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Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly wait backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre during the 28th Annual Academy Awards, 1956.
Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly wait backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre during the 28th Annual Academy Awards, 1956.Allan Grant—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly wait backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre during the 28th Annual Academy Awards, 1956.
Audrey Hepburn, 1956.
Senator Richard Nixon on the roof of his home in Los Angeles, trying to douse fires caused by a brush blaze, 1961.
Dean Martin reads lines with Shirley MacLaine, 1958.
Dean Martin relaxes with his sons at home, 1958.
Angie Dickinson, 1958
Kirk Douglas, 1949.
Groucho Marx in rehearsal, 1960.
Chico and Harpo Marx, 1959.
Harpo Marx, 1948.
George Burns and his wife, Gracie Allen, 1958.
Paul Newman, 1955
Buster Keaton and Donald O'Connor rehearse for a movie based on Keaton's life, 1956.
Cecil B. DeMille, Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson
James Dean, 1956
Bob Hope, 1962.
Elizabeth Taylor, 1961
Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty at the Academy Awards, 1962.
Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre during the 28th Annual Academy Awards, 1956.
Dorothy Dandridge at home, 1954.
Dizzy Gillespie during a jam session, 1948.
Bob Hope (right) and Frank Sinatra rehearse for The Bob Hope Show, 1962.
Sammy Davis Sr., Sammy Davis Jr. and Will Mastin on stage at Ciro's in West Hollywood, 1955.
Bobby Darin in his dressing room, 1959.
Ella Fitzgerald, 1958.
Actress-model Suzy Parker, 1957.
Edith Piaf caught in a montage of expressions and gestures while singing during her performance at New York's Versailles nightclub, 1952.
Shelley Winters in a booth with mirrors, 1949.
Marcel Duchamp with Dada artwork, 1953.
Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly wait backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre during the 28th Annual Academy Awards, 1956.
Allan Grant—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Allan Grant: LIFE Magazine's Great Chronicler of Hollywood

Oct 12, 2012

As a boy, Allan Grant dreamed of becoming an aeronautical engineer. When his career path took a different route, the flying industry's loss became the photography world's—and, specifically, LIFE magazine's—gain.

If any photographer ever captured the lighter side of show business, it was the confident New York native who, as a teen, traded a model airplane that he'd built for a pocket Kodak camera, and never looked back.

LIFE magazine photograper Allan GrantA LIFE staffer from 1947 until the late 1960s, Grant covered the entertainment world from the inside. His unique blend of cool appraisal and obvious affection for (most) of his subjects went a long way toward making the stars seem just as quirky and approachable as the rest of us mortals.

But he was hardly a sycophantic "celebrity photographer," and Grant (1919 - 2008) was perfectly aware of his own skills as a photographer, and a newsman. When asked in an early 1990s interview by another long-time LIFE staffer, John Loengard, what kind of photographer he thought he was, Grant replied with a refreshing directness: "I would say a good one, for starters. I stayed [at LIFE] for a long time. I was very versatile; I did everything."

That he did. While particularly known for his winning portraits of showbiz royalty—as the pictures in this gallery demonstrate—when called upon Grant was a perfectly adept chronicler of harder news. His portraits of Marina Oswald made shortly after her husband shot President Kennedy, for example, captured a personal side of that epic, era-defining story that few other media outlets could touch. His pictures of atomic tests and, especially, their aftermath in the early 1950s managed to add a human dimension to an issue that frequently felt, by turns, too clinical and too terrifying for the average citizen to grasp.

But it was, in the end, Grant's portraits of the stars of the Fifties' and Sixties' that showed his real ability to get close to people, and capture something genuine, if fleeting, about the rich and famous in their unguarded moments. Shortly after Grant died in 2008, Dick Stolley, who was LIFE's Los Angeles bureau chief in the early '60s and later served as the magazine's managing editor, pointed out in a statement that Allan Grant was "very handsome and glamorous, two virtues that made him popular in Hollywood."

Handsome, glamorous and supremely talented. Some guys have all the luck.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

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