A few weeks ago, HBO began airing a 10-week series of independently-produced documentaries. I’ve seen the first three, and they are all superb–much credit is due to Sheila Nevins, president of HBO’s documentary division. Anyway, the first of the series is called Smash His Camera (directed by Leon Gast.) Its subject is Ron Galella, the celebrity photographer whose fame/notoriety began with his relentless pursuit of Jackie Kennedy.
You may not know Galella’s name, but he certainly became America’s first brand-name paparazzo. In the course of the documentary, there are numerous interviews with other photographers (among them Neil Leifer and Harry Benson), editors, columnists, and curators. Opinions on Galella and his work are all over the map. And Gast repeatedly uses clips from Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, which was the first exposure most people had to the word “paparazzo.”
Early in my own career, I worked a lot for the AP, covering the full range of wire-service subjects: politics, sports, gangland murders, and ‘celebrities.’ I do hate that word, which has been defined over the years by many people (I don’t know who said it first, but it sounds like something from Dorothy Parker) as “famous for being famous.” One of my colleagues in those late ’60s–early ’70s AP years was a man named Felice Quinto. Raspy-voiced, always smoking, and with lots of great stories in his heavily Italian-accented English, Quinto was a fine photographer, never afraid to wade right into the scrum of a breaking news event. Early on, I remember being told that he was in fact the role model for Paparazzo, the star-hunting photographer in La Dolce Vita.