Remembering George Hurrell -- The photographer's legacy included portraits of Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis

Remembering George Hurrell

Hollywood glamour as we know it is largely a figment of one photographer’s remarkable imagination. During the 1930s and ’40s, George Hurrell, who died of cancer on May 17 at 87, pioneered the dramatic style and lighting techniques that transformed ordinary mortals like Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, and Bette Davis into flawless, silver-screen icons.

Hurrell’s Hollywood career began in 1930, when actress Norma Shearer persuaded her then husband, Irving Thalberg, to sign him as a still photographer at MGM. Though he spent most of his career working within the studio system, the relationship was often strained. ”He was quite cantankerous,” says gallery owner David Fahey, who specializes in Hurrell prints. ”Many studio bosses fired him, but they always hired him back, because he was the best.”

”I’m really retired from photography,” Hurrell insisted to Entertainment Weekly last year. ”I just get pulled out when I’m offered something interesting.” Among the projects interesting enough to pull him back behind the lens in recent years was his shot of the Oscar statuette for EW’s 1991 Academy Awards issue, and portraits of Warren Beatty and Annette Bening for the film Bugsy.