John Kobal was a lover, a discoverer, and a savior. His boundless admiration of the silver screen made a young, shy boy the intimate chronicler of the stars. It was that flair which took him into the attics of has been actresses and the abandoned sound stages of Hollywood studios to uncover the photographs that had been consigned to anonymity. Thanks to him, the l940s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s don’t seem like ghosts but like our daily companions. It was Paris Match magazine that got him started. As John once recalled: “One day, I received a request for an image of Veronica Lake …. That was the beginning of the era of the return to glamour.”
When I saw John Kobal for the last time in his London home, the colossus had grown thinner and his beard longer. After a meager meal that he hardly touched, he opened his cartons and cabinets of marvels to me. His personal collection clearly detailed his tastes: Clarence Sinclair Bull, George Hurrell, Curtis, and James Abbe. A rosy sunset fell over London. Of course, I missed my plane back to Paris. But I missed something even more important: the photos themselves, his treasures, which I sensed that he wished to cede to a collector capable of loving them … .I understood too late that afternoon that John had sent a message I didn’t know how to decode. But why regret? The sublime images of his personal collection will be dispersed by the winds of auction, they will lead nomadic lives with amateurs and dealers. As to those other images, those that belong to the Kobal Foundation, they will continue to light up the pages of our magazines and feed future generations’ eternal, insatiable appetite for idols and myths.
Roger Thérond, collector and editor in chief of Paris Match.
Born in Linz, Austria, in 1940, John Kobal had a lifelong passion for movie memorabilia. He assembled one of the world’s greatest collections of film photography, the Kobal Collection, which has served as a matchless source for magazine and book editors for the past 20 years. Kobal helped create interest in many kinds of Hollywood photography-especially the work of the great Hollywood portrait photographers-that no one had bothered to research before. He died in London on October 28, 1991.