Ruth Harriet, MGM glamour photographer from 1925 – 1930
I have just watched the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s new movie The Great Gatsby. A gorgeous looking remake if I’ve ever seen one. Baz has channelled the 1920’s and once again I found myself thinking that if ever there was a time I wished I had experienced, it was those magical years of singular expression in fashion, film, art, literature, architecture, dance and design generally. With this on my mind, I then went through my family’s collection of photographs and was stopped in my tracks by a photo that appeared to summarize this time in one magical shot. I looked a little closer and realized that I was looking at a portrait of a portrait master, Ruth Harriet who worked as MGM’s portrait photographer for only five years but is responsible for thousands of glamorous photos of the stars of the day. In 1930 she retired, for reasons I don’t know, and only ten years later she died from complications of childbirth. Now, have a look at The Great Gatsby trailer and I hope you see the same thing I did in this amazing portrait of Ruth Harriet.
Bob Hope once said about my great-grandmother, Ida Mayer Cummings, that she was the only woman he knew who could reach down the phone and grab a man by the lapels. Where her brother Louis B Mayer was a force in filmmaking, Ida was a force in fundraising for the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. Ironically, my grandmother and grandfather spent their last days there. But I look at this photo and see the fun, laughter and scheming to ensure money flowed from Hollywood and beyond to ensure comfort for the elderly.
My great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings was Louis B Mayer’s sister and best friend. They were the middle children of five – Yetta, Ida, LB, Gerald and Ruben. Louis B Mayer’s legacy was MGM, AMPAS, the Oscars, the MPAA and other major achievements. What is not as known is that his sister was the same mover and shaker in fundraising, and to this day an event she founded (the same year as LB founded the Academy Awards) is still a fixture in Los Angeles today. She was also the mother of four children, one of whom, Jack Cummings, went on to be a film producer in his own right.
At the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSAs) in 2010 with my partner. I served four years as Vice Patron of the APSA Academy and resigned this year. Click photo to be taken to my resignation press release. It was an honor and deeply disappointing all at the same time.