Long before Monroe-inspired photo shoots became de rigueur, Marilyn herself posed as five ‘fabled enchantresses’ for LIFE magazine in 1958. She considered the session on a par with her best screen performances, and in his accompanying text, husband Arthur Miller supported that claim. In a week when another Richard Avedon sold at auction for more than $8K (see here), the Flashbak website looks back at their supreme collaboration.
“As in life so in these pictures — [Marilyn] salutes fantasy from the shore of the real until there comes a moment when she carries us, reality and all, into the dream with her, and we are grateful. Her wit here consists of her absolute commitment to two ordinarily irreconcilable opposites — the real feminine and the man’s fantasy of femininity. We know she knows the difference in these pictures, but is refusing to concede that there is any contradiction, and it is serious and funny at the same time.
I am quite conceivably prejudiced, but I think this collection is a wonder of Marilyn’s wittiness. As Lillian Russell, Marilyn sits [on] the solid gold bicycle just inexpertly enough to indicate that she is, after all, a lady… Her hands lace around the bike handles so much more femininely than they grasp the fan as Clara Bow. And here again is the difference between imitation and interpretation, between making an affect and rendering a spirit.”
Laurette Luez, a Hawaii-born actress of Portuguese-Australian parentage, seated to Marilyn’s left in these 1949 photos by Philippe Halsman (for a LIFE magazine story, ‘Eight Girls Try Out Mixed Emotions’), is the subject of an interesting profile by Kristin Hunt for JSTOR. (Hunt previously wrote about Marilyn’s nude scene in Something’s Got to Give for Vulture.)
Like Marilyn, Laurette was a successful pin-up model, and in their acting careers, both were subjected to typecasting – Marilyn as a dumb blonde, Luez as a dusky temptress – but like other women of colour, Laurette was sidelined in Hollywood and is now all but forgotten.
In the article, it’s noted that she claimed to have given Norma Jeane her stage name. This is unlikely, however, as Marilyn herself created it with talent scout Ben Lyon in 1946. It’s also said that the starlets studied together, probably at the Actors’ Lab or with studio coach Helen Sorrell. They were first photographed by LIFE‘s Loomis Dean in 1948 with actor Clifton Webb in a rather obscure promotional shoot for his film Sitting Pretty(although neither played a role in it.)
“Laurette Luez first appeared onscreen as a dancing Javanese girl in 1944’s The Story of Dr. Wassell. Two years later, she was cast as a member of the Thai royal court in Anna and the King of Siam, and in 1950 as Laluli, the Indian ‘flower of delight,’ in the Rudyard Kipling epic Kim. For the 1960s films Man-Trap and Flower Drum Song, she played Mexican women. She was Persian in The Adventures of Hajji Baba, an indigenous African in Jungle Gents, and Egyptian in Valley of the Kings.
Like many actresses of her day, Luez was expected to be a one-size-fits-all ‘exotic,’ a beautiful siren in skimpy clothing who could be from almost anywhere—just not here. These roles provided a way for Hollywood to sexualize women with few repercussions from censors or moral crusaders, and they were practically the only parts in which Luez was cast during her 20 years in the industry.
The two actresses were linked again in 1953, when the trade paper Modern Screen wondered if Luez could be the heir to Monroe’s “sex stardom.” But in truth, their careers looked nothing alike … With the occasional exception—most notably, the United Artists noir D.O.A.—her credits consist solely of exoticized, eroticized women, who only get a name if they’re lucky. It was a fate that befell several actresses who couldn’t or wouldn’t pass for white, since there was a market for this type of stock character.
Luez still made occasional headlines throughout the 1950s, either for her latest movie or for her latest breakup. She was married four times, and briefly engaged to producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. But by the mid-1960s, the work had completely dried up. Luez packed up her family and moved to Florida. Despite the repeated insistence from the press that she was on the cusp of stardom, the actress got trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle: she played the roles she was offered, and Hollywood saw her as nothing else.”
Marilyn’s first LIFE magazine cover, shot by Philippe Halsman, was published on this day, April 7, in 1952. Now, as The Guardian reports, this outtake is among over 120 ‘turning point’ images being sold by Magnum Photos for $100 each over the next five days to aid COVID-19 relief. Read more about the historic cover story at A Passion for Marilyn – and don’t forget, Marilyn also graces the cover (and eleven pages within) of a new Reporters Sans Frontières special issue on Halsman’s celebrity portraits.
LIFE magazine photographer Bill Ray, who got the scoop of a lifetime when he captured Marilyn’s singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ at Madison Square Garden in 1962, has died aged 83, the New York Post reports.
