Bob Willoughby – The Silver Age of Hollywood at Proud Chelsea
The origins of many widespread traditions are often unbeknownst to us. There is a long list of potential reasons for this, but the most common is that sometimes we simply do not feel the need to find out. In the case of the motion-picture still-photograph, this is true. This commonly practised tradition can be attributed to one man, Bob Willoughby, who not only pioneered on-set still-photography but was also responsible for the iconic statuses of Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and many more.
The Silver Age of Hollywood exhibits Willoughby’s work circa the 1950s and 60s and describes the period following Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1930s and 40s. Hence, Willoughby’s subjects include former Golden Age stars (such as an ageing Katherine Hepburn) and younger performers exclusive to the Silver Age, like Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow.
The exhibition includes stills from iconic films such as Rebel Without a Cause and The Seven Year Itch, but focuses on Willoughby’s more candid and intimate shots. These include snaps of a youthful James Dean hunched over his script in deep thought, a costumed Rock Hudson daydreaming in his dressing room and a cigarette-smoke obscured Frank Sinatra. Stars and starlets known for their glamourised iconography are captured behind the scenes, bearing no make-up, which communicate a temperament very rarely seen on Hollywood’s silver screen.
Some pieces in particular convey a much darker and sombre ambience. You can’t help but view James Dean in his 1955 portrait with a sense of mortality, knowing his fatal car crash occurred only a few months later. Or, photographed during the production of Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski whose wife and unborn child were murdered shortly after the film’s successful release.
Despite centralising the more glamorous and successful performers of the period, The Silver Age of Hollywood serves as an excellent summary and introduction into Bob Willoughby’s work, whilst providing a unique insight into the more contemplative and personal moments of Hollywood’s alluring and sometimes tragic figures.
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