There's the non -famous shot of Marilyn Monroe, the portrait of pain amid prettiness. No dress flying around the ears this time. Just a fur draped on a chair, earrings dangling, cleavage cleaving--and terrified eyes broadcasting, unmistakably, "What am I going to do now?"
Then there's that unself-conscious shot of James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor between scenes on the movie "Giant." Dean is lost in a copy of Look magazine (with Taylor on the cover) and she's blissfully curled into a fetal position at his side.
Preminger Under Pressure
For an opposite effect, consider the picture of the overwhelming Otto Preminger. The director appears to be raising his blood pressure about 50 points as he impresses a point on a motionless Frank Sinatra and a studious Kim Novak.
All seemingly private moments in the history of Hollywood, these photographs--and thousands more like them--have come close to sharing a common fate: the trash can.
According to their saviors at the Hollywood Photographers Archives, still photos like these are routinely dumped by studios and sometimes also by their photographers.
Oh, many of the shots considered useful at the time still remain. They're the photographs everyone knows, the ones locked forever on posters, in old newspapers and magazines and frequently revived in print and broadcast media. Many of the shots are so memorable they're now the basis of parodies, send-ups of old-time Hollywood glamour.
But what about the photographs that Hollywood studios and public relations agencies chose not to share with the world?
What about the pictures that didn't show the stars in their best light, whatever that was?
What about the outtakes that tell us far more now, in retrospect, than we imagined at the time? And what of the photos that could rank as works of art--regardless of subject matter--the shots that weren't considered commercial enough for their original purposes?
While much such work has already been lost, a small band of photography aficionados has come to the rescue of what's left.
Devoted to Stills
Led by Sid Avery, a photographer who covered Hollywood for the Saturday Evening Post, Life and Look, the group has created the Hollywood Photographers Archives. The nonprofit, tax-exempt organization is devoted to the "preservation, study and celebration of outstanding still photography pertaining to the history and growth of Hollywood, the history of the motion picture industry and the evolution of the art of film making."
Created in 1983, the Hollywood-based organization is scheduled to have its first show late next year at the County Museum of Art, an exhibition of work most of the public has never seen. The show is then expected to travel to other museums throughout the United States and abroad.
Thus far about 20,000 photographs have been collected. And they even have a representative of Hollywood royalty helping to look after them. (Leslie Bogart, the daughter of the late Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, serves as the archives' administrative assistant.)
As David Fahey, co-director of the archives as well as director of the G. Ray Hawkins (photography) Gallery, described the photographs collected thus far, "This is work that everybody in America would want to preserve. It's this ephemeral part of our American heritage and there's nobody (else) looking after that."
It's a big job. Photographs (and, where possible, negatives) must not only be found and preserved but also catalogued.
Linda Rich, a former fine arts photographer and gallery director who shares co-director duties with Fahey, pointed out that one reason the task is so enormous is that the value of the photographs is only now being realized. Over the years, film studios, advertising agencies and magazines thought nothing of discarding prints and negatives as company ownerships changed, she said. On top of this, Rich has found that many photographers have been similarly careless with their collections, storing uncatalogued photographs and negatives where dust or humidity could damage them--when they didn't trash the stuff themselves.
Gone by the Wayside
In the case of many deceased photographers, families have often dumped archives, not realizing their historic or cultural value, Rich added. And she emphasized that many photographers are now elderly and there's little time to record their oral histories of behind-the-scenes work in the heyday of Hollywood.
"I've seen a lot of my friends, and their work, go by the wayside," said Avery, who has photographed Buster Keaton, Clark Gable, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Shirley MacLaine, among others. "I thought somewhere there should be a repository for this work . . . our whole heritage is going down the toilet."
A lot of individuals in the community apparently agree--enough to make sizable donations to the museum, gifts of money, photographs and services. By Rich's estimate, about $70,000 has been received in cash and about an equal amount in donations of service.
One enthusiastic contributor is photographer David Alexander, co-owner of A & I Color, a film processing laboratory used by many of the world's most famous photographers.
Alexander, who has photographed Hollywood stars for record album covers, magazines and movie posters but recently turned his work to directing plays, sees the new archives as providing "an anthropological record of this time and this place."
"If the industry of Detroit is automobiles, then the industry of L.A. is movies," he observed. "These photographs recorded the history of the major industry of this city. It's real important to preserve this stuff. It's history and it has affected the way the entire world thinks about life, about romance, happiness, tragedy. The birth of that industry is recorded in those photographs."
The Hollywood Photographers Archives is not (yet) collecting the work of younger photographers such as Alexander and his contemporaries. According to Rich, there's too much to do right now gathering, preserving and cataloguing the oldest materials, not to mention interviewing the elderly photographers before they die. As she put it, "We're even finding photos from silent films of which no prints exist."