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© David S. Shields

Photographers for Ziegfeld #4: White Studio_david  Jun 16, '09 11:03 AM
by david for group historicalziegfeldgroup #088

Because of the problems of illuminating the vast interior spaces of theaters, theatrical production photography was a costly and specialized art, with very few practitioners until the rise of high intensity electrical lighting in the 1920s. Of the few studios that pursued this line of work, Luther S. White's 'White Studio, NY' was the most entrepreneurial from 1905 to 1930.

Operating a mobile unit and a portrait studio, White Studio was the first choice camera team when Ziegfeld commenced the Follies in 1907. That year was the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, so Ziegfeld had Captain John Smith and Pocahontas (in the person of Grace LaRue) host the proceedings. Below is White Studio's portrait of the first female lead in any of the Follies.

During the First World War, White hired Edward Thayer Monroe as its chief portraitist, and he quickly established a reputation for his evocative images. Lilyan Tashman, here visualized in "Miss 1917," was the most fashion forward of Ziegfeld's showgirls, inventor of the spit curl and clothes horse extraordinaire before moving to Hollywood and becoming a power there. White repeatedly shot Eddie Cantor over the course of his Broadway career--for Ziegfeld, and for Ziegfeld's rivals. Here he appears in his famous black-face uniform for 1920s' style neo-minstrelsy. Hazel Dawn became the goddess of the Yalies for her ingenue role in "The Pink Lady." Ziegfeld snapped her up for the Century Girl, and had White Studio shoot the friendly, informal "Girl."

George Lucas oversaw the location shooting for White Studio, and displayed his experimental approach to angles in this shot of Kay Laurel striding the famous elevated glass walks of the Midnight Frolic on the Amsterdam Roof. Ziegfeld would continue to hire White throughout his lifetime, and as many images of Ziegfeld performers bear the White Studio logo as bear Alfred Cheney Johnston's backstamp. David S. Shields

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