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Garbo Portraits - by George Hurrell


George Hurrell was an American photographer born in 1904. One of Hurrell's first subjects were Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer. MGM producer Thalberg was so impressed with Hurrell's work that he was hired as head of the MGM portrait gallery in 1930. For the next two years, Hurrell photographed every star at MGM, from Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Greta Garbo to Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler.

His work set a new standard for Hollywood portraits. It even inspired a new name for the genre - glamour photography. George Hurrell photographed Garbo on the set of Romance as well as in the portrait gallery b ut it is said that Garbo didn't like Hurrell and refused to work with him again on Grand Hotel.

Hurrell and Garbo

Hurrell was in the vanguard, and his portraits are considered by many today as the hallmark of the 1930s Hollywood studio look. His compositions, which treated his subjects sculpturally, suited an era in which the depiction of women on the screen was becoming harder and more sexualized. Surprisingly, as Garbo's roles were following this pattern, Hurrell's tricks did not suit her at all.

Hurrell was assigned the task of making portraits for Garbo's second talking picture, Italian opera singer. He photographed her wearing three of the film's opulent costumes; complemented by a variety of hats, jewels, and luxurious furs. Most of the seventy or so negatives he exposed were long shots but a few times Garbo let him move the camera in close. Hurrell does a good job of rendering the fashions, but he largely misses his subject, and in no other body of photographs does Garbo project such a blank expression.

Hurrell, the most relentless and aggressive self-promoter among Hollywood photographers, did not enjoy a professional rapport with Garbo, and she quickly decided that she did not like his working style. Hurrell admitted that he might have been too kinetic a workman for the quiet Swede. He never photographed Garbo again, although he later took credit for some of her portraits made for Grand Hotel.


Romance, USA 1930


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The infamous 'Grand Hotel' portraits

Fred Archer, a talented photographer who worked intermittently at MGM throughout the 1930s as both a still and portrait photographer, spent part of a day on the Grand Hotel set with Garbo and Barrymore. Archer was also responsible for the famous standing portraits of Garbo and Barrymore locked in a tight embrace. Surprisingly, George Hurrell took credit for these photographs but he did not photograph Garbo.


Grand Hotel, USA 1932

Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy by Mark A. Vieira
Garbo - Portraits From Her Private Collection by S. Reisfield & R. Dance
Garbo Portraits
by Arnold Genthe
by Ruth Harriet Louise 
by Edward Steichen 
by George Hurrell 
by Nickolas Murray 
by J. E. Jonsson
by Clarence Sinclair Bull 
by Cecil Beaton 
by George Hoyningen-Huene 
by Anthony Beauchamp 


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