Friday, 14 October 2011

The ultimate hustle

"I have a woman's body and a child's emotions."
Elizabeth Taylor, attributed to Ken Danvers, 1959

To conclude this week's special focus on The Glamour of the Gods photographic exhibition, it is only fair we turn to the subject of sex!

Although nowadays the lines are more often than not blurred - "glamour model" has a whole different connotation to its original definition, for example - it was always the intention of the studio system, and therefore their employed photographers, to "sell" a star's sexual allure as much as their beauty and exoticism. Innocent maybe, but it is undeniable that even the icy gaze of Garbo or the shimmering luxury of Gloria Swanson in regal costume were masks for their unattainable, desired, sexiness.

By the end of the War, in the late 40s and early 50s this mask was slipping somewhat, and the sexual imagery in Hollywood photography was becoming more obvious - in tandem with the inexorable rise of the "teenager" as a new audience for publicity-hungry studios. In today's featured photographs, the young Miss Taylor and Mr Brando are not doing anything in particular, but we know what they are ostensibly offering the viewer.

So, apparently, did John Kobal (whose extensive collection is the foundation for the exhibition). According to reviewer Martin Gayford: "By Marilyn Monroe’s era, Kobal’s enthusiasm was running out. He was a star-struck romantic, and in his view the “gods” and “titans” of Hollywood belonged to the 20s and the 30s."

And I agree. Hollywood today is a lesser place than when most of the photographs on display were taken; its stars are certainly less glamorous, and the balance between sex appeal and style is all but lost in the majority of cases.

"If you want something from an audience, you give blood to their fantasies. It's the ultimate hustle."
Marlon Brando, photographed in 1950 by John Engstead:

Glamour of the Gods exhibition at The National Gallery continues to 23rd October 2011.


  1. Great photos - especially the one of Miss Taylor!

  2. The last several posts feature such iconic imagery. I love it!

  3. Praise indeed! Thanks, boys... Jx

  4. The Liz Taylor shot is from 1959 not 1948.

    1. Corrected - I can only assume that the NPG mislabelled it back in 2011. Jx


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