Saturday, October 8, 2011

Photographer Robert Whitaker & Screenwrier David Zelag Goodman R.I.P.

Robert Whitaker

Robert Whitaker, who photographed The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and many others, passed on 20 September 2011 at the age of 71 after a long illness.

Robert Whitaker was born in Harpenden, Hertfordshire on 13 November 1939. He started in photography in England in the late Fifties. In 1961 he moved to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia where studied at the University of Melbourne and he opened a studio. It was when Mr. Whitaker accompanied a journalist friend to an interview with The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein during their Australian tour in June 1964 that he met the band. Brian Epstein was so impressed with Robert Whitaker's work that he offered him a position with NEMS as a photographer. Mr. Whitaker turned him down, but relented after seeing The Beatles perform at Festival Hall.

Robert Whitaker went to work for NEMS in August 1964. He would photograph most of the NEMS  stable, including album covers for Gerry and The Pacemakers and Cilla Black, as well as Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas. He also photographed Australian folk rock group The Seekers, including one album cover. Of course, he worked a good deal with The Beatles, with whom he became close friends (especially John Lennon). For two years he travelled with The Beatles, photographing them on their second American tour, as well as photographing them in the recording studio and even at home. Some of his photographs were used in Klaus Voorman's collage-illustration for the cover of the album Revolver. He also accompanied The Beatles on their Japanese tour in 1966.

It would be in 1966 that Robert Whitaker would take his most notorious photograph. That year would see the release of the album Yesterday and Today, a compilation of Beatles songs not released in the United States. The cover Robert Whitaker and The Beatles conceived for the album featured The Beatles in butcher's coats and draped with slabs of meat and dismembered dolls. As might be expected, Capitol Records received several protests from American distributors that the cover was in poor tastes. On 14 June 1966, the day before the album's release, Capitol Records issued a recall. The offensive cover was replaced by another Robert Whitaker photograph, one of The Beatles with a steamer trunk. Despite the recall, approximately 25,000 copies of what became known as "the Butcher Sleeve" were sold. 

It was in 1966 that The Beatles retired from touring. As a result Robert Whitaker was no longer needed as their full time photographer. He would go on to create the cover of the Cream album Disraeli Gears, to photograph Mick Jagger, and contribute to the magazine Oz. In the Seventies he photographed wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Middle East. He also photographed Salvador Dali. It was after his wife was almost killed by a rocket attack in 1972 that he retired from professional photography. Afterwards he grew crops and raised cattle on a farm in England.

There can be no doubt of Robert Whitaker's talent as a photographer. His photographs of The Beatles have stood the test of time not simply because they are photographs of The Beatles, but because Mr. Whitaker had an eye for composition when it came to pictures. Indeed, if the Butcher Sleeve caused such a stir in 1966 it was perhaps because it was so well executed. Quite simply, Mr. Whitaker composed the picture so that it would have maximum effect. Given such talent, even if Robert Whitaker had not photographed The Beatles, chances are that he would have become famous as a photographer.

David Zelag Goodman

David Zelag Goodman, who wrote screenplays for movies ranging from The Stranglers of Bombay (1960) to Straw Dogs (1971), passed on 26 September 2011 at the age of 81. 

David Zelag Goodman was born on 15 January 1930 in New York City. He earned a degree in English at Queens College and he studied drama at Yale. 

He was 24 when he wrote the play High Named Today. It was set to debut in January 1954 with Jane Wyatt in the lead part. Unfortunately, its financial backers pulled out, so that in the end it only had a short run Off Broadway.  His debut as a screenwriter was with Hammer Films' The Stranglers of Bombay in 1959. He went on to write episodes of The Untouchables, Combat, and Mr. Broadway. Nineteen seventy saw his return to feature films, with screenplays for Lovers and Other Strangers and Monte Walsh. He would go on to collaborate with Sam Peckinpah and the controversial film Straw Dogs (1971) and work on screenplays for Man on a Swing (1974), Farewell, My Lovely (1975), Logan's Run (1977), Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Fighting Back (1982), and Man, Woman, and Child (1983).

David Zelag Goodman was a very talented writer who was also very versatile. He wrote Straw Dogs. Sam Peckinpah's controversial psychological thriller, but he also wrote the comedy Lovers and Other Strangers. The movies on which he worked ranged from hard boiled detective (an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely) to science fiction (Logan's Run) to horror (The Eyes of Laura Mars).  David Zelag Goodman had a versatility few screenwriters could boast.

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