it would be fun, on this Easter Sunday, to present you with a
portfolio of Irving Berlin, the composer of Easter Parade.
photographed our countrys greatest songwriter on September
5, 1974. We began our session in his office on the Avenue of
the Americas where first he played the piano for me (legend has
it that he only played on the black keys when in fact he played
in the key of f-sharp which has two white notes) and then he
stretched out on his sofa reading a book called Dancing in
the Dark by Howard Dietz, whom he had known since the early
went downstairs and his chauffeur drove us over to his large
house on Beekman Place where I took some more pictures of him
engaged in his favorite hobby, painting. (He had once tried golf
and "hated it.) He wore a light blue smock and worked
on the top floor in a studio containing his easel, a drawing
table, and a piano. Mr. Berlin was fond of saying as a
painter Im a pretty good song writer. He gave his
paintings to his children and to many of his pals including Bing
Crosby and Fred Astaire.
I didnt have much time with Mr. Berlin because
I was working that day on assignment for Life Magazines
upcoming special issue of A Day in the Life of America and
I had to rush off to take pictures of Alvin Ailey rehearsing with
his dancers. (I photographed fourteen people that day, beginning
at 5 AM with Barbara Walters eating breakfast, a chocolate brownie,
and coffee, at her kitchen table before she left her apartment to
How, you may ask, did I manage to photograph the reclusive Mr. Berlin?
I had been wanting to photograph him for years and finally got this
great opportunity through the kindness of his daughter, Mary Ellin
Barrett, my former boss at Glamour Magazine, who has remained
one of my closest friends. I was also able to promise that I would
take no more than an hour, which under the circumstances, was an
easy promise to keep. Mary Ellin has told me that these were the last formal photographs taken of her father.
Mr. Berlin lived to be a hundred and one. His songs will live forever.