TIME Photographer Spotlight

Ralph Morse: Photographer Spotlight

The great LIFE photographer Ralph Morse has died at 97. Here, in tribute, LIFE.com shares his most stirring work

[Note: Ralph Morse died on Dec. 7, 2014, at his home in Florida. He was 97. No photographer in the history of LIFE magazine had a more varied, thrilling and productive career than Ralph. Long after he retired, he was unfailingly gracious whenever anyone from LIFE.com contacted him, often out of the blue, asking if he recalled this or that assignment, or if he remembered taking a specific photo 40 or 50 or 60 years before. He was a true original — one of those rare figures who seemed have been everywhere, chronicling everything and everyone, for so much of the 20th century. He was also one hell of a storyteller. Ralph Morse will be sorely missed. Fortunately for all of us, his work endures.]

A glimpse at the photographers on the masthead of pretty much any issue of LIFE magazine in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and even into the early ’70s is an eye-popping experience. There, in black and white, are the names of many of the greatest photojournalists to ever pick up a camera — and, without exception, these are men and women who were on staff. They were, in short, working stiffs — albeit some of the most talented, tenacious, innovative and gutsy working stiffs on the planet.

And yet, as LIFE’s longtime managing editor, George Hunt, reportedly once said: “If LIFE could afford only one photographer, it would have to be Ralph Morse.”

Such a claim, while perhaps a surprise to photography buffs who might expect another name at the end 0f that sentence — Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, Paul Schutzer, W. Eugene Smith or any number of other legends — such a claim makes sense when one considers the totality of Morse’s work through the decades.

The New York City native was LIFE’s youngest World War II correspondent when the magazine hired him when he was just 24. He went on to make several of the defining pictures from that conflict — and some of the most unsettling. He covered Broadway and, after the war, the London stage. He covered sports: his classic shot of Jackie Robinson dancing off of third base is one of the greatest baseball photographs ever made. He covered science and technology, making innovative pictures of modern marvels like the USS Nautilus, America’s first nuclear-powered submarine, and was the first civilian to fly on one of the Strategic Air Command’s B-47 Strotojet “globetrotter” missions in the mid-1950s.

He made the first color photographs of the caves at Lascaux, and was so closely identified with LIFE’s coverage of NASA and the Space Race — and spent so much time with John Glenn and the rest of the Mercury 7 — that Glenn dubbed him the “eighth astronaut.” Morse covered the Liberation of Paris in 1944, Germany’s surrender at Reims in May 1945, Einstein’s funeral, Babe Ruth’s farewell at Yankee Stadium, the first Ali-Liston fight, the Oscars and on and on.

He was with the magazine up until its demise as a weekly in 1972, and shot for TIME for years afterward. But it was with LIFE that he made his best work — the work for which he will forever be remembered.

In John Loengard’s classic 1998 book, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw, Morse discusses the end of LIFE as a weekly — and decades after the fact, it’s clear that it still hurt.

I was down at Cocoa Beach [Florida] covering Apollo 17. We had made a very special picture of everything you need to go to the moon. We shot it and went to bed. I called the color lab the next morning and asked, “How did the color come out?”

They said, “Oh, the color is fine, but there’s no magazine to put it in.”

And that was the first I heard it. It was a very bad shock. First, because I’d been there for 30 years, and you sort of reach a point where it’s your home. The shock was much worse than whether we could find jobs, because we were all pretty well known. That didn’t bother me. I just went to work for TIME. I didn’t retire until April 1988. Then I sold every camera. I don’t own a camera. I don’t take a picture.

If I had a camera, everybody and his brother would say, “Gee would you shoot my wedding? Would you take my kid getting married?” I don’t own a camera, so I can’t do it.

During one of the last conversations this writer had with him, Morse repeated a bit of wisdom he first shared with LIFE.com years ago — an insight into the man’s approach to his craft, and (as so many men and women who worked with him through the years will attest) his seemingly boundless exuberance for meeting new people and learning new things.

“A good photojournalist goes into any situation prepared,” he said, in his inimitable, sandpaper-raspy voice. “You find out something, at least one key thing, about the topic you’re going to cover. And, as importantly, you make friends — you make friends with everybody, wherever you go. Because you never know when you’ll need to go back there, for one more picture, or to follow up on a story.”

