Mark Sennet's big break as a photographer came by accident.
Sennet was covering the Italian-American Civil Rights League rally in June 1971 in New York City when crime family boss Joe Colombo was shot and seriously injured. The man who shot Colombo was posing as a journalist. He and Sennet had a brief, bone-chilling interaction.
“This guy opens a briefcase by the fountain at Columbus Circle and he pulls out his gun and walks over and shoots Colombo in front of me,” Sennet recalled. “I hit the deck...I didn't know what to do. I instinctively thought 'I better take a picture.'”
Sennet got the shot for the Associated Press.
That photo landed him work at the London Daily Express, People, where he had more than 100 covers, and a gig at Time-Life for 25 years. He covered the White House during Watergate, where he became friendly with then Vice President Gerald Ford, to Ronald Reagan's campaigns in 1976 and 1980.
His photography from around 1979 to 1989, which has never been exhibited before now, is currently on exhibit at ArcLight Beach Cities in El Segundo. The exhibit of 10 photos shows portraits of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney, Robin Williams, Muhammad Ali, as well as some of his movie sets “Star Wars” and “E.T.”
“You always want to try to capture the essence because if you're a really good photographer... you are not afraid of anything,” Sennet said.
Sennet said he became interested in the entertainment world because of his cousin Stanley Donen, who directed the classic films “On the Town” and “Singin' in the Rain.”
As a teen, during the Vietnam era, Sennet said he had no idea what he wanted to do, so he made a list and his finger landed on photography.
He took college classes and did freelance work including weddings and Bar Mitzvah's to pay bills. His career took off with the Colombo shooting.
Sennet built many relationships within the entertainment industry during his years as a photographer, including Robin Williams, John Wayne's family and Steven Spielberg. In 1982, he formed Sennet Entertainment, which produces television and feature films.
Sennet's photography is expected to be on display until May 7.
ArcLight Beach Cities is located at 831 S. Nash St. in El Segundo.
For more information, visit sennetphotography.com, or @MarkSennetPhoto.