The Versatile Lawrence Schiller
Our ongoing Zoom presentation with distinguished contemporary photographers continues as Holden speaks with notable photographer, film maker and author Lawrence Schiller. The two discuss Schiller’s career and total access to leading personalities from the 1960’s moving forward.
Luntz: Even though it’s a couple minutes early, I believe we’re live. So everyone isn’t necessarily online yet but we are live so if you have stories, everybody is hearing what we’re saying but I’m delighted that you’re here this morning with us.
Schiller: Thank you very much for inviting me and I look forward to the conversation.
Luntz: What I did this morning is I printed out your Wikipedia pages and was sort of astonished by the sheer number and scope and scale of projects that you’ve been engaged in.
Schiller: Well, my whole life has been not being part of any one profession, but enjoying the challenges of doing things that I felt other people might not be able to accomplish.
You know, there’s an old joke that somebody once wrote about me. “Larry, if he was ever incarcerated would not know how to break out of prison. But he can tell you how to break into a prison.”
Luntz: There we go, he’ll able to tell you how to get in there.
But I’m looking and I’m saying, you know, they talk about a life well-lived is a life where you engage in the projects and you do the things that you want to do and you sort of leave no stone unturned. And some things are more successful than others and some things you’re more remembered for than others. But the sheer act of engagement in your sort of short lifetime and you got your sort of after theater you got your after cinema you got your extra bonus years was, is really sort of a great tribute to how you’re spending your time.
Schiller: Well, Paul Newman changed my life completely because I photographed him on a couple of movies.
Luntz: Did you do, did you do him on Cool Hand Luke?
Schiller: I photographed him on Cool Hand Luke. But I also photographed him on From the Terrace and many early films that he did with his wife, Joanne Woodward. But one day on Butch Cassidy, after he had given me an opportunity, which maybe we can talk about a little later, I said to him, “You know, I’m just tired of photographing the same heads on different bodies, or different heads on the same body.” And he looked at me and he says, “Well Larry, you’ve got to start directing films?” And I said, “Nobody’s ever going to give me a chance to direct a film, I’m a photographer.” He says, “I will make sure you can direct a film.” And he gave me his chance, a little bit on Butch Cassidy, which then allowed Barry Gordy to hire me to do parts of Lady Sings the Blues, and I wound up producing and directing, you know, some 27 films. And it was all because of Paul Newman.
And you know, he was such a giving man, Newman was, that when I did my first movie with Ed Asner, Hey, I’m Alive, based on the Life Magazine story I had done. He called me up one day. And he said, “I just read in the trades that you are going to make this film.” And he says, “We’ve got to get somebody to protect your back.” I said, “Well, you know, I got a good production manager.” And he said, “No, no, I’m sending my brother, Art Newman, over. He protected my back. He knows how to protect your back.” And of course, Art was paid as part of the budget. But he did three films for me, Art. And that was Newman. Newman was such a giving man.
Luntz: Yeah, I heard that Newman was, was really a great person to work for. And just a pleasure. And a real gentleman from beginning to end.
Schiller: He was.
Luntz: We are now at eleven o’clock so we sort of are official. My name is Holden Luntz. We’re sitting at the Holden Luntz Gallery and Larry is in Pennsylvania at his house and studio. So I welcome Laurence Schiller to our conversation this morning.
Normally, when we talk, we talk specifically about the aesthetics of photographs and and how photographs come to mean what they mean. But something about Larry Schiller’s work is pretty interesting to me. I always thought, being of a specific age, that my kids were never lucky enough to live through the 60s. The 60s was an astounding time in the history of American politics, culture, music, theater, cinema, and there are very few people that are living that are famous, like Larry Schiller, that have really, basically been there for so many different aspects of how the 60s developed and how our popular history and culture developed and was there to chronicle it.
In addition to being a photographer and working for Life, or Paris Match, for Sunday Times, for Time, for Newsweek, from Stern, there’s Saturday Evening Post. They’re also film projects. They’re also an enormous number of book projects. They’re also mini series that you’ve won Emmys for. So you’ve had an enormously storied career, but what I thought would be the best way of allowing the people that are listening to basically enjoy and to learn about the work is to put together a stack of some of the photographs that we at the Gallery liked the best. And I want to run through them and give you a chance to open up on the pictures to talk about them and to share some sort of backstories of that can be done. But I’d love to start with our stack now and get you to talk about the pictures.
Schiller: Thank you so much. Yes.
Luntz: So an obvious place for us to start is with the Marilyn pictures. If there’s something that sort of, pictures that have stayed with everybody that knows them. It’s your Marilyn pictures. So can you tell us the story about shooting for Something’s Gotta Give, especially the sort of swim pictures that our clients have loved and purchased?
Schiller: Well, I’ll tell you about that very quickly. But first, my relationship with Marilyn Monroe starts when I was in college and I saw a drawing, an artist’s rendering, of her on Time Magazine’s cover. And I said to myself, “Wow! When I get out of college and I really start to shoot pictures, I want to photograph her.” Little did I know that in 1960 Look Magazine would hire me to photograph her and Yves Montand on a movie called Let’s Make Love.
Johnny Cook, the PR guy took me over to the soundstage and as we walked towards her dressing room, she was walking from another direction. And she started up her steps and Johnny Cooke said, “Marilyn, this is Larry Schiller from Look Magazine.” And she swung around so fast, not because of Larry Schiller, but because of Look Magazine. She put out her hand and said, “I’m Marilyn.” Well, I’ve got to tell you, I didn’t know what to do. So I pondered very quickly and I said, “Oh I’m the Big Bad Wolf.” And she looked at me and said, “Well, you don’t look so bad right now. But I’m sure when you get older you will be.” And of course the conversation ensued.
