When Avedon Met Marilyn…

Richard Avedon’s first collaboration with Marilyn was in September 1954, when she visited New York to film The Seven Year Itch with director Billy Wilder. It may also have been their first meeting, and their warm camaraderie is evident in the resulting photos, taken by Sam Shaw. Earl Steinbicker, who was Avedon’s studio assistant at the time, remembers the shoot in Avedon: Something Personal.

“I met a helluva lot of famous people with Dick … I was there for the first sitting Dick ever did with Marilyn Monroe. The Daily News had sent a photographer to photograph him photographing her. I worked the fan blowing her hair, and at the end of the sitting she came over and said, ‘Wouldn’t you like a picture of me?'”

Marilyn in New York: From Subway Grate to Sutton Place

Over at the Village Voice, Molly Fitzpatrick looks at New York’s many iconic movie locations with blogger Nick Carr (Scouting New York) and Sarah Louise Lilley, a guide for TCM’s On Location tours.

“At times, there was an almost virtual reality–like quality to the experience, when Lilley’s commentary and film clips, cued up to play on overhead monitors when we passed the real-life locations within them, transformed the present-day city seen from the bus windows into a long-lost version of itself … Had Lilley not pointed it out, the subway grate at 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue where Marilyn Monroe famously posed in The Seven Year Itch could have been any one of the city’s thousands and thousands more just like it, unglamorously trod on every day by locals and visitors alike.

Sutton Place, as seen in ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’

Both Lilley and Silverman cited Sutton Place Park as their favorite movie landmark on the tour, a tiny, peaceful lookout onto the East River with a stunning view of the Queensboro Bridge … Sutton Place is the swanky, townhouse-lined neighborhood that lies just south of the bridge. ‘The history of New York and the history of film is beautifully interwoven there,’ Lilley says. In the early-twentieth century, the same stretch of East River waterfront was home to not only luxurious apartments with views to match, but poverty-stricken tenements and the gangs who inhabited them, as depicted onscreen in 1937’s Dead End. By 1953, Sutton Place had become the must-have address for the trio of enterprising husband-seekers — Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall — in How to Marry a Millionaire.”

The interior of the Sutton Place South building was recreated in Hollywood – but Marilyn would rent an apartment there in 1956.

Garry Winogrand’s Marilyn in New Documentary

Garry Winogrand was a LIFE magazine photographer who captured modern America in many unforgettable images. In September 1954, he was also one of the fortunate few to capture Marilyn shooting The Seven Year Itch in New York – both the iconic ‘subway grate’ scene, and the brownstone on East 61st Street where she waved from the window. Winogrand once said of Marilyn that she drew ‘all the available light’ around her.

Now filmmaker Sasha Waters-Freyer has made a documentary, Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable, which will be touring film festivals this year and has also been selected for the PBS American Masters series.

“Artist. Iconoclast. Man of his time.  Garry Winogrand was the epic photographer of 20th century American life.  

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable is the first documentary film on the life and work of acclaimed photographer Garry Winogrand  – the epic storyteller in pictures of America across three turbulent decades.  His artistry encompassed the heartbreak, violence, hope, and turmoil of postwar America, from the frenzy of its urban core to the alienation of its emergent suburbs.

He was born a first generation Hungarian-Jewish American in the Bronx, New York, in 1928, but his story is vital to our time.  If you take pictures of friends, strangers or celebrities, on the street or at a party, you are creating in Winogrand’s artistic legacy – even if you have never published an image in the pages of Life Magazine or hung a print on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art.  His ‘snapshot aesthetic,’ once derided by the critics, is the universal language of contemporary global image making.  When he died suddenly at age 56 in 1984, Winogrand left behind more than 10,000 rolls of film – more than a quarter of a million pictures!  He produced so many unseen images that it has taken until now for the full measure of his artistic legacy to emerge. 

Endorsed by his estate, Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable is the first cinematic survey of that legacy.  The film tells the story of an artist whose rise and fall was – like America’s in the late decades of the 20th century – larger-than-life, full of contradictions and totally unresolved.”

Marilyn Movie Series at Ripley’s Orlando

Wardrobe test for ‘The Seven Year Itch’

Ripley’s Museum in Orlando, Florida is organising several events alongside the current display of Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday’ dress, including a lookalike contest and screenings of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch in December – more details here.

