The Life and Works of Frank "Shug" Shugrue

It is difficult to find information on a still photo­grapher working under contract with the big Hollywood production companies at the time when James Frank Shugrue plied his trade. The known part of his career lasted nearly thirty years, from the mid-1940s to the early 1970s. As with his colleagues, he was hardly ever mentioned in the credits on the screen and today the thousands of photos he took are rarely credited to his name.

Frank Shugrue was born in Alameda (California) on December 11, 1910, to Thomas F. and Isabelle Shugrue. In the late 1920's we find him installed with his family in Santa Monica and playing football at the age of 19 in the University team. Living with them, there was also a certain related John T. Shugrue who is cited as a "studio worker". Maybe with the help of Tom, his father, who was already in the place at the MGM Studios as an electrician, or John, Frank was hired by the company in 1935 as a member of the recently created Front Office Crew, which was a group of young men in charge of the protection and care of the movie stars.

Ten years after this first experience, we find Frank credited as the first camera assistant on Victor Fleming's Adventure for MGM in 1945. He might have worked longer in the camera department than this unique mention tells, but we don't know more about that. Soon after, he started out a new career as a still photo­grapher. Frank wasn't the only one in this role at MGM Studios, he was one of the many other "Still Men" who worked for the company: Virgil Apger, Kenny Bell, Milton Brown, Eric Carpenter, Otto Dyar, Bud Graybill, Jerry Hester, Eddie Hubbell, Bert Lynch, James Manatt, and others. Their job consisted mostly to take production shots and scene stills but they were also asked to make promotional pictures of MGM's stars which were reproduced in magazines.

Frank worked for about 20 years for the MGM Studios exclusively. But from the mid-1960s, his employers became more varied: Universal, Warner, Paramount in addition to other independent producers. During his career, he rubbed shoulders with great directors and took photos of films that have remained famous, we let you discover them in the timeline below. You will notice that the filming periods sometimes overlap because Frank could take, for example, sets or wardrobe tests photos for a few days and then be called upon the following week on another film shooting to take scene stills.

There are very few sources that list the movies he's worked on and they don't all say the same thing. By combining the lists of A.F.I., B.F.I., I.M.Db. and TCM with some rare other sources (the A.M.P.A.S. Collections, the Swedish Film Database...), we arrive at a total of forty films or so with many periods where information is missing, sometimes for nearly two years during which we know nothing of the films in which he participated. It should be noted that for more than ten films, among which are our favorites, Forbidden Planet (1955) and The Time Machine (1959), ab­solutely no source refers to the presence of Frank Shugrue: it is only the letters "s,h,u,g" appearing on some rare photographs made for set references, makeup or wardrobe tests that attest to his participation in their shooting. So the lists cited above are very incomplete and Frank surely worked on a lot of other films during all the periods where it looks like he didn't do anything at all.

Frank Shugrue in San Francisco, leafing through the Haight Ashbury Tribune, an underground hippie publi­cation, during the filming of The Graduate in 1967 (photo pre­sented courtesy of Mrs. Nicole Scalise).

Cast and crew members on the filming of Until They Sail (1957). Identified from left: Jean Simmons, director of photo­graphy Joseph Ruttenberg stands behind Piper Laurie, and director Robert Wise (far right). Production photo (detail) by Frank Shugrue.

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The Life and Works

of Frank "Shug" Shugrue

Cast and crew members on the filming of Until They Sail (1957). Identified from left: Jean Simmons, director of photo­graphy Joseph Ruttenberg behind Piper Laurie, and director Robert Wise (far right). Production photo (detail).

Cast and crew members on the filming of Until They Sail (1957). Identified from left: Jean Simmons, director of photo­graphy Joseph Ruttenberg behind Piper Laurie, and director Robert Wise (far right). Production photo (detail).

The Life and Works

of Frank Shugrue