Born in Shelby, Nebraska, Bill joined the Omaha Camera Club aged eleven and built a professional darkroom in his family home. At seventeen, he got his first newspaper job in Lincoln; and in 1957, after excelling in a photographic workshop in Hannibal, Missouri, he moved to New York to work for LIFE. During the 1960s, he worked extensively in Paris and Hollywood.
Bill and his wife of 62 years, Marlys Ray, lived in an apartment overlooking Central Park in Manhattan. He died of a heart attack on January 8, 2020.
“‘It had been a noisy night, a very ‘rah rah rah’ kind of atmosphere. Then boom, on comes this spotlight. There was no sound. No sound at all. It was like we were in outer space. [Marilyn’s dress] was skin-colored, and it was skin-tight. It was sewn on, covered with brilliant crystals. There was this long, long pause … and finally, she comes out with this unbelievably breathy, ‘Happy biiiiirthday to youuuu,’ and everybody just went into a swoon. I was praying [that I could get the shot] because I had to guess at the exposure. It was a very long lens, and I had no tripod, so I had to rest the lens itself on the railing, and tried very, very hard not to breathe … If you got a picture from the front, everybody else would have it on the front page the next day and it wouldn’t be good for LIFE. You always needed something different. I had this idea that if I got way up I could shoot over Marilyn’s shoulder and have Kennedy in the picture. There was one slightly before that’s a little blurry because of the 300 mm lens. Shortly thereafter the lights went out and she disappeared, and the next thing I knew JFK was up on the stage. If I’d been luckier, there would have been a tiny bit of light that would have spilled onto Kennedy, who was over her shoulder between the podium and her head. ”
This stunning photo is part of a set taken by Peter Stackpole for LIFE magazine during a party at the Beverly Hills home of producer Sam Spiegel on New Year’s Eve, 1948, posted on Twitter. Marilyn was still a long way from stardom, having only two bit parts and a lead in a B-movie (Ladies of the Chorus) to her name. It is thought that Spiegel invited her as a pretty starlet, probably at the instigation of Marilyn’s well-connected friends, John Carroll and Lucille Ryman, who were managing her career.
Among the guests were some of Hollywood’s biggest names: James Mason, Glenn Ford, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Shirley Temple, Danny Kaye were among them, as well as George Sanders (Marilyn’s future co-star in All About Eve), his wife-to-be Zsa Zsa Gabor, and four of Marilyn’s future directors; John Huston, Henry Hathaway, Jean Negulesco, and Otto Preminger.
Huston wanted to test Marilyn for We Were Strangers (1949), but Spiegel vetoed it, opting for the more bankable Jennifer Jones instead. The director would later give Marilyn her breakthrough role in The Asphalt Jungle (1950.)
In the photo shown above, Marilyn wears the strapless gown seen in her brief appearance in Love Happy (1949), and a separate set of photos taken by J.R. Eyerman for LIFE in 1949, showing her rehearsing with vocal coach Phil Moore. She had also worn the dress in March 1948, during her performance in Strictly for Kicks, a revue staged at Twentieth Century Fox. Notably, she was one of the only female guests at Spiegel’s party not wearing any jewellery (suggesting that for Marilyn, ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ was just a song.)
Two other photos from the party (found by another fan on the Getty Images website) show Marilyn dancing in a crowd, and chatting with two men.
Here’s Marilyn again; plus another dancefloor photo with Marilyn to the left, Danny Kaye in the middle and George Sanders on the right (possibly with Zsa Zsa!)
Another photo shows Marilyn dancing with her former beau, musician Fred Karger. Their stormy romance, which began on the Ladies of the Chorus, was coming to an end, but Marilyn remained close to the Karger family for the rest of her life. Interestingly, his watch may have been Marilyn’s Christmas present to him, which took her two years to pay off. She left her name off the engraving so his next girlfriend wouldn’t know it came from her.
It has been said that Marilyn met agent and lover Johnny Hyde that night (although photographer Bruno Bernard has claimed they were introduced a few months later, in Palm Springs.) I haven’t found any photos of him with Marilyn at the party; however, he can be seen in the photos shown above. (They would be snapped together at another New Year’s Eve party a year later.)
And finally, here’s the LIFE article about the party, although Marilyn isn’t featured in it. In 1957, Peter Stackpole would photograph Monroe again at the peak of her fame, with husband Arthur Miller at the ‘April in Paris Ball’ in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.)
