Surgical scars can be seen on Marilyn’s tummy in two of her final photo shoots, with George Barris (left) and Bert Stern (right), and in her ‘nude’ swim scene for the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, as Mehera Bonner reports for Marie-Claire. Marilyn underwent an appendectomy in 1952, and had her gallbladder removed in 1961, a year before she died. She also underwent several operations to alleviate her endometriosis and help her to have children, sadly without success. While surgical procedures are considerably more sophisticated today, our expectations have also increased. While there’s something rather liberating about these gorgeous, unaltered shots, it’s also important to remember that Marilyn – who exerted rigid control over her photo shoots, if not her movies – may herself have wanted to airbrush these photos had she lived long enough to fully review them. In fact, she vetoed many of Stern’s images, marking the rejects with an orange ‘X’; but after her death, he published the session in its entirety.
“Though she was famous for her perceived ‘perfection’ and ‘flawlessness’ (all the eye-rolls at the inherent sexism that goes into these terms), Marilyn Monroe had a pretty big scar across her stomach—which appears in both the Last Sitting and in Something’s Got to Give.
The scar itself is the result of gallbladder surgery that occurred before Stern’s famous images were taken. He says Marilyn was self-conscious about it, and called upon her hairdresser George [Masters] for reassurance before shooting. When Stern noticed the scar, he reportedly remembered Diana Vreeland saying to him, ‘I think there’s nothing duller than a smooth, perfect-skinned woman. A woman is beautiful by her scars.’
Diana Vreeland is right: women *are* beautiful with scars. But she’s also incorrect about women without them being dull. Either way, the sometimes-removal of Marilyn’s scar offers a fascinating insight into beauty standards in Old Hollywood—did she ever truly have agency as to how her body was portrayed?
Ironically, Something’s Got to Give was the first time Monroe was ‘allowed’ to expose her belly button on film—as most of her previous swimwear moments were high-waisted. Before her death, she’s said to have quipped ‘I guess the censors are willing to recognize that everybody has a navel.’
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.’
Diana Vreeland, the formidable editor of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, included this photo of Marilyn (taken by Cecil Beaton in 1956) in her 1980 book, Allure.
Vreeland worked with Jackie Kennedy on the project, as William Kuhn recounts in Reading Jackie, a new study of the one-time First Lady’s career in publishing.
“Marilyn Monroe had a brief affair with JFK, and by 1980, when Vreeland’s Allure was published at Jackie’s behest by Doubleday, this was well-known…Monroe had committed suicide during the very week that Vreeland was taking over the editorial position at Vogue. She began work just as the outgoing editor was putting together the finishing touches on an issue which, by chance, included an article with a tribute to Monroe and several photographs. Vreeland’s colleague wanted one of the photos taken out. It was too ‘triste’ in light of what Monroe had just done. Vreeland replied, ‘You can’t leave that out! You cannot! It’s got all the poignancy and the poetry and the pathos of the woman in it!’ That was in 1962. In the late 1970s, Vreeland explained what she loved about this photo … ‘Marilyn Monroe! She was a geisha. She was born to give pleasure, spent her life giving it – and knew no other way’…What did Jackie say to Vreeland about the Monroe photograph? Probably nothing, but the fact that she silently allowed Vreeland to include it shows Jackie content to acknowledge Monroe’s ur– sexiness, a quality that Jackie did not think she shared with the screen icon.
It seems as if Jackie was able to separate her editorial self from the woman whose husband had a public fling with Monroe. She was thrilled, about the same time she was working with Vreeland on Allure, when a proposal came from Doubleday that promised pictures from Bert Stern‘s last photographic session with the actress. ‘Marilyn Monroe!!!’ Jackie wrote in a memo to her colleague Ray Roberts. ‘Are you excited?’ … Vreeland’s treatment of Monroe was probably like this for Jackie too: a publishing opportunity rather than a moment to reflect on a personal injury. In any case, if injury there had been, she was able to rise above it.”
Later in the book, Kuhn reports an interview with biographer David Stenn, who wrote about two Hollywood sex symbols pre-dating MM – Clara Bow and Jean Harlow – with Jackie’s support:
“Stenn also recalled a conversation he had with Jackie about Marilyn Monroe, a topic that he had avoided touching upon. That’s why he was surprised when she brought it up. Jackie didn’t mention Monroe in the context of JFK but rather as part of a continuum with Jean Harlow: both of them were blondes who made their sexual appeal the center of their screen personalities. As with Vreeland, Jackie was willing to discuss Monroe with Stenn in a completely dispassionate, even admiring way.”
This new book by William Kuhn, dubbed an ‘autobiography in books’, takes a look at Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s lifelong love of literature and her later career as an editor.
“More astonishing is Jackie’s work on the 1980 Diana Vreeland book, Allure, which contains photos and text about the allure of Marilyn Monroe, who was linked to Jackie’s first husband when he was president, and Maria Callas, who was linked to Jackie’s second husband, before and after their marriage.
Jackie also responded favorably to a proposal that Doubleday publish a book of Bert Stern’s last photographs of Monroe before her death. Jackie wrote a note to a colleague: ‘Marilyn Monroe!!! Are you excited?’ Kuhn writes that Jackie the editor probably saw the use of material about her one-time rival as ‘a publishing opportunity rather than a moment to reflect on a personal injury. In any case, if injury there had been, she was able to rise above it.’”
In fact, Jackie may never have resented Marilyn as many have assumed. She probably understood Monroe’s struggle with fame and love only too well, and was privately said to be upset by her death. Whatever the extent of Marilyn’s relationship with John F. Kennedy, it appears that Jackie did not bear a grudge.