Ronald Edward Galella (born January 10, 1931) is an American photographer, known as a pioneer paparazzo. Dubbed "Paparazzo Extraordinaire" by Newsweek and "the Godfather of the U.S. paparazzi culture" by Time magazine and Vanity Fair, he is regarded by Harper's Bazaar as "arguably the most controversial paparazzo of all time".
He immortalized many celebrities out of the public eye and gained notoriety for his feuds with some of them, most notably Jacqueline Onassis and Marlon Brando. Despite the numerous controversies, Galella's work has been praised and exhibited in art galleries worldwide and he was cited by Andy Warhol as his favourite photographer.
During his career, Galella has taken more than three million photographs of public figures.
A Bronx native of Italian heritage, Galella is son of an immigrant from Muro Lucano, Basilicata, and his mother, born in New Jersey, was daughter of immigrants from Benevento, Campania. After graduating high school, he won a two year scholarship at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn but turned it down due to his deficiencies in mathematics.
Galella served as a United States Air Force photographer (1951-1955) during the Korean War and later attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California, graduating with a degree in photojournalism in 1958. In his free time Galella took pictures of the stars arriving at film premieres, selling them to magazines like National Enquirer and Photoplay. He soon became known for his photographic approach, portraying famous people out of the spotlight.
Galella's photographs can be seen in hundreds of publications including Time, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Vanity Fair, People, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The New York Times and Life. In his in-home darkroom, Galella makes his own prints which have been exhibited at museums and galleries throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in both New York City and San Francisco, the Tate Modern in London, and the Helmut Newton Foundation Museum of Photography in Berlin.
In 2009, his father's hometown Muro Lucano made him an honorary citizen. Galella is the subject of a 2010 documentary film by Leon Gast entitled Smash His Camera. The film's title is a quote from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis directed to her security agent after Galella pursued her and her children through Central Park, New York. The documentary premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, receiving the Grand Jury Award for Directing in the U.S. Documentary category, and was also well received at the 54th BFI London Film Festival prior to airing on the BBC throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
After retiring as a paparazzo, Galella is still active as a photographer at prominent culture events. He lives in Montville, New Jersey.
Galella’s wife and business partner, Betty Burke Galella, died in her sleep on January 9, 2017, at her home in Montville; she was 68 years old. Speaking of his wife, Galella said, "When Betty first purchased my photos for publication and granted me assignment credentials over the phone, I fell in love with her warm soft, loving voice. I met her in person for the first time, two years later, on Dec. 10, 1978, at the Kennedy Center for the premiere of 'Superman'. With one look at that beautiful girl, I said, 'I'm gonna marry you.' And five months later, we were. Once married, we became a team." Betty was born in Somerset, Kentucky, raised in Arlington, and lived in Yonkers before moving to Montville in 1992.
Galella was widely known for his obsessive treatment of Jacqueline Onassis and the subsequent legal battles associated with it. The New York Post called it "the most co-dependent celeb-pap[arazzi] relationship ever". The famous 1972 free-speech trial Galella v. Onassis resulted in a restraining order to keep Galella 50 yards (later changed to 25 feet) away from Mrs Onassis. He was found guilty of breaking this order four times and faced seven years in jail and a US$120,000 fine; later settling for a US$10,000 fine and surrendering his rights to photograph Jackie and her children.
On June 12, 1973, actor Marlon Brando punched Galella in the face outside a restaurant in Chinatown in New York City, breaking the photographer's jaw and knocking out five of his teeth on the left side of his mouth. Galella had been following Brando, who was accompanied by Dick Cavett, to the restaurant after a taping of The Dick Cavett Show earlier that day. Galella hired lawyer Stuart Schlesinger to sue Brando and ultimately settled for US$40,000. Schlesinger reported in the 2010 documentary Smash His Camera that Galella received two-thirds, but only cared about getting the message out, "I don't want anyone to think they can go around punching me if I am taking their picture. Get that story out, not the money." Subsequently, the next time Galella chased Brando, he wore a football helmet.
Galella once lost a tooth when he was beaten by Richard Burton's security guards. He unsuccessfully sued the actor. Elizabeth Taylor, who tended to be tolerant towards photographers, was often heard to mutter, "I'm going to kill Ron Galella!", although the actress would later use his photographs in her biography. Famous targets included Elvis Presley, whose bodyguards slashed his tires, Brigitte Bardot, whose security staff hosed him down, and Sean Penn, who spat at him and reportedly punched him while being photographed with his then-wife Madonna.
In spite of these controversies, art galleries across the world have acclaimed his work for its artistic and socio-historical value. He was praised by Andy Warhol, who said: "My idea of a good picture is one that's in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous. It's being in the right place at the wrong time. That's why my favorite photographer is Ron Galella". Art writer Glenn O'Brien defined him a "brilliant realist able to represent the world faithfully".
