Beaton’s Marilyn in the Sotheby Archive

The Sotheby’s blog takes a look at Cecil Beaton’s extraordinary portraits of Marilyn today. The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive is located at the London auction house.

“Cecil Beaton had only one shoot with Marilyn Monroe, which took place at the Ambassador Hotel in New York in February 1956. The actress turned up at his suite 90 minutes late and in his diary Beaton admitted that he was: ‘startled, then disarmed, by her lack of inhibition’.

Marilyn shot to fame playing dumb yet witty blondes in films … Beaton acknowledged that while it was likely ‘press agentry or manufactured illusion’ that had helped her find success, it was ‘her own weird genius that [had] sustained her flight’ .

Prophetically, his diary entry ends, ‘It will probably end in tears’.”

Beaton’s Marilyn in Madrid

This 1956 portrait of Marilyn is featured in Cecil Beaton: Icons of the 20th Century, at Fundacion Canal in Madrid until August 19. It’s also the first Beaton retrospective held in Spain. “Beaton photographed Monroe in his Hotel Ambassador suite in New York, after she arrived an hour late,” the Guardian reports. “He later wrote that he forgave her for the delay in the moment because ‘her girlish ingenuity and cunningness broke my schemes’.”

‘Timeless Marilyn’ in Bury St. Edmunds

Marilyn Monroe: Timeless, a new photo exhibition, has opened at Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St. Edmund’s, Suffolk, following a preview performance by lookalike Suzie Kennedy last night. Among the artists featured are Alfred Eisenstadt, Frank Powolny, Philippe Halsman, Elliott Erwitt, Milton Greene, Bert Stern and George Barris. Additionally, a silver-framed triptych of portraits and text by Cecil Beaton (a wedding gift to Marilyn and Arthur Miller from Joshua and Nedda Logan in 1956), is also on display (see video here.)

Arts editor and MM fan Andrew Clarke has reviewed the exhibit for the East Anglian Daily Times.  (The lovely image below, credited in the article to Andre de Dienes, was actually taken by Joseph Jasgur in 1946.)

“Part of her enduring appeal can be put down to the fact that she is adored by women (particularly young women) as much as she is by men. This is down to the fact that she was a strong woman, who refused to bow to the studio system, went to work on her terms, and was always looking to improve herself … She loved the camera and she recognised its value and the support it gave her, even at her lowest moments. Even when she had been fired from her unfinished film Something’s Got To Give, opposite Dean Martin, she commissioned at least two photo-sessions to not only keep her name before her loyal public, but to let them know she was evolving and moving on.”

In the same article, Clarke also interviews curator Brian White of Kudos Memorabilia…

“One of our personal favourites, however, is a bewitching black and white portrait of Marilyn, from 1953, by famed portrait photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995). Marilyn, age 26, is posing informally in a simple black pullover and white slacks. Her nuanced expression is exquisite, and her warm, yet casual, intimacy, combined with an almost palpable vulnerability, memorialises an authentic Marilyn that many studio photographers failed to capture. This image was originally shot by ‘Eisie’ as a potential cover image for Life Magazine. At the time, editors considered it to be too understated to make the grade, but, every year since 1953, this image has grown in prestige amongst collectors of classic Marilyn Monroe photography. This beautiful silver gelatine print also features Eisenstaedt’s personal signature.”

Marilyn Lights Up the Empire State

Cecil Beaton’s ethereal 1956 portrait of Marilyn – which she kept framed in her New York apartment, on top of her famous piano – was one of many iconic images projected onto the Empire State Building this week, marking the 150th anniversary of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Among her contemporaries, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn were also featured.

Marilyn Book News: Greene, Beaton and More

This autumn will see the release of what could be the most comprehensive Greene retrospective to date, The Essential Marilyn Monroe by Milton H. Greene: 50 Sessions. Coming from ACC Art Books on September 27,  it spans 324 pages and 400 photos.

Marilyn also graces the cover of Cecil Beaton: Portraits and Profiles, one of many celebrities featured, out in paperback on October 5. This book was originally released in hardback (with Beaton on the cover) back in 2014.

And for something completely different, Robin Holabird’s Elvis, Marilyn, and the Space Aliens: Icons on Screen in Nevada is out now. Don’t be put off by the wacky cover: it includes a chapter on The Misfits.

Marilyn’s Photographers Celebrated in Bendigo

Marilyn photographed by Eve Arnold at the 'East of Eden' premiere (1955)
Marilyn photographed by Eve Arnold at the ‘East of Eden’ premiere (1955)

A new article for the Bendigo Advertiser focuses on the importance of photography in Marilyn’s career, and her work with masters of the art such as Andre de Dienes, Eve Arnold, Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon, as featured in the Bendigo Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe.

“THE photographic works included in the current exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery provide an intimate insight into Marilyn Monroe and complement the authentic artefacts, clothing and other objects on display that belonged to, or were worn by, Marilyn.

Photographs from her early life are displayed together with works by renowned photographers such as Eve Arnold and Richard Avedon. From deeply personal and important memories of her childhood to aspects of her various persona and professional incarnations, the medium of photography reveals much about this fascinating subject.

Photography was of great importance to Marilyn throughout her life, revealed by her treasuring of such images and later her manipulation of the medium as her career developed.

