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.’

Cecil Beaton: The New York Years

A new exhibition (with accompanying book) opening at the Museum of the City of New York next month.

“Cecil Beaton: The New York Years
Oct 25 through Feb 20

From the 1920s through the ‘60s, Manhattan’s artistic and social circles embraced British-born photographer and designer Cecil Beaton (1904-80). Cecil Beaton: The New York Years brings together extraordinary photographs, drawings, and costumes by Beaton to chronicle his impact on the city’s cultural life. Beaton’s relentless energy and curiosity spurred him to pursue new fields, from fashion and portrait photography to costume and scenic design for Broadway, ballet, and opera, and to put his own aesthetic stamp on each of these endeavors.

A beautifully illustrated companion book, written by curator Donald Albrecht, is co-published by the Museum and Skira Rizzoli.”