The Columbus Museum recently opened a new exhibit featuring photographs of some of Hollywood’s earliest stars.
The photographs date from the 1920s through the 1950s, and show many recognizable faces like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
Marianne Richter, the director of the Columbus Museum, curated this exhibition. She said she has always admired the early Hollywood era.
“I have been fascinated by Hollywood for most of my life, particularly the era of the ’20s-’50s,” she said. “When I arrived at the museum, I was delighted to discover we had images by some of Hollywood’s leading photographers in the collection.”
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The photographs have a local tie, as well. They were donated in the early 1990s by a man from Columbus named George W. Dudley Jr.
Richter said that Dudley had collected these images over the years in the industry and wanted them to return to the museum of his hometown.
“Dudley was a photographer and watercolorist who founded the American Postcard Co., based in New York,” she said. “He lived in New York where he established the Night of 1,000 Gowns, an annual event that raised fund for AIDS organizations. Dudley died of complications from AIDS in 1993, when he was only 43.”
Just before his death, Dudley donated over 300 works on paper — most of them photographs. Many of the selected works in “We Had Faces” are from Dudley’s collection.
Richter said that the photographs are of stunning quality and illustrate the ways photography has changed.
“With fewer people recognizing all the actors featured in the exhibition compared to even 20 years ago, the artistic qualities of the photographs are more evident,” she said. “These are not simply portraits of movie stars, but strong photographs on their own merits.”
Visitors should know that historically the photographs presented in the exhibit would have all been used for different things depending on when they were taken.
“The photographs in the exhibition that were taken before the 1950s were publicity photographs, shot by photographers who were employed by the major film studios,” Richter said. “Studios such as MGM, Warner Brothers and Paramount sent photographs to newspapers, fan magazines, fan clubs, and directly to fans who wrote in to request a picture of a favorite star. In this period, there were two basic types of studio photographs, portraits and so-called stills that were taken on set.”
Richter said it’s important to know that the exhibit shows a specific transition that took place in Hollywood during this time.
“Several of the images from the 1950s in the exhibition are candid shots taken by photographers who did not work for the studios, with some appearing in Look magazine, and others are more experimental than a photograph taken by a film studio photographer.
“This transition, from studio photographs to candid and more experimental shots, reflects the decline of the Hollywood studio system,” she added. “No longer were the studios meticulously controlling each actor’s public image, both on and off screen.”
“We Had Faces” is presented in compliment to “Close Up: Cinema Along the River,” which is still on display in the Legacy Gallery. No previous knowledge of photography or cinema is required to enjoy these exhibits, but visitors should certainly view both exhibits during the same visit if possible.
“I think that anyone who hasn’t seen photographs from the classic Hollywood period will be amazed by how stunning many of them are,” Richter said. “Since most of the photographs in the exhibition have not been on view for more than 10 years, it was time to exhibit them again.”
“We Had Faces: Stars of Old Hollywood” runs in the Yarbrough Gallery at the Columbus Museum through early March. For more information, visit Columbusmuseum.com or call 706-748-2562.
If you go
What: “We Had Faces: Stars from Old Hollywood”
When: Through March 18; 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.
Where: Yarbrough Gallery, Columbus Museum, 1251 Wynnton Road