Still Photographers — Magic in a Magic City (1925) 🇬🇧

Melbourne Spurr and Martha Barclay (1925) |

February 14, 2024

Credit where credit is due is the policy of the general far public in this day of fan intelligence. Motion picture fans are different — ten years ago they ate any kind of soup that was set before them — to-day they are more particular; they even do their share in helping to select their favourite photographers.

by Walter Irwin Moses

But, even the fans do not realise, at times, the big part that photographers play in the lives of the picture stars. An artistic photograph is often responsible for the finding and making of a new film player. Instance Alberta Vaughan, then unknown to pictures, who wanted to enter a contest conducted by a Los Angeles paper. Alberta straightway hied herself to the famous Witzel Studios in Hollywood where she posed for a number of portraits. The contest was searching for the most beautiful figure and the funniest face in the community. Our little heroine posed for a funny face — that was easy — but when it came to posing for her figure, none of the bathing suits fitted tightly enough, and the photographer — always ready to oblige — got a needle and thread and sewed the black velvet bathing suit so that it was a skin-tight fit. Alberta Vaughan won the contest. No one but a master photographer could have produced such effective results, in such a simple manner.

In Hollywood photographers spring into fame overnight. They are, for a time, a fad — and only become recognised as established worth when they prove that their ideas are not limited.

All an ambitious camera artist needs to start him off on the road to fame and fortune is to display two or three portraits of big stars and if he has obtained something of beauty in photographing them, he is made. The fact alone that a star admired his work enough to pose for him, is recommendation, and soon the other stars follow. When the picture trade is established, the photographer expands his business proportionately, and sets his prices. The more famous photographers have been known to charge as much as $350.00 for twelve prints of a single portrait.

“Witzel is perhaps the oldest and best-known photographer in Hollywood; oldest in that he was the first photographer to make portraits of the film people. He went into the business at the age of fifteen with his uncle. Within a short time, Albert Witzel, who was a natural-born artist and who — in his early years — made some of the most artistic photographs of the time, owned a studio of his own. Then he bought another. To-day he owns two of the most beautifully appointed studios in the country, both located in the Magic City, Los Angeles and Hollywood, and since he is no longer active in the business of actually taking the pictures, he has secured the services of Max Autrey, than whom there is not a better camera artist to be found.

The Witzel Studios are still under the managing supervision of Albert W. Witzel, who founded them. Witzel’s brilliant and pleasing personality is largely responsible for drawing — and holding — the patronage of the big people, statesmen, globe trotters and — yes! — even royalty.

While at the Witzel Studios in Hollywood a day or so ago, Witzel showed me several hundred large portraits he took of the stars ten and twelve years ago; all of them charmingly autographed to him. “You know,” he said, “I was the first photographer out here to ‘shoot’ the movie people.

“Why, would you believe it I even had them signed up to a five-year contract, giving me the exclusive right to photograph them. When motion pictures broadened, and became one of the country’s leading industries, of course I broke the contracts voluntarily.” A funny little incident in the life of a successful man that will never be forgotten by him, and proof to the outside world of his business ability.

Max Autrey, who now does the camera work on all Witzel portraits, is a Southerner, hailing from Louisiana. He was placed in charge of the Hollywood studios after he had worked for Witzel but two months.

Sharing honours with Witzel we find Melbourne Spurr who has made some of the most artistic portraits of the film stars ever seen in a fan publication. Spurr, it is generally conceded, has one of the most modernly equipped studios on the West Coast, and his experience with the film folk dates back to the old days when he posed Mary Pickford, one of his first star subjects, for portraits which caused such a furore among other screen celebrities that the photographer was forced to date many appointments as far as two and three months ahead in order to handle them.

Like Witzel, Spurr is a born artist with the camera, he, too. started at the tender age of fifteen, his father being a photographer before him. When he had been in business but a short time, he originated the spotlight so widely used in the taking of portraits at this time.

“I have no set method for taking pictures,” Mr. Spurr answered to the question I asked, “except that I pick a person’s personality lines when I first meet them, and decide then and there how I am going to ‘shoot’ them. For lighting effects I try to blend natural light with artificial as- much as possible, for it is my theory that strong artificial light dissolves the worthwhile lines into one solid light surface of blah!

