Avedon’s Marilyn: Rare Nudes Emerge

An extremely rare (and very charming) series of semi-nude photos shot by Richard Avedon, featuring Marilyn with hairdresser Kenneth Battelle,  has surfaced on the website of the Edward Cella Gallery in Los Angeles.

This was probably shot during the same session that made the cover of Life magazine to promote Some Like It Hot in April 1959, although Marilyn had worked with Avedon the previous summer on the ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ sessions (published in Life in December 1958.) Avedon had been unhappy with some of the shots, so these nudes could have been among the rejects. However, Marilyn’s slightly bouffant hairstyle more closely resembles her look in March 1959, when Battelle accompanied Marilyn to the Some Like It Hot premiere in Chicago (see here.)

Interestingly, this was not the first time Marilyn stripped off for Avedon – she also posed topless for his ‘Photomatic’ series in 1957 (see here.) The playful nature of these images reflects Marilyn’s trust in Avedon – which was seemingly well-placed, considering how long it has taken for the shots to appear.

Thanks to Paul and Johann

Pop Trash: Jason Mecier’s Marilyn Mosaic

San Francisco artist Jason Mecier makes mosaics from junk – pills, candy, macaroni, and much more. Mecier’s portrait of Marilyn (based on a photo by Richard Avedon) is featured in his new book, Pop Trash, alongside a young Madonna during her Monroe wannabe period.

Beloved Collaborators: Capote, Avedon and Marilyn

Richard Avedon and Marilyn had a dear mutual friend – the novelist Truman Capote, who provided the text for Avedon’s 1959 book, Observations.

“Truman leapt at Dick’s invitation to collaborate on a book project. He sent his text to Dick in stages, written in his fussy little hand on yellow legal pads and always accompanied by a note that endearingly began ‘Beloved Collaborator.’ Dick was dazzled by Truman’s lapidiary descriptions of his portraits … Marilyn Monroe – ‘a waif-figure of saucy pathos … an untidy divinity – in the sense that a banana split or cherry jubilee is untidy but divine’ … Though Truman’s contributions would be labelled as ‘comments’, they added up to a composite portrait of their own and succeeded in making Observations as much a book with pictures as a picture book with text.”

From Avedon: Something Personal by Norma Stevens & Steven M. L. Aronson

The Millers in Avedon’s ‘Observations’, 1959

Avedon’s Marilyn: A Persistent Memory

A note from Paula Strasberg, overlaying Avedon’s ‘Sad Marilyn’

Taken at the end of a long sitting in 1957, the portrait now known as ‘Sad Marilyn’ has become one of her most iconic images, and a stand-out in her collaborations with Richard Avedon. Mark McClish, who worked with Avedon during the 1990s, names it as a favourite in Avedon: Something Personal.

“He let me choose a print when I left, and I picked the sad Marilyn. I had fallen in love with that picture when I was emptying wastebaskets every night as fourth assistant – I was all alone in the building, and so was she, somehow, and, I don’t know, she spoke to me. Dick did one of his smiley faces in the archival paper he wrapped her in for me – except he gave the face a frown and put tears in the eyes, which I’m not embarrassed to admit brought tears to mine. I still have my Marilyn – I haven’t had to sell it, my kids aren’t in college yet …”

Avedon was fiercely protective of Marilyn’s memory, as revealed in a chapter concerning a 2002 exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“The two photographs he had designated for promotional purposes were the cross-dressing dancer John Martin and the Bee Man, but now the Met wanted to replace them with the sad Marilyn (a photograph that her own husband, Arthur Miller, had described as ‘succeeding as much as any single picture can in its attempt to portray her as herself’ and that Time magazine characterised as ‘the most psychologically inward picture ever taken of her’). The museum argued that Marilyn enjoyed a ‘Q Score’ of twenty-five (high for a ‘deleb’, or dead celebrity) and that using her to advertise the exhibition could make a disproportionate difference in the number of attendees. Dick protested that this would be exploiting her as a sex celebrity and proposed using June Leaf instead. In the end the Met got their Marilyn, and Dick got his June on the cover of the catalogue.”

Avedon shared another memory of Marilyn in conversation with model turned psychiatrist Lauren Helm, whom he photographed and interviewed for Vogue in 1983. “I remember saying something to the effect that I could never see myself the way other people said they saw me,” she recalls, “and he said that Marilyn Monroe had said practically the exact same thing to him.”

Avedon’s Marilyn: Fabled Enchantments

Penny Cobbs, who worked for Richard Avedon during the 1980s, has described their collaboration on a series of posters based on his ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ sessions with Marilyn. “We did four Marilyns – her impersonating the old-time sex symbols Jean Harlow, Theda Bara, Clara Bow, and Lillian Russell – he’d done those pictures for Life in 1958,” Cobbs recalled in an interview for Avedon: Something Personal. “But since nobody could recognise Marilyn, they didn’t go over well.” Ironically, these posters are now highly collectible and because of their rarity, they sell well at auctions.

Richard Avedon’s Marilyn in Motion

In his early years as a fashion photographer, Richard Avedon was known for his use of movement, as opposed to the rather stiff poses of the day. He carried this through to his work with Marilyn, as Tim Walker – who worked with Avedon in the mid 1990s – recalls in Avedon: Something Personal.

“Dick had put up this huge bubble-jet poster of a sequence of pictures he’d taken of Marilyn in a tight sequinned dress: she was laughing in one of them, she had her hands on her hips in another one, in another her head was down, then up … One morning the first thing, when I was making the coffee, I observed him standing in front of the poster mimicking  all her poses, reliving the shoot in a way – almost asking, with his own body, ‘Did I get all I could?’ And of course he had!”

Richard Avedon: Waiting for Sugar

Frederick Eberstadt, who was Richard Avedon’s studio manager from 1958-60, shared his memories of the Some Like It Hot photo shoot in Avedon: Something Personal.

“When Dick was doing the publicity photographs for Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis came in carrying the most elaborate camera you ever saw. He said to Dick, ‘You’re the perfect person to show me how to use this thing.’ Dick took one panicked look and said, ‘My studio manager Frank [Eberstadt] will be happy to help you out.’ One of the first things he said to me when I went to work for him was, ‘Don’t bother to learn any technique – you can always hire some guy for a few bucks a week.’ Dick simply did not know how he did what he did. Learning to photograph from him would have been like trying to learn to sing from somebody who has perfect pitch and just can’t help hitting the right note.

At noon on the day he was to shoot Marilyn, a woman with a doughy face and a babushka, who I presumed to be her maid, dropped off some clothes for her at the studio. It turned out to be the star herself – that was what she looked like when she was not in full drag. She was supposed to come back at three, but Dick had booked somebody else in that slot, knowing she most likely wouldn’t show up until six and wouldn’t be ready to work until nine. He told me to stick around, that my job would be to make sure her vodka was diluted enough so she didn’t get too drunk but not so much that she realised it was mostly water.”