And she went and sat down and in front of the dressing room mirror. And Alice started to do her hair, and Whitey Snyder, for makeup, and I started to shoot her in the mirror. And she caught the lens and she said, looking in the mirror, “Larry, you’re never going to get a good picture of me from that angle, you go sit in the corner.” And you know, “That’s going to be a good picture.”
And I went and sat in the corner like a puppy dog. And I lifted my camera, my Nikon with a 105 lens and she turned around and just gave me a look and bam, one frame on the role of film. That was it. Little did I know that two years later, I would be assigned by Paris Match to photograph her in a movie called Something’s Gotta Give.
Luntz: And what was that experience briefly like?
Schiller: Well, the experience you know, in those days, there were lots of photographers who photographed motion pictures because the studios wanted the publicity in magazines all over the world. Television wasn’t a form of publicity and newspaper ads were too expensive. And there were great photographers, you know, some of them you know of Johnny Bryce and Bob Willoughby. Harry Benson was wonderful at photographing celebrities. I think he’s one of the photographers you represent.
So I went to meet Marilyn at her home to discuss the screenplay. Which are the best things to photograph? Because I’m not going to be on the set for three months. And at one point, we’re looking at a scene where she’s in a swimming pool and a nude color bathing. And Dean Martin was on the balcony, supposedly looking at her, etcetera. And she turns to me with Pat Newcomb, her press agent, over by the window and said, “Larry, what would happen if I jumped in the swimming pool with a bathing suit on, as the script says, but came out with nothing?”
And I was a little cocky by then, I’d already won some photo awards and been published in magazines, and I looked at her and I said, “Well, the problem is Marilyn, you know trying to be light about it, you know, you’re already famous, now you’re gonna make me famous.” And she smiled and looked at me and said, “Don’t be cocky, Larry. I can fire you in two seconds.”
Of course she didn’t fire me. But, you know, that was Marilyn Monroe. And I can tell you so many wonderful stories. She was quick. She understood the business. By the time I got to her she had been run over by a lot of trucks in her life, as the same goes. And it was a pleasure, you know, to be able to photograph her in many different ways.
Luntz: There is a kind of an innocence in the pictures that they’re innocent and they’re not innocent. They’re flirtatious. But you can see her as a real ingenue. You can see how the world loved her.
By the way, there was a book that you could buy through Taschen, about your work with Marilyn. And it was $1,000. And it came with a special print, and we have a copy of it in the gallery. And it’s beautiful. I’m happy to tell everybody that is listening that the trade edition is coming out. And that’ll be out in another month. And if you like Marilyn and if you want to see these legendary pictures, but there’s a big text to it, and you can read all of the backstories. It’s a wonderful book. So the Taschen book is coming out trade. It’s your book on her and it’s certainly a book worth, giving and being in any library. I really look forward to being able to do with you a book signing down here and being able to invite people in to get copies of the book and to look at more of the work.
Schiller: Love to come. You know, people often ask, “Why did she do this scene? Why, what was behind her idea to come out of the swimming pool with little or nothing on and advance the scene further than what the screenplay said?” Because the screenplay said she’s just in the water, you know, tantalizing Dean Martin. And what we discover was that the same studio was making Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. And Liz was getting paid over a million dollars and 10% of the gross of the film. And Marilyn was still getting $125,000 from the same studio. And she couldn’t handle, emotionally, the fact that every single magazine had Liz Taylor on the cover. And she had to go back to that very basic instinct of the use of her body and her motivation.
Because later she said to me, after she was looking at my pictures, which she had somewhat of approval of and said, “I don’t want to see Liz Taylor on the cover of any magazine when you sell these, Larry. That’s a condition of sale.” And she was, she used that word was one of the first times I heard a celebrity use it. “It was a condition of sale.” Because she wanted to make sure that the studio understood, she could generate as much publicity as Liz Taylor.
Luntz: And she has.
Luntz: Muhammad Ali. This is a brilliant picture, which I know nothing about.
Schiller: Well, it’s very interesting because I lived in San Diego, California when I went to high school and my parents lived there. And this picture tells a lot of different stories in it. My father introduced me to Floyd Patterson, who used to train in Carlsbad, California and Oceanside. And there’s actually a picture of my father and mother that I took with Floyd Patterson.
So in high school and in college, I started to work with a magazine called Sport Magazine, shooting sports pictures. That’s what high school photographers do, they shoot pretty girls and sports pictures. This was way before Sports Illustrated came into business. So, even though I was somewhat of an accomplished photographer, by 1965, there was a big, big fight that was going to take place in Las Vegas and Floyd Patterson was going to fight Muhammad Ali. And I covered the fight in 65.
What’s really interesting about this picture, and I’ll tell you some stories you don’t know. You see, there’s a gentleman with a red sweater on under Ali’s feet and he has a Leica camera and underneath it it is what is called a Leica motor. Well, J.R. Eyerman and I and Life Magazine invented that motor and we produced it and we sold it before we sold the patents to Leica and they produce it themselves because Leica didn’t have a motor when Nikon came out with a motor. And even though Nikon’s motor had a battery pack, Leica’s camera didn’t work with it. So we made this Remo pack. Eventually, we made a thing that went under the Nikon camera called the Remo pack that everybody uses.
Now one of my closest friends in sports and over on the left side of this picture and that’s Neil Leifer with a Rolleiflex and an optical finder that Rolly made so you didn’t have to look down, you can look straight. So there’s two interesting things.
