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© David S. Shields

John F. O'Reilly--Important 1930s Theatrical Photographer    May 1, '10 5:25 AM
by David for group historicalziegfeld #304


The 1930s photographers who dominated Broadway--Alfredo Valente, Ben Pinchot, Florence Vandamm, G. M. Kesslere, Hal Phyfe--all were trained on large bellows cameras. There was one great photographer with a different background and a different aesthetic--John F. O'Reilly.

John F. “Jack” O’Reilly, Gray-O’Reilly Studio, 480 Lexington Ave., New York City. Trained as a news photographer for News-Mix in the 1920s, O’Reilly was the first important theatrical photographer to learn his craft on a portable Graflex camera. His journalistic background made the ‘story’ element of an image preeminently important. The other penchant he acquired was an improvisatory eye.

In the early 1930s he partnered with businessman James E. Gray to form Gray-O’Reilly Studio, a diversified image production firm. The studio became, with Alfredo Valente, the house photographers for Stage Magazine in the 1930s. While Valente did neo-classic style portraiture and well composed stage pictures, often in small format, O’Reilly savored odd angled production shots with edgy shadowing. His perpetual striving for impact in an image made him attractive to advertising agencies. By 1940 half of the studio’s business was ad work.

His greatest talent may have been in creating unusual lighting effects, igniting banks of flash bulbs at once, or doing long exposure dark shots. In the later 1940s, with the birth of television, Gray-O’Reilly did some of the earliest commercials. O’Reilly’s skill impressed the early TV executives, and he became one of the more active television film producers, maintaining a career into the early 1970s.  David S. Shields

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  • historicalzg - 1Reply
    ziegfeldgrrl wrote on May 1, '10
    These are wonderful, David! Thanks so much for adding yet another photographer to the site along with your usual great information.
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