“A single page removed from a trade publication such as Variety or The Hollywood Reporter with text reading in part ‘Thank you / Marilyn Monroe’ — an ad the star placed in the publication to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for her 1962 Golden Globe win for ‘World Favorite Actress,’ mounted to cardboard; found in Monroe’s own files. ”
SOLD for $512
A framed still photo showing Marilyn with co-stars June Haver, William Lundigan and Jack Paar in Love Nest (1951); and a costume test shot for Don’t Bother to Knock (1952.)
Photo sets SOLD for $640 and $896, respectively
Marilyn and Jane Russell performing ‘Two Little Girls From Little Rock’ in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as seen on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1953. Marilyn’s costume is expected to fetch a maximum $80,000 – see here.)
Magazine SOLD for $896; costume SOLD for $250,000
A still photo of Marilyn during filming of River of No Return in 1953. The gown she wore while performing the theme song is expected to fetch a maximum $80,000 – see here.
Photo set SOLD for $1,152; costume SOLD for $175,000
Travilla’s costume sketch for the ‘Heat Wave’ number in There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), and a colour transparency of Marilyn in costume for a wardrobe test shot. (The costume itself is estimated to fetch up to $80,000 – see here.)
Sketch SOLD for $11,520; photo SOLD for $750; costume SOLD for $280,000
A framed still photo of Marilyn performing ‘Heat Wave‘, and a custom-made, one-of-a-kind poster made for the Century Theatre in the Hamilton, Ontario area to advertise a raffle to win tickets to see There’s No Show Business Like Show Business.
Photo SOLD for $750; poster SOLD for $1,280
“A group of three, all original prints with a glossy finish, depicting the star behind-the-scenes on the set of her 1956 20th Century Fox film, Bus Stop; all have typed text on the bottom margin noting to credit Al Brack who was a ‘Sun Valley, Idaho photographer.'”
SOLD for $576
A pair of memos regarding Milton Greene’s photos from the set of The Prince and the Showgirl; and, sold separately, a contact sheet. The second memo reads in part, ‘Dear Mike, The print you sent me, that Marilyn Monroe said she had killed, is incorrectly numbered. Marilyn is right – she did kill it.’ Both memos are dated April 11, 1957, and are addressed to ‘Meyer Hunter.’ Lois Weber, one of Monroe’s publicists at the time, authored both memos.”
Memos SOLD for $312.50; contact sheet SOLD for $500
Still photo of Marilyn with co-stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a scene from Some Like It Hot (1959.)
Photo set SOLD for $576
“A pair of colour slides of Marilyn Monroe in a scene from How To Marry a Millionaire (1953), and during a press conference for Let’s Make Love with co-star Frankie Vaughan on January 16, 1960.”
Still photos taken by Lawrence Schiller during filming of the ‘pool scene’ in Something’s Got to Give.
Photo sets sold for $1,280 each
“A collection of approximately 65 pieces comprising only photocopied scripts and documents, all related to Marilyn Monroe’s films. Some film titles have more than one copy of the script, and some feature the working title and not the final one. All are bound into 20th Century Fox covers of various colors and appear to be the studio’s ‘loan out’ or ‘library’ copies. Pieces include (in alphabetical order): All About Eve (a treatment only), As Young As You Feel (2 scripts ), Bus Stop (3 scripts), Dangerous Years (1 script), Don’t Bother to Knock (2 scripts), The Full House (1 script), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (2 scripts plus 4 related documents), How to Marry a Millionaire (3 scripts plus 1 related document), Let’s Make Love (2 scripts), Love Nest (2 scripts), Monkey Business (2 scripts plus 2 related documents), Move Over, Darling (1 script), Niagara (2 scripts plus 4 related documents), O. Henry’s Full House (2 scripts plus 1 related document), River of No Return (1 script plus 5 related documents), The Seven Year Itch (3 scripts), Something’s Got to Give (1 script), There’s No Business Like Show Business (3 scripts plus 7 related documents), Ticket to Tomahawk (2 related documents), and We’re Not Married (1 script plus 1 related document). Also included are a few miscellaneous pieces related to Monroe. “
In 2012, Marilyn was the face of Cannes – and the Champs-Élysées Film Festival uses images of her every year. Now her star will shine over the Middle East, as The 961 reports. (With an impersonator striking a classic Seven Year Itch pose, the LIFF artwork seems inspired by LIFE magazine.)
“Believing that art should have a certain message, the Lebanese International Film Festival (LIFF) chose to fight against the stigma that is attached to mental health issues by collaborating with Embrace, the leading organization that raises awareness about mental issues.