This picture was widely published and Neil Leifer says it’s the best picture that came out of the fight because it is the knockout blow in which Patterson went to the ground.
Schiller: I want to make one additional comment about that if I may. You know, how was a picture like this lit in those days? Well, there were strobe units and they were big, heavy packs. And we used to have to climb to the rafters with our assistants and light it. You had to really understand lighting. You had to understand where to put those lights, and so forth. This picture is really made because it has a certain amount of backlighting. That was something that I always loved to do in sports. Always to shoot into the light and shape the bodies with somewhat of a backlight.
Luntz: It’s an amazing picture.
Schiller: Thank you. Thanks.
Lawrence Schiller, Julie Newmar in Lil Abner, 1959, Archival Pigment Photograph
Luntz: So part of what we talked about a week ago was that when you made pictures, there wasn’t Photoshop. You had to be very inventive and you had to create something and have the mind and the curiosity to create a picture that isn’t easily readable. This was one of the first ones that you did. You were 18 or 19, when you made the picture, correct?
Schiller: I think it was 19 and a half. I looked it up last night. And this is the first, I think, color picture I had in Life Magazine. I had published some black and white before, even the picture of the week.
Julie Newmar was making a movie at Paramount called Li’l Abner and she was playing Stupefyin’ Jones. I got an assignment from Dick Stolley, who became later the Editor in Chief of People Magazine. Go out and photograph Julie Newmar for the movie. She’s very sexy in this she’s playing Stupefyin’ Jones so we had to come up with an idea. So I went out and I watched her. I watched the dancers and I came up with this idea that, you know, Stupefyin’ Jones froze everybody, that was part of the movie, freeze, freeze. So I said, “How am I going to freeze all of these dancers?” So I came up with this idea. And this is the resulting picture. Even Popular Photography Magazine put it in their annual.
You can see the shadow of the dancers on the background. It was a big background that the studio had painted slightly off-white for me. And for many, many years, nobody could figure out how I had done this picture. All of a sudden, a very, very fine photographer who used to help me a lot, Eliot Elisofon of Life Magazine, gave me a lot of advice. One day he sees me in the hallway going down to the elevator to see the picture editor and he says, “I figured out how you did that picture, Larry.” And I said, “Oh, how did I do it?” He said, “Well, you see she’s standing on the ground. But Larry, I know and you know, she’s not standing.” I said, “You figured it out.”
Well, you see, the way I did this picture is the ground level, what she’s standing on, is actually eight feet in the air. I had constructed a false floor, eight feet higher in the air. And what I had put behind it between the floor and the background were various trampolines where the dancers could jump on the trampolines and propel themselves off the trampolines in different areas. And then I had like a metronome. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and we rehearsed the dancers jumping at different points. I was using a four by five camera. And I would look at it, you know, in my eye and blink and I’d freeze it. Eventually, I put a couple Polaroids in the four by five and, you know, in rehearsal like you rehearse a scene in a movie, you rehearse a picture sometimes. And I got it very, very close. And finally, we did it. And this guy up here in the corner, the right hand corner, is actually out of my frame. It isn’t like I cropped it that way, right on the edge. No, this was actually done by the dancers jumping on trampolines.
Luntz: It’s pretty inventive. I think when it probably ran in 1959-1960, I don’t think people had seen many pictures like that. People probably looked at it and it stuck with them.
Schiller: Right well there’s a couple pictures like that that took people time to figure out. Oh here’s one of them.
Alfred Hitchcock & Tippi Hedren
Luntz: I want to go to the next one, which is something that’s been a popular picture in the Gallery and tell us how you how you thought this one out.
Schiller: Well, this is actually very, very easy. You know, anybody who knows anything about optics and mirrors knows that if one person is looking at a mirror and they can see the other person, the lines converge. Well, the theme of the assignment for Paris Match was that Hitchcock was always in control of his actresses. That he never let up on them. That he was, in essence, like a bulldog, a watchdog. They told me that’s going to be what the text is about. We need you to go out and illustrate it.
So I went out there, and I saw Hitch, Hitchcock, and discussed some ideas with him. Well, maybe we should build a set and have you drinking wine and we’ll see Tippi Hedren, she was making The Birds with him, reflected in the wine and it isn’t that inventive. And then I came up with this idea that if he’s always following her and always on top of her, so the story said. Well, when she drives home, maybe Hitch could all of a sudden be there also. And how do you show two people in the car?
Well, I had a Nikon camera and we had J.R. Eyerman, a Life photographer and I, and Jacobson and had engineered a mobile Remo pack that went underneath it with a solenoid, a remote control. So I said, “Oh, this is going to be easy.” I figured it out in two seconds. Well, everybody thinks I was in another car. Was I in a motorcycle? Was I in a motorcycle that had a side car? You know, I couldn’t be hanging out over the backseat, because they didn’t see me in the mirror.
But what people don’t realize is, you know, if you have a broken window at home and they come to replace glass, how did they carry the glass? Well, they carry it with a suction cup. So I knew that I could take a suction cup and put it to the side of the car. And then I had made an L bracket, which went up and held the camera at the right angle. I measured it. And then I ran from the Nikon with the Remo pack a remote control cord around the backseat. And I’m actually, what you can’t see, sitting in the passenger seat. And I said to Hitch a couple times, “See the camera lens? I see it Larry. Close your eyes, you’re sunbathing.” That was one of the ideas that I had. And then I clicked the shutter. And I got three good frames. This is one of them.
Luntz: That’s amazing. We had a client in Belgium that bought the picture and he wanted a quick answer. “What was it like to work with Hitchcock?”
