Hollywood at Play: Photo Favorites
Before the advent of television and the internet, motion picture studios relied on publicity stills published in magazines and newspapers to sell entertainment to filmgoers. The studios shot millions of photographs to fit any kind of topic or story journals could conceive, providing them freely to these outlets. Mostly black and white, but occasionally glorious color, the images oozed glamour, humor, or innocent sensuality to sell movies and personalities. Since such a huge number were produced, most remained unknown or little seen, even from the time of release.
Realizing that so many movie publicity photographs are rare, we thought about organizing a book of such stills to showcase stars relaxing off-camera and around Hollywood, in a simpler era when they could just be themselves without worrying about paparazzi chasing them around town. Donovan Brandt, owner of Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, one of Hollywood’s oldest collectible stores, opened his giant treasure trove of more than a million photos to provide just a small sample of some of these unseen images. His father acquired them decades ago from two defunct regional offices of the National Screen Service, which distributed advertising materials from the studios to distributors across the United States.
We often found it difficult to let go of a favorite image, especially since we could include only so many in this book. All three of us love different stars, genres, and eras as well, making the selection process a bit of a challenge. We tried to cover a wide range of classic Hollywood, from its scintillating galaxy of stars, favorite watering holes, and even evolving photography styles. Hopefully we can follow this up with a sequel of other exciting photos!
We all adore animals, so selecting those of stars with pets just seemed right. One still that captivated all three of us was the image of a pensive Humphrey Bogart playing chess by himself as his two Scottie dogs watch, probably shot just before he became a big star. Most male stars hated posing for publicity shots, particularly those for holidays or something somewhat goofy, so it was often up to the photographer to figure out a shoot that could wrap quickly and easily. Many ended up being sessions shot at home, posing stars with whatever they could find around them. Another one of Donovan Brandt’s favorite that features animals is one of Lon Chaney Jr. in makeup for the filmThe Wolf Man with his German Shepherd “Moose” helping him learn lines.
Steve Sylvester and I love the still of Matthew “Stymie” Beard Jr. posing in his wonderful custom roadster truck with a sweet grin on his face. He looks so happy and contented. Both of us wonder what it meant to him, was it just a moment of fun, or something unique and really special in a life that had to be difficult, starring in two-reel shorts with a range of multi-cultural kids, but prevented from living in the same neighborhoods or traveling and staying in the same hotels with them? The sad pat is that studios shot less publicity stills of people of color and often they did not receive as wide a distribution as that of white stars, so finding a still like this is doubly rare.
I find the still of Elizabeth Taylor posing in her modest green swimsuit in front of the still green water of the swimming pool so elegant and lovely, well composed for color and composition and so emblematic of the more modest 1940s and 1950s. Cheesecake stills of leggy, scantily-clad female stars or beefcake images of shirtless hunks were very popular illustrations for fan magazines, collectible items for fans who wished they might be dating these attractive celebrities.
The vivid color photo of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis cuddling together in the speedboat in their swimsuits is a perfect emblem of summer love, showcasing two attractive young people at the height of romance and star power. It’s sensual without being risque, something that could appeal to both men and women. Color publicity stills were very rare before the 1950s, special shoots for fan magazines or major periodicals like Glamour, Life, or the Saturday Evening Post, because the vast majority of newspapers and magazines printed in black and white even into the 1980s.
Just for goofy appeal, we all find the photo of Groucho Marx and Audrey Hepburn dancing together at a publicity event such a lark. Hepburn is biting her lip and looking a bit bemused about having Groucho’s arm around her. It’s a unique way to tie old and new Hollywood together, with one of Paramount’s earliest stars, Marx, squiring its new princess, Hepburn, around the dance floor. We also get a good laugh out of Marx doing the hustle with Diana Ross.
Our delightful cover image is another favorite, eye-catching on many levels. It features attractive, young Annette Funicello during her successful Beach Blanket Bingo days posing with her surfboard, the perfect emblem of sun-drenched Southern California. It’s colorful, slyly sexy, and so perfect in how it captures the essence of both fun and our nostalgia for the simple, glamorous life of classic Hollywood celebrities.
For us, Hollywood at Play is a refreshing and lighthearted look at the golden age of Hollywood, a sunny respite from our more challenging and complicated times.
–Mary Mallory for Classic Movie Hub
Mary Mallory is a film historian, photograph archivist, and researcher, focusing on Los Angeles and early film history. She is co-author of the book Hollywood at Play: The Lives of the Stars Between Takes (with Stephen X. Sylvester and Donovan Brandt) and writes theatre reviews for The Tolucan Times and blogs for the LA Daily Mirror. Mallory served on Hollywood Heritage, Inc.’s Board of Directors, and acts as a docent for the Hollywood Heritage Museum. You can follow her on twitter at @mallory_mary.
Books by Mary Mallory: