Carlyle Blackwell Jr.,Bryant Washburn Jr., Elsie Ferguson II and Erich von Stroheim Jr. shown in Motion Picture Herald, 1933.
When it comes to careers, many children follow in the footsteps of their parents, either through family tradition or because it is comfortable and what they know. The same holds true for celebrity offspring. Many yearn to work in the entertainment field after being surrounded by it daily, and either become actors themselves or find something in one of the many crafts that contribute to the making of films and television.
In the 1920s and 1930s, several famous celebrity children like Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Constance and Joan Bennett, Tyrone Power Jr., and Lon Chaney Jr. followed their parents into motion pictures and became successful actors themselves. Others like Delmar and Bobs Watson, Fred Kohler Jr., Erich von Stroheim Jr., Wallace Reid Jr., Bryant Washburn Jr., House Peters Jr., Allan Hersholt, Edward Arnold Jr., Carlyle Blackwell Jr., and Peter Gowland mostly began as actors before moving on to other entertainment related professions, particularly photography. Decades later, Harry Langdon Jr. would also become a respected portrait photographer. Most of the Watson Boys later worked as newspaper photographers in Los Angeles, while Blackwell Jr. and Gowland became recognized portrait photographers.
Carlyle Blackwell Jr. in Popular Photography, 1949.
Carlyle Blackwell Jr. was the son of 1910s matinee idol Carlyle Blackwell, a romantic lead in the silent from industry from 1911 through the 1920s. Like his father, Carlyle Jr. began acting in films in the early 1930s, though starting as a dress extra, someone who provided their own wardrobe for things like party scenes. Blackwell mostly appearing uncredited in small extra parts by 1933. His first film, “This Day and Age” directed by Cecil B. DeMille, also featured Fred Kohler Jr., Wallace Reid Jr., Erich von Stroheim Jr., and Bryant Washburn Jr. in small parts.
Blackwell rarely received credit for his appearances, except in the 1936 serial “The Adventures of Frank Maxwell,” where he plays a student named Carlyle Blackwell Jr. His most famous claim to fame as an actor came from giving Shirley Temple her first screen kiss in the 1945 film “Kiss and Tell.”
Photography took up most of Blackwell’s time off-camera. He loved shooting candids of people, practicing on the set or around town, and making portraits to help pay the bills for he and his wife, Julia, the daughter of silent film director Christy Cabanne. He entered Los Angeles Times photography contests in the late 1930s and early 1940s, with two photos running in their Candid Camera section on January 22, 1939. The February 4, 1940 Times noted that he had several entries under consideration for prizes in their 1940 Popular Photography exhibit at Barker Brothers Department Store. Blackwell also won honorary mention in the 1941 Times photography contest before he began winning Popular Photography contests in the mid-1940s.
Color photos by Carlyle Blackwell Jr. in Modern Screen, 1947.
The Lowell Sun ran a wire story June 8, 1940 reporting that he owned a “small but profitable” commercial photography business and sold art on the side with which he hoped to support himself after quitting acting in 1941. Obviously photography failed to earn him enough money, as he continued appearing in films until 1947. Around this time, Blackwell finally began working full time as a photographer for the Paul Hesse Studio along with Wallace Seawell.
While in his early career Blackwell focused on black and white portraits and candids, by the late 1940s he began experimenting with color. The November 1949 Popular Photography magazine ran a story demonstrating his color technique with multiple exposures of his son day dreaming a la Walter Mitty. The photography, which won the 1948 Popular Photography contest, demonstrated the skills that had won Blackwell the opportunity to shoot covers for Parade magazine and other national magazines.
Carlyle Blackwell Jr. built a prop newsstand in his “outdoor studio” and persuaded a boy who lived across the street to pose for this shot, originally in color, published in black and white in Popular Photography, 1951.
In 1952, Blackwell would shoot the first color magazine cover of Ann Blyth wearing a revealing gown for a fan magazine. He continued shooting covers for magazines through the 1950s and 1960s, including the September 5, 1954 cover of Family Weekly. Blackwell also served as a contributing photographer for the 1957 documentary, “The James Dean Story.” He died of cancer in 1974.
Peter Gowland and his Graflex in Popular Photography, 1948.
Like Carlyle Blackwell Jr., Peter Gowland also began his career as an actor before becoming a celebrated pin-up photographer and camera inventor in the 1950s and 1960s. Gowland also started his film career as a dress extra on films through his father Gibson Gowland’s connections before gaining his first credit playing Peter Gowland in “The Adventures of Frank Merriwell” serial. He also informed Variety Life in 2006 that he doubled for Ronald Reagan early in Reagan’s career.
