TIME Music

The ‘Unseen’ Tony Bennett: Rare Photos From an American Life

A new book features rare photos of the singer, his family and his famous musical peers — with many of the pictures culled from the vast Sony Music archives

Few figures in the annals of popular culture have enjoyed as long and as celebrated a career as the man born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Long Island City, N.Y., in 1926. Known throughout the world by his working name, Tony Bennett, the Queens native has been singing professionally for seven-plus decades, from the 1940s onward, winning 17 Grammys and two Emmys. He’s received honorary doctorates at a half-dozen schools. He’s earned induction into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Recently, at 88, he even broke his own record as the oldest artist to top the Billboard charts, thanks to his Cheek to Cheek album with Lady Gaga.

Now, hard on the heels of that improbable achievement, LIFE Books has unveiled Tony Bennett: An Illustrated Biography, featuring rare and never-before-seen photos of the singer, his family and his famous musical peers — with many of the pictures culled from the vast Sony Music archives. (Bennett has spent his entire career with the same record company: it was called Columbia when he joined the label in 1950, and today it’s part of Sony Music Entertainment.)

Covering every aspect of Bennett’s life, from his boyhood in Queens to his experience as a G.I. in France during World War II to his lifelong advocacy for progressive causes, right down to his latest triumphs, the pictures in the book capture a quintessentially American life: as a grandson of immigrants and a child of the Depression, from an early age Tony Bennett knew poverty and want. But talent and a colossal work ethic — as well as (he admits) a bit of luck and an innate, candid charm — helped transform him into one of the world’s singular, most enduring entertainers.

As Robert Sullivan, LIFE Books’ managing editor and a long-time friend and collaborator of Bennett’s, notes in his introduction to the book, Tony Bennett “is not only a remarkable singer but a remarkable man with a life story that can now be fairly called a saga.”

Long may the saga run.

Tony Bennett, with a foreword by Martin Scorsese, is published by LIFE Books, as part of the “LIFE Unseen” series.

TIME LIFE Photo Essay

‘Career Girl’: Portrait of a Young Woman’s Life in 1948 New York

Seven decades after they were made, Leonard McCombe's photos of a young woman's life in 1948 New York City are still wonderfully moving

Of all the photo essays that LIFE magazine published over the decades, a 12-page 1948 feature known simply as “Career Girl” remains among the most moving and, in many ways, one of the most surprising. Chronicling the life and struggles in New York City of a 23-year-old Missourian named Gwyned Filling, the article — and especially the essay’s photographs by Leonard McCombe — struck a nerve with LIFE’s readers. Seven decades later, McCombe’s pictures have lost none of their startling intimacy, or their empathy.

A 1947 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Gwyned Filling moved to New York with a friend a week after commencement. Less than a year later, LIFE selected her, from more than a thousand other candidates, to serve as an emblem of the modern “career girl” — the smart, driven young woman who viewed post-World War II America, and especially its big cities, as a place where opportunities seemed limitless. After all, the nation’s workforce during the critical war years had been transformed by a massive influx of skilled female workers; when the war ended, it was only natural that educated, ambitious women would view the labor landscape as utterly changed—for the better.

LIFE Magazine

The article that appeared in the May 3, 1948, issue of LIFE — titled “The Private Life of Gwyned Filling” (see slide #3) — follows Gwyned as she negotiates the frenetic universe of New York City while trying to keep her own personal hopes and career expectations in perspective. She works; she dines out; she stays abreast of the doings of friends and family back home; she dates; she dreams.

The reaction of LIFE’s readers, meanwhile, ranged (perhaps predictably) from outrage and moral indignation at Gwyned’s “unladylike” pursuits to a kind of celebratory relief that LIFE chose to show on its cover “a young woman with a serious, purposeful, intelligent face” rather than “some vacuous-faced female with the molar grin that has come to be regarded in America as a smile.”

A reader from Detroit, on the other hand, opined that if the story “can keep only a few girls in their small-town homes it will have done at least some small service to humanity. Big cities are a menace to the progress of civilization. The people who fling themselves against them to be battered to pieces like moths against a lamp are fools.”

In the end, the enduring value of “The Private Life of Gwyned Filling,” and of McCombe’s quiet, masterful portrait of Gwyned at her happiest, her most determined and her most despairing, is that it serves as an honest record of a certain moment (the late 1940s) in a certain place (New York City) as experienced, to one degree or another, by countless women striving for something beyond what might have been expected of them a mere generation before.

