Tuesday, May 21, 2013

John Engstead: A Total Professional with Celebrities and More

John Engstead was born on September 22, 1909 (some say 1912) in Los Angeles, California.  Engstead began his career in 1926, when he was hired as an office boy by Paramount Pictures' head of studio publicity, Harold Harley.

In 1927, Engstead pleased his boss by arranging a photo session for actress Clara Bow with photographer Otto Dyer using an outdoor garden setting which was unusual at that time. The resulting photographs hailed Harley as "Clara Bow's best sitting."

In 1928, in response to fan magazine requests, Engstead appointed Paramount magazine contact that he wear a suit and tie every day.

Engstead's creative direction of photographs of actress Louise Brooks led to a promotion to art supervisor, where he oversaw the production of Paramount's publicity stills.

In 1932, due to a strike by photographers, Engstead assumed the position of studio portrait photographer, despite having never previously photographed anyone. Actor Cary Grant posed for his practice shots. He returned to his job as art supervisor after the strike was resolved.

In 1941, Paramount Pictures fired Engstead, and Harper's Bazaar hired him for freelance advertising and portrait photography assignments. From 1941 to 1949, he took fashion photography assignments from numerous other magazines, including Collier's, Esquire, House Beautiful, Ladies Home Journal, Life, Look, Mademoiselle, McCall's, Vogue, and Women's Home Companion.

In the 1940s, Engstead photographed many celebrities, including Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Maureen O'Hara and Shirley Temple. Unlike other photographers, he often shot his subjects at home or outdoors, and his portraits of a young Judy Garland in Carmel, California were particularly successful. During this decade, he built a studio in Los Angeles that became a gathering place for celebrities.

He remembered the stars well.  Marlene Dietrich, to whom he later became her official photographer for her celebrated one-woman show, recalled that for her last film with von Sternberg, Paramount's "The Devil is a Woman" (1935), the designer Travis Baton and Dietrich produced an enormous Spanish comb which supported a large mantilla.  The comb was anchored to Dietrich's head with wire cutters, and "Marlen fell forward, arms and head resting on her dressing table, exhausted from pain.  When she came up, tears were running down her face."

Another was Gary Cooper.  Engstead supervised Cooper's sessions when they were both at Paramount and he photographed him a great deal in later years, he had this revealing insight on Cooper:  "Cooper knew more about how to be photographed than any other man I know.  The way he handled his face and his six-toot-three-inch frame led me to surmise that he must have done considerable homework.... He moved with the grace of a panther.  I don't think he either liked or disliked photographic sessions, but he endured them because he realized that they were part of his business... One thing that made it easy for Cooper to make stills was his appreciation that cameras photograph the mind.... Cooper carried this professionalism to the care of his body, which he kept in top physical condition until his last illness."

Carole Lombard, who bought most of her clothes with the still camera in mind, was a photographer's delight.  She approached each sitting with almost as much care as a screen role. She would meet with the photographer perhaps a week before each session to discuss the type of photographs that would be taken, te backgrounds, the wardrobe she should get for it.  In her eight years at Paramount the studio released more than seventeen hundred portraits of her--and this does not include all the other types of stills and portraits taken when she was on loan-out to other studios.   Engstead, who adored Lombard and loved working with her, praised her contribution to the success of her portraits:  "Carole always gave her complete cooperation.  she loved good photographs--knew about lighting and how to pose--and had no inhibitions about being photographed, so it was possible to shoot her any way you wanted and she gave all the time it needed."

He also photographed an up and coming star named Sharon Tate.  His photographs of her are timeless and he says: "She was a sweet girl.  I hated how she died."

From 1942 to 1954, he photographed celebrity clients outdoors and at home, an innovation in fashion photography.  Then he  photographed the annual spring and fall collections for Adrian.

From 1959 to 1970, he continued commercial work and society portraiture. 

Engstead continued to photograph movie stars and other celebrities through the 1950s (Marilyn Monroe) and 1960s. He produced promotional material for many television personalities, including Pat Boone, Carmel Quinn, Donna Reed, Ozzie and Harriet, Eve Arden, and Lucille Ball. He also shot cover photos for albums recorded by singers such as Peggy Lee and Connie Francis.. His work extended into governmental figures in the 1950s, including then-Second Lady Pat Nixon. Engstead closed his studio in 1970 but continued to accept special portrait and television assignments until his death on April 15, 1984 at age 72 in West Hollywood, California.

Engstead's images are represented by the Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive and can be viewed by the public at MPTV.net.  Also, he is listed in books such as Star Shots, Masters of Starlight and The Art of the Great Hollywood Portrait Photograghers by Kobal.

Ingrid Bergman

Natalie Wood

Marilyn Monroe

Carole Lombard

Audrey Hepburn

Cary Grant

Hedy Lamarr

 Gary Cooper
Marlene Dietrich

Sharon Tate

Elizabeth Taylor

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Veronica "Rocky" Cooper: The Best Photographer of Husband Gary Cooper!

Veronica Balfe was born May 23, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. 

In 1933, Cooper met twenty year old Veronica Balfe, known as Rocky to her friends.  A New York debutant socialite (with Park Avenue and Southampton addresses), her father, Harry Balfe, Jr., was the son of a wealthy industrialist and financier and she was the neice of Cedric Gibbons, the well known Hollywood art director at MGM (as well as the designer of the Oscar, the Academy Awards Statue), whose wife was the actress Dolores Del Rio.  In 1930 Rocky moved to Los Angles (with a chaperone, since she was only seventeen and had just abandoned her finishing school) to flirt with a movie career under the name Sandra Shaw.  By her own admission she wasn't the world's greatest actor, but she had a beaufiul face and gorgeous figure--not particularly unusual in Hollywood.  What was disarmingly unusual was her poise and intelligence, well-bred, elegant style, and being ironically, something of a tomboy.  She was a national skeet-shooting champion and loved swimming, skiing, and riding.  Cooper was immediately smitten and soon he and Rocky became something of an item in Beverly Hills society.  The year she met Cooper she'd been in Hollywood three years and had made three films.

