Heroes: Terry O’Neill

Paying respect to one of Hollywood’s most renowned photographers.

In November, the world bid farewell to a maestro of celebrity portraiture. Whether snapping high-watt glamour or stars at their most intimate, O’Neill made Hollywood myths a reality. A film icon and former National Portrait Gallery curator remember the late photographer.

RAQUEL WELCH I first met Terry in London in the mid-’60s, on the set of One Million Years B.C. for Fox Studios. When Terry came up to me and introduced himself, he said, “You must be Rocky.” This surprised me because “Rocky” was my nickname in high school, but no one on set knew that. So I asked him,“How did you know that’s [my nickname]?” And he said,“Oh,I know things.”And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Terry shot [countless] images of me—someone recently told me [the number is] over 5,000! I don’t think I’ve seen them all. Nor can I pick a favorite! We always had great fun on our shoots, and the photos reflected that.

Terry [became a backstage fixture], photographing B.C. and [British spy comedy] Fathom, [among others]. When Myra Breckinridge, [the 1970 comedy based on Gore Vidal’s novel], came along, I requested that he [be there]. He took photos of me around the Fox lot, wearing my [American flag] costume from the lm. Terry was so easygoing; we even [shot a few] in my backyard—the ones of me [in the flag bikini] against a white backdrop. The pose was reminiscent of a famous statue at the Chateau Marmont. We would also snap between takes, when my dressing room was available.The lighting in there was nice…Slightly reminiscent of Degas.

TERENCE PEPPER I met Terry O’Neill at his first show [in] London in the ‘70s, around the time I started working at the National Portrait Gallery. By 2003, when Terry’s book Celebrity was set to publish, I’d known him for 25 years, and had wanted to collaborate for [just as long]. But the only

available [at NPG] then had a [policy against] showing any borrowed [artwork]. To get around the rule, I schemed to have the Gallery acquire [Terry’s work]. That’s why there are 70 of Terry’s images in the collection today: of Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy with her mum, the Beatles…When Terry died in November, the NPG website had record traffic from everyone viewing them.It was only natural that Terry would befriend his subjects, as he did Elizabeth Taylor, whom he photographed on a number of occasions. [The first time] was when she was living in Hollywood and filming The Blue Bird at [director] George Cukor’s house. David Bowie was a friend of Terry’s, and Cukor was considering [Bowie] for the lm. Elizabeth said to Terry, “Can you arrange a meeting?” When the day came, Bowie was four hours late…But Taylor, famous for her lateness, just put her arms around him and made him feel welcome. [She and Bowie] were good friends from then on.


Singer David Bowie shares a cigarette with actress Elizabeth Taylor in Beverly Hills, 1975. It was the first occasion that the pair had met.
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