Schiller: Hitch would do anything you wanted. Any idea. He was inventive in his directing. Inventive in his camera work. You know, he was a theater director from the UK, came to America and just blew everybody away. I mean, all you have to do is see the story of William Randolph Hearst, you know, or the film recently of him. He was so cooperative.
Luntz: That’s great to hear.
Luntz: We go to the next picture, which is Clint Eastwood. Which is a picture that you’re pretty well known for. Tell me about how these pictures came into being.
Schiller: Well, Clint Eastwood was, again, an assignment. I worked a lot for Paris Match and Stern, because I lived in Hollywood. I had an agent in London, Tom Blau, who represented me. He also represented Cecil Beaton and Lord Snowdon. So I would get these European assignments and I got an assignment. Well, after Clint had made, you know, some of his real famous pictures, and he was making this film with Shirley MacLaine in Mexico, who I had met, so I went down there. I wanted to do an image of him that was of the past without being head on for the film that he was making. And so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind chewing a couple cigars. And I brought him a cigar. And he said, “I don’t like those.” So he sent his assistant and the next day…
Luntz: You furnished the cigars. Gotcha. And the hat was his?
Schiller: The hat was from the movie. This is a beautiful shot.
Schiller: With Clint, again, celebrities in those days understood the value of photography, that they would last and they were a form of publicity. So I use the bum around with Clint, you know, we would go eat this, the other picture is him eating some chicken at the steps of the hotel, we were staying. I think this was in Durango, Mexico. And it’s just, both of these are favorites of mine. They’re just simple pictures.
Luntz: Yes, but good character studies.
Schiller: Yes, thank you.
Luntz: We’ll move to this guy. When I did graduate work in film, and photography, people don’t understand, Buster Keaton was probably the single most talented physical comedian there was. Everything was shot in long shot and middle shot without edits. Charlie Chaplin used to edit it. He did all of his own stunts. He was to me an amazing hero of Silent cinema. This is him in 1965. It’s a very strange picture. You say that it’s the last picture made of him?
Schiller: It probably is. It’s the last time he ever made a motion picture. I know no picture was made after that. I was given an assignment, again, I think this was for Life. Dick Stolley asked me to go out and photograph the movie. And of course, I went and photographed all the routines and everything. But you know, they’ve been done so many times before, all of his stunts. I didn’t get excited.
All of a sudden, I was walking down the street and I realized, because of his age, this might be the last movie he might ever do. So I said, “Mr. Keaton, you know, would you mind to come stand over here?” And I took my Leica, with a 21 millimeter lens, to kind of get the presence, the feel of him. And I said, “You know, this is going to be a portrait about history. It’s about your life in the motion picture business.” I remember saying that to him.
Luntz: And people that don’t know him, he was very, very famous in silent movies. I mean, one of the biggest stars there was. He never made it into the talkies. He had this nickname “Old Stone Face” that his face showed no expression. But you look at this face as an old man, you look what he’s been through, you look at how the world’s passed him by and rediscovered him at the end of his life. And to me, it’s just a very moving picture.
Schiller: I said to him, “This is gonna be a picture of history.” He just went into the pose and I have just like three frames.
Luntz: So I put it in because I really liked the picture. We’ll go to something next, that’s probably better known, which is Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Paul Newman & Robert Redford
Luntz: This picture has found a lot of people that have bought it from the Gallery. They’re in Mexico obviously. Who is the third man?
Schiller: That’s George Roy Hill, the director. By the time you get to 1968, when this picture is taken, starting with Cool Hand Luke, I think in 66 or 67, the studios started to pay photographers to photograph the movies and submit the pictures to magazines. They no longer were going to wait for the magazines to like the movie and give an assignment. And I, with John Bryson and Bob Willoughby, you know, became one of those photographers that was being hired. Jonas Rosenfield at 20th Century Fox, hired me to do many movies. I went to Spain for him and every place and this was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
I read the screenplay and I went down to Mexico where some of the scenes were being shot. The cinematographer was Conrad Hall, who I had met on Cool Hand Luke, who always kept the company waiting. I mean, he would wait for the light. “I want to shoot into the light. I want crosslight.” And sometimes the studio would sit for a half a day waiting for Connie to say, “This is it. The light is right.” And what would they guys do? They go play ping pong, they listen to music. So Newman and Redford were always playing ping pong with George Roy Hill or somebody else. And I would photograph them and this is one of the frames on one roll of film.
Lawrence Schiller, Paul Newman, 1967, Archival Pigment Photographs
Luntz: Is this Cool Hand Luke on the left?
Schiller: This is Cool Hand Luke.
Luntz: A virtuoso performance by Paul Newman.
Schiller: This was photographed in Stockton, California. There were a couple portraits. The one on the left, women like very, very much. There’s a story about that little thing, the bottle opener, that he has around his neck. Newman was always drinking beer. And I have a picture, which he promised me never to publish and of course I won’t. Every night he would go into a portable sauna and he’d sweat out the beer that he drank all day long. And that was Newman. He’d drink all day long and sweat it out at night. He’d do that on several movies. WUSA which I photographed and a racing movie that he did that I photographed him and Joanne Woodward on.
He was wonderful. He was one of the few guys that never looked away from the camera. You know, some celebrities and some people, if they think the angle is bad, you know, like Marilyn said, “Go over in the corner, and you’ll get a better shot.”
Luntz: But he was a willing subject?
Schiller: Newman couldn’t care less.
