June 1, 1904: Born in Cincinnati, Ohio at Walnut Hills. His father, Edward, also a native of Cincinnati, worked in the shoe business
1909: Family moves to Chicago to open their own shoe factory.
1920-22: Excels in art classes in high school. Completes applications to Chicago’s Quigley Seminary to become a Catholic priest and also applications to the Chicago Art Institute. He is accepted at both and decides to pursue his art. Studies painting and graphics.
1922-25: Studies at the Chicago Art Institute and Academy of Fine Arts.
1923: Eugene Hutchinson, famous Chicago portrait photographer, asks George Hurrell to join him as an assistant in his studio in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue. This was the beginning of Hurrell’s interest in studio portrait work.
May – June 1925: Meets famous landscaper painter Edgar Alwin Payne at the Chicago Art Institute. Payne was at the school to give a lecture. Upon seeing Hurrell’s surrealistic and plein air paintings, he encourages Hurrell to move to Laguna Beach, which was then a famous arts colony. Hurrell drives cross-country with Payne, arriving in Laguna Beach on his birthday, June 1, 1925. Through the intervention of Payne and his wife, Elsie Payne, Hurrell moves into a vacant but completely furnished hillside shack owned by famed silent film director, Mal St. Clair, and lives rent free in exchange for keeping an eye on the place. Hurrell studies painting with William Wendt, who becomes Hurrell’s mentor and closest friend. Hurrell focuses on painting but also conducts photographic experiments with sunlight.
1925: Photographs Edgar Alwin Payne. Begins photographing various prominent Laguna Beach artists with their paintings for use for publicity and publication. Begins photo documenting the work of his mentor, Edgar Alwin Payne.
December 25, 1925: Hurrell attends Christmas dinner at the home of landscape painter, William Griffith, and there meets another dinner guest, Florence Lowe Barnes for the first time. The two become fast friends.
January 1926: Hurrell becomes ‘one of the regulars’ at the weekend pool parties held at “Dos Rocas,” Florence Barnes’ 40 acre estate on the bluffs of Laguna Beach. Meets her friends, including actors Ramon Novarro, Gigi Parrish, and becomes close friends with Mary Frances Kennedy, who later became the famous writer M.F.K. Fisher. Hurrell officially enters the ‘high society scene.’ Mary Frances and her sister, Anne, become his first photography clients for what he called his social portraits.
1926: Edgar Payne asks Hurrell to contribute his photography talents to a limited edition monograph “Edgar Alwin Payne and His Work” that serves as the catalog for Payne’s solo exhibition at the Stendahl Gallery, Los Angeles, March, 1926. Has dinner for the first time at what quickly becomes Hurrell’s favorite Hollywood restaurant, the Musso & Frank Grill.
1927: Moves to Los Angeles and opens his first photography studio at a live-work artists loft located at 672 S. LaFayette Park Place, Studio 9.
June 1928: Leon Gordon, friend and fellow painter, arranges for Hurrell to meet Edward Steichen and is asked to develop and print some negatives. Steichen sees the results and encourages Hurrell to pursue his photographic career.
August 1928: Takes photo of Florence Barnes for her pilot license application. Also takes some glamorous photos of her.
January 1929: Starts shooting private portfolio for Ramon Novarro, first at Florence Barnes San Marino and Laguna Beach homes, at Novarro’s home on 22nd Street in Los Angeles, and then at Hurrell’s LaFayette Park Place photo studio. In October, Hurrell’s his second Hollywood client is Norma Shearer, on referral from Ramon Novarro.
October 20, 1929: A selection of some of the privately commissioned photos of Ramon Novarro are published in the photogravure section of the Los Angeles Times, entitled “Novarro with Impressions.” The article credits “Photos by Hurrell.”
November 1929: Howard Strickling, head of MGM’s publicity department contacts Hurrell and asks him to come in for an interview at MGM for position as portrait photographer. Hurrell hesitates in following up on the offer.
