© David S. Shields
Photographers for Ziegfeld #11: Hal Phyfe_david Jul 5, '09 9:03 PM
by david for group historicalziegfeldgroup #116
Sometime during the mid-1920s Hal Phyfe decided that he was growing less interested in painting covers for magazines and more in photography. During World War 1 he had done aerial photography with an Army flying Unit in France, but his passion was sculpture and painting. Witnessing the extraordinary development of glamour portraiture in the early 1920s changed his mind.
His pedigree was one of the finest of any New Yorker, tracing back to the greatest furniture maker of the Federal period, Duncan Phyfe. His bohemian manner, eccentric dress, extraordinary kitchen skills, and wit made him welcome everywhere, and strangely placed him above the rivalries and allegiances that divided Broadway. So every producer courted him, from Morris Gest to David Belasco.
Ziegfeld was not immune to Phyfe's unusual charm, and though Phyfe favored half-length and seated shots, and Ziegfeld whole body portraits, the 'Glorifier of the American Girl' hired the artist on several occasions in the late 1920s and early '30s. Phyfe greatly admired Alfred Cheney Johnston's photographs and photographically quoted ACJ on several occasions. But Phyfe's portraits have their own distinct aura. During these sittings Phyfe's dog (a celebrity in the cafe world of NY) would rest at the foot of the camera, disturbing the shoot only when he disapproved of the music playing on the record in the background. He greatly disliked Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" which Phyfe adored.
When Ira Hill's mental decline caused the fall off of his business as the chief photographer for New York Society, Phyfe installed himself as Hill's successor and became for the remainder of his life (when he wasn't on his semi-annual jaunts to Hollywood to shoot portrait publicity for the studios) a fixture at every ball and charity event in the city. David S. Shields
Authors: david, vlad