20 July 2009

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 18

If the name Ruth Harriet Louise is familiar to aficionados of old movies, it is most likely because hers is the name attached to so many of the great portraits of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's stable of stars during the late 1920s. Roth's photographs displayed (and, indeed in many cases, enhanced) the beauty and glamor of Hollywood's elite. Yet, as a quick glance at the striking self-portrait above will attest, Ruth Harriet Louise (née Ruth Goldstein) was not lacking in the looks department, either, so much so that she was occasionally mistaken for Joan Crawford (Joan, it may be said, owed much of her new found popularity to Ruth, who photographed her more than any other MGM player).

In spite of Ruth's talent for portraiture, however, her career at MGM came to an abrupt and unceremonious end at the end of 1929. Louis B. Mayer and the other studio magnates had taken quite a fancy to Clarence Sinclair Bull, while at the same time Norma Shearer (the undisputed queen of the MGM lot) began to favor George Hurrell. Ruth was ousted, and Hurrell was proclaimed the new head of MGM's department of portrait photography. Thereafter Ruth settled down, exchanging the working life for the family life, having two children with her husband (director Leigh Jason). In one of those great injustices of which the spirits of Hollywood seem to be so fond, Ruth died of complications from childbirth in 1940, not yet even forty years old.

Fortunately, Ruth's kleos lives on, and her portraits are renowned among Hollywood historians and classic film fans alike. The book Ruth Harriet Louise and Hollywood Glamour Photography is an excellent source for both Louise's photography and the details of her tragically short career as Hollywood's first female photographer (the above photo was scanned from my personal copy of the book, in fact).