Ned Scott Biography
Ned Scott's life may be divided into three segments, and to more fully understand The Man, it is useful to discuss each one separately. The first concerns his troubled early life, birth to age 22. The second concerns his inspired years as a photographer, age 22-41. The final phase of his life age 41 to his death defines his slow decline as an artist.
The major influence in the first phase of Ned's life was the daily struggle he faced in boarding school environments where discipline and regimentation ruled. The temperamental artist must have emerged early in these years because he was very unhappy in such an environment, he rebelled on a regular basis, and he developed strong negative attitudes which surrounded him all the rest of his life. From all accounts, Ned's parents did not grasp the torment of these years. Instead, they were perturbed by steady reports from school authorities of his disruptive and difficult behavior. They remained in Paris for the duration of WWI while Ned's father assisted the French war effort by driving an ambulance to and from the war zones around Paris. He was awarded a French decoration in appreciation for his contribution. They would not, or could not provide much emotional support for Ned. By the end of the war, Ned had been moved to British boarding schools which apparently were more difficult for him. He spoke French at that time, and he became the butt of jokes and insults. Because these schools were often religiously organized and funded, Ned learned to despise all organized religion, wherever it was expressed. By the time he made his first footfall on American soil in 1920, he had become a chronic social outcast in deed as well as thought. One could say, in today's lingo, that Ned was not a team player. And more tragically, Ned began to harbor a growing resentment of both his parents for their failure to understand his needs and for what he took (mistakenly) as their rejection.
Ned's was a restless and creative spirit which had been bottled up for many of his young years. Arriving on American soil just as his teenage years began did nothing to dispel the unquiet within. By his own account, Ned's parents again sent him off to boarding schools such as the Hill School, St. George's School and Horace Mann, the student rolls of which still count him as an alum. But instead of buckling down to his studies, he became fascinated by amateur radio, a technology which was just in its first stretches of infancy. This fascination grew within Ned, and he became a practitioner. He built his own equipment, connected with the right people in the area, and by anecdotal accounts, was on hand to send the first official wireless radio signal which traversed the Atlantic ocean. Regardless of the veracity of this account, it is important to Ned's story that while thus engaged, he was not preparing himself for the adult world with disciplined student activity. He never graduated from any of the schools which he attended. Another anecdote states that Ned was expelled from Andover for running guns! A tragic end was abuilding for Ned in these years, and it arrived one stormy night in Greenwich at his parents' home. While a thunderstorm was sweeping the area in the depth of night, Ned was busy with his radio gear talking with operators in faraway countries such as Australia or Singapore. But reception was poor, and to remedy that, Ned climbed a transmission pole to adjust his antenna. It was a disastrous choice because Ned slipped while up high, fell and grabbed uninsulated power lines to break his fall. He was found the next morning, injured and unconscious at the base of the pole. His hands were severely burned from the electrical shock. At first, doctors wanted to amputate both his hands, but better sense prevailed, and with the best medical treatment available both hands survived but with major functional disabilities. Ned was to carry these manual limitations for the rest of his life, and his days as an amateur radio operator were over. He learned to live with his limitations despite their severity, and his only complaint arose when the US armed forces refused to admit him as a wartime photographer due to his injuries. This first phase of Ned's life came to a close as he wrote a plaintive letter to his mother in 1929, asking for her forgiveness of his disobedient ways and bad behavior.
The second phase opens with his enrollment in the Camera Club of New York. Here Ned befriends Henwar Rodakiewicz and Paul Strand, and he comes under the influence (unwittingly) of Alfred Stiglietz. Club members encouraged and criticized one another at their meetings as prints were posted for discussion. It was a good learning process. One of the favorite places for photographic study was Ranchos Iglesia de Taos, one of the oldest churches in the USA. Dating back to the 1600's, this structure offered unique architectural forms for photographic study. Both Paul and Ned photographed Ranchos in 1931, but at different times. Ned returned to New York from his first trip to the American Southwest, posted his prints for discussion, and saved his favorite for his personal collection. During the early '30's, Ned also produced some commercial images of X-ray tubes and medical products. All the while Ned resided in Manhattan at 240 E. 79th Street in a new apartment building completed in 1929.
