I love the glamour photography of Hollywood Star Maker George Hurrell. The last thing my son’s high school yearbook photographer wanted to see at Lock’s portrait appointment was my copy of “Hurrell: The Kobal Collection.” Thumbing through the iconic black and white high-contrast Hollywood images of Garbo, Brando, Dietrich, Bogart and Hayworth, I asked this overworked photographer to make my son’s portrait “just like a Hurrell.” Boyd Anderson, the photographer, obliged me and aimed his lights upward, inviting Hurrell-like modeling of Lock’s face; of course, he stopped short of using Hurrell’s trademark negative retouching, although, believe me, I asked for it. I am a demanding art-hound mom, indeed!
The great Hollywood photographer George Hurrell (1904-92), who trained as a painter, found photography by accident when forced to shoot his paintings for his portfolio. Hurrell became one of the greatest portrait photographers of the Screen’s Golden Age.
P.W. from Santa Barbara has a Hurrell portrait of Hollywood producer Hal Wallis (of Casablanca and Maltese Falcon fame), shot with Wallis’ silent era actress wife, Louise Fazenda. The couple had one son who later maintained a house in Santa Barbara, the late Brent Wallis, who headed the Wallis Foundation (est. 1959; a donor to California State University and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.) Brent, according to P.W., let his dad’s secretary keep his dad’s ephemera. His dad’s secretary was P.W.’s aunt, for 35 years acting as executive secretary to Hal Wallis.
What is the value of this portrait? It is not a portrait of a star, yet is a masterful example of Hurrell’s talents, a portrait of a phenomenally successful independent Hollywood producer and wife. Wallis’ films garnered more than 30-Academy Awards.
Wallis, according to his 1986 obituary in The New York Times, made everything from gangster movies in the 30’s to costume dramas such as Becket (1964) and Anne of a Thousand Days (1969) to G I Blues with Elvis Presley and Visit to a Small Planet with Jerry Lewis. His varied lifelong career created many stars: Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Montgomery Clift and James Cagney, says the “Times,” which also quotes that his favorite film was Casablanca. I turned to the fansite for Casablanca to gauge the market for such a photo of this film’s producer. This is indeed a cross-collectible, having market appeal to both Hurrell fans and Casablanca fans, or, for that matter, any of the films Wallis made.
P.W. should post a photo of her portrait on the fansite with the following comparable sales for my valuation of $1000. Swann Galleries of NY (a good place to sell prints and photographs) sold a Hurrell signed, poorly mounted Bette Davis portrait, in 2011, for $1320, with Hurrell’s signature. P.W.’s photo just bears Hurrell’s imprinted blind stamp (embossed name in a certain calligraphic style). Swann also sold a Joan Crawford portrait with Crawford’s signature and Hurrell’s blind stamp in 2011 for $1440, over the auction estimate of $500-750. Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas (a great house for celebrity memorabilia) sold a 1930 (Hurrell’s first year as head of MGM portraits) Crawford portrait, blind stamped, for $6572 in 2006 (but it is Crawford!) and another 1930’s blind stamped Crawford portrait for $5078. Yet some of the lesser stars, such as Hurrell’s Dorothy Lamour, sold for $603 at Ivey-Selkirk, MO in 2003. By these results, we see the Hurrell portraits are rare in the market, yet have a “wide valuation range.” Start at $1000 for this, P.W. Target the sites on which you offer to sell it; DO NOT use a general site such as eBay.
As I knew when I was hounding my son’s high school yearbook photographer, Hurrell championed the silver gelatin art print, which is a black and white process based on the light sensitivity of silver particles on light sensitive paper. What he produced in his darkroom was the result of small particles of silver bound in a layer of gelatin. The Kobal Collection, in NYC, established by passionate collector John Kobal in the 1950’s of Hollywood stills, portraits and posters, holds the greatest known archive. I note with interest our own Christopher Lee’s images featured this month on their site. P.W. would do well to contact these folks at the Kobal Collection to see if they are buying.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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