NEW LENOX – While working on a book about “The Sound of Music,” Angela Cartwright scoured the 20th Century Fox archives for photos of herself and the other six actors who played the Von Trapp children.
In her search, Cartwright – now a photographer – found box after box of continuity photos, which are professional stills that directors consulted to ensure hair, wardrobe and makeup matched from scene to scene. The pristine quality of those photos, which the general public was never meant to see, struck her.
Wouldn’t it be cool, Cartwright thought, to finally share these beautiful behind-the-scenes photos with the world?
So Cartwright contacted a “movie geek” and actor friend – former New Lenox resident Tom McLaren, who grew up watching “Lost in Space” and met Cartwright at a 1998 “Lost in Space” convention – about collaborating with her on a book featuring those photos.
The result is “Styling the Stars: Lost Treasures from the Twentieth Century Fox Archive,” a coffee table book with a forward by actor Maureen O’Hara. On those 304 pages are rare continuity photos from The Golden Era, McLaren said, along with several television stars – such as Barbara Eden and Farrah Fawcett – when they were movie actresses for Fox.
The 1970s provided a logical point to end the book, McLaren said.
“This type of continuity photo shifted in the ’70s, with the move to Polaroids and then, ultimately, to digital,” McLaren said. “This book focuses on the negatives and transparencies from 1930 to the early 1970s. Polaroids are not good quality. They deteriorate over time and don’t have negatives.”
Because sifting through those photos was such a massive undertaking – 20th Century Fox has about 8 million “unique images” in the archives – Cartwright needed a detailed, well-organized co-author, someone filled with the knowledge and love for that era of filmmaking. McLaren had those qualities, she said.
Besides, McLaren had just begun an acting career, so between jobs, he had some flexible time for what Cartwright termed “a passion project.”
McLaren, who appears in 20th Century Fox’s “The Exorcism of Molly Hartley,” to be released in 2015, said he was happy to accept a movie fan’s dream of sifting through photos of Hollywood greats doing their jobs.
“It’s like they’re just about to go on camera and start their acting,” McLaren said.
After obtaining permission to access the archives for their book, Cartwright said she and McLaren wrote a wish list of actor and movie photos and began searching and cataloging. The archives themselves are something to behold, McLaren said, as they are filled with material in collapsible filing cabinets.
“The archive is in one of the buildings on the lot, in the lower level, in a nice temperature-controlled facility,” McLaren said. “When you want to research a film, you start unrolling the cabinet.”
Much of that material, McLaren said, had not been touched since it was first stored. Sometimes, the pair had to choose among multiple images, Cartwright said. The project had its disappointments, too, Cartwright said, such as opening a box and finding water had damaged its contents.
“It was a challenge doing this because none of it was computerized,” McLaren said. “We had to put on our little white gloves when handling negatives and transparencies and holding them up to the light.”
Mostly, Cartwright and McLaren wound up with delightful candids of many iconic stars: Lauren Bacall, Shirley Temple, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Robert Wagner, Eleanor Parker, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Peter O’Toole, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn and Doris Day.
“You can tell from some of the pictures that the actors are clowning around or looking serious like, ‘OK, just get the picture done,’ ” Cartwright said. “Some of them are going back to their dressing rooms with a cup of coffee in hand, between scenes, trying to memorize lines. You can almost hear makeup say, ‘Hey, stand while I take a picture.’ ”
Of course, “Styling with the Stars” has 11 pages featuring the “Sound of Music,” Cartwright said.
“That was way too tough to narrow down,” Cartwright said. “There’s always Chris [Plummer] and there’s always Julie [Andrews], but the guy who played Rolfe is usually not in the books and I’m not sure why. He’s such a pivotal character.”
“Styling the Stars: Lost Treasures from the Twentieth Century Fox Archive” is available at www.amazon.com.