Dennis Stock Exhibit in New York

A retrospective exhibition for photographer Dennis Stock, who died in 2010, is now at New York’s Milk Gallery until April 17th. This image shows Marilyn, in costume for There’s No Business Like Show Business, watching Marlon Brando filming Desiree in 1954.

Stock also shot the iconic ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ photo of James Dean. His pictures of Marilyn are featured in the 2012 book, Marilyn By Magnum.

Phil Ramone 1934-2013

Marilyn rehearses at Madison Square Garden, 1962

Legendary music producer Phil Ramone, who arranged Marilyn’s iconic performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’, died in New York on March 31st, aged 79.

Here is an excerpt from an interview he gave to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2010:

Q. You were the mastermind behind Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” moment for President Kennedy. What was that like?

A. An armory had been transformed into a massive theater for the president’s birthday celebration and I was handed the terrifying job of doing something with Marilyn Monroe’s appearance, which turned out to be the most fun I’d ever had. She was so sweet. She looked sensational. And I looked like a deer in headlights. She comes out and sings that song like it’s never been sung before or since, and all we have is some crummy 16mm film footage of it.

Q. So did you get to kiss Marilyn Monroe that night?

A. She gave me a big kiss on the cheek as she said thank you.”

‘Marilyn: My Secret’ in L.A.

Kelly Mullis in Marilyn: My Secret

Marilyn: My Secret is a new play, opening at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood and running until April 21st.

The drama focuses on Marilyn’s rumoured sexual escapades (mostly unproven.) James Spada, author of the 1982 book, Monroe: Her Life in Pictures, has reviewed Marilyn: My Secret for Broadway World.

“The play, co-written by its producer/director Odalys Nanin and Willard Manus, is a short (eighty minutes) and mostly enjoyable two acts that take place in Marilyn’s Brentwood home after her death in 1962. (We’re seeing Marilyn reminisce in heaven, apparently.) The writers have done their research about Monroe, but several times they succumb to the understandable temptation to run with the most sensationalistic assertions about the woman – twenty abortions, a baby at 14, a long and meaningful lesbian relationship with a drama coach, flings with Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, and the most celebrated stripper of the late forties, Lili St. Cyr, who teaches Marilyn how to be sexy. None of these rumors has come close to being proved…

[Kelly Mullis] gives us a multi-layered sexy symbol, conveying Marilyn’s highs and lows, her sweetness and her guile, with equal sympathy. She sings a number of Marilyn’s songs, using her own voice, and it’s close enough…

This is a multi-media show, with the stage backdrop being a screen that frequently shows us clips and photos of the real Marilyn, as well as one Photoshopped image of Marilyn with JFK, something else that will displease some.”

Bert Stern’s Last Sitting: An Ever-Changing Story

Bert Stern and Marilyn Monroe fooling around on a photo shoot

In Bert Stern: Original Madman, Shannah Laumeister’s 2011 documentary about the photographer, Stern discusses his infamous ‘last sitting’ with Marilyn. He spoke to Time magazine recently, and you can watch a clip from the film at Nowness.

“After I set up the studio [at the Bel-Air] the front desk rang ‘Miss Monroe is here’ I decided to go down and meet her. I met her [for the first time] on the pathway to the suite. She was alone wearing a scarf and green slacks and a sweater. She had no make up on. I said ‘You’re beautiful,’ and she said, ‘What a nice thing to say.’

[In the suite] she looked at what was there and asked about makeup. I said I didn’t think we needed any makeup, but how about a little eyeliner? She picked up one of the scarves, which was chiffon, you could see through it. She looked [at it] and said, ‘Do you want to do nudes?’ So it was her idea.”

However, in his 1982 book, The Last Sitting, Stern detailed a more complex version of events:

“She lowered the scarf, looked at me and said, ‘You want to do nudes?’

She’d seen right through it.

‘Uh, well I – I guess so!’ Who, me? ‘It’d probably be a nice idea, wouldn’t it? But it wouldn’t be exactly nude. You’d have the scarf.’

‘Well, how much would you see through it?’

‘That depends on how I light it,’ I said.

‘What do you mean?’ she said. And then, ‘Just a second. George?’

George Masters [hairdresser] came in. She said, ‘George, what do you think about these scarves and doing nudes?’

I held my breath.

‘Oh…what a divine idea!’ said George.

Thank God. If he had said, ‘Oh, no, how gauche,’ the whole thing would have been off in a second. Gone.

She was that vulnerable.”

As the shoot began, Marilyn made it clear exactly how much she wanted to reveal:

“Marilyn walked onto the set in her bare feet, a glass of champagne in one hand and an orange striped scarf tied around her bare bosom. She still had her green slacks on.

‘I’m not going to take off my pants,’ she declared.

‘Just roll them down, then,’ I said.”

It was not until late in the evening that Marilyn finally stripped:

“It was late, close to dawn, when I finally got all her clothes off…’You know, for this one you’ve really got to take your pants off,’ I said.

I expected her to call for George, who by now was falling asleep in the other room. But she just said, ‘Okay.’ We’d already gone so far in the pictures; what was there to be shy about? She stepped into the archway between the rooms and, holding the scarf around her like a towel, wriggled out of her slacks. And then she walked back out onto the white paper.

I started to shoot. This was the way I’d wanted her all along. Her beautiful body shone through the harlequin scarf in a tantalising, abstract hide-and-seek.

Until she dropped it. And I shot it. Just for myself.

One glimpse, one stolen frame.

We were finished.”

The same text has been used in all subsequent editions of the book. While I don’t believe that Marilyn was duped into posing naked, it was something that came about gradually (and with a lot of coaxing from Bert.)

Marilyn later vetoed many of Stern’s photos, though after she died, he published them anyway.

By the way, in the final shot that Stern mentioned, Marilyn looks distressed – as if dropping the scarf was an accident, not something designed to titillate. Judge for yourself here.

Marilyn: Beauty Icon

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

Novelist Mhairi McFarlane has written about Marilyn’s enduring charm on the website of Guardian beauty expert Sali Hughes.

“The familiar image is the baby-doll pretty ’50s starlet with Milkybar hair, peachy cheeks and blood-red lips, but the Marilyn I love is in the informal, candid, soulful photographs by Eve Arnold or George Barris. Larking in a men’s cardi and bathing suits on holiday, or charcoal-eyed with bed hair, smoking a cigarette over a Manhattan balcony.”

You can read Mhairi’s tribute in full here.