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Finding Aid for the Edwin Bower Hesser papers, 1917-1958 (bulk 1920-1950)
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Edwin Bower Hesser papers
    Date (inclusive): 1917-1958 (bulk 1920-1950)
    Collection number: 1071
    Creator: Hesser, Edwin Bower, 1893-1962
    Extent: 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 English.
    Repository: 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.

    Administrative 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 information.

    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.

    Processing History

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Edwin Bower Hesser papers (Collection 1071). Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 4233139 


    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 L.A. Examiner.
    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 entitled 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 such as 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:
    1. Negatives, ca. 1920-1946 (13.5 boxes, 0.5 oversize box), subseries A-B as follows:
      • A. Named subjects
      • B. Anonymous subjects
    2. Assorted paper materials, 1917-1958 (6.5 boxes, 4.5 oversize boxes), subseries A-C as follows:
      • A. Miscellaneous
      • B. Periodicals
      • C. Posing ideas
    3. Color transparencies (1.5 boxes)
    4. Hollywood personalities, ca. 1925-1938 (0.5 box, 2 oversize boxes)
    5. 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.

    Indexing Terms

    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