In the pre-paparazzi world, Hollywood studios carefully controlled the images of stars. Knowing that staged photo shoots made an actor more sympathetic with the public, studios set up their big names with pets - but not necessarily with ones they owned.
“I suspect the vast majority of the dogs are props and not pets,” said Robert Dance, author of upcoming book “Hollywood Unseen."
In the commercial photography of the 1930s through 1950s, props would be used to reflect the persona of the celebrity, he explained. To show masculinity, men would be surrounded by manly objects, like Humphrey Bogart with tennis rackets, animal heads, sailboat and large dog. Women, on the other hand, were hardly ever shown with large dogs, he said.
Actors were contractually obligated by the studio to take publicity photos. But big names like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin could say no, Dance said. And people like Joan Crawford, who enjoyed posing, could call the studio to let them know her availability. They had little to no control over the shoot, however.
“Who’s the more exotic pet in the photograph?” Dance asked, pointing out the irony of the posed situation.
Studios provided animals for the shoots, and whether it was a cat, dog or bird, it was chosen for how similar it looked to the celebrity. Every aspect of the photograph was constructed to reveal a specific image.
Studios intentionally did not copyright images, so they could be widely distributed to fan magazines and newspapers.
“Getting the image out was of utmost importance,” Dance said.
In the 1960s, when independent photographers took photos of Elizabeth Taylor and her “Cleopatra” co-star Richard Burton, studios discovered that more press was generated by the candid photographs than their posed ones, Dance said.
“Overnight, all studio photography ended,” he continued, and the paparazzi rose to power.
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN
All images courtesy John Kobal Foundation. "Hollywood Unseen" will be available in November.