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Andre de Dienes, 1949

Over the course of just a few years de Dienes captured the transformation from Norma Jeane Dougherty to Marilyn Monroe … Arnold’s photographs show a different side of Marilyn, in that they are unposed and more documentary in style, catching unguarded moments.

Cecil Beaton, 1956
Cecil Beaton, 1956

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Beaton composed a number of distinct sets to create different sittings, all within a suite in New York’s Ambassador Hotel. On display is the image of Monroe widely believed to be her favourite … Avedon created a series showing Marilyn dressed as some of the most celebrated female actors of the twentieth century …”

Ed Pfizenmaier Remembers Marilyn

NPG x40663; Marilyn Monroe by Ed Pfizenmaier

In February 1956, Ed Pfizenmaier assisted Cecil Beaton as he photographed Marilyn at New York’s Ambassador Hotel – and took several memorable shots himself. Pfizenmaier, who has also photographed Katharine Hepburn, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, had originally hoped to become an artist, but after working as an army photographer during World War II, he decided to set up his own studio in Manhattan. Now living in New Jersey, Pfizenmaier told the West Milford Messenger that Marilyn ‘was no dumb blonde. She knew exactly what she wanted.’

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In 2004, Pfizenmaier was interviewed by Mike Evans, author of The Marilyn Handbook. Here follows a full transcript, courtesy of Alessia at Everlasting Star.

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“Interview with Ed Pfizenmaier
ASSISTANT, CECIL BEATON
New Jersey, February 17, 2004

Early in 1956, the distinguished British society and celebrity photographer, Cecil Beaton, photographed Marilyn in a single session at the Ambassador Hotel in New York. He had a suite there at the time, which he had redecorated himself in what he described as a ‘Japanese Nouveau art manner.’ He had just started doing work for Harper’s Bazaar, and the Marilyn shoot was one of a series that took place in the Hotel on Park Avenue featuring various celebrities who also included Joan Crawford and Maria Callas.
Unlike many photographers today, Beaton used just one assistant, and on his visits to New York this was usually Ed Pfizenmaier, who worked regularly as assistant to the fashion photographer, Horst.

It was called ‘the King photographing the Queen’, or that’s the way it was focused on at the time. Whenever Beaton came to New York, which was periodically, I’d work with him, we’d work out of that site all the time because that’s where he stayed. Cecil decorated the interior, remember he had many attributes, he was a painter, a photographer, an illustrator, set designer, interior designer.

Anyway, suddenly Marilyn shows up with a simple black dress and a white puffy evening type thing, and that was it…and we got to work immediately. And would you believe, she even did her own make-up which most people, they can’t believe it nowadays…but remember we’re talking 50 years ago and things have changed radically. But she came just by herself, with these 2 little dresses and…it was as simple as that.

Contrary to what everyone says that she was difficult and hard to work with, I found her just a delight to work with, not difficult at all – I don’t know where people come from – we just had a magnificent time. You have to attribute it to Beaton because he was the master, but she loved to be photographed…you could feel it, you could see it with her.

And she was smart enough to know about the value of publicity, and what it means, and to be photographed by Beaton especially, was basically what it was all about.

I loved her sexuality, the glamour of it all, it was just fabulous. I thought Beaton’s English with mesmerized her totally…and she was just like a purring she-lion under those lights. In those days we had tungsten lights…today it’s all popping strobes and everything, but in those days we had 10, 000 watt bulbs, shining off the ceiling, which made a big difference to what it’s like today.

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Beaton later described the session in his memoirs:
‘She romps, she squeals with delight, she leaps on the sofa. She puts a flower stem in her mouth, puffing on a daisy as thought it were a cigarette. It is an artless, impromptu, high-spirited performance. It will probably end in tears.’

The description ‘artless’ could be taken as meaning unpretentious, without airs or graces.

I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know if it was one of her better days, or a good day or what, you know you hear so many bad reports, the sensationalism, but I certainly didn’t experience any of that. And I think the photographs, Beaton’s photographs, show it, that’s the proof of the pudding. When you look at them, everyone remarks she looks so happy, gay, healthy, and everything…I think that is what Beaton brought out of her. She was totally relaxed all the time.”

Cecil Beaton: Portraits and Profiles

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Cecil Beaton: Portraits and Profiles, another new photo book, was featured in the Mail this weekend (photos from the article captured here by Fraser Penney.) Beaton’s essay about Marilyn will be familiar to fans, and given his acerbic comments about other celebrities, it seems she was one of the few he liked. Marilyn, in turn, kept a triptych of his portraits in her New York apartment. You can read more about Beaton and their 1956 collaboration here.

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Marilyn and the Geishas

This giant image of Marilyn, in her iconic ‘skirt-blowing’ pose from The Seven Year Itch – alongside a traditional Geisha – in a Japanese rice field is part of an annual ‘Tanbo Art’ display, reports EuroNews.

During her 1954 visit to Japan with then-husband, Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn was photographed with a group of Geishas.

After Marilyn’s death, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland said,  ‘She was a geisha. She was born to give pleasure, spent her whole life doing it, and knew no other way.’

And one of Monroe’s most recent biographers, Lois Banner, has referred to Cecil Beaton‘s 1956 diptych – which Marilyn kept, framed, on her piano – as ‘the geisha photograph.’