Eric Carpenter worked at MGM, aside from a couple of short breaks, from 1933 to the 1960s. Elevated from office boy, he succeeded Virgil Apger as Bull's assistant and continued in that capacity until he got his union card.
"(I did this) on the condition that I worked in the gallery and not as a still or publicity photographer, because that area was all sewn up. I didn't have my own gallery, so I set up one on the set and shot there. That was the end of 1939.
My first solo assignment--and this was a case of make or break--was to photograph Norma Shearer. She was trying out new photographers at the time and she wanted someone loyal to her. If she approved, I was in. Lucky for me she did. We did an outside session down by her beach house. I had already learned a lot by watching Hurrell and Bull, but my 'style' was trial and error."
He finally became a portrait photographer at precisely the moment when MGM was cultivating a new crop of stars--Lana Turnerr, Esther Williams and the popular team Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. A decade later Carpenter photographed Marilyn Monroe when she made 'The Asphalt Jungle' (1950). He 'photographed her,' wrote Kobal, 'in a pose and clinging dress similar to what he'd successfully used with Lana Turner, most of whose poses had been variations of those dreamed up for Harlow.' In an interview after he retired, Carpenter told Kobal, "The stars were about the only ones who appreciated what you were trying to do. As far as the producers and executives were concerned, it was just publicity. They couldn't have cared less."
He also worked as a uncredited still photographer on many great films including 'The Wizard of Oz' for which he did some wonderful Kodachrome stills, 'Singing in the Rain,' 'The Swan'--Grace Kelly's last film--'Gigi', 'Ben Hur,' and 'Please Don't Eat the Daisies' with Doris Day.
With his spirited and beautiful portraits, Carpenter quickly became the favorite photographer of the studio's rising young stars, like Ava Gardner and James Craig, among others. His rapport with Lana Turner began when she signed with MGM and lasted up to her departure from the studio in the late fifties. Carpenter was responsible for the most of her torrid, memorable gallery portrait sittings. His photographs of her are lush and immediate in dazzling whites and sophisticated, plungingly deep backs. More dynamic than almost any of the other glamour portraits of the era, their effect recalled the Harlow portraits and and anticipated the ones of Monroe at Fox in the early fifties--acres of white fur, opalescent skin, poses inviting by thier ease.
Carpenter once explained:
"The only secret of good work is to get the star to have confidence in you so that you can try to do something interesting. Stars appreciated what you were trying to do. The publicity department kept asking for glorified passport photos, which was what the newspapers could use. It was a fight to get some shading into those pictures."
After the war Carpenter left the profession to join his brother in the shipyard business, but by 1950 he went back at MGM, this time as a production still photographer--a job he held until his retirement in the sixties--working on films like 'Quentin Durward' (1955), 'Beau Brummel (1954), and 'Mutiny on the Bounty' (1962).
He passed away on June 16, 1976 at the age of 66 in Hollywood, California.
Here are some examples of his work:
Ava Gardner and Ava with her then husband, Mickey Rooney below: