“Our world was a storybook – a romantic fantasy.” – George Hurrell
In the special exhibition, Lights! Camera! Glamour! The Photography of George Hurrell, the Walt Disney Family Museum steps outside of its expected area of concentration and finds itself right where it belongs.
And while the allure of Hurrell’s photographic content may seem diametrically opposed to the work of Walt Disney, both men raised their particular crafts to an unprecedented level, through artistry, innovation and imagination, while communicating nearly opposite worlds of fantasy.
After all, the Scottish origin of the word glamour meant magic, or enchantment.
On display through June 29, the show brings together a selection of rare, vintage prints from George Edward Hurrell (1904–1992), one of the world’s most admired photographers, whose professional career helped define beauty for the motion picture industry and the world at large.
The “Golden Age of Hollywood” was in many ways a reaction to hard times. A movie was a 25-cent exchange for a couple of hours of escape. Not exactly cheap, but a grand bargain. And while the world suffered through the Great Depression the movie industry thrived. Harrell’s work promoted and projected precisely that “idea” of the motion picture industry. Both supported each other by bringing unparalleled elegance to a financially depressed and demoralized public.
Hurrell’s big break was a sitting with actress Norma Shearer, who sought to cast off her good-girl film image. She posed for a series of sensual portraits which convinced her husband, legendary MGM Production Chief Irving Thalberg, that she could play the lead in MGM’s racy new film, The Divorcee (1930) for which she won the Best Actress Academy Award. It brought Hurrell a job as a staff portrait photographer for MGM.
Trained as a painter, he brought a fine art aesthetic to his photographic work. He invented the Boom Light, among other techniques, as a means to “paint” with light. He manipulated negatives with incredible precision. Be it removing numerous freckles from an a make-up free face, or lengthening and thickening eyelashes to a sumptuous state.
Hurrell married Walt Disney’s niece, Phyllis Bounds, and they had three children. In the 1950s, the family founded Hurrell Productions, a television production studio located on The Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank. The companies were wholly separate, but it did allow a “sharing” of animators and staff for the creation of animated television commercials. Walt’s daughter, Sharon, was employed as the assistant to her cousin, Phyllis Hurrell, and was personally delivered each morning to the door of the Hurrell Productions offices by her father.
The Walt Disney Family Museum is located at 104 Montgomery St. in the Presidio of San Francisco.