Backstage Hollywood: The Photographs of Bob Willoughby

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Venture backstage into the golden age of Hollywood in this exhibition that explores the photography of Bob Willoughby. Widely recognized as a pioneer of photography in the 20th century, Willoughby was the first outside photographer invited by studios to take photos on film sets. Willoughby’s career took off in 1954 when Warner Brothers asked him to photograph Judy Garland during the filming of A Star is Born. Life magazine published a feature with over a dozen of Willoughby’s candid photographs of Garland working on set, and a close-up photograph of her appeared on the cover. Willoughby’s career took off, and his photographs became instantly recognizable, featuring naturalistic images of actors and directors in intimate moments of vulnerability.

The magazine Popular Photography has called Willoughby “. . . the man who virtually invented the photojournalistic motion picture still.” Responding to the many logistical challenges of working on film sets, he was a technological innovator, creating the silent blimp for 35mm still cameras so that he could photograph silently on set, capturing intimate moments of the stars. The exhibition features photographs from the sets of seventeen iconic Hollywood films, including Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Marnie, Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, and Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love. Willoughby developed friendships with some of his subjects, including Audrey Hepburn. When speaking of meeting Hepburn, he recalls “She took my hand like… well a princess, and dazzled me with that smile that God designed to melt mortal men’s hearts.”

“Sometimes a filmmaker gets a look at a single photograph taken on his own set and sees the ‘soul’ of his film right there. It’s rare, but it happens, and did so to me in 1969…” – Director, Sydney Pollack

In many ways, Willoughby’s spontaneous approach set the standard of celebrity portraits as we think of them today, casting the candid eye of his camera across the most famous faces to fill them with renewed vitality. Backstage Hollywood will captivate audiences as they learn about the impact this photographer had in developing the genre of celebrity portraiture. This exhibition offers several programming opportunities to engage your local community from film series to photography workshops, allowing for all ages to find a way to connect to these dynamic images.

“I was there to make the women look as beautiful, the men as handsome and the movies as interesting as possible,”  ­– Bob Willoughby

Bob Willoughby was awarded the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Still Photography in New York in 2004. His photographs are in the permanent collections of The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; The National Portrait Gallery, London; The National Museum of Photography, Bradford, UK; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; The Museum of Modern Art, Film Department, New York; The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Gallery Collection, London; Théâtre de la Photographie et de l’Image, Nice; and Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium.

While Willoughby is most famous as the great chronicler of Hollywood, before he began covering film production he had already made an astonishing series of photographs of Jazz musicians, this work is featured in our companion exhibition, Shutter and Sound. Additional printable didactics are available to venues who plan to book and present both exhibits in tandem for a larger Bob Willoughby exhibit.

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Tour Schedule

Backstage Hollywood is touring April 2023 through March 2028. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

Exhibition Details

  • Content

    Ninety-two framed photographs by Bob Willoughby, object panels, and wall panels.

  • Curated By

    Mid-America Arts Alliance with Elliott Halls Gallery

  • Organized By

    Mid-America Arts Alliance with Elliott Halls Gallery

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee

    $7,300

  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $4,380

  • Duration

    7-week display

  • Shipping

    Van Line

  • Running Feet

    250

  • Square Feet

  • Security

    Moderate B

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    Five estimated

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.