NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Hollywood paparazzo famous for being sued by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and getting his teeth knocked out by Marlon Brando is unapologetic about the guerrilla celebrity photography culture he helped pioneer.
But Ron Galella, who at 77 still has an active press pass, says he has little interest in being part of a celebrity photo industry that now values controversy over glamour.
Galella has a new book titled “No Pictures” that shows famous faces like Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger and actors Sean Penn and Elizabeth Taylor shielding themselves from his lens. He says celebrities who act like they do not want to be photographed are hypocrites who secretly adore the attention.
Galella says the paparazzi business has changed since his heyday.
“When I started it was one to one. Me and Jackie. Me and Liz Taylor,” he told Reuters in an interview in his New Jersey home, which is decorated with pictures of just about every major celebrity. “I like glamour. I’m a romantic person.
“The photographers today ... they go for bad pictures, cellulite. I think it’s a negative thing,” he said.
“No Pictures,” published this month by powerHouse Books, is Galella’s sixth book and it shows how unpopular his technique often made him with some of his subjects. Penn is shown spitting on him and Jagger sticks up his middle finger.
To Galella it was all an act, especially in Onassis’ case.
“I think she loved being pursued,” he said. “It’s true that she was not the first lady anymore but she was still famous. And people want to know about her. She didn’t face reality.”
Galella first photographed Onassis in 1967, four years after the assassination of her first husband, President John F. Kennedy, when she was living next to New York’s Central Park.
Over the years, he took thousands of images of Onassis and her children, Caroline and John. After a 1972 trial, Galella was ordered to keep 100 yards away from her home and 50 yards, later reduced to 25 feet, from her and her children. He said the trial made him more famous and helped him earn more money.
Galella has never shied away from being called a paparazzo, derived from the Italian word for mosquito. He used to carry a business card that referred to him as a “photographer with the paparazzi approach” and specialized in photos that took his subject by surprise.
He caught Doris Day sunbathing by snapping a photo through her neighbor’s hedge. After a day spent tailing Marlon Brando in 1973, the actor knocked out five of Galella’s teeth so he took to wearing a helmet when photographing the actor.
Born in the Bronx in 1931, Galella started taking pictures while serving in the military in the 1950s. At first, he shot pretty girls posing on the beach for the Air Force base newspapers but soon learned celebrity shots brought money.
His most audacious stunts were designed to get Onassis, who he called “my obsession.” He once hid in the coat closet of a restaurant where she was dining and would dress as a fisherman to photograph her vacationing on the Greek island of Skorpios.
“When I discovered where she lives, that’s all you have to know. You stake out her apartment and you follow her wherever she goes — shopping, to the ballet or jogging. So that was my start,” Galella said.
“The rule is, you don’t go in their house,” he said, “(but) if they live in a glass house, that’s different.”
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott