Imagine having a career where you killed time by palling around with Bob Hope, photographing Marilyn Monroe, enjoying a beverage at Marlon Brando's Hollywood Hills home. Murray Garrett had that career. Until his retirement in 1972, Garrett specialized as a freelance Hollywood photographer, tackling assignments for Life and Look. Along the way, Garrett found himself privy to magical moments millions of America's stargazers could only read about in magazines. Garrett, 74, has compiled 150 of his best black-and-whites for "Hollywood Candid, A Photographer Remembers" (Abrams).
Garrett's story starts out like that of many a Jew of his generation. He grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the son of Russian Jewish parents, and attended Tilden High. But his story took a sharp turn the day the young photog arrived in L.A. to oversee a photo studio. The rest, to paraphrase an old cliché, is visual history.
For decades, Garrett worked as Hope's official photographer, gamely traveling the world. Said Garrett, "He knew from bad times. He knew he was blessed."
Hope leads a roster of comedians filling the "Comics" section of "Hollywood Candid," which features a shot of Lou Costello wearing a Mickey Mouse Club life preserver, being dragged into the Dunes Hotel pool by a showgirl. The picture is priceless yet poignant, considering how the comic lost his only son to a swimming pool accident.
Garrett's book is loaded with starlets such as Natalie Wood, whom the photographer enviably captured at her Sinatra-thrown 21st birthday party. That assignment would prove bittersweet for Garrett, who remembers a banner teasing Wood for her prelegal partying; chilling in light of the alcohol-related circumstances surrounding her 1981 drowning death.
According to Garrett, Humphrey Bogart was gruff but likable, and Frank Sinatra and Yul Brynner were paradoxical personalities - alternately warm and cold. As for Brando, Garrett was warned about what a real S.O.B. the actor could be. When Garrett visited his Benedict Canyon home for Time magazine, Brando, in fact, was very hospitable and gave Garrett some of the best pix of his career. The lighthearted shots capture a post-"The Wild One" Brando in peak physical form, relaxing with his cat and listening to records on his record player (the latter a picture Tommy Tune wanted to buy).
Despite his Hollywood adventures, Garrett's dream gig would have been as official White House photographer. Occasionally, he did sneak a sip of that ambrosia, snapping Truman, Kennedy and Nixon. But with pictures of Liz Taylor in London's National Portrait Gallery, Garrett has done all right as a chronicler of Hollywood's golden years. He held a mirror to a time when Bogey called the shots; when Brando was a fascinating enigma; when Wood's preternatural beauty was still with us. Garrett was there with his Roloflex and a sharp eye. Thanks to him, we were there, too.
Murray Garrett's work will show at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum through Nov. 25. For information, contact the Museum at (323) 465-7900.