Unveiling Marilyn’s Beautiful Scars

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.

Now you see her, now you don’t: Marilyn in ‘Something’s Got to Give’

“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.’

Guess what? Everyone has scars too—even Marilyn.”

Platinum Blonde: Collectible Marilyn

150 photos of Marilyn taken by George Barris in the weeks before she died are the centrepiece of a dedicated auction at Paddle8 in New York, reports Vanity Fair.

“The auction, called Platinum Blonde: Collectible Marilyn, takes place in New York from August 2 to 11, also includes memorabilia—including Monroe’s eighth-grade class photo from Ralph Waldo Emerson Middle School and movie posters from classics like Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch—from the late star, who would have turned 91 this year.

Barris, who originally met with Monroe to do a Cosmopolitan story from the set of Something’s Got To Give, instead became a confidant of sorts in the final weeks of her life. The two began working on a book about Monroe’s life; Barris interviewed her extensively and began to photograph her as well.

In the 1980s, private collector acquired the images from Barris, who died late in 2016. In this auction, these three lots are presented in the original photoboxes from Barris, ranging from 43 to 63 images in each, with estimates from $8000-24,000. The Paddle8 auction, to [Dean] Harmeyer’s knowledge, features the biggest collection of Barris’s work to ever go on sale.”

2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

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In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

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In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

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Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

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In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

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In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

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June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

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In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

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August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

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In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

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In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

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In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

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George Barris 1922-2016

A tribute to George Barris and Marilyn by Fraser Penney
A tribute to George Barris and Marilyn by Fraser Penney

George Barris, one of the last photographers to work with Marilyn, has died aged 94,  Mike Barnes writes for the Hollywood ReporterHis photos of Marilyn revisiting her childhood haunt of Santa Monica Beach, wearing a Mexican-style sweater over her bathing costume, are among the most natural and poignant images from her final days.

“George Barris, the photojournalist … died Friday at his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., his daughter Caroline told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 94.

Barris and Monroe became friends after they met on the set of The Seven Year Itch (1955).

‘When I first saw her, I thought she was the most beautiful, fantastic person I’d ever met,’ Barris told the Los Angeles Daily News in 2012. ‘She completely knocked me off my feet.’

Barris photographed the actress on a windswept beach in Santa Monica on July 13, 1962, about three weeks before she was found dead of a drug overdose at age 36. He moved to France after her death and remained there for two decades.

A native of New York City, Barris enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the office of public relations during World War II. He was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal photographer for the welcoming Victory Parade in New York on June 19, 1945.

While on assignment for Cosmopolitan, Barris photographed Elizabeth Taylor while she filmed Cleopatra (1963) in Rome, and during his career he also shot such stars as Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Sophia Loren and Walt Disney. His daughter also said that he photographed Chubby Checker for the singer’s ‘The Twist’ record cover.”

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Filming ‘The Seven Year Itch’, 1954

A more detailed biography, including a full account of his work with Marilyn, is available on the Cursum Perficio website.

He first met and photographed Marilyn in 1954 in New York where she was on location for the film The Seven Year Itch , where they became friends.

He was one of the last photographers to take Marilyn in pictures, between June 29 and July 1, 1962:

  • Friday 29 and Saturday 30, June, at Walter ‘Tim’ Leimert’s house, located 1506 Blue Jay Way, North Hollywood Hills
  • Sunday 1st, July, last day of the session, last pictures. It took place at the Santa Monica beach, near the Lawfords’ house.
  • Those pictures were to be published in Cosmopolitan magazine.
  • Some of those pictures were published in 1973 in Norman Mailer’s biography, and most of them in the book he wrote with Gloria Steinem in 1986 (Marilyn: Norma Jeane).
  • In 1995, he published Marilyn : Her Life in Her Own Words, whose text is composed of notes jotted after the picture sessions. Those notes should have produced an autobiography they had planned to write together.
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George Barris photographs Marilyn in 1962

After returning to California with his family, Mr Barris became a respected member of the Monroe fan community, as Leslie Kasperowicz reports for Immortal Marilyn.

