Written by David Friend of Vanity Fair.
The photographs of Phil Stern, intimate chronicler of Hollywood and the jazz scene, convey an ease of access and an insider’s collusion that are virtually unknown in today’s Potemkin-village L.A. Back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, before publicists ruled by fiat and photo op, certain superstars understood that when a charming guy with a camera came to call, the coolest thing to do was just to let him hang out. They recognized the value, and street-cred, that came from a behind-the-scenes photo essay in a glossy picture magazine. And so they often gravitated to straight-shooting Phil Stern, who worked for Life and Look and Colliers. (Indeed, the cover of his new book, Phil Stern: A Life’s Work, from powerHouse, is designed with bold red-and-white graphics in order to approximate the cover of the old, weekly Life.) Studio moguls like Sam Goldwyn and Jack Warner let him into their inner sanctums. So did jazzmen like Art Tatum and Dizzy Gillespie. And supernovae such as Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, and John Wayne.