Winston Churchill: How the Bulldog Got His Scowl

Digitally restored vector portrait of Sir Winston Churchill.

The iconic photograph of Winston Churchill, with his famous bulldog scowl, appeared on the cover of “Life Magazine” in 1945, toward the end of World War II.  When newsman Edward R. Murrow saw it, he remarked, “Ah, there is the face which marshalled the English language and sent it to battle when we had little else.” The photo was taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1941.

All through the war, starting when England faced the enemy alone, Churchill roused and encouraged his people with his words.  His most famous phrase was “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” The words were first spoken at Churchill’s first cabinet meeting as Prime Minister on May 13, 1940. He repeated them in the House of Commons the same day, and soon his words of defiance and courage went out over the airwaves to every British home and workplace.  The stirring words were, in part, “We have before us many, many months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say:  It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny…You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word:  victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.” The words, even on the page decades later, cause goosebumps. Victory looked very unlikely when the words were spoken.

How did Mr. Karsh, one of the greatest portrait photographers of all time, capture this iconic image?  He was sent to photograph the great man on a visit to Canada in 1941, before Pearl Harbor and before the United States became fully committed to the fight.  Churchill had just addressed the Canadian Parliament.  He was weary. He told the photographer he had exactly two minutes.  Then Churchill began chomping on a cigar. The photographer politely held out an ashtray. Churchill continued chomping. So Mr. Karsh walked up, begged Churchill’s pardon,  and pulled the cigar out of the Prime Minister’s mouth.  (Where did he get the nerve?)  By the time the photographer got back to his camera, the bulldog scowl was there.  And amazingly, Mr. Churchill softened.  He allowed more photographs, but the one that had taken him by surprise became his most famous image.

The photo is from the article cited below.

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