For that particular reason, LIFF opted this year for the image of the iconic renowned superstar Marilyn Monroe as she is an ideal example of a successful woman that was fighting her own battle with mental health. ”
“An original clipping from a Mexican newspaper detailing Marilyn’s visit to the National Institute for the Protection of Children on March 1, 1962, and her donation of $1,000.00 to the institute. Also included is a document translating the article, reading in part, ‘The American actress Marilyn Monroe yesterday visited the National Institute for the Protection of Children where she greeted the president of that organization, Mrs. Eva Samano de Lopez Mateos, to whom she gave 12,500 pesos – one thousand dollars – for the needy children.'” (SOLD for $768)
“An unsigned carbon-copy of a letter, likely from May Reis, Marilyn Monroe’s secretary, to hairdresser Kenneth, dated July 16, 1958. The letter reads in part, ‘Thank you for sending on Miss Monroe’s chignon but I am sorry it has not turned out as she had ordered it so it is being returned to you under separate cover.'” (SOLD for $192)
“A one-page handwritten letter from press agent Patricia Newcomb to Marilyn, dated June 2, 1956. The letter reads in part, ‘Enclosed is a copy of your eye perscription (sic) which I got this morning from Lee Seigel. I am also sending you another bottle, in case you might be running short.’ Also, ‘I mailed your records and hair dryer today, so they should arrive by the end of the week.'” (SOLD for $1,125)
“A one-page typed letter to Marilyn from Nunnally Johnson, dated February 1, no year specified (but probably sent after their 1962 meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel, to discuss Something’s Got to Give.) The letter reads in part, ‘This is to put it on paper that I’ve rarely had a merrier evening. There’s no question about it, the only way to discuss business is over a bottle or two of champagne, with occasional reflections on sex to keep everything in balance. And if ever the occasion rises you may cite me as a bloke who also likes to sit and talk with you.’ The letter is hand-signed. A well-known screenwriter, Johnson worked on a number of projects related to Monroe, including We’re Not Married, and How to Marry a Millionaire.” (SOLD for $2,240)
“Two letters from the Actors’ Studio, dated January 10 and 12, 1961, regarding the Actors’ Studio Benefit scheduled for March 13, 1961. The January 10 letter announces, ‘Marilyn Monroe will be one of the stars who will draw the lucky tickets for our door prizes and for the Dance Contests.’ The letter is signed by Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford and Elia Kazan (facsimile signatures). The second letter, sent by the benefit’s coordinator, asks Marilyn if it would be possible to take a photo of her wearing a fur coat that will be raffled as a door prize. The letter further requests that Marilyn write to executives at United Artists asking them to reserve tables at the event.” (SOLD for $768)
“Three letters, all dated in January of 1961, referencing possible film projects for Marilyn’s consideration. The January 3 letter from George Chasin is on MCA letterhead and references Touch of Mink, written by Stanley Shapiro (later filmed with Doris Day.) The January 26 letter, also on MCA letterhead, references a screenplay entitled The Notorious Lady, and is signed by Marvin Birdt with a copy to Chasin (later filmed with Kim Novak as The Notorious Landlady.) The January 31 letter is on Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation letterhead and references A Lost Lady, and is signed by Frank McCarthy, Director of Public Relations at the studio. (Based on one of Marilyn’s favourite novels (according to her friend and masseur, Ralph Roberts), and previously filmed as Courageous with Barbara Stanwyck in 1934, but dissatisfied with the result, author Willa Cather had banned all movies based on her work.) In this same letter McCarthy writes, ‘Congratulations again on The Misfits and I hope it will achieve the great success it deserves.'” (SOLD for $512)
“A small notecard to Marilyn from producer Buddy Adler. The notecard reads, ‘Darling, It’s wonderful having you home again. Best wishes, Buddy Adler.’ Adler was the producer of Bus Stop, released in 1956. This card is likely in reference to Marilyn’s return to Hollywood in 1956 after having spent the entirety of 1955 in New York City.” (SOLD for $640)
“A two-page typed letter on Algonquin Hotel letterhead to Marilyn from photographer John Bryson, dated August 6, 1960, in reference to the August 15, 1960 issue of LIFE magazine, in which his photos of Marilyn on the set of Let’s Make Love were published. The letter reads in part, ‘I am very happy, however, to report that we close with a larger than full page of the picture of Arthur swabbing off your back after a hard day’s rehearsal. I think the little girl look in this is the best picture I ever took of you.’ The letter goes on to read, ‘Anyway, it is done and I hope you like it. If you do or do not I would like for you to remember that I think you are one of the best women I have ever known and if you ever need a friend for anything just call day or night. I do not say such things casually.'” (SOLD for $1,280)
