It was a well-known fact that when many Santa Barbara couples became engaged, one of the first things they did before setting their wedding date was call Hal Boucher to make sure his schedule was clear to photograph the memorable occasion.
And even though he spent most of his time taking pictures of some of the most famous people in the world as official photographer for the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara for more than 70 years, he was always available to photograph thousands of weddings, family reunions, debutante balls, fundraisers and other special events.
“I have loved every minute of it. I love photography. I love taking pictures of people, especially families,” said Mr. Boucher (BOO-shay) in a News-Press article that appeared Aug. 17, 2016, several weeks after his 90th birthday.
Although he slowed down a bit, Mr. Boucher, who was born Aug. 4, 1926, died Jan. 15 at the age of 93, never really retired. According to his family, his last job was the employee Christmas party at The Biltmore in December.
His passion for photography began when he was 8 or 9 years old growing up in Flint, Mich., and a family friend owned a drugstore, where people brought their films to be developed.
“On weekends, I would help with the films, and when I was 12 years old, I started working for a professional photographer,” said Mr. Boucher in a lengthy profile about him in the News-Press on Dec. 15, 2008.
By his second year at Beecher High School in Flint, he was working for two daily newspapers, covering train wrecks, fires and car crashes. He never graduated from high school because he was drafted for World War II.
After his discharge in 1945 in Los Angeles, the prospect of going back to Flint was not appealing.
“It was the middle of winter, so I stayed in L.A. and enrolled in the Fred Archer School of Photography,” said Mr. Boucher, who came to Santa Barbara a year later.
“I had never been to Santa Barbara, but my roommate, a fellow photographer who was quite the ladies man, suggested we move here and take pictures of beautiful women on the beach. I thought it sounded like a great idea,” he recalled in the article.
On the day they arrived, Mr. Boucher enrolled at the Brooks Institute of Photography, where he met Ray Borges, a night photographer for the Santa Barbara News-Press.
When Mr. Borges was promoted to the day shift, he suggested that Mr. Boucher apply for the night job. Not only did the newspaper work lead to his long-term career with The Biltmore Hotel, as it was known then, it also led to his longtime marriage to Louise Boucher, who worked part time in the gift shop at the hotel.
The couple, who had four children and six grandchildren, were married for 61 years before her death in 2013.
Most of his time at the News-Press was spent accompanying the plump society columnist, Litti Paulding, who was right out of Central Casting.
“We spent 75% of our time covering events at the country clubs and the Coral Casino. If you wanted to be on the society page, you took good care of Litti. She ate well and drank well,” recalled Mr. Boucher.
After the parties, they would return to the newsroom, where he would develop photos in the darkroom while the elderly Miss Paulding, with pencils sticking out of her distinctive topknot, would write her column on a typewriter that was barely visible, as was she, on a desk piled high with papers and other paraphernalia.
“We often worked until 2 or 3 a.m., and afterward, I would escort Litti to her upstairs apartment on De la Guerra Plaza across from City Hall. On the nights I didn’t work, she would call the Police Department to have someone take her home. It (the department) was where City Hall is now,” said Mr. Boucher.
When the pressure of working 100 hours a week at both jobs became too much, he left the News-Press to become a full-time photographer at The Biltmore, where he photographed numerous famous guests and remembered vivid vignettes about many of them as he looked through a stack of the photographs in a box:
“Edgard Bergen and his wife came with their daughter, Candice, when she was 16 years old. Candice was one of the most beautiful teenagers I have ever seen.
“Mrs. Douglas MacArthur was sitting with her son. I felt sorry for him. Can you imagine the pressure of being the son of Gen. Douglas MacArthur?
“Aldous Huxley stayed at the hotel while participating in a seminar at The Center for Democratic Institutions. I remember him twisting a brown paper bag in his hands — twisting, twisting, twisting.
“The picture of President Ronald Reagan was taken on one of the hottest days of the year outside the Coral Casino. He was talking with the Washington press corps for about two hours, always smiling. He worked really hard to please the public.”
Mr. Boucher also photographed a grumpy-looking Yehudi Menuhin walking behind Jascha Heifetz near the casino pool.
“The two famous violinists were to perform at some event at the Coral Casino, and Mr. Menuhin came several days early. He was not happy with the acoustics and threatened to go home. Someone persuaded him to stay.”
One of the more unusual weddings he photographed was that of the legendary supermodel and actress Suzy Parker and actor Brad Dillman, longtime Montecito residents.
“Actually, it was their second wedding. Their first was on a boat on the high seas by the captain of the ship. When they combined children from former marriages and had several of their own, they thought maybe the marriage wasn’t legal, so they decided to have another wedding.
“Joe’s Cafe on State Street was a favorite restaurant, where they frequently ate in the back booth on Saturday nights. That’s where they decided to have the ceremony, and I took the pictures while standing with one foot on the bar and the other on the cash register.”
Another memorable wedding was that of Rock Hudson to his agent’s secretary, Phyllis Gates, in a ceremony at a Biltmore cottage in 1955.
“It was all very secretive. I was told by the hotel’s resident manager to be at Cottage 5 at 6:05 p.m. to photograph one of the guests. When I got there, the door was closed, and everything was quiet inside. Finally, I knocked, and someone came to the door and let me in. I could see a wedding ceremony had been held in front of the fireplace,” said Mr. Boucher.
“The bridegroom was introduced to me as Roy Fitzgerald, which meant nothing to me until someone called him Rock. Then, I knew who it was. The wedding was an attempt to keep the star’s homosexuality a secret. The month before, his picture was on the cover of Life magazine as the country’s most handsome bachelor.”
Immediately after the ceremony, Mr. Boucher was amused to hear the bridegroom call Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, both reigning gossip columnists in Hollywood, to give them the scoop.
“He told each the same thing — ‘I wanted you to be the first to know that I just got married.’”
Surviving Mr. Boucher are his children, Catherine, Carrie, Thomas and Jonathan; and six grandchildren, Kate, Ciceley, Lauren, William, Carrie and Jesse.
A gathering of family and friends is planned at 3 p.m. Feb. 17.