Marilyn at Heritage Auctions in November

This rare and lovely photo, framed with an inscription from Marilyn to Arthur Miller, is featured in the Heritage Auctions Entertainment Signatures sale, set for November 11. Marilyn has written a heartfelt message in red wax pencil to her husband, ‘I know when I am not there for you – !!!‘, followed several ‘x’s or ‘m’s (this part is hard to decipher.) The photo was consigned from the estate of Marilyn’s lawyer, Aaron Frosch, and was likely passed on to him when the Millers’ marriage ended.

The auction also features a number of rare photos by Jean Howard, many never seen, from their 1954 portrait session (see above), plus stills from the set of How to Marry a Millionaire, and the famous shot of Marilyn dancing with Clark Gable at Romanoff’s.

Marilyn with director Jean Negulesco at the ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ premiere, 1953.

Among the Monroe-related documents on offer is this certificate from the Exhibitor Laurel Awards, citing The Seven Year Itch as the best film of 1955.

UPDATE: Marilyn’s signed photo sold for $8,125.

Ranking Marilyn’s 29 Films

Marilyn made 29 films during her 15-year career (excluding the unfinished Something’s Got to Give.) Around half of these were made while she was still a starlet, and her screen-time is often quite limited although she always made the most of her role. In the first of an New York Magazine series profiling classic Hollywood stars, Angelica Jade Bastien has taken on the daunting task of ranking all 29 films from worst to best, with insightful commentary on each one. I don’t agree with all her opinions – for example, I would put The Seven Year Itch (ranked 10th) in my top 5. There’s also a question of whether to judge each movie as a whole, or by Marilyn’s performance – for example , her debut film, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (ranked 24th) is enjoyable fluff, but Marilyn’s role was cut to ribbons. Whereas her next ‘bit part’, in Dangerous Years (ranked just below at 25th) was more enaging. Let’s Make Love (ranked 22nd) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (ranked 15th) are among my least favourite of Marilyn’s major films, but her musical numbers are superb. However, we all have our own preferences and it’s always great to see Marilyn’s true legacy in the spotlight, where it belongs.

“Hollywood has been creating a mythology around blonde bombshells since its beginnings. But no blonde sex symbol has had a deeper and more long-lasting impact on film and American culture than Marilyn Monroe. You probably had an image of Monroe in your mind long before you ever saw her on film. The dumb blonde. The white-hot sex symbol. The foolish girl-woman. The picture of mid-century femininity — wasp-waisted, platinum blonde, and buxom. The tragic victim. These warring images have lasted long after Monroe’s death in 1962 at 36 years old, and they’re easy to twist into caricature. She’s been flattened onto dorm-room posters, mugs, T-shirts, artist renderings. She’s been linked to falsely attributed quotes, conspiracy theories, and lurid rumors. But Monroe was more complex than her legacy suggests, as both an actress and a woman. This ranking of Monroe’s 29 films — based on her performance in each — gives a sense of what a supremely talented comedian and dramatic actress she was, with a keen understanding of the camera that few actors can replicate.”

The Secret of Marilyn’s Timeless Appeal

Marilyn in  ‘River of No Return’ (1954)

In an insightful piece for the Ipswich Star, arts editor Andrew Clarke suggests that the reason for Marilyn’s enduring fame is not merely because of her beauty and dying young, but also her talent and charisma, best seen in her movies.

“The reason that Marilyn continues to be an international star, long-after her death, is a combination of good looks, striking personality and a fine actress. Once she hit her stride she also made some brilliant films, films that have become classics and still entertain audiences 60 years after they were made.

Films like Some Like It Hot and Seven Year Itch remain as bright and effervescent as the day they were made. If you research some of Marilyn’s lesser known films like Niagara or How To Marry A Millionaire with Lauren Bacall then you will find the performance and the material equally good.

Examination of her dramatic films such Bus Stop and The Misfits reveals a talented, thoughtful actress who connects with the character and with her audience. In these films, more so than her comedies, she played a character probably more akin to the real Marilyn, a vulnerable, emotionally exposed individual trying to find her place in the world.”

Summer is Hotter With Marilyn

Arts critic Parker Bowman lists The Seven Year Itch among his favourite summertime movies in a column for the Visalia Times-Delta.

“The classic screwball comedy is iconic for its scene of Monroe’s dress flying up while she stands above a subway grate, a scene that completely overshadows the rest of the film in pop culture history. This, of course, is a shame, because it’s genuinely funny, Monroe is about as charming as a human could ever be in it and Tom Ewell is pitch perfect as the hilariously conflicted everyman.”