The legendary Ron Galelladied peacefully Saturday at his home in Montville, NJ He was 91 years old.
Newsweek called him the “Paparazzo Extraordinary”, Time magazine and Vanity Fair dubbed him “the godfather of American paparazzi culture”. Harper’s Bazaar called him “arguably the most controversial paparazzo of all time.”
He pursued Jackie Kennedy Onassis relentlessly, until a judge ordered him to stop, and again… Marlon Brando broke his jaw… And so many others…
In Galella’s New York Times obituary, Paul Vitello writes:
Yet some of the celebrities he was chasing were also among Mr Galella’s admirers. In a preface to a 2002 collection of his work, Diane Keaton described him as the best chronicler of the ephemeral beauty of the beautiful people of his time, the one who best captured the magnetism of those contemporaries, “who, scowling or smiling his head once had the power to crush me or lift me up. Marlon Brando in particular.
“In Galella’s photographs,” Ms. Keaton wrote, “Marlon Brando is still the handsomest man I have ever seen.”
We have featured Galella’s work several times in The Eye of Photography. One of them was on the occasion of his exhibition, Ron Galella: 55 years paparazzIto Staley-Wise Gallery in New York in 2015. Etheleen Staley and Takouhy Wise introduced us to a quiet afternoon when we were both visiting. Thank you ladies for a memorable and lovely afternoon. It was a new version of Odd Couple… Two photographers from opposite ends of the spectrum… And again for a few hours we shared stories and laughter about our lives, our “common victims” (a good number of which, in my case, were voluntary participants). Ron mocking the time and resources I’d spend on a staged shoot for “chump change”, when he hit the jackpot with a single image (he wasn’t the only one laughing; you know who you are and I like you …) . That day, I made this portrait of Ron, always mocking: “Why do so many clichés?”, but he also became one of my willing and laughing “victims”.
Ron’s photographs have gone from tabloids to glossies, to books (22 of them) to private collections and museums (New York’s MOMA has 5 in its collection).
Not too bad for a kid from the Bronx.
Below is the article we published at the Staley-Wise Expo, but before that, here’s Ron’s obituary that in Ron’s own way, he wrote himself!
Ronald E. Galella, the world’s most famous and controversial celebrity photojournalist, died on April 30, 2022 at his home in Montville, New Jersey. He was 91 years old.
Galella’s passion for the art of photography, coupled with a dedicated DIY approach to making his own custom prints in his darkroom, has seen Galella’s work included in museum and art gallery collections. around the world, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, the Tate Modern in London and the Helmut Newton Foundation Museum of Photography in Berlin.
His dedication to photography has led to the publication of twenty-two books, including Disco Years, which was honored as “Best Photography Book” of 2006 by The New York Times. In 2010, Oscar winner Leon Gast directed Smash His Camera, a documentary about Galella’s life and career. Smash His Camera premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Grand Jury Prize for “Best Director” in the American Documentary category.
Dubbed “Paparazzo Extraordinary” by Newsweek and “the godfather of American paparazzi culture” by Time and Vanity Fair, Galella was clearly willing to take big risks to get the perfect off-guard photo. Galella endured two high-profile court battles with his favorite subject, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, a broken jaw and teeth at the hands of Marlon Brando, and a serious beating by Richard Burton’s bodyguards before being imprisoned in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Jacqueline (1974), Galella’s first autobiographical book, sold over 10,000 copies, one of which was given to Mrs. Onassis, who kept it in her library until her death. This book is now preserved, along with a copy of Jackie: My Obsession, in the JFK Library, which also houses hundreds of photographs of Galella from the 1972 and 1981 trials. Galella lectured at the Wilson International Conference on Visual Communications Hicks from the University of Miami in 1973, presenting “Photography with the Paparazzo Approach”, which saw him dubbed “Superstar Paparazzo” by the Miami Herald. Galella’s photos are also installed on each of the eleven floors of the famous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
A New York native, born in the Bronx, Galella served four years in the US Air Force as a camera repairman and photographer during the Korean conflict of 1951-1955. Later, under the GI Bill, Galella attended the ArtCenter College of Design, earning a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism. His work can be found at https://rongalella.com on instagram https://www.instagram.com/ron_galella/?hl=en and his photography is represented for editorial publication via Getty Images.
Galella met his wife, Betty Lou Burke, in a most unusual way. Burke was a country girl from Somerset, Kentucky. After graduating from college at the University of Eastern Kentucky, Burke went to Washington, D.C., where she became vice president of Today Is Sunday magazine. Betty released Galella’s photos for publication and gave him references to cover the events, and he fell in love with her warm, sweet, loving southern voice on the phone. Galella first met Betty in person on December 10, 1978, at the Kennedy Center premiere of Superman, for which she got him credentials. After glancing at that handsome face, he asked, “Are you married?” Burke replied that she was not, to which Galella said, “I will marry you.” Five months later, he did.
Once married, the Galellas became a photojournalist and staff writer, and Betty became vice president of the Ron Galella, Ltd. photo agency. Betty died peacefully on January 9, 2017, a day before Galella’s eighty-sixth birthday. Sensing that she might not live to see January 10, she had planned an early birthday celebration for Ron on November 20 of this year.
Ron’s father, Vincenzo Galella, was born in Muro Lucano, Italy, and was a cabinetmaker who held two jobs in America: with Steinway Pianos and the National Casket Company. Galella’s mother, Michelina, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Italian parents originally from Benevento, Italy. Michelina Galella was a seamstress who, unlike her husband Vincenzo, was interested in the world of glamor and fashion. She liked Vincenzo, partly because he looked like Charles Boyer. Michelina loved the accents of English actors like Cary Grant and Ronald Coleman, after whom she named Ron, her third son.
PS If I’m not invited to the pearly gates of heaven, I might try to sneak in…
Note: Mr. Galella wrote his obituary.
Ron is survived by his brother Vincent and 11 nieces and nephews, Paulette, Linda, Barbara, John, Louis, Richie, Stephen, Anthony, Nicholas, Peter and Gloria, and 22 great-nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his beloved wife Betty Lou Burke, Louis and Nicholas, Ron’s brother, and his sister Camille.
Ron Galella: 55 years paparazzI a Staley-Wise Gallery
The photographic work of the paparazzi has been projected onto the public scene by Ron Galella, thus marking the advent of the cult of celebrity that we live in today. Ron Galella had the art of revealing the personalities in their true light, without particular lighting, in their own clothes, often ragged and disturbed to be a photographer. In a world dominated by advertisers and packaging, this straightforward reality is refreshing.
Ron Galella has walked the most varied cobblestones, capturing high society gathered for museum openings, disco-era nightlife, movie stars on the run, in airports or limos, not to mention the world of Warhol. He chased them all, Duke and Duchess of Windsor like tipsy rock stars, not caring for a moment about status or rank. At the end of his goal, they were all equal.
And that’s how he managed to capture the very essence of the person. The expressions are natural and authentic, extremely rare in the field of photographic portraits. Ron Galella is undeniably an incomparable photographer, with 55 years of work under his belt. His work is a veritable reservoir that reflects the evolution of many trends: clothing, hairstyles, nightclubs and personalities… in short, a societal mirror.
Ron Galella: 55 paparazzi years
Until November 28, 2015
Staley Wise Gallery
560 Broadway #305
New York, NY 10012