A Moment with Marilyn – Part 2
“I was full of a strange feeling, as if I were two people. One of them was Norma Jeane from the orphanage who belonged to nobody. The other was someone whose name I didn’t know. But I knew where she belonged. She belonged to the ocean and the sky and the whole world.” – Marilyn Monroe.1
The celebrated English photographer, diarist, and designer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-80) photographed Monroe at arguably the height of her fame for American Harper’s Bazaar. Beaton used the Ambassador Hotel as his base while working in New York, and wrote, “However, the tornado visit of Marilyn Monroe [22 February, 1956] was the greatest fun. Although two-and-a-half hours late, Marilyn was instantly forgiven for her disarming, childlike freshness, her ingenuity and irresistible mischievousness”.2 Beaton, whose character assessments could be as withering as his observations were often acerbic, was nonetheless won over by Monroe, who by that time had a reputation for being chronically late, unprepared, and ‘difficult’ to work with.
The session with Beaton produced the image that became Monroe’s favourite, Marilyn Monroe (VI) (1956), also known as ‘the Bed Sitting’, or the ‘Japanese photo’. It was from a series of improvised shots of the actress lying down, and holding a carnation pressed to her chest. A wall-hanging depicting a Japanese scene was used as a back-drop: it was the image Monroe sent to her fans, and was found in multiples amongst her personal belongings. Seven images from this famous series are included in the touring exhibition Marilyn: Celebrating An American Icon, seen recently at Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA), and the single frame in Marilyn Monroe at Bendigo Art Gallery (until 10 July, 2016). Beaton’s shots of Monroe, “showed him at his most inventive, and pays tribute to the amazing rapport a great icon can engender in a great photographer … [and] elicited from the star the vulnerable seductiveness that best characterised much of Monroe’s appeal”.3
In June, 1956 Beaton wrote an article recalling his impressions of the photo-shoot with Monroe, and sent her a handwritten copy. She had a three-panelled silver picture frame, given to her by Joshua Logan (1908-88), who directed her to great acclaim in Bus Stop (1956), and his wife, actress Nedda Harrigan (1899-1989). Monroe framed the pages either side of this beloved photograph, which sat on a side-table in the living room of the apartment at East 57th Street in New York she shared with her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) from 1956 to 1960.4 Beaton gives an evocative account of Monroe’s infectious joie de vivre, and is full of admiration for her sheer tenacity; he is equally perceptive as to her inner doubts and often crippling insecurities,
Miss Marilyn Monroe calls to mind the bouquet of a fireworks display, eliciting from her awed spectators an open mouthed chorus of ohs and ahs. She is as spectacular as the silvery shower of a Vesuvius fountain; she has rocketed from obscurity to become our post war sex-symbol; the pin-up girl of an age. And whatever press agentry or manufactured illusion may have lit the fuse, it is her own weird genius that has sustained her flight. Transfigured by the garish marvel of Technicolor cinemascope, she walks like an undulating basilisk, scorching everything in her path but the rosemary bushes. Her voice has the sensuality of silk or velvet … The puzzling truth is that Miss Monroe is a make-believe siren, unsophisticated as a Rhine maiden, innocent as a sleepwalker. She is an urchin pretending to be grown-up …
In her presence, you are startled, then disarmed, by her lack of inhibition. What might at first seem like exhibitionism is yet counterbalanced by a wistful incertitude beneath the surface. If this star is an abandoned sprite, she touchingly looks to her audience for approval. She is strikingly like an overexcited child asked downstairs after tea. The initial shyness over, excitement has now gotten the better of her. She romps, she squeals with delight, she leaps onto the sofa. She puts a flower stem in her mouth, puffing on a daisy as though it were a cigarette. It is an artless, impromptu, high-spirited, infectiously gay performance. It may end in tears.
