Photos by Gene Lester

by Todd Klick on Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Limited Runs has available an exclusive collection of fine art prints by obscure celebrity photographer, Gene Lester in an exhibit called Pin Up: The Gene Lester Collection. These rarely seen pin-up photographs were taken by Lester starting in the 1940s through to the mid 1950s. Los Angeles-based Lester, a 30-year celebrity correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post, was best known for his photographs of film icons like Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, James Stewart, Edward G. Robinson, Betty Davis, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Steve McQueen, Groucho Marx, and many others.

The Pin-Up photos included in the collection were taken for and mostly shown to a photo club that Lester was a member, and as part of a series of calendars that Lester helped produce. The models became known as the Calendar Girls.  Given his stature as the prominent celebrity photographer, many of his model were B-film actresses or young starlets trying to break into the film business.  Included in the Collection are alluring images of Errol Flynn’s last girlfriend, 16-year-old Beverly Aadland, who was dating the legendary actor when he passed away at the age of 50. Also tantalizing viewers of the collection is singer, model and actress Julie London from a calendar shoot taken in the early 1940s.

Lester, who used a variety of devices to make his stars appear sexier, was one of the first press photographers to utilize the smaller 35mm camera that is a mainstay of the camera industry today. “The word in Hollywood was that if Gene Lester photographed you,” said Bob Hope, “those pictures would definitely get published. He was always on call to fan magazines and to the ‘biggies’ like Life and Look and The Saturday Evening Post. I recall seeing him at the Academy Awards, premieres, film locations, private parties, and just about everywhere celebrities would congregate.”

A native of Worcester, Mass, Gene Lester dropped out of his journalism studies at Boston University because of the Depression. His first job was as a singer at a local radio station, and eventually he sang on NBC’s nationwide Capitol Theater Family Hour. Soon after he began photographing his better-known colleagues for Radio Guide magazine, where he earned the nickname “the singing cameraman.” The publication moved Lester to Hollywood, where he later opened his own photography studio. In 1940, he became a West Coast correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post, a position he retained for 30 years. In addition to being the president of the American Society of Camera Collectors, Gene also made short films, and in 1959, produced a CBS television special with Art Linkletter titled, Christmas in the Holy Land. He continued photographing celebrities until his death in 1994.

View the entire collection Pin Up: The Gene Lester Collection

The entire exhibit will be on display at the Pop Art Photo Show at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, September 27-30, 2018

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