A Wonderful Time with Slim Aarons
Slim Aarons. Bedford, NY. 8/6/03.

Another hot day. I looked back in the archives to see what it like last year. It was like this. So. The Diary that day was about a ball in Monte Carlo. No ball in Monte Carlo.

On route 684 to Bedford/Katonah

We went up to Westchester to visit the great photographic chronicler of the rich and the celebrated Slim Aarons. You know his book A Wonderful Time; An intimate portrait of the good life with its beautiful cover picture of the Beautiful People lolling beside a pool in Acapulco overlooking the bay. It came out in 1974 and covered the social circuit all over America (and elsewhere) in a style that remains without peer to this day.

If there were ever a piece of material that must have inspired Ralph Lauren’s creative sensibilities, this must have been it. I bought my copy when it came out and I’ve still got it. It’s out of print, although you can (maybe) buy it on Ebay (as of this writing) where the low bid is $299 (the original price was $35.).

It was warm but shady up there in the hills of Bedford/Katonah this afternoon, redolent with the lush greenery. And muggy with a sky covering of thick dark grey clouds and occasional sun. Mr. Aarons has lived in his house, which is on six and a half acres and was built in 1782, for a good part of his long life.

Slim thumbing through his vast body of work

It’s got that smell of a New England colonial house, a kind of woody mustiness from all the fires that have burned in the fireplace. And it’s bright and cheery, full of color, including the flowers in boxes and beyond, just outside many windows. It is also full of visuals, as you might imagine, and books and photographs, of course. None of it is academic or curatorial in presentation, but all personality. None of that “I’m a collector” business, although so many of the things are old and precious and unique. A Man Ray book of Picasso, autographed by the painter who wrote in the inscriptions that Slim’s then pregnant wife would have a girl (she did).

On the wall under the front staircase was, among other things, a fairly large black and white photograph of a young boy, a French boy running toward the camera beaming a smile, in a photo taken by Cartier-Bresson. For a minute there Slim couldn’t remember whether he took it or C-B took it because they were pals (as were a lot of the photographers in those days) and they often would take the same picture. It sounds like they had fun in a way unknown to most of us doing it today.

Stockpiles of Slim's photos waiting to be rediscovered

George Allen Aarons is from New Hampshire, pronounced noo-hemp-Shuh by the natives who in those days were referred to as Yankees. As a kid he came to New York and got himself hired for the photographic staff of Time-Life, now a list of legends. This is all within my lifetime and yet it seems like centuries ago.

They called him Slim, because he is. Very. As if in the beginning God put a great big palm against either side of the man and pushed in just a smidge. There. Like so ... Tall, and narrow, probably six-two or more. He looks quite a bit like Jimmy Stewart. Who was also slim like that, although maybe not quite so. For the record, he knew Jimmy Stewart and is the man who took that famous picture of the four kings of Hollywood, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Van Heflin and Clark Gable, all in white tie, standing barside at private party at Romanoff’s on New Year’s Eve 1957, having a drink and a smoke and a good time, movie star style.

He worked for years for LIFE, and then for the great Frank Zachary at Town & Country, and at Holiday. His work became the photo signature of those magazines’ edit. At least in retrospect. His work is at once just so beautiful, and lush, and glamorous, and real, and even folksy; a kind of reflection of the man’s Yankee upbringing, the world of Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses. And MGM. A distinctly, and distinctive American eye.

DPC, Slim Aarons, Laura Cushing, and Chris Meigher looking through some of Slim's favorite photos

We had a lunch of smoked salmon, cheese, crackers, popovers, celeries, olives, cherry tomatoes and lemonade and talked about some of the photographs in the book and some of the people. Marilyn Monroe. He loved Marilyn. “She had something special,” said referring to her way. He spent a lot of time in Hollywood where in his youth he had several screen tests. But he said during the Second World War they were testing any male who was around. You could tell he had no interest in such a thing anyway. He loved taking pictures. He was also in the service, taking pictures, in Egypt and North Africa and with Field Marshal Montgomery at Alamein.

Abrams is coming out in the fall with a new Slim Aarons book, Slim Aarons – Once Upon A Time. In America and in Europe. He showed us the cover and some of the content. More of A Wonderful Time, if you can believe it, and a thing of beauty. There was a picture of Melina Mercouri sitting at a café table in a little village square in Greece. Looking voluptuous and glamorously sexy, blonde hair, yellow dress. A little boy on a tricycle was enthusiastically rushing by in the background. “Does the boy have to be in the picture?” Mercouri had asked Slim. Yes. Had to be.

Perfect Slim Aarons. Folks. Just folks. Well, not quite just folks, movie stars too. And dukes and princesses, tycoons and debutantes, kids and horses and magnificent estates. But real. Like folks. A wonderful time. Only a minute ago and now long gone.

Bidding us goodbye

Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com


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