Gowland entertained himself shooting candids around movie lots and even around his Hollywood neighborhood. He found a way to get himself into the all girl Hollywood Studio Club through his photography work, finding lots of dates and girls willing to pose as models. Hoping to advance his film career, Gowland signed up for acting, singing, and dancing lessons at the Lawlor Professional School after dropping out of Hollywood High School. Gowland quickly realized he lacked the talent of fellow students like Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Betty Grable, and Anne Shirley, making photography his new focus. Like Blackwell, Gowland entered and won prizes in Los Angeles Times’ photography contests, with winning photos appearing in the newspaper as early as 1940.
Working with a $25 camera and $7 lens, the young man shot portraits and candids around Los Angeles before starting work taking technical photographs at an aircraft plant for $1.21 an hour in 1941. Gowland continued working on his own shooting all types of photos before opening his own business in1946 thanks to the GI Bill. He discovered that he loved shooting candids and outdoors, fashioning a freelance career out of these interests and skills while also working as a furniture maker. Gowland combined photography with furniture making and inventing under a belief that a photographer should know everything regarding creating a photo shoot.
Peter Gowland photographed Vic Damone and Pier Angeli for Modern Screen, 1956.
Gowland employed both of these skills in the late 1940s-early 1950s pitching magazines and newspapers stories on house repair, additions, and the like as a way to pay the bills. He would build furniture or show the process of home repairs in photographic stories, some of which he also wrote. Stories or photographs ran under his byline in Popular Photography, the Chicago Daily Tribune, and the like. Gowland would also shoot cat shows or whatever struck his fancy.
On the side, Gowland concentrated on pin-ups, shooting cheesecake images of shapely models in beautiful sunny California locations. His wife Alice served as his secret weapon, gaining the trust and respect of the girls they often found on beaches or in parks. This allowed Gowland to blend his love of the outdoors and photography, creating a naturalized sun-drenched California look for cheesecake photography more than three decades after Nelson Evans had first invented the field.
Gowland enjoyed shooting photographs and having fun and his work began reflecting this. Photographs became animated and energetic, revealing a lust for life. By the early 1950s, Gowland supported himself through his expanding ”leg-art” business, thanks to his fashionable, all-American images in what he called the “timeless commodity” of cheesecake photography to the October 22, 1953 Los Angeles Daily News.
He worked out of a studio out of his 2510 Overland Avenue home, where he crafted images for over 500 magazine covers and untold number of photographs in newspapers and magazines, along with shooting the first photograph of a model wearing a bikini. Gowland told the newspaper a good model possessed “a Narcissus complex. The more a girl looks in the mirror at herself, the better she is at posing.”
To improve his photos’ look, Gowland used an eight pound camera and 4×5 film to achieve higher resolution negatives and color transparencies as well as invented the Gowlandflex camera to shoot underwater. He would go on to make over 1,500 cameras, including some for aerial work and for 8×10 work for government and advertising work. Annie Leibovitz was even one of his customers.
By 1955, Gowland’s pin-up work allowed the family to move to Rustic Canyon near a small stream, allowing natural shots in an outdoor setting. Such young women as Ann-Margret, Julie Newmar, Tina Louise, Yvette Mimieux, and Jayne Mansfield began their careers as models posing for Gowland in his backyard. Wife Alice served as manager and handled sales and business, allowing the photographer to concentrate on work.
Gowland’s magazine stories shifted from home repairs to cheesecake photography, with Picturegoer, Seventeen, and movie fan magazines running countless numbers of articles featuring his images and words. He began shooting a yearly pin-up calendar for Ridge Tools and layouts for Playboy, lighthearted, joy-filled images. Because of his eye for women, Gowland also began serving as a judge for beauty contests throughout the Southland area.
Peter Gowland photographed Terry Moore and Robert Wagner for “Beneath the Twelve-Mile Reef,” in Modern Screen, 1954.
Thanks to his successful business, Gowland could now write books on photography. His first, “How to Photograph Women” in 1953 earned good reviews. Many noted the photos showed mastery of lighting and composition while also a great book for those just wanting to peruse nude or cheesecake images. He wrote “The Art and Technique of Stereo Photography” in 1954 to capitalize on the 3-D craze, and wrote “Polaroid Portraits #1” in 1959, always looking to new techniques and equipment for inspiration.
In 1964, Gowland shot the short film “Save Our Stream” to prevent the construction of a 24-foot concrete flood channel with wire fencing in Rustic Canyon by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Stars who lived in the area such as John Payne, Piper Laurie, Lloyd Bochner, and Paul Fix appeared in the film narrated by James Whitmore and Lee Marvin, under the direction of Jerry Paris. The stars appeared to achieve their wish, as the five member Board failed to approve construction.
By the early 2000s, Gowland was a well respected, sought after speaker and photographer, credited with more than 1,000 magazine covers, four covers and ten layouts in Playboy, untold number of images in magazines and newspapers, author of twenty six books, and inventor of multiple cameras. He died in 2010, leaving behind an impressive body of work.
Carlyle Blackwell Jr. and Peter Gowland turned their time and experience as celebrity sons and work before the cameras into respected careers as talented photographers.