Luntz: He let you do your job. If we go to the next picture, you were the Montage Director for…
Schiller: This is what’s really interesting, you know, everybody has the screenplay, this, that and everything else. And the short and long is one day I say to John Forman, the producer. And I don’t think Newman was at the table at that exact moment. And I said, “You know I’m reading the screenplay, and you go from the west of Bolivia, and it says the bike falls down, and, and all of a sudden, you’re coming off of a train in Bolivia and there’s a long dissolve.” I said, “That’s not how people went to South America. You had to take a train across the United States, you had the wait in New York for a month, it wasn’t like cruises were leaving every week for South America. And you would go to see the sights and this and that.”
And I said, “You should think about maybe adding a couple scenes.” And the next thing, Newman comes over to me and says, “John says that you have an idea that we should do a montage. Can you make a list of the scenes that you think should be shot in New York?” So I made it, listed with pictures. And then he said, “How would you do it?” Well, I had remembered seeing Charles Ames’s exhibit at the Seattle World’s Fair in 62. You have to remember this is 68 or 69, right? And I said, “Charles Ames really introduced something on montages at the American Pavilion and I think I know how to make that montage.”
They gave me a sketch artist, we did the sketches. They took the whole thing to Richard Zanuck, Jr, who was running the studio. It cost a quarter of a million dollars to build all the sets. And I directed it. It’s about six minutes in the film. And that was the end of really being a working journalist. A few years later, I was producing and directing my own films, all because of Paul Newman.
He started me and when Paramount and Barry Gordy saw the montage, and they were having problems with Lady Sings the Blues, it was too long. They hired me to cut it and I did five montages. I did the title sequence. They are all still photographs. You see, I was still taking my concept, my ideas of stills and moving them into movies. I didn’t know how to make movies here. I had to learn how to make movies.
Luntz: And these are toned pictures?
Schiller: In those days, there was what was known as Kodalith film and Kodalith paper. And I put it in a certain chemical mix. I can’t remember where I read it. They came out brown and you know, now you can do it in Photoshop. All the originals that I use them in the montage were all the paper. That’s the way it came out of the camera.
Luntz: And the relationship between Robert Redford and Paul Newman were they interesting characters together?
Schiller: This is again Newman. When you have two great stars, Redford had just come off Barefoot in the Park with a Jane Fonda. And the short and long of it is, a big star like Newman who owned the picture and everything, they always want the close-ups. Newman never was that way. Whether it was in Cool Hand Luke with George Kennedy, he let Kennedy have all the close-ups. He let Redford have the close-ups. Redford has written many times, Newman made his career.
Luntz: Yeah, this really launched Redford to a sort of household his name.
Schiller: Because Newman allowed Redford those close-ups, those moments. You know?
Luntz: That’s good to hear that they worked well together.
Luntz: I love the picture because she was, for me, just the quintessential actress. So she’s getting an Academy Award here?
Schiller: One of the things in those days, in the 60s, is that they didn’t allow photographers in when the awards were being given. That was eventually broken when Life Magazine hired Frank Sinatra to shoot pictures to see. It was very, very funny.
Luntz: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Schiller: That’s everybody in the early days of the Academy, in the early 60s and 50s. The only time you really got to photograph the celebrities, unless you wanted to hand out pictures, was at the after-dinner party. The media had the full carte blanche to that. And, of course, she had just married Carlo Ponti. She was, I think, already living in up in The Valley in Los Angeles. They had built a beautiful house with glass walls. He was her producer and she had won the award for Two Women, which she plays the role of the younger child, both women that are attacked and raped in wartime. I have to tell you, this is just one of those lucky shots. It was at the right moment and I could have missed it. I was there at the right second.
Luntz: No, it’s a terrific picture.
Luntz: Barbra Streisand, you told me she was complicated because she was a very controlling personality.
Schiller: Well, Barbara is very, very controlling. And I’m going to tell you, in a minute a story about it. But I had photographed for Paramount Pictures, a movie called A New Leaf with Elaine May. Elaine May was the most difficult director in the world. The most difficult actress in the world. And nobody could personally get along with. And Howard Koch hired me to photograph her and I got along very, very well with her.
I even made my first eight millimeter movie on a French camera of her smoking cigarettes. Because she would go into the ashtray and look at the butts and then so. So I photographed her on A New Leaf and got the story published and got the publicity. So Barbara is now making a movie called On A Clear Day You Can See Forever at Paramount. So Howard Koch Sr. calls me up and says, “I’d like to introduce you to Barbra. I’d like you to photograph the movie and do the publicity.” And I said, “Great!” And I did a little research on her.
You’re always taken out the first day to the set, introduced to the celebrity or star. So, he takes me out, introduces me to her and we get along well, and she had approval of the photographs, even though she never looked at my pictures for some reason. I started to photograph her and I started to travel with her and Paris Match was running a story, and so forth. And then one day Dick Pollard at Life calls me and he said, “We’d like to photograph a unique photograph of Barbra and her co-star Yves Montand, for the cover of Life.” I’d already photographed Yves Montand with Marilyn Monroe so I knew Yves. And I said, “No problem.”
So I went out there and set up a little studio, a backdrop on the set, and took a couple stand-ins and made some Polaroids on how I thought the cover should be with a grease pencil put where the type face would be, where the logo would be. I took it over to Barbra and she said, “I love it. Great. Let’s do it. So we’ll do it tomorrow morning, 10 o’clock.” So I go over and tell Montand. THe next day, he gets dressed, goes there, we’re standing and waiting for Barbra to come. Doesn’t come. Well, alright, she forgot about it. So I speak to Sis Forman, her friend, so alright Barbra forgot about it. The next day.
The next day, Montand comes again. She doesn’t show up. We’re about ready to go to New York to shoot scenes in the film, because in those days, the photographer traveled with celebrities. The beautiful portrait of her is actually made on the airplane, going to New York City. Of her in the little hat and she loved that picture.
