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Friday, August 5, 2011
I Should Have Been A Showgirl
From the Ebay listing of this photo:
John De MirjiAn, the Broadway glamour photographer's short but brilliant heyday lasted six years, from 1922 until his death in a speeding roadster containing a mysterious woman in 1928.
An extravagant personality given to gambling and womanizing, De Mirjian brooked no criticism of his taste or resistance to his desire, throwing temper tantrums during photo shoots if sitters failed to follow his directions. In February 1927, Olga, his wife of a little over one year, sued for divorce, citing repeated physical abuse and being forced to labor at her husband’s studio round the clock. In her court testimony she revealed that the photographer cleared 25K$ annually, making his one of the most lucrative studios in the city.
One reason for his financial success was his arrangement with Earl Carroll, impresario of 'The Vanities,' to photograph publicity for his revue, a show that pushed the envelope in the theatrical display of female flesh. In 1925 De Mirjian became a photographic celebrity when newspapers covered his trial in which actress Louise Brooks sued to stop his distribution of risque photos taken of her in 1923. Brooks in the court claimed that a nude shoot was the publicity price every girl new to Broadway must pay. De Mirjian testified, 'Have I not photographed a thousand others wearing maybe a shoe, maybe a hat, maybe a shawl. . . and not only the girls of the shows but the women of society as well.'
The bulk of De Mijian's risque photography appeared on two magazines of the mid-1920s: ART LOVERS and ARTISTS AND MODELS. Modeled on Edwin Bower Hesser's successful ARTS MONTHLY PICTORIAL begun in 1922, these soft paper monthlies featured shots of semi-nude showgirls in artistic poses. In 1925 De Mirjian was supplying imagery for both magazines. It is interesting to observe that the Schubert Brothers, who sponsored the annual "Artists and Models" girlie revues on Broadway were rivals of Earl Carroll, De Mirjian's principle employer. Yet their appreciation of De Mirjian's mastery of drape shots and nudes overrode their disinclination to patronize an artist in the hire of a rival. Besides showgirls in drapes and society women in stylish dishabille, De Mirjian had a particular talent for 'two-shots,' portraits showing the interaction, usually romantic, of two persons.
His career ended spectacularly on September 24, 1928, when his Peerless roadster careened off the Jerico turnpike, L. I., going 70 miles an hour. His passenger, a married actress, Mrs. Gloria Christy, survived and told authorities she was his half-sister. She was not. John's brother, Arto De Mirjian, who had assisted in the studio, took over the business. He kept it a going concern until 1950, surviving debt proceedings in the early 1930s and a merger with Nasib, the vaudeville and dance photographer shortly thereafter. Arto De Mirjian continued the studio's documentation of Broadway productions and achievied in portraiture an expertise equal to that of his brother. He remained an active photographer in New York until about 1950 when he sold his archive to the Culver Service, moved to California, and set up a studio in the Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.