Having millions of dollars in the bank and having friends in high places during the height of New Hollywood was a whole new level of fame and fortune. Those who lived in the city of Angels from the 1950s to the ’80s exuded opulence and class, and it was Slim Aarons’ job to make sure that he captured this essence within his photographs. After all, he was all about “photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.”
This iconic photographer is credited for showcasing the grandeur and fun of New Hollywood, and he had exclusive access to some of the most famous actors, actresses, singers, and politicians of the day. Today, his collections have gone down in history as some of the most stunning and intriguing photos the world has ever seen. And we’ve collected some of the best to showcase what life was really like for the rich and famous back in the day!
“Warm Weather: Marie Chantal Strikes a Pose”
Over the course of his career, Slim Aarons seemed to have a knack for guessing the new up-and-comers within the high society circles. And it seems as though his intuition struck gold again in 1991 when he made his way to the exclusive Hotel Bel-Air Cap-Ferrat in Côte d’Azur, France.
In “Warm Weather: Marie Chantal Strikes a Pose” we can see a woman standing up on the edge of an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean. While she was just an up-and-coming socialite at the time, Marie Chantal actually went on to marry Prince Pavlos of Greece. She is now the Crown Princess of Greece, and photos of her like this are no longer allowed within the royal family.
Slim Aarons was the “it” photographer during the American New Wave, and during this time he photographed the most famous men and women as though he were part of their inner circle. And this intimate backstage photograph of Marilyn Monroe shows just how up close and personal he got to the biggest names of the era.
Aarons titled this photograph “Fan Mail”, and while he took it just after Marilyn Monroe’s appearance in the 1950s movie Asphalt Jungle, it became even more popular after the legendary actress passed away in 1962. This incredible photo showed the acting icon dressed in a stunning red negligee surrounded by the thousands of letters she received from fans every single year.
Much of Slim Aarons’ work followed famous and high-profile faces lounging out by the pool or heading to a nearby beach. But in the 1960s he decided to take his camera to slightly colder climates as part of a snow-themed collection. Yes, as more and more socialites made their way up the mountains for their ski trips he chose to follow suit.
“Snowmass Village” was taken in 1968 in Pitkin County, Colorado, and showcases the way the other half skiis. While these women in colorful hats presumably made their way down the mountain at some point, you can see that their main objective was to eat a delicious spread, drink wine, and then take a ride in their helicopter.
Traveling across the globe to shoot beautiful people doing beautiful things, Slim Aaron found himself in countless unique and beautiful locations. And he was actually visiting the beach resort town of Acapulco in Mexico when he came across this stunning young woman getting ready to go paragliding.
Taken in 1968, “Paraglider” showcases a socialite on vacation. You can see this woman clinging on to the parachute harness, and while we don’t know whether she’s getting ready to head up into the air or whether she’s just come down from a great height, she looks pretty excited about it.
Slim Aarons may no longer be around, but his legacy still lives on – and most people remember the iconic photographer for this particular photo. “Christmas Swim” has become a legendary holiday snap and it’s shared on social media every single year. But its origins trace back to 1954 when Slim enlisted the help of his wife, Rita Aarons, to be the subject of his new Christmas concept.
Mary Aarons, Slim’s daughter, spoke to Vogue about the photo and how getting this famous image was a horrible ordeal for her mother. She noted that “It was a hired house and hired kids, and my mom’s big recollections were that it was a really cold, really dirty pool… She was freezing and mad. It looks idyllic now, but to get it just right in a cold and dirty pool took a while.”
What has made Slim Aarons’ photos so popular is the fact that they offered an insight into the lives of people most regular Joes had never encountered before. From socialites that came from old money to new and rising stars within the Hollywood scene, Slim gave backstage all-access-passes to all that saw his photos.
And “Penthouse Pool” did just that. While many people wouldn’t get the chance to head to the penthouse of an exclusive hotel in Athens, Greece, this picture taken in 1961 showcased what that would have really been like. From the stunning views of the ancient backdrop to the beautiful women lounging by the water, this photo offered a luxurious escape.