So in New York City, I still had to do the Life cover and Dick Pollard calls me and says, “When are we going to see something?” So I got a 16-foot semi-truck and I parked it by the back door of the Plaza Hotel where we were all staying so that when she went out the back door and got in her car most had to do was jump inside the truck and Montand was there and one roll of film on the Hasselblad and that would be it. She’d already approved the Polaroids.
So she comes right out the back door, boom, gets in her car and goes. She saw the truck so on the set in Central Park, I go to see her and I say, “Barbra, you’re embarrassing Montand. What are you going to do? Are we doing this or not?” She says, “Larry, Howard Koch told me you were a smart photographer, but I think you’re the dumbest photographer I’ve ever met in my life.” And she said it with that type of inflection. I said, “What do you mean, I’m so dumb?” She says, “Don’t you realize a picture of me and Yves Montand, when this movie is over, is going to be long forgotten, it’s just going to be a set still. A picture of me alone can always be sold.”
Schiller: I did a double exposure of this picture which was on the cover of Life Magazine. She loved my portraits. I didn’t try to copy Avedon or Herb Ritts or anybody. It was always, what can I do a little bit different? Lighting was something which came very natural to me. I could look at somebody’s face, and I could imagine what it would be. And in those days I worked all with strobe units. I had a little modeling light in the strobe unit so I could see what the lighting was.
And the picture, by the way, was eventually taken for Life Magazine in the hotel at about two o’clock in the morning. That’s a Rudi Gernreich jumpsuit she has on and she’s actually sitting on the edge of the bed. And I’m using one light, an umbrella and a whiteboard on the left side. She didn’t want to do it that late, we had just come from some event. She said “I’ll give you one roll of film.” I remember her saying that to me. “One roll of film, Larry.” And this is frame number four on the roll of film.
Luntz: We’ll go to the next, Jackson 5 really quickly and then can can going to go to politics.
Schiller: Well, Jackson 5 is very interesting because I had photographed Diana Ross for the New York Times Magazine and she told me about the Jackson 5. And then Barry Gordy called me and said, “They’re coming out to California to make their first real single and their album. We’d like you to photograph for it.” Maybe you can get it in some magazines. And I discovered that they were from the Midwest or someplace, I can’t remember now. And I said, “Have they ever been to the beach?” And he said, “No, I don’t think they’ve ever seen water.” So that’s exactly what we did. They came out in a limousine and I had a station wagon. And we took a ghetto blaster and put some music on and this was the first time they’d ever been to the beach.
Luntz: Fantastic. It looks so innocent, you know, goes back to 50 years ago.
Lawrence Schiller, Pat & Richard Nixon, Conceding the Presidential Election, 1960
Luntz: So we’re going to go to politics. We’ll go to Richard Nixon. Was he an interesting study?
Schiller: Yeah, this was an assignment. It’s very interesting. Paris Match calls me, “We want you to photograph the next president of the United States. We’ll give you four months on this assignment. Travel with Nixon all around California. Wherever he’s campaigning in the east, and every place, Ocotillo Lodge in Palm Springs this, that, and everything else.” And, in their minds, he’s the next president of the United States, Richard Nixon. And of course, comes election night in 1960, at the Ambassador Hotel. I’m up in his suite on the sixth or seventh floor in the hallway and coming down. At three o’clock in the morning, it’s obvious that, not in the electoral votes, but in the popular votes that JFK is ahead. And so nobody knows what Nixon is really going to do. And at three o’clock in the morning, he makes this speech, in which he concedes the presidency, even though he hasn’t lost the electoral votes at that point. And the tear is starting to drop from Pat’s eye. At the National Press Photographers Awards, this became Picture of the Year. It’s photojournalism, you know. It’s one frame with 180 millimeter sonar lens that Davis Douglas Duncan gave me as a gift when I was younger, on a Nikon F3.
Lawrence Schiller, Richard Nixon, California, 1962, Archival Pigment Photograph
Schiller: Two years later, he’s running for Governor against Pat Brown. And he’s got a whole different Nixon. Now he goes with his coat off, he’s out there preaching.
Luntz: You shot it low angle, so you’re looking up to him as people are looking to him for inspiration. So he is a politician in training.
Schiller: Yeah. How do you tell the story? And you know, he had become a preacher. And so that’s what I did. And the picture was widely used.
Little did I know that in 62, when this was done, I photographed Marilyn Monroe, and then the tragedy that would come about a year afterwards.
Lee Harvey Oswald
Lawrence Schiller, Lee Harvey Oswald, Dallas, November 22, 1963, Archival Pigment Photograph
Luntz: So you are very versatile. This is a special moment. If you weren’t here to see this, to be close up, there’s not a whole lot of pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald and that kind of history.
Schiller: At this point, in 63, I was under contract to the Saturday Evening Post. They had hired away from Life Magazine, Hank Walker who had become picture editor, they hired away John Zimmerman, John Bryson, a bunch of us, five photographers. They were trying to make the Saturday Evening Post into a picture magazine.
I was the California photographer and I was in the shower on November 22 in the morning and and my wife comes in and screams at me, “On the radio JFK’s just been shot.” I didn’t have to hear anything more. I opened the shower door, didn’t even dry myself off, grabbed some clothes, threw them in a suitcase, put my cameras there, went to LAX airport, and of course, the whole press was all there. Everybody was there, because you didn’t realize at that moment that Los Angeles was the closest news media, by air, to Dallas, Texas. You see, Chicago was further away, New York, there was nothing in Atlanta and San Francisco.
