‘The Jump Artist’ and Marilyn

Marilyn jumps with Philippe Halsman

The Jump Artist, Austin Ratner’s prize-winning novel, is based on the early life of photographer Philippe Halsman, a Latvian Jew who was accused of killing his father while still a teenager, during a holiday in the Austrian Alps in 1928.

The ensuing trial led to allegations that the prosecution’s case was anti-Semitic. Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann were among the many protestors against Halsman’s sentence, and he was released in 1931.

The final chapter includes an account of his ‘Jump’ photo session with Marilyn in 1959, which made the cover of Life magazine. Here is a short extract:

“When the movie star did finally arrive, she was very nervous about the idea of jumping and had to be talked into it again. ‘You told me last time that a picture of a jump reveals the soul,’ she said, peeking out from behind the fake Byobu screen. She tossed her white socks out onto the chair.

‘I know your soul already,’ Philippe said. ‘It is as beautiful as all your exterior assets.’

When Marilyn emerged barefoot in the black evening gown and saw Yvonne there holding a floodlamp, she froze.

‘This is my wife, Yvonne,’ Philippe said.

Yvonne put the lamp down and walked to her, touched her arm. Marilyn stiffened.

‘We saw Some Like it Hot, dear,’ Yvonne said. ‘You were so funny!’

Marilyn looked surprised and somewhat relieved. But as Yvonne said. But as Yvonne crossed the studio again to retrieve the lamp, Marilyn watched carefully, as though any female, even a kind one, could at any moment circle back and bite her.

Philippe examined her face. The makeup was perhaps a bit harsh. ‘I won’t make you redo it this time,’ he said. He checked the Weston light meter, picked up the Rolleiflex, and took a few shots. Then he told Marilyn to jump.

The shoot proceeded at its usual frenetic pace. Yvonne literally ran, jumping over cables, when another Rolleiflex or extra lamp was needed. Photographs actually were precious moments in time, and moments in time could never be recovered. Philippe and Yvonne ran around like people trying to catch gold falling from the sky.


Marilyn jumped like a little girl, with her legs tucked up underneath her.

‘Did you really like the movie?’

‘Yes, Marilyn. Everyone did.'”

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