Bob Willoughby, whose photographs have transformed the images of Hollywood’s biggest stars, is a true pioneer of 20th century photography. He was the first “outside” photographer hired by the major studios to create photographs for the magazines, and was the link between the filmmakers and major magazines of the time, such as Life and Look.
Born June 30th, 1927 in Los Angeles, his parents were divorced by the time he was born and he was raised by his mother. Bob was given an Argus C-3 camera for his twelfth birthday, providing the catalyst for what would become the key to his future.
After high school, he studied cinema at night at the USC Cinema Department and design with Saul Bass at the Kahn Institute of Art. At the same time he apprenticed with a number of Hollywood photographers; Wallace Seawell, Paul Hesse, and Glenn Embree, gleaning technical and business know-how. His first magazine assignments were for Harper’s Bazaar in the early ’50s when famed art director Alexey Brodovitch became aware of his work.
His career took off in 1954 when Warner Bros. asked him to photograph Judy Garland’s final scene on the set of A Star Is Born. His portrait of the freckle-faced star became his first Life cover. From then on his production was phenomenal. His images were in print literally every week for the next twenty years. As the first “special” he covered the making of over 100 films, including the 1960s movies The Graduate, My Fair Lady, Rosemary’s Baby and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
His body of work, documenting this historic era of filmmaking, is unsurpassed. He captured with wonderful perception the most famous actors and directors of the time on and off the set, in unguarded moments of repose, vulnerability and high drama. He had a unique ability to capture what was essential to each film. Sydney Pollack said in the introduction to Bob’s autobiography: “Sometimes a filmmaker gets a look at a photograph taken on his own set and sees the ‘soul’ of his film in one still photograph. It’s rare, but it happens. It happened to me in 1969, the first time I looked at the work of Bob Willoughby during the filming of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?.”