Finally, it’s worth noting that in November 1948 Gwyned married the man, Charles B. Straus, Jr., she is seen dating (and, at times, weeping over) in some of these pictures. They remained married for 54 years — they had two kids and several grandkids — until Straus died in 2002. Gwyned died in 2005, in Rhode Island. She was 80 years old.

TIME World War II

Remembering ‘The Few’: Photos of the Young Pilots Who Saved England

Portraits of the young fliers, from many nations, who helped save England during the Battle of Britain.

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” — Winston Churchill addressing the House of Commons, Aug. 20, 1940

Of the countless memorable phrases uttered by the indomitable British Prime Minister during the war years, Winston Churchill’s tribute to and celebration of “The Few,” as the airmen of the Royal Air Force have ever since been affectionately known, endures as among his most moving and most heartfelt. (That not all of the pilots were, in fact, British—there were Poles, Czechs, Americans, Canadians, Irish, New Zealanders and others, as well—that fact hardly dilutes the power of the sentiment, or the intensity of Churchill’s and England’s gratitude to those fliers.)

In 1940′s pivotal, four-month Battle of Britain, thousands of these (mostly young) pilots held off fighters from the mighty German Luftwaffe, quite literally saving the Sceptered Isle from defeat at the hands of the Third Reich and proving to a skeptical world that the Nazi military juggernaut was neither inevitable nor invincible.

Here, LIFE.com offers charming, revealing portraits of The Few by photographer William Vandivert. (Most of these photos did not originally appear in LIFE magazine.)

[See all of LIFE's galleries]

As LIFE put it to its readers the following spring, when the magazine ran some of Vandivert’s pictures in the March 21, 1941, issue:

England’s most important young men today are the several thousand youth who fly the Hurricane and Spitfire fighters in the Battle of Britain. They undoubtedly saved England last fall from Nazi invasion. Hitler must knock them all out of the air over Britain before he dares to invade England this spring.

[In these pictures] LIFE takes you to an actual airfield of the RAF’s Fighter Command during the airblitz last fall. Here you see new kind of battle action — what goes on on the ground at a fighter station while the fate of a nation is being fought out in the clouds.

These young British fliers, unlike their German opponents, are elaborately modest. There is little or no brag and swagger about them and they fight the Germans with a sort of casual perfection that is the envy of every other air force in the world. Their job calls for a fit young man of great calm and great optimism, preferably not in love. Very few of these young fighter pilots are married. Their ages range around 23. It takes moral self-confidence and concentration to kill early, often and quickly, without a sense of guilt.

Close to 3,000 RAF fliers took to the skies in the Battle of Britain. More than 500 were killed; around 80 percent of those lost were Britons. The chances of The Few ever being forgotten by the nation they helped save? Zero.

TIME art and artists

LIFE With Matisse: Portraits of a Modernist Master

Classic photographs of Henri Matisse -- most of which never ran in LIFE magazine -- by the great Ukrainian-born photographer Dmitri Kessel

In 1951, a show opened at MoMA in New York that LIFE magazine celebrated as “a monumental exhibit [that] crowns a lifetime of creativity by the 81-year-old modern master,” Henri Matisse. Here, recalling that 1951 show, LIFE.com offers a few photographs of Matisse — most of which never ran in LIFE — by the great Ukrainian-born photographer Dmitri Kessel.

“Over the past 50 years,” LIFE reminded its readers in its Nov. 26, 1951, issue, “Matisse has poured forth a profusion of joyous paintings which have given a startling new shape and brilliance to the face of art and which have won him a top rank among the great modern masters, Picasso, Braque and [the today far less-well-known Georges] Rouault.”

Of the fastidious, bespectacled, quietly revolutionary artist who was once denounced as “more dangerous than absinthe,” LIFE wrote that, in his studio on the French Riviera, Matisse “continued to work diligently, absorbed in his quest of an art that ‘pure and calm, free of disturbing subject mater . . . a mean of soothing the soul. . . .’”

All these years later, LIFE.com pays tribute that contrarian, decades-long quest — an approach to the creative life utterly, refreshingly free of the noise, hype and sensationalism evident in so much high-profile art today.

