The Digital Journalist

Photograph by William Claxton


Claxton Interview: Meeting Peggy Moffitt

I knocked on the front door of an upstairs Spanish duplex in what is now West Hollywood. The door opened suddenly and a beautiful black-haired, pale-faced girl stood there. "You must be William Claxton. I love your photographs," she said as she rushed by me. That's how I met the young actress, Peggy Moffitt. "What a great young lady, and she actually likes my work!" I thought. "That's not bad for starts."

She quickly returned to our mutual friend's apartment. He was actor Tom Pittman. I had asked him to be in a photo story that I was shooting about a young Los Angeles couple going around to popular coffee houses and hip clubs. Peggy, Tom, and I went about town while I shot them in various locations. The three of us had so much fun together that we were actually better than "Jules and Jim." What was to be a one-day shoot went on for the entire weekend.

Peggy and I instantly hit it off. After a few weeks of seeing each other, we grew closer and closer. We shared many passions. Peggy was extremely bright, funny, and sophisticated beyond her twenty years. I had never met anyone quite like her. I was falling in love but didn't really know it.

Peggy had great style not only in the way she dressed, but in everything she did. The simple things became small productions. She had that knack. For instance, late one night after the theater, I mentioned that I was hungry, what should we do? Peggy replied, "Really? We can take care of that right now." In her chic black '55 Thunderbird, she drove us onto the lush gardens of the Los Angeles County Museum, whereupon she produced a chilled bottle of vintage champagne and a hearty supply of paté de fois gras and French bread. The moon was full that night. We turned on the car radio and danced around the garden in the moonlight.

Peggy learned very early how to make me laugh. One time were were driving down Wilshire Boulevard, and she began imitating a Hawaiian steel guitar accompanying a dreadful singer on the radio. She had me laughing so hard that I nearly wet my pants and had to pull the car over to recover. Her wit plus her charm really turned me on.

Like a cloud over our heads, however, an unfortunate situation began to develop. Tom was feeling like the "third wheel," not an unusual problem when three people become close. Tom had always been unhappy about his work and about himself. His career and his life in general, in his eyes, became at times unbearable.

He broke off with us at a big Halloween party. Late at night, and after drinking too much, he said sarcastically, "Why the hell don't you two get married?" He jumped into his specially built Porsche and roared off, disappearing into the night, never to return.

The police did not find the demolished Porsche with his body in it for nineteen days. We, of course, were devastated by the tragedy, but it also brought us closer together. I proposed to Peggy in February of 1959, and we were married in June in New York City.

Peggy had appeared in thirteen movies while she was very young, as a teenager, but she was not happy with the business end of the acting world. I suggested that she get into fashion modeling; she did, and became one of the most original fashion models in the world.

Her work with avant-garde designer Rudi Gernreich, coupled with the photographs we did together, produced some of the best fashion images of all time. This was especially true of the famous topless swimsuit photo that we made in 1964.

I think that the formula, the chemistry that has kept us together these forty-one years comes from a mixture of love and respect for one another. Peggy's enthusiasm and insight into my work has made us great collaborators. I know for a fact that she is the best friend I shall ever have.

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