Equally impromptu is her general appearance. This canary blond nymph has been so sufficiently endowed by nature as to pay no attention to the way she looks. Her hair, her nails, her make-up, have a makeshift, spontaneous attractiveness. It is all very contemporary.5
What Beaton could not know was that his somewhat florid description of Monroe would prove sadly prescient: “This, then, is the wonder of the age – a dreaming somnambular, a composite of Alice in Wonderland, Trilby, or a Minsky artist. Perhaps she was born the post war day we had need of her. Certainly she has no knowledge of the past. Like [Jean] Giraudoux’s Ondine , she is only fifteen years old; and she will never die”.6
Having previously helmed three Shakespeare adaptations for the screen (1944-55), Lord Laurence Olivier (1907-89) chose as his next directorial venture The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Sir Terence Rattigan (1911-77) wrote the screenplay based on his own comedic work The Sleeping Prince: An Occasional Fairy Tale (1953). Olivier had starred in the first production of the play, opposite his then wife Vivien Leigh (1913-67), in London’s West End, but it was not destined to be another filmic outing for ‘the Oliviers’. Monroe had acquired the film rights to the play for her recently established Marilyn Monroe Productions (MMP). The role of the young actress ‘Elsie Marina’ who captivates the pompous Regent, ‘Prince Charles of Carpathia’, was well suited to Monroe’s deft comedic abilities. She served as an executive producer of the film with Milton H. Greene, whom Miller was wary of and resented. The relationship between Monroe and Greene would all but disintegrate during filming, adding to the atmosphere of professional and personal enmity that seemed to envelop the production.
During pre-production, Olivier insisted on a meeting with Beaton at the Ambassador Hotel to ask him if he would design Monroe’s costumes for the film. These two giants of the theatre world had fallen out in 1948 while working on the Old Vic touring production of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (1777) for Australia and New Zealand, for which Beaton had been engaged as the designer. Beaton was nonplussed by their lunch, relating, “I believe Larry was disappointed I was not more impressed. But when I saw the play in London, I disliked it intensely … I love Marilyn Monroe and would put up with a great deal of trouble, delays and indecisions for this adorable person, and the pre-World War I period is one that I can hardly ever resist, but probably under the circumstances this time I could …” 7
Resentful that Olivier had still not made suitable amends for what Beaton perceived as his disrespect towards him, he decided to play hard-to-get. “Only the next day did I ring Arnold Weissberger [1907-81], my friend and attorney. I told him to ask for the highest fee that any designer in the history of entertainment has ever been given. As I never heard another word from Larry – and not even a thank-you for the lunch – I imagined my demands were considered insufferable”.8 Beaton would reach the pinnacle of his film career in the following years, winning the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Gigi (Vincente Minnelli, 1958), followed by Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (colour) and Best Costume Design (colour) for My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964). After the missed opportunity of The Prince and the Showgirl, Beaton and Monroe never worked together again.
Following Olivier’s unsatisfactory meeting with Beaton, British designer Beatrice Dawson (1908-76) was retained to design the ladies costumes. She had worked with Leigh on Caesar and Cleopatra (Gabriel Pascal, 1945), and was nominated for the Academy Award for her work on The Pickwick Papers (Noel Langley, 1952). On display at Bendigo Art Gallery is the white beaded Edwardian‐style Evening gown (1957) Monroe wears for most of the film. It is thought that anywhere from three to five identical copies were made for the production: small pinholes in the garment indicate it was used in scenes after ‘Elsie’ has been invested with the lavender badge and sash of the ‘Royal Carpathian Order of Perseverance’ (2nd Class) to attend the coronation of George V, and the evening ball, with the Carpathian royal family. The blue and dusty rose coloured chiffon Evening jacket (1957), with embroidered rose motifs and flared trim, worn by Monroe over the dress is now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Style Icons in County Kildare, Éire.
