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Thinking about George Hurrell, part 1: The ladies



It's arguably the most famous still photo ever taken of Carole Lombard, the one she signed, "Pa, I love you. Ma" to Clark Gable, who cherished it for the rest of his life. It was taken by George Hurrell, the man who revolutionized the art of Hollywood portrait photography through his approach to lighting and background.



That's Hurrell in 1980, promoting an exhibit of his work in Palm Springs.

I've been thinking a lot about Hurrell lately, perhaps because two of his most famous subjects have been in the news lately with last Thursday's centenary of Jean Harlow's birth and the passing last week of Jane Russell. Hurrell probably captured Harlow's ethereal beauty better than anyone else through a number of iconic portraits, and he also established Russell's "mean...moody...magnificent" persona through the publicity photos he did for the Howard Hughes film "The Outlaw" -- and because of censorship problems, most people became aware of Russell through those photos rather than the long-delayed movie.

So I thought it proper to honor Hurrell -- who photographed film greats from the end of the 1920s to the start of the 1990s -- with a gallery of his portraits, today the ladies, tomorrow the gentlemen. The idea came through a glance at this then-unidentified photo on the Web the other day:



"That couldn't be her...could it?" I thought to myself, and a further investigation revealed that it was. "Her," in this case, being Farrah Fawcett, who apparently had a session with Hurrell in 1979, resulting in this portrait, the subtly sophisticated antithesis of her famous swimsuit poster -- 1970s glamour given a '30s touch. (Not long before Hurrell's death, Sharon Stone, narrator of a documentary about his work, was a portrait subject.)

Here are some more Hurrell portraits of actresses, these from the classic era. Since we initially noted Harlow and Russell, we'll start with a relatively obscure shot of Jean from 1934, followed by one from Jane in 1941 and an image of Russell working with Burrell at a 1942 photo session:





Here's Joan Crawford from "Grand Hotel." followed by a 1933 portrait, before and after retouching -- a perfect example of the photographer's art:




In 1930, Hurrell had a session with Greta Garbo, a creature of habit if there ever was one. Their personalities didn't quite mesh, and Garbo thereafter returned to her favorite portrait photographer (and a good one), Clarence Sinclair Bull, but here are two samples of what Hurrell ended up with that day:



Now for four more Hollywood legends photographed by Hurrell -- Marion Davies (from 1931), Marlene Dietrich (from 1938), Myrna Loy (not sure of the date, but it looks to be around 1933 or '34, when she was making the transition from vamp-ersatz Asian to the "perfect wife") and Gene Tierney (from 1944):






Finally, a few actresses you wouldn't associate with Hurrell for one reason or another -- such as Veronica Lake from 1941, sans peek-a-boo 'do:



'30s actress and later radical Karen Morley (up to her death in 2003, she was a regular contributor to WBAI and other Pacifica radio stations) got the Hurrell treatment:



In 1935, two years after making what would be her final film, silent-era legend Mary Pickford was a Hurrell subject:



And here's brassy Ann Sothern getting her brassiness toned down, Hurrell-style, in 1940:



There are so many legendary actresses whose beauty was further enhanced by Hurrell, from Norma Shearer -- whose career was revolutionized by his portraits and who helped put George on the map -- to Rita Hayworth. To learn more about this master of shadow and light, go to http://www.hurrellphotos.com/hurrell_home.asp?ID=2 and http://www.hurrellphotography.com/.

We'll leave you with one more Hurrell image of Lombard, this from 1937:



Oh, and if you haven't voted in the "All Good Things" poll between Lombard and Irene Dunne in the finals of the silents/1930s tournament, do so at http://poohtiger-allgoodthings.blogspot.com/ before the 10 p.m. (Eastern) deadline. Carole has narrowed the margin to 43-34, and can still pull it out with a late surge.
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