Chelsea Senior Living resident Photographed the stars, Still cashing in
Chelsea Senior Living, West Milford, NJ
“There were too many talented people,” he recalls while looking over a box of photographs at his apartment at The Chelsea at Bald Eagle, 197 Cahill Cross Road. “Then a friend suggested I try photography instead.”
Despite having to walk with braces because he was pigeon-toed, Pfizenmaier was drafted into the Army at age 18. He trained in demolition, a skill he wasn’t particularly keen on, mostly because it could get you killed. He got himself transferred to the 4026 Signal Photo Corps as an Army photographer. Since it was towards the end of the war, he was spared the battlefield where many Army photographers were killed in action. Instead, he was assigned to follow General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the U.S. occupation of Japan. He spent many hours standing at doorways, waiting for MacArthur to walk by to get a single photograph. He left the service in 1945 and set up his own photography studio in Manhattan on 27th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in the heart of the fashion district.
The rest is history, literally, as Pfizenmaier looked across a table containing hundreds of photos of models in all sorts of poses, dressed in the finery of 50’s and 60’s. But his prized possessions are his photos of Marilyn Monroe,Katherine Hepburn, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, photos he had opportunities to take along the way, some
planned, some totally by chance.
“I was taking bridal gown pictures at the St. Regis Hotel one day when a nearby elevator opened and out walked Salvador Dali,” he recalls. “He saw what was going on and instantly struck a pose with the models. He loved the camera.” He had a rare opportunity to sit in on a photo shoot conducted by photographer Cecil Beaton at the Ambassador
Hotel in 1956. Beaton’s subject was Marilyn Monroe. “She was no dumb blonde,” says Pfizenmaier. “She knew exactly what she was doing.” His favorite subject was actress Katherine Hepburn, who agreed to a photo session at his request through a mutual friend.
“I knew people who knew her,” he recalls. “I went to her brownstone. She wasn’t all that excited to be photographed, but she was very nice to me. I admired her intelligence. She was a powerful woman.” Today, Pfizenmaier still sells his photos through Christie’s auction house and through the non-profit Friends of Friends Photography Auction which donates the proceeds to worthy causes. “My whole thing today is auctions,” he said. “They know me very well.” Pfizenmaier’s last sale in 2014 was a 1954 photo of ice skaters at Wollman Rink in Central Park, a platinum palladium print that sold for $8,000.