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.”

syi_sc15_set_sofa_by_barris_011_2
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.
Marilyn Monroe, subject of Liz Garbus’s LOVE, MARILYN. Court
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.

Santa Monica Pier
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.

santa monica pier 1924
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.‘”

Celebrating Michelle’s Indie Spirit

Michelle Williams won last night’s Film Independent Spirit Award as Best Female Lead for her role in My Week With Marilyn. The ceremony was held at one of Monroe’s childhood haunts, Santa Monica Beach.

“My friend was joking that until now I have been the Susan Lucci {star of TV soap All My Children, Emmy-nominated 18 times before finally winning in 1999} of the Indie Spirit Awards! I have been luckier and luckier to be working with better and better people. I still can’t even believe I did it, playing Marilyn. There wasn’t a direct path to playing her. The only way is was time and letting her dictate it instead of me controlling it.”