Colin Clark (1932-2002) was employed on The Prince and the Showgirl at the suggestion of Vivien Leigh. He was the younger son of the renowned art historian and author Sir Kenneth Clark, later Baron Clark of Saltwood, and his parents were friends of ‘the Oliviers’. Clark was nominally the 3rd Assistant Director on the film, a role he described as “a kind of superior messenger boy”, working principally for Olivier.9 Nonetheless, his position offered an insider’s view of the production, which he later published in two books. Clark’s memoirs formed the basis of the film My Week With Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011), and he gave this recollection of Monroe’s costume,
We had only seen MM wrapped in chiffon so far. She [Dawson] need not have worried. MM finally appeared in a long white dress that suited her perfectly. It made her walk with an amazing wiggle, but a wiggle which is somehow naïve not brazen. It also showed just enough of the famous Monroe bosom. Bumble [Dawson] made various tiny alterations and then announced that two more fittings would be needed to get it right … MM did some twirls for the camera, but this time no one held their breath and Jack [Cardiff, the Cinematographer] hardly bothered to adjust the lights. We all know what it will look like – ravishing.10
When not needed on set, Dawson would accompany Monroe on shopping expeditions around London, helping her select outfits and assisting her to dress for public appearances.11 This included the show-stopping burnished gold lamé gown and cape Monroe wore to the Royal Film première of The Battle of the River Plate (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1956), held at the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square (29 October, 1956), where she was presented to Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret.12
In any case, Monroe and Olivier’s collaboration proved to be a strained one, characterised by disillusionment, antipathy and mutual dread. She found him condescending and unsympathetic; he was infuriated by her lateness, opposed to the ‘Method’ acting approach, and resentful of Monroe’s dependence on her acting coach, Lee Strasberg’s wife, Paula (1909-66). “It can be no news to anyone to say that she [Monroe] was difficult to work with. Her work frightened her, and although she had undoubted talent, I think she had a subconscious resistance to the exercise of being an actress”, Olivier sniffed. “But she was intrigued by its mystique and happy as a child when being photographed; she managed all the business of stardom with uncanny, clever, apparent ease”.13 When questioned about the film by George Barris, Monroe did not equivocate either, responding, “I think Larry at his best is a great actor. It’s what you get up there on the screen – he was my choice [as the lead] because I felt there was something incongruous and it would make it interesting. But frankly, he wasn’t my choice as a director – but he wanted to direct”.14
Although Monroe’s relationship with Olivier deteriorated rapidly over the course of filming, Beaton was by no means the only bastion of British arts and culture to feel great affection for her; she also struck up a somewhat unlikely friendship with Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964). They first met in January, 1953 when Sitwell visited Hollywood at the suggestion of director George Cukor (1899-1983) when it appeared that her historical biography of Elizabeth I, Fanfare For Elizabeth (1946), might be optioned for a film. Life magazine asked Sitwell to write an article for them about her visit, and arranged to bring the two women together. Clearly the editors hoped that this disparate pairing might produce a news-worthy spat, and sent New Zealand-born photojournalist George Silk (1916-2004) to document the moment. As Sitwell drily noted, “But, still more important to them [Life], was that Miss Monroe and I should be brought face to face, since it was obvious that we were born to hate each other, would do so at first sight, and that our subsequent insults to each other would cause a commotion when reported. They were mistaken”.15
Having endured a dysfunctional aristocratic childhood, the grande dame seemed to empathise with the paradoxical nature of Monroe’s life,
Such are the contrasts between the lives of those who by natural gifts have overcome all obstacles, and the half-death, the misery of those poor wretches who had been ‘damned by the rainbow’ and who, without talent, had come to Hollywood – misled, perhaps, by the fact that in early youth they had some good looks – to make their fortune, since, they believed, the streets were paved with gold. On the day on which I first met Miss Monroe, I was brought face to face with these contrasts.16
When Monroe and Miller travelled to England for the production of The Prince and the Showgirl, she and Sitwell met up again at The Sesame & Imperial Pioneer Club in Grosvenor street (27 October, 1956). Sitwell also expressed her “very great admiration” for Miller, who was supervising the two-act version of his play, A View From the Bridge (1955). It premièred 12 October, 1956 at the New Watergate Club/Comedy Theatre in London’s West End under the direction of Peter Brook, CBE.
Interviewed in 1959, Sitwell appeared unaware that Monroe had no control over how Tom Kelley’s nude photographs of her, taken in 1949, were used, but she is otherwise touching in her stout defence of the star,
She was brought to see me in Hollywood [in 1953], and I thought her a very nice girl. I thought that she had been disgracefully treated, most unchivalrously treated. If people have never been poor, perhaps they don’t know what it is like to be hungry. That girl allowed a calendar to be made of her, you see. Well, there have been nude models before now, it means nothing against a person’s moral character at all. This poor girl was absolutely persecuted by people. I mean she has, or had, an unfortunate attraction for an extremely unpleasant kind of man whom she avoided assiduously, I have seen her do that … she behaved like a lady. 17
