Lou D’Elia, who is the custodian of the Estate of George Hurrell, recounted this story to me:

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“I have curated and guest curated several museum exhibitions regarding the photography of George Hurrell and I always enjoy sharing some of the stories behind the photographs that are on exhibition. I was fortunate to know George Hurrell and one day George and I were reviewing photos in my collection together and George was telling me some of the stories behind the photographs. When we came to the series of Johnny Weissmuller photographs he told me that your grandfather was a wonderful guy, a gentleman, and that he very much enjoyed working with him. Indeed, he considered that shoot a true collaboration.

George had seen Johnny swimming the day before the scheduled photo shoot, and watched him as he pulled himself up and out of the water at the pool’s edge. He saw how the light caught the angles of his wet face, neck, shoulders and upper body as he emerged from the water. So George decided that when he photographed him that he would try to achieve that same ‘glistening’ masculine look similar to when he emerged from the water. For their photography session back at George’s private studio Johnny did not wear any make-up, and George had him apply a thin coat of baby oil to his face and body. The rest of the luminous skin effect was achieved by retouching the 8 x 10” camera negative and then further enhancing the work when printing the image in the darkroom. Hurrell and your grandfather – as well as the studio executives – loved the images.

George thought that the photos that he took of Johnny were among the best shots that he had ever taken featuring a male. Years later he would replicate the ‘look and feel’ of that shoot for Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac) for his solo career “Law & Order” album cover. George told me that through the years several famous male clients requested that their photo be taken in the style of your grandfather. But as George Hurrell knew, and we all know and appreciate, there is only one Johnny Weissmuller.

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