By Robert Simonson
07 Dec 2011
Mr. Friedman entered the theatre determined to be an actor, but after a chance shutterbug assignment while working under showman Mike Todd, he turned to photography. Following service in World War II, he joined forces with Joseph Abeles, a portrait photographer. A freelancer, Mr. Freidman's specialty was production photos. He caught shows on film for both producers, who hired him to take official shots for musicals and plays, and for the publications covering those shows.
Over a long career, he photographed 800 shows, including legendary titles like My Fair Lady, Barefoot in the Park, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Bye Bye Birdie, The Entertainer, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, The Music Man, Purlie Victorious and Coco.
Of all the Friedman images that live in the collective consciousness of the American theatregoing public, the most famous is probably his indelible shot of West Side Story stars Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert running exuberantly through the tenement streets of New York's Hell's Kitchen. Like many of Friedman's pictures, it was noted for its electric, active aura, with the actors not standing around in stiff poses, but vibrantly in motion. The shot was entirely Mr. Friedman's invention. "I made a mark on the street," he told the New York Times, "and I said to Carol: 'I want Larry chasing you up the street. When you hit that mark, don’t look at me down here, look up, with your head up. And that’s what I took." The image was repeated in the posters and album cover of the film version of West Side Story.
His My Fair Lady photos included the familiar image of Rex Harrison's inquisitive Henry Higgins, notebook in hand, peering wonderingly and condescendingly down at the dirty, but offended flower girl Eliza Doolittle played by Julie Andrews. Another oft-printed photograph captures actor Zero Mostel, star of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, his character caught in the act of becoming a Rhino. Eyes crossed, nostrils flared, chin doubled and mouth wide open in a bestial snort, it telegraphed the manic, unrestrained nature of Mostel's Tony-winning performance.
Leo Friedman was born in Brooklyn in 1919 to Jewish parents and attended New Utrecht High School. His father wanted him to go to design school, but the young Friedman pursued the stage, appearing with Kitty Carlisle in White Horse Inn in 1936. In the late '30s, he got a job with flamboyant producer Mike Todd. At one point, Todd, who was producing some attractions for the New York World's Fair, shoved a camera in Mr. Friedman's hands and told him to take some pictures. During World War II, he served as a photographer in the Army Signal Corps in Europe.
The partnership with Abeles lasted until the 1970s, when Mr. Friedman moved west. Afterwards, Mr. Friedman decided to give his archive to New York Public Library's performing arts collection at Lincoln Center. The contribution led to an extended disagreement between Friedman and the library. According to Eric Friedman, Leo's son, the library has failed to credit Mr. Friedman with any of the Friedman photos they send out and collect monies on. Abeles died in 1991.
Mr. Friedman is survived by his second wife, Doris, and a son from his first marriage, which ended in divorce.