Although Slim Aarons sometimes booked photoshoots with the rich and famous, he much preferred for these matters to naturally occur. Kathryn Livingston, the former executive editor of Town & Country noted that “From the minute he arrived on location, he began to search for a handful of good-looking women or the latest pretty young trendsetter who could give his story a touch of fairy-tale romance.”
And when Slim arrived at the Regency Hotel in New York in 1964, he just happened to run into fashion model and actress Renata Boeck. To truly capture the essence of the hotel and the starlet for “Monocled Miss” he wanted her to get comfortable in her bed while she ate her breakfast and read the morning paper.
Despite the fact that Slim Aarons was an American born and bred, he made friends and colleagues across the globe. And during the 1970s these contacts led him to the stunning Madrid mansion of María Aline Griffith Dexter, Countess of Romanones, for a photoshoot in her backyard that he titled “The Romanones”.
In 1976, the Countess of Romanones was one of the most famous people in high society. Not only was she the wife of a Grandee of Spain, but she was also friends with the likes of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, and other high-profile celebrities. So, Aarons knew that he just had to photograph the Countess and her family in their natural element.
“Working on Water”
As a creative person, Slim Aarons was drawn to fellow creatives who all spent their days dreaming up new stories, working on new movies, and bending society with their unique concepts. Because of this, he often photographed famous creatives in the middle of their process. Just like this photo called “Working on Water.”
This photo was taken in 1962 and features American author Stan Freberg at the center of it. Known for his comedy talent and his upbeat personality, it perfectly showcases the fact that Stan was just as funny at home in his own space as he was in his books or on television. After all, most people don’t write their material on top of their swimming pool.
Slim Aarons was a happily married man throughout his career, but it was no secret that he was drawn to beautiful women. Sometimes he would photograph them without really knowing them or their story, but other times he became so entranced by who they were that he photographed them time and time again. And Lucy Douglas Guest (more commonly known as Cee Zee Guest or CZ) was a recurring figure within his collections.
CZ was the ultimate socialite during the 1950s and ’60s and was regarded as a leading figure in the fashion world. Her beauty and her style, alongside her incredible ocean-front estate in Palm Beach, were incredibly appealing to Slim Aarons. Because of this, he often photographed the actress at home with her dogs, producing many photos like the stunning “CZ’s Dogs”.
“Beauty and the Beast”
It’s been noted that Slim Aarons was inspired by many muses over the years, and while some of them went on to continue a high-flying career, there were others who slipped out of the spotlight. Today, the only thing we really know about the photo “Beauty and the Beast” is that it features a woman by the name of Lady Daphne Cameron.
In fact, we also know that this photo was taken on a tiger skin rug in the trophy room of professional polo player Laddie Sanford’s house. Laura Hawk, who has written a retrospective photo book on Slim Aarons’ life and career, has noted that this particular photo is very different from his other photos. She has said that “I’ve been entranced by this photo from the first time I laid eyes on it. I find her to be quite sad… Quite beautiful, but not terribly happy.”
One of the reasons why fans love Slim Aarons’ work is that these photos show such a simple form of luxury – especially when compared to today’s modern world. The realm of New Hollywood and these old-school values meant that quality time with friends and family was valued above anything else, and this can be seen in “Sea Drive.”
This iconic 1967 photo showcases film producer Kevin McClory in the front seat of his Amphicar. In the back, he has his wife, Bobo Sigrist, and their children who are enjoying their ride across the ocean in Nassau, Bahamas. This incredible mode of transport was certainly a way to showcase their wealth, but also a great family bonding experience.
“Having a Topping Time”
Although Hollywood was full of talented photographers during the new age of Hollywood, there was something about Slim Aarons that stood out from the crowd. He was considered a revolutionary artist, and one who pushed the boundaries of creativity. Unfortunately, this meant that some of his photos were criticized; including this one.
“Having a Topping Time” shows socialite Alice Topping hanging out next to her pool in Palm Beach just before the turn of the decade in 1959. While many photography fans and history buffs love the beauty and the grace of this profile, Aarons himself noted that “This innocent photo was considered risqué.” This was mainly because “People thought she was in her underwear.”