“George Barris attended many Marilyn memorials and events and was one of the most accessible of Marilyn’s photographers to fans from around the world.  He spoke frequently at the Memorial service held at Westwood and signed books and photos for fans at public and private events.  Immortal Marilyn was honoured to have him present at several of our own events.

George leaves behind his daughter Caroline, who was also a frequent presence at Marilyn events, another daughter Stephanie, his wife Carla, and legions of Marilyn Monroe fans who have spent nearly 55 years appreciating his work and his willingness to lend us his ear and tell us his stories of that summer of 1962.”

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George Barris celebrates Marilyn’s 36th birthday on the set of ‘Something’s Got to Give’

Marilyn’s Santa Monica Beach Days

Marilyn photographed on Santa Monica Beach by George Barris, 1962
Marilyn photographed on Santa Monica Beach by George Barris, 1962

One of Marilyn’s first memories was visiting Santa Monica Pier with her mother, and she held an affection for the area throughout her life. Her friends the Lawfords lived nearby, and she would be photographed on the beach by George Barris just weeks before her death in 1962. As the Santa Monica Hippodrome (the Pier’s original name) celebrates its centenary, Julia Bennett Rylah investigates its history in an article for LAist.com.

“It was June 12, 1916 when the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome opened its doors. Charles Looff was a carousel carver who had previously worked on the first two carousels at Coney Island. Jim Harris, Santa Monica Pier historian and author of Santa Monica Pier: A Century on the Last Great Pleasure Pier, tells LAist that Looff had expanded beyond carousels and into building whole amusement parks across the country. The Santa Monica Looff Pleasure Pier, now simply the Santa Monica Pier, would be Looff’s last park before he died in 1918.

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Santa Monica Pier

‘When the Santa Monica Municipal Pier was built—the long part that goes over the ocean—the citizens of the northern part of the Santa Monica wanted an amusement park built next to it. And so, seeing the opportunity and realizing that the Red Cars stopped right at this location and that there was an electric tram running up and down the beach, Looff thought it would be an excellent location.’

Only three months after the carousel opened, Looff added a fourth row of horses to accommodate additional riders at the popular attraction. Back then, it cost five cents for a ride. Today, it’s $2 for adults and $1 for children.

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The pier in 1924, two years before Marilyn’s birth
A young Norma Jeane on the beach (exact location unknown)
A young Norma Jeane on the beach (Los Angeles area, exact location unknown)

The Looff family sold the amusement pier and the Hipppdrome to a group of local relators in 1924, and the Security First National Bank took the over both in 1939. In 1943, Walter Newcomb leased the pier and the Hippodrome, hiring the Gordon family to manage it in 1955. The Gordon family took ownership in 1956…

Santa Monica Pier, late 1960s
Santa Monica Pier, late 1960s

In the 60s, the building had a very famous visitor, though many who encountered her were probably oblivious. ‘Towards the end of her life, Marilyn Monroe was living in Brentwood and hung out at the Santa Monica Beach a lot,’ Harris says, noting that many of the iconic photos George Barris took of the actress were shot here.

Harris continues:

‘She would come to the Hippodrome to find solace. She’d sit on a bench and watch the horses go round and round. Being sensitive to who she was, she would come in disguise wearing a scarf and overcoat and sunglasses. One day, the gentleman who was operating the carousel walked up to her and said something along the lines of, Why do you come here every day? You’re young and you should get a job. She then revealed [her identity] and said, I do have a job, I’m Marilyn Monroe.‘”

Marilyn Inspires Max Mara’s Wrapover Trend

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The Mexican beach jacket worn by Marilyn during her last photo session – with George Barris in July 1962 – is one of the inspirations behind Max Mara’s Fall 2015 collection, reports Women’s Wear Daily.

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Among the wrapover sweaters and coats, I also noticed designs similar to the Jean Louis costumes worn by Marilyn for her role as ‘bohemian’ Amanda in Let’s Make Love (1960.)

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Of course, today’s catwalk models can’t fill out a sweater quite like Marilyn did – and by the way, when did smiling go out of fashion?

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