Gene Lester (1910-1994) began his career as a radio singer before moving into photography. He opened a studio in Hollywood in 1940, and became the Saturday Evening Post‘s West Coast correspondent for the next thirty years.
He first photographed a young Marilyn in 1947, and thereafter on the set of There’s No Business Like Show Business in 1954, and on several occasions in 1956, in which her business partner Milton Greene was also present: including a glamour shoot for the Post‘s famous Pete Martin interview, plus snaps outside the Beverly Glen home Marilyn rented while filming Bus Stop, and her first photo-call after meeting co-star Don Murray.
A number of previously unseen photos by Gene Lester are now available to view on the Getty Images website. Enjoy!
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.
Jeff Nilsson takes a fascinating look back at Marilyn’s conversations with Saturday Evening Postreporter Pete Martin, who coined the term ‘Monroeisms’, proves once again that her genuine quotes are wittier than fakes. (Their interviews were later published in book form, as Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe?)
“By 1956, Marilyn Monroe had earned a national reputation for being a ‘star,’ a ‘celebrity,’ a ‘sex symbol,’ and… a ‘dumb blonde.’ This last attribute came from the popular assumption that a woman with such a strong sensual nature mustbe ignorant. It was reinforced by the movie roles in which she played dim-witted ladies. Partly, too, it was Marilyn’s speech, delivered in a high, breathy voice that made her sound continually startled. And it wasn’t helped by many of the things Marilyn said without thinking.
But many of her sayings were well thought-out before uttered: the Post staff interviewer called them ‘Monroeisms.’ Sometimes they were baffling, but they were usually amusing and containing a double meaning.
In truth, Marilyn was continually thinking up these quotable lines. A senior publicity agent [whom Pete Martin referred to as ‘Flack Jones’] told Martin that she was a skilled ad-lib artist. ‘She makes up those cracks herself. Certainly that “Chanel Number 5″ was her own.'”