Culture

15 Photographs Of The Biggest Stars In The Golden Years Of Hollywood

For over sixty years the legendary Terry O’Neill has photographed almost every celebrity imaginable. Stars like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, all the James Bonds (before Daniel Craig), and even politicans like Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela all enjoyed working with O’Neill, who had a bedazzling knack of capturing intimate moments of the world’s most mesmerising personalities.

O’Neill was born to Irish immigrants to London in 1938, and became a photographer rather out of luck. He took a job at Heathrow to become an air steward so he could play drums in America, but was assigned to the photography department instead.

His big break was a photograph he captured of a sleeping gentleman in the waiting area of the airport; the man turned out to be Rab Butler, then the home secretary of Britain, and the image was purchased and published in the front page of London’s Sunday Dispatch. He was promptly hired by editors at Fleet Street, and whisked off from Heathrow to the studios of the city.

“I was suddenly being invited onto the film sets of the most beautiful women in the world, from Bardot to Elizabeth Taylor.”

For his first assignment, O’Neill was sent to photograph Laurence Olivier, and after that it was all easy. Within months he was shooting bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones without fear, which set the tone for his relationships with many stars. He was able to quickly establish trust and even friendship with many celebrities, allowing him access to some of Hollywood’s most hallowed names.

Now in his late 70’s, O’Neill doesn’t work much anymore, claiming that today’s stars just aren’t made like they used to be. In a 2014 interview with The Telegraph, O’Neill told them:

“I wouldn’t know how to succeed in today’s world, if I was starting again. I don’t know where I’d get the inspiration. Back then film stars were film stars, they had personalities, the secret to their success was hard work, resilience.”
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“Now it’s 15 minutes of fame. I don’t want to do people in X Factor and Get Me Out of Here. I’ve got no interest in it whatsoever. Everyone would do somebody over today sooner than help them. I don’t know what’s happened to the world.”
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“If Eric Clapton phones up and wants me to photograph him, I’ll do it. And I did Pele at the beginning of this year, and Mandela of course – meeting someone like him, pure goodness – but there’s not many.”

Hollywood’s portraits and their stories

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Brigitte Bardot, 1968. One of O’Neill’s most famous photographs.

On his image of Brigitte Bardot:

‘This was the last frame on a roll of film. I’m waiting and waiting and the wind blew and I just hit it, I thought, “Christ that’s either going to be a winner or I’ve done myself up here” and it turned out to be a winner.’
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Elizabeth Taylor in make-up for A Little Night Music, 1977.

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Raquel Welch, 1968.

On Raquel Welch:

‘She said to me, I’m going to get crucified for wearing that bikini in One Million Years BC, so I went to 20th Century Fox, and I said ‘If you can build me a crucifix, I got this idea for a picture.’ Anyway, we did the photograph, but this was the late Sixties and I got nervous – being a Catholic I kept thinking how everyone’s going to misinterpret this, so I’ve only just released it, about three years ago. I’ve no doubt some people will still object to it but its not meant to be sacrilegious, just to sum up someone’s attitude.’
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Monica Vitti at Pinewood Studios, 1966.

On Monica Vitti:

‘She was a great girl, a really stylish girl. This was on the set of Modesty Blaise, so I wanted to show the producer and the script writer.’
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David Bowie, 1976.

On David Bowie:

‘What the dog is doing here is trying to bite the flash – every time it went off, he jumped. Bowie didn’t turn a bloody hair, he was zonked out at the time, all the time. But he was such a class act.’
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Jean Shrimpton, 1964.

On Jean Shrimpton:

‘People used to say she looked like a doll, so I took her to a doll’s hospital I used to pass on my way to the office. She was the best model I ever photographed, without a living doubt.’
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Jean Shrimpton and Terence Stamp, 1963.

On Jean Shrimpton and Terence Stamp:

‘This was a great Sixties shot. They were the two faces of the decade at the time, so I wanted to shoot them like that; make them jump out. It’s an unusual crop. At the time it was seen as avant garde but it wasn’t of course.’
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Audrey Hepburn, 1967.

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Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, 1975.

‘I rang up Dud who was by then a star – he’d just made Arthur – and I said ‘Listen, I got this idea for picture of Pete and Dud in Hollywood.’…This was taken when Peter Cook was out of his head. Bloody Hollywood. I said, ‘If you don’t go home, you’re going to die, you’re going to kill yourself, Pete’. He was in a terrible state. He was a total wreck.’
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Frank Sinatra, 1968.

On Frank Sinatra:

”This was taken on a film set in Miami, minutes before the start of my 30-year friendship with Frank. When I see it now, it does look a little intimidating – I just didn’t realise at the time what a huge star he was in the US.’
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Joan Collins, 1970.

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Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, 1971.

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Rod Stewart, 1971.

On Rod Stewart:

‘I couldn’t believe it when we went out into his garden and saw that the horse had the same spots as his suit.’
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Rex Harrison during A Flea in her Ear, 1968.

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Faye Dunaway, 1977. Years later, O’Neill and Dunaway were married.

‘Once someone wins an Oscar (Dunaway for best actress), their money goes from a million to 10; they get every script in the world. It’s the start of the next step of their lives, and I wanted to capture that. It was about 6.30 in the morning. The stroke of luck was the newspaper headline about the posthumous Oscar for Peter Finch.’