Scope and Content
Organization and Arrangement
Title: Edwin Bower Hesser papers
Date (inclusive): 1917-1958 (bulk 1920-1950)
Collection number: 1071
Hesser, Edwin Bower, 1893-1962
28 boxes (14.25 linear ft.)
30 oversized boxes.
Abstract: Edwin Bower Hesser (1893-1962) was a prominent photographer who worked in New York and Los Angeles during the golden age of
Hollywood and developed his own color photography system known as Hessercolor. The bulk of the collection consists of photographic
materials such as negatives, prints, transparencies, and periodicals featuring Hesser's work. The collection also includes
paper materials, such as miscellaneous manuscripts, business papers and journals.
Language: Finding aid is written in
University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.
Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department
of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
Restrictions on Access
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Box 55 is stored in the nitrate vault and may be inaccessible to researchers.
Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging
Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library,
Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright,
are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of
the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the
copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC
Regents do not hold the copyright.
Provenance/Source of Acquisition
Gift of Wien, Sales, and Kaplan, 1969.
The collection was minimally processed by Manuscripts Division staff in the late 1970s. Timothy Holland and Christopher Lane
reprocessed the collection in 2006 in the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT) under the supervision of Laurel
McPhee, foldering materials, writing descriptions, and adding series and subseries levels to enhance access to the materials
and create a finding aid.
[Identification of item], Edwin Bower Hesser papers (Collection Number 1071). Department of Special Collections, Charles E.
Young Research Library, UCLA.
Edwin Bower Hesser was born Karl Edwin Hesser on April 23, 1893 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Born into a theatrical family
with a theatrical company manager as a father and an art teacher as a mother, Hesser became involved in theatre, drawing,
sculpture, painting, and commercial photography at the age of 17. In 1914, he married Rhea May Reed in Aberdeen, South Dakota
while managing a theatrical troupe. In 1917, Hesser wrote the story for a theatrical film entitled
For the Freedom of the World and wrote, produced, and directed
The Triumph of Venus that same year.
In 1918, Hesser was commissioned as Captain in the Photographic Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps where he reorganized
the motion picture photographic division of the Army. Later that year, Hesser received an honorable discharge and moved to
New York City. He also separated from his wife Rhea, who later divorced him in 1920. Hesser was employed as a writer and producer
by First National Pictures, and then started his own independent photographic studio. Hesser moved to Los Angeles in 1920
to continue to work for First National Pictures, where he became the portrait photographer for the studio's stars (he still
maintained his photo studio in New York). That same year, he also started up a second independent photography studio in Los
Angeles while working as a photographer for the
In his independent photography studios Hesser focused mainly on calendar pictures and art illustrations for major photographic
magazines, and continued his portraiture work of theatrical and Hollywood personalities. In 1925, he began his own magazine
Arts Monthly Pictorial, which featured his photographic work of nude and semi-nude women. He married his second wife, Margaret Watts, in 1931,
but she left and divorced him in 1933 to marry Ridgeway Callow. On July 1, 1934, Hesser married his former model Eve, who
became a major collaborator in his photographic business. Eve's father, Clarence Cunningham, became the chief financier of
Hesser's business and helped him finance the development of his own three-color system known as Hessercolor. This color system
involved three separate negatives that captured three color values. Gelatin prints (yellow, cyan, and magenta) were then made
from the negatives and layered together to create one color print. Hessercolor was used on the sets of early Technicolor films
La Cucaracha (1934) and
Becky Sharp (1935).
After loosing the battle to Kodak for the use of his color system in World War II photography, Hesser's career began to focus
on war-time inventions such as an aerial color camera and water and flame proof insulation for military airplanes. He continued
his magazine and fashion photography into the 1940s, shooting on Kodachrome, and also began to do family and individual portraiture
for hire. Throughout his life, Hesser experienced numerous health problems. He died August 7, 1962.
Scope and Content
The collection consists of Edwin Bower Hesser's negatives, assorted paper materials, transparencies, and photographic prints
documenting his 40-year career as a photographer and inventor. Of particular interest are photographic prints of Hollywood
personalities such as Mary Astor, Joan Blondell, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Lupe
Valez, Janet Gaynor, and Joan Crawford (among many others); prints of the experimental coloring process "Hessercolor"; prints
of semi-nude, nude, and erotic modeling; hand colored prints; Hesser's periodical
Arts Monthly Pictorial; and assorted advertising and modeling transparencies and prints. The collection also contains a voluminous assortment of
negatives of portraits and head shots, as well as miscellaneous manuscript materials such as letters, photographic elements
and writings by Eve Hesser, workbooks, inventions, photo shoot posing ideas, periodicals, and documentation related to the
development and patent of the Hessercolor process.
Organization and Arrangement
Arranged in the following series:
- Negatives, ca. 1920-1946 (13.5 boxes, 0.5 oversize box), subseries A-B as follows:
- A. Named subjects
- B. Anonymous subjects
- Assorted paper materials, 1917-1958 (6.5 boxes, 4.5 oversize boxes), subseries A-C as follows:
- A. Miscellaneous
- B. Periodicals
- C. Posing ideas
- Color transparencies (1.5 boxes)
- Hollywood personalities, ca. 1925-1938 (0.5 box, 2 oversize boxes)
- Prints, ca. 1920-1945 (6 boxes, 19 oversize boxes), subseries A-D as follows:
- A. Large Hessercolor
- B. Large black and white
- C. Small black and white
- D. Small Hessercolor.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Hesser, Edwin Bower --Archives.
Photographers --United States --Archival resources.
Genres and Forms of Material