New York photographer and actor Cris Alexander has died, aged 92. Alexander came to New York City aged 18 in 1938 hoping to make it as an actor. Ultimately, he became a successful photographer, taking portraits of movie stars, the New York City Ballet and for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.
Born Allen Smith in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1920, Alexander left for the more tolerant urban fizz of New York City with a classmate in 1938, attending the Feagin School of Dramatic Art and changing his name first to Christopher (considering it “distinguished”) then to Cris. He opened a photography studio and acted in summer stock. He then landed several plum roles in Broadway productions including On the Town, Auntie Mame and Noel Coward’s Present Laughter.
As acting didn’t pay the bills, Alexander turned his latent photographic talents into a second career, creating portraits of Vivien Leigh, Martha Graham and a host of stars for Andy Warhol’s celebrated Interview magazine. Alexander told the magazine in 1980 that “I’d have gotten very hungry if I’d just been an actor.”
In 1961, he landed a job photographing the stills for an infamous cult book called Little Me, a fictional account of a silent movie star called Belle Poitrine (French for ‘Beautiful Breasts’) which was based on more than a few self-serving and narcissistic silent movie star autobiographies being published around the same time. The book, said playwright Charles Busch, was “a seminal moment in the popularisation of the cultural movement known as ‘camp’”.
Alexander’s partner of more than 60 years, former ballet dancer Shaun O’Brien, who he married when same-sex marriage was made legal in New York, also died in February this year, aged 86.