Remembering Lee Radziwill, and Marilyn

Lee Radziwill, the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, died last week aged 85. A socialite and interior decorator, she began a project in 1972 about her family, the Bouviers, which while shelved laid the groundwork for an award-winning documentary, Grey Gardens. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar before her death, Lee mentioned Bert Stern, and Marilyn.

“Which photograph best captures who you are?

The pictures Bert Stern took of me are sensational—he was the best for me, and for Marilyn Monroe.

Why?

For their sense of laughter and freedom.”

Dior’s Marilyn at Proud Central

Bert Stern’s famous portrait of Marilyn wearing a black, backless Christian Dior dress – shot for Vogue magazine in July 1962 – is among the iconic fashion images featured in The Dior Collection, a new exhibition beginning a 2-month run at London’s Proud Central on February 7.

Babs Simpson 1913-2019

Babs Simpson in 1939

Legendary fashion editor Babs Simpson has died aged 105, the New York Times reports. Born Beatrice Crosby de Menocal in 1913, she was raised in an upper-class New York family. She married William Simpson of Chicago in 1935, but returned alone to the Big Apple seven years later. She first worked as a photographer’s assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, and in 1947, began her 25-year tenure at Vogue magazine.  Diana Vreeland, her boss from 1962, described Babs as ‘the most marvellous editor.” In 1972, she moved to House & Garden, where she would stay until her retirement in 1993.

Babs Simpson seated at right, 1967

One of Babs Simpson’s most famous Vogue assignments was with Marilyn and photographer Bert Stern at LA’s Bel Air Hotel in 1962. Stern had already spent a day alone with Marilyn on June 23, working on the iconic semi-nude images where she wears a gauzy scarf, some jewellery and little else.  But this wasn’t the high-fashion shoot Diana Vreeland had in mind, and another sitting was arranged for July 10-12.

“She was absolutely perfect,” Simpson said of Marilyn. Stern wrote about the fashion shoot in his book, The Last Sitting.

“The fact that Vogue were sending an editor on the shoot was a sign that they were getting serious. The first time they’d let me go off and do whatever I wanted, but now they had realised that I was on to something, and they were going to make sure they got what they wanted. Babs Simpson and I had worked together many times, and she understood me. I was sure they’d chosen her as the editor who could let me be the most creative and at the same time keep the most control. ‘Keep her clothes on,’ they’d probably told Babs. They saw where I was heading.

An editor has the difficult job of picking out all the fashions for a sitting, dressing the girl so that she looks just right, and helping the photographer in the best way possible. Babs Simpson was great because she knew when to step in and help, but she also knew how to leave the photographer alone with the model. I thought of her as ‘the needlepoint editor,’ because at every sitting, while the girl was doing her makeup or the photographer was shooting, Babs would sit on the side and work on needlepoint. Her whole house is decorated with pillows, rugs, the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen, which she made just sitting around studios over the years while the lights flashed.

Babs was bringing all the clothes, so I flew out to California with my assistant, Peter Deal, and we started setting up in the bungalow of the Bel Air … Babs arrived from the airport in a limousine. When I saw the heaps of designer dresses and fur coats being carried into the bungalow, I had to laugh.

Later that morning Kenneth [Battelle] arrived. Babs had all the clothes organised and ready and she worked seriously on her needlepoint while we sat in the garden waiting for Marilyn … But when four o’clock came, Babs folded up her needlepoint, put it in her bag, and said, ‘If she isn’t here in an hour, I’m leaving’ … I said, ‘Look, just give her until five. We’re all staying here in the hotel anyway, so what’s the difference?’

Babs agreed to wait. That crisis had been averted, at least for the moment. But not half an hour later my assistant, Peter, came over to me, looking pale. In his polite way, he said, ‘Bert, I really regret having to tell you this…’

At that moment Marilyn walked in.

If I had come with an entourage this time, so had she. She was flanked by Pat Newcomb … And then suddenly Peter was well … And now that Marilyn was here, Babs cheered up, too, and went right to work. The whole crew was there, and we were in business.

I looked around at all these people, busy getting Marilyn dressed, applying her makeup, doing her hair, pouring champagne, adjusting the lights – all the process and anxiety that accompanies high fashion  …This time I was going to do exactly what I’d been sent to do: take fashion pictures for Vogue. And I needed all these people, because this was going to be one tough assignment.

