July 14, 2003 by

Rollie McKenna


Categories: Artists

Rosalie Thorne McKenna, a photographer best known for taking pictures of American and British literati, died on June 14. Cause of death was not released. She was 84.

McKenna first picked up a camera when she was 30 years old. Although she planned to take pictures of Italian Renaissance architecture, McKenna became interested in portrait photography after taking pictures of London-based writers and artists for the Poetry Center in New York.

For the next three decades, McKenna took pictures of many writers, including Truman Capote, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound and Robert Frost. Dylan Thomas was one of her favorite subjects. She featured him in the film, “The Days of Dylan Thomas,” and published “Portrait of Dylan: A Photographer’s Memoir.”

23 Responses to Rollie McKenna

  1. Bill Reed

    I bought Rollie’s studio in Stonington, CT. I met her several times and had an enjoyable relationship with her. She was a cool cat.
    I rehab-ed the space but kept the essential gestalt of her studio intact. I felt the light and dimension of the place were essentially correct. ( Her final architect in her rehab-ing of the building in 1967 was “Mac” McVitty who had very good senses). I’ve got lots of detail stuff and her recollections. She was a good person.

  2. cristobal

    I never met her, but now I am doing a research of a Henry – Russell Hitchcock’s book called “Latin American architecture since 1945” and all its amazing photographs were taken by Rosalie Thorne McKenna.
    I really admire her work and I am wondering where I can find and see her archives.
    Santiago, Chile.

  3. Rosalie Thorne

    I married Bobby Jene Thorne who was born in Mississipi to Alton Ray Thorne. I do not know Ms. McKenna but am looking for more information on the Thorne family, particularly Alton, Effie Mae, and Laferen. Can anyone help me?

  4. samuel Quinn

    I knew Rollie, for she happened to be my next door neighbor in Stonnington CT, at my families summer house. She and my mother were very close, due to my mother, Pat, and Rollie were such close friends. I have met up with another person close to Rollie, Mr. Dan Jones, who is in charge of Rollies estate and a wonderful man and photographer himself. He has put me incharge of re-organizing Rollies slides of her portraits of people, A-Z. I, now 22 years old have emersed my self in the world of photography, and although i was very young when i new Rollie, i am still learning about her through looking at her work and books.
    -Samuel D. Quinn

  5. Connie Springer

    I met Rollie McKenna in 1982 or 1983 when I did an oral history on her for a library class at Simmons College. She was a very interesting person. I photographed her then in black and white when she was 64 and taped her life story.
    I too would like to know where her archives are so that I might contribute these items.

  6. Ned York

    I knew Rollie from my years growing up in Stonington. In fact, she was kind enough to take a photo of me and two other Stonington kids–Sibby Lynch and David Aiken–as we had a story written about our store which was the first “boutique” to appear in Vogue Magazine in 1966. The store was on the corner of Water and Elm Streets and lasted about two months before I was drafted into the Army. She also took a wonderful photo of my grandmother–Mrs Edward P York–as well as a group photo which included my mother–Rose York–of the Stonington chapter of Amnesty International which was commissioned by Life Magazine in recognition of the London based human rights group winning the Noble Peace Prize in 1977. I would love to get an original print of the amnesty photo.

  7. Cort Moore

    I really loved this gal! I lucked into being employed by Rollie ca. 1980 or so for a couple of years. I painted her house and Pat’s house next door and sealed the brickwork on her studio, rebuilt the sea walls etc..
    I felt like part of the famiy for a brief portion of my life. I worked my ass off for little pay but hey, in retrospect, it was time well spent. At Rollie’s 60th birthday party I was introduced as a “painter” to poet laureates and such.
    -Cort Moore
    p.s.- to Freer and Puddah I send my best wishes!

  8. Pat (aka Pud)

    I came upon this blog by accident because I was looking up Macky McVitty. Rollie raised me along with my 3 siblings, Gini, Freer, and Vicki. It is difficult for me to write about her for in her late years she was with a woman who mistreated her and ended up taking everything from her and cut us off from Rollie. We knew Rollie as a strong person and was, in the end, conned by this woman who hurt us all. Its a tragic story and only in the end, after there was a restraining order on this person did we have communication with Rollie. By that time, Rollie, was not herself and senility had set in. She didn’t even seem to remember my mother Pat. Few of Rollie’s photos were saved and Kate took everything else. I was fortunate enough to get the family photos/movies and negatives thanks to Judith. Thanks you Judith. I am sorry that I don’t remember the person that is Cort.. perhaps I was too young. I am curious as to the fact that this blog even exists!! Thanks for whoever created it.

