Photographer Bob Willoughby has died at his home in Vence, France, aged 82. For many years he was the one of the most prominent still cameramen in the international film industry, largely due to his unobtrusive style and aesthetic sensibility. Critic Charles Champlin once described Willoughby’s work as transcending photojournalism to become ‘salon art’.
Willoughby’s big break came in 1954 when he photographed Judy Garland as he filmed the final scene of A Star Is Born. This portrait became his first cover for Life magazine. He went on to work on nearly a hundred films, including My Fair Lady, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate and Rosemary’s Baby.
Willoughby became the favoured lensman of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and was close to Audrey Hepburn, his ‘muse’. A lifelong jazz fan, Willoughby captured the likes of Billie Holiday, Chet Baker and Cole Porter in their prime. He was a short, cherubic man, described by one observer as ‘a leprechaun with a Leica.’
Offscreen, Willoughby was more interested in art and home than the celebrity lifestyle he had chronicled for so long. ‘I never wanted Hollywood for myself,’ he reflected in The Times. ‘I was just about my family and my work.’
Willoughby also photographed Marilyn Monroe on at least two occasions; firstly, at a party in her honour in 1952, at the time of her breakthrough hit, Niagara; and on the set of her penultimate movie in 1960.
Born a year after Monroe, Willoughby was also a child of estranged parents, and like Monroe, he grew up in Los Angeles and was fascinated by film from an early age. He was married to Dorothy Willoughby and raised four children, emigrating to Europe in the 1970s.
Director Sydney Pollack said of Willoughby, ‘Sometimes a filmmaker gets a look at a single photograph taken on his own set and sees the ‘soul’ of his film right there.’ This is seemingly true of Willoughby’s rather forlorn portrait of a pensive Monroe (shown above), which is perhaps more expressive than any scene she played in the minor George Cukor musical, Let’s Make Love.