LIFE photographer Philippe Halsman poised w. camera in serious portrait. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE photographer Philippe Halsman poised w. camera in serious portrait. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

He may never have been on LIFE’S staff, but Philippe Halsman (1906-1979) will always be considered one of the magazine’s most important photographers. That would be true even if one based the assessment only on cover shots. Halsman’s 101 outpaces any competition. Indeed, after shooting No. 100 (Johnny Carson), the Latvian-born lensman said, “This is the high point of my career. It has taken me 27 years to achieve this record, and I like to think of It as the equal of, maybe the superior of, Babe Ruth’s.” One of the premier portraitists of the century (three of his images appeared on postage stamps), he produced work that traveled comfortably from zany to disarming to exquisite. How did he manage to deal with such a range of celebrities? “As a photographer, you try to use the tools of the trade. If it is a painter you are photographing, you use a brush or an easel for a prop. For a sculptor, a chisel. For Mae West, you use a big bed.”

LIFE magazine cover published March 7, 1952, featuring Marilyn Monroe. (Photo by Philippe Halsman/The LIFE Images Collection)

LIFE magazine cover published March 7, 1952, featuring Marilyn Monroe. (Photo by Philippe Halsman/The LIFE Images Collection)

“Of the beautiful women I have photographed, I recall Marilyn Monroe most vividly,” said Halsman. “Her great talent was an ability to convey her ‘availability.’ I remember there were three men in the room … Each of us had the thought that if the others would only leave the room that something would happen between Marilyn and himself.” To get the cover photo at right, Halsman needed her to jump 200 times. Before she left she told him to call if another take was necessary-“even if it is four in the morning.” 

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

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