BY EDWARD CALLAGHAN with Annie Watt
photos by Rob Rich
For over half a century, Francesco Scavullo reigned as one of the foremost fashion photographers in the world. This week the reign came to an end.
Gone is the dapper gent in the sailor hat and flashing smile. What remains is a legacy of extraordinary, iconic images that shaped the world’s perception of beauty for decades – and made fortunes for the magazines that carried his artfully lit cover subjects. Think "Cosmo Girl" for one!
New Yorker, Scavullo passed on joining the family hospitality business and set
out to capture beauty and glamour with his lens. Still in his 20’s, he scored
his first cover shoot for Seventeen Magazine – and a contract. His work
brought him to the attention of famed editors Carmel Snow and Anthony
Mazzola in rapid succession and new relationships that would carry on for
When publishing legend Helen Gurley Brown took over as Editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan it didn’t take long for her to get Scavullo on her team, beginning one of fashions most enduring and profitable marriages – lasting for over 30 years.
Scavullo’s vision of the approachable, sexy glamour girl jumped out at you from the newspaper stands and the supermarket counters. Brown and Scavullo created the ultimate in inspirational images for Brown’s "mouseburgers".
Scavullo is often credited for creating the supermodel and for good reason – Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Iman, Naomi Campbell are just a few of the faces he helped propel into world class status.
It wasn’t just the fashion world that clamored for his special touch. Royalty – real and the Hollywood version – were favorite and favored subjects of his deft art. Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Ross, Christopher Reeve, Brooke Shields even the famed photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe were among those who commissioned him for special portraits.
Almost 20 years ago, we had the rare opportunity of seeing the master at work when we escorted one-time model and then TV actress Erin Gray to his eastside townhouse that functioned as both home and studio. Sean Byrne, his lifetime partner and sittings editor, stylist and right hand, greeted us and escorted us to the make-up room where clothes, accessories, et al were carefully laid out.
Waiting for us was the late Way Bandy – at the time the wizard of glamour make-up with brushes and palette in hand – fashion’s Monet! For over two hours, Bandy worked to achieve the perfection that Scavullo sought while Byrne set, re-set then set again the lights and props. From time to time, Scavullo would emerge from his study to check on the progress and suggest changes.
The serenity was a total surprise to one used to the hurly-burly at traditional photo shoots. But this was Scavullo, whose own manic energy required such calm.
Finally, Scavullo pronounced all ready. Positions were taken up by his tiny army. Snap, snap, snap. In less than 20 minutes it was over. Finis! The director thanked all, and returned to the quiet of his study.
We later realized that this man, both accomplished artist and world-class director – was the true master of light. A manipulator of rays who could tap into his subject’s inner core and create beauty.
Ivory tower artist, he wasn’t! A fixture on the social scene he was a regular at Studio 54 and posh charity events uptown and down. Keenly aware of the changes in society he continued to break new ground – shooting a nude man – Burt Reynolds – for the first Cosmopolitan centerfold – the shot seen ‘round the world! Later he broke the ultimate fashion barrier, in shooting Beverly Johnson for the cover of Vogue, the first ever-black model to appear on the cover.
Ground-breaking campaigns for Versace, Calvin Klein, Valentino, and glorious covers for Harper’s Bazaar, Time, Life, Glamour, Harper’s & Queen and Interview were among the coups scored by Scavullo and Byrne.
Indeed just hours before his death from a heart ailment he and Sean were preparing to head downtown to shoot CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, son of his dear friend, Gloria Vanderbilt, when he felt faint. Moments later he died – and so has an era.
Both the memorial service held at the Frank Campbell Funeral Home and the solemn high mass celebrated the next day at the glorious cathedral-like St. Jean Baptiste Church were packed with old friends including: Christie Brinkley, Cornelia Guest, Eileen & Gerry Ford, Beth Rudin de Woody, Marty Richards, Jackie Rogers, Helen Gurley & David Brown, Debbie Dickenson, Carmen dell’Orefice, Dallas Boesendahl and Katie Ford. Father Edward Beck, concelebrating with two other priests, spoke eloquently – from first hand knowledge (having been photographed by Scavullo for the front cover of his own book) about Scavullo’s brilliant mastery of his art. "Step into the light, Father. Step into the light" he exhorted the cleric at a spontaneous shoot in Central Park.
"Now he is in the light of his Heavenly Father", proclaimed Father Beck. And so he is!