The bed may seem like an unusual place to stage a celebrity portrait. What’s even more surprising is the many moods that LIFE photographers were able to achieve when they brought their subjects under—or in most cases, on top of—the covers.
The most obvious mood to create is that of seduction, which Peter Stackpole did with his photo of actress Rita Hayworth. That image from 1945 captures the hold she had on her audience, later vividly portrayed in a classic scene in The Shawshank Redemption.
But some of LIFE’s bed portraits have a heavier mood. Consider a photo of William S. Burroughs, taken by Loomis Dean. The author of such novels as Naked Lunch and Junky is wearing a suit as he sits on a narrow bed with a squishy-looking mattress, while a bright light shines overhead in a modest-looking room. While the bed is nominally in a place of repose, nothing about this picture looks comfortable, which is fitting for the man who produced some of the most memorably disturbing literature of the 20th century.
Another man who looked uncomfortable in his bedroom portrait—Richard Nixon. He was photographed by Cornell Capa in 1952, the year he would be elected Vice President. Like Burroughs, he wears a tie and dress clothes. Here the future President sits up on a narrow bed, his dress shoes on the bedquilt as he reviews documents that he has propped on his legs.
Nixon is not the only subject to take his work into bed. Vladimir Nabokov is somehow writing while lying on his back (although this was not his normal routine). Comedian Bob Hope talks on the phone while getting a foot massage in a picture that makes the bed seem like the touring comedian’s office. Henri Matisse pulls off the impressive trick of sculpting in bed—though using the bedroom as a place of creation is has some precedent among great artists.
Of course some some subjects appear to be relaxed and enjoying themselves. John F Kennedy and wife Jackie play with their daughter Caroline. Author W. Somerset Maughm enjoys the luxury of breakfast in bed. Actors Jimmy Stewart and Paulette Goddard are each seen reading in bed, in very different circumstances—she is traveling on a transatlantic cruise, and he is back at his family home after having served in World War II.
The most striking bedroom photo may be of Sophia Loren and her husband, movie producer Carlo Ponti. The picture was among those taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for a story on the couple moving into their dream house, a 50-room villa near Rome. The shoot was no doubt exhausting for an article that ran at ten pages in LIFE. Eisenstadt photographed the actress by the pool, picking fruit, and wearing many different outfits in the home’s various settings. In bed with her husband, more than any of the other stars that LIFE shot in their bedrooms, she truly looks as if she needs to lay down.