TIME vintage color photos

Northern Lights: Vintage Color Photos of Nature’s Great Light Show

Celebrating the glorious northern lights with a series of color pictures made by J.R. Eyerman in northern Canada in 1953

“Of all the pageantry of the atmosphere,” LIFE noted in a June 1953 issue, “the most awesome and, as man has often thought, most fearful, are the auroras—the ghostly streamers of colored light that appear on certain nights, usually in spring and fall, and spread upward from the horizon to the zenith, sometimes projected in shifting rays like searchlight beams, sometimes diffused in shimmering veils and curtains, sometimes dancing and pulsating like the flames of some unutterable cosmic fire.”

Here, seven decades later, as the auroras again present themselves to dazzled viewers across the northern latitudes, LIFE.com pays homage to those “ghostly streamers” with a series of pictures made by J.R. Eyerman (called “Jay Eyerman” in that long-ago issue of the magazine) in northern Canada. In fact, Eyerman—who entered the University of Washington when he was 15 to study engineering—made these photos using a technique he himself devised.

[See all of LIFE's photography galleries]

In the 1957 book, LIFE Photographers: Their Careers and Favorite Pictures, author Stanley Rayfield notes that “Eyerman’s technical innovations have helped push back the frontiers of photography. He perfected an electric eye mechanism to trip the shutters of nine cameras to make pictures of an atomic blast; devised a special camera for taking pictures 3600 feet beneath the surface of the ocean; successfully ‘speeded up’ color film to make previously impossible color pictures of the shimmering, changing forms and patterns of the aurora borealis.”

The results, both technically and aesthetically, are glorious.

(Note: We’ve included a few of Eyerman’s black and white shots of the northern lights in this gallery, as we feel there’s something starkly beautiful about those pictures, too.)

TIME photography

Veronica Lake: Movie Star, Hollywood Rebel, ‘Sex Zombie’

Her life was not destined for a storybook ending, but Veronica Lake left behind at least a few films -- and a unique persona -- that endure.

Veronica Lake, a femme fatale icon of 1940s Hollywood noir, was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman on Nov. 14, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York. Small in stature — she was less than five feet tall — the platinum blonde with the distinctive peek-a-boo haircut was a huge screen presence and box-office staple during the war years. Often paired with Alan Ladd (at just 5′ 6″, Ladd was another famously short movie star), Lake brought to the screen an air of mystery, contained sensuality and quiet wit that lit up the screen. But, as she herself said, she just wasn’t cut out to be a movie star — at least not as Hollywood in the Forties envisioned that role — and her later life was marked by broken marriages, addiction and illness.

Lake herself, meanwhile, was always self-deprecating when it come not only to her stardom, but her acting chops. “You could put all the talent I had into your left eye and still not suffer from impaired vision,” she reportedly said of her film career, while also once claiming that she was not a sex symbol, but a “sex zombie.”

“That really names me properly,” she once said. “I never took that [sex goddess] stuff seriously.” Moviegoers, on the other hand, were drawn to Lake’s films in droves, attracted, in large part, by the enigmatic mix of playful eroticism and aloofness that defined many of her best performances and biggest hits — dramas like The Blue Dahlia and The Glass Key and Preston Sturges’ classic comedy, Sullivan’s Travels.

Lake largely disappeared from the big screen after the 1940s, working mainly in TV and on the stage in the 1950s and ’60s. Mental illness and alcohol took their toll. She was married four times and had four children, but when she died in Burlington, Vt., from hepatitis and kidney injury at just 50 years old in July 1973, only one of her kids and none of her exes bothered to attend her memorial service in New York. (She was, later in life, notoriously prickly and by all accounts was neither a loyal spouse nor an especially good mother.)

For a while there in the 1940s, however, Veronica Lake — “sex zombie” or not — was the sort of star that Hollywood doesn’t seem to produce anymore. Smoldering. Inscrutable. Suspicious of her own fame, yet somehow innately, deeply alluring. Her influence, four decades after her death, is still felt. (Kim Basinger’s Oscar-winning turn in L.A. Confidential, of course, was as a prostitute coiffed and dressed to resemble Lake, while none other than Jessica Rabbit was something of a red-haired, more voluptuous Veronica.)

Lake’s life was not destined for a storybook ending, but she left behind at least a few films — and created a unique persona — that endure.

In the long history of the movies, how many stars can honestly say the same?