In March of 1934, Paul Strand asks Ned to serve as still photographer on a propaganda movie which he had been producing since November 1933 in a little town on the Mexican gulf coast called Alvarado. Henwar had already joined Strand in late November of 1933 in Alvarado to assist in the production effort as director, editor, and script writer. Ned wasted no time, joined the film crew in Alvarado and proceeded to create some of the finest film stills of his career. Gunther von Fritch had joined the crew as film editor by that time. It wasn't long after his arrival, however, that his friend Henwar had to leave to fulfill a prior film production commitment in the pueblo country of Utah and Arizona. Henwar suggested Fred Zinnemann, his old friend from New York, to fill his shoes as director. The crew was therefore set for the duration, and filming was completed by mid November of 1934. It was a seminal time for Ned: his first film assignment is in the can, he makes strong new friendships, and he helps create a high energy wave which sweeps them all (except Strand) into the Hollywood film industry, a new arena for the expression of their talents. They jokingly referred to themselves as the "four zopilotes" (the black vultures that sat on the rooftops of Alvarado buildings eager to pounce on anything edible). Moving from Manhattan to Hollywood, Ned left behind the cares and woes of the early childhood years, the thrust of artistic expression absorbed his attention, and the world around him became supportive and positive. From both Ned's letters at the time, and from Gunther's letters written years later, it was obvious that these four friends often cruised the Hollywood scene together. Others referred to them as the "Honey Boys" (referring to their living quarters on Honey Drive) and the "Four Caballeros" (referring to their Mexican experiences). So it was that in April, 1935, Ned and his friends found themselves invited to the home of a gifted and delightful person by the name of Cornelia Runyon, a widow who had recently moved to Brentwood with her two sons from the East coast.
Here Ned meets Gwladys von Ettinghausen, a script writer for MGM, who also attended the gathering. He was immediately smitten. They were to elope the following January to Santa Rosa, California, after which they spent a short honeymoon in a little cabin near Victorville, California. Between the time they met at Cornelia's and the time they married, Ned and Gwladys shared letters back and forth. It is in these letters that the dominant influence of the second phase of Ned's life is revealed.
This gripping force was the grandeur of the Western landscape in all its many forms, clean and unpolluted, unassailable and pure, honest and stark. It was not a conscious thing about Ned that he grasped what was taking place within, but this influence rolled through his artistic temperament and wrought major changes. Fred Zinnemann was to comment many years later that Ned's photographs were better than Strand's because they showed an honest and pure respect for the subject. Zinnemann held this feature in high regard after a long and award winning career as a Hollywood director. It was a tremendous compliment, one which unfortunately Ned did not hear himself. It is clear in retrospect that such a profound respect for his subject was nothing more than a reflection of his powerful attraction to the sweeping natural purity of the Western landscape in all its unbridled forms.
A second influence which bore Ned along in these years was the constant stream of ideas emanating from his association with other artists, architects, playwrights, authors, sculptors as well as film directors and actors. After he married, he and Gwladys moved to 479 Mesa Road in the Santa Monica Canyon, where they lived happily for four years. This location provided needed proximity to socialize with outgoing and creative people with whom he could easily relate. They were always supportive and encouraging. It is no mystery that Ned performed excellent work in this time period: his marriage was fresh and new, there was little internal struggle going on, and the steady flow of positive ideas was very affirming to his restless soul. Ned was expressing himself by printing his favorite Mexican and American Southwest images in double platinum paper from the Platinotype Company in London. He was in touch with himself in important ways, in tune with his creativity. Doubt and contrary emotions were but distant memories. Ned referred to this period in his own words later in 1941, saying that he was doing his best photography in the mid '30's, an extremely rare statement for a reticent man like Ned.
Highlighting this period were several events which buoyed Ned's career. Life Magazine honored Ned's Mexican movie, called "The Wave" for its Northamerican release, with an four page pictorial spread in May of 1937. John Ford and Walter Wanger chose Ned over other qualified cameramen to shoot the film stills for the epic and trailblazing western saga "Stagecoach" in 1938. Recently released books by writers on John Ford's career referred to Ned as a completely unknown stillman at the time this choice was made. This statement is not true as documents of the time reveal, but it does reflect the fact that Ned's work on the movie set was well regarded quite early in his career. Ralph Steiner of Frontier Films in New York engaged Ned in letter correspondence in 1938 with the objective of Ned's serving as cinematographer for his new film, The City. Steiner made this overture, unbidden and on his own because he was so taken by the photographs published in the Life Magazine "Wave" article a year earlier. In the end, Ned declined the offer.
