According to George Hurrell, when young players were being considered at MGM, they were first sent to the studio portrait gallery to sit for portraits, which served as their initial screen test. Hurrell would make beautiful 11 x 14 or 10 x 13 prints that were sent directly to the studio head. If the studio boss liked what he saw in the photos, then the photos were sent out to the magazines. Depending upon the ‘fan mail’ response, the actor would get a screen test. So, how someone photographed was vital to whether he or she would even be given a cinematic screen test.
Hurrell’s training as a painter, his enhanced understanding of lighting, exposure, composition and contrast, all helped to make his photos “stand out.” Hurrell brought an undeniable style and sophistication to each sitting, whether it was with an established star or a young contract player on the road to fame, or obscurity for that matter. Studio portraits also served as testing grounds for ‘would-be stars’ and still pictures often provided movie executives with an inexpensive screen test for a prospective actor or actress.
Loretta Young once commented, “We thought we were gorgeous because by the time HURRELL finished with you, you were gorgeous.” Still photography was instrumental to the development of stars from the beginning, long before anyone had heard their usually made-up names.