Diana Vreeland_Gary Lee Boas

Diana Vreeland and her son by Gary Lee Boas ©

It was about two months ago when I received a letter from Gary Lee Boas. I could clearly see a golden opportunity rising, a gift for any avid reader and a glowing chance to explore a man’s hobby turned to profession. An obsession that took away any sign of privacy and personal moments. Gary Lee Boas spent almost his entire life running after the Hollywood Stars. When I ask him what the title of his biography would be he simply replies “The rope”, meaning the detail that separates a paparazzo from a celebrity on the red carpet…

In Europe, his work is embraced with great respect, especially by those who serve fashion. A recent incident during a festive night at Maxims in Paris, when Gary approached Marc Jacobs  to express his admiration, Jacobs expressed the same awe back. In every fashion house’s library, Boas books have a place, as they represent a great source for references to a world of what he puts as “The Original Hollywood Glamour ”. 

“It is easy to understand the differences between the icons of the 70’s and 80’s era compared to the stars of today”, says Gary. “Back then the famous people where more approachable and truly glamorous. Today, the stars are always accompanied by an entourage of people, their press agents and stylists. Their Ego is most of the times bigger that their actual career, yet they carry an attitude towards the people who want to approach them”

Of course, at those times they were simply known as “Stars”. Casting him in the role of a documentarian, the camera gave him the reason he’d need to approach Hollywood Glamour in person. Boas discovered that his pictures could capture the attention of those who might once have brushed him off. The fact that the stars allowed themselves to be photographed was as important to Boas as actually meeting them.

Professionals like Gary Lee Boas are rare to find nowadays. I wonder if any other person could actually sacrifice his own life, waiting outside, rain or sun, at movie premiers or private glamorous parties, just for a simple shot of a celebrity.

Although he spends more money than he actually makes, when I ask whether he could be someone else he gives me a sharp “NO!!” for an answer.  The photos you are about to see, dating from 1966 to 1980, document with refreshing vitality a bygone era of glamour, fandom and pre-paparazzi innocence. The great number of people filtered through the lens of an unknown, devoted fan, moves this collection into the realms of pop-culture and «outsider” art photography.  The passion and dedication with which Boas has collected these trophies and the intensity through which he sets them in memory make him more appealing than the common paparazzo. It is, however, the way his compulsion manifests the deeper desires and darker needs of our society that makes his extensive work so relevant to, and resonant with, the issues of contemporary art.

FilepMotwary: When did your hobby turn to obsession start?

GaryLeeBoas: Even as a kid I never did anything half assed, so I would really say from the start. I didn’t really know what I was starting, but I knew when I was around these people. I was just loving the feeling.. And half the time I had NO IDEA who they were because I was not a real movie buff. I was a child of the 60 s so everything was all about TV. It was no more of a hobby than it was an obsession, it ran hand in hand.

FM: How old are you?

GLB:  I am 57 years young.

FM: As a young man, did you ever think your work would become such an important point of reference today?

GLB:  God no, it is still hard for me to think that way. There are times I am talking to people and I am telling a story about back in the day. I all but cry. I feel so lucky to have had a life that allowed me to step into that world, mainly because I put myself there. You know when your young you are so busy living life, that you never think this one-day will be just a memory.

FM:  When did you realize the importance of your photographs? 

GLB: Never really thought of it like that, but I know when friends would look at my photo s their face would light up and questions would start. So I guess the answer would be almost from the beginning. The thing is that I have a weird time thinking that my photos has turned into art. What a rush. Even to have fans of my own, I mean how would any one feel being famous or knowing the famous?

FM: Where you aware of its uniqueness back then? Are you now? 

GLB: No in the past never thought of it much. I was always a bit off the normal, left school in 7th grade and had a private teacher. So in a way I was always running around with the older and wild crowd be it in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania or New York City. No grass grew under my feet (laughs).  Nowadays, hell yes!! To travel all over the world and have people come up to me and say “I loved your work”, “I’m a fan” or “Can I have a photo with you?”, somehow it still feels like I am in a dream and needless to say, I don’t want to wake up.

FM: When was that you had the first Hollywood star snapshot?  Under what conditions? Do you remember the incident?  

GLB: Yes I remember how I could forget?  It started a whole new life for me. It was Sept of 1966, the singer Robert Goulet was in my town,  I was walking downtown and I saw all these people in front of the local Hospital gathered around this person… So I went up to see what was going on. At first, certainly I knew him from some where but could not think where. Then when I saw people getting autographs and getting photos with him, I put the jigsaw together. He was going into the hospital for a fund raiser, so I ran home and got a pen and paper and as I was running out the door. I though “hey I should get my camera, maybe I can get a photo” and this is when the “bug” started.

