When They Were Giants: 5 Black & White Photographs of Movie Legends

By Hope Thomson
A collection of black & white photographs takes us backstage and offers a candid glimpse of cinema's biggest names.

Films have a unique way of animating incredible stories which can shock, thrill and entertain even the most jaded among us. As the cinema industry grapples with its current position in a landscape of never-ending streaming shows, take a look back at an earlier time when movie studios and their stars were larger than life. Some of the stills captured during those years are a window to movie-making and stardom, which represent a fantastic ability to transport themselves into the very heart of our homes.

Audrey Hepburn's Sister Luke

Though perhaps one of her most forgotten roles, Audrey Hepburn’s performance as Gabrielle (later known as Sister Luke) in The Nun’s Story is a hidden gem among the celebrated actress’s filmography. Based on a true story, The Nun’s Story is a coming-of-age saga which sees Hepburn’s character grapple with her personal faith. This photo by Sanford H. Roth of Audrey Hepburn from the set captures the dramatic and, at times, disturbing realities of Gabrielle’s time in the Congo. Strikingly composed, Hepburn’s famously evocative visage is obscured in shadow, while the large wings of the goose in the foreground offer movement to the composition.

Sanford H. Roth, Audrey Hepburn, "The Nun's Story"

Alfred Hitchcock's Profile

Classic Hollywood films bring certain celebrities to mind, and Alfred Hitchcock is at the top of that list. Sanford H. Roth’s photo of Alfred Hitchcock captures the famed filmmaker’s attitude in an unmistakable nod to Hitchcock’s cinematic style. Renowned for his ability to frame scenes to heighten suspense, this photo presents a partially obscured Hitchcock lurking in the shadows of a Hollywood film lot.

Sanford H. Roth, Alfred Hitchcock in Back Lot

Marilyn Monroe's Let’s Make Love

What would Hollywood be today without Marilyn Monroe? This photo of Marilyn on the set of the movie Let’s Make Love are as diametrically opposed as the actress herself. Bob Willoughby’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe presents the actress alone, her solitude compounded by her vacant expression—carelessly discarded empty seats are her sole companions. It is a darkly poetic photograph which hints at Marilyn’s inner turmoil. In contrast, John Bryson’s photo of Marilyn is positively teeming with activity. Here, Marilyn is shown during a scene in Let’s Make Love surrounded by cameras as she converses with her co-star. Bryson perfectly captures the jarring flashbulbs of the paparazzi against the illuminated silhouette of Monroe’s character Amanda Dell.

Bob Willoughby, Marilyn Monroe on the set of "Let's Make Love"

Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra

Another famous femme fatale, Elizabeth Taylor is perhaps as well-known for her film Cleopatra as for her personal life. Roddy McDowall’s photo of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra is a classic behind-the-scenes shot of the actress applying her famous Cleopatra makeup. McDowall, who played Octavian in the film, shoots Taylor mid-transformation into her role as the stately, megalomaniacal Cleopatra.

Roddy McDowall, Elizabeth Taylor, "Cleopatra"

Portrait photography is one of the surest mediums to see into the soul of a subject. The legacy of these late Hollywood greats has endured for decades, immortalized on and off the screen. These five black-and-white photos preserve a special moment in time, the unique perspective of the photographer and the individuality of each subject.

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