Vintage photo exhibit explores the enduring legacies of Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra
By Christina Campodonico
Icons never go out of style, and among leading ladies Audrey Hepburn was as captivating as they come.
Even playing opposite Hollywood heartthrobs like Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck or Fred Astaire, she was more than a match for all her leading men.
In a new exhibit of vintage photographs in Santa Monica, Hepburn stars alongside none other than Frank Sinatra. Born on Dec. 12, 1915, Ol’ Blue Eyes’ centennial birthday is currently being celebrated across L.A. with movie marathons, panels and a concurrent exhibition at the Grammy Museum.
Hepburn’s natural grace and effortless elegance play well opposite Sinatra’s impeccable style and cocksure swagger in “Frank Sinatra and Audrey Hepburn: A Life in Pictures,” a collection of portraits on display through February at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Bergamot Station Arts Center.
While it may only take a few keystrokes to pull up a picture of Sinatra or Hepburn online, you probably haven’t seen them like this.
The exhibition of 70 photographs is largely comprised of rarely seen prints by the likes of “Hollywood at Home” photographer Sid Avery, midcentury portraiture luminary Yousuf Karsh, golden-age Look and Life magazine staffer Douglas Kirkland, jazz photography legend Herman Leonard, renowned 1960s fashion and celebrity photographer Terry O’Neill, documentary photojournalist Dennis Stock and dynamic English portraiture artist Norman Parkinson.
In fact, some are unique prints or have been developed from original negatives for the first time.
Gallerist Peter Fetterman spent a year adding onto his existing collection of Hepburn and Sinatra images, visiting the archives of Life, Time, the Academy of Motion Pictures and Capitol Records as well as working with the estates of represented photographers to “unearth gems” for the show.
“I’ve always had a lot of great Audrey Hepburn and Sinatra images, and then once I decided to do the show I went on a big hunt,” says Fetterman, who first became fascinated with the icons as a child growing up in a poor London tenement.
Seeing Audrey Hepburn films at the cinema and listening to Sinatra on the radio were an escape for Fetterman, inspiring a passion for music and movies that eventually brought him to Los Angeles. He worked as a film producer before changing careers and opening up one of the first galleries in Bergamot Station.
Though no longer in the business of making films, Fetterman sees the show as a celebration of his love for music and movies as well as an extension of his desire to uncover and curate great photography.
“The great thing about curating exhibitions is that you find diamonds no one else has seen and you bring them to the world,” Fetterman says.
In addition to combing personal and publication archives, Fetterman worked with London’s National Portrait Gallery Senior Special Photography Advisor Terence Pepper to loan a Dennis Stock photograph of Audrey Hepburn to the museum’s recently closed exhibition on the actress.
Likewise, you don’t have to go back in time or across the pond to view some of those National Portrait Gallery exhibit treasures. Several images from that exhibit overlap with Fetterman’s.
Others come courtesy of the Sinatra family archive.
“The Sinatra family, they were very gracious. They helped us with the Capitol Records archive and they were sitting on some amazing images that had very rarely been shown, if at all,” says Fetterman. “This is kind of like a coming out party for a lot of great, great unknown Sinatra and Hepburn images.”
Even an aficionado like Sinatra expert, tribute performer and KJazz “Sundays with Sinatra” host Jerry Sharell was surprised by Fetterman’s finds.
“Some fractured me,” says Sharell, who performed at the exhibit’s opening reception earlier this month.
One of Sharell’s favorite pieces of memorabilia is a picture of Sinatra wearing a black hat and looking over his shoulder, an image Sharell bought from photographer Milton H. Greene 25 years ago. A copy of that photo also hangs in the show, and Sharell was shocked to see it outside of his own deeply researched collection.
A mugshot of a dazed, 23-year-old Sinatra from 1938 is also particularly eye-catching, in no small part because of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department arrest number hanging around his neck. Young Frank had been charged with seduction — then an actionable offense, according to Fetterman. The charge was later dismissed, according to an F.B.I. report reviewed by The New York Times in 1998.
“Nobody’s perfect,” quips Fetterman, quoting the famous line from “Some Like it Hot.”
That mug shot may not have been the star’s most shining moment, but for those who knew Sinatra personally, seeing the singer depicted outside the spotlight is emotionally resonant.
Amanda Erlinger, Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter and an artist, who supplied some images to Fetterman and recently edited a 400-page, limited-edition book of Sinatra images, was particularly struck by a 1958 Allan Grant photograph of her grandfather living it up at the Copa Room in Vegas. He’s sitting in the front row with Dean Martin gleefully gazing up at kick-line of chorus girls, whose legs are a blur of energetic upward motion.
“There are so many things I love about it, but I think what I love most is that my grandpa is in the audience as a spectator … not on stage. He’s just having fun, enjoying the dancing ladies!” she says.
Juicy tidbits and candid moments from Sinatra’s life cross paths with more posed glamour shots of Hepburn.
The 1955 Norman Parkinson photograph of Hepburn against a cascade of pink flowers — on the cover of this week’s Argonaut 60 years after it was rejected for the cover of Glamour magazine — is simply stunning, and Hepburn’s saucer-size eyes pop off the page in a 1965 black-and-white photograph by Douglas Kirkland.
One of the Hepburn photographs even has a roundabout connection to Santa Monica.
Taken around the time of her Broadway debut in “Gigi,” the black-and-white 1952 photograph shows Hepburn standing atop Rockefeller Center, leaning on a balcony railing. Yet the ingénue does not seem so interested by the Big Apple’s towering skyscrapers; she seems more taken with someone or something just outside the frame and smiles coyly at the mystery object.
Perhaps it’s the photographer, George Douglas. Known as “Speedy George” for his quick turnaround on assignments for Picture Post, Life, Esquire and other magazines, Douglas picked up photography while living in Santa Monica during the 1940s. He started shooting snap shots of sunbathing beauties and acrobats on the beach with a pawnshop Leica camera, and turned pro after selling some of his work to the Los Angeles Times. Later in life, Douglas returned to Santa Monica to run an antiques business.
Though Santa Monica’s sandy shores are thousands of miles away, Douglas manages to capture a ray of sunshine with this image.
Whether candid or carefully posed, each of the photographs featured in Fetterman’s exhibit exudes its subject’s timeless appeal.
That’s the enduring magic that binds Hepburn and Sinatra — they’re all-around class acts who left the world forever wanting more.
“Frank Sinatra and Audrey Hepburn: A Life in Pictures” is on view through Feb. 6 at the Peter Fetterman Gallery inside the Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., A-1, Santa Monica. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays or by appointment. Call (310) 453-6463 or visit peterfetterman.com.