Award-winning photojournalist Phil Stern has donated 95 of his Hollywood photographs and World War II photography to the Veterans Home of California in West Los Angeles in celebration of his 95th birthday. This remarkable and historic collection of some of the most famous images ever taken of Hollywood royalty including James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn and countless Jazz greats such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum and Ella Fitzgerald. He was also the official photographer for John F. Kenney’s Inaugural Ball. Several of those remarkable photos will also be on view.
The curated installation of Stern’s photography will be unveiled for the first time on Saturday September 6th at 12:30 p.m. at the Veterans Home of California in West Los Angeles where Stern currently resides. The famed photographer will be joined by special guest speakers, Director Brett Ratner and Gisele Schmidt from Fahey/Klein Gallery, who will help honor Stern’s remarkable career. Other guests expected to attend include several descendants of the elite fighting unit, Darby’s Rangers who Stern chronicled during his time as a World War II combat photographer in North Africa and Sicily. Stern is one of ten remaining Darby’s Rangers who were immortalized in the 1955 Warner Brother’s film starring James Garner.
“This is an amazing gift to the residents of the Veterans Home of California in West Los Angeles from one of their own,” said Coby Petersen, Deputy Secretary, Veterans Homes of California. “Phil Stern’s 60-year career provides an extraordinary look back at a distinctive time in American cultural history. We are honored to have this magnificent collection grace our walls.”
Although Stern formally retired a number of years back, he recently picked up a digital camera for the first time and began documenting his days with the residents at the Veterans Home. His most recent digital images, which he calls “Shooting from the Hip,” because he is confined to a wheelchair, will be on display during the event.
All of the 95 donated photographs will be displayed throughout the Veterans Home during the celebration and will remain as part of a permanent gallery. Memorabilia from Phil’s personal collection will be on view including his Purple Heart, cameras, correspondence with Frank Sinatra and other entertainers and his various magazine covers. “Johnny Vana and the Big Band Alumni” will be performing during the celebration.
A trailer of “Phil Stern: Eyewitness,” a documentary of his life currently in production will be on view along with two screenings of the 50-minute Italian documentary “Phil Stern: Sicily 1943, The War and The Soul” produced for the 70th anniversary of the Sicily Invasion in 2013.
Phil Stern was born in Philadelphia in 1919 and quickly found the American dream and his calling at the young age of 12 when he received a promotional Kodak box brownie camera.
In 1942, during World War II, Stern enlisted in the U.S. Army and joined “Darby’s Rangers,” a much-heralded fighting unit. Stern spent two years, documenting the brutal battles in North Africa and the invasion of Sicily. After recuperating from wounds received during the Battle of El Guettar, he went on to be a staff photographer for “Stars and Stripes.”
Stern returned to Hollywood and quickly re-established himself with assignments for “Life”, and “Look” and “Colliers”, magazines which were becoming more and more focused on Hollywood personalities. Stern became a trusted source and still cameraman on numerous feature films including “West Side Story,” “Judgment at Nuremburg”, “Guys and Dolls”, and more. During this time he also worked for jazz label legend Norman Granz, photographing album covers for Verve, Pablo and Reprise record labels.
Stern’s access to the greatest legends of the time allowed him to create indelible portraits of some of the most celebrated icons of the 20th century including James Dean, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, John F. Kennedy, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Ray Charles among many others. “Vanity Fair” editor David Friend describes Stern as the “chronicler of cool.” His photo from Sam Goldwyn’s office window of Marilyn Monroe is the only image in existence where you can see evidence of her pregnancy. His whimsical sweater series with James Dean were the result of a nearly fatal ‘meeting’ when Stern’s car narrowly missed Dean’s motorcycle as Dean ran a red light, after which the two became instant friends and shot a series of candid photos together.
In 1993, he released the book “Phil Stern’s Hollywood,” featuring ninety black-and-white photographs showcasing his work from the 1940s through the 1970s. In 2003, he released “Phil Stern: A Life’s Work,” which incorporated his entire body of work, including photographs of the greatest figures and times of the American twentieth century. He was awarded the “Outstanding Achievement in Still Photographs for Motion Pictures” Lucie Award in 2003, the Sony World Photography Legacy Award in 2008 and the Beverly Hills Film Festival Living Legends Award, also in 2008. He has also received several certificates of appreciation from the City of Los Angeles.
In 2013, Stern and his family were the guests of honor at the 70th Anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Sicily in Catania, Italy. The 10-day commemoration included a gallery show of his war photos, parades and an emotional trip back to the beaches of Licata and Gela. The Italians produced a documentary, “Phil Stern: Sicily 1943, The War and the Soul” and a photo book, “Phil Stern: Sicily 1943.