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Though the subjects in front of his lens are some of the most famous people who ever lived, LIFE photographer Henri Dauman managed to create some of the most iconic images of the 20th century without ever becoming a household name. Photographing everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis Presley to Jacqueline Kennedy on the day of her husband’s funeral in 1963, Dauman filled the pages of LIFE, Newsweek and the New York Times, among other publications, with photos that play like a slideshow of some of the biggest moments in American history and popular culture.
A forthcoming documentary aims to give Dauman his due by putting him and his life story on the other side of the lens. Henri Dauman: Looking Up, which is currently in the fundraising phase, will shed light not only on the photographer’s career as a self-taught photojournalist inspired by a love of cinema, but also on the odds he beat just to arrive at the beginning of that career: escaping the Holocaust, becoming orphaned at age 13 and finally making his way from France to the U.S. to begin anew.
Dauman’s portraits of celebrities, a selection of which are featured here, reflect the work of an artist who sought not merely to capture the likenesses of, but to understand the actors, artists and entertainers who posed for him. Playing with light, shadow and reflection, his particular brand of magic existed in summoning the essence of people whose work was known to many, but whose true selves were known to few.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.