Book Review: George Hurrell’s Hollywood
The revered American photographer is touted by many as the man who invented the celebrity glamour shot — seductive black-and-white imagery that brought out a little extra something in all of his subjects. And that “extra something” is on full display in George Hurrell’s Hollywood (Running Press, 2013), a stunning 400+ page tome that features a vast collection of rare and previously unpublished images of some of the world’s biggest stars.
Film scholar and photographer Mark Vieira has written a sequel, of sorts, to his 1997 biography, Hurrell’s Hollywood Portraits. While the details of Hurrell’s life will be familiar to those who’ve read Vieira’s previous installment, this recent release is the sort of resplendent coffee table book that film aficionado’s will covet. With Vieira’s easy-to-digest prose – his stories chronicling Hurrell’s life are revealed in concise little anecdotes – George Hurrell’s Hollywood is a breezy read accompanied by an incredible array of arresting visuals. Vieira spends equal parts writing about Hurrell’s personal highlights as he does on detailing the photographer’s soft focus lens techniques. The end result is a retrospective that acts as both enlightening biography and photography lesson.
Hurrell’s portraits were beautiful, sultry, sometimes racy. They caused a stir, which is exactly what his subjects wanted. Born in 1904, Hurrell worked steadily from 1925 up until his death at 87 in 1992. With a client list that included Joan Crawford (a close friend), Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo and Humphrey Bogart, among many others, Hurrell’s portraits had a vivid, almost tangible appeal.
Early in his career, he was actively sought out by actor Ramon Novarro who requested Hurrell use his artistic eye to help him bolster his portfolio. When Novarro presented his dazzling new array of head shots to actress Norma Shearer she sent out a request for her own personal photo session with Hurrell. And the rest, as they say, was history. Hurrell amassed an A-list fanbase that kept him in business for decades. He was as in high-demand as the stars he photographed and he ultimately signed a lucrative deal with MGM that lasted him for the majority of his career.
George Hurrell’s Hollywood is an absolute must-have for fans of classic film and photography. The sheer volume of images included in this exhaustively researched collection is enough to satisfy even the most diehard fan. Vieira leaves no stone unturned when it comes to Hurrell’s work and personal life. The book harkens back to a time when Hollywood still held a mysterious allure — and Vieira capably paints a portrait of an artist who is just as compelling as the subjects he photographed.
Whether you want to score a copy for yourself or buy a gift for the cinephile in your life (ahem, hint, ahem) head over to Amazon to grab a copy of George Hurrell’s Hollywood today.