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07 January 2015

Cornel Lucas

In 2015, we continue the series on film star photographers with ten new posts. We start today with British photographer Cornel Lucas (1920-2012), whose glamorous work for Rank during the 1940s and 1950s was used for several postcards.

Diana Dors
Diana Dors. German postcard by Kruger, no. 902/80. Photo: Ufa / Cornel Lucas, 1952.

Brigitte Bardot
Brigitte Bardot. German postcard by Krüger. Photo: Cornel Lucas, 1955. Publicity still for Doctor at Sea (Ralph Thomas, 1955).

A Mink Bikini


Henry Cornel Lucas was born in Highbury, north London, in 1920. He was one of eight children. His interest in photography was sparked when his mother, Mary Ann, bought him a Kodak Box Brownie snapshot camera for his 11th birthday.

An elder brother ran a film library, and one day he took Cornel to the studios where he was working. At 15, his brother got him a job as a trainee at the same film-processing laboratory he worked at. Cornel also studied Photography part-time at Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster). During World War II he helped to develop spy photography systems for the Royal Air Force.

After the war Lucas joined Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire. His big break came in 1948 when he was still a relative newcomer in the publicity department at Denham. He was asked to photograph Marlene Dietrich, who had come to England to make No Highway in the Sky (1951). The star had dismissed the first photographer assigned to her for what she considered incompetent lighting technique.

The session did not start off well. There was little that Dietrich did not know about photographic printing, lighting and composition, and she wasted no time in small talk with the young photographer.

The Telegraph: "Lucas lit her from several angles, picking out the sharp lines of her cheekbones and illuminating the flawless but icy perfection of her face. Her favourite lighting was from above, a difficult technique for photographers." Dietrich was pleased with the results, and Lucas went on to become one of the few portraitists she would work with.

Cornel Lucas became in charge of the photographic studios set up by The Rank Organisation at Pinewood. The studio was known as the 'pool studio', while it was set up on an old swimming pool site. Here, Lucas photographed many film stars in the late forties and fifties including David Niven, Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons, and Brigitte Bardot.

Lucas gave rugged, masculine glamour to Dirk Bogarde and Trevor Howard, and created the star images of the young Joan Collins and Diana Dors. He photographed Dors in a bikini in a gondola in Venice and made a memorable portrait of her wearing a 'mink' bikini of which he later discovered it was actually made of rabbit.

At the height of the studio system, Rank had more than 50 stars under contract and every week thousands of photo prints were sent out around the world.

Dirk Bogarde
Dirk Bogarde. British postcard in the Film Star Autograph Portrait Series by Celebrity Publishers, London, no. 51. Photo: Cornel Lucas / Rank.

Trevor Howard
Trevor Howard. Dutch postcard, no. AX 289. Photo: Cornel Lucas / J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Belinda Lee
Belinda Lee. German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag G.m.b.H, Minden/Westf., no. 2720. Photo: Cornel Lucas / J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Rank's most glamorous starlet


Slim, tanned and strikingly handsome, Cornel Lucas became friends with most of the stars he worked with and was remarkably tolerant of their foibles.

In 1955 he married one of Rank’s most glamorous starlets, Belinda Lee. Three years later, however, the marriage broke down after she had an affair with an Italian prince. In 1961 she was killed in a car accident, aged 26.

Lucas left Pinewood in 1959, when the studio system of stars under contract was coming to an end. He set up as a freelance artist and opened his own studio in Flood Street, Chelsea. There he continued to specialise in portraiture, while also embracing wider aspects of photography, particularly high-fashion advertising and television commercials.

Lucas’s work has been shown at major exhibitions in London and New York, and a number of his photos are held in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the National Media Museum, London's Photographers' Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1998, he was the first photographer to win a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) award for his services to the British film industry. He published two books of his work, 'Heads and Tales' and 'Shooting Stars'.

Cornel Lucas died in 2012 at the age of 92. Since 1960, he was married to actress Susan Travers. They had three sons, Jonathan, Frederick and Linus, and a daughter, Charlotte.

Belinda Lee
Belinda Lee. Yugoslavian postcard by Izrada Nas Glas, Smederevo, no. 105. Photo: Cornel Lucas.

Anouk Aimée
Anouk Aimee. Dutch postcard, no. 453. Photo: Cornel Lucas.

Diana Dors
Diana Dors. British autograph card. Photo: Cornel Lucas / Rank.

At the right, you find elder posts under the caption 'The Photographers'.

Sources: Martin Childs (The Independent), Paul Vitello (New York Times), The Telegraph, Cornel Lucas Collection, and Wikipedia.

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