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Cinema

Magnum on Set: Suddenly Last Summer

Burt Glinn's work on the set of the movie that propelled Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn to Oscar nominations

Burt Glinn

Burt Glinn Twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth Taylor on the set of "Suddenly Last Summer", in which she co-stars with Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift. It is Taylor's first film after the death of her 3rd (...)

Magnum photographers have, over more than seven decades, captured pivotal moments in popular culture as much as historic events and societal sea changes. Working behind the scenes on sets of many classic films, they have captured not only iconic stars at various stages of their careers, but also documented the changing nature of cinema and film production. Sets, equipment, and special effects that once seemed futuristic are, with the passing of time rendered disarmingly romantic.

Here, we look at Burt Glinn’s work on the set of the Southern gothic, Suddenly Last Summer, which led to the nomination of both Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor for the Academy Award for Best Actress. A selection of images, made on the set of Suddenly Last Summer, are available as fine prints on the Magnum Shop, here.

You can see other stories in the Magnum On Set series, here


 

In 1959, Magnum photographer Burt Glinn set foot on the production of Joseph Mankiewicz’s Suddenly Last Summer, adapted for the screen by Gore Vidal from Tennessee Williams’ 1958 one-act play of the same name. Glinn’s work on the set of the movie – a Southern Gothic drama following a young socialite traumatized by her cousin’s mysterious and violent death (last summer) – offers a window onto a production that was fraught with tension.

Burt Glinn US actress Elizabeth Taylor on the set of "Suddenly last summer". London. UK. June 1959. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn Montgomery Clift during production of the film "Suddenly Last Summer." Spain. 1959. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn Twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth Taylor on the set of "Suddenly Last Summer". Sagaro. Spain. 1959. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos

Little went according to plan during the production, which took place between May and September that year. Elizabeth Taylor was reportedly behind the hiring of Montgomery Clift, an actor the studio hadn’t originally considered for the film. At the time, Clift was self-medicating on drugs and alcohol because of a car crash three years earlier. The director allegedly asked producer Sam Spiegel to fire the actor several times, due to his jittery performance. Taylor, in so many words, reportedly said, “If he goes I go”. According to Clift’s biography, Katherine Hepburn was so disgusted with Mankiewicz’s treatment of him during  theproduction that the moment the film was in the can, and her service was no longer required, she spat in the director’s face.

Burt Glinn Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in their dressing rooms on the set of "Suddenly Last Summer", in which they co-star with Katharine Hepburn. It is Taylor's first film after the death of her 3r (...)
Burt Glinn Katharine Hepburn during production of the film "Suddenly Last Summer." USA. 1959. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn In June 1959, 25 year-old Elizabeth Taylor started work on "Suddenly Last Summer" with Katharine Hepburn & Montgomery Clift. Taylor became a star at 12 after "National Velvet" & boarded the Hollywo (...)

Glinn followed the cast and crew from Shepperton Studios in London to S’Agaro in Spain, photographing the actors both off camera and mid-scene. He captured then 25-year-old Taylor in intimate moments – stretching in her dressing room at Shepperton, kissing her new husband, Eddie Fisher, on a Spanish beach. At the time, Taylor was the biggest box office draw in Hollywood, and this was her first film following the death of her third husband, Mike Todd, in a plane crash.

Burt Glinn Katharine Hepburn during the production of "Suddenly Last Summer." 1959. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn Newly married Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of "Suddenly Last Summer." London. GB. 1959. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn Elizabeth Taylor with her 4th husband, singer Eddie FISHER on the set of the film "Suddenly Last Summer". The film, in which she co-stars with Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift, is Taylor's fi (...)

Despite the on-set disputes, and despite the mixed bag of reviews (the New York Times said “it should have been left to the off-Broadway stage”), both Hepburn and Taylor received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

A selection of images from the set of Suddenly Last Summer are available as fine prints on the Magnum Shop, here.

Burt Glinn Twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth Taylor with her 4th husband, singer Eddie Fisher, on the set of "Suddenly Last Summer". The film, in which she co-stars with Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift, i (...)
Burt Glinn Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz on the set of the film "Suddenly Last Summer," starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift. Spain. 1959. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn Twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth Taylor ignores the begging of beach urchins in a scene from "Suddenly Last Summer", in which she co-stars with Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift. It is Taylor's (...)