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Personal papers and photographs of San Jose photographer Shirlie Montgomery (1918-2012), who captured post World War II culture in Santa Clara Valley.
Shirlie Alice Montgomery was born on Chapman Street, San José, on June 9, 1918, to parents Rae and Madeline Montgomery. Her artistic and creative abilities blossomed at an early age; Montgomery was a talented dancer who performed with future Hollywood sister actresses Joan (Fontaine) and Olivia De Havilland. In middle school, the local newspaper published her book reviews. Recognizing his only child's interests, her father built a darkroom in their small home. In her late teens, Montgomery began keeping a daily journal; she continued this habit throughout her career to record her appointments with clients. Additionally, she created numerous photo albums of family and friends, documenting her frequent outings to Santa Cruz beach. Montgomery began her career at the De Anza Hotel on Santa Clara Street, where she was employed to create photographic gifts for hotel guests. After photographing guests as they socialized, she would develop the photos in a small, on-site darkroom, then sell the images to guests as they departed for the evening. Because of the De Anza's reputation as one of "the" places to socialize in San José, Montgomery met many servicemen during World War II, whom she befriended, and photographed. Montgomery's collection includes dozens of letters from young men serving their country overseas, writing to request copies of photographs, or expressing their friendship with the vivacious photographer. As male photographers left to join the war effort, Montgomery seized the opportunity to work as a "stringer" -- an independent correspondent paid by the job. Her photographs were picked up for publication by the San José Mercury News and the San Francisco Examiner. As a newspaper photographer, she met many local and national celebrities, some of whom hired her for personal portraits. After World War II and before the expansion of major league baseball to the West coast in 1958, professional wrestling was a popular sport in San José. Weekly matches were held in the Civic Auditorium, on land donated by Montgomery's great-uncle T. S. Montgomery. Shirlie was introduced to the sport by her father Rae. An acquaintance from the Mercury News invited Montgomery to bring her camera to a match. Her action shots soon began appearing in local newspapers, and she became a regular at the press table. The atmosphere was more interesting than the standard studio work most women photographers were doing at the time. The quality of Montgomery's images was recognized throughout professional wrestling, and she became lifelong friends of many in the community. Wrestler Vern Langdon honored her as an original legend inductee at his Sun Valley Slammers Wrestling Gym's Hall of Fame. Montgomery’s images were also featured on the walls of former wrestler Glen Neece’s Ringside Bar in San Jose, where she documented many patrons and wrestlers.
22 linear feet
Contact History San Jose's Research Library for information on reproduction and publication.
The papers are open to the public for research by appointment. Photographic negatives are not available to the public, but can be viewed through History San Jose's online catalog, along with any prints that have been scanned.