Audrey Hepburn by Bud Fraker for Sabrina Fair, 1954. Paramount Pictures © John Kobal Foundation (detail)
The exhibition presents 161 portraits from the biggest names in motion picture history beginning with silent legends Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, continuing with brilliant performers of the early talkie era such as Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Cary Grant, and concluding with the post war giants like Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Organized in decades, from the 1920’s through the 1960’s, which feature the major stars of each period, Hollywood Icons also includes galleries dedicated to the Hollywood Studio photographers, the star making process and introduces the life and career of collector and film historian, John Kobal, who brought this work out of dusty archives into the public arena and critical acclaim.
Motion picture history is usually written from the point of view of actors or directors with little attention given to the enormous enterprise that makes motion pictures possible. Hollywood Icons presents the largely unheralded portrait and still photographers who worked quietly behind the scenes but whose glamorous photographs were critical to the creation of stars and promotion of the movies. Millions upon millions of images distributed by Hollywood studios throughout the golden age were all the work of camera artists working quickly, efficiently and most of the times brilliantly to promote Hollywood style worldwide.
George Hurrell’s portraits of Joan Crawford helped shape her thrilling screen presence. The indelible image of Garbo was created in Ruth Harriet Louise’s portrait studio. The work of more than 50 distinct photographers will be presented in this exhibition including Clarence Sinclair Bull, Eugene Robert Richee, Robert Coburn, William Walling Jr, John Engstead, Elmer Fryer, Laszlo Willinger, A.L. “Whitey” Schafer and Ted Allan.
No one understood the importance of this critical body of Hollywood material better than John Kobal. Starting out as a film enthusiast, he became a journalist, later a writer and finally, before his early death in 1991 at 51 years old, was acknowledged as among the pre-eminent film historians. Ultimately his reputation rests on his pioneering work resurrecting the careers of some of these masters of classic Hollywood era photography.
Beginning in the late 1960’s Kobal sought to reunite these forgotten artists with their original negatives and encouraged them to produce new prints for exhibitions he mounted worldwide at venues such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. A selection of these prints, along with original vintage prints dating back to the studio days form the core of this exhibition.