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Picture fit for a Queen

Queen Elizabeth praises Tigard photographer for shot on coronation day, 1953


In 1953, when John Livingstone revisited an old pub in Swanage, England, that he frequented while a U.S. soldier in World War II, his camera was drawn to two striking gentleman.Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: JOHN LIVINGSTONE - 'Coronation Breakfast,' a picture John Livingstone took of two men watching Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth IIs coronation in June 1953, brought him royal recognition this past spring with a complimentary letter directly from Buckingham Palace.

One man, gazing downward with his left hand raised near his mouth, appears lost in thought. An older-looking man sitting next to him — sporting a white handlebar mustache and flat-top driver’s cap — is staring intently at something straight ahead: the pub radio broadcasting the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

“I went on leave (from the U.S. Army) to visit England, where I’d been stationed in World War II,” Livingstone recalled. “I went into my old favorite pub that I frequented back in 1943. There were these two elderly men listening to the broadcast coronation. They looked so proud and intense about what they were listening to.”

Livingstone liked the iconic-looking shot he called “Coronation Breakfast” so much, he entered it into an international competition. The work earned first prize and a display in the Smithsonian Institution and at The Pentagon in 1954. For decades, Livingstone, — who eventually settled in Beaverton, then Tigard — assumed that was the most glory his shot would ever see.

In May, however, the longtime freelance photographer took it upon himself to share his work with Queen Elizabeth II herself. Writing a letter on May 27, just shy of the 61st anniversary of her coronation, Livingstone enclosed the photograph of, he wrote, “two of your subjects” along with a brief letter.

On June 11, he was plenty surprised with a response from The Hon. Mary Morrison, one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting.

“The Queen was interested to learn of your wartime service spent in Swanage and that you revisited the town at the time of Her Majesty’s Coronation,” read the letter, stamped with a Buckingham Palace logo at the top. “Your thoughtfulness in sending a copy of the splendid photograph you took on that historic day is greatly appreciated.”

Morrison went on to say the Queen was “deeply moved” by “the affection” shown to her during her long reign, and furthermore was “touched” by the sentiments Livingstone expressed. The image, she explained, would be placed in the Royal Photographic Collection.

Thrilled by the prompt and heartfelt reply, Livingstone, now 88, responded in kind.

Enclosing a mini-portfolio of his work to show his appreciation, he wrote to Morrison that he was “delighted and honored” by Her Majesty’s “most gracious response” to “Coronation Breakfast.”

“My 60 years behind the lens has been capped by this most singular honor,” he wrote.

Reflecting on his recent honor in the Tigard apartment he shares with his wife, Nancy, Livingstone admitted being moved by the Queen’s and Morrison’s response.

“I would’ve expected maybe her secretary would write a businesslike letter thanking me,” he confessed. “But it was much more than that. She showed a lot of warmth and gratitude.”

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Retired photographer John Livingstone stands in his Tigard living room, whose walls serve as a testament to his keen camera eye on shots of celebrities such as actors Kim Novak and Clint Eastwood.

Connecting with the stars

The recognition was a latter-day highlight in a distinguished military as well as photographic career that put Livingstone in contact with a number of singers, actors and other celebrities during the couple’s long residence in Carmel, Calif. The Livingstones lived there from 1951 until they relocated to Beaverton in 2006.

While residing in the resort town between Santa Cruz and Big Sur, Livingstone photographed — and in many cases befriended — icons such as cinematic giant (and former Carmel Mayor) Clint Eastwood, actors Boris Karloff and Tom Selleck, singer Bing Crosby and children’s entertainment mogul Walt Disney.

“Living in Carmel, of course it was a natural place people in the arts were attracted to,” he said. “A lot of them came there and decided to settle down and live there.”

Those faces are among the striking portraits that decorate the walls of John and Nancy’s memorabilia-filled living room.

“Those are some of my favorites,” he said. “I don’t have enough room for all of them.”

While not all his subjects cared for Livingtone’s portrayal of them, most — including 1950s and ’60s silver-screen sexpot Kim Novak — were impressed and expressed their gratitude.

“They were all (cordial) except one or two,” he said. “With Joan Fontaine, I made a mistake of getting a low angle of her, a closeup. She cussed me out and said I was not to take a picture of her nostrils. Most were very cordial, as was Kim Novak.”

Now living n Sam’s Valley, Ore., Novak is one he kept in touch with.

“I got a Facebook message from her this morning,” Livingstone said, noting she “survived a very serious bout of cancer.”

Reflecting on images

Through the years, Livingstone covered car shows, jazz and rock festivals, golf tournaments and had photographs published on the cover of National Enquirer. It took persistence, but living in paradise gradually paid off for him.

“With most of my photographs, the first four or five years were very tough, until I got known,” he said. “It took awhile, but being in Carmel around those delightful surroundings — it was always inspiring to be a photographer around there.”

Now happily retired in a poolside apartment, Livingstone, who served on Beaverton’s Senior Citizens Advisory Committee from 2007 to 2009, is content to archive his life’s work and tend to his six daughters, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

While he’s not exactly sure why he didn’t reach out to Queen Elizabeth earlier, all that matters to him is that Her Majesty was moved by his work.

“I’m a great putter-offer,” Livingstone quipped. “I’m an honorary member of the Great Procrastinator’s Club. But I’m glad I got around to it — 61 years later.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Retired photographer John Livingstone reads a letter in his Tigard living room from one of Queen Elizabeth IIs ladies in waiting. She thanked him for his striking photo of two men watching the queens coronation in England in spring 1953.



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