In the iconic image, her white skirt swirls up like a matador’s cape as she fights — reluctantly, it seems — to wrestle it back down. The photograph of Marilyn Monroe, taken at 51st Street and Lexington Avenue in New York as promotion for The Seven Year Itch, is one of the most reproduced shots of the 20th century — and then some. Yet Sam Shaw, the protean photographer, pioneering independent movie producer and all-around bon vivant who shot that and thousands of other indelible photos of postwar Hollywood legends, is so scarcely known he doesn’t rate a Wikipedia entry.
Shaw shared an almost-telepathic bond with Monroe, in whom he recognized a fellow seeker of love, adventure and knowledge. He met her on the set of Kazan’s ¡Viva Zapata! — a struggling extra — along with Anthony Quinn, and became lifelong friends of both. Shaw photographed Monroe throughout her career and became a confidant during the upheaval of her celebrity, marriages, divorces and alienation from the studios. Shaw encouraged the actress to shed the layers of makeup she wore like so much armor, reassuring her that without it she was still one of the world’s most beautiful women. “She really looked at Sam as part of her family — he was the kind of person who was always there, like an Italian mother, with a pot of coffee brewing,” Karnath says.
“The Proposal #1,” Marilyn Monroe | Central Park, New York, 1957
While walking together through Central Park, Sam asked Marilyn what she was learning at the Actors Studio. When she responded, “Improvisation,” he asked her to show him. Marilyn grabbed Sam’s newspaper and headed to a bench to read. Later she explained the couple’s intense conversation. Next to her, the man was asking for the woman to marry him. She said she would, but on the condition that he give up his livelihood as a bookie.
A new book, ‘Sam Shaw: A Personal Point of View’ (published by Hatje Cantz) — which Shaw, who died in 1999, began 20 years ago — presents the first comprehensive retrospective of his Hollywood photographs.
From an illustrated profile of photographer Sam Shaw, published this week in Hollywood Reporter
And an endorsement from Liz Smith, no less…
OH, and here are the best photographs in the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter — several pages of vintage shots taken by the late lensman Sam Shaw. These include a shirtless, sexy Marlon Brando playing pool … the elfin Audrey Hepburn in Paris, circa 1957 … ravishing portraits of Gena Rowlands and Lee Remick … Lauren Bacall hugging Swifty Lazar’s bald pate … and Marilyn Monroe — who was Shaw’s good friend — perched on a Central Park bench, wearing a simple white summer dress, reading the New York Times. Sitting near MM is a young New York couple. They do their best to avoid looking at the goddess.