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The lost art of glamour

Stills from the Kobal Foundation show how Hollywood used to shoot stars.

August 25, 2008|Scarlet Cheng | Special to The Times

The better photographers developed their own styles. "There's an assumption that Hollywood photography all looks a bit alike," says Dance, pointing out the evidence in the 1930s section of the exhibition, which has some photographs grouped by photographer. Hurrell, for example, liked dramatic lighting and sexy poses. "When Bull does Johnny Weissmuller, he's like the handsome boy next door," Dance says. "When Hurrell is photographing John Weissmuller, his skin is steaming."

There are familiar shots in the exhibition -- Charlie Chaplin standing on a street corner with Jackie Cooper in "The Kid" (by an unknown photographer), John Gilbert hovering over Greta Garbo in "Flesh and the Devil" (by Bertram "Buddy" Longworth).

There are also some surprises. A close-up of Vivien Leigh, a publicity shot by Fred Parrish for "Gone With the Wind," depicts her disheveled and looking half-mad. Her face is lighted from the left, with the other side in darkness -- a moment excerpted from the famous "As God is my witness" scene when Scarlett O'Hara is reduced to digging in a field for sustenance. Farther along the wall, in stark contrast, is Leigh in a more familiar pose -- as the beautifully coiffed and controlled Southern belle, captured by Laszlo Willinger.

Fall from glamour

The end of the Golden Age was also the end of the studio system. Mighty and magnificent, the system had also been dictatorial and repressive, sometimes perversely so. Its demise in the late '50s and early '60s meant the end of image-building and control: With no actors on contract, what was the point of spending all that time and money creating images for them? In came freelance photographers and paparazzi, more interested in catching naughty candids than in airbrushed beauty.

The public too seemed interested in more humanized or vulnerable portraits, and there are number of those in the final section, the 1950s. A high-angle shot of a waif-like Marilyn Monroe, sitting on a curb, shows her touching up her makeup. There's also the pensive Rock Hudson featured on the cover of the exhibition's companion book, "Glamour of the Gods," written by Dance. Hudson's eyes are downcast, and there's a weary look on his ruggedly handsome face, where wrinkles are starting to creep. Maybe he realized that the Twilight of the Gods was coming next.

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"Made in Hollywood: Photographs From the John Kobal Foundation," Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St., Santa Barbara, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Ends Oct. 5. $9; free Sundays. (805) 963-4364 or www.sbma.net.

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