“Leisure and Fashion”
While Slim Aarons appreciated beautiful people, he also appreciated the beautiful style and fashion. Fashionable people regularly make their appearance in his iconic and very famous collections, and it’s fair to say that it’s the sole focus of the 1961 snap that he called “Leisure and Fashion.”
While it’s not known who this woman is, we do know that she was watching a poolside fashion show at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach – and she seemed to be enjoying every moment. Not only is this woman incredibly fashionable herself, but it seems as though Aarons loved her story behind the lens as well.
Although Slim Aarons would turn his hand to any photography task that came his way, he has built a legacy for his poolside antics. Many of his collections showcase the rich and famous lounging by the water in their swimwear and their casual clothing, and “Poolside Gossip” is perhaps his most famous of all time. In fact, this particular shot has inspired commercials, and fashion designers such as Paul Smith and Tom Ford.
“Poolside Gossip” was taken in 1970 at a desert house in Palm Springs and showcases high society women enjoying a leisurely day by the pool while gossiping with their drinks. On the far left is Spanish-born American actress Lita Baron, and sat on the two chairs are fashion model Helen Dzo Dzo (left) and fashion buyer Nelda Linsk (right).
Slims Aarons loved to snap the subjects of his photos by the pool, and these photos became part of his professional identity over the course of his career. From up-and-coming socialites to fully-fledged actresses, he shot them all – including Austrian actress Mara Lane!
This photo was taken in 1954 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and showcases the beautiful actress in all of her glory. Adorned in a red and white striped bathing suit she looked striking and glamorous as she came out of the water and posed for the American photographer.
“Keep Your Cool”
While many professional photographers love to ensure that their subjects are posed to perfection, Slim Aarons was a little different. After making sure that the location and the lighting were exactly how he wanted, he let his subjects simply go about their business without too much posing involved. He wanted them to be natural; just like these two who are playing backgammon in the pool.
But the subjects in “Keep Your Cool” aren’t just regular people. On the left is the famous actress Carmen Alvarez and on the right is U.S army legend Frank ‘Brandy’ Brandstetter. These two were enjoying a cool-down in the swimming pool in Acapulco when Slim Aarons decided to make them the focus of a new photo.
Despite the fact that Slim Aarons wanted to make the people in his photos as comfortable as possible, he had a few rules. In fact, Slim refused to shoot anyone who was wearing jeans, T-shirts, or running shoes – and because of that, he was drawn to the more sophisticated ladies of the time. This included Eva Gabor.
During the 1950s, all eyes were on TV and film actress Eva Gabor as she made her mark on Hollywood, and Slim Aarons got the chance to photograph her while she visited the Bay Roc Hotel in Montego, Jamaica. Eva was wearing her best robe for the occasion and drank her coffee in a stunning jungle-inspired room.
Slim Aarons’ career took him across the world, but there were a few specific places that he returned to time and time again. Not only because they were teeming with celebrities, but also because he loved to shoot photos in these stunning locations. One of those destinations was Jamaica, and this where he took his famous photo “John Rawlings.”
This photo is the epitome of New Hollywood, with the luscious backdrop and the extravagance of the old-school car parked on the sand. This car belonged to the famous fashion photographer John Rawlings, who loved to make his way to the beaches of Montego Bay in the 1950s with his friends and lovers.
Slim Aarons’ decision to take his work international meant that he could also scout out famous singers and actresses living further afield. And he did just that in 1957 when he made his way to the French Riviera. While he followed Hollywood starlets to this French retreat, he also came across the one and only Lily Pons.
Lily Pons was a French-American operatic soprano that reigned supreme from the 1920s until the 1970s, and Slim captured this amazing photograph during a speedboat trip at Cap Ferrat. Lily looked overjoyed to be feeling the wind against her face, and this photo shows the pure joy on her face.
“Leisure in Antibes”
During the age of New Hollywood, it wasn’t uncommon for socialites and famous faces to make their way to Europe for their summer vacation. They would head across the pond to warmer climates, and they would ultimately stay in the French Riviera for weeks or even months on end.
Slim Aarons’ “Leisure in Antibes” photo sums up this summer lifestyle perfectly. It showcases a woman sunbathing on a boat as it cruises around the exclusive Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in 1969. And of course, summer in France wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the waterski.