    • Luís Amorim de Sousa

      Permission to reprint photographaf Dame Edith Sitwelll by Rollie McKenna in a booklet designed to honour Portuguese poet Alberto de Lacerda (1928-2007) who maintained a friendshipe with Dame Edith. An inscribeb copy of Dame Edith’s Rollie McKenna photograph belongs to Alberto de Lacerda’s estate. Lacerda is being hounoured with a life and times exhibition in Lisbon later this year.A memorabilia booklet about the two poetsis being prepared

  9. Swansea Jack

    I am also looking to track down copyright holder of Rollie’s photographs.
    We have restored Dylan Thomas’ birthplace and home at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uolands, Swansea, Wales to its condition in 1914 when bought by the Thomas family as a new house a few months before Dylan was born in the front bedroom.

  10. Rommy Lopat

    Hi. I’m a historian in Lake Forest, IL. There is a gravestone in our cemetery for Bel Bacon Pope. I happened to Google her and came up with a notation in the Bibliography of Women Photographers that she was Rollie McKenna’s mother. Can anyone confirm this? What was the Lake Forest connection? Thanks.

  11. Marilyn Fontaine

    I used to clean for Rollie for many years and ironically I was sitting here thinking about her and wondering whatever happened to her. I was very surprised and saddened to go on computer and find that she had just passed away. Strange the timing. Rollie was an amazing and strong woman. Interesting and adventuresome. I was very pleased when she gave me an autographed copy of her book of photographs. I treasure it. It was sad reading the note from Pud, as I was witness to see the beginnings of that situation and it was hurtful to watch, but good to hear again of Pud, Gini, Freer, and Vicki. May Rollie now rest in peace.

  12. Cort Moore

    Your mom was tops, a really nice gal.
    I even got to Ischia and met your Dad and spent a night on his boat. Forgive me but, I have to say, I had such a crush on you!
    Rollie was royalty. I am grateful,despite some pain and suffering, to have had the honor of knowing her.

  13. Pat Nord

    Its been a long time since I’ve looked at this and I must say I was surprised by how so many people had written on it. Thanks to all of you for your comments and support. It all ended sadly with her. So funny that Cort met my dad. He was a piece of work! My Dad, not Cort. Well maybe Cort.. I don’t know. Dan Jones who lives in Watertown MA. has some of her photos, but a lot of the negs are lost thanks to Kate!! Yes, Bel Pope was Rollies mother. As far as Rollies estate we are all out of that part because of Kate. But Dan Jones may have some information. I’ll call him and write back when I can. Thanks

  14. Stephen Fitz-Gerald

    My father ,the master sculptor Clark B.Fitz-Gerald of Castine ,Maine was a lifelong friend of Rollie.I think they went to school together. Rollie was indeed wonderful. She would visit once a year for several days and just take pictures the WHOLE time. This started when I was 2 years old and continued until I was about 15. She took the best shots of me anyone ever has,as well as my father,his studio and the rest of the family.I know some of these shots were printed in Life magazine in about 1962 (I think).I was a somewhat precocious child and had no fear whatsoever of the camera. Because of this we had many solo photographic sessions and developed a wonderful bond.She gave me my first camera.My father passed in 2004 right after her.I am now carrying the artistic torch as I have also chosen metal sculpture as my life,s work.

  15. Margo Schab

    Does anyone know what happened to a Giacometti sculpture, Three Personages Outdoors, 1930, that belonged to Mrs. McKenna?
    Would be grateful to be told.
    Margo Schab

  16. Pud

    I am still at this email.. But for anyone wanting to know of where they get get prints it’s in Arizona… As far as Giacometti sculpture is concerned.. I would assume that Kate Kelly got it in the end.


  17. Susan Schoch

    I just happened onto this site because I am watching a movie about Dylan Thomas, which caused me recall fond memories of Rollie and Stonington. I used to come down from college with Gini to spend weekends with Rollie in Stonington. She introduced me to cigarillos, which I happily puffed (I don’t smoke) as I looked out over the water feeling quite the woman of the world. She was like a icon for someone who loved photography, poetry. What a treat to read everyone’s memories.

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