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Rex Hardy, 88; Life Magazine Photographer

April 18, 2004|Claudia Luther Times Staff Writer | Times Staff Writer

Rex Hardy, one of the elite group of photographers hired by Life magazine in 1936 for its first year of publication, has died. He was 88.

Hardy, who flew as a pilot during World War II and stayed in aviation after the war, died of natural causes April 7 in Monterey, Calif., said his son, Tom.

Just 21 and recently graduated from Stanford University, Rex Hardy was the youngest of the initial Life photographers, a group that included such famed shooters as Alfred Eisenstaedt, Peter Stackpole and Carl Mydans.

Hardy was initially based in Los Angeles and much of his work involved taking pictures of Hollywood stars, including James Stewart, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable. Hardy later worked out of the magazine's New York office.

Three of Hardy's pictures made the cover of Life: the dancing duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, journalist bon vivant Lucius Beebe and comedian Harpo Marx.

Hardy said in an interview with John Loengard for "Life Photographers: What They Saw" (1998) that Marx's picture had been taken at a weekend party in Bucks County, Pa.

"He didn't have his wig and was sensitive about his baldness, so he made a little crown of leaves and put it on," Hardy said. The result was a picture of Marx "posing like a Roman emperor."

In 1940, Hardy joined the Naval Reserve and was a junior officer on the aircraft carrier Saratoga when it arrived at Pearl Harbor less than a week after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by Japanese forces. He subsequently underwent flight training -- he already had a private license to fly--and spent much of the war as the pilot of a reconnaissance plane in the South Pacific.

"He was part of the naval photo-recon unit, so his plane's bomb bay was largely filled with camera gear," Tom Hardy said last week. "They would be escorted into enemy territory, then drop flash bombs that would light up the area to be photographed, to be turned into maps later on.

"Of course once the target was lit up, it was important to take the shots and then get away as quickly as possible, usually chased by angry Japanese fighter planes or anti-aircraft fire."

After the war, Hardy worked in aviation for Northrop, Lockheed and NASA. His book, "Callback: NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System," was published by Smithsonian Press in 1990.

In 1996, an exhibition of Hardy's Hollywood photographs from 1936 to '37 was shown at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In addition to his son Tom of San Francisco, he is survived by his wife of 52 years, Jan; four other children, Carol Hardy of Port Townsend, Wash.; Lucia Hardy of Eugene, Ore.; Wendy Keedy of Riverside; and Pip Hardy of Cambridge, England; and a sister, Alice Grady of Laguna Niguel.

A service will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at Church of the Forest at Robert Louis Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.

Mourners will gather at the Montsalas clubhouse off Old Salinas Highway in Monterey.

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