When Peter Warrack shot a roll of film of Janis Joplin from the front row at Harvard Stadium in August 1970, he had no way of knowing it would turn out to be the psychedelic blues belter's last show. Even after her death of an overdose two months later, Warrack never bothered to revisit his negatives.
A self-styled celebrity photographer who lived in Boston, Warrack took thousands of candid snapshots of artists and actors over several decades. He took intimate pictures of Alfred Hitchcock, Diana Ross and hundreds of others. Even the notoriously reclusive Katharine Hepburn let him take a few shots.
"She was an interesting character," recalls Kevin McElroy, Warrack's partner. "As was he. He did an incredible job of getting through to her. He could charm the pants off anybody."
Peter Warrack died in 2008 at age 72. Now his photos are surfacing for the first time, in a collaboration with a new art venture called House of Roulx. See a selection from the photographer's previously unseen collection here.
"We could see her" waiting to go on, says McElroy, who was standing at the lip of the stage with his partner, Warrack. "She was having a really good time. Most of the audience" – by some accounts, as many as 40,000 – "was under the influence of something different. When she hit the stage, she was absolutely smashed."
The rowdy crowd started a very 1970 chant: "We want to ball you!"
"And she picked up on it," McElroy remembers. "She said, 'Well, maybe one at a time.'" Despite her condition, he says, Joplin was in total control: "Even though she was plastered, she nailed it."
Warrack, a native of Liverpool, had grown up frequenting the Cavern Club, where he saw the Beatles and became acquainted with mod-era scenesters such as Cynthia Lennon and Cilla Black.
After moving to Boston, Warrack became a regular at the city’s theaters and concert venues, introducing himself to the artists and actors as they made their way out of stage doors and into fancy hotels.
Pavarotti used one of Warrack's snapshots on the cover of 1988's Passione.
According to McElroy, Warrack took pride in the fact that he befriended many of his subjects over the years, and it shows in the easy rapport that's evident in many of the photos.
For more than 40 years, Warrack's negatives sat in a box in the Boston apartment he shared with McElroy. He'd amassed boxes upon boxes of snapshots, almost all of them celebrity candids, maybe as many as 20,000.
After his partner's death, McElroy had been thinking about finding a home for Warrack's photos for some time. "I think he would be pleased they're out there," he says.
Cher donned the Bob Mackie wedding dress at a star-studded 1982 fashion show called 'Night of 100 Stars':