Be prepared. Make friends. When you get down to it, that’s not only a smart way to approach one’s profession. It’s not a bad way to go through life.

Farewell, Ralph, and thank you. We won’t see your like again.

TIME Icons

LIFE With Sinatra: Classic Portraits of ‘The Voice’ in 1965

LIFE opens a window on Sinatra's famously guarded private world, as well as the Chairman's own take on his celebrity and his music

Of all the superstars who helped shape and define popular culture in the 20th century, few lasted as long in the spotlight — and even fewer were as enigmatic — as Francis Albert Sinatra.

Across seven decades, the skinny, big-eared kid from Jersey who grew up to be the Chairman of the Board influenced generations of singers, musicians and fedora-topped hepcats; triumphed on stage, in the movies (winning an Oscar for his performance in From Here to Eternity) and on TV; and crafted a public persona so indelible that, even today, the image of a figure in a tux, alone on stage, drink in one hand, mic in the other, smoke swirling in the spotlight — that image likely evokes for millions of fans the man known, simply, as The Voice.

In 1965, the year Sinatra turned 50, LIFE photographer John Dominis and editor Thomas Thompson were, as the magazine put it, “permitted” to spend time with the singer and his crew — friends, family, cohorts, fellow performers — for a cover story the magazine hoped to run. The result was a remarkable window into the man’s closely and famously guarded private world, as well as Sinatra’s own take on his celebrity and his music. Here, LIFE.com presents photos by Dominis that ran in that cover story, as well as many others that were not published in LIFE.

In the introduction to the huge, 16-page feature in its April 23, 1965 issue, “The Private World and Thoughts of Frank Sinatra,” LIFE took pains to make clear that the man, 25 years into his career as a performer, was as volatile and as deeply, weirdly inscrutable as he’d ever been:

The kid with the high-pitched voice that came out of the throat wrapped in the floppy bow tie is going to be 50 this year — and Frank Sinatra remains the most controversial, powerful and surprising entertainer around. He is a man who will angrily throw an over-cooked hamburger at his valet or an ashtray at an inept assistant — and yet never fires anyone from his huge staff of aides and hangers-on. He will spend 10 minutes of his nightclub act attacking a woman columnist so venomously that the audience gasps — and will send $100,000 to a Los Angeles college with the strict instructions that the gift not be made public. He sneers “Charley brown shoes” at people he thinks are squares and always says “thank you” when someone asks for his autograph. He is the legendary ladies’ man — and he says he has flunked out with women. He cannot read music, yet he has taken popular singing and made of it an art. He is the finest living singer of popular songs, an astonishingly good actor, an ambitious director, a shrewd businessman. . . .

Sinatra contributed memorable insights about his singing technique, the peers he loves (and those he doesn’t like so much) and more to the centerpiece of the feature — a long article, titled “Me and My Music” — that, LIFE told its readers, “Sinatra himself wrote.” Among the gems in the piece:

It was my idea [in my mid-20s] to make my voice work in the same way as a trombone or a violin — not sounding like them, but “playing” like those instruments. The first thing I needed was extraordinary breath control, which I didn’t have. I began swimming every chance I got in public pools — taking laps under water and thinking song lyrics to myself as I swam, holding my breath.

One thing that was tremendously important was learning the use of a microphone. Many singers never learned to use one. They never understood, and still don’t, that a microphone is their instrument…. [Instead] of playing a saxophone, they’re playing a microphone.

I don’t read a note of music. I learn songs by having them played for me a couple of times while I read the lyrics. I can pick up the melody very quickly. I learn the lyrics by writing them out in long hand. When I get a new song, I look for continuity of melody that in itself will tell a musical story. It must go somewhere. I don’t like it to ramble. And then, by the same token, I like almost the same thing — more, as a matter of fact — in the lyrics. They must tell you a complete story, from “once upon a time” to “the end.”

For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business, the best exponent of a song. He excites me when I watch him — he moves me. Vic Damone has better pipes than anybody, but he lacks the know-how or whatever you want to call it. Take Lena Horne, for example, a beautiful lady but really a mechanical singer. She gimmicks up a song, makes it too pat. . . .

