Mario Casilli is a portrait photographer extraordinaire, defining not only an image of his subjects but the look of the times. Casilli began his career working for Paul Hesse at his legendary Sunset Strip photographic studios, before opening his own studio. From 1957 to 1981, he became one of Playboy’s most prolific photographers, and developed a style that would come to define his career. Casilli was a Swahili of sorts, capturing dreams and fantasies in the photographs he took.
His ease around beauty and luxury made him a natural to transition into the fabulously overdressed, the movie stars, TV stars, and pop stars of the 1980s. Casilli’s portraits are glossy, glitzy, and glamorous. They are at once soft focus and high contrast. They are intense, like candy. They whirl you in and whisk you away. They embody the spirit of American money during the Reagan years, becoming chic and gauche at the same exact time. This was the era of soap operas and pop stars, Armani suits and sequins, big hair don’t care and really bright eye makeup. It was Dynasty, Dallas, and Miami Vice. And all of its stars glittered and glimmered in front of Casilli’s camera for a photograph.
His photographs are brought together for the first time in Mario Casilli by Tony Nourmand and Peter Doggett (Reel Art Press). The book features a foreword by Joan Collins, along with portraits of everyone from Dolly Parton, Lynda Carter, and Morgan Fairchild to Brooke Shields, Cybil Shepherd, and Joan Riverws. It is a veritable trip down memory lane, with cast portraits from television shows including Designing Women and The Golden Girls, as well as the cast of the made-for-tv version of Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives.
Mario Casilli is a camp classic that is overwhelmingly sincere. It is a joyful reminder of the power and allure of photographic memory. As Joan Collins writes in the book’s introduction, “There’s no question that Mario Casilli was one of the foremost glamour photographers of his time, and I was honored to be the subject of many of his sumptuous portraits. His lighting expertise made any woman look exquisite. His portraits were larger than life and he was so brilliant with high lighting and clever backgrounds that every woman shone like a jewel. In fact, Mario loved women, and the more bejeweled, be-gowned, and bee-coiffured they were the better the photos! I posed many times and we collaborated on countless TV Guide magazine covers and, of course, the unforgettable Playboy magazine cover.”
Collins remembers how wonderfully the shoot went, especially after enduring a day with George Hurrell, during which the master took just twelve photographs. By contrast, Casilli was a dream. Collins writes, “Mario fed me, chatted away, and photographed me in a fluid and continuous motion that felt so natural I didn’t even feel the effort—he likened it to ‘running a film between his ears and blinking.’” It is this ease, pleasure, and elegant simplicity is rendered in all of Casilli’s portraits. It’s uncanny how familiar it feels.