Byline: Mary Panzer
Everybody who makes it big has some sweet stroke of luck early on. That's what the movies say, anyway. And for Stanley Kubrick that charmed moment came at age 16. As a skinny misfit growing up in the Bronx, Kubrick wanted to be a film director. By 29 he had made four features, including the World War I masterpiece Paths of Glory. But what happened in between?
Long before he was a dark, charismatic Hollywood boy genius-destined to direct some of the seminal films of the last half-century (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange)-Stanley Kubrick was a dark, eccentric, exasperating kid from the Grand Concourse, bursting with ambition. He was a doctor's son who lived in a house when everyone else lived in an apartment. He drove his father's Buick when most families didn't even own a car. He played drums in the school band, if rather poorly. He watched films religiously, spending more time in the movie house, by some accounts, than in the classroom. He took photographs incessantly, toting around a big Speed Graphic. And in that brief era presided over by Harry Truman, when most of Kubrick's peers went into the family business or off to college or succumbed to the draft, the future filmmaker landed his first steady job-at America's second-favorite picture magazine, Look. Kubrick considered it a miraculous break. "The experience was invaluable to me," he would later say. "Not only because I learned a lot about photography, but also because it gave me a quick education in how things happened in the world."
The Bronx teenager liked to call himself Stan; the back of his early photos bore a rubber-stamp imprint: stan kubrick photo, 1414 shakespeare ave., nyc. In 1945, during his junior year of high school, he was already quite comfortable behind a lens, shooting for the Taft Review, the student newspaper. He fancied himself a street-smart journalist and sometimes dressed like a news photographer in the movies.
Then, on April 12 of that year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. The next day Kubrick went out, camera in hand, and found a corner news vendor surrounded by papers announcing plans for F.D.R.'s funeral. Kubrick made the shot-capturing the vendor's grim and homely face, wrinkled and expressive, set amid headlines (roosevelt dead) that worked like internal picture captions. Kubrick took the photo into Manhattan to sell. At Look magazine, Helen O'Brian ran the picture desk. She offered him $25. At the New York Daily News, he was offered only ten. So Kubrick went for the big bucks, and Look, due to its long, six-week lead time, ran the photo (credit: Stan Kubrick) on June 26, 1945. Kubrick, one month from turning 17, had made real money shooting an artful news picture: succinct, graphic, and humane.
Pleased with his good fortune and with having nudged a foot in the door at Look, Kubrick began to deliver short picture stories to O'Brian, and the magazine bought them. Luckily enough, when he graduated, in January 1946, she offered him a bona fide job-at $50 a week. Over the next four years, Kubrick would shoot several hundred assignments, from silly stories about bubble-gum-blowing contests to celebrity profiles of Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, and Rocky Graziano. Today these images are buried in copies of a magazine that almost no one remembers. But if you can find a few stray …