Shirlie Alice Montgomery • June 9, 1918 – Nov 5, 2012

Shirlie always had her camera handy.
Shirlie Alice Montgomery was born on Chapman Street in San Jose on June 9, 1918. She was an only child. To her friends and neighbors she was a treasure trove of history. Shirlie remembered it all. She remembered the Great Depression as a child, the Second World War as a young woman, and eventually the transformation of the Santa Clara Valley from a moderately sized agricultural town to the hustle and bustle of modern Silicon Valley. The majority of her memories were supported by the thousands of photographs in her collection.
Young Shirlie Montgomery

Shirlie a few years ago from an article in the Rose Garden Resident.

She was the grandniece of San Jose’s forefather T.S. Montgomery. Shirlie lived a colorful life but professionally she photographed it with a 4X5 Speed Graphic in B&W. She was a celebrated photographer that shot Hollywood stars, U.S. Presidents and pro wrestlers. Although Shirlie did work for the S. F. Examiner and the San Jose Mercury her works remain some of the best representations of pro wrestling from the 40’s thru the 60’s. When asked about her penchant for shooting professional wrestlers she would answer “I always liked the big boys”. Such stories Shirlie had! She passed away quietly on November 5, 2012. She will never be forgotten. God rest her soul.

Obituary written by Shirlie's good friend and neighbor Joe Holt

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shirlie's Beginnings as a Photographer

Shirlie’s unique future in photography started as a hobby.  She had always been interested in photography and she attended San Jose State she enrolled in photography classes.  When she had the opportunity to work at a camera shop on First Street she jumped at the chance.   Her father, Rea Montgomery, had built her a darkroom in their home so Shirlie could perfect her hobby at a more leisurely pace than at school.  She suspected her future would involve photography.  All she needed was a chance.
Shirlie with her trusty Speed Graphic 4x5 Camera
In the late 1930’s it was common for certain night clubs to have a young lady photographer roaming among the guests, taking pictures of couples or parties.  For a dollar the subjects could have a copy of the photo in half and hour, which was very fast in those days.  The De Anza Hotel was one of the establishments which had such a photographer.  The manager of the De Anza Hotel came into Shirlie’s place of employment and eventually asked her if she could help out with the developing phase of the process, giving the photographer more time to solicit photos.  Shirlie enthusiastically agreed.
The De Anza Hotel had an upstairs bathroom converted into a darkroom. The photographer would give Shirlie the undeveloped negative of a photo she had taken just moments before. Shirlie would develop it, then make a print from the wet copy in order to save valuable time.  Shirlie was paid for her services, but she can’t remember the amount.  It was not much.
Hotel deAnza circa 1930s
The camera girl decided one day to quit (the story, according to Shirlie, was that she eloped with her boyfriend and moved to San Francisco).  The hotel manager immediately asked Shirlie if she would take over as the roaming photographer.  Shirlie was horrified that her mother would find out that she would be working in a bar.  At first she refused, but she eventually came to terms with the fact that the lounge at the De Anza was not a saloon, it was a rather sophisticated environment, and it would not conflict with her job at the camera store.  The patrons of the De Anza lounge turned out to be a polite, relatively urbane, cross section of San Jose.  Her reputation was safe, at least as far as her mother was concerned.

Shortly thereafter, on New Years Eve, Shirlie learned how lucrative photography could be.  She earned $64 in that one evening of work, from eight to twelve.  In 1939 that was an impressive wage for one day.  The following day Shirlie quit her job at the camera store, and her career as a successful professional photographer was launched.

Then came the Second World War.  San Jose, as the other cities on the West Coast, changed almost overnight.  Servicemen were going to or coming from the various bases in the Pacific theater of war, and San Jose was one of the hundreds of cities that welcomed them, adopted them, and it became their second home during their brief stays in the Bay Area. The De Anza hotel, one of the finest establishments in San Jose, became a mecca for these servicemen yearning for entertainment and to be in the company of a young, attractive woman such as Shirlie.  Shirlie was a confident, self sufficient, professional woman of twenty-three.  She was a rare woman indeed in those days of early marriage and expected domesticity.  The servicemen adored Shirlie and she adored them.  They were very respectful, obviously protective of her reputation.
This photo was taken at a large party for the crew of the USS Castor. Obviously the war had it's high points as far as Shirlie was concerned.
 Contributed by Joe Holt with additions by Bob Bortfeld

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