“A Western Union telegram from Mary Leatherbee of LIFE magazine dated June 26, 1958, regarding photos of Marilyn taken by Richard Avedon in which she recreated images of famous actresses for a spread entitled ‘Fabled Enchantresses.'” (SOLD for $640)
“A one-page typed letter to Marilyn from Emmeline Snively, dated July 31, 1958. Snively was the owner and manager of the Bluebook Modeling Agency. Marilyn, still Norma Jean at the time, signed with the agency in 1945, and Snively is believed to have assisted her in transforming into Marilyn Monroe. The letter reads in part, ‘We have been following your steady progress over the years, and our students at Blue Book Models regard your success and constant development as an inspiration.’ Included with this letter is a torn portion of the original mailing envelope with Snively’s typed mailing address. Pencil scribbles are visible on the envelope fragment, possibly written in Marilyn’s own hand. It is interesting to note that Snively attempted to stay in contact with Marilyn throughout the star’s career. In fact, she was one of a very few guests from Marilyn’s inner circle who was invited to her funeral.” (SOLD for $640)
“Six documents referencing an agreement, and the dissolution thereof, between Marilyn Monroe and Ben Hecht regarding his authoring her life story. Included is a facsimile copy of the originally signed agreement between Monroe and Hecht, dated March 16, 1954, in which the terms of the agreement are exceedingly clear. Three unsigned carbon copies of this same agreement are included. Also included is a facsimile copy of a two-page letter sent to Hecht by Marilyn’s attorney Lloyd Wright, Jr., in which he demands that Hecht ‘surrender to us on behalf of our client, Miss Marilyn Monroe, all, and I repeat all, copies of any material concerning Miss Marilyn Monroe written by Mr. Ben Hecht, pursuant to his contract of March 16, 1954 with Marilyn Monroe, or otherwise.’ Marilyn partnered with Hecht to write her life story, stating specifically that the article could be published only in the Ladies’ Home Journal magazine.” (SOLD for $640)
“A two-page typed memo from Robert H. Montgomery, Jr. to John F. Wharton regarding ‘Proposed settlement of dispute between Milton H. Greene and Marilyn Monroe. The document clarifies that Monroe will pay Greene $50,000.00 for his stock in Marilyn Monroe Productions, Inc. in five equal annual installments, and also that she will sell to Greene her stock in Milton Greene Studios.’ The document further states, ‘all agreements existing between them are cancelled and of no further force and effect.’ A second two-page original document outlines the distribution of furniture and equipment, including paintings, rugs, a vacuum cleaner, a lamp, a chair and a sofa, typewriters, and other items.” (SOLD for $1,000)
A retrospective for Alfred Eisenstaedt – known as the ‘father of photojournalism’ – will open at New York’s Robert Mann Gallery tomorrow through April 27.
“In 1935, Eisenstaedt decided to emigrate to the United States, as magazines in Germany began to shutdown with the rise of Hitler. He settled in New York where he became one of the first four photographers hired by LIFE Magazine. Eisenstaedt’s coverage of Hollywood in the 1930’s is some of his most quintessential work, photographing stars such as Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Sophia Loren, who is known to be one of his favorite subjects. He photographed Marilyn Monroe on a small patio behind her home in Hollywood in 1953, capturing her in Rembrandt-inspired light that beautifully emphasized the unparalleled Marilyn mystique—femininity, naiveté and sexuality.
Over at Garage Magazine, Tatum Dooley traces the origins of Marilyn’s famous quote regarding her favourite perfume…
“When asked what she wore to bed, Marilyn Monroe famously replied, ‘I only wear Chanel No. 5.’
The quote originates from a retelling by Monroe to Life Magazine in April 1952. The question wasn’t posed by Life; instead Monroe offered it up as a anecdote: “Once this fellow says, “Marilyn, what do you wear to bed?’ So I said I only wear Chanel No. 5.”‘
Monroe is the subject of the second advertisement in a multi-part campaign, titled ‘Inside Chanel,’ levied by the brand. The ad, at just over two minutes, makes Monroe a posthumous face of the venerable perfume. ‘We may never know when she said the phrase for the first time,’ the video states about Monroe’s famous reference to the perfume, going on to cite all the times they have proof it happened: April 7th, 1952, in Life Magazine. October 1953, at a photoshoot for Modern Screen. April 1970, Marie Claire.
‘°5, because it’s the truth… and yet, I don’t want to say nude. But it’s the truth!’