Photographer-to-the-stars Earl Leaf was known for going behind the scenes with the women of Hollywood's Golden Age, Leaf redefined celebrity portraiture by taking intimate photos that managed to capture, for the very first time, something sensual and true in his female subjects. Leaf partied with the cream of the crop to become the Hollywood insider, a man for whom the professional was always up-close and personal. Here is a selection of Leaf’s early photographs capturing an on-the-rise Clint Eastwood. They were reportedly taken on either June 1st or June 5th, 1956 in Los Angeles, California. Whilst some have probably been seen before, I thought it would be nice to have them all together here.
Born in 1905 in Seattle and raised in San Francisco Earl Leaf spent many years finding his calling. By 1936 he was the North China manager of the United Press Associations (later known as UPI) covering the Sino-Japanese war. Before that he was a cowboy, sailor, prospector, dude rancher, harvest hand, actor, teamster, bookkeeper, Salvation Army cadet, guitar player in a Hawaiian trio in a Panama cabaret, member of the Nevada state legislature, and a journalist on the road covering unemployed migrants for the Reno Journal. During his time covering the war in China he was the only western journalist to interview and photograph Mao and his comrades behind communist lines in 1938. By 1940 he was back in the US (in New York) and was appointed as an advisor to Chinese government’s Central Publicity Board, and was basically China’s PR man in America. During the war Earl served with the OSS a precursor to the CIA but there is little or no documentation as to what he did for them.
After the war Earl decided that he would be both a photographer and a journalist and spent time after the war in New York shooting the city and taking assignments to shoot artists like Martha Graham and then on to France to record life there after the war.
By 1949 Earl had picked up and moved back to the West Coast arriving in Hollywood in the summer of that year. By the Fall earl had his first Hollywood celebrity session shooting the actress Cleo Moore at home. While there were many celebrity shooters in Hollywood at that time earl broke new ground by shooting the starlets at home in their bedrooms usually in a skimpy negligee.
Press agents took notice and soon he was shooting the B list elites like Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood who were under studio contract but hardly household names. It was Earl’s job to get them into the papers and fan magazines.
By the early 50’s earl was well established on the scene shooting both candid sessions (never in a studio) and out on the town hobnobbing with the cream of Hollywood like Bogart and Bacall, Brando, john Wayne etc. all of them would willingly pose for him and ham it up for the camera.
He was welcome everywhere from the Oscars to Ciro’s the Mocambo and the Cocoanut Grove. Unlike almost all of the celebrity photographers of that time Earl not only took the photos but wrote his own stories in the fan magazines and had several syndicated columns. Leaf died in 1980 at the age of 75.
A great deal of Leaf’s early Eastwood shots now belong to The Michael Ochs Archive, located in Los Angeles. The collection contains some 3 million vintage prints, proof sheets and negatives.