Ronald Edward Galella (born January 10, 1931) is an American photographer, known as a pioneer paparazzo. Dubbed "Paparazzo Extraordinaire" by Newsweek and "the Godfather of the U.S. paparazzi culture" by Time magazine and Vanity Fair, he is regarded by Harper's Bazaar as "the most controversial paparazzo of all time".
He immortalized many celebrities out of the public eye and gained notoriety for his feuds with some of them, most notably Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Marlon Brando. Despite the numerous controversies, Galella has been cited by Andy Warhol as his favourite photographer.
During his career, Galella has taken more than three million photographs depicting public figures.
A Bronx native of Italian heritage, Galella is son of an immigrant from Muro Lucano, Basilicata, and his mother, born in New Jersey, was daughter of immigrants from Benevento, Campania. After graduating high school, he won a 2-year scholarship at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn but refused due to his lacks in mathematics.
Galella served as a United States Air Force photographer (1951-1955) during the Korean War and later attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California, graduating with a degree in photojournalism in 1958. In his free time Galella took pictures of the stars arriving at film premieres, selling them to magazines like National Enquirer and Photoplay. He soon became known for his photographic approach, portraying famous people out of the spotlight.
Galella's photographs can be seen in hundreds of publications including Time, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Vanity Fair, People, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The New York Times and Life. In his in-home darkroom, Galella makes his own prints which have been exhibited at museums and galleries throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in both New York and San Francisco, the Tate Modern in London, and the Helmut Newton Foundation Museum of Photography in Berlin.
In 2009, his father's hometown Muro Lucano made him an honorary citizen. Galella is the subject of a 2010 documentary film by Leon Gast entitled Smash His Camera. The film's title is a quote from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis directed to her security agent after Galella pursued her and her children through Central Park, New York. "Smash" premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, receiving the Grand Jury Award for Directing in the U.S. Documentary category. The film was also well-received at the 54th BFI London Film Festival prior to airing on the BBC throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
After leaving the Paparazzi career, Galella is still active as a photographer at prominent culture events.
He currently lives in Montville, New Jersey with his wife Betty Burke Galella.
Galella is widely known for his obsessive treatment of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the subsequent legal battles associated with it. The New York Post called it "the most co-dependent celeb-pap[arazzi] relationship ever". The famous 1972 free-speech trial Galella v. Onassis resulted in a restraining order to keep Galella 50 feet (later changed to 25 feet) away from Mrs. Onassis.
On June 12, 1973, actor Marlon Brando punched Galella in the face outside a restaurant in Chinatown in New York City, breaking the photographer's jaw and knocking out five of his teeth on the left side of his mouth. Galella had been following Brando, who was accompanied by Dick Cavett, to the restaurant after a taping of The Dick Cavett Show earlier that day. Galella hired lawyer Stuart Schlesinger to sue Brando and ultimately settled for $40,000. Schlesinger reported in the 2010 documentary Smash His Camera that Galella received two-thirds, but only cared about getting the message out, "I don't want anyone to think they can go around punching me if I am taking their picture. Get that story out, not the money." Subsequently, the next time Galella chased Brando, he wore a football helmet.
Galella was once beaten by Richard Burton's security guards, losing one tooth, and sued the actor unsuccessfully. Elizabeth Taylor, who tended to be tolerant towards photographers, was often heard to mutter, "I'm going to kill Ron Galella!", though the actress would later use his photographs in her biography. Other famous targets were Elvis Presley, whose bodyguards slashed his tires, Brigitte Bardot, being hosed down by her security staff, and Sean Penn, who spat at him and reportedly punched him while being photographed with his then-wife Madonna.
In spite of these controversies, art galleries across the world have acclaimed his work for its artistic and sociohistorical value. He was praised by Andy Warhol, who said: "My idea of a good picture is one that's in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous. It's being in the right place at the wrong time. That's why my favorite photographer is Ron Galella". Art writer Glenn O'Brien defined him a "brilliant realist able to represent the world faithfully".