Vintage Celeb Photos

A new book brings together the work of photographer Orlando Suero, who always established a good rapport with his subjects. It makes for a mixture of striking posed images and off-the-cuff shots, featuring some of the 20th-Century’s most famous politicians and celebrities, writes Christine Ro.

Orlando Suero’s photography career extended from his teens to his 80s. A new book, Orlando/Photography, gathers around 200 intimate shots of well-known actors, politicians, musicians and other celebrities in their heyday, ranging from the 1950s to 1980s. Some of these photos have remained unpublished for 50 years.

The book’s editors, Orlando’s son Jim and their friend, film producer Rod Hamilton, combed through boxes of negatives and transparencies recently sent over by Orlando’s former photo agency. They scanned nearly 10,000 negatives to select these gems. It was an emotional process. On the day that art publisher Hatje Cantz confirmed that the book would be published, Orlando suffered a stroke. And on hearing that the book had gone to print, 93-year-old Orlando was brought to tears.


Tony Randall and Zamba, 1965

The opening image from Orlando/Photography is of actor Tony Randall placidly reading to Zamba the lion. This is one of more than 100 photos that Suero took of Tony and Zamba on the bed while on the set of the film Fluffy, a comedy about a psychology professor who attempts to prove that a lion can be domesticated. Suero began working on film sets while living in his native New York, before moving to Hollywood to further his entertainment career.


Janet Leigh with Tony Curtis, Winter Olympics, 1960

Janet Leigh had her most famous film role in 1960, in the Hitchcock classic Psycho. That year she also appeared with her husband, fellow actor Tony Curtis, in People, Hopes, Medals, a documentary about the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. Suero was good friends with Curtis and Leigh, and had photographed them several times before the Olympics, when he followed them around the Olympic Village. Suero excelled at capturing unguarded moments like this one, where Leigh lights a cigarette for Curtis inside a clothing store. Suero explains in the book that “one thing I felt was key to a great shot is rapport. I felt that if there’s no rapport, then there are no pictures”.


Jacqueline and John F Kennedy, 1954

Suero’s career took off with his photographs of the fresh-faced Kennedy family. Initially, the owner of his picture agency was sceptical about the young photographer’s ability to pull off the assignment. But after spending five spring days and more than 20 photo sessions documenting the small details of the Kennedys’ domestic life in Georgetown – including the couple looking at wedding photos and the Kennedy siblings playing American football –  Suero produced classic images of the newlyweds. Jackie would later write appreciatively to Suero: “They are the only photos I’ve ever seen of me where I don’t look like something out of a horror movie. If I’d realised what a wonderful photographer you were… I never would have been the jittery subject I was. Poor Orlando!” Jack was also not yet as image-conscious as he would later become. He allowed Suero to photograph him wearing glasses, which he later avoided.


John F, John, Jr, and Jacqueline Kennedy, 1960

This photo of JFK holding a young John, Jr is one of many that Suero took in the run-up to the presidential election. Suero wasn’t the only photographer to do so, of course, and several journalists and a photographer can be seen in the background. Suero himself called his Kennedy images his “footprints in the sands” of history. “The camera loved the Kennedys,” he has said. “There wasn’t a lens made for a camera that didn’t love the Kennedys.”


Eartha Kitt, circa 1958

This pensive image of entertainer Eartha Kitt, shot on medium format film, captures Suero’s occasionally sombre side. Suero served in the Marine Corps during World War Two, trading in his camera for a gun at the age of 18. Returning to photography after he was discharged gave him some relief from his PTSD. He reflects in the book: “For me, my work was an escape from the war. It allowed me to detach from it because when you come back, the war doesn’t end for you. It stays with you for life… for the most part, photography was my solace.” Kitt’s daughter, Kitt Shapiro, was supportive of Orlando/Photography, as she could relate to Jim Suero’s desire to create an homage to his parent.


Rudolf Nureyev with Shirley MacLaine, 1965

This photo captures ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and actress Shirley MacLaine at a party thrown for Nureyev and ballerina Margot Fonteyn. MacLaine and Nureyev are pictured dancing to a live band in a dance style considerably shorter-lived than ballet, known as The Frug. The party was held in the Malibu home of costume designer Jean Louis, and had a glittery list of attendees, including Marlon Brando, Cary Grant and Lauren Bacall. Suero is best known for black and white photographs like this one. He explains in the book: “There’s a certain nakedness to black and white. It renders the aesthetic and emotion of a subject in a way that colour just cannot express.”


Brigitte Bardot, 1965

Suero was initially disappointed on the set of comedy film Viva Maria! He’d been expecting an exclusive shoot with film star Brigitte Bardot, but plenty of other photographers were on the scene. Suero, who was shorter than Bardot and the other photographers, stood in front of them without shooting. Bardot noticed and asked about Suero, sparking a playful series of photos like this beach bed fantasy. This playfulness is also evident in the interview between Jim and Orlando Suero at the beginning of Orlando/Photographer. The father tells the son: “I know you were always sneaking in my darkroom looking at the nudes, don’t think I didn’t know!”


Brigitte Bardot as Charlie Chaplin, 1965

This photo is a refreshingly silly change from Bardot’s usual sultry sexpot image. While chatting with Suero, Bardot revealed that she wasn’t very familiar with Charlie Chaplin. Suero suggested that he photograph her as the comedic legend, which would help her to connect with Chaplin. The only time available for this beach shoot was early in the morning, and Bardot definitely wasn’t a morning person. Yet the sense of fun is clear in both this photo and one where Suero beams at the camera next to Bardot-as-Chaplin. Suero always considered himself an instinctive rather than a technical photographer. As he recounts in the book: “When I think back, I realise that my success was based on my feel for photography. By that I mean I was never much of a technical guy. Of course I knew the technical aspects, you have to, but when it came to equipment, lighting, this or that, it always came down to how it felt, what my instincts told me. I consider it thinking with my eyes.”


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