at age 87, photographers used a soft focus lens, which gave the subjects an ethereal quality.

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"Hurrell introduced a new look: sharp focus, high contrast, and seductive poses," Vieira writes in his book. "Using new lighting and retouching effects, he created spectacular, enticing images of Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, and Jean Harlow."

Hurrell also had the ability to eliminate a star's flaws. "These people owe so much to him," said Vieira. "He had this gift to make people look fantastic — the best they ever would look."

So there's little wonder the stars loved him. "He was fun to be around," said Vieira. "He would play music and sing with it and jump around to keep the mood up."

But Garbo just wanted to be left alone. "She was the one person who would not respond to that kind of direction," said Vieira. "Because she was used to directing herself."

susan.king@latimes.com

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AuthorsArtArts and CulturePaul McCartney
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