“When I got out of Stanford,” said Rex Hardy (1915-2004), “I wanted some adventure. I had run across Peter Stackpole, and I wanted to be like him. A chap I had gone to school with was going to open an office for LIFE, the new magazine, and hired me to cover Hollywood at $30 a week.” And that was that. In 1936, Hardy became the magazine’s first photographer to have Tinseltown as his beat, and he recorded portraits of Harpo Marx, Astaire and Rogers, and others. He departed LIFE in 1939, partly owing to disagreements with Picture Editor Wilson Hicks—but there was more to it: Hardy tried freelancing for a while, but it just didn’t work out. Finally, he said candidly, “the Navy came along, and that was the end of it for me. I lacked the talent that the rest of these people had, as well as the temperament… I guess I lacked the ego of the performer.” He did, however, have the courage to become an important test pilot.