FM:  How was the Hollywood era back then? 

GLB: Stars were STARS. When you were in front of them you felt like you were in front of someone almost not human. From the way they acted, dressed …

When you walked into a room, you never had to look for them. They stood out, literally. How do you miss an Audrey Hepburn, a Grace Kelly or Sophia Loren?  Today some times you’re not even sure you’re in the “right” room.  True glamour and we were fans , no one was trying to get a bad photo or someone with someone, or doing drugs , it was a clean time , so the stars knew that you had no harm in mind . You were a fan, plus they had contracts with the studios. The studio would take time to mold a star. Even today when you see an old star from back then, they still have that flair about them,  so I truly believe Hollywood went to shit when they stopped contracts.

FM: Have you become friends with any of the icons you photographed…? 

GLB: After 42 years of doing this I would hope so. Most of the stars from 2000 or before, know me by name or face because I am one of the few people who do it on both East and West Coast.  Friends, yes the ones that come to mind first are Katharine Hepburn, Julie Christie, Geraldine Page, Chita Rivera, Richard Nixon and Jodie Foster. I really could go on and on. I think the hardest thing for me is when the “greats” I have met die and people tell me with the tone: “ Ohm did you know so and so died” and to them it is only someone they knew from films. A lot of times It feels like I just lost a friend and that is always very hard on me.

FM:  What was your motivation, running after these people with a camera ? 

GLB:  I was just living life and having fun and getting to meet people that most people only think of as someone on a screen; and here I was chilling with them, going to movie openings, Awards, parties. How could you not like that, to be famous for knowing the famous? WHAT A TRIP! Wouldn’t you “buy a ticket”? (Laughs)

FM:  Startstruck “was published in 2002, yet it is still a success today. Why do you think a book like STARSTRUCK makes a difference? 

GLB:  Good question, but hard to answer, Starstruck was published in 1999. First of all it looks like a photo album that people feel “OK” with looking at and also then for seeing photos of the past, people you forgot about, clothing, cars. It goes on and on. I’ve heard so many things over the years what that book has meant to different people.  The thing I like the most is that it brings people together. I’ve seen people start talking, exchanging e-mails and numbers, so if I could say any one thing that it did was, I will know when I am gone. I will live on in many people’s homes and lives. What a great reward this is for me. I mean that is about as good as it gets..

FM:  Will the younger generation understand it you think?  

GLB:  Oh yes. I am so touched when that happens, that a young person comes up and thanks me for giving them a blast from the past, both with the star photos and porn. I get a lot of people saying. Oh I wish I was back then, it must have been great and at that point I laugh and always say “ if you were, you’d be old or dead” and they laugh..  But yeah I have a lot of young fans. Sometimes they don t know who the person in the photo is. They just love the photo.

FM: I came to see it while working in Paris. Are you aware that many people in the fashion world know your work? Can you suspect why it happens? 

GLB: Yes I am very aware of it because I spend two months out of the year in Paris.  When I go out in Paris, I feel like a STAR. People say the greatest things to me, treat me like a VIP and I am truly loved. The funny thing if you would see the way I dress you would think I never even looked at a fashion magazine. I always joke about how the Europeans “just get it” gets me to the point I don’t want to come home to the States some times, I love Paris.   As far as why they “get it”? Don t really know, just know that I love most of the people in that world and they are movers and shakers, like I was in the 80’s, so I get them and they get me. And I am still moving and shaking. (laughs) I love Paris.

FM: How was the term “Hollywood Star” changed today compared to what you experienced back in the 1970’s and 80’s? 

GLB: They trusted you, as I said before. I never heard the word paparazzi, or imagined Ebay selling my collection.

We did it for the love of meeting who was in front of usS. Now it’s a meat market. STAR: what does that mean today? Hell, you eat ants on Fear Factor and you’re a star.  Mostly American celebrity has gone to hell.

FM: How was the Studio 54 experience? Where you a part of it? 

GLB: Yes very much, in and out for 5 years. Mark, the door man, was a great friend and he would always head me where I was to go, front or back, who was there, who was expected and did the inside a lot. There are no words to explain that period of time. All I can say, if you ever did that club back in the day is very hard to even go into a club today and try to have the best time you can. STUDIO 54 had everything you could want for a great time:  disco music, crazy people, famous people, sex, and drugs. Wouldn’t you go there?