[See all of LIFE's galleries]

[Read EW’s review of the 1942 Lake comedy, I Married a Witch]

TIME Behind the Picture

LIFE With MacArthur: The Landing at Luzon, the Philippines, 1945

Carl Mydans' photograph of Gen. Douglas MacArthur at Luzon distills something elemental about MacArthur's larger-than-life persona

With the possible exception of Gen. George S. Patton, no American who rose to prominence during the Second World War could compete with Gen. Douglas MacArthur when it came to either influence or controversy. A titanic personality who was keenly aware of the power of the image to help craft a narrative about a battle, a campaign or a hugely symbolic moment, MacArthur had a prickly relationship with the press.

The story, meanwhile, behind what is arguably the single most famous picture of the general, and certainly one of the most recognizable pictures to emerge from WWII, ably illustrates the Arkansas native’s grasp of a photograph’s ability to lionize—or demonize—a public figure.

The picture in question, made by LIFE’s Carl Mydans on Jan. 9, 1945, shows MacArthur striding ashore onto “Blue Beach,” Dagupan, on the island of Luzon, Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines. That Mydans’ photograph does not capture the return to the Philippines—the return that MacArthur promised in his single most famous utterance—hardly detracts from its significance. In fact, even more so than the pictures of MacArthur at Leyte in October 1944, when the general first returned to the Philippines after escaping from Corregidor two years before, Mydans’ photograph of the general and his comrades in the surf at Luzon seems to capture and perfectly distill something elemental about MacArthur’s magnetism and his larger-than-life persona.

Years later, in a 1992 interview with John Loengard, Mydans remembered making that picture, and other photos both onboard the USS Boise and at Luzon after the landing, as if it had all happened just days before.

Quoted in Loengard’s book, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw (Bulfinch, 1998), Mydans recalls how he came to be with MacArthur on the ship before the landing, and on the shore in time to capture the general walking through the waves to the beach:

I was in France when I got a coded message from my office: MacArthur was returning to the Philippines. By the time I got to Leyte, though, the landing was over. . . . While the last of the battle for Leyte was still being fought MacArthur’s public information officer called us together and said, “MacArthur will go to the Luzon assault on the USS Boise. Six of you will go in with him. You’ll draw lots out of a helmet.” A captain tore up paper, and everybody put his hand in and took out a piece. . . . [T]he slip of paper I found in my hand had the one word, “Stills.” I was the only still photographer, except for the military, on the Boise. I was loaded into the same landing craft with MacArthur, and I went ashore with him.

The story of what happened there has been told and retold many times, incorrectly. [People always ask me] “How many times did he do that for you, Mr. Mydans?” And the answer is always the same: “He did it once.” I now realize that the question will go on forever.

In 1961, both MacArthur and Mydans returned to Luzon, where each had made history 16 years before. In the July 14, 1961, issue of LIFE, Mydans wrote movingly of that trip, and of MacArthur’s difficulty keeping his emotions in check when he was back in the place and among the people that had shaped so much of his career and his life.

“This,” said General MacArthur to Mrs. MacArthur standing close beside him on the sands above the beach at Lingayen [wrote Mydans], “is what I wanted you to see,” and he ran his hand gently over the plaque which now marks the place where his forces returned to Luzon on the morning of Jan. 9, 1945.

The general spotted me in the crowd, and he tapped the plaque again. “This one’s for you, Carl,” he called out. Then, coming over, he said, “This is the highlight of it all, isn’t it? For you and for me.”

TIME Music

K-Pop Pioneers: The Kim Sisters Take America

In the late 1950s, three young singers left the hard times of postwar Korea to seek their fortune in the West -- and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams

A few years ago, TIME.com designated K-pop “South Korea’s greatest export.” While the folks at Hyundai, Samsung and a few other Korean corporations might have something to say about that assertion, there’s little doubt that over the past few decades, the treacly, hook-infused musical style has made itself felt, in one way or another, all over the globe.

But few fans of the genre are aware that, more than 50 years ago, three talented young Korean women formed a kind of proto-K-pop group—an ensemble unlike any that American audiences, at least, had ever seen.

Here is how LIFE introduced the trio to its readers in February 1960:

Just one year after leaving Seoul the Kim Sisters [Min Ja, Ai Ja and Sook Ja] are an all-out nightclub hit in the U.S.

