First up, I'd like to mention that before I read 'The Art of the Great Hollywood Portrait Photographers' it had never even occurred to me that these screen goddesses might have needed a little help to keep them looking their ethereal best.
Although the stars had final approval of the prints, they relied on the photographer (and retoucher) to remove any visible defects. From the moment the star stepped into the gallery, the photographer took into consideration the work to be done later in the darkroom, and by the army of expert retouchers on the large format negative, at which time any mistakes in posing or lighting could be corrected.
|Joan Crawford, 1930.|
Photo: George Hurrell, for MGM.
Publicity shot for Paid.
Using a fine point on a special pencil, the retouchers lightened spots and wrinkles by adding lead to the target area on the negative. Darkening an area was achieved by carefully scraping the emulsion from the dark areas with a knife.
The retouchers also required specific instructions on each negative so the stars wouldn’t all come out looking alike. The retouchers were paid by the hour so it was in their best interest to do as much as possible. The less precise the instructions, the more likely it was that the face would take on a lifeless, enamelled look. Thankfully, George Hurrell's retoucher was an expert and red-head Joan Crawford's face still retains its beautiful contours.
|Joan Crawford, 1932.|
Photo: George Hurrell.
The retouchers cleaned dirty teeth, replaced missing ones, and straightened crooked ones; they cleared the eyes if they were dull or bloodshot; they lengthened necks and eyelashes, whittled waists, and exercised ungainly pounds.
|Ida Lupino, 1940.|
Photo: Scotty Welbourne for Warner Bros.
Costume by Orry Kelly.
Publicity shot for They Drive by Night.
In 1960, along with the release of the film La Dolce Vita, came the arrival paparazzo and the end for the studio photographers. The last of the studio galleries closed in 1961 and all the publicity material, including negatives, were being thrown out! Sadly, this seems to be fairly common practise across the board.
Lucky for us, long time movie fan Mr John Kobal was on hand to dig through the trash and rescue this precious memorabilia. These days, the John Kobal Foundation holds over 22,000 original black & white negatives from 1920 - 1960 and features Hollywood star portraits, scene stills and production and publicity images.
'Made in Hollywood: Photographs from the John Kobal Foundation' exhibition will be showing at the Toledo Museum of Art, USA, October 2012 -January 2013.
All information & images sourced from the following books: The Art of the Great Hollywood Portrait Photographers; Hollywood Glamour Portraits: 1926 - 1949; Movie Star Portraits of the Forties.