The thing I look back on the most is getting to hang with Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Halston, Cheryl Tiegs, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams and not knowing you were living a piece of HISTORY. It feels great that I am alive to share the tale. So yes, I was part of it and now it is a big part of me.

FM: What was Studio 54 really about, in general? 

GLB: Steve made it a place where you could come and just be yourself, whatever that meant. That is the best way I can put it , to be able to mix with all the types of people that went there and everyone was there for the same reason : To let go..

FM:  Why do you think nightlife changed so much today? Where there is a lack of romance today? 

GLB: Odd question and I can only answer this from my mind. I think AIDS had a lot to do with it, when that came around there was a cloud over everything. Plus the times were different. Nowadays people feel the need to be noticed and be the center of attention. Back in the 70’s and 80’s people where just themselves..  As far as romance, well Hollywood and the shit movies they put out there are not very romantic. Everyone is running around in their own world and space just trying to make life work..

FM:  How was your childhood? 

GLB: I made it a mess, but it was really very great. I had a wonderful mother whom I owe everything I am to. She was my mom and my friend and never even knew it until I lost her in 1977.  I knew I was gay at 15 so that was hard to deal with in a small farm town. Just knew I was different and that is why I had to get out of school. Hated it, kids are nasty at that age , so in a way I grew up too fast and missed a lot of what it was for a young in mind and body .

FM: How did your parents see this hobby/mania of yours? 

GLB: Neither of them ever said or did anything negative about it. My dad was never around much because he was a bricklayer and always off doing jobs. Mom was my saving grace, she loved going along and being part of it somehow.  One time I went to The Monkees concert, a group that was huge on Television back then. That weekend, my mom and I went to NYC.

They were staying at this Hotel, so we went and waited in front to see them. I wanted to leave but mom wanted to meet Davy Jones and he had not come in yet, so she forced me to wait. I’ll never forget it!  Never really talked to her about it but when I’d hear her talk to her friends, she would tell the story we had just gone through and who we met. This is how I know she enjoyed it. I miss her more than I can express. Thank You mom.

FM: In your opinion are there any real Hollywood Stars today?

GLB: Not stars, like in the golden Hollywood era, but there are a lot of celebrities out there, a lot of them good actors and actresses. The real glamour is gone. Half the people showing up at the awards come dressed in outfits pushing a designer or a brand. When I am at an event the first question is “who are you wearing” ?  Do you think they asked Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich or any other great movie star that question?  I don t think so.

Also I don’t know if these people could even pick out a great out fit   by themselves.   I love Charlize Theron cause she always looks great, Selma Hayek, Gwen Stefani…but I really have to think. Plus I am given a list of who is at a party and I have to run around looking for the people nowadays, which is sad!

FM:  Porn Photography was the second path you followed? Why porn?

GLB: When I was 18 I worked in a porn shop in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I was very sexual as a kid. So I fit right in. When we got the new magazines in the store, I would look through all of them, so I knew who most of the people were, the faces, names, their tits, ass, and dick.  There were strip joints in New York City and Washington, DC and big porn stars would come and appear there, so when I was running from one Broadway show to another I would pass these places and see the names of the people from the magazines or movies I sold in the store outside of what event or theater the were appearing at.

So I would stand outside to meet these people. It was a rush and most of them became friends with me so I got to know their real name.  Next thing I know I was hanging with them and even getting to sleep with some of them. (Now that was a rush), something that was considered as most people’s fantasy and I was living it.   I met one porn star who became one of my best friends, David Ashfield, and he was telling me that when they film a movie, part of the deal is to do a photo layout, so, if I would photograph the stars and he knew (almost everyone that is), I could just split the money with them and sell them to the magazines. This is how I started my “porn career”.

The only trouble was by the time I photographed them they were already all over the magazines. This pushed me to start looking for unknown guys and to say the least that was much more fun. Most of the guys were straight, so it was fun watching them let go.  I like that work a lot, for a lot of reasons. People let go when they are naked, they tell you all kinds of shit and by the time your done doing a good shot, you feel like you’ve had sex with them. TALK ABOUT SAFE SEX! (laughs) I still do that to this day and will until I can’t hold a camera.

FM:  Can you share with us more details about this chapter of your life? 

GLB: Well that is a book, so again it s hard to write this myself because as I am telling one story I am thinking of another one.  As you know a lot of the clubs, mostly the gay ones had back room for sex in them. So sex was very much part of life in the 70 s and 80 s .It was the feel good time of life. Even in Studio 54 people would have sex on the balcony. It was everywhere: in trucks, warehouses, allies , cheap motels, door ways, bushes . Anywhere you could bang a quick one off. (Laughs)  Seems very odd to remember those days and the strange part is, if you were caught up in that world, you did not feel bad about it, in fact you LIVED for it. Then AIDS came and “a door closed hard.”