Melbourne Spurr is, I can truthfully say, one of the most intelligent men I have ever interviewed. It is easy to understand why he takes such beautiful pictures, and it is equally as easy to understand why his subjects pose for him as easily and as beautifully as they do. A man with the personality and winning ways of Melbourne Spurr rides atop the waves of fortune.

Since first planning this article, two weeks ago, I have been striving to find a pigeon-hole in which to place Henry Waxman. Waxman is — it is true — a photographer who came in as a fad; he photographed Evelyn Brent, after trying for some time to obtain her for a sitting, and startled the movie world with the beauty of his finished portraits.

But, Waxman is no longer considered a fad photographer — he is essentially an artist and he no longer strives to prove what he can do. The simple tact that throngs of stars beg for sittings is sufficient proof of his established worth. Two sittings a week is the extent of Waxman’s artistic endeavours — but he handles every angle of his picture making personally.

Frankness is, without a doubt, the keynote of Waxman’s success in Hollywood. He has his good and not-so-good moods, and works only under the former. Stars are not offended if an appointment is broken because “Mr. Waxman does not feel that he can give you the best in him to-day; can’t you come to-morrow instead?” Music plays a big part in the serious drama of picture-making at the Waxman Studio, which is located directly opposite the Warner Brothers’ West Coast Studios. His studio is small — a little haven of rest and quiet for those who are favoured with the services of the genial artist who lives his life of beauty and contentment within its portals. The overhead natural light is used almost exclusively, artificial lights being used for effects only, and these instances arc few and far between.

To those who understand and know Henry Waxman, his studio is one of the spots of real Magic in a Magic City. He believes that an artistic photograph — unlike the belief of nine hundred and ninety-nine photographers out of every thousand — is a camera study, nothing more and surely nothing less — in all its natural elements of beauty and magnetism.

“I do not strive for the etching or painting effects in my work,” he smiles, “nor do I believe in extreme photographic flattery. Every subject has his or her own personality, and in every personality there is beauty. Bring out the beauty of the soul, is my theory, and you have a beautiful picture.” And who is there to disagree with this genius?

Then, there is C. Heighton Monroe, one of the leading commercial photographers, who also does artistic portraits of the stars right in their own homes; a travelling photographer, as it were. Monroe goes to the stars — instead of them coming to him and takes their pictures in their own homes. He has made some beautiful things of Alice Calhoun, Ruth Roland, Pat O’Malley and many, many others.

This photographer was, incidentally, born in a Picture Gallery as they were known in those days, operated by his mother who was a photographer before him. An interesting item in the discussion of Monroe is that his studio turns out upwards of two million fan portraits of the stars each year — a record that runs a close race with Hollywood’s other leading Knights of the Camera.

Perhaps one of the least known among the camera geniuses is Galea, recently of Regent Street, London, who transplanted his artistic endeavours to the land of films. “It is hard — in a way — to get away from foreign methods,” Galea asserts, “but I find that individuality (strange as it may seem at times) is not entirely unwanted among the picture people.

“I do not have the extravagant settings so popular in most of the studios — I take all of my camera studies in a little studio in my home, but the picture people are hunting me out. Last week I photographed Bob Custer, the new F.B.O. star; George O’Hara, Jane Novak, Johnnie Walker, Madge Bellamy, Gloria Grey, Diana Morris and George Merritt, the New York stage star. Each setting was different, and I am really quite proud of the accomplishment.”

Galea once had untold wealth at his command; a mansion in London with servants and servants! He had two or three of the finest studios in the exclusive sections of London, decorated by Guligi, Bouzart and Trebonti; he had scores of workers under him. But he gave it all up to move to Vancouver, where he operated a beautiful studio a short time before coming to Hollywood.

Then Galea bought real estate in Hollywood — a lure that catches many. He bought a big home, which he divided into three apartments, one of which he now occupies, and in which his small studio is situated.

