Palm Beach - CZ! Capri - Marissa! Acapulco - Gloria! Only one photographer has captured the beau monde in all its secluded splendor: the legendary Slim Aarons. On October 29, we celebrate Mr. Aaron's 98th Birthday!
George Allen Aarons was born in Manhattan and raised by his grandparents in New Hampshire. In the early 1940s, Aarons enlisted in the U.S. Army. At West Point, now a military photographer, Aarons was introduced to Hollywood director Frank Capra, who was recruiting people to work overseas for Yank, a military newspaper. "Capra got me out," Aarons remarked. "Quite a thing for a kid like me." While in combat, Aarons was wounded by an explosion during the invasion of Anzio. "That's how I got my Purple Heart," Aarons explained. "I gave it to a blonde I knew after the war. She said she liked the color."
Upon returning to The United States, Slim began work at Life magazine, where he met his future wife, Rita Dewart. Aarons would never again photograph war; when asked to cover the Korean War, he replied: "I'll only do a beach if it has a blonde on it." He began photographing for high-profile publications such as Harper's Bazaar and Holiday, working alongside visionary art directors Alexey Brodovich and Frank Zachary. Slim Aarons, the self-described "simple farm boy," found himself at the pinnacle of New York City's publishing world. But Manhattan was merely the springboard for Aaron's dive into the beau monde.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, Aarons charmed and seduced the international jet set, smoothly snapping images of their palazzos, yachts and opulent lifestyles in such hotspots as Saint Tropez, Capri, Monaco and Porto Ercole. Town & Country and Life splashed his breezy, sexy photographs across their pages to a public enchanted by la dolce vita. Aaron's love affair with Italy resulted in a magnificent series of photographs featuring the country's wealthiest families lounging in the world's most sumptuous locales, from the sparkling Mediterranean at Costa Smeralda to the white capped Alps at Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Distinctive among Aaron's numerous photographs is the shimmering swimming pool. Whether perched upon the precipice of a rocky Mediterranean coastline or surrounded by magnificent Grecian columns, the sparkling pool lures the voyeur to indulge in its warm and luxurious acqua. One timeless image snapped in Palm Beach, Florida showcases American socialite CZ Guest at the height of her allure. Aaron's photograph captures Guest as a cool, privileged blonde -- the epitome of classic WASP style.
New Year's Eve, 1957. Romanoff's Restaurant. Hollywood's royalty - Clark Gable, James Stewart, Van Heflin and Gary Cooper - known as the "Kings of Hollywood," the image that immortalized the Golden Age of Hollywood. Kudos, Slim!
Aarons hobnobbed with the pillars of high society. Lee Radziwill, Babe Paley, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness and Slim Keith (coined the "swans" by Truman Capote) welcomed Slim into their lives. "They would invite me to one of their parties because they knew I wouldn't hurt them. I was one of them," Aarons said. Once in London, during the Ascot races, Aarons was knocked down by guards in the royal enclosure, when he was rescued by Prince Philip. "Slim, what the hell are they doing to you?" the Prince asked. In a little known bit of Hollywood trivia, Aarons told of his pivotal role in one of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces. "You ever see the movie Rear Window?" Slim asked. "That was my apartment!" Hitchcock, as the story goes, was so taken by Aaron's cool Greenwich Village studio that he decided to model the Jimmy Stewart character and film set after Slim and his apartment.
Slim Aaron's lush photographs are preserved in a collection of gorgeous tabletop books, including Slim Aarons: A Place in the Sun and Slim Aarons: La Dolce Vita. Nancy Holmes, the late photojournalist, editor and model, once quipped, "Slim at heart is still a hick from New Hampshire, but he's chic as hell." Yes, Slim Aarons was chic, yet also loyal and respectful. The socialites warmly welcomed the war hero; in turn, he found solace in a milieu antithetical to the hell of war. Aarons was captivated with his subjects, and they may very well have been captivated by him. It was a mutually beneficial relationship that culminated in timeless images of a bygone era.
Slim's signature catchphrase: "I have concentrated on photographing attractive people who were doing attractive things in attractive places." Well, yes, Slim, you certainly did!