Bob Deutsch was just a teen when he first attended the filming of a television show in Manhattan in the early 1960s, but the experience would send him into a photography career surrounded by the biggest names in stage, television and film.
His photographs of these iconic personalities are the subject of a new exhibit, “Star Struck,” opening at the Stonewall Museum Wilton Manors Gallery this week.
Deutsch was 16 and living in Queens when a cousin who worked for CBS gave him tickets to “The Garry Moore Show,” featuring a young Carol Burnett.
“TV show tapings were free and because I liked them so much, I began sending away for tickets,” recalled Deutsch.
He collected autographs from many of the stars, but it was an encounter with Marilyn Monroe at Madison Square Garden that would send him on a career as a celebrity photographer. Monroe was attending a 1962 salute to President John Kennedy and Deutsch spotted her getting out of her limousine, but she declined to sign his autograph book. That’s when he “went out and got a camera.”
In those days, it was easier to get close to the stars. He would attend the performances and then hang around outside the studios, theater stage doors or even their hotels.
“We chatted and got friendly,” he said, capturing shots of Burnett, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand, Natalie Wood and Jane Fonda. Burnett would let him carry her bag from the studio to her hotel after her television shows.
Deutsch was invited to photograph Robert Goulet’s wedding and struck a friendship with Vivien Leigh, who was starring in “Tavarisch” on Broadway. Leigh invited him back to her dressing room several times and when the actress went back to London, they continued corresponding via mail.
It was all a hobby, however, until 1970, when Deutsch started selling his photographs to newspapers and magazines. He eventually went to work for Newsweek, where he worked until 1983.
He became a regular at the famed Studio 54 nightclub, capturing the celebrities who came to see and be seen.
“It was such a great rush to walk past all those people (waiting) in the line to get in,” he said. “But, I guarantee you, I didn’t have as a good a time as the people who were dancing.”
Deutsch is now a resident of Fort Lauderdale where he resides with his husband, but at the time, his parents owned an apartment in Miami and his visits to Florida frequently involved work.
He was among the last to photograph Elvis Presley who performed at the long-gone Hollywood Sportatorium. Deutsch had a $15 front row ticket and shot pictures of the singer, who was overweight and obviously in declining health. The pictures were published in Newsweek and outlets across Europe. Some of his images occasionally resurface in the tabloids, earning Deutsch residuals.
“When I go to Publix, I always go through the magazines,” he said.
Deutsch was also assigned to cover Elizabeth Taylor’s 1981 pre-Broadway, out-of-town tryout of “Little Foxes” at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, one of his fondest celebrity encounters. He photographed the first run-through in an empty theaters, “a wonderful memory.”
“When it was all over, they called me up on stage and asked me how I wanted (Taylor) to pose. As I was doing it, I was saying to myself, I’m actually directing Elizabeth Taylor,” he recalled.
The publicist was so thrilled with the images, Deutsch was invited to photograph the opening night party and presented with tickets later to the Broadway opening.
Eventually, the long hours and late nights got to Deutsch and he called it quits in 1983. Instead, he became a very successful real estate agent in Brooklyn, choosing not to speak of his previous career, except for one party at his apartment when he pulled slides from his closet.
Years later, his friend, Tony Timiraos, former executive director of Our Fund, introduced him to Stonewall National Museum and Archives executive David Jobin, and suggested an exhibit of his photographs. It’s been more than a year, but 32 photographs and some mementos have finally been assembled with the help of exhibit curator Charles Ross.
More than three decades later, Deutsch has fond memories of the experiences and the relationships he struck with those stars, but would never considering resuming his career.
“Absolutely not,” he exclaimed. “Now everybody has a camera on their phones. When I was a photographer it was all film and prints and my cameras were too heavy even back then. I can’t imagine all the pushing and shoving and waving.”
“Star Struck: Vintage Portraits of Gay Favorites” with photography by Bob Deutsch will be on display Jan. 7 – Feb. 14 at the Stonewall Museum – Wilton Manors Gallery, 2157 Wilton Dr. For more information and gallery hours, go to Stonewall-Museum.org.