And on he goes, following his thoughts to conclusions that feel right, allowing him to say all he wanted to say — just as, countless times in his career, he found new, unexpected ways to phrase utterly familiar lyrics from the Great American Songbook.

Sinatra died in May 1998, but music critic David Hadju spoke for untold numbers of fans when he wrote, “To hell with the calendar. The day Frank Sinatra dies, the 20th century is over.” Strong words. But in some elemental ways, the further we get from the Chairman’s death, the more apt and prophetic they feel.

The most controversial, powerful and surprising entertainer around.

All these years later, that still sounds about right.

[Buy the LIFE book, The Rat Pack: The Original Bad Boys]

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

TIME Vintage Science and Tech

Gorgeous Early Polaroids: A LIFE Photographer Plays With the SX-70

An appreciation of Edwin Land's genius and the beautiful, compact universe embodied in his Polaroid SX-70 instant camera

Contrary to what some consumers, amateur photographers and even die-hard techies might assume, instant photography has been around a lot longer than the digital camera and the smart phone. In fact, it’s been around for roughly seven decades, ever since the scientist, visionary and Polaroid co-founder Edwin H. Land introduced his first “Land Camera” way back in 1947.

But it wasn’t until 1972, when Polaroid unveiled a marvelous (in every sense of the word) device called the SX-70, that an instant camera fully captured the imagination and the attention of photography buffs, industrial design aficionados and pop culture commentators alike. Far from a mere consumer product, the SX-70 quickly became associated with, and in a sense helped to define, the early Seventies.

The beautiful device also, to varying degrees, presaged the ways in which the world now consumes, manipulates and shares media. Instagram, the iPhone, the Flip, even YouTube and streaming video — most of the sudden, playful means by which we entertain and inform ourselves every day can, with a little digging, find a kernel of their genius in the inspired, compact universe of the SX-70.

Self-described gadget-nerd Harry McCracken put the camera’s significance in perspective in a tremendous piece on Land and the SX-70 a few years back. Citing the writer and scientist Arthur C. Clarke’s “law” that advanced technology is, at its best, indistinguishable from magic, McCracken wrote that he could not think “of a greater gadget than the SX-70 Land Camera. . . . The sheer magnitude of its ambition and innovation dwarfs the Walkman, iPod, and nearly every other consumer-electronics product you can name.”

Here, more than 40 years after the SX-70 was introduced, LIFE.com pays tribute to Land’s vision and his determination to, as he once put it, “provide an opportunity for creativity that other photography doesn’t allow.”

In the gallery above are pictures made with the first-generation SX-70 by LIFE photographer Co Rentmeester, who experimented with the camera — before it went on sale to the general public — while shooting the cover story on Land for the October 27, 1972, issue of the magazine.

TIME New York City

Hipsterless Brooklyn: Vintage Photos From a Vanished World

Decades before Brooklyn became synonymous with hipsters, hip-hop and locavores, photographer Ed Clark caught the spirit of the place

Brooklyn is big. If it were its own city, and not part of Gotham, its 2.5 million residents would make up the fourth largest metropolis in the United States. Brooklyn covers almost a hundred square miles of intensely varied terrain, from the beaches of Coney Island and Sea Gate to the brownstones of Park Slope and the thronging sidewalks of Williamsburg—a neighborhood filled with stoop-shouldered young men who, evidently, can afford fedoras but have difficulty finding socks, or pants that fit.

There’s cobblestoned Dumbo; the mean streets of East New York; the mansions of Brooklyn Heights; the tree-lined avenues (and, miracle of miracles, driveways) of Ditmas Park; the glories of Prospect Park; the soaring container cranes of Red Hook; the unnameable, party-colored, aromatic ooze of the Gowanus Canal.

The borough boasts countless ethnicities, creeds and religions. It’s somehow wildly bustling and unselfconsciously low-key at the same time. It has given the world memorable phrases (fuhgeddaboudit) and immortal delicacies (the egg cream—with no egg and no cream).

[More: A tribute to the Brooklyn Bridge at 130]

But somehow, recently, Brooklyn has maybe gotten a little too big—or, rather, it’s started to believe the hype about itself, which is another way of saying that it’s not quite as hip as some of its residents, new and old, like to think it is.

