December 18, 2014

Phil Stern ~ photographer to the stars

photographer unknown

Philip "Snapdragon" Stern, aka, "Photographer To the Stars", died a few days ago on December 13. He was born on September 3, 1919, and was an American photographer noted for his iconic portraits of Hollywood stars, as well as his war photography while serving as a U.S. Army Ranger in the "Darby's Rangers" unit in the North African and Italian campaigns during World War II.

Stern began his career at 18, working days as a photoengraver’s apprentice and nights as a photographer for The Police Gazette in New York. He always attributed his success to being in the right place at the right time.

Settling in Los Angeles after the war, Stern was staff photographer for LOOK magazine. He was present on numerous film productions as still photographer, and in that capacity took photographs of a huge cross-section of the film community. Stern's images of Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and James Dean have become widely recognized icons.

Some of Mr. Stern’s most striking images came from several sessions with Dean in 1955, not long before the actor died in a car wreck at 24. They met at a Los Angeles intersection after Dean almost drove his motorcycle into Mr. Stern’s car. “I called him every four-letter expletive I could think of,” Mr. Stern later recalled, “and a few five-letter and six-letter ones too.” Nevertheless, they became friendly, and Mr. Stern recorded indelible images of the young star who came to represent the eternal image of youthful rebellion.

“I was never interested in the glamour,” Mr. Stern told Entertainment Weekly in 1993. “I was interested in the tears and agony behind it.”

Regarding Andy Warhol: 
"Warhol got more and more excited by my pictures . . . I was really flattered that he collected my prints – until I found out later that he collected 'everything'."
                            - Phil Stern, Great Images of the 20th Century:
                               The Photographs That Define Our Times
                               by Kelly Knauer (Editor), Inc Time , ISBN: 1883013755 , Page: 143

Stern told Discover Hollywood in 1999 that he had spent a lifetime searching for what he called the perfect image. “You know what it is, but you just can’t get it,” he said. “Still, you keep searching. I haven’t found it yet.”

Stern was 95 when he died of emphysema and congestive heart failure in Los Angeles and he was photographing right up to the end.

Phil Stern

The Phil Stern photographic legacy of Hollywood legends will live on forever.

Phil Stern website 
Phil Stern Archive 
Phil Stern images
New York Times obituary
Washington Post obituary    

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