‘Nothing Personal’: Richard Avedon’s Marilyn

Marilyn by Richard Avedon (May 6, 1957)

With a major new biography of Richard Avedon, Something Personal, due to be published later this month, the New Yorker‘s Hilton Als looks back at Nothing Personal, the photographer’s 1964 collaboration with author James Baldwin. An exhibit of material from the book will go on display at the Pace/McGill Gallery, NYC, on November 17.

“As an artist, Avedon told the truth about lies, and why we need them or metaphors to survive, and how people fit into their self-mythologizing like body bags, and die in them if they’re not careful. Look at his portrait of Marilyn Monroe in Nothing Personal, perhaps one of the most difficult pictures in the book. In an interview, Dick said Monroe had given a performance as Marilyn Monroe earlier in the shoot, laughing and giggling and dancing. But then the shoot was over, and where was she? Who was she? Nothing Personal is riddled with these questions of identity—what makes a self?—a question that gave a certain thirteen-year-old ideas about the questions he might ask in this world: Who are we? To each other? And why?”

Marilyn: The Hit Collection

Marilyn Monroe: The Hit Collection is the latest in a growing number of new vinyl compilations. Released by Zyx Music and available from various outlets (including Amazon), the album features a reworked ‘Happy Birthday/I Wanna Be Loved By You’ (Mr President Mix) alongside 15 original recordings.

The cover photo, taken by Richard Avedon in 1957, also appeared on Marilyn Monroe: Never Before and Never Again (1988), but the content is different.

Marilyn in the Saturday Evening Post

Marilyn graces the cover of The Golden Age of Hollywood, a  new one-off special from the Saturday Evening Post. It costs $12.99 and can be ordered directly here. (Unfortunately I don’t yet know if it ships outside the US, but I’ll update you if I find out.)

Marilyn has a long history with the Post, as one of her most revealing interviews with Pete Martin, ‘The New Marilyn Monroe’, was serialised over three weeks in 1956, and later published in book form with the playful title, Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe?

On Marilyn’s birthday this year, the Post paid tribute with a blog about the sex symbols who preceded her – including Lillian Russell, Theda Bara and Clara Bow, all of whom she impersonated in her extraordinary ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ shoot with Richard Avedon. But she turned down the chance to play showgirl Evelyn Nesbit in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (the role went to Joan Collins.) And of Mae West, she told W.J. Weatherby, ‘I learned a few tricks from her – that impression of laughing at, or mocking, her own sexuality.’ Jean Harlow, perhaps Marilyn’s greatest influence, is a surprising omission.

You can read Marilyn’s Post interview here.

Sandra Chevier on Marilyn’s Superhero Struggle

sandra-chevrier-mm

Canadian artist Sandra Chevier’s Cages, currently on display in Hong Kong, blends images of Marilyn and other iconic women with comic strip superheroes, reports Time Out. (The portrait above is based on Richard Avedon’s 1957 photo, while the image below draws on a 1953 studio shot by Frank Powolny.)

“Cages is about women trying to find freedom from society’s twisted preconceptions of what a woman should or shouldn’t be. The women encased in these cages of brash imposing paint or comic books that mask their very person symbolise the struggles that women go through [facing] false expectations of beauty and perfection, as well as the limitations society places on women, corrupting what truly is beautiful by placing women in these prisons of identity. By doing so, society is asking them to become superheroes.”

sandra chevier mm

Last Chance for ‘Warhol Avedon’ in London

Marilyn (1)

The Warhol Avedon exhibit, which opened in February at London’s Gagosian, will close on April 23, and Hazel Rowland has reviewed it for the Apollo magazine blog – with specific reference to Warhol and Avedon’s images of Marilyn.

“The similarities between photographer Richard Avedon and artist Andy Warhol are almost uncanny. Both came from modest American backgrounds, both had substantial commercial success working in New York in the 1940s, and both then went on to develop their own distinctive artistic styles away from the commercial world in the 1960s. They treated similar subjects too: both captured the influential and the famous, and took an interest, often from a cynical standpoint, in the world of celebrity…

This is developed further in Warhol’s Four Marilyns (1979­–86), a set of silkscreened portraits depicting Marilyn Monroe: Warhol became obsessed with portraying the star following her suicide in 1962. The use of repetition here is not only representative of Warhol’s work – the artist played with notions of seriality throughout his career – but of Pop art more generally, which often drew on images of mass production. This fascination with Monroe emphasises Warhol’s cynical view towards the superficiality of celebrity. He robs her face of all colour, leaving instead a black and white, ghostly image, with only the essence of Monroe’s facial features remaining.

Avedon’s portrayal of the star is markedly different, however. His 1957 photograph of Monroe betrays the photographer’s greater – and perhaps more conventional – desire to convey the sitter’s inner nature. Monroe is all dolled-up and wearing a shimmering dress, yet Avedon captures her at a moment when she is off-guard. She looks subdued and inward: here is perhaps a flicker of what lies beneath this endlessly performing star.”