The act began 10 years ago when the girls were taught “Ole Buttermilk Sky” and “Candy and Cake” by U.S.troops in Korea. Min Ja sang off-key and Ai Ja chewed gum while she sang, but to the GIs they were the Orient’s answer to the Andrews Sisters. Last year an ex-GI named Bob McMackin, who had heard them in Seoul, brought the Kims over [to the States]. The girls learn their songs by rote since they know little English.

In fact, Min-ja, or Mia, was a first cousin to Sook-ja and Ai-ja [the preferred Anglicized spelling of their names), but “Two Kims and Their Cousin” hardly had the ring of the eventual band name. So, in a time-honored entertainment ploy, when they began performing in Seoul in the 1950s, the three took a bit of license and, lo and behold, the Kim Sisters song-and-dance act was born.

In their heyday, the women played nightclubs and other venues all over America and around the world. They were huge hits in Vegas. They appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show more than 20 times. In short, for a number of years in the early to mid-1960s, the Kim Sisters were, without a doubt, the most famous Korean entertainers on the planet.

By the late Sixties, though, all that changed. As Mia Kim told the Korea Times a few years back:

In 1967, all three of us got married. I married a Hungarian musician, Tommy Vig, Sook-ja and Ai-ja married two Italian men. My aunt was a very wise lady because she always told us, “Don’t get involved with a man, because if that happens, your career will be over.” She was right, you know, the priority was instantly changed and after I gave birth to my son, I wanted to be a full-time mother. Also, as we had husbands in our lives, we began to have disagreements and conflicts, so I moved to Los Angeles with my husband in 1970.

After that, the band played on, but without Mia. The real Kim sisters—and eventually, their brothers—played Vegas for years after the original trio broke up. Ai-ja died in the late 1980s of lung cancer, and the remaining “sisters,” Mia and Sook-ja, lost touch with one another.

Still, for a while there, the three beautiful, accomplished young singers and musicians who left the hard times of postwar Korea to seek their fortune in the West had, in fact, found receptive audiences, and more than a little fame, far from their native Seoul.

K-pop or no K-pop, it’s a tale worth telling, and remembering.

TIME photography

LIFE Rides With Hells Angels, 1965

In 1965, LIFE photographer Bill Ray spent weeks with the Hells Angels, but his amazing photos never ran in the magazine. Fifty years later, here they are

From Jesse James and Butch Cassidy to Scarface and Tony Soprano, outlaws have always held a singularly ambiguous place in America’s popular imagination: we fear and loathe the gangster’s appetite for violence; we envy and covet his radical freedom. In early 1965, LIFE photographer Bill Ray and writer Joe Bride spent several weeks with a gang that, to this day, serves as a living, brawling embodiment of our schizoid relationship with the rebel: Hells Angels.

Here, along with a gallery of remarkable photographs that were shot for LIFE but never ran in the magazine, Ray and Bride recall their days and nights spent with Buzzard, Hambone, Big D and other Angels (as well as their equally tough “old ladies”) at a time when the roar of Harleys and the sight of long-haired bikers was still new and — for the average, law-abiding citizen — utterly unfathomable. The day-to-day existence of these leather-clad hellions, after all, was as foreign to most of LIFE magazine’s millions of readers as the lives of, say, Borneo’s headhunters, or nomads of the Gobi Desert.

“This was a new breed of rebel,” Ray told LIFE.com, recalling his time with the Angels. “They didn’t have jobs. They absolutely despised everything that most Americans value and strive for — stability, security. They rode their bikes, hung out in bars for days at a time, fought with anyone who messed with them. They were self-contained, with their own set of rules, their own code of behavior. It was extraordinary to be around.”

Ray spent some of the time with the Angels on a ride from San Bernardino (about 40 miles east of Los Angeles) to Bakersfield, Calif., for a major motorcycle rally. The Berdoo-Bakersfield run is a trip of only about 130 miles — but in 1965, it would offer enough moments (both placid and violent) for Ray to paint a rare, revelatory portrait of the world’s most legendary motorcycle club in its early days. The way in which the story came about, meanwhile, was as dramatic and unexpected as Bill Ray’s pictures.

[To see more of Bill Ray’s photography, visit BillRay.com]

“I’d done a story on Big Daddy Roth,” writer Joe Bride recalled, “a genuine L.A. phenomenon and legend in the Southern California car culture. He had a lucrative business designing hot rod-themed decals and cartoon figures. While I was wrapping up the story with Big Daddy, the Angels were in the news. They were accused of terrorizing a small central California town and being major growers and distributors of pot. Big Daddy said he knew a lot of Angels, did business with them and that they were more lost nomads than real criminals. After meeting them, by the way, my take on them was a little bit closer to the prevailing opinion than to Big Daddy’s. . . .”

