Zinn Arthur, who led a well-respected big band before World War II and toured with Irving Berlin’s “This Is the Army” show during the war, has died. He was 90.
Arthur died Tuesday in West Hills of complications from aging, according to his daughter, Robin Sullivan-Probst.
After the war, as the big-band era was ending, Arthur had a second career as a celebrity photographer, taking pictures of stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Leslie Caron, Kim Novak, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Burt Lancaster for the covers of magazines and other publications.
His book of photographs, “Shooting Superstars” (edited by Ellen M. Francisco), was published in 1990. In all, he was a photographer on 66 films and became friends with many of the stars of the day, including Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren and Sid Caesar.
Arthur had a third career as a restaurateur, with establishments on Long Island, N.Y., and in South Florida. The restaurants’ walls were lined with signed pictures he had taken during his years as a celebrity photographer.
Arthur also worked for a time as an associate producer to film and Broadway director Josh Logan, whom he had met in the armed services.
Circulating in the rarefied atmosphere of Hollywood stars, Arthur had many tales. He said that Marilyn Monroe, whom he photographed several times, once became jealous of his acquaintance with rival sexpot Brigitte Bardot, and that Sinatra had been an old pal who called him “Zinny,” as did his band members in the 1940s.
But Zinn Arthur was not his real name. It wasn’t even his second.
He was born Abrasha Choosidman on Aug. 25, 1912, in Ukraine. His family fled the pogroms, arriving at Ellis Island in 1921, where his father changed their surname to Zinberg.
Arthur, who grew up on New York’s Lower East Side and later in Brooklyn, got into music by singing in choirs and sneaking guitar lessons. He formed his first band in high school, shortening his name to Arty Zinn.
Arthur told the Orlando Sentinel Tribune in 1991 that he finally decided on using Zinn Arthur when he saw his name reversed on his driver’s license and liked it.
His ensemble, which had a Latin sound, was often billed in the popular “battles of the bands” against such orchestra’s as Count Basie’s. So often was Arthur’s band opposite other groups at New York’s big-band showcase, the Roseland Ballroom, that his orchestra became known as “the other band,” according to George T. Simon, author of “The Big Bands.”
He “had an unusually warm, good baritone voice, a gorgeous theme song, ‘Darling,’ which he wrote and sang, and one of the biggest-sounding small bands in the country,” Simon said. “An extremely well-organized gent with the mind of an accountant but the soul of an artist, he was just beginning to impress nationally when he was called up as one of the first Army draftees.”
Arthur led his own band in the Army for a time, then hooked up with Irving Berlin and toured U.S. bases around the world for three years. The show provided the material for the 1943 film “This Is the Army.”
When the war was over, Arthur turned to photography, helped along by his buddy Logan, who introduced him to celebrities. Arthur’s first pictures were of Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Igor Stravinsky, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other musicians. He then moved on to television celebrities and, finally, film personalities.
“It was a world of fantasy,” he told the Orlando paper. “It was beautiful.”
His photographs of Yul Brynner in “The King and I” helped make Brynner a star. Arthur also photographed Lancaster as the title character in “Elmer Gantry,” Taylor as Maggie the Cat in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and Holden and Novak in “Picnic.”
In the 1980s, Arthur made a documentary of the career of Logan, who directed “Picnic,” “Bus Stop” and other films, as well as many Broadway plays. The documentary aired on PBS.
Arthur is survived by his daughter, who lives in West Hills; a son, David, of Las Vegas; and four grandchildren.