Not long ago, GQ pronounced Brooklyn the coolest city in America—a verdict that elicited eye rolls everywhere, not least in Brooklyn itself. Meanwhile, Vogue (yes, that Vogue) tried to explain “why New Yorkers are flocking to the borough”—evidently forgetting that Brooklynites are already, and have always been, New Yorkers.

“Models, writers, actors, and artists have been flocking to 
New York’s Left Bank for its destination restaurants, bustling farmers’ markets, Parisian-style parks, and passionate dedication to l’art de vie,” panted the vogue.com post.Welcome to the new bohemian chic.”

And yet, despite the growing number of creatures swarming Kings County in hopes of hunting down, hog-tying and sucking every last ounce of life from that “new bohemian chic,” Brooklyn remains full of genuinely creative people, great restaurants, fascinating history, eclectic music, art, parks and architecture—in short, the sort of stuff you’d expect from a world-class city. Even one besieged by “New Yorkers.”

Here, LIFE.com offers photos of Brooklyn, made by LIFE’s Ed Clark right after World War II, that all these years later reveal something that’s long been elemental to the borough’s enduring appeal: namely, a free-wheeling and, above all, an unpretentious self-confidence.

And if that ain’t the key to l’art de vie, what is?

[More: See the gallery, “Lower Manhattan: Where New York Was Born”]

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

TIME curiosities

Holiday Jeer: Good-for-Nothing Gifts From Back in the Day

Thank heavens ridiculous, overpriced gifts are no longer on anyone's wish list. Right?

In December 1953 LIFE featured a number of gifts that, the magazine assured its readers, were far “better to give than to receive.” For our part, after spending a little time with these photos, we’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that, with one or two exceptions (those velvet glasses acting as a hairnet are kind of cool), these items are preposterous whether one is giving or receiving.

As LIFE noted:

When a sequined $7.50 fly swatter turned out to be one of the best-selling gifts last Christmas (a time of year when flies are rare), department stores were quick to turn its success into a trend. This year the country’s gift counters abound in homely household objects which have been gilded, bedecked with pearls and rhinestones and upped in price. Holiday shoppers whose main object is to pamper the recipient may now choose jeweled back-scratchers which are almost too pretty to use, velvet eyeglasses which are designed to be worn instead of a hat, time-pieces for pets who can not tell time. Here is a selection of this year’s silly Christmas gifts.

Thank goodness we’ve evolved as a society and as individuals to the point where ridiculous and overpriced presents are no longer on anyone’s wish list. Right?

Right?

TIME Hollywood

Walt’s Wild Men: LIFE Behind the Scenes at Disney Studios

In a 1953 article titled 'A Silver Anniversary for Walt and Mickey,' LIFE magazine took its readers behind the scenes at Disney.

For countless people around the world, the appeal of the pop-culture offerings from Walt Disney’s namesake studio has long been underpinned by what LIFE magazine once called “the Disney combination of action and humor, nostalgia and violence.” Those characteristics have largely held sway in Disney’s films for close to a century, from the earliest Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Willie cartoons and classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs right up to the near-perfect Toy Story movies (produced by Pixar, released by Disney) and blockbusters like Frozen.

In the Nov. 2, 1953, issue of LIFE, in an article titled “A Silver Anniversary for Walt and Mickey,” the magazine took its readers behind the scenes at Disney:

The Disney studio is big (it covers 51 acres) and resembles a huge and complicated machine. Up to 400 draftsmen, editors, artists, cameramen, musicians, idea men, special effects men, all kinds of technicians, are required for even the shortest cartoon. There are inventions of great complexity and ingenuity. . . . But being Disney’s, the special stamp of this machine is that it careens along looking as if every screw inside were loose. The wanderer through the studio will come across animators making faces in mirrors to get ideas for the looney animals they are drawing.

Here, in this gallery, are some pictures that ran in that 1953 issue of LIFE — and several that didn’t.


TIME Vietnam War

Portrait From Hell: Larry Burrows’ ‘Reaching Out,’ 1966

Revisiting one of the most dramatic and harrowing photographs made during the long, divisive war in Vietnam

In October 1966, on a mud-splattered hill just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Vietnam, LIFE magazine’s Larry Burrows made a photograph that, for generations, has served as the most indelible, searing illustration of the horrors inherent in that long, divisive war — and, by implication, in all wars.

