Her hair radiates light.
The darkish eyes suggest mystery.
And the slightly parted lips are a promise of untold wonders.
The luminescent mystery of Grace Kelly’s beauty takes center stage in the pages of The Observer newspaper of London today, as the newspaper focuses on a new retrospective of old Hollywood glamour at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The photos come from the collection of John Kobal, an Austrian-born, Canadian-bred collector who, in 1950, began amassing “signed” photographs of Classic Hollywood’s most famous stars, The Observer’s Laura Cumming writes.
“And in one of the most famous of the 90 or so images selected for this exhibition, Eugene Robert Richee summarises Louise Brooks as nothing but a glowing head and hands, luminous against a pitch-black ground, an immense string of pearls looped between them like fairground illuminations, as if Brooks was the source of the light,” Cumming writes.
Both the story and the retrospective highlight the fanatical expertise of the old studio system had when it came to managing the images of their most bankable stars. In an age before TMZ or Entertainment Tonight, these carefully constructed photographs often constituted the only contact between star and audience.
They are also a stark reminder of how unlikely a sight these photos would be among today’s stars, who, when they’re not being photographed constantly for the insatiable supermarket tabs, are Twitpic-ing their own self-portraits to legions of adoring fans.
It’d be hard to imagine Audrey Hepburn doing the same — even if the same technology were available to her. Old Hollywood, it seemed, was about preserving mystery. Today’s stars want to be just like us — only with much, much more money and the occasional wardrobe malfunction.
“How remote they seem, these demigods in their sealed world of shadow and spotlight, impossible to reconstitute in one’s mind as actual people,” Cumming notes. “What colour were their eyes, what living space did they occupy? Monochrome plays its part here, and the curious body language of the silent movie era, but above all the creativity of the photographers themselves.”
Sometimes I think I’d take a little of this mystery over the intimate anatomical knowledge we seem to have of most of today’s stars.