For her part, Monroe seems to have reciprocated Sitwell’s warmth of feeling. Found amongst her possessions was a framed black-and-white portrait of Sitwell (1958), signed and gifted to Monroe by its photographer, Philippe Halsman (1906-79).18
Halsman first photographed Monroe in 1949 for a Life magazine story about starlets and their acting skills, and worked with her on several photo spreads up to 1959, including his famous Jumps series, commenced in the early 1950s. “I saw the amazing phenomenon of Hollywood being out-smarted by a girl whom it itself characterised as a dumb blonde”, he observed of Monroe.19 As Professor Lois Banner has pointed out, photography offered Monroe a creative outlet with none of the pressures associated with film-making. “Most fashion photographers – including eminent photographers like Greene and Beaton – were gentle, unlike tough Hollywood producers and directors … Marilyn didn’t have to remember lines for them, or watch for key lights or marks on the floor. Producers weren’t there enforcing time constraints. Marilyn had a lot of control in these situations. She was so good at posing that she often set the pace, and the photographer followed her lead”.20
Numerous photographers have attested to Monroe’s dedication and flexibility as a subject, but it was perhaps Magnum photographer Eve Arnold, OBE, who best described Monroe’s innate aptitude for the medium,
I found myself in the privileged position of photographing somebody who I had first thought had a gift for the camera, but who turned out had a genius for it. She had a naïve quality, but she also had a great sense of showmanship and self-promotion. She was very clever. She was able to assess each photographer. Even if it was only an amateur with a box camera, she worked with the same intensity and diligence that she would have if she were working with a top professional. She would photograph ten pounds lighter which is against every rule in the book. The smile was brilliant. Her skin was translucent, white, luminous. She was always sort of golden-looking, and because she had a down of just very fine golden hairs on her face it trapped the light and caused an aureole to form, giving her a faint glow. It was extraordinary. I’ve never seen it before. It was a nimbus, so that she looked almost angelic.21
Monroe had admired a series of stark, documentary-style photographs Arnold had taken of Marlene Dietrich in 1952 at the recording studios of Columbia Records in New York, and published in Esquire magazine.22 The spread was brought to Monroe’s attention by the photographer, and later film producer, Sam Shaw (1912-99). He had met Monroe on the set of Viva Zapata! (Elia Kazan, 1952) where he was working as the stills photographer, and became one of her most trusted confidantes. Shaw introduced Monroe to Arnold at a party given for John Huston in New York that same year, whereupon Monroe exclaimed, “If you could do that well with Marlene, can you imagine what you can do with me?”23 However, it was not until 1955 that Arnold began her professional association with Monroe. The results were unguarded and fresh, subtly repositioning Monroe’s image as a sex-pot to that of a dedicated young actress, as she sat in a playground on Long Island reading Joyce’s Ulysses. Their friendship would last a decade and extend to six photo sessions: seven of Arnold’s images are included at Bendigo Art Gallery, including those taken during her two-month stint on the set of Monroe’s last completed film, The Misfits (John Huston, 1961).
A photographer who had only one session with Monroe, but certainly felt the force of her particular ‘photographic alchemy’ was Carl Perutz (1921-81). Perutz began taking photos as a youngster in the 1930’s, and served in the American 8th Army Air Force during WWII, taking reconnaissance photos over France and Germany from a B17 ‘Flying Fortress’ heavy bomber. By 1945, he had risen to the rank of Captain, and was then deployed to take photos on the ground behind enemy lines.
Following WWII, Perutz shared an apartment in Paris with the co-founder of Magnum Photos, photojournalist Robert Capa (1913-54). For years Perutz used a MAGNUM rubber stamp on his photos, which followed him through studios in Paris (1947-52) and New York (1952-58). “In 1982, Cornell Capa [1918-2008], who founded the International Center for Photography in 1974, and who was Robert’s [younger] brother, confirmed to me that Carl was a Magnum photographer”, Perutz’s son, Pete Livingston, asserts. “So did Inge Morath [1923-2002, Arthur Miller’s third wife], albeit indirectly, through an article in the New York Post, in which she placed Carl at the scene of the art.24 Some years back, executives at Magnum denied Carl’s membership despite dozens of photos, by-lines, and several testimonials to the contrary. Fact-based reporting just isn’t what it used to be!”, Livingston says ruefully.
Perutz, who worked as an independent contractor, was asked by the Hearst Corporation to conduct a photo-shoot with Monroe for a feature in their Sunday newspaper supplement The American Weekly, which ran from 1896 to 1966. The 1958 cover-story, “Milady’s Easter Bonnet”, asked six leading milliners to provide a hat for six well-known women. Laddie Northridge, who was assigned to Monroe, declared, “Marilyn Monroe is the feminine symbol of our time- the complete woman- gay, loving, distracting, and mysterious. This big Italian straw [hat] provides an exciting frame for her and the roses add a simple touch of drama”.25 Monroe appeared on the cover of The American Weekly for 25 September, 1955, but in this case she was not the cover subject. “Several famous women – Kathy Grant Crosby, Lucille Ball, Elsa Maxwell, and Eleanor Roosevelt – were featured wearing hats, but Mamie Eisenhower, the wife of the President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was chosen over Marilyn for the cover. Not a strange preference for 1958, but imagine how shocking it would be if Mamie were chosen over Marilyn today!”, Livingston remarks.
