Snap, Crackle, Pop
the wonderful world of Shel Secunda
Shel Secunda’s friends sometimes needle him for his tendency to name drop. Given the nature of his career, he might be forgiven. As a photographer he has taken pictures of hundreds of recognizable faces. There’s Meryl Streep on the cover of Ladies Home Journal, or Muhammed Ali in a d-Con roach ad. From Eleanor Roosevelt to Lauren Bacall, Gene Kelly and Adlai Stevenson, the list reads like a Who’s Who in arts, sports, and politics.
Born and raised in New York City, Secunda got his first taste of photography when his mother gave him a Brownie box camera at the age of seven. After graduating from NYU, Secunda was drafted into the Army Signal Corps, stationed in Germany as a cinematographer. “Every Sunday morning there was this television show on CBS, ‘The Big Picture,’ featuring footage shot by GI cameramen all over the world. I used to pull an Alfred Hitchcock and put myself into some scenes. It gave my parents a kick to see me when I was so far away,” says Secunda.
Secunda returned to New York where he worked for a firm publicizing Broadway shows. That led to the motion-picture industry where he performed the same function for films produced by MGM, Twentieth Century Fox, and Universal.
But it was the next career move that really propelled Secunda to the top of his field. He began working as an advertising photographer for agencies such as J. Walter Thompson, Doyle Dane Bernbach, and Young & Rubicam. His photographs graced the covers of Life, Ladies Home Journal, and New York. By 1970 Secunda’s talent was well recognized and he became the first photographer to shoot an entire fashion supplement for the New York Times.
Secunda also did the photography for five books, including What I Want To Be When I Grow Up with Carol Burnett and Sesame Street Book of Opposites with Zero Mostel. His last book, The Bond: People and Their Animals, includes many notables such as Morley Safer, E.O. Wilson, James Earl Jones, and Mary Tyler Moore.
It was Secunda’s wife, author and columnist Victoria Secunda, who wanted to move to Connecticut. A lover of gardens, she yearned for more green space. When they found a house in Ridgefield, Secunda says, “It’s the first place Vicky and I have lived that really feels like home.”
Surprisingly, as Secunda takes stock of his prolific career, it isn’t the photographs that make him most proud. Instead, it is four paintings that hang in the permanent collection of The North Dakota Museum of Art. “I had the single greatest artistic thrill of my life when I saw my paintings hanging amidst such accomplished artists,” says Secunda. Giclees made from the originals will be featured along with his works at Sarah’s Wine Bar through July, with a May 5 opening reception.
Secunda could be poster boy for the catchphrase, 80 is the new 60. He is an avid tennis player, tap dancer, flutist. He records books for the blind at the Ridgefield Library. “With apologies to Lou Gehrig, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” n