Ron Galella, patron saint of peeping toms, is dead, age 91.
“My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous. It’s being in the right place at the wrong time. That’s why my favorite photographer is Ron Galella,” Andy Warhol once said.
Ron Galella’s career was defined by taking pictures of the famous doing the routine – and his passing earlier this year recalled an earlier era where even the most public of celebrities attempted to achieve some level of privacy. That era was over – replaced by social media and celebrities who have privatized fame, creating their own brands and personas, and wrestling back control from paparazzi such as Ron Galella.
Times were once different. In his day, he was the tormenter of actors and actresses, singers and socialites: Elvis Prestley, Sophia Loren, Bruce Springsteen, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Robert Redford, Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot, Sean Penn and a perennial favorite of his, Jackie Kennedy, the former first lady.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton ran close second. The pair’s relationship – from its inception on set of Cleopatra in 1962 to the infamous kiss on a yacht on the Amalfi Coast that led to a condemnation by the Vatican and eventually to their marriage – was a fodder for tabloid presses, and Galella hounded them relentlessly.
In 1966, Taylor and Burton starred together in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an adaptation of an Edward Albee play, for which Burton was nominated and Taylor won an Oscar. Their marriage was also said to mirror that of the main characters in the movie – highly strung, uneven, teetering on brink of disaster – and they followed up that performance with another adaptation, this time, that of Tennessee Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Taylor in a role written for a much older woman plays an aging, serial-marrying millionaire, and Burton a younger man who turns up on the Mediterranean island to which she has retired.
The film was a dramatic flop. Time magazine called it, “self-indulgent fecklessness of a couple of rich amateurs hamming it up at the country-club”. The next year, 1969, found them in London – Elizabeth Taylor was filming The Only Game in Town with Warren Beatty and Burton Anne of the Thousand Days. Ron Galella remembered:
“They had a yacht in London called the Kalizma named after their three daughters: Kate, Liza, and Maria, moored on the Thames. They went to the yacht on weekends only because they were filming. They stayed at the Dorchester Hotel; I staked them out there as well. Richard was drunk and attempted to sock me but Liz held him back. I became friends with a Portuguese sailor. He told me about a party [on the yacht]. I went to the top floor, shielded the window so they couldn’t see me, and waited. I got great pictures of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in their yacht. One of my favorite shots shows Elizabeth Taylor and Ramone, the yacht steward putting up gauze curtains. The tourist boat never saw them, but I did.”
All along the Thames, tour guides sold tickets to tourists trying to catch a glimpse of the couple. Due to the curtains she put up to block the view, “the tourist boat never saw them, but I did,” Galella proudly recalled. A double spread of the photo above later ran in The National Enquirer.
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