Allan Grant: click! the man who brought the stars to life

By Leonard Doyle
Monday 11 February 2008 01:00

Allan Grant, a Life magazine photographer who had the last photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe and captured on film such moments as the first atom bomb tests in the Nevada desert in the early Fifties, has died.

His legacy of iconic images includes pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald's wife, Marina, just hours after the assassination of President John F Kennedy and photographs of the best-actress nominees Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly waiting backstage at the 1955 Academy Awards.

Photographs by Grant, right, ofVE Day in Times Square and the USS Enterprise entering New York Harbour at dawn in 1945 are images with the power still to haunt. He photographed Howard Hughes' memorable 1947 flight in the mammoth Spruce Goose seaplane that lasted less than a minute. He was also known as a spot news photographer and captured the former vice-president Richard Nixon on top of his rented Bel Air house using a hose to keep the flames from a catastrophic wildfire at bay.

Richard "Dick" Stolley, the Los Angeles bureau chief for Life magazine in 1963, described Grant as "very handsome and glamorous, two virtues that made him popular in Hollywood".

During his shoot with Monroe, she was worried about the lights. "She asked me if the light was OK, and I said, 'To tell you the truth, this is the first time I've done a portrait, and I really don't know where the lights should be'". She took that seriously. After her publicist upbraided him saying: "Allan, for God's sake, don't fool with Marilyn that way," he apologised saying: "It's a joke, I'm sorry." Grant's pictures appeared with a profile in Life magazine on 3 August 1962. She died two days later.

From the late Forties throughout the Fifties and Sixties, Grant produced an extraordinary range of work on Hollywood personalities, including Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Gregory Peck, William Holden, Bob Hope and Dean Martin. His best-known Life cover was a photograph of Shirley MacLaine and her daughter, Sachi, taken in February 1959.

His portrait of congressman Joe Martin on election night in 1946 is still considered to be among the finest studies of a US political figure. Like much of his work it was the result of meticulous planning.

Grant's biggest assignment came on 22 November 1963, the day John F Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. Arriving in the afternoon, Grant immediately set off to find Oswald's family and soon discovered his Russian wife, Marina, who spoke little English, along with her two children and Oswald's mother, Marguerite. The family was taken to a hotel in Dallas where Grant took the pictures for their exclusive story.

"God, she was so confused by it all," he later recalled.

Grant was born on 23 October 1919, in New York City. At age 10, he traded a model aeroplane with another boy for his first camera. While still a schoolboy he got a job in a commercial photo lab.

He was soon washing and printing film for noted photographers such as Robert Capa and Alfred Eisenstaedt. He was hired by Life in 1946 where he worked until the late Sixties.

He died on 1 February at his home in Los Angeles, aged 88, although his family only released the news this weekend.

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