In Burrows’ photo, commonly known as Reaching Out, an injured Marine — Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Purdie, a blood-stained bandage on his head — appears to be inexorably drawn to a stricken comrade. Here, in one astonishing frame, we witness tenderness and terror, desolation and fellowship — and, above all, we encounter the power of a simple human gesture to transform, if only for a moment, an utterly inhuman landscape.

The longer we consider that scarred landscape, however, the more sinister — and unfathomable — it grows. The deep, ubiquitous mud slathered, it seems, on simply everything; trees ripped to jagged stumps by artillery shells and rifle fire; human figures distorted by wounds, bandages, helmets, flak jackets; and, perhaps most unbearably, the evident normalcy of it all for the young Americans gathered there in the aftermath of a firefight on a godforsaken hilltop thousands of miles from home.

A black-and-white negative of a color image, depicting the scene on Hill 484 a few moments after Larry Burrows shot the picture that would become known as Reaching Out. Larry Burrows—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The scene, which might have been painted by Hieronymus Bosch — if Bosch had lived in an age of machine guns, helicopters and enormous, mechanized military interventions on the far side of the globe — possesses a riveting, nightmare quality that’s rarely been equaled in war photography, and certainly never surpassed.

All the more extraordinary, then, that LIFE did not even publish the picture until several years after Burrows shot it. The magazine did publish a number of other pictures Burrows made during that very same assignment, in October 1966 — pictures seen here, in this gallery on LIFE.com, along with other photos that did not originally run in LIFE. But it was not until five years later, in February 1971, that LIFE finally ran Reaching Out for the first time. The occasion of its first publication was a somber one: an article commemorating Burrows, who was killed that month in a helicopter crash in Laos.

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Larry Burrows (1926 – 1971) in Vietnam, 1965. Larry Burrows—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

In that Feb. 19, 1971, issue, LIFE’s Managing Editor, Ralph Graves, wrote a moving, appropriately understated tribute titled, simply, “Larry Burrows, Photographer.” A week before, Graves noted, a helicopter carrying Burrows and fellow photographers Henri Huet of the Associated Press, Kent Potter of United Press International and Keisaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek was shot down over Laos.

“There is little hope,” Graves asserted, “that any survived.” He then wrote:

I do not think it is demeaning to any other photographer in the world for me to say that Larry Burrows was the single bravest and most dedicated war photographer I know of. He spent nine years covering the Vietnam War under conditions of incredible danger, not just at odd times but over and over again. We kept thinking up other, safer stories for him to do, but he would do them and go back to the war. As he said, the war was his story, and he would see it through. His dream was to stay until he could photograph a Vietnam at peace.

Larry was English, a polite man, self-effacing, warm with his friends but totally cool in combat. He had deep passions, and the deepest was to make people confront the reality of the war, not look away from it. He was more concerned with people than with issues, and he had great sympathy for those who suffered …

He had been through so much, always coming out magically unscathed, that a myth of invulnerability grew up about him. Friends came to believe he was protected by some invisible armor. But I don’t think he believed that himself. Whenever he went in harm’s way he knew, precisely, what the dangers were and how vulnerable he was.

John Saar, LIFE’s Far East Bureau Chief . . . often worked with Larry, and today he sent this cable:

“The depth of his commitment and concentration was frightening. He could have been a surgeon or soldier or almost anything else, but he chose photography and was so dedicated that he saw the whole world in 35-mm exposures. Work was his life, eventually his death, and Burrows I think wouldn’t have bitched.”

All these years later, it’s still worth recounting one small example of the way that the wry Briton endeared himself to his peers, as well as his subjects. In typed notes that accompanied Burrows’ film when it was flown from Vietnam to LIFE’s offices in New York, the photographer apologized — apologized — for what he feared might be substandard descriptions of the scenes he shot, and how he shot them: “Sorry if my captioning is not up to standard,” Burrows wrote to his editors, “but with all that sniper fire around, I didn’t dare wave a white notebook.”