December 1929: Frances Barnes, now known as Pancho Barnes, strongly encourages Hurrell to go in for the interview at MGM and to accept the job. In order to insure that he will follow-up with Strickling, Pancho flies Hurrell from her home’s private landing strip in Laguna Beach to the MGM meeting in her Travel Air bi-plane, and Hurrell famously wing-walks on her plane on the way up. Hurrell accepts the job.
January 1, 1930. Begins work as head portrait photographer for MGM Studios. First assignment was to shoot starlet Harriet Lake, who later becomes known as Ann Sothern. His first Hollywood star is Lon Chaney. At this time, Hurrell develops his superb talent for entertaining and relaxing the stars with jazz music, acrobatics and other activities during their day-long photo sessions.
March 1930: Shoots nude studies of Gigi Parrish at Pancho Barnes’ home in Laguna Beach.
1932 – 38; leaves MGM on June 15, 1932 after blow-up with Howard Strickling for photographing non-MGM stars on the weekend. In October 1932 opens photographic studio at 8706 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, California. Shoots freelance for all the major studios, including MGM.
March 1935: Travels with Pancho Barnes and columnist Ted Cook to Mexico to shoot a series of photographs. The photography expedition was funded by actress Delores Del Rio, who wanted photographs of her native Mexico.
August 1935: Accepts assignments in New York City and rents temporary studio at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.
January 1936: Hurrell shooting with Edward Weston.
June 1936: Second trip to Mexico with Ted Cook.
July 1936: Starts shooting “Hurrell Girl” for Esquire Magazine.
January 1937: Accepted into camera union, Local 659. Begins writing articles for the International Photographer.
October 1937: Article “Hurrell Hollywood” is published in Pleasure magazine.
1939: As the result of Warner Bros. publicity and his monthly exposure in Esquire magazine, Hurrell becomes a household name. Meets and marries first wife, Katherine Cuddy, who was a beauty contest winner from Seattle (divorce in 1942). Several magazine articles appear featuring stories about George Hurrell and his photography.
1938 – 1940: Closes the Hurrell Photography studio on Sunset Blvd, and accepts an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. as head portrait photographer. Becomes regular contributor to Esquire magazine.
1940 – 42: Resigns at Warner Bros. Studios in October 1940 and in 1941 he completes the build-out of his custom photography studio at 333 Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. Greta Garbo is his landlady. He also starts accepting assignments in New York, leasing studio space for several months at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
January 1942: Cover of U.S. Camera magazine with two articles, one entitled “Glamour by Hurrell,” and the other “Glamour Workshop” featuring his new Rodeo Drive studio.
June 1943: Hurrell’s Rodeo Drive photography studio is featured in The Architectural Forum magazine.
1942-43: Gallery photographer for Columbia Studios. In November 1942, Hurrell is drafted, but with the help of Pancho Barnes, who was close friends with General Hap Arnold, he is assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Force in Culver City, California. He makes training films at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City.
He later becomes staff photographer at the Pentagon.
1943: Discharged from armed services. Returns to civilian life and re-opens Rodeo Drive studio in Beverly Hills in October. He meets and marries his second wife, Phyllis Bounds. She is a niece of Walt Disney. They have three children, Clancy, Victoria and Alexandra.
1946-56: Rents a coach house at 102 Park Avenue, New York City, and maintains a home for his family in Connecticut, and starts commercial work for J. Walter Thompson Agency in advertising. Shoots several advertising accounts using the experimental and immensely expensive tri-color carbro color process, developed and printed by Paul Outerbridge.
1954: Hurrell and second wife, Phyllis, divorce in 1954.
1955: Returns to Beverly Hills and reopens Rodeo Drive studio. Meets and marries his soul mate and third wife, Betty Willis. They have three children, George Jr., Daphne, and Michael.
1958 – 60: Forms partnership with Walt Disney in Hollywood and creates Hurrell Productions. Production company shoots educational films. And TV commercials for Kellog’s, Sunkist, Hunts, Johnson & Johnson and other clients. Also serves as producer, director, and occasionally as cinematographer for television commercials.
1960 – 69: Disbands Hurrell Productions in 1960 and begins work as stills photographer for various TV shows using 35mm format cameras. Shoots for Gunsmoke and the Danny Thomas Show among others.
