Mary Morris Lawrence (March 27, 1914-August 12, 2009)

Entertainment Daily Obit
Weekly Feminist Reader Obit
SF Chronicle Tribute
Associated Press Obit

Mostly Mary Morris
Ron Penndorf Collection of Mary's Photos

New York Public Library Photo Collection

AP Fist Female Photographer page

Mary Morris AP Photographer

Mary Morris AP photographer
"Mary Morris Lawrence, known around the news-photo world and several music capitals as Morrie, will stir lively memories in seasoned news writers and readers. She was the Hollywood columnist for New York's progressive and fairly innovative tabloid, PM. She did notable work for Associated Press, photo stories for Look Magazine, award-winning projects of many kinds in a world-roving career . . . " (The quote is from an old Buffalo Evening News article.) Morrie is surrounded here by her PM colleagues of the early 1940s.

Eleanor Roosevelt by Mary Morris
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) by Mary Morris
1/1/2020: Democracy Now: Amy Goodman interviews
Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of 3 vol bio of Elleanor Roosevelt

CONGRESSIONAL RECORD—Extensions of Remarks
October 15, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ms. LEE of California. Madam Speaker, I rise today to honor the extraordinary life of Mary Morris Lawrence. As a premier photographer, trailblazer and free spirit, she helped shatter the glass ceiling for female professionals by becoming one of the first female photojournalists ever hired by New York’s Associated Press in November of 1936. Mary was also a vibrant inspiration to her family and friends as wife, mother and mentor. She passed away in her Oakland, California home on August 12, 2009, at the age of 95.

Over the span of her globe-trotting career, Mary was columnist and Hollywood photographer for New York’s progressive tabloid PM, photojournalist for Look Magazine, and creator of a variety of award-winning projects. Her photo of composer Louis Hart even became a U.S. postage stamp.

Mary Morris Lawrence was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 27, 1914. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1936, and often attributed her distinct ambitions, creative prowess and ‘‘rebellious ideas’’ to the time she spent there. In the early years, colleagues described Mary as a hard worker with a knack for using her wit to gain access to great shots and poignant moments with her small RolleiFlex camera.

Mary spent six years in Hollywood during her first marriage with still photographer Ralph Steiner, with whom she had a daughter, Antonia Steiner. Her self-described aggressive nature and creative spirit helped her commingle with movie stars. Sunday magazine pieces for PM featured Mary’s trademark, sleek, blackand- white portraits of silver screen luminaries. Her work included shots of Sophia Loren, Gene Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and many others.

Afterward, Mary returned to New York as a magazine freelancer, producing work for Life, Mademoiselle and other publications. She also started an advertising business out of a Midtown brownstone.

In 1963, she married Harold Lawrence, producer for Mercury Records, and subsequently General Manager of the London Symphony Orchestra and Manager of the New York Philharmonic. The family settled in Oakland when Harold Lawrence was named president and General Manager of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in 1977.

Mary volunteered locally for the League of Women Voters, ERA, Oakland Potluck and Neighborhood Newsletter Task Force. She continued her work, photographing music legends like Michael Tilson Thomas and Calvin Simmons. She also became a creative partner in her husband’s film documentaries, later devoting her photographic skills to occasional projects for friends.

Mary Morris Lawrence’s tenacious zest for life will inspire generations to come. In her life she overcame many obstacles, including surviving a brain tumor in her fifties.

She recently celebrated her 95th birthday with friends at a belly-dancing restaurant, and undoubtedly, her convivial spirit will continue to be a powerful gift to the people she cherished most. She will be remembered for her unparalleled passion, wit and bravery.

Today, California’s 9th Congressional District salutes and honors an incredible and beloved human being, Mary Morris Lawrence. We extend our deepest condolences to Mary’s husband, daughter, goddaughter, family and friends. May her soul rest in peace.

August 26, 2009
By Liza Cowan

Morrie, as her friends knew her, was my mom's chum from college. They went to Sarah Lawrence  where Mary, according to the article in the Chronicle "formed all my rebellious ideas." Morrie and Polly, my mom, remained good friends throughout the forties and fifties in New York city. Fans of this blog will remember that I've written about Morrie and mom before.

November 23, 2011
ARTIST: Mary Morris Steiner Lawrence
By Liza Cowan

Mary Lawrence, Max Lerner, etc.
L to R: Max Lerner, Lou Cowan, Mary Morris Steiner, Polly Cowan, Ralph Steiner (biting my mom's shoulder,)
photo set up by Mary or Ralph, shot by Edna Lerner.

The SF Chronicle article omits the fact that Mary was married to Ralph Steiner, iconic American photographer. Mary told me in a phone conversation last year that when she and Ralph were partners in their New York City photography studio, they split the shooting equally, but he got all the credit. They didn't really pay attention to who was shooting, who was setting up the shots, who was climbing the ladder. It was all in a day's work.  She didn't care. The paycheck came in and that was pretty much what mattered at the time. I don't think either one of them realized at the time how famous he would become and how relatively, but not completely, obscure she would become. So those Ralph Steiner photographs that are now highly collectible, the ones done in the NY studio might be by Mary.

