With the arrival of Lindsay Lohan’s spread in Playboy we are reminded that times have changed… but times have not changed when it comes to Hollywood’s power of media persuasion. Yes, the Hollywood machine is as famous for selling “Stars” to the public as it is for re-fabricating personas.
Hey, I watch Joan River’s Fashion Police like the next person, occasionally peruse celebrity rags, and, frankly, many of these “new” celebrities and actors should take note from their forefathers/foremothers when it comes to Hollywood presentation. Poor taste, sloppiness and sleaze are never in fashion.
Taking a few pointers from the greats would spare us the shock and horror that we have become accustomed to when viewing images of today’s “stars.” Back in the day, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, a photographer single-handedly encapsulated what a Star ought to look like. His name was George Hurrell, and he quickly became known as the ‘Grand Seigneur of the Hollywood Portrait.’
The George Hurrell style could be described as highly controlled, even sculptural, and drenched in romanticism. His technical expertise and mastery of lighting turned mere humans into godlike entities, something Hollywood and its Stars both cherished and revered. Vanity and power bowed to his lens, and the results not only made MGM and Hollywood history, it also placed Hollywood photography in the forefront of popular culture.
George Hurrell’s career took-off when he was initially approached to do a series of portraits by silent-screen star Ramon Novarro; Novarro, who was so pleased with the shots, showed them to his fellow MGM actor, Norma Shearer. This leading lady happened to be married to studio head Irving Thalberg and, in need of revamping her wholesome image into a more glamorous one to allow her to age on camera, she hired Hurrell for the task.
One of Hurrell’s tricks was to balance the subject’s spatial presence (in the conventional oil-painting portraiture approach) to showcase the subject’s “image.” Bone-structures were manipulated with light as much as the clothes and décor. His favorite device to pinpoint the focus toward the face was fur. He used the sheen of fur as much for its reflective quality as for its timeless luxe.
George Hurrell’s iconic images created and promoted the magic that defined Hollywood and fueled its growth. The magic may be lost amidst the reality of today’s tinsel town, but the legends live on through his works.
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