Written By: Liz Ronk

A native Californian who maintained a lifelong connection with the Bay Area even as he traveled the globe for a quarter-century as a professional photographer Peter Stackpole was born in San Francisco in 1913 to artist parents, and developed an interest in photography in grammar school. Early in his career he was affiliated with the influential ensemble of like-minded, San Francisco-based photographers known as Group f/64 (which included greats such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams) and also photographed for the Oakland Tribune newspaper.

Stackpole was one of the “original four” the celebrated quartet of staff photographers (along with Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Thomas McAvoy) on LIFE magazine’s masthead at its launch in November 1936.

During his 24-year career at LIFE, Stackpole covered stories as varied in scope and tone as the construction of great bridges, from the Delaware River to the Golden Gate; dance marathons; film directors and movie starlets; and the struggle in the Pacific during World War II. (He worked side by side with a younger but soon-to-be-legendary photographer, W. Eugene Smith, during the Battle of Saipan in the summer of 1944; Stackpole’s name appeared above Smith’s when their graphic, chilling pictures from Saipan were published together in LIFE during the war.)

Jokingly nicknamed “Life Goes to a Party Stackpole” by his colleagues, because he so frequently covered parties and the Hollywood set for the magazine, he spent more than 10 years in LIFE’s Los Angeles bureau reporting on the mystifying universe known as California.

In 1941, Stackpole was assigned to photograph the notoriously hard-partying Errol Flynn, which later came back to haunt him when he was called to the stand as a witness in a 1943 statutory rape case against the movie star. (A nightclub dancer named Peggy Satterlee claimed that, when she was 15 years old, Flynn attacked her on his boat around the time Stackpole was shooting his feature for LIFE; Flynn was acquitted of that charge, and of a similar charge involving another underage girl.)

A technical master known for his underwater photography, Stackpole also worked on numerous “behind the scenes” features for LIFE, as when he creatively documented the making of the 1954 Jules Verne epic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In 1953 he won one of the very earliest George Polk Awards in photojournalism for his eerie, final pictures of competitive free-diver Hope Root descending into the ocean depths off the coast of Florida while trying to set a world record in deep-water diving. Root vanished during the dive, and was never seen again.

After he left LIFE in 1960, Stackpole returned to the Bay Area and taught for years at the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco; he also wrote a column, “35mm Techniques,” for the popular magazine, U.S. Camera. In 1991, Stackpole’s Oakland, Calif., home burned down along with the negatives from much of his astonishing career. But because he was for so long a staff photographer with LIFE, most of his archives were housed with Time Inc., and survived a trove of pictures, like those selected for this gallery, that serve as testament to one photojournalist’s magnificent body of work.

Alfred Hitchcock looks out over the grounds of the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel in 1939.

Alfred Hitchcock looked out over the grounds of the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel in 1939.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

American troops in the Pacific bathe during a lull in the fighting on the island of Saipan, 1944.

American troops in the Pacific bathed during a lull in the fighting on the island of Saipan, 1944.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Glendale Junior College students danced on Balboa Beach, 1947 California

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Workers raised a truss 160 feet above the water during the construction of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in 1951.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Frank Higgins takes a nap during production of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in 1952.

Communications chief Frank Higgins napped in the water during production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1952.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

American soldiers drill under camouflage netting, which screens a coastal defense position, in 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

American soldiers drilled under camouflage netting, which screened a coastal defense position in California, in 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

An American soldier holds a wounded Japanese boy in an airplane on Saipan as they await a flight to the nearest field hospital in 1944.

An American held a wounded Japanese boy in an airplane on Saipan as they awaited a flight to the nearest field hospital in 1944.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A pilot of the U.S. Women's Air Force Service at Avenger Field, Texas, in 1943.

A pilot of the U.S. Women’s Air Force Service at Avenger Field, Texas, in 1943.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

How to Undress For Your Husband, 1937

Former burlesque star June St. Clair (right) showed a novice how to disrobe during a demonstration on “how wives should undress for their husbands” at the Allen Gilbert School of Undressing in 1937.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A model combed her hair as she showed off the latest WWII-era fashion in 1943: black cotton stockings with an extra pair of garters to help prevent bagging at the knees—a design created by hose manufacturers in response to the challenge of wartime rayon restrictions.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1943

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Film legend Gary Cooper in Aspen, Colo., in 1949

Film legend Gary Cooper in Aspen, Colo., in 1949.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor sits at a desk in a classroom at Hollywood's University High School in 1950.

Elizabeth Taylor at a desk in a classroom at Hollywood’s University High School in 1950.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Errol Flynn aboard his yacht Sirocco in 1941

Errol Flynn on his yacht in 1941.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Alec Guinness puts on his make-up during a run at at the Stratford Shakespeare festival in 1958.

Alec Guinness applied his make-up during a run at at the Stratford Shakespeare festival in 1958.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Sophia Loren in Coney Island New York in 1958

Sophia Loren sampled the thrills at Coney Island in 1958.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Actress Jeanne Crain balances a soap bubble on her index finger as she luxuriates in a bubble bath in a scene from the 1946 movie, Margie.

Actress Jeanne Crain balanced a soap bubble on her index finger as she luxuriated in a bath in a scene from the 1946 movie, Margie.

Peter Stackpole/ Life Pictures/Shutterstock

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