Marilyn Monroe Photographed By The Best

Marilyn Monroe Photographed By The Best  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Profiles in History.

Even the most skilled photographers learned something about photography from Marilyn Monroe.  She knew how to make the camera love her.   

Photographer Richard Avedon said she gave more of herself to the still camera than any woman he ever photographed.  From the beginning of her modeling career Marilyn asked photographers constant questions about posing, lighting, angles and why certain photos worked and why others didn’t.

“What is it between you and the camera that doesn’t show up at any other time,” he asked. “It’s like being screwed by a thousand guys and you can’t get pregnant.”
— Marilyn Monroe

By the end of her career photographers admitted they learned from her.    

“For me there was no one like her before or after,” said photographer Eve Arnold. Marilyn was the measuring rod by which Arnold judged all of her other photography subjects.   

And Marilyn was photographed by some of the best of her time like Henri-Cartier Bresson, Cecil Beaton, Milton Greene, Douglas Kirkland, Philippe Halsman, and Ben Stern.

While film directors were bemoaning Marilyn’s insecurity and inconsistency still photographers were in awe of her. Many called her photos her genius.    

Douglas Kirkland said Marilyn was a rather dull person but when it was time to shoot photos something unbelievable came through. The minute the session ended--it was also all over he said.  

“What is it between you and the camera that doesn’t show up at any other time,” he asked. “It’s like being screwed by a thousand guys and you can’t get pregnant,” Marilyn said.     

Marilyn knew how she wanted to be viewed. If editors wanted to work with her they had to agree to her terms.  She maintained veto power over the finished product.

It didn’t always work.  Sometimes she was tired and the magic wasn’t there.  More often than not, the magic was there.

People said her features were not so special, but she had the ability to project herself.  She looked natural and spontaneous on film while other actresses and models often looked static and staged.

“I got a cold chill. This girl had something I hadn’t seen since silent pictures. She had a kind of fantastic beauty like Gloria Swanson, when a movie star had to look beautiful, and she got sex on a piece of film like Jean Harlow,” cinematographer, Leon Shamroy said about Marilyn’s 1946 screen test.

Marilyn liked to use props and costumes.  They allowed her to take on different personas.   

Milton Greene met Marilyn on a photo shoot for Look Magazine in 1953. They had an immediate connection becoming good friends and business partners. In addition to producing two feature films together they shot more than 5,000 photos together.  The trust and confidence the two had in each other was palpable on film.

When she was first introduced to Greene Marilyn exclaimed, 'But you are just a boy!' Putting her at ease, Greene replied, 'And you are just a girl.'

Their partnership lasted until 1957 when Marilyn bought Greene out of Marilyn Monroe Productions (some say forced out).

On Dec. 11, 2018, Profiles in History featured its Essentially Marilyn Auction.   Here are some current values for photography and other lots sold in the auction.

Marilyn Monroe

Original Portfolio; by Philippe Halsman; 10 gelatin silver prints; signed and numbered; 1952-59; 10 inches by 13 inches;  $4,650.

Portrait Photograph; Close-up by Jack Cardiff; Arthur Miller’s favorite photo of his wife; 16 inches by 20 inches;  $4,960.

Dress; White; iconic Subway dress designed for the film The Seven Year Itch; Travilla designed; 1955;  $124,000.

Dress; Scarlet; designed for the film The Prince and the Showgirl; JAX designed; 1957; from publicity shoot with Milton Greene; Warner Brothers;   $124,000.

Exhibition Photo Print; Ballerina Sitting; Milton Greene; original inkjet print; 1954; 40 inches by 40 inches; estimated to sell for $5,000-$7,000.  Did not sell.  

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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