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 Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Erich Salomon. 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.
Roy Schatt was a dedicated photographer for 60 years, who captured legendary individuals and historic moments.
Utilizing his 'method' approach and use of only natural light, Roy was committed to a pure form of photography. He developed all his photographs in his 33rd Street darkroom, with a focus on the balance of light. His inspiration from the photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, provided him with a skilled and experienced understanding of the camera as a means to achieve much more than 'documentation', but a meaningful art form translated into a photograph. His study of art, theatre, writing and history were the building blocks of his own photographic art. Below is a small review of the Roy Schatt Estate archive of photographs:
James Dean and the 'Torn Sweater' Series (1954-55)
Schatt developed a remarkable friendship with James Dean. 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."
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.
The Actors Studio, New York City (1950s - 1960s)
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).
The Newport Jazz Festival (1955-57)
Schatt's estate includes never before seen photographs of the Newport Jazz Festival, founded in 1954 by Elaine Lorrilard.
Subjects include Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gilespie, Mahalia Jackson, Ethel Waters, Eartha Kitt, Muriel Rahn, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Thelma Middleton, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan, Pee Wee Russell, Paul Desmond, Jo Jones, Billy Strayhorn Taylor.
Long John Nebel & The Tonight Show (1961-78)
Roy Schatt documented the famous "Long John Nebel & The Tonight Show" for over 17 years. WOR, one of New York's leading radio stations, faced poor ratings when Nebel proposed an interview show in 1954. Within a few months Nebel was getting not only high ratings but also press attention from throughout the United States for the radio program, which was broadcast over half of the US territory.
Subjects include Malcolm X, Jackie Vernon, Jacqueline Susann, Pat Boone, Jean Shepherd, John Birch, Hal Holbrook, Don Adams, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Johnny Carson, Barry Farber, Big Wilson.
The John Nebel archive is currently held at Syracuse University. The archive includes a selection of historic photos by Roy Schatt.
Additional Photography (1930s - 2000s)
In addition to Roy Schatt’s most famous series of photography, he has photographed numerous other events, places, paid assignments, and notable people/personalities.
Events: The World's Fair, An Anti-Castro Riot, Night Nick's Jazz, The Jazz Festival at Loew’s, On Set of “We the People,” Bernardo Segal’s Party, Rose Tattoo Opening Party, Christmas at Lord & Taylor, Night Reizini/Limelights, The JFK Funeral Procession;
Places: New York, Washington Square Park, Grand Central Station, the Limelight, Fire Island, Paris, London;
Notable People/Personalities: Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Rod Steiger, Teri & Brooke Sheilds, Stiller & Meara, Roy & Walter Overton, Monroe & Michael Gazzo, Jackie Vernon, Angela Lansbury, Helena Rubenstein with her Picasso Paintings, Ruby Dee, Jo Can Fleet, Lenny Rosenman, Michele Morgan, Jeff Bridges.
1909 Roy Schatt born in New York City
1924-27 Attended Grand Central High School (studied painting with N.C. Wyeth)
1928-30 Studied Art Students League
1930-32 Studied Corcoran School of Art, Washington DC
1933-39 Worked at Warner Bros Art Department, Washington DC as Art Director. Illustrated books, created drawing and photographs.
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. Roy and Masha's marriage ended in 1941, however, Masha went on to become a female pioneer in photographer and a teacher. Roy later won first place in a Leica photography competition.
1935-39 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, 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.
1955-57 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
1961-78 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
1964–1990’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. Thousands of negatives remain intact from the 1950's-90's era of Roy Schatt's photographs, a treasure of images unpublished.
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.
> Catalog of American Portraits, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery
Art Institute of Chicago