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Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Provenance/Source of Acquisition
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Preferred Citation
  • Processing History
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement

  • Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Title: Edwin Bower Hesser papers
    Creator: Hesser, Edwin Bower
    Identifier/Call Number: LSC.1071
    Physical Description: 14.25 Linear Feet (28 boxes and 30 oversize boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1917-1958
    Date (bulk): 1920-1950
    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.
    Physical Location: Stored off-site. All requests to access special collections material must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.

    Restrictions on Access

    Open for research. All requests to access special collections materials must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.
    Material in box 55 contain cellulose nitrate photographic negatives unavailable for access. These nitrate negatives must be digitized in order to be available for access. Please contact Special Collections reference (spec-coll@library.ucla.edu) for more information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical objects belong to UCLA Library Special Collections. All other 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.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 9942331393606533 

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Edwin Bower Hesser Papers (Collection Number 1071). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Processing History

    The collection was minimally processed by Manuscripts Division staf, late 1970s. Reprocessed by Timothy Holland and Christopher Lane with assistance from Laurel McPhee in the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT), 2006. This included foldering materials, writing descriptions, and adding series and subseries levels to enhance access to the materials and create a finding aid.
    Collections are processed to a variety of levels depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived user interest and research value, availability of staff and resources, and competing priorities. Library Special Collections provides a standard level of preservation and access for all collections and, when time and resources permit, conducts more intensive processing. These materials have been arranged and described according to national and local standards and best practices.
    We are committed to providing ethical, inclusive, and anti-racist description of the materials we steward, and to remediating existing description of our materials that contains language that may be offensive or cause harm. We invite you to submit feedback about how our collections are described, and how they could be described more accurately, by filling out the form located on our website: Report Potentially Offensive Description in Library Special Collections. 


    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.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Photographers -- United States -- Archives.
    Hesser, Edwin Bower--Archives.