There was always a little disagreement about the accessories Babs had brought. I didn’t see the point to most of them. The white veil was almost strange enough to be interesting but the black wig … what was that all about? The last way I would have imagined Marilyn was as a raven-haired brunette … On the other hand, Babs didn’t want me to take pictures with the hat, and I thought the hat looked beautiful on her.

Babs had brought a lot of black dresses – the hardest thing in the world to shoot … Marilyn put on the simplest black dress. Kenneth combed her hair back. She was beautiful. All I had to do now was backlight it. That image was the essence of black and white … and blonde.

She was beginning to lose patience. I could see it on her face. She had been a good sport, but it was well after midnight, and the fashion was wearing thin … Babs had dug up another black dress, and I was ready for anything. But Marilyn had had it.

She looked around and then she walked off the white no-seam and grabbed a flimsy bed jacket that was lying casually on a chair near the strobe. I had tossed it there as a ‘no’ when we were going through the clothes earlier, because Babs said it was bad fashion, and I didn’t think much of it either. But Marilyn looked right in it.

I turned to Babs. ‘Why doesn’t everybody just leave the room and let me shoot her alone?’

Babs said, ‘I think that’s a good idea, Bert.’ Everyone got up and began to file out of the room. As they were leaving Babs said, ‘We’ll be right out here if you need us.’

‘Great,’ I said and I closed the door and locked it.

The next day she didn’t show up. Late in the morning, Babs told me that Pat Newcomb had called and Marilyn wasn’t going to work today … Then the phone rang again. It was Pat Newcomb asking whether Babs and Kenneth would come over to Marilyn’s house at one o’clock. I wasn’t invited. So Babs and Kenneth went off leaving me sitting there in the Bel Air Hotel. I didn’t feel great that day … And then Babs came back and said, ‘She’ll be here tomorrow’.

When she came in for the third shooting, everything was very different. Especially Marilyn and me. Sober, subdued, not very talkative. There was nothing to say. And then there were all these people around us again: Kenneth, Babs, Pat Newcomb, Peter Deal.

‘I want to do one more picture,’ I said. ‘A beautiful head shot.’  Babs said, ‘Oh, wonderful! We could use a great beauty shot. Kenneth will do the hair.’ Everybody was very excited.

Everybody was working. Kenneth combing Marilyn’s hair. Babs arranging a string of pearls around her neck. I was way up there in the dark, looking down on her lying there with her hair spread out.

‘Okay, I got it,’ I said, and I climbed down. It was all over. Marilyn left with Pat Newcomb, and we all packed up and got ready to leave.

As we were leaving, Babs Simpson said, ‘What’s going to happen to that poor girl?’

Poor girl?

I didn’t quite see what Babs meant. I didn’t feel sorry for Marilyn. I just figured I had done the best I could. And now I was going home.”

Marilyn Photo Sale at Julien’s

Photos of Marilyn – signed by photographers William Carroll, Laszlo Willinger, Kashio Aoki, Milton Greene, Bert Stern and George Barris – plus paparazzi shots from events such as Ray Anthony’s ‘My Marilyn’ party, are up for bids at an online sale at Julien’s Auctions on December 10. A bathroom tile from her final home is also on offer, with an estimate of $2,000-$2,5000. (And don’t forget the Essentially Marilyn auction at Profiles in History on December 11.)

Laszlo Willinger, ca 1949
Arriving at the ‘My Marilyn’ party, 1952
Press conference at Los Angeles Airport, 1956
Bathroom tile from Marilyn’s Los Angeles home

Marilyn Featured in Julien’s Hefner Sale

There are several Marilyn-related items in the Property From the Collection of Hugh M. Hefner sale, set for auction at Julien’s this Friday (November 30.) A personal copy of Playboy‘s first issue – featuring Marilyn as cover girl and centrefold  – is estimated at $3,000 – $5,000. Other lots include the 1974 calendar seen above, a tie-in with Norman Mailer’s Marilyn; several photographic books about Marilyn (by Janice Anderson, George Barris, Bert Stern, Susan Bernard and Anne Verlhac); a box decorated with a painting of Marilyn by Tony Curtis; a Marilyn-themed bowling shirt and tie; prints by Bruno Bernard, Milton Greene and Jack Cardiff; and a rather silly ‘trick photo’ appearing to show Hef checking out Marilyn’s cleavage (though in reality, of course, they never met.)

UPDATE: Hefner’s copy of the first Playboy issue was sold for $31,250.

