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HERBERT MITCHELL: "The Photographer of Celebrities"    Feb 19, '10 3:50 PM
by David for group historicalziegfeld #224

HERBERT MITCHELL—1930s Theatre Photographer Ballyhoos his Life Story

[This 2 page prospectus was written sometime in the 1950s, but the autobiography was never undertaken. His son Howard R. Mitchell is now writing a memoir. Mitchell, famous for his headshots during the 1930s, was a famous bon vivant in New York, and recreated his career as an electronics broker during World War 2. I’ve supplied his biography on my Broadway Photographs site, but it is always interesting to see what the subject is fantasizing about his life. I’ve supplied some of the rarely seen caricatures from early in Mitchell’s career. The animation apparently does not survive. And, of course, some characteristic pix from a man who more than any other defined what a celebrity headshot should look like during the Great Depression.]

This biography chronicles the colorful saga of Herbert Mitchell, his life and accomplishments spanning more than half a century of America’s most exciting period of growth and how he grew with it. At his height his famous Mitchell Studio on Broadway in New York was a rendezvous for all the famous names of stage, screen and radio. Mitchell was known as The Photographer of Celebrities and through his doors passed the most beautiful and talented people in the world. Ziegfeld Girls . . . Earl Carrols Girls . . . Shubert’s beauties . . . George White . . . N. T. G. . . Hollywood’s greatest etc. All loved him for his artistic talent, charm, wit and reputation as a great lover. Mitchell’s association with many of the biggest names in show biz and industry will be written as he lived it, intimate details and never before revealed facts about some of the most exciting people and times will fill page after page. His great degree of candor coupled with his unique collection of glamour photographs, never published before, will titillate an already aroused public who are buying many celebrity memoirs that purport to tell all.

Mitchell was born in 1898 in a small Polish city where as a child he still vividly recalls the tyranny of the Russian Czars and the massacre of Jews which forced his family to flee to the New World. As a teenager growing up in New Jersey he was known as the Plish Artist and had to create his first oil paintings on old oil cloth left over from house painters. He developed his skills to become ‘The Boy Cartoonist’ and free lance artist for the Hudson Dispatch newspapers and B. F. Keith theatres where he had his first contact with the world of show business and started his first career sketching the great Vaudeville acts that appeared on stage. Mitchell’s reminiscences continue into early manhood as a pioneering cartoonist and animator at the fabled Palace Theatre in N.Y. Here he acquired his fabulous collection of caricatures of the greatest Vaudeville acts of the day. His drawings are unique and one of a kind originals not seen by the public for many decades. His artistic rise through the Broadway Show Biz world of the roaring twenties and thirties to become the acclaimed “Photographer of Celebrities” will make fascinating reading. The book will be sprinkled with never before published photos and facts about such stars as Bob Hope, Eddy Cantor, Jean Harlow, Jimmy Durante, Sophie Tucker, Dorothy Lamour and hundreds more.

He was a close friend of Floyd Brown millionaire director of Bethlehem Engineering who built 1560 Broadway next door to the Palace Theatre. One of the most pretigious office buildings of its time, Brown built a $2,000,000 penthouse on the roof and lived there as a bachelor playboy. Here Brown and Mitchell played host and entertained all the leading luminaries of the day. Mitchell’s parties were legendary along the Great White Way and hundreds of colorful celebrities from all walks of life were his friends. The quest lists included bankers and industrialists as well as show people . . . playwrights . . . producers . . . from Otto Kahn, Bernard Baruch and Howard Hutches to Billy Rose, George S. Kaufman, Walter Winchell, Ed Sullivan and Oscar Hammerstein to name a few.

The details of Mitchell’s fascinating transformation from successful entrepreneur to dynamic business man started with the second World War in 1941. He sacrificed all the glamour of his profession to help in the war effort the only way he could . . . . as a business man and Divertisement Consultant. He became responsible for important government contracts to private industry which became a key part in helping to star the fledgling electronics industry in the U.S.A. which in turn eventually led us on the road to the Space Age, man’s greatest adventure! Mitchell then became a finder and deal maker who over the years has been involved in some of the country’s largest corporate mergers and acquisitions. His eventual involvement in massive litigation and lengthy legal entanglements have made history in the law journals of a half dozen states and could fill many interesting chapters.

Mitchell’s list of innovative ideas throughout the years reads like a fairy tale and include amongst many, some of the following. He was responsible for . . . . and never credited with the development of . . .
Animated cartoons before Walt Disney
Theatre restaurants before Billy Rose
Celebrity fashion photography with Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers and others before Harpers Bazaar
Innovated celebrity endorsements of commercial products personally photographing the likes of Jack Benny and George Jesell wearing Adam Hats
Was personally responsible for the singing debut of Dorothy Lamour at the renowned Stork Club in N.Y.
Promoted the first Cuban Rumba music in the U.S.A. as a new dance fad and was personally responsible for the American debut of Xavier Cugat at the St. Regis Roof in NY

Mitchell’s expertise as a memoirist is unexcelled as he reminisces about a life long association with theatrical greats and captains of industry. He has lived this book and reveals the intimate truths about famous people . . . . the sort of truth in fashion today that were formerly stowed in the closet or swept under the rug.

His revelations are all true as he was there and all facts are verified by his photos, press clippings and documents. He has the only complete collection of unpublished cartoons and caricatures of the most famous vaudeville performers and stars that appeared at the Palace Theatre. His collection of Celebrity Portraits taken in his famous B’way studio are unique, invaluable and like himself . . . one of a kind.

[This blurb typified the style of ballyhoo that prevailed in the theatrical PR world of the immediate pre-WW2 era, even thoug written in the 1950s. It is probably not worth reminding readers that Winsor McCay was making big Vaudeville money showing cartoons in NY even before Mitchell was the Boy Cartoonist; or that restaurants and bars were common features of 19th century Vaudeville, or the early 20th century rooftop show venues; or that Adolph DeMeyer was filling the Conde Nast magazines with celebrity fashion shots in the 1910s, or that Alfred Cheney Johnston was doing Dobbs Hat Ads with celebs in 1918. Still, one would like to learn details of the Penhouse Parties, and, of course, the camera secrets that made him the premier headshot artist of the 1930s. ] David S. Shields

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  • historicalzg - 1Reply
    ziegfeldgrrl wrote on Feb 24, '10
    Fabulous, thank you so much David! Wonderful story and his photos are just luminous.

    jane :smile:

    orgcha1 wrote on Feb 22, '10
    Great stuff! This will give me some more great material for my "artistic efforts". :^)
    Especially love the Billie Burke!
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