I really do feel very bad for the kids of today, I believe that you truly got to know a lot of different parts of yourself when you just let go, and SEX is a big part of that experience.

FM: Why do you think porn sells so much? 

GLB: This my own feelings on this … In the USA we are still a very backward country when it comes to sex .It has still has to have some label, which I don’t understand as far as life I think we go through changes and need different things to turn us on. Because we change in life, bored in a marriage or relationship or don t feel like we can find someone who is going to deal with whatever turns us on. So we watch porn.  I have been in the sex business since 1986 and seen a lot of turns. Must say, working in a small town porn store was an eye and ear opener, I learned to never use the says “Oh, that’s sick”, because before we are all dead and gone, we don’t really know what we will deal with..   But again, this is my feeling towards porn. If you don’t feel OK with your own sexual desires, then, you are never true to yourself. I believe that is a big part of what makes you tick.

FM: Have you achieved all you wanted life wise and career wise? 

GLB: Hell no, if I did I’d be dead. Hope that I can do what I do until I can‘t. Then I guess it’s the end.  I really like the ART world that I wish would go further. As far as the RED CARPET and PRESS ROOM STUFF, since I am getting old and I don t get it any more, I don t get THAT RUSH. I still want to meet DORIS DAY, so if anyone that is reading this knows her, please hook me up (laughs)

FM: How has instinct helped you in your life and work? 

GLB: God blessed me with that, INSTINCT is my life and every angle of it, not just the movie star thing …I just know when I am in a room and someone famous is there.  The only thing I was never good at was my love life. I am still single and now that I’ve run around, I feel the need to settle down a bit.  But still love going all around the world meeting new interesting people.

FM: From all the STARSTRUCK snapshots my favourite is the one of Greta Garbo. How did you find her? Please tell me the story.

GLB: My lover at the time, Jeff got standing room tickets for both of us, to see a Broadway show and right when the lights went down and the curtain went up I looked next to me and there she was standing there. So, for the next two and a half hours I had to stand next to Greta Garbo.  Funnily, Jeff had no idea who she was and I was going nuts. At the end, as soon as the theater went dark, she was gone. I missed the chance and I got sick disappointed. Then, we were walking down 5t Avenue and as soon as we got at the corner of Sacks of there she was again standing at the corner and se noticed us. She stood in front of the window and watched people go back and forth, then went into the store and that’s when the race started as she was going through all the clothing departments trying to loose us. Well she did!

I knew she lived on a dead-end street, 64th, so I talked Jeff into going there and we waited at the corner. Instinctively I knew she had to come home .We weren’t waiting long and I saw her walking up the street. Since Jeff really didn’t know who she was he got in a phone booth and when she came around closer, I gave him the sign and he jumped out and snapped the photo, so that photo credit really goes to him!

FM: What are your new projects about?  How has your work evolved and where are you now?  

GLB: I just had a new show photos from the 60’s and 70’s that have never been revealed so far, in Amsterdam and a new book that just came out called Celebrity.  So I hope that grows into different and more ART SHOWS around the world, that’s what I’d really like. Would love to do a show in Greece, it would be nice since I have never been there before.  I have just been offered to do another book and show in Paris in the Fall. So that is something I hope pans out.

FM: What are your expectations for the future? 

GLB: That I don t know, guess I ‘ll do the “star” thing until I hate everyone .It is not fun any more and every year when Awards time comes up, I get all locked up in my head. On the other hand, if I don’t do it, some young buck will take my spot. (laughs)  So I have to keep going on. The ART WORLD, that seems to be it, and keep living life to the fullest; and most of all, keep meeting all the great people I am getting to meet..

The interview was first published on March 17, 2009.

Source Un nouVeau iDeal. The photo of Marlene Dietrich by Gary Lee Boas, 1968 © as viewed in “STARSTRUCK”


Gary Boas does not consider himself an artist, although he might be a kind of outsider artist. He calls what he does a hobby. For the last 35 years, Mr. Boas, who lives in the house where he grew up in Lancaster, Pa., has dedicated his life to the pursuit of celebrities.

By mail and in person he has sought out (and often befriended) famous people of all sorts and amassed a huge collection of autographed books, playbills, publicity photos and his own photographs. Subjects range from Muhammad Ali to Henry Kissinger, Marilyn Chambers to Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo to Frank Zappa.

Source: The New York Times ©