However, Galea has none of that front — or professional appearance that I sometimes think so necessary to one working at his trade. He is just plain Dan or “Lord Galea” to his friends, and to those who do not know him intimately he is a “real fellow; a photographer who lets me pose as I wish!”

But, with all of this, Galea is an artist — and his pictures are rapidly taking their places among the best in the fan magazines of this country and abroad. Few of them, as yet, have been printed with credit to him — i.e. bearing his name as photographer, but they will soon, for the magazines are now writing to him for photos.

J. Anthony Bruno, not a newcomer to the picture people, but new to the fan magazines, has confined his efforts almost entirely to photographing the extras — those who have very little money to spend at “exclusive” photographers.

There was a time, according to none other than the gentleman himself, when Bruno wondered where his next meal was coming from. Folks laughed at him and called him a fool for starving — when his ability with the camera amounted to nothing less than genius. But, no! he would not pose as a master; he could not! Bruno is not unlike Galea in this — and while he does not lack confidence in himself or the so necessary determination, still he has an eye always resting upon those who really need him.

It is said, however, that Bruno will eventually take his place with the other prominents. He has made some beautiful pictures of Douglas Fairbanks, jun. [Douglas Fairbanks Jr.], Charles de Roche and Marian Nixon, that have been used in print far and near. Many are they who consider him a comer, but he alone can decide his future in this. For Bruno, I will say this; he is a chap of sterling qualities who would rather fail at business than take the slightest advantage of the greatest.

He could make a picture worth one or two hundred dollars, but he would never charge that for it; he could easily get the stars to pose for him if he would promise to get their pictures in a magazine (and he could get them in — there is no doubt about that part of it) but he would not use bait of any kind, to get a star in his studio.

When Bruno does become one of the recognised masters among the Hollywood photographers, he will last. That is my prediction for him.

Edwin Bower Hesser Evans (who died a year or so ago, tho’ his studio still lives). Walter Frederick Seeley and a few others whose names may always he found under portraits of the stars in film publications, are established because they have proven, time and again, what they can do with the camera.

Witzel receives the largest number of fan letters addressed care of the Witzel Studios (the fans, presumably, thinking that Witzel’s is a place where movies are made), letters to stars whose addresses the fans do not know, letters to the studios asking for photos they have been unable to obtain from the stars themselves, sometimes enclosing money for them, and most times not.

Tourists, too, bother the leading photographers to the point of tears asking innumerable questions about their favourites: “Is Barbara La Marr as beautiful as her picture; would Mary Pickford have a sweet voice?” and a million more of the same silly nature. I sometimes wonder at the rate of endurance the good nature of these photographers must undergo, how they ever come out of it smiling.

A study of those who make the portraits which are sent to the fans, the men who make artistic photographs for our fan magazines and the artists who record — pictorially — our favourites at their best, is a study of interest to say nothing of the depth of the subject.

After all, this Magic in this Magic City plays a big part — a tremendously big part — in putting the stars across. Yet, how little we seem to realise the importance of such names as those I have mentioned.

Hollywood’s artistic photographers? Their roles are as great as the greatest!

And who can deny that they are the Magic in a Magic City?


“Mary Pickford,” says Melbourne Spurr, “always comes back to me, so I guess she thinks I’m not a bad photographer.”

This is Ruth Roland’s pet picture of herself. Henry Waxman took it.


Right: Bruno’s portrait of Young Doug. [Douglas Fairbanks Jr.]

Below: J. Anthony Bruno, with Martha Barclay, a new screen beauty.

Above: Max Autrey, the “master photographer,” who makes practically all the Witzel portraits now.


This picture, The Slave Driver, is by Galea, and has appeared in hundreds of American publications

An interior view by Witzel (Hollywood).


C. Heighton Monroe, Hollywood’s leading home portrait artist.

One of Elinor Glyn’s favourite portraits (taken by Melbourne Spurr). Elinor’s newest novel, Love’s Blindness, commences in the August “Romance.” [Transcriber’s Note: “Romance” Magazine]

Charles De Roche makes a fine picture always.

Collection: Picturegoer Magazine, August 1925

More about the following photographers:

see also George Hurrell — He Acts While You Pose (1934)