Roy Schatt

Roy Schatt was born in New York City in 1909 and pursued a lifelong passion and career in the arts. He studied under N.C. Wyeth, painted murals during the WPA and used his artistic skills in the Army while stationed in India. Post-war he returned to New York City where he worked in advertising, acting, illustration and photography and landed in the circle of many creative personalities. He was influenced by renowned photographers Erich Salomon, Edward Weston, Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams. Roy Schatt’s photographs have been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, NY, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, Art Institute of Chicago, and included in national and international gallery exhibitions.

WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC is the exclusive representative of the estate of photographer Roy Schatt (1909-2002) in collaboration with Ron Cayen Inc.

Schatt is best known for his remarkable photographs of James Dean with whom he developed a special friendship. As a fellow actor and with a great interest in photography, Dean formed a special bond with Schatt and wanted to learn art from him. About the beginning of their relationship, Schatt states "He was a squinty schlump of a person all bent over. Then Dean suddenly got up and this ugly person became a dream, an Adonis who started to dance around the room. It was a transition I couldn't believe. (…) During our first meeting Jim asked me if I would shoot him, not as a regular session, but to document his activities. It soon developed that he wanted to shoot me as well, so we began classes."

show more

During the course of their yearlong friendship cut short by Dean's tragic death, Schatt captured the iconic “Torn Sweater” series portraits, as well as other images of Dean in personal moments playing the bongos at a party, pretending to steal candy from a newsstand or practicing the art of photography using Schatt and actor friends as his subject. Schatt also remembers how the darkroom, which Dean found tedious and boring, offered them the opportunity to speak about a wide range of topics. “Dean and I often talked about art to get him through the session. He was particularly curious about people who were able to communicate their perceptions or idea in a bold or unusual way. We often discussed artists of different disciplines, one time talking about photographers, another time a painter, another a writer. Roy summarizes their relationship cut short by Dean’s death in these words: “I knew James Dean from February 1954 until he died in September 1955. I knew him as a friend and as a student. He was a disrupter of norms, a bender of rules, a disquieter of calm. Through the following pictures and vignettes, I hope to transmit a glimpse of his most insistent, and perhaps eternal, presence".

show less

During the 50s, Roy Schatt lived in Greenwich Village, the vibrant artistic epicenter of the epoch, and befriended creative personalities. Schatt's forte in portrait photography and his sensibility as an actor allowed him to capture the most genuine, even vulnerable, emotions of his subjects. Famed director Lee Strasberg recognized his caliber as a photographer and named Schatt the Official Photographer of the Actor's Studio.

Schatt's estate includes never before seen photographs of members of The Actors Studio during the 1950's as well as many other images of personalities active in the New York theatrical community, such as Elia Kazan, Lee Strasberg, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Geraldine Page, Tennessee Williams, Steve McQueen, Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier, Joanne Woodward, Martin Landau, Arthur Miller, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Ben Gazzara, Maureen Stapleton and many other creative individuals (John Cassavetes, Dorothy Parker, Brendan Behan, Lillian Hellman, Lorne Greene, Andy Griffith, Bud Schulberg, William Saroyan and Marlene Dietrich).

Schatt's work has been exhibited at Manhattan's International Center for Photography, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, the Chicago Institute of Art and many other museums. In January 1955, Edward Steichen's choice for the Museum of Modern Art's collection was a Roy Schatt photograph.

A look back at acclaimed photographer Roy Schatt’s work on WPIX11 NEWS

show more


1909 Roy Schatt born in New York City

1918 Attended Grand Central High School (studied painting with N.C. Wyeth)

1920's Studied Art Students League, Corcoran School of Art. Worked at Warner Bros Art Department, WashingtonDC as Art Director

1934 Married Masha Arms (Roy was 25, Masha 26 years old). They bought themselves a miniature German 45 mm camera (Pupille) as a wedding present and later traded it in for a Leica. Roy taught Masha how to photograph and develop film. She later became a female pioneer in photography and teacher. However, she left Roy for her second husband in 1941. Roy won first place in a Leica photography competition

1935-39 Illustrated books, created drawings and photographs

1940’s Painted murals under “New Deal’ programs for artists (WPA) developed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt

1942-45 Served in U.S. Army, India (Special Operations), wrote editorial, created posters, developed theatre and music events

1945 Roy moved to NYC, 33rd Street

1946-53 Roy worked for advertising company BBDO as a graphic artist for Lucky Strike Hit Parade. Studied acting and directing. Became a character model for ads by Howard Zieff, who created memorable ad campaigns. Zieff became a Director and Producer, known for the films ‘My Girl’ and ‘Private Benjamin’. Roy’s expressive face was perfect for Zieff’s campaigns and he cast Roy in numerous ads for everyday products. Zieff was known for innovative ad casting and worked with Robert de Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss.

He met José Quintero, Director, Producer and co-founder of Circle in the Square theatre in the WestVillage, which helped define the off-Broadway movement. Quintero was directing Tennessee Williams’, “Summer and Smoke”. Roy photographed the cast and production and brought attention to Geraldine Page and her performance through his images. Roy’s photos were utilized in publications and his work was exhibited in the theatre and he became the house photographer. Roy was invited to view a class at The Actors Studio and met Lee Strasberg. Roy photographed several classes and after viewing his photos, Strasberg named him the Official Photographer for The Actors Studio. Elia Kazan asked Roy to teach him about photography. Roy photographed many significant actors, directors, playwrights, poets and writers at The Actors Studio and became known as ‘the photographer’ in the acting and theatre community. His apartment was a gathering place for actor friends, as well as Roy’s makeshift photo studio and darkroom.