In April 2008, after 37 years of rumors, false hopes and tireless effort by their families, colleagues and news organizations to find the remains of the four photographers killed in Laos in ’71, their partial remains were finally located and shipped to the States. Today, those remains reside in a stainless-steel box beneath the floor of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Above them, in the museum’s memorial gallery, is a glass wall that bears the names of almost 2,000 journalists who, since 1837, have died while doing their jobs.

Kent Potter was just 23 years old when he lost his life doing what he loved. Keisaburo Shimamoto was 34. Henri Huet was 43. Larry Burrows, the oldest of the bunch, was 44.

TIME Korean War

America’s ‘First Korean War Bride’ Comes Home

Recalling a wartime story that, at its heart, is less about warfare than about the simple, indomitable power of love

Occasionally, when working with the seemingly boundless treasure that is the LIFE magazine archive, one comes across series of pictures, or long-forgotten articles, that clearly and undeniably capture something telling about their own time — while casting an unexpected light on our own imperfect era.

Such is the case with Wayne Miller’s marvelous photographs — and, perhaps especially, with the sympathetic text — from an article that ran in LIFE in November 1951. Titled “A War Bride Named ‘Blue’ Comes Home,” the two-page feature captured the scene when a woman LIFE dubbed “the first Korean war bride to arrive in America” and her husband, Sgt. Johnie Morgan, landed in Seattle, where Johnie’s mom and dad were anxiously waiting to see their son and meet their new daughter-in-law.

In LIFE’s words, “As the troop transport General M. M. Patrick pulled into Seattle’s harbor, the band on the dock loudly struck up Here Comes the Bride.”

Crowds cheered excitedly, whistles tooted. Seattle and the U.S. were welcoming the first Korean war bride to arrive in America, Mrs. Johnie Morgan, home with her sergeant husband.

To soldiers in Korea Mrs. Morgan had been known as “Blue” because when she refused to tell them her name (it was Lee Yong Soon) they said, “Okay, you’ve got a blue sweater so your name’s Blue.” She first met Johnie Morgan (he was christened “Johnie,” not “John”) in Seoul in 1949 where Blue worked for the U.S. Army as communications supervisor. By the time Korea was a word on the lips of every American, Johnie and Blue were in love. But love in Korea in 1950 was precious and brief. In late June, with the North Koreans coming in on Seoul, Johnie’s outfit withdrew 200 miles south to Pusan, and Blue was left behind. Three weeks later, her feet bare and bleeding, Blue reached Pusan and Johnie Morgan. She had walked across country to Johnie. “I knew then,” says Johnie, “how much I loved the kid,” and he asked her to marry him. It took five months for marriage permission to clear the Army. Then, after their wedding last Valentine’s Day, which is Blue’s birthday, Johnie passed up innumerable chances to return to the States until Blue’s papers could be cleared.

Before the transport docked in Seattle a little boat pulled alongside and an official greeter climbed aboard to give Blue a $100 savings bond — a homecoming gift from the city of Seattle. When the couple came ashore, Johnie’s mother rushed up to kiss Blue. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said.

Seven decades later, as Americans spend Veterans Day honoring those who served — with parades and with other, quieter remembrances — it’s also fitting that we take a moment and recall a wartime story that, at its heart, is less about warfare than about the simple, indomitable power of love.

[See more of Wayne Miller’s work at Magnumphotos.com]

TIME Icons

Woody Allen: Portraits of the Neurotic as a Young Man

On Woody Allen's 79th birthday, LIFE.com looks back at the filmmaker as a young man in 1967 New York City.

When LIFE magazine profiled Woody Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg) in April 1967, the 31-year-old writer, actor, director and hugely popular stand-up comedian was already a formidable — if utterly insecure and neurotic — creative force. In the article, writer Paul O’Neil discussed just a few of the Bronx-born, Brooklyn-raised filmmaker’s achievements:

He is bursting into pubic view today through every possible medium of expression. His successful Broadway farce, “Don’t Drink the Water,” is the most recent of his dramatic accomplishments. He is the author of two movies (in both of which he also appears): the noisy, big-money “What’s New, Pussy Cat?” and an odd, re-dubbed Japanese spy film, “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” He plays two parts (James Bond’s nephew Little Jimmy Bond and the villain, Noah), in Charles Feldman’s cinematic spoof of Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale.” He has been the most frequent of guests on television’s “Tonight Show” and last month he again filled in as its master of ceremonies when Johnny Carson was away. He writes humorous essays for the New Yorker and is considered a kind of LSD-Era-All-American-Boy by both Playboy and Esquire, which compete with each other in publishing his picture and are happy to give their readers any smallest fragment of his prose.

