Laszlo Willinger; Hollywood Photographer

Times Staff Writer

Laszlo Willinger, who photographed Hollywood’s golden era stars including Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Fred Astaire, has died of heart failure at age 83.

His publisher, Edward Weston, disclosed Saturday that the veteran photographer died Aug. 8 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, on April 16, 1906, Willinger became a professional photographer at the age of 16 when he ran his first studio in Berlin. He then managed a portrait studio in Paris and opened his own studio in Vienna when he was 23, photographing Sigmund Freud, Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker.

Willinger moved to Hollywood in 1937, working exclusively for MGM studios until 1944. Later, he spent 40 years at FPG, a New York photo agency that stocked about 50,000 of his photos.


Willinger considered Gable, Crawford and Vivien Leigh his favorite subjects.

“They knew what was expected of them,” he said in one interview. “These stars not only cooperated, they were eager. Some actors didn’t understand this, and you never heard from them again.”

He looked back fondly on the Hollywood of the 1930s and ‘40s, commenting: “I don’t think that at any time in history more people so talented on every level had ever come together as in the Hollywood of those decades.”

Using lighting, costumes and emotion as a movie director might, Willinger photographed as many as four stars every week.


“Even if a star wasn’t working, the publicity machine kept going,” he told a Times reporter in 1987. “There were 400 newspapers across the country, each with two pages of shots a day.”

“The only thing that was expected of me was to make images that the press would choose to print over everyone else’s. . . . To get printed, yours had to be the best,” he said in another interview last year.

Less impressed with the Hollywood of the 1980s, however, Willinger told The Times that today’s Hollywood stars “all look the same--like unfinished pancakes.”

His photographs, exhibited in several museums, have been sold to the public at $500 each.


Willinger is survived by his wife, Yvonne.