Tony Vaccaro: the War Hero Who Photographed Marilyn in Canada

The American photographer Tony Vaccaro died on December 28, 2022, aged 100. Born to Italian immigrant parents in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, he served in Europe during World War II. After the war ended, he remained in Germany, documenting postwar life for the US Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. He returned to New York in 1949, working for Flair and Look magazine before moving to LIFE. For the next quarter century, Vaccaro worked extensively as a celebrity and fashion photographer.

According to a 2013 report on the QNS website, one of his early assignments took him to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada,  where in the summer of 1953, Marilyn was filming River of No Return. The image shown above comes from a series generally associated with John Vachon, but several other press photographers (including John Florea) also documented Marilyn’s visit.

Vaccaro worked with many other glamorous stars, such as Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Eartha Kitt, Maria Callas, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, and Anita Ekberg. He also photographed John F. Kennedy prior to his presidential bid, remembering him as “a man of great personal warmth and humanity … I also found, surprisingly, a strong expression of humility.” In 1970, Vaccaro began a 10-year stint teaching photography at Cooper Union. He was married for 34 years to model Anja Lehto, and they had two sons.

Vaccaro’s enduring public legacy is in the many thousands of photographs he took on the battlefield as a young private. In 1994 he was awarded France’s Legion of Honour, during celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings; and in 2014, a museum was named for him in Italy.

He was also the subject of an HBO documentary, Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro, and in November 2022, a centennial exhibition opened at the Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as a pop-up to show in New York.

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