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.

bendigo mmcoll crop
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

tumblr_mj3cw2b0FZ1r91fzpo1_500

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 …”

Warhol, Avedon and Marilyn in London

12687824_777510129022173_8977852187231259506_n

‘Warhol Avedon’, a new exhibition combining the works of pop artist Andy Warhol and photographer Richard Avedon, is on display until April 23 at The Gagosian in Britannia St, London (King’s Cross/St Pancras area.) Ash Moore reviews the exhibit for The 405, exploring the different ways in which Warhol and Avedon approached Marilyn as a celebrity subject. (The exhibition is also covered in Harper’s Bazaar‘s UK March edition.)

Marilyn (1962) portrays the superstar in a deadpan expressionless aesthetic. It is the commentary rather than the portrait that seeps through and Warhol’s darker fascination with both her mortal death and her death of self is disclosed. The cheapening of her image through serialization and reproduction is a statement made by Warhol about the nature of society and the way personas could be marketed and consumed like products…

Unlike Warhol’s assembly line reproductions, Avedon set out to capture the genuine sentiments of celebrities. This is entirely poised in his portrait of Monroe in Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6 (1957). The comparison between the two sets of work is without precedent. In Avedon’s portrait, we see a more vulnerable or innocent looking Monroe, a side to her that wasn’t necessarily depicted in the public domain.”

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Remembering Charles Coburn

Charles Coburn celebrates his 83rd birthday with Marilyn and Jane Russell, 1953
Charles Coburn celebrates his 83rd birthday with Marilyn and Jane Russell, 1953

Charles Coburn – Marilyn’s venerable co-star in Monkey Business and Gentleman Prefer Blondes – is profiled today at Immortal Ephemera. The article mentions an interview Coburn gave to columnist Bob Thomas -published in December 1952, while Blondes was in production.

“In the early fifties Coburn supported Cary Grant from the same office as Marilyn Monroe in Monkey Business (1952). A year later Coburn found himself supporting Marilyn in the classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), also starring Jane Russell. ‘I can’t think of any more pleasant work than watching Miss Monroe and Miss Russell,’ Coburn told Bob Thomas late in 1952. ‘Each possesses sex appeal to a remarkable degree. That is a kind of animal magnetism which is rare in human beings.’ Then, showing his age, Coburn added, ‘Some of the great figures of the theatre had it—women like Anna Held and Lillian Russell.’ Coburn also appreciated their sense of humor and how down to earth each of the younger actresses were. ‘Neither of them has let fame go to her head; they are regular and don’t put on airs.'”

In 1957, Marilyn would impersonate Lillian Russell – one of the most famous actresses of the late 19th and early 20th century, when Coburn’s long career was just beginning – for her ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ photo shoot with Richard Avedon, published in Life magazine.

Marilyn as Lillian Russell, 1957
Marilyn as Lillian Russell, 1957

Phil Stern 1919-2014

‘Phil Stern: A Life’s Work’ (2003), photographed by Fraser Penney

Photographer Phil Stern has died aged 95, Variety reports.

He was born in Philadelphia in 1919, and learned his trade as an apprentice for the Police Gazette. He won a Purple Heart for his work as a unit photographer during World War II, and as a freelance photographer for Life and other publications, was a pioneer of photo-journalism. He also worked extensively on film sets, and shot many classic jazz album covers. In 1961, Stern was hired by Frank Sinatra to document President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.

la-et-cm-stern-monroe-photos-20120727-photos-005

He first photographed Marilyn in 1952, at a party celebrating the release of Ray Anthony’s ‘My Marilyn’. But his most substantial work with MM was at a children’s charity event at the Shrine Auditorium on December 4, 1953. Her range of expression in these photos – from joyous to melancholy – is extraordinary, anticipating Richard Avedon’s 1957 portraits.

30981-1.tif

With Jack Benny
With Jack Benny
With hairdresser Gladys Rasmussen and make-up artist Allan 'Whitey' Snyder
With hairdresser Gladys Rasmussen and make-up artist Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder

39496_458995426689_60323281689_6850635_928543_nIn 1956, Marilyn returned to Hollywood triumphant after a year-long sabbatical. Once again, Stern captured her pensive side at a press conference. And in 1958, he took a long shot of a visibly pregnant Marilyn on the set of Some Like it Hot. (Sadly, she would later miscarry – making his picture both rare and poignant.)

newyorker1999_monroe-500x667

94226_80.tif

In recent years, Stern opened a gallery in Los Angeles and published two books, Phil Stern’s Hollywood and A Life’s Work. ‘Stern has been sporadically selling prints of his photographs for years out of his modest Hollywood home,’ NBC reported. ‘But only the most persistent usually succeeded, and one of those was Madonna, who showed up at his doorstep to buy a photo of Marilyn Monroe.’

la-et-cm-stern-monroe-photos-20120727-photos-004
Director Steven Spielberg poses with Phil Stern’s most famous photo of Marilyn

tim mantoani

Active until the end, Stern was living at the Veterans Home of California. In 2012, an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death opened at the Phil Stern Gallery.

He was modest about his gifts: ‘Look, Matisse I ain’t,’ he told the LA Times in 2003. ‘You know, how they have on the invitations, a reception for the artist will be held at….  And I say, Look, you gotta change this. I’m not an artist! I’m a photographer. A skilled craftsman.’

‘I have these dreams,’ Stern joked. ‘Those anxiety dreams. I’m at heaven’s gate and there is St. Peter, and they’re waiting to let me in. And there’s Davis, Sinatra, Wayne, Brando. They’re looking at me. You son of a bitch!