I made a mental note to mark Gene Trindl's passing a few weeks ago and was shocked to discover six years had gone by already--I thought it was five. The man who shot more TV Guide covers than anybody else was 80 when he passed away June 29, 2004 from pancreatic cancer.
Trindl was a gentleman photographer with a knack for putting his subjects at ease and catching them being themselves. I first got to know him many years ago when I was based in Los Angeles as photo editor of TV Guide Canada. Gene worked fast, often taking advantage of natural, outdoor light. When you threw him an assignment, you knew it would be in focus and on time and always something special.
The native Californian never stopped shooting and was clicking well into the digital era, getting up at the crack of dawn and heading to nearby ranches to capture horses kicking up clouds of dust as they gallop in the early morning sunlight.
Trindl's specialty was celebrity portraits and he shot thousands of them. (Go here or here to see some or order prints.) On the wall of his office at his funky ranch-style home off Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, Ca., Gene kept a framed TV Guide cover hanging on a wall. It was a shot of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney and other superstars of the day. It wasn't an exceptional photograph and I asked Gene why he had it on his wall.
"Because that was the day I knew I could do this," said Gene. "Sinatra showed up and said, 'You've got six shots.' So I said, "Bing, put down the pipe and stand over here. Frank, I need you to the left. Dean, lose the drink and look this way."
Trindl used to say that celebrity photography was 10% perspiration and 90% psychology. He dismissed a lot of the fuzzy, soft-focus shots so popular on covers of the '80s of leading ladies like Joan Collins and Linda Evans. "Looks like it was shot through a nylon stocking with a leg still in it," he would huff.
I spent many hours with Gene recording his stories about shooting The Monkees, the Star Trek cast, the leads from All in the Family, Michael Jackson, John Travolta, Ronald Reagan, Fred Astaire, Michael Landon, Tom Selleck even, back when he was apprenticing as an assistant, Marilyn Monroe. He had a very sexy shot of her in long johns I've never seen anywhere else.
Last time I saw Gene was at the Smoke House, a '40s-era eatery across from Warner Bros. in Burbank. He had just been presented with the Lucie Award by his peers at a black tie dinner in Los Angeles, a well deserved and even better timed honor. The 16 or 17 shunts in his arteries didn't hold him back from polishing off a thick, juicy steak.
Occasionally I'll run into TV veterans like Ed Asner or Angela Lansbury or Selleck in L.A. at a press tour session and mention our pal Gene. They all stop and smile and give you that faraway look. He didn't just take their picture, he took them out of all this nonsense for a moment and showed them who they really were.
He was a good man, and I miss him every time I'm in Los Angeles.