Interview With Ellen Graham

by George Christy, Beverly Hills Courier

August 2012


Ellen Graham has been photographing “the bad and the beautiful” for more than 40 years. She’s published several books, and her latest, Talking Pictures, includes 200 images of stars that will spark iconic memories for many.

The Lido. Venice, Italy, 1959. Ellen Graham is summering during an annual family holiday with her world-traveler parents. Her mother Thea’s an aristocratic German beauty, and dad, Al, a successful American businessman. “They bought me a camera... and that started it all. I can’t believe how this gift changed my life."

"For more than forty years, I’ve loved photographing interesting people, and it didn’t take long to get linked into celebrities, who appreciated my work and often came to me. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie when they were together, Christopher Walken, Sharon Tate and on and on. Let’s say, The Bad And The Beautiful, which is the title I chose for my 2004 book that’s in the Harry Abrams catalogue."

"From the day that I bought Kelly Klein’s book, Pools, published by Pointed Leaf Press – one of the most stylish picture books designed by Sam Shahid – I’ve hoped they’d be interested in my work. Now my dream has been realized."

"Suzanne Slesin, a former editor with major shelter magazines and The New York Times, established her own imprint, and I’m thrilled with the beautiful book that she and Sam created with my 200 images in Talking Pictures. I couldn’t ask for anything better."

“This is one of the best collections I’ve ever seen,” says columnist Liz Smith, “and I’ve seen them all.” 

Ellen and her insurance executive husband Ian Graham, whose son Alexis is in finance, own lovely residences on Park Avenue in Manhattan, Palm Beach and Beverly Hills that have been featured in Architectural Digest. Summering for years in Beverly Hills, Ellen and Ian encountered and befriended folks such Greta Garbo, who Ellen considers the most beautiful woman (she finds the 40s’ actor Robert Taylor’s as the most handsome man).

When Greta Garbo arrived to dine chez Graham in Beverly Hills, she asked for a Scotch. Thinking he’d please her, Ian mentioned he had the Swedish vodka Absolut on ice (Greta being a Swede). Would she like that? Garbo accepted the shot of vodka which she downed in one gulp, and then asked if she could now have her preferred Scotch, please. 

Ellen’s pictorial oeuvre of the glamourati has appeared in major American and European magazines. Have any of the men put the moves on her? She thinks for a moment before confessing, “Yes … one of Hollywood’s best-looking men. Warren Beatty. I declined. Then there’s that moment when Omar Sharif jumped me and broke the wine bottle at his house in Malibu. Turned out he had a woman waiting upstairs, and they were hot for a threesome. Men are hunky and sensual, and their eyes are usually out for a little whoopee. I never get involved. You just don’t if you’re a pro.”