Luntz: And there was very little press in Dallas? Dallas didn’t have?
Schiller: Very, very little national press, local press, yes.
Luntz: So how long did it take you to get to Dallas?
Schiller: Well, what happened was a PR guy at the airlines canceled the flight that had passengers on it and gave it to the media. The flight time was less than three hours, there was only two hours and some odd 40 minutes. We were off the ground within 15 minutes. On the plane, the pilot said that JFK, they just announced that, that he has passed, that he died.
So when we land in Dallas, the short and long of it is everybody rushes to the police station, I included. And believe it or not, Oswald had just been captured for the Tippit murder but had not been brought to the police station. You have to remember, we’re there within four hours of the time Kennedy was shot. The picture [above] of Oswald, and there’s actually movie footage of me shooting this picture. That’s just after he comes out of the elevator for the first time. And again, I’m always shooting natural light, understanding, wanting a little back light, I would move around using my wide angle lens, trying to get the presence of the man, you know, try to get the feel of him. And this is one of the pictures.
Schiller: This picture is taken much later, the next morning. And again, there’s some movie footage that shows me where all the media is on one side and how do you tell a story in one picture? I’m moving around with my Leica again with the 21 or the 28. And, to me, this is how you tell a story of the whole media being shown the gun rather than just a picture of the gun like everybody is shooting.
Lawrence Schiller, Marina and Margaret Oswald, Dallas Police Station, November 23, 1963, Archival Pigment Photograph
Schiller: And then of course, Marina with Margaret is brought in the next day with the baby. I started to build, over the coming days and months, a relationship with Marina and Margaret. And eventually I would work with her for years. She used to bring her kids to vacation with my kids, write me letters and eventually Norman Mailer and I would do a book, which Marina helped arrange in the Soviet Union.
Luntz: So Robert Kennedy?
Schiller: Well, Robert Kennedy, my relationship comes about with him, again, I’m given an assignment. And I knew Ed Guthman from the Justice Department, who was Bobby Kennedy’s aide when JFK was killed. And so I go on the road, not knowing it’s going to be the last six months of his life, in 68. I travel with him throughout the United States.
You know, Bobby Kennedy was, I’m going to use a word that’s in all of our vocabularies, he was really a mench. He was just a wonderful guy. I he was tired, he wouldn’t make the plane wait for him so he could have an extra hours sleep, he’d get on the floor of the plane as he’s here sleeping with the cocker spaniel there.
Schiller:I remember saying to Ed Guthman, “Ed, people are coming out when we’re going from city by city in the motorcade. I’ve got to get a long lens shot showing how people are just coming out from their farm houses.” And he says, “All right, we’ll hold up the motorcade and you can go to the top of the hill next time.” And that’s what he did. They were so cooperative.
Lawrence Schiller, Robert Kennedy, Last Campaign, April, 1968, Archival Pigment Photograph
Schiller: Bobby Kennedy is looking out of the plane just before he’s coming into Los Angeles where his life will be cut short. But I’m going to tell you a little quick Bobby Kennedy story just to show you how we he was. We were leaving Idaho, I think it was there or Ohio, and we go down the runway, in the charter plane. And the guy pulls back the throttle and comes on, the captain, and says, “Well, we got a problem with a mach switch, we’re going back to replace the switch.” So we go back, we sit for 20 minutes, and we replace, he replaces the switch and the guy says, “Alright, we’re gonna try it.” And by then I’m up photographing Bobby Kennedy a little bit closer, and there are some journalists there. And Bobby looks at us all, and says, “If we don’t make it this time, all of your guys names, you’re on page 40 in small print. I get the headline above the fold.”
Saturday Evening Post Magazine
Luntz: As a photographer, you sort of develop instincts. I think it’s very important that the great photographers from the 40s, from the 50s, from the 60s, from the 70s, even up until now, I think they have to develop a second sense of where to be, when to be, how to be, and I don’t think you can teach it. I think just experience becomes that teacher, and a lot of photographers never get it.
Schiller: But I have to tell you, sports photography taught me it’s not where the action is taking place, but it’s where it’s going to take place. And you have to do that in photography, too.
Luntz: Yeah. And by the time you think about it, and you react, and you plan it, you miss it. So you have to be there. I thought this would be cool. Before we took some questions, because we’re running out of time, these are sort of funky pictures that, I think, they’re in our show now, which is called “Exhale.” And the whole idea of “Exhale” is the idea that people can get back to the act of living, can be outside and can be more spontaneous. They look like three really spontaneous pictures. Can you give us little sort of thumbnail stories for each of them?
Schiller: You know, I’m not a fashion photographer. I wouldn’t know one dress from another dress. But the Saturday Evening Post calls me up one day, Hank Walker, picture editor, and says, “We want you to go shoot a fashion suite, Rosebery bathing suits, and this bathing suit, and that bathing suit. It’s going to be a cover story, I wound up with the cover. So to me, how am I going to shoot fashion? I’m going to put the girls in situations where the situations are interesting, and the clothes were secondary, but yet it’s a fashion story. So the one in the center is really interesting. In San Diego, where I used to live, I was living in LA at that time, there was a naval amphibious base and they would teach sailors, underwater demolition guys, ditch and recovery. And they had this big, big tube, maybe 20 feet deep with windows on it so the instructors could watch. And they would throw the diving gear at the bottom of the tube and they’d say to a sailor who was being trained, “Now jump in there, go down 30 feet in the water and get your gear, put it on and come back up.” And you know, I’d seen that happen. And I said, “Well, why don’t I just put a girl in there and let them look at the girl through the window. So that’s that picture.
