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A Still Life. Willoughby was 27 when he landed his first LIFE cover in 1954. His photos were in print literally every week for the next 20 years. (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)

Photographer Robert Hanley “Bob” Willoughby parlayed his beloved boyhood hobby into a kaleidoscopic career as a maker of indelible images. He was born in 1927 in Los Angeles, Calif., shortly after his parents, Cyril and Antoinette, divorced. Nettie Willoughby raised her son in West Hollywood. Cyril, a doctor, was not much present, but for the boy’s 12th birthday he gave his son a 35mm Argus C-3 rangefinder camera that quickly became a prominent fixture in Bob’s life. A neighbor taught the youth darkroom basics in exchange for babysitting. The sole class at school to hold his interest was art. When he was in junior high, a stroke disabled his mother, who never relented in her support for her son’s photographic ambitions. He converted the home garage on Marvin Avenue into a darkroom functional only at night owing to light leaks. He processed film and made prints to the tune of jazz broadcast by a San Francisco radio station whose AM signal reached southern California after sunset. Upon graduating from Louis Pasteur High in 1946 he apprenticed with a series of Hollywood photographers, earning $5 a week sharpening and expanding his skills. In night classes at USC, he studied under film designers and artists Saul Bass, Slavko Vorkapich, and William Cameron Menzies. He dove into LA’s vibrant music scene, photographing jazz and R&B performers. Dance magazine ran his pictures. He was 22 when his portrait of model Ann Baker graced the cover of the January 1950 US Camera; later that year eclectic label Fantasy Records recruited him to provide LP cover art. In 1951 he signed with Globe Photo, which wrangled assignments from feature and fashion periodicals. To analyze and absorb clients’ unique styles, he haunted used periodicals stores, assembling an archive in which to steep himself in technical and aesthetic nuance. Mixing faith and commerce, he shot for Catholic magazine Jubilee; it would be easier to list the mainstream publications he did not work for than those he did. Under the spell of master magazine photojournalists Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, and Irving Penn, he took on ever more fashion and feature work, at the same time establishing a toehold in and eventually a remarkably strong and creative grip on the arcane and demanding specialty of photographing Hollywood productions as they were being made, recording candid moments and scenes as shot. He first worked on contract with magazines seeking to illustrate stories about actors and coming attractions and eventually came to be relied on by studios for his unobtrusive expertise. To facilitate these efforts, he developed innovative camera brackets and electronically controlled flash systems. His facility at documenting decisive moment upon decisive moment led a commentator to label him “the man who virtually invented the photojournalistic motion-picture still.” In 1957 he visited Ireland for the first time, forging a connection that lasted all his life. Through work he and Audrey Hepburn became long-time friends. At Elizabeth Taylor’s request, he photographed her and Eddie Fisher’s wedding in 1959. Soon after, he met Scottish flight attendant Dorothy Quigley aboard a transcontinental flight she was working. They fell for one another, wed, and raised three sons and a daughter, sometimes traveling and living abroad en famille thanks to Bob’s movie work. Over the decades, he photographed 100-some feature films on sets and at locations around the world. In 1973, he retired. Seeking a pastoral routine away from the high life, the Willoughbys relocated to County Cork, Ireland, where they bought a castle and began a 17-year stay during which Willoughby produced books of verse and photos, including a 2001 memoir. Bob Willoughby was 82 when he died in 2009 in Vence, France. His work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, among many others. Now, with an introduction by son Christopher, Chronicle Books has published a rich and varied survey of his oeuvre titled Bob Willoughby: A Cinematic Life. —Michael Dolan

The Golden Era. Before he became famous for chronicling Hollywood stars, Willoughby photographed jazz greats like Miles Davis, pictured here resting between sets. (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
Audrey Hepburn smiles for Willoughby during a press call on the Warner Bros. set of “My Fair Lady” in 1963. (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
Director Blake Edwards takes great satisfaction in pelting actress Natalie Wood with the first pie in the pie fight scene of “The Great Race.” (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
This 1971 photo of John Wayne, photographed at the Warner Bros. studio during the filming of “The Cowboys,” ran on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1972 with the headline “John Wayne: Memories of a G-rated Cowboy.” (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)

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Bob Willoughby’s first LIFE magazine cover photo in 1954 featured Judy Garland on the set of “A Star is Born.” Here, Willoughby captures Garland in 1962 at the London Palladium during the filming of “I Could Go On Singing.” (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
Chet Baker after a recording session with Gerry Mulligan in Los Angeles in 1953. (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)

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This portfolio is excerpted from the new, comprehensive monograph of Bob Willoughby’s work, Bob Willoughby: A Cinematic Life published by Chronicle Books in November 2022.

Photo of the Bob Willoughby: A Cinematic Life book cover.
Bob Willoughby: A Cinematic Life book cover. (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
Billie Holiday performing at the Tiffany Club in Los Angeles in 1952. (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman on a specially constructed set at Paramount during the filming of “The Graduate” in 1967. (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
Michael Caine on a Universal Studios set for “Gambit” in 1965. (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
Frank Sinatra at the craps tables at Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel in 1960. On an earlier Sinatra film set, “The Man With the Golden Arm” (1955), director Otto Preminger tried to tell Willoughby how to take his photographs. Sinatra was reportedly stunned when the young photographer dared to tell Preminger: “You look after your job and I’ll look after mine.” (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)
Willoughby said he made himself seem invisible by blending in with the movie crew, once he realized they were invisible to the actors. His favorite muse was Audrey Hepburn, but Willoughby shot several iconic photos of Hollywood’s other elite, such as this one of Marilyn Monroe in 1960 on the set of “Let’s Make Love.” (© The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive)

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