Monday, January 6, 2014

The mystery of photographer John de Mirjian

Perhaps you can help solve a small mystery?

In the 1920's, John de Mirjian was a well known photographer working in New York City. During his brief six year career, he photographed many leading Broadway entertainers, as well as many showgirls. To the right is a pleasant example of his work. He specialized in portraiture of women, and notably in what was then considered risque imagery. [The image to the left, typical of de Mirjian's work, is of Rose Marie Haynes, a performer with the Earl Carroll "Vanities."]

Today, de Mirjian is best remembered for the lawsuit brought against him by Louise Brooks. In late 1925, Brooks sued De Mirjian's to prevent publication of semi-nude images of the then up-and-coming actress. The suit made the news, and a series of stories appeared in papers around the country.

Those stories, such as "Follies Girl, Now in Films, Shocked by Own Pictures" and "Follies Girl Sues to Supress Her Very Artistic Photographs," only featured the most discrete images by de Mirjian.

John de Mirjian's life ended in September of 1928 when the car he was driving on Long Island crashed. According to press accounts, the playboy photographer was speeding along at 70 miles per hour when he lost control and overturned his automobile, a Peerless roadster. Roads were reported to have been slick in the greater NYC area on the day the accident took place. It wasn't known where de Mirjian was returning from, perhaps a party, as some newspapers reported. The woman in the car, an actress not his wife, at first claimed she was his half-sister. She was not. Her name was Gloria Christy.

The mystery is how old was John de Mirjian? Just about every newspaper in the greater New York City area carried a story on de Mirjian's death, with many putting the sensational news on the front page. Stories appeared in the New York Evening Post, Yonkers Statesman, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and elsewhere. I have read a handful of these newspaper accounts, and all but one reported his age. That's curious. Only the local Long-Islander newspaper stated de Mirjian was 30 years old.

There is little known about de Mirjian. When was he born? Where was he born? I tried doing a little genealogical research, but could find nothing. Perhaps someone more adept at researching historical records could find out. John De Mirjian's brother, with whom he operated a photo studio at 1595 Broadway in Manhattan, was named Arto. That's as much as I can find. Can you find more?



If you are interested in finding out more about John de Mirjian and his contemporaries, like M.I. Boris, Otto Dyar, and Eugene Robert Richee (all of who photographed Louise Brooks on more than one occasion), be sure and check out David Shields' outstanding new book, Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography (University Of Chicago Press).

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