While many of Slim Aarons’ photos take place either on the water or by the water, the famous photographer also liked to shoot his subjects inside. He wanted to focus solely on the beauty of the person in front of the camera, and for this, he often chose to photograph iconic figures within high society like Britt Ekland.
This photo was taken in 1969 while the Swedish actress was staying in Porto Ercole, Italy, and truly focuses on the stunning beauty of Britt herself. The backdrop is out of focus, she’s wearing an off-the-shoulder dress to really give her face the chance to shine, and she’s staring straight at the camera. Today, this is one of Slim’s most famous portraits.
“Lake Tahoe Ladies”
Much of what makes Slim Aarons so famous is the fact that he always captured the essence of the decade he was photographing. From the locations to the fashion, viewers could see the authenticity in his work. And this is obvious in this particular photo that he called “Lake Tahoe Ladies.”
This photo showcases a group of young women in their bathing suits, hanging out on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. Captured in 1959 it shows you how the high society women used to dress back in the day. From the fitted bathing suits to the coiffed hair and the high heels, they were all about the style.
“Sarah Marson Williams”
Since Slim Aarons graced the world with his photographs, many of the people within his photos have become even more famous thanks to this exposure. And this has certainly been the case for Sarah Marson Williams, who was the subject of this particular photo taken on the beaches of Barbados.
While we know that the woman enjoying a cocktail at the Hilton Hotel at Needhams Point in April 1976 was Sarah, not much is known about her. It’s thought that she was a socialite living it up on the Caribbean island, but now everyone knows her as the subject of this very famous photograph.
“Nelda and Friends, Palm Springs”
Slim Aarons regularly photographed the same people as part of a collection, and because of this, his “Poolside Gossip” and “Nelda and Friends, Palm Springs” are actually linked. These two photographs were taken the same year, and it’s actually thought that they were taken on the exact same day – just of a different scenario and from a different viewpoint.
Once again, we see Helen Dzo Dzo Kaptur, Nelda Linsk, and Lita Baron, and another unknown woman. They’re gossiping at the side of the pool of the Linsks’ Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs and catching up over a drink and snacks. It’s these kinds of photos that Slim is perhaps best known for.
“Palm Beach Debutantes”
As one of the most famous and most well-known photographers of the New Hollywood era, Slim Aarons was able to schmooze with the biggest names in the business. And while he enjoyed photographing the adults of this world, these connections also gave him access to their teenage children and the debutantes making their way into high society.
“Palm Beach Debutantes” was taken in Palm Beach, Florida in 1968 and showcases the younger crowd of New Hollywood. They dressed up in their ball gowns and their tuxes to come out to society, and they were classed as the ultimate up-and-comers – especially because they had parents in high places.
Although Slim Aarons largely focused his attention on actresses, singers, and those in the fashion world, he also loved to photograph political figures and their lives away from the office. And “Cabot Family” gives us an insight into the life of Henry Cabot Jr., his wife, his children, and his house.
While this photo doesn’t actually feature the Republican senator from Massachusetts, you can see the extravagance of his life within it. This photo was taken around 1960 and features his wife and his children in front of the huge mansion that the family nicknamed “Rollingstones.”
Portraits of the most famous men and women of the New Hollywood era give us an incredible insight into their personal lives and their lives away from the mainstream camera. And we have Slim Aarons to thank for bringing these pictures to life. After all, this picture of Esther Williams is absolutely stunning.
During the 1950s, Esther was well-regarded not only as a competitive swimmer but also as an actress. And Slim took this photo of her lounging on a trampoline in 1956. While it’s a simple shot with a simple background and virtually no extra detail, it showcases the famous beauty in all of her glory.
Throughout much of his career, Slim Aarons dedicated his work to high society and those who had already made a name for themselves in New Hollywood. But every so often he would make himself the subject of his own portraits, and that’s exactly what he did for his 1955 photo called “Civilized Snooze.”
Yes, that’s actually Slim Aarons himself sitting on a chair in front of the Acropolis in Greece! While you can’t see much of his face and the slouched position was all for effect, it gives us a hilarious insight into his work and his life. For Slim, his work was everything – and he had the pleasure of working hard in some of the most beautiful places in the world.