Marilyn by Jack Cardiff

Marilyn Featured in Heritage Photo Sale

This lovely image of Marilyn – captured by Bert Stern in 1962 – is up for grabs on October 12, as part of a photo sale at Heritage Auctions. Marilyn also features in shots by Eve Arnold, Ernst Haas, Inge Morath, Lawrence Schiller, and Milton Greene.

UPDATE:  All six Marilyn-related lots were sold, with a Stern contact sheet and a Schiller photo from the ‘pool scene’ in Something’s Got to Give each attaining a maximum bid of $3,250,000.

Remembering Marilyn’s Nikon Moment

This lovely photo of Marilyn holding a Nikon F camera – shot by Bert Stern in 1962 – has been used for an advertising campaign to celebrate the Japanese company’s centenary. You can read the backstory at Wired.

“IN THE SUMMER of 1962, Bert Stern arrived at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles to shoot Marilyn Monroe with the last camera anyone expected — the Nikon F … Tough, portable and the most advanced camera of its day, the F would be used to capture everything from overseas battles to NASA space missions to the Super Bowl — but Stern would use it to revolutionize the world of celebrities …’On the Nikon, you’re looking right through the lens, so the shutter goes black when the picture is taken,’ he later said. ‘At that perfect moment, you just have to close your eyes and jump — you have to grab it.’

While Nikon continues to send cameras to the far corners of the galaxy, expanding the possibilities of photography, it remains Stern who first popularized them in another field — celebrities. In 1962, he had been waiting for hours in the Bel-Air when the world’s most famous actress suddenly arrived. ‘She was alone wearing a scarf and green slacks and a sweater,’ Stern later wrote. ‘She had no makeup on. I said, “You’re beautiful” and she said, “What a nice thing to say”‘ … ‘There have been many beautiful women since Marilyn Monroe,’ he later said. ‘But who is there that has her total magic? Nobody has that vulnerability anymore.'”

And here are some more images from this delightful sitting…

Thanks to Johann

Marilyn ‘Re-Imagined’ in Spartansburg

Artist Kirkland Thomas Smith’s portrait of Marilyn – inspired by Bert Stern, and assembled with reclaimed materials – is featured in her new exhibition, Re-Imagined, at the Curtis R. Harley Gallery in Spartansburg (part of the University of South Carolina Upstate) until September 21, as Samantha Swann reports for GroupState.

“The series carries an environmental message, which Smith said was inspired by the plastic toys that her four children accumulated. That caused her to think about just how many plastic items people can accumulate, even when trying not to. Before starting this series of work 10 years ago, Smith focused on traditional portraiture.

‘When I was trying to figure out how I could paint a picture of our consumerism, I just didn’t feel like I could make a bold enough statement painting a picture of it, and that’s where I got the idea to just use the stuff as my paint,’ Smith said.

Smith said that before starting the project, she, like many people, assumed that all plastics were recyclable. They are not. In fact many are not, she said. The items Smith uses would normally be thrown away — some are items that she or others have saved from trash cans, while others were purchased at yard sales or thrift stores.

While she wants the work to be fun, she also hopes that it will make viewers think about the amount of plastic and non-recyclable items in their daily lives and about the legacy being left for future generations.”

Stern Heirs Fight for Marilyn Photos in Court Case

Marilyn’s image is caught up in yet another legal dispute after Bert Stern’s widow sued his heirs (with whom he had worked for many years and was also romantically involved, according to the New York Post) for the right to his work, reports ABC News. And as Courthouse News Service reports, the heirs’ online sales of ‘bedazzled’ versions of Stern’s photos have also raised questions of authorship.

“A federal judge (Paul Engelmayer) in New York ruled Friday that Stern’s heirs are the rightful owners of the copyright interests in the ‘Last Sitting’ photographs.

The issue arose in a lawsuit Stern’s widow, Shannah Laumeister Stern, filed against Lisa and Lynette Lavender, twin sisters who were Stern’s assistants. The lawsuit claimed copyright infringement involving the reproduction and online sale of modified versions of certain Monroe images.

The Lavenders counter-sued, claiming Stern never owned the rights to the photographs.

Instead the sisters said the copyright belonged to Conde Nast, which hired Stern to photograph Monroe for Vogue. The Lavenders also claimed Stern authorized them to make, modify and sell copies of Monroe photographs following his death.

The judge found that Stern was, and his heirs are, the rightful owners of the copyright to the photographs. Whether the Lavender sisters infringed the judge said will have to be decided at trial.”