Friday, February 24, 2017

Piper Laurie

Piper Laurie, Toronto, Sept. 1995

I USED TO WISH I'D BEEN BORN IN A DIFFERENT TIME. About twenty years earlier and I'd have been able to capture the social tumult and style revolution of the '60s; forty years earlier and I might have had a chance to shoot the movie stars and musicians I have watched and listened to since I was a boy - the stars of swing and jazz and the icons of the golden age of the studio system.

By the time I had a camera in my hand and subjects in front of me, most of the stars of my favorite movies and jazz were either inaccessible or dead. I can count the exceptions on one hand; Mickey Rooney was a great star at MGM during its heyday, though my encounter with him was truly odd. Gena Rowlands came to Hollywood when the studio system was waning, though she had the sort of glamour I associated with a real movie star.

Piper Laurie, Toronto, Sept. 1995

Piper Laurie's career began when she was signed by Universal Pictures in 1949, a milky-skinned ingenue who was born Rosetta Jacobs. She didn't get a lot of great roles, and moved to New York City to do stage and TV work, before finally landing a truly great part alongside Paul Newman in The Hustler. For some reason, and despite an Oscar nomination, her career stopped dead after that, and she didn't return to the screen until she was cast in Brian De Palma's Carrie.

I photographed Laurie almost twenty years later; she'd returned to work with a vengeance, doing at least a role every other year, with highlights like Children of a Lesser God and Other People's Money. She even made a film with Dario Argento. Laurie was at the film festival for The Grass Harp, as part of a star-studded cast in a film based on a Truman Capote novel. Ironically, her sister in the film was played by Sissy Spacek, who had been her daughter in Carrie.

Piper Laurie, Toronto, Sept. 1995

Piper Laurie was very matter-of-fact with me during our shoot, which was obviously destined for NOW's cover since I shot a roll of colour. She didn't worry about her best angle or the most flattering light. She did, however, insist on wearing her flowery hat. Once again I draped the hotel curtain and sheers over a floor lamp, but tried to inject some colour by putting a table lamp behind the sheer curtain; the incandescent bulb glowed orange once I corrected the for the cool window light, accentuating Laurie's once-famous pale complexion.

I actually would have loved to have given Piper Laurie the full Hurrell treatment. I was experimenting in my studio with hard spots and hair lights and fresnels, but that required time and patience and access, and I'd never have that with my hotel room shoots. There was no shortage of celebrity when I was shooting in earnest, but not a lot of glamour - that had quietly slipped away years before I took my first photo.

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