Mary and daughter Toni Steiner
Mary and daughter Antonia Steiner

Bringing Up Puppies coverBringing Up Puppies back cover
1958 - the little girl is Antonia Steiner

MMS NYT Oct 25 1959

Calvin Simmons
Calvin Simmons (1950-1982) photo by Mary Morris Lawrence

Mary Morris Lawrence Oakland Trib May 2007
Mary Morris Lawrence Oakland Tribune May 13, 2007

Harold and Mary Lawrence at OYO Pops March 21, 2009
Harold and Mary Lawrence party on at OYO Pirates Gala March 21, 2009 BTS photo

Celebration of Life Program
Celebration of Life
Mary's Girls: Daphne Markham, Susanne Monson, Judy Johnson, Libby Schaaf, Barbara Schaaf Schock.
Saturday, August 29, 2009

MARY MORRIS LAWRENCE died on August 12, 2009 in her Oakland home, after 95 years of amazing life.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, to Thomas and Margaret Seymour Morris, she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1936 "where I formed all my rebellious ideas." One of those ideas was to work as a photojournalist. In November 1936, she became the first female photojournalist hired by the Associated Press in New York. "I was good in the newspaper business," she said, "because I had this way of wanting to get the dope."

In his 1938 book, "Get That Picture!" A.J. Ezickson described her as a "wisp of a girl, with a thick mass of tousled brown hair and dancing blue eyes ... daily faring forth with camera slung over her shoulder to cover every variety of news and feature story." He added she was a hard worker, put up with" sly jibs" from male counter-parts, and was a cunning "scout" - talking her way into off limits scenes by using her wits, but never her "feminine wiles."

The Oakland Tribune, in May 2007, praised her as "a groundbreaker," attributing her success to "an aggressive nature, a creative spirit." "She is remembered as a creative, innovative photographer," they wrote, in 2009 "whose work appeared widely in books, films and magazines such as Look, Life and Mademoiselle." Her photo of composer Louis [Lorenz] Hart became a U.S. postage stamp.

Lorenz Hart stamp

She left AP in 1940 to work for PM, the innovative New York startup tabloid. She then moved to Hollywood with first husband Ralph Steiner and their daughter Antonia where she provided pieces for PM's Sunday magazine (the precursor to today's Parade), featuring her trademark sleek, black-and-white portraits of movie stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart.

After six years in Hollywood, Mary returned to New York to freelance for magazines and start an advertising business in a Midtown brownstone. In 1963 she met Mercury Records producer Harold Lawrence at a dinner party. "She wore a red dress and was spectacular," said Harold. The coupled married that same year.

The Lawrences soon moved to London, England, where Harold had been appointed General Manager of the famed London Symphony Orchestra. Here, Mary turned her talents to documenting their lives amongst music's glitterati, like Andre Previn, Leonard Bernstein, Janos Starker, Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Callas, Neville Marriner and Michael Tilson Thomas.

She also was instrumental in finding a permanent rehearsal hall for the then-nomadic London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic. This feisty lady-Yankee convinced the mighty Church of England to convert the empty Holy Trinity Church in South London into a rehearsal home for the orchestras. Now known as Henry Wood Hall, the church bears a dedication plaque to her.

Following stints managing the Buffalo and New York Philharmonic, the couple settled in California in 1978, when Harold was enticed by Edgar Kaiser to come manage the Oakland Symphony Orchestra.

In Oakland, Mary turned her considerable energies and inquisitive journalist's mind to civic endeavors, including Equal Rights Amendment, the League of Women Voters, and Oakland's Neighborhood Newsletter Task Force. She helped her neighborhood natural foods market, Farmer Joe's, get established and championed Oakland Potluck, an all-volunteer outfit that "rescued" food from caterers and restaurants to feed the poor at shelters and soup kitchens.

Mary will also be remembered as a networking maven and mentor to women. Five of her followers felt so indebted for her professional and personal guidance over the years, they dubbed themselves "Mary's Girls" and honored her with a Wolf Track Plaque at Jack London Square.

Mary's activism and interest never waned. In her 95th year, she celebrated Earth Day planting daffodils near Lake Merritt and her birthday laughing with friends at a belly dancing restaurant.

Mary will be missed by her loving husband Harold Lawrence, daughter Antonia Steiner, and the many people she inspired and mentored, especially "Mary's Girls"; Judy Johnson, Daphne Markham, Susanne Monson, Libby Schaaf and Barbara Schaaf Schock and also Ashley James, Kathryn Golden and Debbra Wood Schwartz.

Thank you for joining us in celebrating Mary's life. In lieu of flowers, Mary would ask that you join the League of Women Voters, shop at Farmer Joe's, write a letter to the editor, or break a glass ceiling!

Harold, Antonia and Mary's Girls gratefully acknowledge the loving medical care Mary received from her physicians and the staff of Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, Victor Bolotaolo of Caring Solutions and Vitas Hospice.

You are cordially invited to a reception immediately following the celebration in the courtyard adjacent to the Chapel.
Chapel of the Chimes
4499 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, California

When I was unsure of whether to run for city council shortly after my husband passed away, I mentioned my quandary to Mary. Before I knew it, she was on my porch directing a photo session with Harold assigned to hold the reflector and lights, as she took a picture for the piece of campaign literature she had told me I had to produce right away to be a viable candidate.

Mary was a loyal supporter for my city council seat in every election since that one and I just began my 4th 4-year term.

After I was elected the first time, she called to tell me that she was watching the televised council meeting and advised that I MUST SMILE. She said that I looked entirely too serious which was scary to most people and that "they would be more apt to listen to my policy direction if I didn't look so serious." I still have trouble with that one but will always think of Mary if I catch a glimpse of myself in the monitor looking too serious.

Posted on Tributes by: Nancy Nadel Oakland, CA   Sep 14, 2009

(c) Barbara Toby Stack unless otherwise indicated.