“The only thing that was expected of me was to make images that the press would choose to print over everyone else’s…. To get printed, yours had to be the best.” – Laszlo Willinger
László Josef Willinger was a Jewish-German photographer, most noted for his portrait photography of movie stars and celebrities born in 1909. He was born in Hungary to Margaret Willinger, also a photographer. Taught photography by his mother who shared her passion with her son at a very early age. He learned everything he knew about the art of photography from his mother. In 1929, he decided to move to Paris and the Berlin where he worked as a freelance photographer for many news parpers and magazines. He established photography studios in both cities in 1929 and 1931 respectively.
He left Berlin in 1933 when Adolf Hitler became chancellor, settling and working in Vienna, where he began to photograph such celebrities as Marlene Dietrich, Hedy Lamarr, Pietro Mascagni, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Max Reinhardt. By the mid-1930s he was travelling through Africa and Asia before being invited by studio photographer Eugene Robert Richee to move to the United States.
Laszlo Willinger soon decided to move to Hollywood where he successfully established a studio. He crossed into the United States at Mexicali, Mexico on December 20, 1937 and resided in Los Angeles, California. He was one of the very first photographers who decided to separate himself from black and white photos and had the courage to experiment with colour, which turned out to be a winning and selling point in his career. In fact, he soon reached fame and prestige as the photographer of Hollywood movie stars. His close-ups of golden era movie stars like Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Fred Astaire became widely popular and well-known all over the world. However, his most intricate and heartfelt work was his photo sessions with Marilyn Monroe, whom he had the chance to meet and photograph ever since starting her career as a model when she was still known as Norma Jeane.
After establishing a studio in Hollywood, California, Willinger became a frequent contributor to magazines and periodicals, providing magazine cover portraits of some of the most popular stars.
In later years, shortly before his death, Willinger was accused of stalking some celebrities of the time, including Charlie Chaplin. An investigation into the matter led to the uncovering of thousands of personal pictures of the male comedy star. Willinger died in 1989 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.