Hurrell, George

American (1904-1992)

George Hurrell certainly earned his title, “Grand Seigneur of the Hollywood Portrait,” but his path there might be described as a happy accident. 8-year-old Hurell loved painting and drawing, and only picked up a camera to take photos of his artwork. He soon discovered, though, a penchant for faces and practiced throughout his teen years until, at age 21, he was commissioned to do portraits of artists in a Laguna Beach commune. One of these subjects, Ramon Novarro, showed off his pictures to friends at MGM, where they caught the attention of actress, Norma Shearer. Desperate for a role she knew her husband, studio mogul Irvin Thalberg, wouldn’t give her, Shearer had Hurrell take some vampish shots of her that won her husband over. And the rest is history.

In 1930, Thalberg made Hurrell head of the MGM portrait studio, where the young man defined a whole style of photography with his glamorous and extravagant images of stars, except for Greta Garbo, with whom he reportedly did not get along. Hurrell worked later at Warner Borthers, Columbia and even in his own Sunset Boulevard studio, but moved away in the 60s when an earthier and grittier Hollywood rendered his style obsolete. He tried his hand at advertsising photography in New York during the 70s and was the only photographer 50-year-old Joan Collins would allow to shoot her nudes for Playboy in 1984. Shortly before his death in 1992, during the making of a documentary on his career, he made some beautiful photographs of contemporary movie stars donning costumes and make-up from the 30s, true to himself until his final breath.