Thursday, October 24, 2013


Marching inexorably to its 460th issue, CLASSIC IMAGES shows no signs of wearing out. Included this issue are two excellent articles on actor Robert Rockwell and the noted Hollywood portrait photographer, George Hurrell.

Robert Rockwell (b. 1920 - d. 2003) had a long career acting in both the movies and television. He was so identified with "Mr. Boynton" on Our Miss Brooks that it was difficult for him to land any serious dramatic roles afterwards. He was the forest ranger at the crash site in the original THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and played Superman's father, Jor-El, on the TV series, both uncredited. He also appeared in a string of classic shows like The Lone Ranger, Sky King, Tales of Wells Fargo (one of my favorite Westerns), Gale Storm, Loretta Young, Yancy Derringer (another favorite Western of mine), Surfside 6, and Maverick.

Rockwell spent a year at Republic Pictures. He relates the tale of penny-pinching studio owner Herbert Yates: "I enjoyed my year at Republic, but Yates was probably one of the biggest cheapskates who ever lived . . . Yates said to me, 'You're wearing the same suits too often [on camera]. I'll have the producer go downtown with you and get a couple more.' That sounded fine, so we got the suits. Well, lo and behold, I came to find out in my next paycheck that Yates was taking out money towards the cost of those two suits." Despite his "garnished" wages, Republic's THE BLONDE BANDIT, co-starring with Dorothy Patrick, was a break-out film of sorts. He also acknowledges the irony of inflation: "For Adventures of Superman, I had the dubious honor of playing the role of Jor-El, Superman's father . . . perhaps one day's work. I received $50 for doing that; whereas, 25 years later, Marlon Brando, playing the same character for about ten minutes in the Christopher Reeve feature version, got $35 million."

In his review of Mark A. Vieira's second book on George Hurrell, George Hurrell's Hollywood: Glamour Portraits, 1925-1992, David Chierichetti makes a point that is hard to deny: "Think of a movie-star portrait from Hollywood's Golden Era -- Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Jane Russell, Robert Taylor, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer. If it was glossy, sexy, and captivating, it probably was made by George Hurrell." He goes on to declare Hurrell as "the supreme creator of the Hollywood glamour portrait." After gazing at the two-dozen or so sample photographs of his prolific work that accompany this article, anybody (including me) with any kind of appreciation for photography, beauty, and the interaction of each, will be left amazed.

As an amateur photographer myself, I am struck by the fantastic lighting that he was able to achieve (he developed and retouched his own work) and the images, frozen in time, that are all instantaneously indelible. There is a movement in the world of photography these days to re-invigorate the craft of black and white images. Shutterbugs take heed: Hurrell's work is a prime example of the artistry that can be achieved without the use of color.

Not many top stars escaped Hurrell's lenses in the day, and to have your image captured by his camera was to ensure a certain Hollywood immortality. But, not every picture made it into the light of day. Sometimes the studio, or the studio's publicity department would kill a shot because maybe there was too much showing of an actress's body, or an actor's expression wasn't quite right, or simply that Hurrell had taken too many pictures during the session. The book shows examples of these rejected shots.

As for his personal life, Hurrell (b.1904 - d. 1992) was plagued -- as have been so many other artists -- with a defective character that was in conflict with his creative side. He was irascible and prone to a violent temperament. Thankfully, it is his work that is remembered, and rightly so. All one has to do is to look at the some of the shots that accompany the article (including a small photo of Lon Chaney); the color photo of a dashing Erroll Flynn, and the black and white magic of Clark Gable, as well as poses by the steaming hot Ann Southern and Jean Harlow, are breathtaking.

This issue of CLASSIC IMAGES also has the usual, generous helping of book reviews, notices of upcoming DVD's, and many sources for collectors of movie history, including posters and 16mm films. Anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the history of the Golden Age of Hollywood needs to read CLASSIC IMAGES. You can buy the latest issue, including scads of back issues, HERE.

Humphrey Bogart.
Gary Cooper.
Tod Browning's mistress and actress, Anna May Wong.
Joan Crawford.
Jean Harlow.
Anther pose by Harlow.

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