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Douglas Kirkland’s Generous Hollywood

We can’t seem to get enough photos and gossip about Hollywood’s aristocracy. Douglas Kirkland feeds our appetite with Freeze Frame: Second Cut, his new retrospective collection of celebrity photographs from the 1960s through 2016, published by Glitterati Incorporated. Kirkland had a long, enviable career photographing Hollywood’s A-listers, including kingmakers, movie directors, and most of all, stars: Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, Ewan McGregor, the Fondas—the list goes on and on.

Freeze Frame is more than just the pictures, though. In his forward and in long captions, Kirkland tells the stories behind many his photographs. He sang “O Canada” with fellow-Canadian Mary Pickford in her living room. He describes a long lunch with Walt Disney, during which Disney predicted that film animation didn’t have much of a future. He recounts how former TIME picture editor John Durniak, dissatisfied with Kirkland’s pictures of Diane Keaton, sent him back to try again. “‘Send her flowers! Rent a helicopter and take her to Carmel,’ Durniak…bellowed at me over the phone from New York.”

Kirkland recounts the story of his big break in 1960, when he met Elizabeth Taylor in Las Vegas shortly after he was hired by LOOK magazine. “‘I’m new at this magazine. Could you imagine what it would mean to me if you gave me an opportunity to photograph you?'” he recalls saying to her as he looked into her eyes. “A beat of silence, then she said, ‘Come tomorrow night at 8:30.’”

And then there are his tantalizing recollections of 1960s starlets. Going into his first shoot with Marilyn Monroe, he writes, she said to her handlers: “I want to be alone with this boy. I find it usually works better that way.” You can almost hear her purr. A photograph from that shoot, of Marilyn wrapped in silk sheets and photographed from above, became one of Kirkland’s signature images.

As he photographed Romy Schneider, he says, she whispered: “I need a man.” Melina Mercouri tearfully declared to him: “If we are going to be lovers…everyone will have to know. Everything will have to stop!” Kirkland recalls Brigitte Bardot’s neediness, and her demand one morning on the set of Viva Maria! to know where he’d been the night before when she pounded on his hotel room door, looking for him.

He doesn’t say in the book where he was, so we asked. “I was with Jeanne Moreau, was where I was,” he says. Moreau was Bardot’s co-star in Viva Maria! Kirkland was the only photographer on set, and the two actresses competed for his attention, he explains. Moreau, he adds for the record, made the pass at him. (For that story, see page 83.)

About the provocative come-ons from some of his subjects, Kirkland told us: “I anticipated it and I did not discourage it.” On the contrary, he encouraged it. “Talking with [a subject], you would suggest how she would seduce a man: show me,” he says.

With all of his Hollywood subjects, male and female, Kirkland says his strategy was simply to make them comfortable in front of his camera. He researched them, learned their likes and dislikes, played their music for them, got them to dress in their favorite colors. He had the luxury of time: Often, he spent all day with his subjects. And he caressed their egos. “Mainly, it was: Focus on the subject. They are the princess, or the king, as the case may be, and they have to feel that from you [the photographer]. Everything you say, every word, should resound in that way. That’s what I did with Judy [Garland, in 1961] and it relaxed her, and I got some pictures that are still on my wall.”

Now, celebrities are shielded by publicists and hangers-on. They’re wary—and weary—of all the photographers, and barely give them the time of day. Kirkland’s photographs and the stories he tells about his subjects stir nostalgia for a time when Hollywood was, if not more innocent, then at least a lot more relaxed and generous to photographers. Kirkland made the most of it, basking in the fun he had on the fringes of the limelight for more than five decades. —David Walker

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Taking Stock of a Legendary Photographer’s Career
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