Over a period of fifty years, Eve Arnold has photographed movie stars both on and off location¨at the studio and at home, at work and at play. In the 1950s, film companies embarked on a programme of hiring professional photographers to record and tell the story of the making of a feature film in pictures and in words. This was very different from the studios' former photographic programme which dealt mostly in fantasies. The whole purpose of this exercise was to produce a photo essay of high standard to promote the film when it was released.
Eve Arnold (London, 1988)
At the time, Miss Arnold remembers, her photographing sessions were particularly difficult because she was using the square-format Rollei camera¨an awkward camera to compose with. Pictures seem designed best in rectangles because the eye sees that way. The Rollei was the camera of choice in the fifties. Historically, it bridged the period from the even larger studio-format camera to the smaller and more flexible 35mm camera.
Eve Arnold was born in Philadelphia to immigrant Russian parents. She studied photography with Alexei Brodovitch, and became associated with magnum Pictures in 1950. She was based in the Americas in the 1950s and moved to England in 1962. This, her twelfth book, covers some of her intimate experiences over thirty years in both countries, mainly during the 1950s. She doesn't keep many secrets, and some of her revelations and opinions from her body of still photos and texts show the unseen side of Hollywood when it was still glamorous. Few stars escape her poison pen.
The first movie personality photographed in depth was Marlene Dietrich in 1952¨a consummate professional who stipulated that she was to have a final right of approval. Vetting the pictures, she wrote instructions on each in eyebrow pencil: "Narrow down the chin, cut down the waist, remove the dimple from the knee, the ankle should be slimmer." Bob Capa at Harper's Bazaar said that Miss Arnold's work fell "between Marlene Dietrich's legs and the bitter lines of migratory potato pickers."
Monroe being readied for a studio shot (Hollywod, 1960)
Joan Crawford was another fading star photographed by Miss Arnold in the late 1950s. The first time they met the actress insisted on being phtographed in the nude. But sadly something happens to flesh after fifty and the photographs were not a success. Threatening the photographer that she would never work in Hollywood again, the photos were confiscated. Miss Arnold recalls too the early life of Joan Crawford who grew up as a prostitute in her mother's establishment and started her film career doing pornographic films. These films are rumoured still to be on sale in Germany.
Marilyn Monroe was photographed by Eve Arnold during the 1960 filming of The Misfits. Miss Monroe had not merely a gift for the still camera but a genius for it. She remembers how all the stars on the film were misfits: Marilyn Monroe, John Huston, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift¨all a little connected to catastrophe and burnt out. They were actors playing out the allegory, then seeing it in life¨somewhat like being at your own funeral. Returning to New York, Miss Arnold saw Marilyn Monroe for a full week while she went through literally hundreds of phtotographs taken of her for a European editor planning an article. Wearing a black diaphanous robe with nothing underneath the star had a hair brush in her hand and asked whether the editor minded if she brushed her hair. "No, of course not," said the woman. When she looked up Marilyn was brushing her pubic hair.
Monroe and Clift go over their lines in their minds before their big scene (Nevada, 1960)
Grace Kelly in Monaco, imperious and impervious, barely tolerating the camera crew for a television imitation of Jacqueline Kennedy showing the White House; Simone Signoret sharing confidences; bantering with the bingeing Richard Burton, newly married to Elizabeth Taylor, on the set of Beckett in 1963; photographing the extraordinatry fight scenes between Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch in The Pumpkin Eater; tolerating a publicity-hungry Andy Warhol directing Harlot in 1964; and sparring with a fastidious John Huston, acting in and directing The Bible in 1965; all this is recounted in Miss Arnold's Film Journal. Jean Simmons boasts, "I'm not a constipated actress anymore," in Life at the Top; and an aging seventy-seven-year-old Charlie Chaplin looked nothing like the Little Tramp of his youth until he danced on the set of A Countess from Hong Kong. "Suddenly the world was transformed and it was magic. He was the Little Tramp all over again. Bravo."
There are interesting insights in Miss Arnold's memoir. It is light reading. But the photos are worth the price of admission¨black and white, poignant, and all capturing an off-guard moment, full of character: Isabella Rossellini studying lines for Blue Velvet; Mikhail Baryshnikov playing a game with a dog; whores from Mexico City recruited by John Huston for Under the Volcano; Laurence Olivier trying to remember his lines in Clash of the Titans; Sean Connery being fitted with a wig for The Great Train Robbery; George Scott rehearsing Patton; Anouk AimTe reviewing her lines for Justine; and Rex Harrison having trouble with a parrot in Dr. Dolittle.
Miss Arnold has had innumerable exhibitions of her work¨notably in The National Portrait Gallery and the Barbican in London; the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Gallery of Photography in Dublin, and the International Center of Photography in New York. It is not surprising¨because it is as a candid photographer that Miss Arnold will long be remembered. At the end of her book there is a loving study of the author/photographer by Henri Cartier Bresson taken in London in 1998. She has earned this honour. ˛
Christopher Ondaatje is a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and Chairman of The Royal Society of Portrait Painters.