The legendary Ron Galella, died peacefully on Saturday at his home in Montville, N.J. He was 91.
Newsweek called him the “Paparazzo Extraordinaire”, Time magazine and Vanity Fair dubbed him “the Godfather of the U.S. paparazzi culture”. Harper’s Bazaar wrote of him that he was “arguably the most controversial paparazzo of all time”.
He chased relentlessly Jackie Kennedy Onassis, until a judge ordered him to stop, and still… Marlon Brando broke his jaw… And so many more…
In The New York Times obituary of Galella, Paul Vitello writes:
Yet some of the celebrities he pursued were also among Mr. Galella’s admirers. In a foreword to a 2002 collection of his work, Diane Keaton described him as the best chronicler of the fleeting beauty of the beautiful people of his time, the one who best captured the magnetism of those contemporaries, “who with a frowning or smiling turn of the head once had the power to crush or lift me.” Marlon Brando especially.
“In Galella’s photographs,” Ms. Keaton wrote, “Marlon Brando is still the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”
We presented Galella’s work on several occasions in The Eye of Photography. One of them was at the occasion of his exhibition, Ron Galella: 55 Years a Paparazzi, at the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York in 2015. Etheleen Staley and Takouhy Wise introduced us on a quiet afternoon when we were both visiting. Thank you Ladies for a memorable and lovely afternoon. This was a new version of the Odd Couple… Two photographers on the opposite sides of the spectrum… And still for a few hours, we shared stories and laughs on our lives, our “common victims” (quite a few who, in my case, were willing participants). Ron mocking the time and ressources I would spend on a staged shooting for “chump change”, when he would hit the jackpot with a single frame (he was not the only one to mock; you know who you are and I love you…). That day, I shot this portrait of Ron, still mocking: “Why shoot so many frames?”, but he also became a willing and laughing “victim” of mine.
Ron’s photographs went from tabloids to glossies, to books (22 of them) to private collections and to museums (the MOMA in New York has 5 in their collection).
Well, not too bad for a kid from the Bronx.
You fill find below the article we published at the time of the Staley-Wise exhibition, but before, here is Ron’s obituary which in true Ron’s manner, he wrote himself !
Ronald E. Galella, the most famous and controversial celebrity photojournalist in the world, died on April 30, 2022 at his home in Montville, New Jersey. He was 91 years old.
Galella’s passion for the fine art of photography, coupled with a dedicated do-it-yourself approach to making his own custom prints in his darkroom, has seen Galella’s work included in the collections of museums and art galleries throughout the world, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, the Tate Modern in London, and the Helmut Newton Foundation Museum of Photography in Berlin.
His devotion to photography led to the publishing of twenty two books, including Disco Years, which was honored as “Best Photography Book” of 2006 by the New York Times. In 2010, Oscar-winner Leon Gast directed Smash His Camera, a documentary of Galella’s life and career. Smash His Camera premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Grand Jury Award for “Best Director” in the US Documentary category.
Dubbed “Paparazzo Extraordinaire” by Newsweek, and “the Godfather of US Paparazzi Culture” by Time and Vanity Fair, Galella was clearly willing to take great risks in getting the perfect off-guard picture. Galella endured two highly publicized court battles with his favorite subject, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, a broken jaw and teeth at the hand of Marlon Brando, and a serious beating by Richard Burton’s bodyguards before being jailed in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Jacqueline (1974), Galella’s first autobiographical book, sold over 10,000 copies, one of which was given to Mrs. Onassis, who kept it in her library until she passed. That book is now kept, along with a copy of Jackie: My Obsession, in the JFK Library, which also houses hundreds of Galella’s photographs from the 1972 and 1981 trials. Galella lectured at the University of Miami’s Wilson Hicks International Visual Communications Conference in 1973, presenting “Photography with the Paparazzo Approach,” which saw him dubbed “Paparazzo Superstar” by the Miami Herald. Galella’s pictures are also installed on each of the eleven floors of the landmark Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
A native New Yorker, born in the Bronx, Galella served four years in the US Air Force as a camera repairman and photographer during the Korean conflict of 1951–1955. Later, under the GI Bill, Galella attended the ArtCenter College of Design, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism. His work can be found at https://rongalella.com on instagram https://www.instagram.com/ron_galella/?hl=en and his photography is represented for editorial publishing through Getty Images.