“I told Big Daddy Roth I’d like to meet the Angels, talk to them about doing a story,” Bride said. “It would be a chance for them to get some recognition, and explain why they did what they did. Not long after the story on Big Daddy ran, in late 1964, Roth called and said, ‘They’ll meet you — with conditions.’” Bride met two Angels at Big Daddy’s store. They blindfolded him, put him in a car and drove into the mountains. At a bar “with what looked like 100 bikes parked outside,” no longer blindfolded, Bride met a stocky, long-haired Angel who asked if he shot pool. They played some nine-ball, and Bride beat the guy two out of three games. Bride then negotiated, there in the bar, a relationship where the Hells Angels agreed to allow him and Bill Ray to shadow them. Bride sat back, had a few beers, and then they drove him back to L.A. Not long after that, Ray and Bride began reporting the story.

Ray and Bride spent more than a month with the Angels in the spring of ’65, “mostly on weekends,” Ray remembers, “but the Bakersfield run was around the clock, three days and nights. In Bakersfield, I slept on the floor of the Blackboard Cafe — the bar that the Angels basically lived in while they were there.”


“I got along with the Angels,” Ray says today. “I got to like some of them very much, and I think they liked me. I accepted them as they were, and they accepted me. You know, by their standards, I looked pretty funny. Just look at that picture of me (right). That’s some kind of a plaid shirt I’ve got on,” he says, incredulity mixing with amusement, “but that was the best I could do to try to fit in!”

“One thing about the Angels that I found especially fascinating,” Ray says, “and something I’d never given much thought to before I started photographing them, was the role that the women played in the club. The girls weren’t there in chains, or against their will. They had to want that life if they were going to be accepted by the Angels. These guys were kings of the road. I don’t think they ever felt they had to look around for girls. Girls came, and they had their pick. Then they’d tell them where to sit and what to do.”

One of Ray’s photos, in particular — slide 14, featuring a group of women (including one with what appears to be a bandaged, broken nose) hanging out in a bar while the bikers gather in a separate room — is especially illuminating. “The men were having a business meeting,” Bill Ray recalls, “and the women were definitely not invited there. When those guys were busy, the women just sat and waited. They’d smoke, drink beer, gossip, but they were pretty much just on ice until the meeting broke up. I remember, too, that many of them were surprisingly young: teenagers, or in their early twenties. They didn’t look young, though. Riding around on the back of a Harley at a hundred miles an hour in all sorts of weather will age you, I guess.”

Nowadays, when a hugely popular TV show like Sons of Anarchy brings the violence and twisted moral code of the outlaw-biker aesthetic into living rooms every week, it’s easy to forget how thoroughly (and willfully) the Angels shocked and frightened “polite” society five decades ago.

“Some of them are pure animals,” Birney Jarvis, a one-time Hells Angel who later became a newspaper police reporter, once said. “They’d be animals in any society. These guys . . . should have been born a hundred years ago, then they would have been gunfighters.”

One of the images in this gallery — slide 8, featuring two Angels locked in what appears a passionate kiss — is a graphic, surprising example of something that Bill Ray says struck him forcefully at the time: namely, the Angels’ apparent need to shock people. “That’s outside the Blackboard Cafe,” Ray remembers. “That’s the sort of thing they would do all the time, just to freak people out. As if to say, What’re you looking at? You got a problem with this?

“It was exhilarating being around them, no question about it,” Ray says. “You just never knew what they were going to do. You’re always kind of on edge, because — think about it — these people have a lot of time to waste. They don’t punch a clock, so they fill the time drinking beer, smoking pot, screwing around. There was always a sense that anything could happen at any minute. Things could go from lighthearted to tense to really scary pretty goddamn quick.”

Why wasn’t the Angels story published in LIFE, after Ray and Bride spent so much time not merely reporting the story, but putting themselves at serious risk inside this notoriously insular, die-hard gang? According to Bride, “George Hunt [LIFE's managing editor] said he didn’t want to run a piece on ‘those smelly bastards.’” Bill Ray, meanwhile, recalls that “a lot of stories were killed back then because of one remark by an editor who didn’t like the idea. George said we weren’t going to run it, and that was that. I wasn’t in the meeting,” he adds with a laugh. “Editors went to great lengths to keep photographers out of discussions like that. They knew the argument would never end.”

