LIFE: Famous Figures That Shaped the 20th Century (32 photos)


More than any textbook, LIFE magazine captured the 20th Century in a way we'll never forget. Their images of iconic figures inspired us to see greatness within ourselves, and their inside look at great events throughout history made us feel closer and more connected to the world around us. Until July 9, LIFE, in conjunction with, is auctioning nearly 200 original, vintage photographs from its world-class archive. Never before has LIFE made photos such as these available to the general public via online auction. Previously they could only be purchased through art galleries. Digital reprints can always be purchased, but these photos are originals, complete with the marks and stamps of famous photographers including Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Gordon Parks, and more. “We are always evaluating new opportunities to market and celebrate our famed photo collection, and are excited to engage Lelands for their online auction experience,” says Jeff Burak, Director of Business Development for LIFE. chairman, Joshua Leland Evans, ecstatic over the project, said, “This is the photographic equivalent of opening King Tut’s Tomb. We are honored to be chosen for this project–pinching ourselves to be included in such an historic event.” Here's a small sample of the photos being auctioned off. The subject of these photos include famous celebrities, political figures, athletes, and artists. These are the iconic figures that shaped our 20th century.


Author and playwright Tennessee Williams sits at his desk with cigarette in hand and typewriter in front of him. 1956.


Artist Georgia O'Keeffe sits at her home near Santa Fe, New Mexico. 1967.


Portrait of former U. S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Circa 1940.


Winston Churchill is seated and smoking a cigar at his Chartwell estate in England. 1951.


Chinese communist leader, Mao Tse Tung poses at the peace talks held in Chungking, China. 1950.


Cuban leader Fidel Castro appears at the United Nations. 1960.


Author Ernest Hemingway poses for a portrait. 1952.


Singer Ella Fitzgerald performs at the Democratic rally held for John F. Kennedy in honor of his birthday. 1962.


Eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes sits at the controls of his 200 ton flying boat named the “Spruce Goose”. 1947.


Bare-chested artist Pablo Picasso smoking a cigarette in Vallauris, France. 1949.


Singer Elvis Presley returns home to the United States in a snow storm after Army service in Germany. 1960.


Photographer Ansel Adams sits down inside the Metropolitan Museum, New York City. 1974.


Jacqueline Kennedy opens her mail while at home in Washington, D.C. 1960.


Chess champion Bobby Fischer is deep in thought during a match. 1962.


Boxer Rocky Marciano punches while training at Grossinger's, Liberty, New York. 1952.


Willie Mays poses in his New York Giants uniform at Wrigley Field, Chicago. 1954.


Golfer Bobby Jones, Jr. talks with his son, Bobby Jones, III. 1941.


Close-up of jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong massaging his lips with balm to keep them strong. 1965.


Dancer / actress Lucille Ball goes through one of her routines for the movie “The Big Street”. 1942.


Actress Judy Garland poses behind a wooden fence. 1944.


Salvadore Dali and his wife attending a New Year's Eve party at Gilbert Miller's residence. 1954.


Actor Clark Gable poses at his home. 1946.


Marlon Brando kneels before Kim Hunter in a touching scene from the Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' “A Streetcar Named Desire”. 1947.


Blind musician Ray Charles using a special board to play chess. 1966.


Portrait of playwright Arthur Miller seated in his study. Circa 1980.


Author Ayn Rand chats with admirers at the National Book Awards ceremony. Circa 1958.


Portrait of boxer Muhammad Ali taken while training for his fight against Joe Frazier. 1971.


Joe DiMaggio throwing. 1939.


Chubby Checker performs his hit song “The Twist” while dancing with a woman from the audience at the Crescendo nightclub in LosAngeles, California. 1961.


Close-up portrait of Marilyn Monroe giving a very big smile. 1953.


Packer's head coach, Vince Lombardi sits behind his desk in his office. 1969.


Dr. King stands behind a podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.

Photos can be viewed online at until the auction closing date of July 9. Which one is your favorite? If you like what you see here, check out theMET's sister site, My Modern Mix!

Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.
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