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09th May, 2022

I Saw The Photograph: An Interview with Bob Deutsch

Two years on from the unveiling of the never-before-seen photographs of John Lennon, photographer Bob Deutsch visits The Beatles Story to see his exclusive exhibition.

“I love it! I think it’s fabulous.”

Bob Deutsch began taking photographs of the stars of New York in the 1970s and was able to get up close and personal with some of the biggest names in music, television and Broadway. On 17th October 1974, he photographed John Lennon at the ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road’ theatre show at The Beacon Theatre, New York. 

“He [John Lennon] was always out and about – and very chatty, very nice to talk to.”

The incredible photographs remained unseen for 45 years until 2020, when an exclusive photographic exhibition featuring these pictures was opened at The Beatles Story.


John Lennon at the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road show – 1974 (Bob Deutsch)


Following his visit, we had the opportunity to sit down with Bob Deutsch and hear more of that incredible day, as well as some of the other notable moments of his career. Casually name-dropping some of the biggest stars on the 20th century, stories of his career were a delight to listen to.

Do you remember the first time you met The Beatles?

A self-professed Beatles fan, Bob has multiple stories of seeing different Beatles in the flesh and being left in awe. Although he took the incredible Sgt. Pepper Way photographs of John Lennon displayed at The Beatles Story in 1974, he actually met and photographed two other Beatles 3 years earlier. 

"The first time I saw The Beatles was at Shea Stadium in 1965. I saw The Beatles in concert. I saw them; I didn’t hear them. Too much screaming. But that was the first time I saw them. Over the years, I never photographed The Beatles together. I never photographed Paul. If he shows up today, I have my phone in case. The day of the Concert for Bangladesh – August 1th 1971 – I worked on the film for one day, all of Saturday. They were great to work with. It was a lot of fun, all these big stars. I was a Beatles fan so seeing George and Ringo… there was a rumour that the other two were going to show up, but they never did. But Eric Clapton, Billy Porter, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Bob Dylan, probably more I can’t remember. But it was an incredible day. I talked to them during rehearsal – it was a little scary talking to a Beatle. But was it scary talking to John on that day in 1974 when I photographed him? He was very charming and I wasn’t put off by him. He was just chatty and I thought, you know, this is my chance to talk to a Beatle. I was thrilled."


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George Harrison at The Concert for Bangladesh – 1971 (Bob Deutsch)


Who’s your favourite Beatle

"I – I don’t know! I still listen to their music. One of our radio stations in America is a Beatles station. I listen to it all the time. Listening to all the Beatles. So, they’re all great. Paul and John wrote a lot of great songs – but so did George! Ringo wrote one or two, but I still love them all."

What do you think of your photo exhibit at The Beatles Story?

"I love it! I think it’s fabulous. I’ve seen it before because somebody took a picture and sent it to me. But being here and seeing it in person – it’s even bigger than I thought it was. The prints are a really good size and they’re still sharp quality, so, I did a good job."

"My one regret is that I never sent John or Yoko any of the pictures I took of him – and then he was gone. But about 4 or 5 years ago, I found about 10 of my nice pictures of John and I sent them to Yoko saying, ‘I just found these – hope you like them’. She never wrote back – other people have written me nice thank you notes – but she never responded. I know she got them though."

Do people usually write back to say thank you?

"I photographed Bette Midler a lot in the 70’s when she first started out and I got some really great pictures of her. She was out there. Anyway, about 4 or 5 years ago she did ‘Hello, Dolly!’ on Broadway and we were going up to New York to see it, so I printed out about 12 or 15 photographs that I had taken over the years. I put them into an envelope and put a note in there that said: ‘I always wanted to give you these, but I never had a chance’. So, before I saw the show, I went to the security guard at the stage door and just handed them to him like I was a messenger and said ‘these are for Mrs Midler’ and left. We saw the show. About 2 weeks later I heard back from her thanking me, and she sent me a CD of hers that she autographed. I already had the CD, but she didn’t know that. That was very nice."

Do you have a favourite photograph you’ve taken in your career? 

Bob described two separate photographs he had taken of two different major stars – Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand – the former being his most valuable photograph, the latter his most treasured.

“I went to a concert in 1977. Elvis was giving a concert in Florida and I was able to purchase a $15 front row ticket because I was a member of the press. I sat at the front and I can honestly say I don’t remember anything about the concert at all because I was too busy trying to photograph him. When I got back to New York, I developed the film and Newsweek ran a photograph of it and it got picked up in Europe. I made some good money. Shortly after, he died and my pictures were all over the front page of all the New York papers and literally all over the world. And here it is 44 years later – something like that – 45 years later, and I still occasionally see my pictures in the tabloids in the supermarkets. So that’s my best money-wise photograph, but it’s a really special picture. It’ll never be in Graceland though, because his fans don’t love it.”


 

Elvis Presley performing in Florida – 1977 (Bob Deutsch)


“My favourite picture that I’ve ever taken is – I had a police press pass which enabled me to cross the police lines when people were filming movies, so I could cross over and be on the set. And Barbra Streisand was filming ‘The Way We Were’. The last scene is in front of the Plaza Hotel and I spent the day filming that, not knowing that it was such a pivotal scene in the movie - the last scene. She was not happy that I was there, because I was interfering with her concentration I guess, and she tried to have me removed but she couldn’t do it because I had a police press pass. I spent all day there and I got some really lovely photographs. “


 

Barbra Streisand on the set of 'The Way We Were' – 1973 (Bob Deutsch)


“It’s my screen saver. So that’s my favourite picture. I have it hanging in our apartment in Florida, and I one-time made a shower curtain out of it.”

 Who was the best celebrity to work with?

“The nicest lady I ever photographed was Natalie Wood.”

Natalie Wood was a Golden Globe winning American actress who starred in ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Rebel Without a Cause’.

“She was a sweet, sweet lady. She was charming, friendly and nice. I went out to Kennedy Airport to photograph her. She had got driven out by her chauffer and she said ‘look, if you want a ride back to Manhattan, I’m going to California. Take the chauffer car and he’ll drive you back’ – and he did. That was cool.”

 Who was the most difficult celebrity to work with?

Bob paused for a moment to think about his answer for this one, then jokingly told a story of almost coming to blows by one of the biggest stars of the 20th century.

“The only thing that comes to mind – one time I almost got punched by Marlon Brando. Almost. He was in New York in 1962 before the opening of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ and he was staying at the Plaza hotel (where the Barbara Streisand picture was taken) and he walked out of 5th Avenue, 10 blocks to Sacks Fifth Avenue to go shopping. Me and a couple of other people thought to discretely follow. We kept running around and when he got into Sacks, he turned around and put his fist up. I don’t know if he was serious or he was kidding, but we ducked. We still followed him up to the 6th floor where the clothing was, though. So, I guess that most of all."

The incredible photographic exhibition of Bob’s never-before-seen pictures will remain on display at The Beatles Story. Visit us.

Emma Davies

Emma is a Sales and Marketing Assistant at The Beatles Story and a Music & Popular Music graduate from the University of Liverpool.

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