RUTH HARRIET LOUISE: Photographer to the Stars

Ruth Harriet Louise ( self portrait 1928)

Ruth Harriet Louise (1903-1940) photographed some of the biggest stars in Hollywood in the 1920s. She joined MGM at the age of 22 and became the only woman working  as a portrait photographer at a Hollywood studio.

Born Ruth Goldstein in New York, Ruth followed her brother Mark ( director Mark Sandrich) to Hollywood and set up her own portrait studio.

Ruth’s cousin, Carmel Myers, asked Ruth to photograph her whilst Carmel was making  BEN HUR in 1925. Louis B. Mayer was impressed and Ruth went to work at MGM.

Carmel Myers

Ruth ran MGM’s portrait studio from 1925 to 1930. Garbo selected her as her exclusive portrait photographer. Clarence Sinclair Bull ran the Stills dept ( taking photographs on the film sets), while Ruth reported directly to Howard Strickling, head of MGM publicity.

In the 1920s, Hollywood was still generally hospitable to woman professionals – and many studio employees and executives were young, like Ruth.

However, in 1930 George Hurrell became the chief MGM portrait photographer and Ruth’s contract was not renewed.

I don’t know the exact circumstances as to why, suddenly,Ruth’s work was devalued to the extent she lost her job. I’ve read top MGM star ,Norma Shearer,preferred Hurrell’s photos.
She was only 25 and yet there is little evidence of her working in the 1930s. Could it be she chose family life after the tough routine at MGM. Her husband was director Leigh Jason (his films include “The Mad Miss Manton “, “The Bride  Walks Out” and “Out of the Blue”.)

Ruth had a son who died aged 6 in 1938, and only two years later Ruth died a few days after giving birth to a second son who also died. She was 37 years old.




Myrna Loy


William Haines


Bessie Love


John Gilbert

Ramon Novarro 


Ruth with Joan Crawford


Mark Sandrich, Ruth Harriet Louise, Leigh Jason. 1928.



Joan Crawford posing as ‘Hamlet’!

Dressed in homage to John Barrymore, 6 stills of Joan Crawford by Ruth appeared in a 1929 edition of Motion Picture  magazine under the caption, To wed, or not to wed!  ( just before Joan’s marriage to Douglas Fairbanks Jr.)

(John Barrymore had played Hamlet on stage in the early 1920s. In 1933, two short  scenes from “Hamlet” were shot in Technicolor for a possible film version . Barrymore was 51 and the proposal for a film was not taken forward.
In the few clips on You Tube, Barrymore is seen with Donald Crisp, Reginald Denny, Irving Pichel.)



The short announcement of Ruth’s departure from MGM.


Nice to see that Ruth’s career is documented in this book, RUTH HARRIET LOUISE AND HOLLYWOOD GLAMOUR  PHOTOGRAPHY (2002).

The book makes the point – “…..the extraordinary fact is that she was the most reproduced photographer in America during her tenure at MGM.”

  • Ruth herself is quoted: “With actors, of course, having their pictures taken is part of their business and they are more or less in my hands…..I don’t mind bossing them around one bit……I realise some of their success depends on me.”



Ruth’s brother ,Mark Sandrich ( the original family name was Sendreich), with Irving Berlin, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire on the set of CAREFREE.
Mark had directed 5 of the Astaire/ Rogers films and had started work on BLUE SKIES in 1946 when he died suddenly.

(Mark’s son, Jay Sandrich, died this month aged 89. Jay won many Emmies for his television direction. )

Mark Sandrich

Sandrich’s fedora hat was a constant on his sets.


Mark Sandrich, George Gershwin

6 responses »

  1. She was right to call her photos portraits. She clearly went for the unique, rather than generic “types” as in most promotional photography now. I especially like her having the other eye in darkness or, in the case of Novarro, only barely visible. Her portrait of him really captures his intensity and exuberance.
    Interesting to read about Mark Sandrich in Ginger Rogers’ memoirs. She made a lot of films with him but he certainly wasn’t her favorite – mainly because she said he always favored Astaire in scenes and dances. Her favorite was George Stevens though only one Astaire-Rogers film was directed by him. The Sandrich-directed films with them certainly rank with their very best.

      • Would love to learn more about Novarro. I consider him one of the best silent artists who ever lived. Not surprisingly, he was also considered a fine sound actor and I so wish he had had a far better and more varied career onstage and in the talkies, than he did.

    • You’re in for a treat! “The Student Prince” (with Jean Hersholt who is also wonderful) has a poetic innocence that seems to have vanished altogether from the earth; and “Across the Pacific” (though I’ll check that title to make sure correct) shows his mastery of a more difficult role. And his Ben-Hur is still rightly admired, by many far more so than is Heston’s.
      I saw “Cat and the Fiddle” years ago and must also look out for the others.

      • The full title is “The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg”, dir. by Lubitsch; and correct title of the other is “Across to Singapore”.

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