About Glenn Embree

Glenn Embree Photography - Model T - Cars - Vintage Ford

Glenn Embree’s lifelong love affair with the automobile began early. As a young man growing up in Lakeport, California, Glenn was irresistibly drawn to anything with an engine. Whether he was racing motorcycles, speedboats or planes, if it moved, Glenn had to drive it – preferably too fast. Glenn’s father used to say, “Don’t worry about Glenn and girls. If it doesn’t have wheels, he’s not interested!” At the age of fourteen, he cleaned WWI Jenny biplanes in exchange for flying lessons. When he was a senior in high school, he was suspended for flying a friend’s seaplane to school, landing it on the lake, and parking it on the football field. Undeterred, Glenn traded his Indian motorcycle for a single seat Briggs Dart airplane. On his first flight, the plane developed engine trouble and Glenn had to make an emergency landing in the lake. None of these experiences did anything to dampen his enthusiasm for all things motorized.

As Glenn matured, it became clear that he possessed a unique ability to see beauty in even the simplest things. Glenn left Lakeport to major in Art at the University of California at Berkley, eventually transferring to the University of Southern California where he studied art direction and motion picture photography. His talent was soon recognized, and he was hired as a set designer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Hollywood. It was in this citadel of the camera that Glenn solidified his passion for photography: a passion that would take him across the globe and earn him a reputation as a world-class commercial photographer. Glenn received much of his early training from the cinematographers at MGM, which accounted for his unique approach to photography and lighting. Whether he was taking pictures of an automobile, a Hollywood actress, or a can of cat food, Glenn didn’t think in terms of just capturing images. He told stories. He turned his subjects into stars. It was while he was working at MGM that Glenn met Paul Hesse, one of the top portrait and commercial photographers in Los Angeles and New York at the time. Hesse would become Glenn’s mentor and eventual partner. Working at Paul Hesse Studio on Sunset Blvd gave Glenn the opportunity to gain exposure and experience. Glenn’s unique vision was soon in high demand, so in 1940 he opened his own studio while continuing to work with Hesse.

Glenn Embree Photography - Model T - Cars - Vintage FordWithin a short time, he was doing most of the West Coast fashion photography for Harpers, Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Look, while photographing nearly all the stars at MGM and Paramount Pictures. It was while doing fashion photography for Robinsons, a large department store chain, that Glenn met his favorite model, Phyllis Forbes. Glenn and Phyllis were married on May 18, 1941. After they married, Phyllis continued to model for Glenn, and would become one of the original Goldwyn Girls, a group of starlets who appeared in movies with such stars as Errol Flynn, Betty Davis and Danny Kaye.

With the advent of World War II, Glenn joined the Army Air Corps as an Aerial Photo Reconnaissance Officer, in which role he served in India, and China. In China, Glenn was in charge of the Mobile Photo Processing Lab located at forward airfields, and moved with the location of the front. During the same period he flew 19 combat missions photographing enemy positions, and operating one of the 50 caliber waist guns in a B-25. Serving so close to the front, Glenn and the photo recon unit he commanded had to learn to make due with whatever they had, often improvising dark room equipment and facilities out of spare aircraft parts or whatever was handy. His unit’s efficiency in supplying a constant stream of critical reconnaissance photos during a major Japanese offensive, and ability to create needed materials, seemingly out of nothing, earned Captain Embree the Bronze Star and his unit a citation from General Claire Chennault.

Upon returning home, Glenn returned to Paul Hesse Studio in Hollywood, where he resumed his career in entertainment and advertising photography, eventually becoming a partner and chief commercial photographer. In 1961 Glenn again opened his own studio, specializing in illustrative and advertising still photography, celebrity portraiture, and industrial motion pictures and television commercials. His unique aesthetic vision and his work with top celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Walt Disney, made him highly sought after, and his clients soon included the major national advertising firms, motion picture studios, and other major commercial clients.

