Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Remembering Julian Wasser Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

15 February 2023

Julian Wasser, who blanketed Los Angeles for Time magazine in the 1960s and 1970s, covering both news events and celebrities while posing some indelible images on the side, died last week in Los Angeles. He was 89.

He was born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and grew up in the Bronx and Washington, D.C. An only child, his father Leo was a lawyer and his mother Frances (Rothman) Wasser a schoolteacher. When the family moved to Washington, Wasser attended the Sidwell Friends school by day.

But at night he lived a different life inspired by his hero Arthur Fellig, the crime photographer known as Weegee.

Every night, even at the age of 12, Wasser would steal his father's Contax, sneak out his bedroom window and take the car to find the action he had picked up on his police scanner.

When his photos were published in The Washington Post the next morning, his father would marvel there was another Julian Wasser in Washington.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Wasser decided to focus on a career in photojournalism for magazines. Facing the draft after graduating in 1956, he enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to a photographic reconnaissance unit in San Diego. He learned aerial photography and served time in postwar Japan.

He began his career as a copy boy for the Associated Press where he finally met Weegee and rode along with him as he shot photos of crime scenes in Washington.

By the 1960s, Wasser had moved to Los Angeles with a contract for Time. He would contribute to Time, Fortune and Life magazines as well as Vanity Fair, Paris Match, Der Spiegel and Playboy magazines.

Working out of a pair of apartments across the hall from Leslie Caron on Young Drive in Beverly Hills, Wasser monitor his police scanners for a scoop. He would jump in his black Mustang convertible with his Nikon, Vivitar flash and one of the first mobile phones to talk his way into a photograph by flattering, cajoling and enticing even the most remote of his subjects.

As a child, his daughter Alexi Celine Wasser was often his assistant, charged with monitoring the scanner or taking a disposable camera along when they crashed some event.

"Our relationship had a very Ryan and Tatum O'Neal 'Paper Moon'-esque quality," she said.

In 2014, Mr. Wasser published The Way We Were, a photographic memoir with over than 170 pages of his most well-known images.

Among them are:

  • Joan Didion leaning against her Corvette Stingray in Hollywood
  • Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a naked Eve Babitz at his Pasadena Art Museum exhibition
  • Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The Watts riots
  • Barbara Hershey and David Carradine in bed in their Laurel Canyon house
  • Jack Nicholson and Angelica Huston at Jack's Mulholland Drive home
  • The Fonda family lined up on the family sofa
  • The Hog Farm Commune in Sunland
  • Surfers in Malibu Beach
  • The Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Frank Zappa, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell and Elton John
  • Clint Eastwood on the set of Magnum Force
  • George and Marci Lucas with Martin Scorcese and Roman Polanski at Polanski's house on Cielo Drive after the murder of Sharon Tate

"Whether in LA, New York, Paris, Berlin or London, he lived to hang out!" his daughter recalled. "He loved meeting people, making wisecracks, flirting, being inappropriate, taking photos, watching movies."

"It wasn't like it is now," Wasser said in 2014. "There were no paparazzi, no VIP sections, no security. It was a really innocent time. You'd just walk up and there they were. They'd stop and smile and pose."

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Wasser is survived by a son, James.

BackBack to Photo Corners