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George Hurrell at Laguna Art Museum

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on May 5th, 2013
2013
May 5

EVENTS

Laguna Art Museum presents early photographs and Hollywood glamour portraits by George Hurrell from 1925–1944

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Laguna Art Museum presents George Hurrell: Laguna to Hollywood, on display through May 19, in the museum’s upper level gallery. George Hurrell was a famed Hollywood glamour photographer with roots in Laguna Beach. The exhibition traces his beginnings as a photographer and his leap to photographing Hollywood stars of the 1930s and 40s. The exhibition presents a selection of over sixty works from 1925-1944 (mostly from the museum’s permanent collection), curated by Laguna Art Museum’s Curator of Early California Art, Janet Blake.

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George Hurrell (1904–1992) was born in Covington, Kentucky, and studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Learning to photograph his paintings spurred an interest in photography as a medium. In 1924 he was befriended by Laguna Beach artist Edgar Payne and his wife, Elsie Palmer Payne, who were spending several months in Chicago after returning from a long European sojourn. The following spring, the Paynes motored back to California accompanied by Hurrell. After a short time in Los Angeles, Hurrell moved to Laguna Beach, living for a time in the vacant cottage of silent film director Malcolm St. Clair. He became part of the art community and developed close friendships with artists William Wendt and William Griffith. He began photographing the leading artists of the Laguna Beach Art Association, including, besides Griffith and Wendt, Anna Hills, Thomas Hunt, and Frank Cuprien. Laguna Art Museum traces its roots to the Laguna Beach Art Association.

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It was in Laguna Beach that Hurrell met Florence “Pancho” Barnes, who, in turn, introduced him to silent movie star Ramon Novarro. Hurrell’s photographs of Barnes and Novarro caught the attention of Hollywood, and he moved there in 1927. By 1930 he was the head of the MGM portrait gallery. He was soon dubbed the “Grand Seigneur of the Hollywood Portrait.” He established his own studio on the Sunset Strip and later worked for Warner Bros. The museum’s collection contains many Hurrell photographs, including those of the early artists and other prominent people of Laguna Beach, as well as a portfolio of ten portraits of important Hollywood stars, including John Barrymore, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, and Katharine Hepburn.

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ABOUT LAGUNA ART MUSEUM

Laguna Art Museum is a museum of California art. Its mission is to collect, care  for, and exhibit works of art that were created by California artists or represent the life and history of the state. Through its permanent collection, its special loan exhibitions, its educational programs, and its library and archive, the museum enhances the public’s knowledge and appreciation of California art of all periods and styles, and encourages art-historical scholarship in this field.

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Laguna Art Museum stands just steps from the Pacific Ocean in the beautiful city of Laguna Beach. The museum is proud to continue the tradition of the Laguna Beach Art Association, founded in 1918 by the early California artists who had discovered the town and transformed it into a vibrant arts community. The gallery that the association built in 1929 is part of today’s Laguna Art Museum.

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MUSEUM INFORMATION

Laguna Art Museum

is located at

307 Cliff Drive in Laguna Beach,

on the corner of PCH and Cliff Drive,
next door to Las Brisas restaurant.
Hours:
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday: 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Thursday: 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Closed Wednesdays
Closed Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day

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Admission:
General admission: $7.00
Students, seniors, and active military: $5.00
Children under 12: FREE
Museum members: FREE

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Novarro and Hurrell

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 10th, 2010
2010
Feb 10

FILM HISTORY

Ramon Novarro and Hurrell

 

   

By Allan R. Ellenberger
February 10, 2020

 

In 1928, Ramon Novarro became friends with Florence “Pancho” Barnes, a woman flier who became famous for breaking speed records in her plane, Mystery Ship. Years later she founded the Happy Bottom Ranch in the Antelope Valley, which became an oasis in the desert for aviators depicted in the film, The Right Stuff (1983).

 

Pancho was introduced to Ramon at a party, and the two became an unusual couple cavorting around Hollywood in Ramon’s sports cars. Pancho was not the glamorous type and was known for her profanity, which she used liberally.

 

Pancho was a staunch supporter of George Hurrell, a struggling photographer who had taken many photos of her. Ramon had told Pancho that he was planning to make his concert debut in Vienna and needed new portraits. She suggested Hurrell, and Ramon asked her to set up an appointment. Pancho excitedly told Hurrell about Novarro’s request, to which he replied, “I’m flattered, but why doesn’t he use MGM’s photographer?”

 

 

Ramon Novarro and Pancho Barnes (Photo: Pancho Barnes Trust Estate)

 

 

She explained that Novarro was planning an upcoming concert tour and added, “He doesn’t want MGM to know about it right now. If he asked Ruth Harriet Louise to do it, the prints would be all over the studio.”

 

That evening Hurrell prepared his tiny studio at 672 Lafayette Park Place to greet the Ben-Hur of the screen. Soon Novarro’s sports roadster arrived, and he and Pancho made their way to Hurrell’s studio, where the two were introduced. Pancho, who was breathless and giddy, excused herself, explaining she had to meet some new pilots down at Mines Field. Hurrell sensed there was a budding romance between  her and Ramon, which was precisely what Pancho wanted people to think.

 

After Pancho left, Hurrell set up his equipment while Novarro changed. Within minutes, he turned around and saw the actor, standing quietly on the landing dressed as a Spanish grandee in a huge sombrero, with silver ornaments and a mustache glued to his upper lip.

 

 

The first photo of Ramon Novarro taken by George Hurrell

 

 

Hurrell found that Novarro, whom he nicknamed Pete, had photographically perfect features and was very relaxed. The photographer played classical music, which made Novarro more responsive. “He could face my camera with a blank expression,” Hurrell recalled. “Not at all like some of the men-about-town whom I had been photographing. I had to trick them into losing their solemn expression in order to get an interesting shot, but Ramon was relaxed.”

 

Two days later when the Latin saw the proofs, he told Hurrell, “You have caught my moods exactly. You have revealed what I am inside.” Hurrell photographed Novarro many times over the next few months. When Pancho saw a photo taken on her estate in San Marino (below) of a tunic-clad Novarro standing under a tree next to a white horse, the aviatrix noted, “My God George, even the horse looks glamorous!”

 

 

 

 

One day while visiting the set of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, Norma Shearer invited Novarro into her dressing room for a visit. She complained that she was very unhappy about the recent film roles she was receiving. During the conversation, Ramon spread out a stack of portraits he just received from Hurrell. Norma looked from one to the other with obvious interest. “Why Ramon, no one has ever photographed you like this before,” she said.

 

Ramon told her about Hurrell and his tiny Lafayette Park studio. Smiling, she said, “He may come in handy. I have an idea.” She explained that the studio was preparing a script she wanted called The Divorcee (1930). Her husband and mentor, Irving Thalberg, did not think she was beguiling enough for the part. She hoped that if Hurrell could photograph her like a “sex pot,” Irving would give her the role. So Ramon set up a meeting between the actress and Hurrell. The photographs were stunning and convinced Thalberg to give his wife the part. As a result, she won the Academy Award for best actress, and Hurrell was given a contract as a portrait photographer at MGM.

 

The preceeding exerpt is from Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol (1999) by Allan R. Ellenberger.

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