GEORGE HURRELL:
The Ultimate Hollywood Portrait Photographer

By Bill Dobbins
www.billdobbinsphotography.com

In the 19030s, and 1940s there was no television and certainly no Internet.  Lots of people read magazines but almost everybody went to the movies.  During the Depression, when times were hard, taking our mind off your troubles by going to a movie cost only a few cents.  As a result, movie stars were pretty much the most famous and often admired people in the world.

Hollwyood did all it could to encourage this kind of popularity with lots of publicity, fan clubs and magazines and articles and photographs created by the studios to call attention to the stars and promote their images.

3_hurrell_ramon Navarro
Ramon Navarro was a major star in silent films, star of the original version of Ben Hur. It was shooting portraits of Navarro that gave George Hurrell his break in working for Hollywood studios. Credit: George Murrell
Norma Shearer photographed by George Hurrell
Norma Shearer was a movie actress married to MGM production chief Irving Thalberg. She wanted a different type of photo of herself, liked Hurrell’s photos of Ramon Navarro and working with her is what lead to his career shooting movie stars. Credit: George Hurrell

One of the best tools they had available to do this was a photographer named George Hurrell.  Hurrell’s studio portraits were classic, dramatic and iconic.  He shot on large format BW negatives, using studio lights (this was before the age of strobes).  The stars he photographed came to trust him so completely that some of the women would show up without make up and Hurrell would retouch the negatives with lead pencils in order to “paint in” make up.  Photoshop before the age of photoshop and without resorting to airbrushing.

In the late 1920s, Hurrell was introduced to the actor Ramon Novarro and arranged to photograph him.  Navarro was a major movie actor and starred in the 1925 silent version of Ben Hur.   According to Wikipedia, actress Norma Shearer, another major star, who was attempting to mould her wholesome image into something more glamorous and sophisticated, saw the photos and asked Hurrell to photograph her in poses more provocative than her fans had seen before.

Her husband was MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, Thalberg loved the results and signed Hurrell to a contract with MGM Studios, making him head of the portrait photography department.

hurrell bombshell
Jean Harlow was the original blonde bombshell shown here in a George Murrell glamour portrait. Murrell would later photograph Marilyn Monroe, the blond bombshell of a couple of decades later. Credit: George Murrell
hurrell dietrich
Marlene Dietrich learned from director Josef von Sternberg that her face looked leaner and more glamourous photographed with lighting coming from above and the front. Hurrell uses exactly the same kind of lighting for this portrait of Dietraich. Credit: George Hurrell.
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There was no movie star more glamorous than Joan Crawford at the height of her career. Credit: George Hurrell

But in 1932, Hurrell left MGM after differences with their publicity head, and from then on until 1938 ran his own studio at 8706 Sunset Boulevard.

“In the early 1940s,” according to Wikipedia,  “Hurrell moved to Warner Brothers Studios photographing, among others Bette DavisAnn SheridanErrol FlynnOlivia de HavillandIda LupinoAlexis SmithLauren BacallHumphrey Bogart and James Cagney. Later in the decade he moved to Columbia Pictures where his photographs were used to help the studio build the career of Rita Hayworth.”

hurrell gable
George Hurrell photographed male movie stars as well as women. Clark Gable was so successful in Hollywood that he was referred to as “The King.” Credit: George Hurrell
hurrel bogart
Not all Hollwyood movie stars were “glamorous.” Hurrell also photographed “tough guys” like Humphrey Bogart. Credit: George Hurrell.

In the 1950s, Hollywood was no longer relying on stylized portraits any more and Hurrell’s work was no longer sought after.  He moved to New York City and began shooting more for fashion and advertising.  But some years later he began shooting movie stars again and his work was in demand for album covers in the music business.  But looked at in retrospect his style of glamour portrait photography looks more and more impressive, not only as great publicity photos but outstanding art as well.

In this age of digital photos, smart phones, Instagram and Snap Chat, with photos becoming more and more disposable, it may be time to consider a return to perfect, highly produced portraits like those of George Hurrell to get images noticed, rise up above the noise and capture the minds and attention of viewers.

For information regarding prints or licensing, here is a link:

THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF GEORGE HURRELL

For books featuring George Hurrell’s photography look on Amazon.com.

hurrell book

Here is a BIO OF GEORGE HURRELL from his website.

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Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in  Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:

The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Tashen)
WEBSITES
BILL DOBBINS PHOTOGRAPHY
www.billdobbinsphotography.com
BILL DOBBINS ART
www.billdobbinsart.com
FEMALE PHYSIQUE SITES
www.billdobbins.com
EMAIL: billdobbinsphoto@gmail.com
Garbo.tif
Greta Garbo had one of the great photogenic faces of all time. However, after one photo session with George Murrell she declined to work with him again. She later retired from acting and became a near recluse. Credit: George Hurrell
george-hurrell-veronica-lake-1941
Veronica Lake was known for her long, flowing blonde hair. She cut her hair during WWII to inspire women war workers to do the same. Her career suffered because of this. Credit: George Hurrell
harrisonford
George Hurrell’s most iconic work was done doing the old Hollwyood studio days. But even after that he continued to have a long career, shooting such modern stars as Harrison Ford. Credit: George Hurrell

 

 

 

 

 

 

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