Today is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, where each week we feature a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to photography and whether they are true or false.
PHOTOGRAPHY LEGEND: A variety of Ivy Leagues took nude photos of most of their incoming freshmen for decades.
While the topic had been come up here and there over the years, it was not until Ron Rosenbaum’s feature piece in the New York Times Magazine in 1995 that the truth was widely known about the bizarre series of nude photos taken of Ivy League freshmen from 1940 to 1960 (or thereabouts – some schools lasted until the early 1970s).
For years, Freshmen (both male and female) at Smith, Princeton, Yale, Mt. Holyoke, and Vassar had been having photographs taken of incoming freshmen for the sake of checking their posture. They did this at Harvard, as well, from 1880 to 1940 or so.
These photographs would be destroyed after their initial use were finished.
However, starting in the 1940s, an anthropological researcher named William Herbert Sheldon began making arrangements with Smith, Princeton, Yale, Mt. Holyoke, and Vassar where he would be allowed to KEEP the photographs, and that went on until the late 1960s/early 1970s!!
Sheldon was doing research into body types.
He came out with books titled Atlas of Men and Atlas of Women where he examined the various body “types,” primarily endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic.
Here is a sampling of these three “somatotypes”:
Those Ivy League schools supplied Sheldon with photographs of their students for his research.
Eventually, these schools destroyed all the photographs that they had access to, and the remaining photographs were held at the Smithsonian Museum. These remaining photographs were destroyed between the publication of Rosenbaum’s article and 2001.
Because the photographs were meant to be anonymous in Sheldon’s work, we don’t know for sure which Freshmen actually WERE used, so usually all we can do is note the various famous people who were at these schools during the right years (as well as note those students, such as Rosenbaum himself, who admit to having their nude photograph taken).
These students include former President George H. W. Bush, current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, television personality Diane Sawyer, playwright Wendy Wasserstein, actress Meryl Streep, screenwriter Nora Ephron, Miss Manners, Bob Woodward – the list is an impressive one.
And it’s a list that is shocking to think that they very well could have had nude photographs circulating for decades.
Thankfully they are basically all destroyed now!
PHOTOGRAPHY LEGEND: A famous photograph of Abraham Lincoln is actually a picture of Lincoln’s head superimposed on another man’s body!
To put the following into context, do note that photographs as we now know them today basically only started around the 1820s.
So to see “photoshopping” like the following images in 1860 is pretty remarkable!
In 1860, a photograph of the Republican Presidential candidate Abaraham Lincoln were circulated (photographer unknown). It’s a dynamic, statesman-esque piece.
However, it’s also not actually Abraham Lincoln’s body!
As you can see here, it is Lincoln’s head affixed to the body of the venerable Southern statesman (and former United States Vice President) John Calhoun!!
Calhoun had died a decade before this photograph was “made”!
I do not know when the photo manipulation took place.
Thanks to Henry Farid’s piece on photo tampering through the years for the lowdown on this switcheroo!
PHOTOGRAPHY LEGEND: Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville” was a candid shot.
While obviously Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V–J day in Times Square” photograph of a soldier spontaneously celebrating the surrender of Japan in 1945 with a nearby woman is the most famous candid kiss capture as a photograph…
Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville” was always a close second, with his seemingly candid shot of two young lovers kissing in the streets of Paris, which (like Eisentaedt’s picture in 1945) appeared in Life Magazine in 1950.
Interestingly enough, while Eisentaedt’s photograph was an instant classic, it was not until the early 1980s that Doisneau’s photograph became a sensation, after a publisher came to Doisneau looking to turn the decades old photograph into a poster.
Over the years, the photo was treated as candid shot and various people had come forward claiming to be the kissing couple. Doisneau always let them have their chance at making their claim – it was fine by him, as he knew who the actual couple was, so if others wanted to say it was them, it was no skin off his back.
That changed, however, in 1993, when the idea that the photo was a candid shot was dispelled as Doisneau was sued by a couple purporting to be the kissers. In his (successful) rebuttal of their claim, Doisneau explained that the photograph was posed, using two actors/models, Françoise Bornet and then boyfriend Jacques Carteaud.
After the publicity of the case, Bornet then sued for a percentage of the money the photo had brough Doisneau over the years. Doisneau successfully defeated this claim, too, as he still had the contract Bornet signed.
Bornet did, however, make a bundle when she sold her original print of the photograph that was given to her by Doisneau at the time of the shoot in 1950. The print sold for over 150,000 euros!
Doisneau (who passed away in 1994) had an interesting take on the notion of why he would never have taken such a shot candidly – “I would have never dared to photograph people like that. Lovers kissing in the street, those couples are rarely legitimate.”
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com