Kubrick and the Showgirl

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“The threshold between private life and public image was the focus for Kubrick’s photo story on Rosemary Williams, a showgirl who had promising good looks, though her career has left barely a trace. Kubrick closely observed the young actress offstage, going about her daily life – out in public, with fellow performers, and all alone, applying makeup and contemplating herself like a modern Narcissa (although rather than falling in love with herself, she seems to be coolly checking whether her figure lives up to her profession’s high commercial expectations). Whether she appears gregarious and provocative or focused and introspective, Kubrick’s photographs of Williams reveal a life in which even the most intimate moments were consciously staged events.” from Drama and Shadows: Photographs 1945-1950, Rainer Crone

In 1945 at the tender age of 17, Stanley Kubrick became a staff photographer for LOOK magazine, which was published from 1937 until 1971. During his time there he would go on to shoot roughly 12,000 photographs for the magazine of which only about 20% were ever published.

One such feature was a photo essay he shot in the Spring of 1949 of Rosemary Williams. Aside from the narrative, cinematic quality to some of the images he shot of Rosemary, I feel there is a sense of gentleness to them that reaches beyond the surface of considered posing. I wanted to share some of my favorites from Kubrick’s piece, of which about 125 images alone are archived on the Museum of the City of New York web site and Juli Kearns’ fantastic Fun with Kubrick. However, it is reported that he shot more than 500 photographs of Rosemary.

It seems that Rosemary was paving the way on her road to stardom.  According to Life magazine by 1951 “…She decorated the stage in both “Peep Show” and “As the Girls Go”, graced the air waves in both radio and television, and her picture has been seen by tens of millions of Americans on magazine covers (above), in ads, publicity pictures and fashion photographs.” However in 1950 or 1949, the same year she did the shoot with Kubrick, she became embroiled in a relationship with “Broadway’s Biggest Chump”, Sid Levy, who would go on to embezzle more than $40,000 by claiming to be an executive in the textile industry offering a chance to invest in nylon.

The full article with accompanying transcript can be found on Fun with Kubrick.

Also worth reading is this February 1952 article of the Sunday Herald on the conclusion of the trial of “Sad Sid” and our “Winter Garden Cleopatra”, Rosemary Williams, which sounds as if it played out like a sensational demi-monde drama. I love that the article even includes that the definition of the word “schmo” was included in the footnotes of the case.

Little else is known about Rosemary Williams after she appeared on stage with Shirley MacLaine in the 1953 musical comedy, Me and Juliet. She seems to have vanished all together. I wonder what became of her.

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2 thoughts on “Kubrick and the Showgirl

  1. It’s kind of haunting to wonder first why Kubrick was so into her and then what happened to her. Did she die? Disappear into obscurity? I wonder. Also, did she live in the Hollywood area? I know it may seem weird, but just from living in this big, big city, I can sort of see how people can vanish here. It’s so big that nobody would notice at all, even if you were famous. Truly haunting stuff.

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    • I would really like to know as well! I sent an email to the Museum of the City of New York to ask. They posted an article about her on 3rd August 2011 asking if anyone had any information on her. I’ll let you know if they get back to me. I like to think that she rejoined her family in Ohio, where her son from a previous marriage was living with his grandparents (Ohio girls!). She was living in New York City at the time Kubrick photographed her in 1949. In an apartment that cost $24 a month – pretty amazing for Manhattan! Her story reminds me a bit of the Verdelle Smith cover of the song Tar & Cement: Always makes me a bit weepy!

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