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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Shirlie Montgomery Exhibit at History San Jose

Shirlie Montgomery: Picturing San José Since 1938

History San Jose opened the Shirlie Montgomery exhibit in April of this year, based heavily on the donation Susan and I gave to them after Shirlie passed away in November of 2012. Shirlie was a remarkable lady and the exhibit is a testament to her talent and fame. If you have not seen this glimpse into her life and photography, please do ... you will not be disappointed. The exhibit runs through December 14th at the Pasetta House in History Park, 635 Phelan Ave. at the corner of Senter Ave. in San Jose. For hours, directions, etc. visit the History San Jose site.

I recently spent some time with Ken Middlebrook, Collections Manager for HSJ, and photographed some of the exhibit. It concentrates on Shirlie's professional career, although some early photos of her are included.

History Park Main Street

History Park Main Street

The Pasetta House

Exhibit Poster

The Beginning of Shirlie's Career

I was the only blond in the neighborhood and stuck out, so every time the Queen of the Fairies was being cast, guess who got elected? I've never been able to escape the spotlight.

Tools of the Trade, straight from Shirlie's "darkroom" and the diaries she kept for all of her adult life.

You meet  so many people as a photographer. How else could a poor girl meet celebrities like Eleanor roosevelt and Liberace? As a photographer, you're in all kinds of worlds, worlds you would never otherwise enter.

The Hotel De Anza, where Shirlie got her start as a photographer taking photographs in the dining room ... developing the images ... then selling them back to the guests.

Lou's Village ... one of Shirlie's favorite hangouts.

Richard Nixon and other Friends

One of the several exhibition rooms at the Leonard and David McKay Gallery in the Pasetta House. Leonard was a long time friend of Shirlie's.

The Streets of San Jose ... Shirlie was not the type of photographer that would spend all of her time in the studio ... she loved getting out and photographing real life scenes.

Holiday cards from Shirlie were DIY before DIY was a fad. Great stuff here!

Shirlie ran a business ... and she had the letterhead to prove it.

A scattering of correspondence and a day-in-the-life of a professional photographer.

Much has been said in the bloggersphere and on the web about Shirlie's wrestling photography ... she was inducted into the Slammers Wrestling Hall of Fame

Her photography ... and love of wrestling and wrestlers ... even made it into magazines and movies!

This gallery is just a part of her wrestling legacy. When the big boys start bouncing over the ropes, it's every an for himself, and that goes for girl photographers as well.

Shirlie entered some of her wrestling photos into a competition ... and took first place!

At Hotel De Anza, many of the guests she photographed were servicemen. They always held a special place in her heart. Many of these military men, after meeting her just that once, wrote her letters from the war. She sent them cookies!

Tuesday - December 9, 1941. To think that the first record I make for months is to record the shocking, incredible fact that we are at war!

"Flash" was my first nickname! I worked in the San Jose Camera Shop during the daytime, and took nite-club photos at the De Anza Hotel at night. And "Flash" was what the service-men called me. Those were the best days my friend ...

A few more entries into photography competition, including a glamorous studio shot, some horse racing at the fairgrounds and car in flames on a San Jose street.

This is Shirlie being Shirlie!

The Exhibit at History San Jose's Leonard and David McKay Gallery in the Pasetta House.

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