Schiller:This is a very famous house on Hancock Park in Los Angeles that Neutra, the designer, had designed. The house was all black, the swimming pool was all black and as you can see the the cement around it was black. So I had the makeup girl put white makeup all over the girl and put a black and white bathing suit and put her in a bubble.
Lawrence Schiller, Paradise Cove, Malibu, CA, Saturday Evening Post Magazine, 1963, Archival Pigment Photograph
Schiller: This one is Paradise Cove. If you’re going to do swimming suits, you’re gonna have a swimming pool in it and somebody told me there was a pool near the ocean and that the people had barbecues around the pool. So you know, I kind of re-staged a little bit of a barbecue. A couple strobe lights, wait for the right time so the background is going to be lit naturally. There it is, a couple rolls of film and you have a lot of fun. I wanted the pictures to have fun.
Luntz: They look like that. They look like they’re out of the box, which to me is what makes them interesting, and you can’t figure them out so easily. And they have a kind of kind of a wacky 60’s feel to them, a retro feel to them.
Schiller: Yeah, I’m still not a fashion photographer.
Luntz: You’ve printed this photograph very large for us. We’ve had several clients buy it. It’s a very fun, wacky picture. Now what happened here?
Schiller: Some people think it’s part of my bathing suit story, but it’s not. It was taken either in 58 or 59 at Mission Valley Country Club where there was a bar and they had a big swimming pool outside and somewhere along the line, they reconstructed it so you could see into the swimming pool. And you could see all the guests swimming and children playing. I wanted to do something a little different. So I went out and I got a model. I was doing an ad campaign working for a small ad agency, and this was published in magazines. I came up with the idea to let the girl swim right by the window and the guys at the bar, some looking, some not. And that’s the picture.
Luntz: Were the well dressed guys at the bars actors? Or were they just there?
Schiller: One guy was there, two were hired, and the young lady was from the hotel here, on the right.
Luntz: And where did this run?
Schiller: I can’t remember specifically, but in various magazines all over the place that were very popular. And of course, the Getty Museum, when they did their big show, they ran it very, very big. They did a big show on Southern California.
Luntz: Very cool.
Lawrence Schiller, Palm Desert, No. 1, 1963, Archival Pigment Photograph
Schiller: This is part of the bathing suit story that I did. You know, how do you do something a little different. The girl in a swimming pool. So I took my Hasselblad and had a little housing made out of plexiglass and went down with my own tank and my rebreather and everything and posed the model, had a couple assistants and girls on the top and so forth. And we shot up. This is from the bottom of the pool shooting up.
Luntz: Now you told me that there was a very special camera at the time. In 1963 there was no cameras except the one that could do this job.
Schiller: Right. Well, what happened was the famous ocean guy, Jacques Cousteau had invented a camera that had been built special for him called the Calypso. And I had photographed him and I asked him if I could use the Calypso and I put that in the housing also. I had the Hasselblad in the housing. This frame is actually made from the Calypso and I shot this with the Calypso even though I shot it with the Hasselblad. And the Calypso, eventually, he licensed to Nikon and it became the Nikonis camera, which was the first real underwater camera that photographers used all over the world.
Luntz: So it’s really being creative and finding a way to do something that nobody else had done?
Schiller: How do you tell a story differently? You know, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And if you win enough times then you get hired.
Luntz: I think a great photographer is oftentimes a great storyteller.
Luntz: From Diana we received, “We recently acquired the photograph that is behind Holden. Could you tell us more about?”
Schiller: Palm Desert and you know, I had to use different girls, in each of the photographs, so these girls don’t really appear in any of the others. It’s a very special photograph. It had never been done before. Oout of this, I wound up shooting water polo underneath from in the water, shooting up with the guys playing polo. And eventually, everybody was making underwater cameras, but this was one of the early ones.
Jacques Cousteau is my inspiration for this. You know, I did learn one other thing from Jacques Cousteau is that he would light all of his pictures underwater. He would bring lights on light stands and put them down and build sets.
Luntz: Because there’s no light down there. Yeah, there’s no light.
Schiller: Yeah, that was Cousteau.
Luntz: Paul, we answered your question that was regarding the Hitchcock photograph. And yes, he’s in Luxembourg. So that’s now in Luxembourg.
Schiller: Thank you very much for collecting the picture. Hitch loved it either, also and I eventually gave Tippi, when she retired, one of them. She had actually never seen it.
And by the way, when it was first published in Paris Match, they ran it in black and white. They didn’t have any color space. It wasn’t until I editioned it that the people saw it in color. Everybody thought it was a black and white picture.
The One Shot that Got Away
Luntz: Alana asked, “What was the one shot that got away that you still think about today?”
Schiller: Well, I think it’s the assignments that I was never given that I still am very, very upset about. I was never given an assignment to go to Vietnam. And it hurts me a lot. You know, Davis Douglas Duncan, and a lot of great photographers went and I would have liked to have gone. So that’s one that got away from me.
And one of my good friends who was a great, great Civil Rights photographer, Steve Shapiro, photographed Civil Rights in and out. I did a book for Taschen with his pictures and James Baldwin. I never really did have a big Civil Rights assignment. So those are the two things that got away.
Luntz: Perfect. I thank you very much. I thank our viewers for listening and looking at the pictures and being a great audience and I thank you for sharing so nicely and so colorfully the stories behind our favorite pictures. Larry, you were a delight to speak to and to let people know the stories behind the pictures which they don’t know until they’re told. So I thank you very much.
Schiller: Thanks for letting me share. Bye bye.
Luntz: Oh you’re very welcome. Everybody, have a good afternoon.