Getting The Shot
Photographer Mark Sennet’s Exclusive Images
By Michael Chatfield
Oddly enough, photography wasn’t Mark Sennet’s first career choice. This boy from Great Neck, Long Island,
(“the Jewish bagel capital of the world,” he jokes) wanted to be a cowboy. “I found out it was a lot of work and didn’t pay well,” he recalls. After trying a stint as a radio announcer and DJ, Sennet took some classes at the New York Institute of Photography and started shooting weddings to pay the bills in between freelance photojournalism work.
He got his big break when he was on the scene when Mob boss Joe Colombo was gunned down in New York. Beginning in the early 1970s, Sennet was a top photographer for Time Life, London’s Daily Express and other publications. After a couple of decades, he’d had enough.
“I told my wife, ‘I can’t stand loading up the truck, photographing celebrities and being told what to do creatively,’” Sennet says. “I felt stuck and that I had so much more to give as a storyteller.” He embarked on his current career as a film and television producer.
“I started hiring the celebrities I had previously photographed,” he laughs. “Actually, I fell in love with Hollywood the first time I stepped off
These days, he typically has between five and ten projects in various stages of production, including shows for HBO and Spike TV.
“In this business,” the producer laughs, “you just hope to get all your movies made before you’re dead.” Sennet now lives in Los Angeles but spends a great deal of time in Carmel with his mother, Edith.
“My relationship with Ali was very close when he was training for Super Fight 2 with Joe Frazier in 1974. He had just gotten these two German Shepherds. He’d put on that big glove and look at them like they were Frazier, whom he disliked intensely, yelling at the dog: ‘Joe Frazier, Joe Frazier!’
“When you capture the essence of your subject in one frame, it’s electrifying…I jump up and down when that happens. ‘I f ’ing got it!’ Anyone can make a picture with an iPhone, but not everyone can take a photograph.”
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
“I’d photographed John a few times in New York for the Daily Express. This was in 1975; Yoko had come to LA to take him back to New York and reconcile after John’s Lost Weekend period. I didn’t know him that well, but he was a really nice man.
“I had planned to be on the same flight with them to make sure that I got a photograph of them. This is one of my favorite photos because there’s an intimacy between them that just jumps out. She was taking her man home. I took about five frames and talked a bit. We said goodbye at the airport.”
Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman
“This was for a People magazine story. Because I had relationships with Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and others, I was kind of the go-to guy around the office for comedians.
“We were just goofing around, at their home in Hollywood Hills, playing pool. I said, ‘Rhea you should throw Danny on the table and give him the biggest wet kiss’…and she did. It’s one of those spontaneous moments that get someone to reveal their personality.”
“Steven Spielberg is probably my favorite subject. You can see in his face the breadth of his work. It’s an honor to have worked with him.
“I was the official photographer on the ‘E.T.’ set; that movie was the biggest thing on the planet in 1983 and there I was, right in the middle of it. That was cool. If he likes you and your work and he calls you back, it’s a great feeling.”
“He was such an enigma. He hardly said a word. Warhol picked up the Dachshund and looked at me. I didn’t know how to play him because he was so silent, so distant. He had been shot [by Valerie Solanas] just recently…I didn’t have the balls to ask him to show me his scar.”
“In 1976, Hitch was working on his final film, ‘Family Plot.’ He had been ill and had a pacemaker put in. I asked him out of the blue, ‘Would you show me your pacemaker?’ He said ‘Of course, dear boy.’ He’s unbuttoning his shirt to show me the scar…it broke the ice and we hung out for the rest of the day.”
“There were five highly competitive photographers vying for the cover shot every week at People. I got more than 100 in my years there. My first was of Jacqueline Bisset.
“The Robin Williams and Pam Dawber was done as ‘Mork and Mindy’ had just gotten huge.”
Eddie Murphy & Richard Pryor
“Eddie had a huge movie out and Richard had just recovered from the burns he sustained. They had never met before this shoot. I had a half hour to get photos for a five-page story and cover.
“I brought a big gold chair and talked them into getting into it together. They started goofing around, choking each other…and realized they’d gone too far. A manager wanted to take the film away from me. I said, ‘No,’ and got out of there and some guys chased us, closing the gate on my assistant’s car. I had no idea what they were capable of!”
Mark Sennet, renowned Time Life photojournalist and photographer, formed Mark Sennet Entertainment in 1992 to produce world-class television and feature films. Since opening its doors, Sennet Entertainment has produced multiple acclaimed television series, Emmy nominated television movies and mini-series. He lives in Los Angeles but is a frequent visitor to Carmel, where his mother Edith has made her home for 20 years.