Steichen’s shot of Cooper

On the same day I bought that postcard of Richard Avedon’s photo of Cyd Charisse (see the post “Avedon and Sargent” from 15 March), I bought a postcard of this shot of Gary Cooper taken by Edward Steichen. (Charisse and Cooper were neighbors on various dorm room and apartment walls during college and medical school).

Steichen took the picture in 1930, when he was the chief photographer for Vanity Fair magazine. Cooper was 29 at the time and, in this shot, the paragon of masculine beauty (for me, anyway). In 1996, on a visit to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, I was delighted to find a large poster, for the George Eastman House in Rochester, that featured this picture. I bought it and had it professionally matted and framed; Mr. Cooper has greeted visitors in the entryway of my homes ever since.

American actor, Gary Cooper looking into camera wearing a suit and tie

Writing for Smithsonian magazine, Owen Edwards noted, “For the photographers who followed him, Edward Steichen left a creative wake of Mozartean dimensions. There was not much that he didn’t do, and do extraordinarily well. Landscapes, architecture, theater and dance, war photography—all appear in his portfolio.” He directed the film The Fighting Lady, about the naval war in the Pacific, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1945.  And as if all that weren’t accomplishment enough, he was the first director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and created the famous “Family of Man” exhibition in 1955.

Trivia tidbit: Steichen lived on a farm in West Redding, CT, where he bred delphiniums. Among the breeds he hybridized was one called “Carl Sandburg,” in honor of his brother-in-law (and Nobel Prize–winning poet and author). Steichen died in West Redding in 1973.


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