Just six months after they met, Cooper asked her to marry him, and the wedding took place in New York on December 15, 1933.  Rocky maintained her own identity even though her husband was a celebrated movie star, and Cooper surprised the gossip columnists by leaving behind his party-going bachelor days quite happily.  Their only daughter, Maria, was born four years later.  Marriage and fatherhood did nothing to damage his image as the most elegant man in the movies, driving around Hollywood in his chartreuse Duesenberg convertible, aptly named "The Yellow Peril" because of his fast driving habit.

His daughter, Maria Cooper Janis says:

With her camera, my mother, Veronica Cooper documented the life of our family in the group of personal photograghs I've selected for this book (Cary Cooper: Enduring Style).  "Rocky" was a great shot and she kept many meticulous red-leather bound albums.  The pages were filled with festive events, and intimate and private moments with my father.  But she also set about preserving more adventursome memories of their skiing forays in Sun Valley and Aspen, shooting, riding, and their many trips around the world.  There are pictures of poeple well known to the public as well as family friends, interspersed with shots of my father taken by some of the  premier photographers of the day, along with a few pictures he took himself.

She passed away in February 16, 2000 in New York, New York of natural causes.

Here are some examples of her work:

With Grace Kelly

Elizabeth Taylor and Tony Curtis

Below are a few of Cooper with "Rocky":


With his family including Maria:
And the other part of his 'family', love of animals:
Here is Maria's celebratory book of her father:
I highly recommend it!  Thanks for shaing the memories, Maria!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Donald Biddle Keyes

Donald Biddle Keyes, a pioneer photographer and motion-picutre cameraman, started, out as a publicity phtotgrapher at the Ince Triagnle studis at Culver City (later MGM).  After World War I he moved to the Lasky studios, photographing such stars as Rudolph Valentino, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, and Wallace Reid, and taking stills on a number of their films.  He left the studio in 1922 and alternated between working as first cameraman and still photographer. 

The photographs he took of Ann Sheridan to promote 'Winter Carnival' (United Artists, 1932) appeared on the covers of seven national magazines, including Life, which also ran a story on Sheridan.

Paramount (then known as Famous Players-Lasky) was the first studio to set aside a permanent gallery for portrait photography.  Donald Biddle Keyes, who had been working as a stills photographer for the studio, suggested this consolidation to alleviate the increasing need of photographic services. By the mid-1920s, Paramount had a lively stills and portrait departement with dozens of employees.

MGM followed suit immediately after its creation in 1924.  At the end of the decade all major studios were handling stills and portraiture in-house.  The top portrait artists helped shaped his or her studio styles as much as any cinamatographer. 

The photography's gallery was used for advertising art--better known as poster art.  As soon as the players received their finished costumes, they were photographed against a plain or otherwise suitable background in scenes from the movie. The star gazing furtively over his or her shoulder on a large four-sheet Technicolor poster, fleeing from unseen enemies, probably struck this pose while sitting astride a beer barrel rigged up as some sort of animated rocking horese.  Stars oaccasionally had stand-ins to do their poster work, and their heads were superimposed later.  Posters for 'Wild Orchids' (MGM 1929) showing a bespangled Greta Garbo passionately entwined and a turbaned Nils Asther were actually made from photographs of Asther's stand-in holding Garbo's stand-in.  The impression of Garbo's face was taken with her from stills of a scene taken on the set or from a gallery session.

When space was allocated in a studio and the necessary lights and equipment were installed, the gallery was also used for portrait photography.  But this practice, begun around 1921 or 1922, did not become firmly established until 1925; and even by 1930 only Paramount, MGM, RKO, and a few other studios had allocated suitable spaces for galleries.  Most of the time, the photographer used standing stages or undisturbed corners of studio lots.  Shortly after Keyes set up his gallery at Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount now), Jack Freulich head still and portrait photographer for Universal, also got one going.

By the end of the decade of the 1920s, all major studios had their own galleries and to think, it had all started with a suggestion by Keyes.  One that would have a major impact on cinema for decades and more to come.

From 1945 until his retirement in 1954, Keyes was a contract photographer for Republic Pictures. 

Please be sure to read this online article as it has more detailed information on Keyes:


Here are some examples of his work:

Betty Bronson
Blanche Sweet 
Faith Bacon
Spectacle movie scene
Julia Faye
Jetta Goudal
Mary Miles Minter
Virginia Valli
Keyes most famous photo: Rudolph Valentino
Gloria Swanson 
Nita Naldi

The great William Powell

The back of one of his stills:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Another update this time on Virgil Apger

True to my word, as I find more information on each photographer I will ad it here.

This time I found some very interesting information and quotes from the great Virgil Apger:



Thursday, April 18, 2013

Eric Carpenter: Sexy Ava Gardner Photographer Among Others

Eric Carpenter was born July 8, 1909 and as a young man he began working as a plasterer during the depression. 

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:

Clark Gable

Anna Neagle
Kathryn Grayson
Ann Southern

Ann Southern
Ava Gardner and Ava with her then husband, Mickey Rooney below:

Cyd Charisse

Elizabeth Taylor

Grace Kelly

Joan Crawford
Yvonne DeCarlo

Marilyn Monroe
Judy Garland

Lana Turner

Lucille Ball

James Steward

His Stamp