FEATURE image: Alice Terry by Melbourne Spurr, 1922. Public Domain.
Melbourne Spurr (1888-1964) arrived in Hollywood around 1917 at 28 years old. Spurr first worked at the studio of photographer Fred Hartsook (1876-1930) where he shot portraits of silent film stars.
GLAMOUR PHOTOGRAPHER MELBOURNE SPURR’S CAREER LAUNCHED BY SILENT SCREEN STAR MARY PICKFORD
After Spurr photographed Mary Pickford at the Hartsook studio, Pickford personally helped Spurr launch his career as a Hollywood portrait photographer. Regarding Mary Pickford, Spurr once said, “[she] always comes back to me, so I guess she thinks I’m not a bad photographer.”
By 1916 Mary Pickford (1892-1979) was a big star and had full authority over the films in which she appeared. She was earning a record-breaking $10,000 a week which was a staggering amount of money in the midteens (about $240,000 a week today).
MELBOURNE SPURR BECAME ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR CELEBRITY PHOTOGRAPHERS IN THE WORLD
Pickford’s special personal interest in Spurr’s career was matched or exceeded by the popularity of his photographs her distributed to the public. The film indutrsy and public’s insatiable interest in Spurr’s portraits following his published Mary Pickford shots made Spurr overnight one of the most popular celebrity portrait photographer in Hollywood. By the mid1920’s Melbourne Spurr was one of the most popular celebrity photographers in the world.
Spurr’s sitters through the roaring 20’s included, among many others, Mary Astor, Marion Davies, Pola Negri, Theda Bara, Norma and Constance Talmadge, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, John Barrymore, Lucille Ricksen—and, of course, Alice Terry.
PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH OF ALICE TERRY, FILM ACTRESS AND DIRECTOR
Spurr’s portrait photograph of Alice Terry presents a very close-cropped close-up with piercing, radiant eyes, perfect lips, and rich toning.
Alice Terry (1900-1987) began her career as a film actress and director in the silent film era.
Between 1916 and 1933 Terry appeared in 39 films. She started in Not My Sister in 1916. That same year, Terry made the anti-war film, Civilization. In 1921 she starred as Marguerite Laurier, her most acclaimed role, in prominent Irish director Rex Ingram’s film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Alice Terry and Rex Ingram married that same year.
In 1925, Rex Ingram (1892-1952), was a director on Ben-Hur, an extravaganza production that started in 1923 and became one of the biggest box-office hits of the decade. Working on this film in Italy gave Alice Terry and Rex Ingram the idea to relocate to Nice on the French Riviera and set up their own film studio. In the next years the expatriate actress-director and director made several films for M-G-M on-location in southern Europe and North Africa. Alice Terry made her final film in 1933 in an appearance in Baroud, a film she and Rex Ingram co-directed.
SPURR’S POPULARITY DECLINES AS STUDIO SYSTEM MANDATES IN-HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHERS
With studio consolidation and competition becoming more intense, major movie studios mandated that their stars be photographed only by studio photographers. So was inaugurated the age of motion picture inhouse operators heralding the legendary careers of glamour portrait photographers George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Eugene Robert Richee and others. Since Spurr chose to keep his own studio and not work for a major studio, he began to lose business. It had been for one glorious decade—the 1920’s— that Melbourne Spurr shined in Hollywood.