Photographer John Dominis with his camera. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Photographer John Dominis with his camera. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

After an Air Force tour in Japan, John Dominis (1921-2013) wanted to remain in that country and work. Freelance work was illegal there in 1946, but his photographer colleagues helped him stay and get his start. He would return many times to Asia to cover wars. Back home, he shot sports (he had played end for USC in the 1944 Rose Bowl), politics, celebrities, even food. He spent three months trailing Sinatra to witness him in his element, among swank and boozy stars.

Leopard about to kill a terrified baboon. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Leopard about to kill a terrified baboon. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

That experience of tracking a subject helped the stalwart Dominis on his famous “The Great Cats of Africa.” The series won him an award even as he was still in the bush—and even though he orchestrated his famous baboon-leopard encounter (the feline was a rental dropped in among the simians)—Dominis had never suggested otherwise. “Frankly, it was set up,” he said. “In those days we were not against setting up some pictures that were impossible to get any other way.”

Actor Steve McQueen & wife Neile at home. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Actor Steve McQueen & wife Neile at home. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

On the occasion of Sinatra’s soth birthday, Dominis went to Florida, where he was performing. Dominis ended up spending three months with him, resulting in an unrivaled set of images of the entertainer.

Entertainer Frank Sinatra smoking a cigarette during a rehearsal. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Entertainer Frank Sinatra smoking a cigarette during a rehearsal. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

“Steve McQueen was really a nice guy, but he’s another of the ones who didn’t really want to have even one picture taken, even though he’d agreed to the story… I had done quite a lot of sports-car racing when I lived in Hong Kong, so for fun I rented a Jaguar. I knew he had a Jaguar, and I thought it would help a little bit… He drove my car and I drove his. I started shooting a few pictures. I didn’t hang around him a long time, maybe three weeks, and finally he relaxed.”

Trout flying out of bed of almonds in preparation for trout amandine. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Trout flying out of bed of almonds in preparation for trout amandine. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

This photo is from LIFE’S Great Dinners series, which Dominis worked on with editor Eleanor Graves. “We didn’t want our pictures to look like ones in all the food and women’s magazines,” says Dominis. “I got these slivered almonds, and put this trout in there with a fishing line on it… The trout was soft from being cooked and it just fell apart. Finally, I cooked the trout on one side to make it the proper color, and then I put the line in and put it in the freezer. When it was stiff and firm, we put it in the almonds and my assistant pulled it out.” 

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

More Like This

Students Steve Poster and Jessalyn Gray (fore C) talking at side of taxi while crowd of White Supremacists taunt them. (Photo by Joe Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Joe Scherschel

Sassy, plump baby chicks heralding the spring. (Photo by Wallace Kirkland/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Wallace Kirkland

People walking along the shore of Hydra, Greece. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

James Burke

President Franklin D. Roosevelt listening to speeches. (Photo by Thomas McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Thomas McAvoy

Painter Henri Matisse using a bamboo pole tipped with charcoal to draw a half-scale figure of St. Dominic. (Photo by Robert Capa/The LIFE Images Collection) Photographer

Robert Capa

An unidentified woman looks at the tag on one of many paintings in a storage room in the home of financier and art collector Chester Dale, New York, New York, 1938. (Photo by Rex Hardy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Rex Hardy