Perhaps Ron Galella should be ashamed of his tactics. Almost anyone else would be. He hid out in a rat-infested London warehouse to photograph Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on their yacht. He talked a gardener into sneaking him onto the property next door to Doris Day’s so he could snap shots of the actress sunbathing in her backyard. He hounded Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis so relentlessly (even dating her maid to get information on the former First Lady’s whereabouts) that she sued, and in 1982 received a federal court order barring him from photographing her or her children, John and Caroline. But Galella, whose business card once read, “Photography with the Paparazzi approach,” makes no apologies. “I admire celebrities, but I like to get to their heart,” he says. “I’m after genuine emotion.”
Now that unfiltered emotion, not all of it flattering to the subject, is on display in a new book, The Photographs of Ron Galella, and some of the very stars Galella once stalked are buying it. “It’s what we looked like, and who we were dancing with,” says Ali McGraw, whom Galella captured walking down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in 1971. “It’s like having somebody else do your scrap-book.” Adds former talk show host Dick Cavett, who was there in 1973 when an enraged Marlon Brando punched Galella: “I have to commend Ron on the photos. They look like stills from a really good movie.”
Galella’s own life seems the stuff of fiction. Raised poor in The Bronx by Vincenzo, a carpenter, and seamstress Michelina, at age 20 Galella enlisted in the Air Force and ended up assigned to a military photography lab in Orlando during the Korean War. When his tour of duty ended in 1955, he headed to Los Angeles to study photography; before long, camera in hand, Galella began crashing Hollywood parties. “I was a good dancer,” he says, “and it was glamorous.”
These days Galella, 71, leaves the dirty work to his eight associates at Ron Galella, Ltd., the photo agency he and wife Betty, 54, run out of their 10,000-sq.-ft. Mediterranean-style house in Montville, N.J. But he hasn’t mellowed. “I trained our girl [photographer] how to crash an event,” he brags. “And she’s good at it!”
She was admiring Omar Sharif’s “beautiful, big” eyes at a 1965 bash, says Galella.
Snapped in ’72, the actor, says Galella, “was drooling over [actress] Sylvia Miles.”
“Eye contact makes for a good picture,” says Galella of this shot from the ’77 Oscars.
JACQUELINE KENNEDY ONASSIS
“Are you pleased with yourself?” Onassis asked after Galella took this 1971 photo from the backseat of a New York City taxicab.
“He was nice to me,” Galella says of the actor (in New York City in 1974). “I always beat him to his apartment and he asked me, years [after this photo was taken], how I did it.”
“Miss Streisand prefers her other side,” says Galella, who nabbed this shot of the star at a 1969 movie premiere, “but I think she’s beautiful from any angle.”
FARRAH FAWCETT AND LEE MAJORS
In 1977 Galella caught the couple—en route to Iran for a second honeymoon as guests of the Shah—at Los Angeles International Airport. He says the smiling duo “kind of liked” the attention. “They expected press, and they knew how to handle photographers.”
JOHN F. KENNEDY JR.
Galella took this picture in Hyannis Port, Mass., in 1980—two years before being legally barred from photographing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or her children. As editor of George magazine, though, JFK Jr. let Galella photograph him in public.
MELANIE GRIFFITH AND DON JOHNSON
The couple (she was 18, he 26, in 1975 at a post-Doobie-Brothers-concert party at the Beverly Hills Hotel) were “beautiful Hollywood wannabes who got to be,” says Galella.
Fonda initially said “No pictures” at the ’79 opening of her Beverly Hills workout studio. “But,” says Galella, “she wanted to sell her videotapes, so she eventually consented.”