Galella met his wife, Betty Lou Burke, in a most unusual way. Burke was a country girl from Somerset, Kentucky. After graduating college at the University of Eastern Kentucky, Burke went to Washington, DC, where she became vice president of Today Is Sunday magazine. Betty published Galella’s photos for publication, and assigned him credentials to cover events, and he fell in love with her warm, soft, loving southern voice over the phone. Galella met Betty in person for the first time on December 10, 1978, at the Kennedy Center premiere of Superman, for which she got him credentials. After taking one look at that beautiful face, he asked, “Are you married?” Burke replied that she wasn’t, to which Galella said, “I’m going to marry you.” Five months later, he did.
Once married, the Galellas became a photojournalist and editor team, and Betty became vice president of the Ron Galella, Ltd. photo agency. Betty passed away peacefully on January 9, 2017, one day before Galella’s eighty-sixth birthday. Sensing that she might not live to January 10, she had planned an early birthday celebration for Ron on November 20 of that year.
Ron’s father, Vincenzo Galella, was born in Muro Lucano, Italy, and was a cabinetmaker who held two jobs in America: at Steinway Pianos and the National Casket Company. Galella’s mother, Michelina, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Italian parents originally from Benevento, Italy. Michelina Galella was a dressmaker who, unlike her husband Vincenzo, was interested in the world of glamour and fashion. She loved Vincenzo, in part because he looked like Charles Boyer. Michelina loved the accents of English actors like Cary Grant and Ronald Coleman, after whom she named Ron, her third son.
P.S. If I’m not invited into the pearly gates of heaven, I just might try sneaking in …
Note: Mr. Galella wrote his obituary.
Ron is survived by his brother Vincent and 11 nieces and nephews, Paulette, Linda, Barbara, John, Louis, Richie, Stephen, Anthony, Nicholas, Peter, and Gloria, and 22 great nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his beloved wife Betty Lou Burke, Ron’s brother’s Louis and Nicholas, and sister Camille.
Ron Galella: 55 Years a Paparazzi à Staley-Wise Gallery
Le travail photographique des paparazzis a été projeté sur le devant de la scène publique par Ron Galella, marquant ainsi l’avènement du culte de la célébrité que nous vivons à l’heure actuelle. Ron Galella avait l’art de révéler les personnalités sous leur véritable jour, sans éclairage particulier, dans leurs propres vêtements, souvent dépenaillées et perturbées de se faire photographier. Dans un monde dominé par les publicitaires et le packaging, cette réalité sans fard se montre rafraîchissante.
Ron Galella a arpenté les pavés les plus variés, capturant la haute société rassemblée pour les ouvertures de musées, la vie nocturne à l’ère du disco, les vedettes de cinéma en fuite, dans les aéroports ou les limousines, sans oublier le monde de Warhol. Il les a tous poursuivis, Duc et Duchesse de Windsor comme rock stars éméchées, sans s’occuper un seul instant de leur statut ou de leur rang. Au bout de son objectif, ils étaient tous égaux.
Et c’est ainsi qu’il parvenait à capter l’essence même de la personne. Les expressions sont naturelles et authentiques, fait rarissime dans le domaine des portraits photographiques. Ron Galella est indéniablement un photographe incomparable, avec 55 années de travail à son actif. Son travail est un véritable réservoir qui reflète l’évolution de bien des tendances : vêtements, coiffure, boîtes de nuit et personnalités… en somme, un miroir sociétal.