THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

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Leaping lady, 17th April 1954, by George Douglas

Fleet Streets Finest's Alan Sparrow on a British Hollywood photographer 

George Douglas was a prolific photographer. Among his colleagues he was known as Speedy George for the volume of ideas and pictures he produced, but at the age of 48 he decided that photography was a young person’s game and he gave it up to become an antiques dealer.

During his career his work appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Life Magazine, Picture Post, Esquire, Harpers, Paris Match and many more.

Douglas was born in Sussex in 1922, died in Sussex in 2010 and the years in between could have been a Hollywood screenplay. In 1939 his family decided that their future lay in the USA where his father was born and so they moved, f rst to Texas and then to Santa Monica, California.

Young George had an early interest in photography and bought a second-hand Leica at a pawn shop to pursue his hobby along the busy beaches of Santa Monica, photographing beach volleyball tournaments and bodybuilders and the occasional glamourous visitor from Hollywood.

After school he became an apprentice engineer, but his spare time was filled with photography. On one of his trips to the beach he spotted movie star Jane Russell whom he persuaded to pose.

He was soon providing a regular supply of “cheesecake” images to the LA Times to which he sold his first picture for $30 and where the picture editor made Douglas aware of an opportunity for a photographer at the trendy ski resort of Sun Valley, a regular hotspot for the Hollywood elite. He left engineering and became a full-time photographer.

Among the visitors to Sun Valley was double Oscar winning actress Shelley Winters, who took a fancy to the young snapper as he photographed her on the ski slopes. She invited him for cocktails, and later that evening dropped by his chalet to invite him to photograph her in her red flannel pyjamas. Curiously, the George Douglas archive no images of Shelley Winters in pyjamas, but there is a signed photograph of a laughing Shelley with the message “For the best photographer and sweetest character I ever met. 

In 1950, inspired by the groundbreaking style of the photography in Picture Post, Douglas packed his case and moved to London, travelling by transatlantic liner, the day after he arrived he went to the Picture Post and sold the editor a picture feature about two children who owned a boa-constrictor. He went on to provide a further 99 picture stories in three years to the magazine, where he acquired his nickname, Speedy George.

Among the photos he produced is this one of a Blackpool dance instructor, Pat Knowles, who at just 18 had recently taken a night train to London with less than £1 in her purse. The next day she auditioned for and got a role as a chorus girl in a West End show.

Douglas saw the show and asked her to help him illustrate “Spring Is In The Air” for Picture Post. The picture was the front cover for the Easter edition, 17th April 1954.

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