Throughout the last few years we have tried to share some never before seen photos from The Donald Gordon Collection.
John Madden, our late pal and fellow classic movie-lover, bequeathed to Joe a veritable treasure trove of informal, impromptu black-and-white photographs that (more than anything we can think of) provide informal, personalized glimpses of Hollywood in its Golden Age.
These photographs – no, make that snapshots – are of the kind that are often taken at parties, outings and family events of one kind or another. But these were not the usual shots of unrecognizable or forgotten relatives at their leisure.
No, the subjects in these snapshots were – and perhaps still are — some of the most recognizable faces on the planet. And, in almost every shot there is Donald Gordon.
You ask, who was Donald Gordon?
Donald was a young actor who found himself under contract at Columbia Pictures during World War II.
The studios in this wartime period were a bit less fussy about male hires, so Donald made the grade although he never quite made it big. He appears to have spent much of his time making friends on and off the studio lot, made easier by the fact that Donald was an outgoing, amiable type, easy to like.
Because he had more than a passing resemblance to one of the stars on the lot, Donald worked as the actor’s stand-in. (Hey, it was a nice living back then.) The star was often called the poor man’s Johnny Weissmuller. He is, of course, Buster Crabbe.
He was an accomplished swimmer (he won gold in the 400-meter free-style swimming event in the 1932 Olympics) when he first came to Hollywood in the early Thirties.
You probably don’t remember him as Tarzan (in “Tarzan The Fearless”) because the studio quickly shuttled him out of the Tarzan series and into various action hero roles including Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and, in the early Forties, Billy the Kid.
As you can see our star was strikingly handsome (weren’t they all back then?) when Donald worked with him, and became his friend. And, if you were a friend, Donald took your picture. Then to seal the deal he had someone else snap a shot of him posing with his famous pal.
As you’ve seen in this blog over the years, the amazing informality – almost intimacy – of Donald with his subjects is a pleasure to behold. No posed studio shots in full makeup, staged with the precision of a Swiss watch. These were shots of some of Hollywood’s best-known personalities in mufti, so to speak, lounging around pools, front lawns, departing restaurants or in actual costume on the set
We hope you enjoy the Donald Gordon Collection as much as we do. The photographs evoke a smaller, more neighborly and much different Hollywood – before television became a mass medium, decades before videos and DVDs, and an eternity away from the internet and the many digital platforms of today.
Celebrityhood hadn’t quite become the national obsession it is today. There were no paparazzi as such (by the way, which film inspired that descriptive term?) and access to the highest-level stars was made possible by being a member of a studio family, as Donald was.
His snapshots reveal a sunnier, more relaxed, more human Hollywood. It’s not too grandiose to suggest that they capture precious moments in time.