Behind the Hollywood Scenes: Bob Willoughby Photography

Frank Sinatra by Bob Willoughby

Frank Sinatra on the set of Can-Can, 1959

The motion picture still photography, that which is usually used for publicity and magazines for the release of a film. The kind that sometimes captures the essence of an entire movie (I’ve seen it) (and am inclined to use for my Style in Film articles instead of the actual movie stills). And even the emotions and thoughts of an actor during the making of his art. Bob Willoughby’s photography did all that. He was, in fact, Hollywood’s first behind the scenes photographer, the first “unit photographer” – hired specifically by movie studios to take on-set promotional “stills”. The one who made the movie stars human. He introduced photojournalism to a previously highly staged field and captured some of the most famous and best actors of the 1950s and 1960s with their guard down (doesn’t this make them even more fascinating in our eyes?), not posing for the camera, at their highs and lows, not only in character for the roles they played. He would roam the set freely, mingle with directors and actors, invent the remote-camera, hide behind the crew, become part of the decor – spontaneous moments look best on film, always, and, in that regard, a good photographer is the one who you don’t even get to see – and granted the public unprecedented, unedited access behind the closed doors of Hollywood. Bob Willoughby (who studied film at the University of South California and design with renowned graphic designer Saul Bass at the Kahn Institute of Art) loved the big screen and those on it, and it just shows that his work stemmed from passion for and understanding of cinema.

Here is a glimpse into the artist’s incredible body of work. On a side note, will you notice the style of every subject matter? They may often be in character, but the style they reflect is real. Different times, different values, different people.
James Dean by Bob Willoughby

James Dean on the set of Rebel without A Cause, 1955

Jean Seberg by Bob Willoughby

Jean Seberg on the set of Bonjour Tristesse, 1957

Katharine Hepburn by Bob Willoughby

Katharine Hepburn on the set of Lion in Winter, Ireland, 1967

Alfred Hitchcock by Bob Willoughby

Alfred Hitchcock, the famous “profile”, on the set of Marnie

Dustin Hoffman by Bob Willoughby

Dustin Hoffman on the set of The Graduate, 1967

Jane Fonda by Bob Willoughby

Jane Fonda on the set of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, 1969

Sydney Pollack wrote in the introduction to Willoughby’s 2003 autobiography: “Sometimes a film-maker gets a look at a photograph taken on his own set and sees the ‘soul’ of his film in one still photograph. It’s rare, but it happens. It happened to me in 1969, the first time I looked at the work of Bob Willoughby during the filming of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?.”
Audrey Hepburn and George Cukor by Bob Willoughby

Audrey Hepburn and director George Cukor on the set of My Fair Lady, 1963

Rock Hudson by Bob Willoughby

Rock Hudson in his dressing room for One Desire, 1954

Anne Bancroft by Bob Willoughby

Anne Bancroft on the set of The Graduate, 1967

William Holden by Bob Willoughby

William Holden on the set of Paris When It Seizles, Paris, 1962

Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich by Bob Willoughby

Orson Welkes and Peter Bogdanovich, Candice Bergman on the set of …, Mexico

Frank Sinatra by Bob Willoughby

Frank Sinatra on the set of Marriage on the Rocks, 1965

Montgomery Clift by Bob Willoughby

Montgomery Clift on the set of Raintree County, 1956

Bogie by Bob Willoughby

Humhrey Bogart portrayed as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, 1953

photo: Bob Willoughby

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