New-York Historical Society

Ken Regan’s Celebrity Portraiture: Paul Mazursky Comes Home

This post was written by N-YHS intern Brynn White

Paul Mazursky, (1978, Ken Regan)

PR 305, Michael Sonnenfeldt Collection of Theatre, Film, and Entertainment Photography

Numerous tributes to actor and filmmaker Paul Mazursky have unspooled since his passing on Tuesday, July 1. In films such as Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969) and An Unmarried Woman (1978),  the Brooklyn native investigated middle class values, hypocrisy, and personal growth during a time in American culture marked by great flux and experimentation, emerging a quintessential component of the New Hollywood cinema of the late 1960s and 1970s.  The Ken Regan and Camera 5 series of the recently acquired and processed Michael Sonnenfeldt Collection of Theatre, Film, and Entertainment Photography features a photo shoot that captures the filmmaker amidst a defining creative period in both his career and his relationship to New York City.

Paul Mazursky (1978, Ken Regan)

PR 305, Michael Sonnenfeldt Collection of Theatre, Film, and Entertainment Photography

In the spring of 1976 Mazursky spoke with critic Roger Ebert while promoting his film Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976), which follows a young man’s odyssey from his Jewish working-class outer borough upbringing into the early 1950s beatnik bohemia of the titular neighborhood. The narrative journey evoked the directors’ own early adulthood experiences between his graduation from Brooklyn College and pilgrimage to Hollywood. To Ebert he expressed indecisiveness over shooting his next picture in New York, remarking “There’s a lot of energy there, but, on the other hand, it’s a hell of a place to try and raise a family…I haven’t decided. California is an island, and New York’s an island. Maybe it’s time for me to change islands.”

Mazursky finished the script for An Unmarried Woman – the film many (including this writer) regard as his masterpiece – several months later, then spent nearly half a year in New York City scouting locations for his tale of the downtown liberation of an uptown stockbroker’s wife scorned. The city had reinfected Mazursky, who revealed in a 1978 interview with Film Comment magazine that the film was built on the ordinary, everyday thoughts and sensations of being a contemporary New Yorker, as mundane as: “Are they going to put up this highway on the West Side? Is Tom Seaver going to be traded? Is there going to be a street fair? Is it going to rain?” Unable to resist New York’s “vitality” and “energy,” Mazursky changed islands.

Paul Mazursky (1978, Ken Regan)

PR 305, Michael Sonnenfeldt Collection of Theatre, Film, and Entertainment Photography

The filmmaker met Ken Regan’s lens in April 1978, a month after the film’s release, and already seems to have made himself at home.  He is fittingly positioned affront the Washington Square Park Arch, the commanding byway between the Village and higher-rising luxury of Fifth Avenue, and also the site of a climactic decision by the film’s feminist heroine played by Jill Clayburgh. Though adultery and divorce were issues handled with great nuance in Woman and his other work, Mazursky himself enjoyed a stable marriage of 61 years to Betsy Purdy. The romance had bloomed from the Greenwich Village days and produced two daughters. They feature, along with the family terrier and their new Manhattan apartment, in the Regan photos, which portray a sense of warm affection and peace, not to mention indicate the city might not be so hostile a place to raise a family after all.

Paul Mazursky (1978, Ken Regan)

PR 305, Michael Sonnenfeldt Collection of Theatre, Film, and Entertainment Photography

Regan was a prominent photojournalist of sports, politics, and pop culture. His renowned discretion and unobtrusive presence garnered him intimate access to camera-weary celebrities, and tenures as photographer to The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and The Kennedy family. Regan’s natural candid shots sharply contrast to the Classic Hollywood series of the Sonnenfeldt collection, in which the studios rigorously controlled their stars’ images and publicity output. He was aptly paired with Mazursky, who probed his characters’ plights and idiosyncrasies with an openness and generosity that proved rare and affecting for mainstream Hollywood entertainment.  Both artists respected their subjects and their audiences.

Researchers can view more of Regan’s portraiture, including many other pop culture icons and on-set film production photography from the late 20th-century in the Michael Sonnenfeldt Collection of Theatre, Film, and Entertainment Photography.

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