The Reagans on VF

cusl03_portraits0810

Photographer Harry Benson, who has taken pictures of every president since Eisenhower, remembers the above photo this way: “When Vanity Fair asked me to photograph President and Mrs. Reagan for a cover story in 1985, I knew they would give us only a short time. As it turned out, they stopped by on their way to a state dinner and stayed exactly six minutes. Before they arrived, a backdrop of white no-seam paper was set up in a small room off the main ballroom, and as they entered, I put on a tape of Frank Sinatra singing ‘Nancy (With the Laughing Face).’ That brought smiles to their faces, and they started dancing. Their aides hadn’t expected all of this—in fact, they would have turned me down had I mentioned the concept beforehand—but once the thing was set in motion, they were afraid to interrupt.”

Click. Nancy kicks up her heels. Click. Print. The cover shot of the First Couple dancing—epitomizing the Hollywood panache that had swept over Washington. Before it came to epitomize Hollywood pop culture and fashion,Vanity Fair symbolized jazz age; its initial run from 1913 was ceased in 1935 after the Great Depression ended the Roaring Twenties. In 1981, Conde Nast revived the magazine but initially it wasn’t hugely successful. The Reagen cover, the start of a mix of politics and haute couture that VF stands for today, helped turn around the fortunes of the then fledgling magazine.

reagan-01

Christy Turlington Smoking

turlingtonbenson94paris

For Christy Turlington’s fortieth birthday, W magazine created this wonderful slideshow, but the above picture by Harry Benson was notably missing.

When this picture was taken at the backstage of a Parisian fashion show in 1994, Turlington was at the peak of her success. Her stress-ravaged face partially hidden behind the smoke does not show her supermodel-dom or million-dollar career, but her body was in the news for the entirety of 1993. That year she became the first celebrity to wear a navel piercing, contributing to its eventual mainstream popularity; she also posed nude for PETA’s anti-fur campaign. Her face–which was representing Chanel and Burberry–received its own share of adoration too: it was used on 120 mannequins by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, causing her to be called the ‘Face of the 20th Century’.

In 1994, after the above photo, she became the face of Salvatore Ferragamo and Oscar de la Renta, but another year would pass before she would quit smoking. A chain smoker who smoked up to a pack of cigarettes a day between the ages of 13 and 26, Christy would finally call it quits in 1995, after being diagnosed with early-stage emphysema and after losing her father to lung cancer. Turlington went on to become one of America’s most recognizable voices against smoking, launching a website SmokingIsUgly.com.

Nixon in Israel

nixonknesset

Richard Nixon disliked Jews and may even have been anti-Semitic. However, in Israel, Nixon is fondly remembered for his role in saving Israel in the dark days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. When Israel had run dangerously low on ammunition during the war, Nixon sent planeload after planeload to resupply the depleted Israeli military stocks. The relations between Nixon and Golda Meir remained strong throughout their administrations.

In June 1974, Nixon visited Prime Minister Rabin–the first visit by an American President to Israel. Under central tapestry which depicts the history of the Israelites from Moses to the Holocaust in the Chagall Hall (drawn by Marc Chagall), the President spoke to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. The picture by Harry Benson shows the president being upstaged and propped simultaneously by Moses who is seemingly preaching the Law to the beleaguered President, who will resign a few months later.

Beatles and Muhammed Ali

claybeatles

“Anyone is gettable,” said Harry Benson. However, even Benson–the chronicler of the rich and the famous–would have to agree that his above picture was a great and unrepeatable moment. Harry Benson accompanied the Beatles on their first world tour in 1964. During this tour, they decided to drop in to a training session with Muhammad Ali, who was training with Drew Bundini Brown for Sonny Liston match.