Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in “The Taming of the Shrew,” photo by K.O. Rahmn, from Close Up.
Probably the only actor/stills photographer in early Hollywood, K. O. (Knute Olaf) Rahmn worked for Kalem Co. at its Glendale studio for several years before becoming Mary Pickford’s personal photographer in 1918. A jack-of-all-trades for Pickford, Rahmn shot portraits, candids, scene stills, and even special events, perhaps serving as much to document Pickford’s life and career as to promote it, and serving to capture her vision of her career. In fact, he serves as one of the first stills photographers signed to exclusively lens one of Hollywood’s major superstars.
Born March 20, 1876 outside Schoenberg, Sweden, Rahmn immigrated to America on March 28, 1891, and set up his own photographic studio in Greenwich, Connecticut, per his 1919 Motion Picture Studio biographical listing. Rahmn served in the New York Infantry from June 27 to November 1, 1898 during the Spanish American war, but appears never to have left the United States.
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K.O. Rahmn, from Who’s Who in Film.
On June 3, 1901, Rahmn became a naturalized American citizen in New York City, living at 109 E. 96th Street. After becoming a United States citizen, Rahmn traveled home to Stockholm to visit family before returning via Liverpool, England to New York on November 8, 1903. The ship’s log calls him photographer.
For the next several years, Rahmn appears to work as a photographer before he is hired as a stills photographer by the Kalem Film Co. in 1909, per Anthony Slide in his American Silent Film Directory. Kalem gets their money’s worth from Rahmn, who serves as cameraman as well as actor. He comes west with the company in 1910 when they visit Glendale to shoot moving pictures, bringing his wife Rhoda.
Mary Pickford with puppies in a photo by K.O. Rahmn, listed on EBay at $475.
Rahmn appears to mostly have portrayed heavies and supporting roles during his time with Kalem, with entertainment trades like Moving Picture World. Some of the Kalem films in which Rahmn appears from 1912 through 1915 include “The Organ Grinder,” “Apache Renegade,” “Red Wing and Pale Face,” “Power of a Hymn,” “Days of ’19,” Tragedy of Big Eagle Mine,” and “Battle For Freedom.” In many of these westerns, Rahmn is listed as playing Indians, which must have been in red face, since his World War I draft record states he has light hair and blue eyes. In 1912, he travels to Florida with actress Gene Gaunthier and director Sidney Olcott, even shooting one film of a sinking boat out during a raging storm.
City directories list Rahmn as either actor or cameraman during the mid-teens, suggesting he was still performing both duties for Kalem at their Glendale Studio, keeping incredibly busy and possibly even shooting stills for the company. By 1918 or 1919, it appears Mary Pickford hires him as her personal stills photographer, but no trades contain a story. Rahmn appears to practice his photography, as Motion Picture magazine lists him as a member of the Cinema Camera Club in 1918. His biography in the 1919 Motion Picture Director lists his nickname as “Oppie” and states he has nine years of service with Kalem.
Mary Pickford in another pose with puppies, photographed by K.O. Rahmn, listed on EBay at $35.
Rahmn either owned a car or took the streetcar to the various studios. He is listed in 1916 as living as 5145 Meridian, 5257 York Blvd. in 1918, 1137 N. Westmoreland in 1920, 1921 in Burbank, and by 1922, Rahmn is living in the far north Los Angeles’ suburb of Sun Valley, moving to Sunland Avenue and eventually La Tuna Canyon, meaning he traveled a great distance during his commute. The 1920 Directory calls Rahmn “Mary Pickford Studio cameraman.”
In his job as the Pickford stills photographer, Rahmn took photos of all Pickford famlly members, including images of Jack Pickford and his wife Marilyn Miller posing with their new Spanish house, photos of Mary with Jack and her mother Charlotte, and even stills of Mary with her husband Douglas Fairbanks. Rahmn’s images reflect a somewhat impish sense of humor, as many show their subjects laughing or posing somewhat humorously. He also liked soft focus, giving photos a romantic look but also helping to camouflage Mary’s true age. In 1923, Rahmn took a series of holiday photos of Mary Pickford exclusively for the Los Angeles Times at Easter, July 4, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Mary Pickford in a Valentine’s Day photo by K.O. Rahmn, Photoplay, 1924.
The July 3, 1929 issue of Variety states that he and Charles Warrenton, Douglas Fairbanks’ personal photographer, earned the distinction of becoming the first stills photographers to use a sound booth to take photos. It reports that Fairbanks loved action stills which required the use of the noisy Graflex camera. To hide the sound, Fairbanks purchased the booth to allow the taking of stills for he and Pickford’s first talkie and their only co-starring film, “The Taming of the Shrew.” The article claims that Rahmn has served as Pickford’s personal photographer since 1918.
Rahmn shoots some of the final official stills for Pickford’s career as an actress on her 1933 film “Secrets.” He continues to photograph her appearances around town, hosting parties, and for special magazine stories. Rahmn’s last official listing in a Hollywood trade appears to be in 1935, when he was 59. Perhaps he retired at this time or images are not credited to him. Rahmn lived until July 23, 1957, when he was buried at the Veterans Administration Cemetery over in Westwood.
While Rahmn’s work does not appear as elegant, striking, or glamorous as such famous stillsmen as Albert Witzel, Frank Hoover, Nelson Evans, Ruth Harriet Louise, Henry Waxman, or Kenneth Alexander, to name a few, his work demonstrates a nice eye and gentle touch in framing Mary Pickford.