The photos above, of Alan Ladd and Buster Crabbe, are snapshots taken of the stars by the late Donald Gordon, super fan of the 1940’s.
Hello everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers back with another reminder that Classic Movie Chat is the only site on which you’ll find ORIGINAL, never before seen photographs from Hollywood’s Golden Era taken from private collections.
Hit that line which says “Never Before Seen Photographs” and you’ll be treated to some intimate shots of some of the famous celebrities of their time.
You ask, who was Donald Gordon? (We’ve told you about Donald in past blogs, but much about him is worth repeating here.)
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 a fleeting resemblance to Buster Crabbe, Donald worked as the actor’s stand-in. That’s Donald (on the right) with Buster in the lower photo, and we think the resemblance between them is indeed fleeting. In any case, Crabbe at the time he posed with Donald was often called the poor man’s Johnny Weissmuller.
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 Crabbe 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.
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 Donald took 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.
Note the informality of Donald’s photo of Ladd, pictured with tie well askew (imagine, Hollywood stars back then actually wore ties.) Keep in mind that Donald’s familiar access to the actor occurred when Ladd was on his way to unqualified status as one Hollywood’s biggest Forties stars.
At about the time he was caught by Donald in the above snap, he began a string of movies opposite Veronica Lake (“This Gun For Hire” and most notably, “The Blue Dahlia,” still regarded as a film noir classic). As critic-writer David Thomson puts it, “he was the first American actor to show the killer as a cold angel.” (Ladd looks anything but cold in Donald’s photo, and was actually regarded by costars and coworkers as a pretty nice guy.)
We hope you enjoy Donald’s photos much as we do. They 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.