Let’s begin with one of Donald Gordon and his favorite star.
(Hint — She was renowned in her time as the “Mexican spitfire,” and for her affair with Gary Cooper plus her six-year marriage to Johnny Weissmuller.) Check the conclusion of this blog for our mystery woman’s identity.
First, let’s re-introduce our real star. You might well ask, just who exactly is Donald Gordon, and how did we come by his private stash of eye-catching photos?
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. Donald Gordon and John were close friends. (In fact, Gordon in his last years owned the New York City brownstone where John resided.)
Before he died Donald gave John his marvelous cache of photos. These snapshots taken by Donald are the kind often taken at parties, outings and family events of one kind or another. But this was HOLLYWOOD.
These photos 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 many of the shots there is also Donald Gordon.
Donald was a young actor who found himself under contract at Columbia Pictures during World War II. He was a genial, likable actor and stand-in, who actually became friends with most of the people he photographed. They appear to actually have enjoyed being captured by or with Donald. (He was considered a fellow professional, by no means an intrusive autograph seeker.)
As you’ll see on our blog this week, 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 have published these snapshots taken by Donald on a regular basis, sometimes asking you to identify the person posing with him. In most cases that should be pretty easy. But not in all cases. As knowledgeable as you are, we are out to stump you.
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 yet become the national obsession it is today. There were no paparazzi shots as such (by the way, which film inspired that descriptive term?). 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.
ANSWER: Our mystery woman is the spirited Mexican-born actress Lupe Velez, whose tempestuous life ended at the age of 36 in suicide in 1944.