Ray vividly remembers the moment he truly felt accepted, or as accepted as he was ever going to be, by the Angels. In a confrontation reminiscent of a famous scene in Hunter S. Thompson’s classic 1966 book, Hell’s Angels, when Thompson was almost stomped to death by bikers, Ray says that “he got in a bit of trouble one day, in a bar. Some bikers — guys who weren’t Angels — saw me taking pictures. They didn’t like it, but they didn’t realize that I was a sort of mascot of the real tough guys. I’d been shooting the Angels for maybe a week at this point. I was about to be attacked by one of these guys when a Hells Angel standing next to me made it clear that if a hair on my head was touched, the other guy was a dead man. From that point on, I felt . . . well, not safe, because I never felt safe with those guys, but as if I’d passed a test, somehow.”

Ray stresses that while the Angels he spent time with smoked pot, and he once saw them “beat the holy hell” out of some other bikers behind a bar, he “never saw these guys involved in anything deeply illegal. Then again, they always had plenty of money for gas and beer. They lived on their bikes — that is, when they weren’t hanging out in bars. Their money had to come from somewhere, but none of them ever worked.”

(Today the FBI contends that the Angels and other gangs — specifically, the Pagans, Outlaws MC and Bandidos — are deeply involved in extortion, drug dealing, trafficking stolen goods and other criminal activities.)

“There’s a romance to the idea of the biker on the open road,” Ray says. “It’s similar to the romance that people attach to cowboys and the West — which, of course, is totally out of proportion to the reality of riding fences and punching cows. But there’s something impressive about these Harley-Davidsons and bikers heading down the highway. You see the myth played out in movies, like Easy Rider, which came out a few years after I photographed the Angels. You know, the trail never ends for the cowboy, and the open road never ends for the Angels. They just ride. Where they’re going hardly matters. It’s not an easy life, but it’s what they choose. It’s theirs. And everyone else can get out of the way or go to hell.”

Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com

TIME movies

‘Walter Mitty’ and the LIFE Magazine Covers That Never Were

Many of the classic LIFE magazine covers on display in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' were, in fact, never LIFE covers at all.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” James Thurber’s classic 1939 short story, is a tribute to the sometimes unsettling power of the human imagination. It’s also very, very funny and, alongside a number of other Thurber gems — “The Catbird Seat,” “The Night the Bed Fell,” “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox” — remains an indispensable example of the uniquely American, mid-20th-century humor that found its highest expression in the pages of the New Yorker.

The most recent movie adaptation of the Mitty story stars Ben Stiller in the titular role as the archetypal nebbish who retreats into an intensely vivid fantasy world in times of stress. (The first film version of Mitty, starring Danny Kaye, was released in 1947.) In this rendition of the tale, Stiller plays a photo editor at LIFE magazine — still publishing, thanks to the magic of the movies, four decades after it shuttered in 1972 — and much of the film is set in the meticulously recreated offices of the storied weekly. In those offices, meanwhile, hang poster-sized versions of LIFE magazine covers through the years.

The covers are stirring, iconic — and, for the most part, they’re fake.

Or rather, the majority of the LIFE covers one sees in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were never covers at all. The pictures on the covers in this gallery, for example — the launch of Apollo 11; Jayne Mansfield luxuriating in a swimming pool; a theater audience watching the first-ever 3-D feature-length film — are, indisputably, classic LIFE images. But none of them ever graced the cover of LIFE magazine.

“When we were selecting photos for the LIFE covers in Walter Mitty,” says Jeff Mann, the production designer on the film, “we focused on pictures that would serve the story we were telling, but that would also capture the diversity of what LIFE covered in its prime. We worked really, really hard to select photos that were novel, naïve — in the best possible way — and that featured significant twentieth-century people, places and events.”

In the end, Mann says, he and his team — and Stiller, who is a photography aficionado — felt that the photos they chose to use as covers, from the literally millions of pictures in LIFE’s archive, had to somehow “convey the influence of LIFE magazine, while at the same time helping to move our story along. It was a fabulous problem, and one we had a lot of fun working to solve.”

Here, then, are a number of LIFE covers that never were — including several that, in light of how wonderful they look, perhaps should have been covers, after all.

[See all of LIFE's galleries]

[Buy the book, 75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE]

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