Aarons. Bedford, NY. 8/6/03.
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.
route 684 to Bedford/Katonah
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.).
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
thumbing through his vast body of work
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.
of Slim's photos waiting to be rediscovered
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.
Slim Aarons, Laura Cushing, and Chris Meigher looking through
some of Slim's favorite photos
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
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.