Monday, June 16, 2008

Cheesecake at the Museum

When I visited the California Heritage Museum, I was attracted by the displays of decorative arts that reflected the California lifestyle of the early 20th Century. Its home is an 1890s-era landmark house in Ocean Park, and its exhibits are displayed in the house as if people lived there and used them.

Its current exhibit, however, is considerably less homey. Up through June 29th (so hurry and see it!) is the exhibit "Lights, Camera, Glamour! the Photography of George Hurrell."

Hurrell was a studio photographer beginning in the 1930. He virtually created the glamour pin-up shot. His photographs sizzle with sex and Hollywood allure. Joan Crawford's mascara'ed lashes close seductively against her flawless porcelain cheek as she glances at the camera. Shadows play across the brow of Jean Harlow as she runs her hand through her blonde curls. Garbo's graceful hand is highlighted against the darkness of her gown. Jane Russell reclines in the straw, and her blouse slips off her shoulder.

Hurrell's career was a long one - he continued working well into his 80s. You'll be surprised to see the classic rock and pop albums that feature his photographs on the covers. A young shirtless Arnold Schwartzenegger broods with Teutonic power. A photo of Grace Jones and Dolph Lundgren is a startling reminder of the disco era.

The exhibit includes a separate room, behind a red velvet curtain, with Hurrell's nude photos. Hugh Hefner asked Hurrell to photograph some of his girlfriends, including Playmate Shannon Tweed. Joan Collins - at the age of 50! - did a nude spread for Hurrell to be featured in Playboy. Damn, why can't I look that good?

What I found the most charming in the "Nude Room" (as the docent called it) were the studies of a little known starlet of the 30s named Gigi Parrish.* Her graceful pose looked as elegant as a Matisse odalisque. How different her perky little breasts and sleek flanks were from the pneumatic lushness of Hugh's playmates.

He made Hollywood's actors look like the stars they were - larger than life and more beautiful, like gods and goddesses. Even Jimmy Durante fares well in Hurrell's lens.

Oddly the one actor this didn't work for - at least not here - is Clark Gable. Here is the only photograph I've ever seen where he doesn't look sexy. He looks like a big-eared dork!

If you want to learn more about George Hurrell, check the website of his estate. You can read a bio of his fascinating life, and purchase photos. But in the meantime, if you want to see the Governator's biceps, Joan Crawford's lashes, and some sexy Hollywood glamour, catch this exhibit before it closes on June 29th.

*Footnote: Interesting factoid - Gigi Parrish was the wife of painter and illustrator Dillwyn Parrish. Parrish fell in love with his Laguna Beach neighbor, and encouraged her to begin her career as a culinary writer. In 1938 Dillwyn Parrish and M.F. K. Fisher divorced their respective spouses and married one another. He was the love of her life.


Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...


M. Bouffant said...

Well, Gable was a big-eared dork. And at least some of his teeth were false.

Cattily yours,
M. B.