A Museum Photo Exhibit, "Automotive Hollywood: A Tribute to Harley J. Earl"

Scroll down to view enlarged images and photographic measurements of the works of art in this exhibit

Automotive Hollywood is a photographic tribute to the glamorous creations of Harley Earl. Just as Hollywood turned budding starlets into iconic stars of the silver screen, the cars rolling out of Harley's design studio doors were celebrities in their own right, complete with flashing cameras, inquisitive reporters and millions of Americans clamoring for a glimpse and an opportunity to buy. A California native, Harley's innate sense of showmanship and style, coupled with his extraordinary talent as an artist and engineer, resulted in works of art that were unlike anything audiences had ever seen or imagined. The excitement and anticipation that lead up to Apple's unveiling of the very first Ipad in 2010 is a fraction of the palpable buzz preceding the release of an Earl creation. His works of art continue to rise in value, often selling for millions of dollars at premier collectible art auction. From January 2005 to January 2006, three of Earl's creations sold at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale, Arizona for a combined total of over $10m. 

Culled from a trove of rare and never-before-seen images from the Earl family archives, the photographs displayed in this collection were carefully selected by Curator Richard Earl. Designed to appeal to modern audiences, this exhibit truly enlivens a bygone era of grace, style and national pride. Automotive Hollywood debuted in 1997 at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, MI and has since traveled to:

+   Automotive Hall of Fame

+   Chrysler's World Headquarters

+   General Motors Design Center

+   The Art Center of Kettering University

AHKet8.29.04CranLeS.JPG (41179 bytes)At right: auto enthusiasts kneel beside Earl's supercar LeSabre, on display under Cranbrook Museum's beautiful paristyle. An historic occasion, this was the first time Earl's modern works of art were collectively displayed in a museum exhibit.


FORWARD No. I and FORWARD No. II (above & below) are the same sizes

EXHIBIT FORWARD 1 (also readable, in photograph, back up at top):

A big man who packed 235 pounds on his 6-foot 4-inch frame, Harley J. Earl (1893-1969) got his start in styling when he joined his father’s carriage company, Earl Automobile Works. As early as 1916, he began designing custom-built cars for Hollywood stars –  comedian Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle was glad to pay $28,000 for an Earl creation circa 1920.

Harley Earl, his wife Sue and their first-born son Billy moved to Detroit in 1927. The Earls’ life in California had quietly ended and a new phase of history in America’s motor capital was just beginning. The influence of Harley J. Earl would be felt in every part of the mechanized world. The complete methodology used by Earl to integrate the art, science, and showmanship of automobile design would form the foundation of an important emerging facet of the industry. On January 1, 1928 Art & Colour officially became part of General Motors central office.

First inventing the industry or business of designing cars and then going on to create the excitement of "Automotive Hollywood" in Detroit were perhaps his most important automobile triumphs. And yet it is not these milestones that Harley Earl is often remembered. Earl put his stamp on General Motors and his innovations and striking designs helped GM cement its position as the world’s largest auto-maker.

It was Earl who would eliminate running boards and would integrate the headlights, fenders, grill and trunk. He would introduce the pillarless top, hidden spare tire, turn indicators, tinted glass, electric windows, and the power convertible top. He also introduced the two-tone paint job, designed quadruple headlights, and put the first (power) radio antenna on a car. Harley Earl changed the shape and proportions of the car by making it longer, lower and wider. When Earl and his team created the modern car, it came to be with such unerringly simple techniques such as inventing the wraparound "curved glass" windshield, not to mention streamlining the look that was to shape every car for years to come.

EXHIBIT FORWARD 2 (also readable, in photograph, back up at top):

Rugged, dynamic Harley J. Earl (1893-1969) learned the principals of design in a carriage factory owned by his father in Hollywood, California. As a boy, Harley Earl made futuristic models out of clay; models of automobiles, not as they were, but as they might be. Descendant of a family of custom coach builders and body makers, he saw the horse-drawn vehicle give way to the motorcar, and at an early age switched his talents to automobile design.

After taking courses in arts, architecture and engineering at Leland Stanford University Harley Earl returned to Los Angeles to refine his design talents. He was fundamental in the founding of the General Motors Art and Colour Section in 1927. This area later became the Styling Section in 1937. Mr. Earl led the way to industry-wide acceptance of appearance and function being of parallel importance. 

"Styling", as auto body design was known when Harley Earl pioneered it in 1927 was not easily accepted by the stereotype habitants of Detroit's automobile establishment. As David Gartman writes in Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design, "For these men pushing cost-cutting mass production, beauty was a feminine trait that belonged in the parlor, not on machines."

Harley Earl changed all this by driving home his ideas of the "modern." Today’s sleek new-fashioned automobiles are the direct result of Mr. Earl’s early pace setting trend, which was the first touch of class and beauty aimed at appealing to the general public.