Canadian filmmaker Barry Avrich is known for his many film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays and fascinating documentaries on Harvey Weinstein, Bob Guccione, Jackie Mason and Lew Wasserman among others.
He will introduce his latest documentary, a short called The Man Who Shot Hollywood September 16th at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The seed was planted in 2002 when Avrich was working on a film project on the storied Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles where many industry community members lived out their later years.
It was a documentary on the famed residents of the home called Glitter Palace. Avrich was walking down the hall when a giant photograph of Gloria Swanson hung on a resident’s bedroom wall caught his eye. That’s when he met former MGM sweeper and camera hobbyist Jack Pashkovsky.
Barry Avrich – I poked my head in and said that’s an incredible photograph. He said thanks, without looking up. He didn’t volunteer that he took the picture. I asked if it was by George Hurrell and he said no. I finally got him engaged in conversation and asked him if he shot other photographs.
He said yes that they were in boxes under the bed. I had to get under it where I found boxes with nearly 400 negatives, everybody from Swanson to Ray Milland, Greta Garbo and an incredible shot of Bela Lugosi and some character actors who had never been photographed.
Monsters and Critics – Was he a studio photographer?
BA – He was a photographer who wanted to be in the union in Hollywood but couldn’t get in. He swept floors and walked around Hollywood with his camera and shot things that caught his eye. Movie stars, botanical gardens, flowers and plants but he happened to be in Hollywood where the stars were. He wasn’t enamoured of them but the celebrities trusted him.
You can tell Cary Grant allowed himself to be photographed with his tie out in a causal setting. That’s what was so interesting.
M&C – The stars appear so different from the studio stills of the day. These are really intimate.
BA – They’re accessible and the stars look approachable. They don’t seem frozen in time. You can tell in their poses and how they were framed and shot that there was a relationship with the stars. It’s not Karsh or Hurrell who made them pose for hours and hours. He shot quickly! He didn’t know the word paparazzi.
If anyone wasn’t okay with him taking a picture, he would move along to the next person. He didn’t want to threaten anyone and always asked before taking a picture.
M&C – You show his photo of Amelia Earhart which was the last known shot of her.
BA – She was coming out of the Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles and she told him she was surprised that he recognised her. She didn’t think of herself as some international phenomenon, saying “I’m not a movie star” and she let him photograph her.
M&C – Pashkovsky never sold the pictures. Why?
BA– He didn’t see it them as any particular value; he shot them for himself. He was a true artist not driven by money or a commercial entity. I said we had to do a book and he asked why and I said because they’re great shots. He was amazed that I was interested.
The book never happened but I still have the rights that I share with TIFF’s archives. The photos are going to be displayed in Air Canada Maple Leaf lounges in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. Jack died in 2002 but he knew I would do something with them.
You can read more at the official TIFF website.