Glenn Embree Photography - Model T - Cars - Vintage FordDuring his five-decade career in Hollywood, Glenn photographed hundreds of motion picture, television and recording stars for commercial endorsements and portraits. He became one of the most recognized and sought after commercial photographers in the world, with a portfolio that included advertisements for automobiles, aircraft, food, fashion, entertainment, and architecture. He won numerous professional awards for his creative work, and his photographs were often displayed in exhibitions and museums. He often attributed his success to “always giving the client more than they paid for.” His experience in the war taught him to do whatever was needed to get the job done. If a shot called for an elaborate set or background, he would often build it himself – saving the client money and solidifying his reputation as a professional who could always be counted on to deliver a quality product, on time, and under budget.

Glenn loved to teach and nurture young photographers. He was a frequent speaker at The Art Center in Pasadena and at photography conventions and seminars throughout the country. He would often allow budding photographers to spend time in his studio, observing him and practicing their craft. As one colleague put it, “Glenn helped start me on my way toward becoming a professional photographer. The first day we met I was impressed with his achievements and knowledge, but even more with the kindness and concern he showed me. Over the years, it became apparent that the kindness and respect he showed was not just offered to me, but was an enduring quality he gave to all who came in contact with him. I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have without Glenn’s help.”

As Glenn established himself as a commercial success, he never lost his love for all things motorized. Early in his career he established a relationship with the Studebaker and Ford Motor Companies. His clients soon included General Motors, Honda, and Toyota, as well as other major transportation companies like Glasspar Boats, Lear Jet, TWA, and Delta Airlines. In his spare time, Glenn continued to drive sports cars, fly restored vintage airplanes, and race speedboats, winning several California championships. He also purchased and restored seventeen antique cars for his collection, including four Model Ts.

Glenn Embree Photography - Model T - Cars - Vintage FordIn 1965, when the five founding members formed the Model T Ford Club of America, they agreed that their most important effort would be the preparation and publication of a quality magazine. One of those founders, Ray Miller, remembered, “The inside was easy. We had the knowledge and experience, but a colorful cover would be something else entirely, since none of us had the slightest experience with that kind of photography. Happily, one of us knew a professional photographer in Hollywood who was interested in antique automobiles. He was prevailed upon to provide the first magazine cover, and his imaginative photos have been a staple of The Vintage Ford ever since.”

Glenn embraced the new club, and freely gave his time and services to assist in making it a success, even serving as president of the club in 1970. Glenn recognized the club as, “a fraternity of enthusiasts with a common interest: the Model T Ford.” He was proud to serve, and loved to associate with fellow enthusiasts.

Glenn and Ray would also collaborate on the Ford Road Series of books, which became an invaluable resource for aficionados and restorers of early Fords. Glenn provided hundreds of photographs for the series, providing model-by-model, year-by-year detailed images of Model T’s, Model A’s, Ford V-8’s, 50’s Fords, and Thunderbirds. During the process he taught Ray how to produce quality photographs, a skill Ray used in successive books after Glenn retired.

As Glenn traveled the country for more than three decades, seeking out cars and locations to feature on The Vintage Ford covers, his early training with the cinematographers of MGM continued to serve him well. Rather than simply taking pictures of vintage automobiles, Glenn told visual stories, featuring the cars as key protagonists. Wherever possible, he showed the automobile being used, in a natural setting, often featuring the car’s owner and other club members as characters in the story. In true Norman Rockwell style, his magazine covers did more than simply feature cars; they opened a window into a different time, illustrating the role of the Model T in transforming American lifestyles.

Glenn continued to love and photograph antique automobiles until the end of his life, providing illustrations for magazines and calendars until his death in 1995, at the age of 82. At the time of his passing, he was remembered by Jay Klehforth, editor of The Vintage Ford, as “an unselfish, humble, patient and gentle man whose enthusiasm and talents were a critical ingredient in making [the Model T Ford Club of America] successful.” We hope this book will bring enjoyment to a new generation of Club members and any one else who has come to love this automobile icon.