I call him the Cartier-Bresson or Robert Frank of Hollywood. He wouldn’t allow the orchestrated P.R. photograph. He made authentically real photographs, and in the context of Hollywood, to make a real picture is odd.
– Los Angles photography gallery owner, David Fahey
My meeting with Jimmy Dean occurred in 1953, somewhere in the spring. I was aware of him of course. I was driving on Sunset Boulevard west towards Life Magazine’s offices….and passing through Crescent Heights Blvd, green light, coming down the other way, crossing the red light, was a crazy guy on a motorcycle. Anyway, he jammed n is brakes, I jammed on mine, I avoided killing him by a few inches. But anyway, he got up off the bike and he gave me a dopey grin. I was cursing him, using every expletive I could think of. And, that dope grin did it I guess. We became friends right there and we both went to breakfast at Schwab’s drugstore. By this time of course, I knew who he was.
There are some people who you don’t have to do anything with. And Jimmy was one of them: He was totally whimsical. There’s one shot where Dean peeks out of a sweater. I didn’t use a tripod or Strobe lights. I had a hand held Nikon. We broke all the rules that day.
I was a full decade older than Dean, but we hit it off. We were both a little nuts. I was a New York Jewish kid, from the Bronx; he was this Midwest eccentric. Neither of us was part of the Establishment. I feel his politics was only for the underdog.
Back in the Fifties, for me to photograph Marilyn Monroe, it was a catch-as-catch-can situation. I did not have her at my disposal the way some photographers did. So the only time I could get her was either surreptitiously or at a photo opportunity. And in that case, it was important for me to try to get a photograph that doesn’t look the same as the others. So I had to watch carefully and if she did anything unusual with her face or expression, I had to be alert enough to snap it.
I had an assignment from Look Magazine. The assignment was what Sam Goldwyn sees from his window. And I had telephoto cameras located at Sam Goldwyn’s office and it was setup in such a way there was no knowledge whatever of the people below and I was getting intimate pictures of them. And that’s where I was able to get those pictures of Marilyn Monroe walking with Paula Strassberg. At certain days, they were inseparable. And that was the time when she was pregnant during her marriage with Arthur Miller, At one point, her pregnancy was such that she was beginning to show.
And in one of those photos that made, she wore a dark kimono over a white outfit. And the wind blew open the kimono and it was very obvious that she was pregnant.
I believe and I’m not sure about it, that that is the only shot of her pregnant.
The pictures I most like are not necessarily pictures of Hollywood stars. I’m always looking for the perfect picture, and it does not matter who’s in it. And I can also add that I am more than 90 years old and have been holding a camera since age 14, and I have not yet found the perfect picture yet. But I will always keep looking for it.
[I shot] Sinatra literally in the position of Christ nailed to the cross. He choreographed it himself. This was a personal gag created for Mervyn Leroy, a director he had contempt for. He sent it along with a note that said, “O.K., you now have me where you want me. Frank.”
Bogart trusted me. [James] Dean trusted me. And Wayne. During the war, Wayne was never in the military. Bogart and Wayne may have seen themselves as a lot more macho than they actually were. I, in contrats, had been wounded. So my reputation in their eyes was as a tough guy.
But like I said before – the most important thing is access for the photographer. There are many good photographers but they are not appreciated for their work that they do not gain access to the appropriate places.
Sinatra especially for some reason liked the photos I made and he liked me. He didn’t love me but he liked me. He gave me access to the many things he did: his concerts, special events, television shows and when he worked in movies. I had many assignments with Sinatra, the most important one perhaps was the inauguration in 1961 of President Kennedy. And when Kennedy had a big gala, he appointed Sinatra to do all the entertainment. In that case, he asked me to be the resident photographer.
In my mind a photographer is like a carpenter. He can make a beautiful cabinet and you can exclaim `it’s a work of art,’ but it’s never going to be a Rembrandt.
Matisse I ain’t.
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