In the early days of Hollywood, photographs from films were dubbed "stills" -- not because they didn't move, but because the people inm them couldn't move, lest the exposure be ruined.
Though today's photo equipment is a lot more sophisticated, the art of Hollywood portraiture has largely vanished. Newspaper and magazine paparazzi snap "candid" pictures by the thousands, but they are no match for the dedicated still men of the great studio years, who worked as creative partners with the stars they photographed.
The most fascinating prints in this lavishly produced book are those that catch a star in transition -- already a Hollywood presence, but not yet a national icon. John Wayne looks like a brooding matinee idol in William A. Fraker's 1931 portrait, while James Abbe's 1916 still gives Mae West the air of a society debutante. Though John Kobal's text rambles, the splendidly reproduced pictures carry their own weight, bearing the imprint of such celebrated artists as Joseph von Sternberg, Ernest Bachrach, and Clarence Sinclair Bull -- men who painted with light, using the greatest faces of their day as material inspiration.