Five decades later, Woody Allen — now 79 years old and still working nonstop — remains one of the few major American filmmakers of any age who writes and directs, like clockwork, a feature-length motion picture each and every year. He’s had his clunkers (the flabby, overrated — albeit highly profitable — Midnight in Paris, the unwatchable Anything Else and quite a few others), but he’s also created some of the most celebrated American movies of all time: Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose and more. He’s won Oscars, BAFTAs, Golden Globes and festival awards. He’s written a dozen plays and best-sellers. (Without Feathers is, quite simply, one of the finest collections of humorous short stories ever published. Period.) And he plays a mean jazz clarinet.

It hasn’t all been unalloyed success, though, and Woody Allen is not unfamiliar with scandal: his marriage to his much younger, one-time stepdaughter (“stepdaughter” in fact, if not in law) Soon-Yi Previn shocked an awful lot of his fans and is still fodder for crude jokes. And yet, according to many of those who know the them, in private Allen and Previn are exactly what they appear to be when they’re out in public: a devoted, happily married husband and wife.

And then, of course, there are his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow’s explosive claims that Allen molested her when she was a child — claims, it should be noted, that Allen has long adamantly denied.

Here, on his 79th birthday (b. Dec. 1, 1935), LIFE.com looks back at a period in Woody Allen’s life in the late 1960s when, already a star, he was hitting his stride as a filmmaker and a pop-culture force to be reckoned with.


Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com

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

TIME photography

Prohibition’s Last Call: Inside the Speakeasies of New York in 1933

Photos shot by the great Margaret Bourke-White for FORTUNE magazine in 1933, capturing the pre-repeal atmosphere in New York's speakeasies

The Prohibition era in America, which lasted for well over a decade and—inconceivable as it might be today—effectively banned the sale and production of booze in the United States, ended with the ratification of the 21st Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933. The dozen or so years during which Prohibition imperfectly reigned, meanwhile, have endured in the national consciousness and the pop-culture pantheon as a period of unparalleled violence, gangsterism and corruption.

Here, LIFE.com offers up photos made in a number of New York speakeasies by Margaret Bourke-White. Most famous for her work as a LIFE photographer—along with Peter Stackpole, Thomas McAvoy and Alfred Eisenstaedt, she was one of the weekly’s original four staff photographers—Bourke-White was for years an editor and photographer at FORTUNE; the pictures in this gallery were shot for that storied Time Inc. monthly, three years before LIFE began publishing.

Bourke-White’s photos ran in the June 1933 issue of FORTUNE, under the simple and evocative title, “Speakeasies of New York.”

The speakeasy [FORTUNE told its readers, betraying a fair bit of patrician hauteur] has flowered successfully only in New York. In San Francisco it is dull and obscure; in Chicago, tough and noisy; in the South almost nonexistent. In most cities, drinking, like eating, is done at home or in the country club. In New York alone has the speakeasy become the instrument of a civilized social life, something between a pre-prohibition restaurant and a coeducational club. There are, therefore, in New York, speakeasies for every taste and purse. . . . The pictures on these pages present a fair cross-section of the reputable ones. They are probably the first pictures ever taken of speakeasies in action. They may be the last: no one can prophesy the future of these curious by-products of the post-War age if and when prohibition is repealed. If they survive it will be as restaurants with bars; locked doors will no longer spice the drinks. It is for a future that will want to know how New Yorkers of the ’20s lived that FORTUNE presents this portfolio of Margaret Bourke-White’s pictures.

Duly acknowledging the prescience of that unknown writer’s words, we’ll just end here by noting that Bourke-White’s pictures do, in fact, provide a sense of how New Yorkers of the ’20s and ’30s lived. Judging by the photos, some of them lived pretty well, indeed.

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

Follow FORTUNE @FortuneMagazine.

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