1965: Photography included in an exhibition, “Glamour Portraits” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
1969 – 76: Freelance stills photographer on various movies including “Planet Of The Apes,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Towering Inferno,” “All the President’s Men.”
1976 – 1980; Semi-retired, but accepts occasional portrait assignments that keep him active. Clients include Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman, Robert Redford.
1976: Work exhibited in “Dreams For Sale” at the Municipal Art Museum, Los Angeles. The book, “The Hurrell Style” is published by the John Day Company.
1980: Hurrell starts to set auction records for vintage photographs from the 1930’s. Hurrell Portfolio I, limited editions, is published. Prints from the edition quickly realize $1,100 – $1,300 at various auction houses. Has one man shows at Merrill Chase Galleries in Chicago; G. Ray Hawkins Gallery in Los Angeles; Heritage Gallery in San Francisco; Sloan Gallery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Featured in “Hollywood Portrait Photographers: 1921 – 1941” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Retrospective at Palm Spring Desert Museum. Hurrells’ work is featured in the book by John Kobal, “The Art Of The Great Hollywood Photographers, 1925 – 1940.”
December 1980; The borough of Manhattan, New York, declares December 5th, 1980 as ‘George Hurrell Day.’
1981: A circa 1930, 9 x 12” print of Ramon Novarro as the “New Orpheus” is auctioned for $9,000 at Christie’s East, N.Y, setting a record price for a portrait by a living photographer. The photograph is accepted into the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York. This 1930 print was made from a copy negative obtained from the vintage 1929 original photo owned by Ramon Novarro, as the vintage camera negative had been accidently destroyed.
January 1981: Friend and fellow photographer Helmut Newton has a brilliant idea which is enthusiastically approved by the Editors of Vogue magazine to invite George Hurrell to photograph the Paris collections for the March edition of Vogue Paris. He accepts and completes shooting 40 pages in black and white and color within the tight 10-day schedule.
1981: Hurrell’s work is featured in the exhibition “The Hollywood Portrait Photographers, 1921 – 1941, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
1981 – 92: Continues freelance portraiture for magazines photographing Farrah Fawcett, Bette Midler, Brooks Shields, John Travolta and other stars of the New Hollywood.
1983: Work exhibited in the show “The Art of the Great Hollywood Photographers” at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1984: Photography is included in the Smithsonian‘s touring exhibition: “The Great Hollywood Portrait Photographers.”
1984: Shoots Joan Collins nude for Playboy magazine.
1986: Photographs David Byrne of the band “Talking Heads” and Harrison Ford for Esquire Magazine. Hired by Capitol Records to shoot the cover art for Paul And Linda McCartney’s album “Press To Play.”
1987: Hurrell’s circa 1930’s photographs appear in the exhibition, “Masters of Starlight’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
1991: “The Book of Stars” by George Hurrell is published by Schirmer Art Books, featuring photographs from 1928 – 1990.
January 1991: Hurrell begins work on the TBS documentary about his life and career, “Legends In Light.”
May 17, 1992: Hurrell passes away shortly after completing his voice-over work, while in his hospital bed at Cedars Sinai Hospital, on the documentary “Legends In Light” from complications from his long-standing problems with bladder cancer. When his doctors delivered the message to him that he had perhaps only a day or two left to live, he replied, “Well, the party is over. Time to go home.” George Hurrell passed away at age 87. Since his death, his works have continued to appreciate in value. Hurrell’s vintage prints from the late 1920’s through the late 1930’s are especially sought after by museums and fine art collectors. In 2009, numerous auction results establish pricing for Hurrell’s large format 10 x 13” and 11 x 14” vintage prints in the $20,000 – $30,000 range.
Acknowledgements: Creating George Hurrell’s timeline relied on source material from interviews with George Hurrell and his children, autobiographical notes and journals that are in the Estate of George Hurrell, as well as information contained in the books “Book of Stars” by George Hurrell, “The Hurrell Style” by Whitney Stine, “Masters of Starlight” by David Fahey and Linda Rich, and “Hurrell’s Hollywood Portraits” by Mark Vieira.