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Dreamer With a Thousand Thrills: The Rediscovered Photographs of Tom Palumbo

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Patricia Bosworth (R) and Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons at The Staley-Wise book signing

by Aaron Lehmann

"Dreamer With a Thousand Thrills: The Rediscovered Photographs of Tom Palumbo" is available now from Powerhouse Books.

During the 1950s and 60s, Tom Palumbo was part of an influential group of young photographers working for the best fashion magazines in America – Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Tom perfected his craft under the guidance of legends like Alexey Brodovitch, Carmel Snow, Diana Vreeland, and Alex Liberman. Tom’s serene style contrasted with Richard Avedon’s jazzed-up images and Lillian Bassman’s soft blurred effects. Often Tom’s particular layouts provided the balance in an issue. His pictures invariably enhanced the fashions of the 50s, where women were thought of as objects of worship, and beauty was thought of as an ideal. Tom photographed every day, producing unique images like jazz legend Miles Davis laughing. He loved taking pictures of artists like next-door neighbors Comden and Green; the young Mia Farrow and Jane Fonda; novelist Jack Kerouac. Late in life, Tom worked in theatre. But to him there was never much difference in the photographs he took or the plays he directed since both contained drama. Paradox and revelation–these two elements energized Tom Palumbo’s life.

These rediscovered photographs, celebrated in their time but not seen in decades, are presented here in book form for the first time ever, by award-winning author and Palumbo’s widow, Patricia Bosworth.

– from PowerHouse Books

I met Tom Palumbo when he was assigned as my mentor while attending the School of Visual Arts in the early 2000s. I began with assisting Tom by rummaging through his cluttered studio apartment, which contained a plethora of cardboard boxes containing playbills, polaroids, random notes on paper listing reminders long since expired; and undeveloped rolls of film. While assisting in the organization of the apartment, I was also encouraged to help convince Tom of letting go of the obvious, no longer necessary objects in his collection of things. In exchange Tom told me about his life, his adventures, regrets and theories of the artistic process in both photography and theater. Both Tom and his wife, the brilliant writer/biographer/actress Patricia Bosworth, accepted and nurtured me with their wisdom and patience. They were experienced and accomplished New York City artists – everything I was striving to become. Tom and Patti introduced me to great films, like On The Waterfront, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Face in The Crowd. I began reading plays by David Mamet, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett and Eugene O'Neill. Patti introduced me to novels by Philip Roth and Norman Mailer. I absorbed everything I could.

I was invited by Tom and Patti to be a part of The Actors Studio Playwright Directors Unit and remained a member for a decade. I learned the history of The Studio; Patti's stories of observing Elia Kazan moderate the work being done there. I saw Norman Mailer workshop his play The Deer Park: A Play.

Tom was an advocate for the character driven, freeform acting on display in the works of John Cassavetes. He believed in trusting one's instincts above their intellect, and he hammered home that the true discoveries of art-making is revealed in the doing, in the process of creating.

Below is a video we made about the book "Dreamer With a Thousand Thrills" using Tom's images and the words and voice of Patricia Bosworth.

Tom Palumbo passed away in 2008 and we were comrades till the very end. When he could no longer recognize me, he held my hand and shared his sweet smile. "Do you remember Aaron?", Patti asked him? "No", he replied. "But I remember I love him".

A decade later, Tom's book "A Dreamer With a Thousand Thrills: The Rediscovered Photographs of Tom Palumbo" is finally available to the world thanks to the love-driven work of Patricia Bosworth. The chaos that Tom both promoted, and at times required assistance in fending off, has been painstakingly arranged into a perfect document of his life's work, passions and creativity.

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