Arguably the most influential and ubiquitous celebrity photographer of the 20th century, Francesco Scavullo helped define the look and style of popular music by shooting numerous album covers and magazine spreads, including a stint on the staff of Rolling Stone at the peak of the publication's notoriety. Born on Staten Island, NY, on January 16, 1921, Scavullo was the son of a cooking utensil manufacturing exec who in 1937 bought the Central Park Casino supper club, concurrently relocating the family to Manhattan. As a child Scavullo began honing his glamorous photographic style shooting his sisters and their friends, liberally applying makeup and redoing their hair so that they resembled the movie stars he worshiped; he claimed a room in the family home for a studio and darkroom, and as a teen worked as a photographer's apprentice. From there Scavullo tenured at a retail catalog production studio, followed by a stint at Harper's Bazaar under Diana Vreeland. He later joined the staff of Seventeen before landing at Town & Country, where with collaborator Tony Mazola he first began photographing celebrities. By the age of 19, Scavullo was so successful that his father purchased him a four-story carriage house in Manhattan's East Side that remained his home and studio for the next 50 years.
While still in the infancy of his career, Scavullo began honing the innovative lighting techniques that would remain the hallmark of his work throughout the decades to follow -- using large pieces of cardboard to highlight his models' faces, he also reduced spotlight glare with the aid of white umbrellas, adapting the latter technique for location shoots by stringing muslin sheets on poles. The end result was an ethereally glamorous style that elevated the world's most stunning models and celebrities into new realms of beauty. In 1952 Scavullo wed model Carol McCallison, although the couple divorced three years later. Brief tenures at Ladies' Home Journal and McCall's predated a ten-year run at Vogue that began in 1955 and propelled him to considerable celebrity of his own. Scavullo shot virtually every leading Hollywood star of the era, but also pursued more intimate and conventionally personal pursuits like flower studies. In 1965 he was hired by editor Helen Gurley Brown to shoot covers for her fledgling magazine Cosmopolitan, and it was here that Scavullo created his most renowned and enduring works -- working at Cosmo for three decades, he handpicked the models and micromanaged their clothes, hair, and makeup, a process universally dubbed "Scavullo-ization."
While Cosmopolitan proved his longest-running and highest-profile forum, Scavullo continued working for other magazines, among them Time, People, Newsweek, and Interview. For Rolling Stone and other publications he photographed dozens of pop music stars, including Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, Cher, Madonna, and Sting as well as performers spanning from Luciano Pavarotti to Ravi Shankar to Lena Horne. Some of Scavullo's album covers rank among the most acclaimed in the field -- he shot several covers for Barbra Streisand, and with his work on Edgar Winter's They Only Come Out at Night he created what is believed to be the first cover to boast its star in full drag makeup. He even directed a CBS television special for country-pop singer Crystal Gayle. But without a doubt his most memorable cover shoot was for Diana Ross' 1980 classic diana -- against the singer's wishes, Scavullo stripped her of makeup and shot her in wet hair, wet t-shirt, and ripped jeans belonging to ill-fated fashion model Gia Carangi. The notorious diva hated the finished result until Cher pointed out it was the sexiest photo of Ross she'd ever seen -- at which time it became Ross' favorite.
In 1976 Scavullo published his first book collection, Scavullo on Beauty -- one of the first-ever makeover books, it was a bestseller. Subsequent collections of his photos include 1977's Scavullo on Men, 1982's Scavullo Women, and 1984's Scavullo. After suffering a series of nervous breakdowns throughout the course of his life, he was diagnosed as a manic-depressive in 1981, later crediting the euphoric emotional highs of his condition as the key to his work. Scavullo finally resigned his Cosmopolitan post in 1995, and following the release of 1997's Scavullo: Photographs, 50 Years, a coffee-table book in celebration of his half-century of work, he entered semiretirement. After years of suffering heart problems, he died at his Manhattan home on January 6, 2004, less than two weeks before his 83rd birthday.