Galella's photographs has been exhibited in galleries across North America and Europe:
- Photo House– Brussels, Belgium – “55 Years a Paparazzi” – June 29 – September, 2016
- Int'l Center for Photography – New York, NY – “Public, Private Secret” – June 23 – Jan 28, 2017
- Staley Wise Gallery – New York, NY – “55 Years a Paparazzi” – September 25 – November 28, 2015
- Photology Garzón – Garzón, Uruguay – “Vintage Galella” – January 2016
- Photology Noto – Noto, Sicily – “Vintage Galella” – Summer 2015
- C/O Berlin – Berlin, Germany – “Blow-Up” January 24 – April 5, 2015
- Musée de l'Elysée - Lausanne, Switzerland – “Paparazzi! Photographers, Stars, and Artists” - September 2014 – January 2015
- Schirn Kunsthalle - Frankfurt, Germany - Paparazzi! Photographers, Stars, and Artists" - June 27 – October 12, 2014
- Albertina - Blow-Up -Vienna, Austria - May 8 – August 24, 2014
- Fotomuseum Winterthur - Switzerland - September 13 – November 30, 2014
- Staley-Wise Gallery - Pop, Rock & Dance - December 13, 2013 – January 25, 2014 New York, NY
- Centre Pompidou Paparazzi! - Metz, France - Photographers, Stars, and Artists - February 26 – June 9, 2014
- Fundación Novacaixagalicia - Ron Galella: Paparazzo Extraordinaire! - La Coruña, Spain - October 3, 2013 – January 11, 2014 - Pontevedra, Spain - January 23 – April 19, 2014
- Galerie La Flo - St. Tropex France - Boxing with the Stars, July 21 – September 15, 2012
- Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands- Ron Galella: Paparazzo Extraordinaire!, June 8, 2012 - August 22, 2012,
- PowerHouse Arena - Man in the Mirror: Michael Jackson by Ron Galella, January 7, 2009-February 14, 2009 Brooklyn, NY
- Lena Di Gangi Gallery - The Photographs of Ron Galella, December 5, 2009-January 31, 2010 Totawa, NJ
- Irish Museum of Modern Art - Picturing New York: Photographs from the Museum of Modern Art, November 25, 2009-February 7, 2010 Dublin, Ireland
- Centaur Theatre Company - Viva l'Italia, October 6, 2009-December 6, 2009 Montreal, Canada
- MART Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto - Picturing New York: Photographs from the Museum of Modern Art, July 11-October 11, 2009 Rovereto, Italy
- La Casa Encendida - March 28, 2009 – June 14, 2009, Madrid, Spain
- Archeology Museum of Muro Lucano - Viva l'Italia, May 2009–Present
- Palazzo Lanfranchi, Carlo Levi Hall - Ron Galella: Italian Icons, May 2009-June 7, 2009 Matera, Italy
- Hamburger Bahnfof Museum Fur Gegenwart - Celebrities: Andy Warhol and the Stars October 2008-February 2009
- Helmut Newton Foundation Museum of Photography - Pigozzi and the Paparazzi, June 2008-November 2008 Berlin, Germany
- GMW Law Offices - Offguard: Ron Galella Photography, October 2008–Present Den Haag, Netherlands
- Staly-Wise Gallery - Warhol by Galella: That's Great!, May 2008–Present New York, New York
- Galerie Wouter van Leeuwen - Warhol by Galella: That's Great!, May 2008–Present Amsterdam, Netherlands
- The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Warhol by Galella: That's Great!, May 2008–Present Hollywood, CA
- The Tate Modern Museum - Street + Stuido: An Urband History of Photography, May 2008-August 2008 London, England
- The Museum of Modern Art - Iconic Photos of Ron Galella acquired into collection, January 2008 New York, New York
- The Museum of Modern Art - Iconic Photos of Ron Galella acquired into collection, October 2007 New York, New York
- PowerHouse Arena - That 70's Show, March 2007-April 2007 Brooklyn, New York
- The Gershwin Hotel - February 2007-March 2007 New York, New York
- PowerHouse Arena - Warhol is Dead!, February 2007-March 2007
- Galerie Wouter van Leeuwen - Disco Years, December 2, 2006-January 6, 2007 Amsterdamn, Netherlands
- Buro Beelende Kunst Vlissinger Ron Galella: The One and Only Paparazzo, Brooklyn, New York
- Paul Kasmin Gallery - Disco Years, November 2005-January 2006 New York, New York
- PowerHouse Arena - Ron Galella: The Kennedy, New York, New York
- Kunstforum - Superstars: From Warhol to Madonna, October 2005-February 2006
- Ferragamo Gallery - Ron Galella Exclusive Diary: Caught Off-Guard, September 12, 2005-December 31, 2005 New York, New York
- Artelibro Festival of Art and Books - Ron Galella Exclusive Diary: Caught Off-Guard, September 22, 2005-September 26, 2005 Bologna, Italy
- Galerie Wouter van Leeuwen - The Photographs of Ron Galella, November 27, 2004-August 1, 2005, Amsterdamn, Netherlands
- Photology - Ron Galella Exclusive Diary, September 2004-November 2004 Milan, Italy
- Holt-Renfrew - Flick, September 2003-December 2003 Toronto, Canada
- Paul Kasmin Gallery - The Photographs of Ron Galella, June 2002-August 2002 New York, New York
- Andy Warhol Museum - Ron Galella Retrospective, June 2002-September 2002 Pittsburgh, PA
- Serge Sorokko Gallery, 1997 New York, New York
- Nikon Gallery, 1993 New York, New York
- Octagon Club, 1987 New York, New York
- William Lyons Gallery, 1980 Coconut Grove, Florida
- Union Carbide, 1977 New York, New York
- Rizzoli Gallery, 1976 New York, New York
- G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, 1976 New York, New York
- Soho Gallery, 1972 New York, New York