1954 Roy met James Dean through an actress friend and Roy’s first impression of Dean was transformative, “He was a squinty schlump of a person all bent over. Then Dean suddenly got up and this ugly person became a dream, an Adonis who started to dance around the room. It was a transition I couldn't believe." Roy also made an impression on Dean, and James Dean asked Roy to teach him how to photograph. Dean wanted to learn everything about photography, the camera and the process. The photography lessons brought together two very different individuals, Roy was committed to his craft and was not so patient with the youthful antics of Dean. However, they walked the streets of New York looking for photo ops, spent time in Roy’s beloved MOMA, hung out with actor friends Martin Landau, Bill Heller and Bud Schulberg in Roy’s apartment. Although Roy taught Dean the art of developing film, Dean had no patience to watch and wait for film to develop, he was more fascinated with being behind the camera. Many of James Dean’s friends, including Roy, became the subjects for Dean’s photography sessions. When James Dean died it was a confusing time for Roy, he was hounded by James Dean fans for years, who discovered where Roy lived and wanted a glimpse into the world of James Dean.

1955 – 1960’s Roy continued to photograph the acting community, including Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen, Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Martin Landau, Arthur Miller, Geraldine Page, Dorothy Parker, Sidney Lumet, Lorne Greene, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Andy Griffith, Bud Schulberg, Ben Gazzara, Maureen Stapleton, William Saroyan, Leonard Bernstein, John Cassavetes, Eli Wallach, Vincent Price, Eva Gabor, Marlene Dietrich, Peter Falk, Susan Strasberg, Ben Gazzara, Lillian Hellman, Hal Holbrook, David Ross, Ricardo Montalban and many more talented individuals.

1957 Jazz and other musicians, Roy photographed Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Eartha Kitt, Dinah Washington, Big Joe Turner, Coleman Hawkins, Dave Brubeck and other talented singers and musicians.

1960’s Roy married Elaine Vorgetts, who encourages Roy to pursue his photography career

Roy photographed special guests on the long running popular radio program, ‘Long John Nebel’, who received his name due to his height and slender build. Jackie Gleason wrote in his introduction to a biography of Nebel: "Why is Nebel so strangely entertaining?... because the best entertainment is entertainment that opens your mind and tells you the world is bigger than you thought it was."

1963 Photographed JFK’s funeral

1964 Photographed Malcolm X

1964– 1990’s Roy photographed many aspiring actors and provided special photographs through his ‘method’ approach, looking for unguarded moments using available light.

1982 Published his book James Dean: A Portrait, which is Roy Schatt’s account of his time with Dean and most of his legendary photographs of James Dean.

1984 Art Institute of Chicago acquired a Roy Schatt photo for their collection, a 1955 image of Marilyn Monroe without makeup, wearing a hat

1990 Limited editions prints were created by Roy, of selected images of his James Dean photos Roy sued a licensing company for copyright infringement for taking his photos from his James Dean book and reproducing them on merchandise. Thereafter the licensing company made an agreement to purchase Roy’s copyright to all his James Dean images, which Roy sold in 1991.

2002 Roy passed away May 4, 2002, at the age of 92 He was survived by his wife, Elaine, nephews and extended family.

2004 New York Public Library acquired the "Circle in the Square" archives, which include many photographs by Roy Schatt, images of Arthur Miller, José Quintero and Tennessee Williams.

2006 Exhibitions of Roy’s limited edition prints of James Dean and other photos are presented in Munich, Paris, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami.

2009 Syracuse University organizes the Long John Nebel radio archives, gifted by John Nebel, which includes historic photos from the radio program by Roy Schatt.

2014 The Smithsonian exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, entitled, “American Cool”, selected and highlighted Roy’s photo of James Dean sitting in the round window of Dean’s West 68th Street apartment.

2015 WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC becomes the exclusive representative for the Estate of Roy Schatt and views a large portion of Schatt’s archive. Many negatives still remain from the 1950’s - 90’s era of Roy Schatt’s photos, some never developed.

WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC premieres the exhibition of Roy Schatt’s photographs of James Dean and The Actors Studio, many never before seen in a first time comprehensive exhibition for Schatt.

show less

Solo Exhibitions

  • 2015 - James Dean and The Actors Studio, WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC

  • 2006 - JAMES DEAN - American Icon, TRESART, Miami

  • 2006 - James DEAN, Gallery RX, Paris

  • 2004 - James Dean Collection ca. 1947-1954, 1989, Indiana Historical Society

Group Exhibitions

  • 2014 - National Portrait Gallery "American Cool"

  • 2011 - James Dean: A Different Icon. Roy Schatt, Phil Stern, Dennis Stock, Museum THE KENNEDYS, Berlin

  • 2010 - FACES OF OUR TIMES, Atlas Gallery, London

  • 2007 - Portraits, Galerie RX, Paris

  • 2006 - The World's Most Photographed, National Portrait Gallery, London

  • 2006 - Jacques Lowe, Roy Schatt, Bert Stern, Museum Ludwig, Köln

  • 2005 - James Dean photographed by Roy Schatt, Phil Stern, Dennis Stock, Camera Work, Berlin

  • National Portrait Gallery

  • Art Institute of Chicago