The tempo of his life and career continued to build until 1940 when he and Gwladys moved away from Santa Monica Canyon. The move was precipitated by Gwladys' declining state of health due to chronic bronchial asthma which the ocean atmosphere of Santa Monica aggravated. They moved to the only place near enough to Hollywood but at the same time salubrious for one afflicted with asthma, and that was La Canada. Just prior to completing the move, Ned and his good friend Peter Stackpole traded photographic shots in the courtyard of Ned's Mesa Road home, a residence which Peter and his wife rented right after Ned's departure, and one of those images graces the home page of this platform. He and Gwladys built a house in La Canada on Fairmount Avenue on about one acre of ground covered by rows of cedar trees, called deodars.
So ends the second phase of Ned's life with the photographer in a brand new house nestled in among big aromatic cedar trees, far away from Hollywood and Santa Monica Canyon. As Fred Zinnemann was to write in 1954 letter, many of Ned's friends lost contact with him when he moved far away to the mountains.
Years later following Gwladys' death in 1984, in an ironic gesture of fate, Hollywood in the form of Kevin Costner stepped forward to reclaim its own when he bought the house for his young family.
Ned's move to the mountains appeared seamless at first. Gwladys was pregnant with his first child, movie still assignments continued to arrive and Hollywood bigwigs made the trek to attend their parties. Ned's star continued to rise. But the leavening underpinnings of his spirit were gone as he slowly lost the casual daily contact with his old friends. Replacing these important people in his life was another group whose chief interest was money and the grind to make it. In this group were lawyers, doctors, oilmen and small business entrepreneurs. These men worked very hard during the week, but when weekends arrived, they played just as hard. Entertainment was very important for them. The world of ideas was not important. And as Ned slowly got used to his new friends, his creative spirit began to wane. They jokingly called themselves the LCDS, or the La Canada Drinking Society. Ned's trek to the Hollywood studios took approximately 45 minutes to an hour, one way, using many roads which were just two lane avenues. Fulfilling movie assignments began to take on the feel of pouring concrete without the steady backup provided by his old gang. Positive reinforcing events still crowded his life, however.
In 1941 the National Education Alliance in New York, publishers of a photography magazine called The Complete Photographer, approached Ned to write an article for their magazine dealing with the subject of still photography in Hollywood. Ned obliged, and put together an authoritative account of the still photographer's overall function, process and role in the movie industry. Right after the USA declared war on Japan, Orson Welles selected Ned as still photographer for a movie making effort funded by the US War Department in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
This was not to be the only "location" assignment out of the country in these years. In 1945 Ned was awarded a three year contract with Columbia Studios. And in 1946, Ned was awarded the Look Magazine Photo of the Year award for his work on "Tars and Spars". All through these years of the '40's, Ned was working with color as well as black and white. Many of his color images wound up on the covers of major magazines of the day. Ned's portraiture of Hollywood stars was coveted, widely published and highly respected.
Nonetheless, as one can conclude by studying films of the day, people like Ned who toiled in the production side of the film industry rarely received credit for their contributions. This seems strange, even contrary, today. Cinematographers made the credit list, but not stillmen, and like Ned, there were many fine and talented men and women working in that role. Their legacy is their photographic prints which survive today in small numbers. Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Studios in the late '40's exemplified this casual attitude toward production people by forcing contract employees to accept a 25% pay cut when renewing work contracts. Ned was aghast after all his acclaim as a stillman. Ned made the decision not to renew his contract. Thus ended a very promising and productive career.
Like so many other still practitioners, Ned never promoted himself or his photography. Consequently, when he printed on platinum paper, he printed for himself or for a friend. But this was rare, especially as the decade of '40's wore on. It was then that Ned began to drift away from himself as he became immersed more and more in the doings of the LCDS. He lost contact with the roots of his creativity, and he lost contact with The Man he was. The brightness of his spirit dimmed, and he began to feel once again the troubles of his early years. His collection remains a testament to the excellence of his craft, to the peculiar sensitivity with which he regarded the world around him, and finally to the delicate excellence of his photographic eye.