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100 Movie Posters

The Wall Street Journal

Photo-Op: Star Man

Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Loretta Young and other stars of Golden Age Hollywood are featured in a collection of work by the photographer George Hurrell.

When we think of the bygone glamour of Hollywood's golden age, Loretta Young (1913-2000) is not the first name that springs to mind. Primly mannered in person and, often, on screen, she is today probably remembered best for playing the title role in the 1947 holiday classic 'The Bishop's Wife' (though also for bearing a child with Clark Gable, a daughter whose distinctive ears made the affair the biggest open secret in Hollywood). But in the 1930s, when a young starlet wanted to boost her career by turning on the sex appeal, she knew whom to turn to: George Hurrell (1904-92). He pioneered a high-contrast, high-sheen style that defined the look of countless stars, both male and female. Hurrell gave Young an air of mystery by shooting her posed beside a sinuous staircase (above); in another shot, she holds a cigarette clutched between pouted lips. (Perhaps one of these pictures caught Gable's eye.) Each page of 'Hurrell'  is another such creation. There's the doe-eyed Ginger Rogers peeking over her shoulder, the sloe-eyed Ann Sheridan on a bear-skin rug, the dangerously curvaceous Jean Harlow perched upon a divan and the just-plain dangerous Joan Crawford (another Gable paramour), whom Hurrell photographed dozens of times: in fur, in form-fitting formal dresses, even backlit in a shockingly transparent gown. Thanks to the high-quality prints used in this edition, you can look at a close-up of Crawford and count each outlandish eyelash that casts a shadow across her sculpted cheeks; distinguish individual follicles in Bogart's famous stubble; even discern the marbled opalescent texture of Jimmy Stewart's pupils as he gazes off the page. The portraits seem more statue than photograph: Far from showing movie stars as untouchable, Hurrell's genius was to make them seem almost within your reach. 

24 Aug, 2012 David Propson