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Lights! Camera! Glamour! The Photography of George Hurrell
George Hurrell, Jean Harlow, 1935. Image courtesy of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive. Copyright the Estate of George Hurrell.

SANTA MONICA, CA.-The California Heritage Museum is pleased to present "Lights! Camera Glamour! The Photography of George Hurrell". As studio photographer for MGM, Warner Brothers and Columbia, Hurrell shot some of the world’s most beautiful and intriguing personalities, creating the template for the Hollywood glamour portrait. The exhibition follows his career from his arrival in Southern California as a promising young painter to his acclaim as the foremost glamour photographer of his time.

In addition to more than fifty iconic portraits, “Lights! Camera! Glamour!” features a room of nude portraits, never before seen in a museum context; a recreation of Hurrell’s studio with his camera, screen and the original boom light; a section devoted to his commercial work for magazines and record covers; and a screening area that will show the documentary film, narrated by Sharon Stone, made shortly before Hurrell’s death in 1992.

The exhibition is drawn from the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive and the Estate of George Hurrell, and is curated by Dr. Louis D’Elia and the staff of the California Heritage Museum. A series of films featuring the movies stars Hurrell immortalized will be shown at Santa Monica Public Library along with a program of lectures. A catalogue with an essay by Virginia Postrel author of “The Substance of Style” accompanies the exhibition.

Hurrell came to California in the 1920s, initially as a painter, at the invitation of the well-known artist Edgar Payne. Staying at the Laguna Beach property of aviatrix Pancho Barnes, his photographic career started with the portrait he took of her for her pilot’s license and word of his talent quickly spread to her circle of friends.

His first commission was a series of portraits of Ramon Novarro in opera roles, images that are now very rare and sought after. Novarro’s friend Norma Shearer, then known for her wholesome roles, approached Hurrell to change her image. His sizzling portraits convinced her husband, MGM’s Head of Production Irving Thalberg, that she could star as the sultry lead in “The Divorcee”- a role that earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Thalberg hired Hurrell as MGM’s studio photographer in1930. It was to be the start of a career stretching over sixty years, in which he defined the classic look of Hollywood’s golden era and shaped the images of film’s most iconic stars. In the words of curator Louis D’Elia he “gave a face to fame” and in doing so immortalized those who sat for him.

The exhibition shows the classic Hurrell photographs: Joan Crawford dramatically lit, her face emerging from the darkness; Douglas Fairbanks Jr, enigmatic in a top hat; Garbo; Jean Harlow seemingly naked beneath her huge coat; Rita Hayward, Peter Lorre, Myrna Loy, Ramon Novarro, Jane Russell, disheveled for “The Outlaw” Norma Shearer and Anna Mae Wong. And from the 70s and 80s, Joan Collins and Shannon Tweed shot for Playboy Magazine, Grace Jones, Queen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brooke Shields, Sharon Stone and Tom Waits.

Hurrell’s practice as an artist informed his photographic images. He worked into the negative with graphite, removing blemishes and adding highlights. The extraordinary shadows cast by Harlow’s eyelashes in her 1935 portrait, are all the work of Hurrell’s pencil. The flawless finish of his portraits is purely the fantasy of a painter but came to represent the luminous beauty of the screen idol.

Hurrell’s technical achievements are celebrated in the exhibition. His invention of the boom light, now a standard piece of equipment for gaffers, enabled him to achieve the extraordinary controlled lighting effects that are a signature of his work. The exhibition recreates Hurrell’s studio with his original camera and boom light, satin draped chaise and his hand-painted background screen. The studio also features Hurrell self–portraits, two of his oil paintings and personal material relating to his long and illustrious career.

The California Heritage Museum is located in an 1894 Historic Landmark house, at 2612 Main Street, in Santa Monica. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. General admission is $5, students and seniors are $3 and children 12 and under are free. Parking is free and handicapped facilities are available. On Sundays, the museum hosts a Farmer's Market in its parking lot. Visitors to the museum can find parking in adjacent "quarter metered" parking lots.

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