Livingston relates that Perutz shot about sixty frames during this session in which Monroe wore several hats from Northridge’s salon, including a black unblocked felt hat worn low over one eye. The frame chosen by the publication, Marilyn wearing a white, floppy hat (Perutz-002) (1958), shows a breathtakingly elegant Monroe in a plain black coat, with roses from the hat cascading over one shoulder. Her slightly mussed hair and minimal make-up, set off by pear-shaped drop earrings, makes for a study where the particular radiance Monroe generated for the camera could not be more evident. Silver prints were produced, some of which were sold to Monroe herself, although these beautiful images were not seen by the wider public. “In this specific case, Carl’s photos weren’t even published. They were used so that painter Jon Whitcomb [1906-88] could create a derivative illustration using Carl’s work as reference. The photographs were never legally published until about 2007, although they did leak out into the world prior to that, thanks to their ‘liberation’ by mystery persons from Carl’s studio, circa 1979. All of the images in The American Weekly ‘Easter hat’ edition were paintings, at least one derived from a photograph”, Livingston explains.
Like many returned servicemen, Perutz suffered from undiagnosed PTSD, which made his transition back to civilian life traumatic, and his ability to interact with his family was severely impaired. He continued his freelance photographic work, albeit sporadically, into the 1970s. Livingston has battled for decades to track down his father’s output and register copyright over the stolen images, “Carl failed to get his work out of his last studio in Lower Manhattan in a timely manner, presumably because of what were by then a multitude of health issues. In the process of a new tenant coming in, most of his work disappeared – with nary a call to Carl or the police – with the exception of the Marilyn images. Those were taken, and reprinted illegally, numerous times. Our fellow travellers, by and large, seem not to give a damn about the thousands of images Carl produced, or his favourite subject Helen Keller [1880-1968], but they quite literally go mad for Marilyn!”, Livingston admits. “I’ve been slowly working on a story about my virtual relationship to Marilyn Monroe, which has now included two tours of Federal Court, and getting to know my Dad, thirty-five years deceased, via Marilyn”.
NEXT ISSUE: Extend your Moment With Marilyn as the story continues in July 2016
Marilyn Monroe, Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, Bendigo (VIC), until 10 July 2016 – bendigoartgallery.com.au | The touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating An American Icon, is due to be staged next at The Citadelle Art Foundation (16 September-18 November, 2016), 520 Nelson Avenue, Canadian, Texas, USA – thecitadelle.org | Official web-site of the Estate of Marilyn Monroe – marilynmonroe.com
1 Lois Banner & Mark Anderson, MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe, Abrams, New York, 2011, p.161. | 2 Sir Cecil Beaton, The Restless Years: Diaries, 1955-63, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1976, p.37. | 3 Terence Pepper, “Beaton’s Forebears and Contemporaries: A Photographic Legacy”, in Terence Pepper, Sir Roy Strong & Peter Conrad, Beaton Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2004, p.13. | 4 Nancy Valentino (Ed.), The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe, Christie’s, London, 1999, Lot 22, p.40-43. The triptych sold for USD $145,500. | 5 Ibid, p.42, 40. | 6 Ibid, p.40 | 7 Sir Cecil Beaton, op cit, p.126. | 8 Ibid. | 9 Colin Clark, The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me: Six Months on the Set With Marilyn and Olivier, St. Martin’s Press, New York (1995) 1996, p.12. | 10 Ibid, p.73-74. | 11 Christopher Nickens & George Zeno, Marilyn In Fashion: The Enduring Influence of Marilyn Monroe, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2012, p.235. | 12 Colin Clark, op cit, p.187-88. | 13 David Willis & Stephen Schmidt, Marilyn Monroe: Metamorphosis, itbooks, New York, 2011, p.185 | 14 George Barris, Marilyn: Her Life In Her Own Words- Marilyn Monroe’s Revealing Last Words and Photographs, Birch Lane Press, New York, 1995, p.117. | 15 Dame Edith Sitwell, Taken Care Of: An Autobiography, Hutchinson, London, 1965, p.183. | 16 Ibid, p.184. | 17 Marilyn Monroe Video Archives (voice recording) online: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cBdxWVgLE0 | 18 Nancy Valentino (Ed.), op cit, Lot 339, p.240. The portrait sold for USD $4,830. | 19 Lois Banner, Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, Bloomsbury, London, 2012, p.271. | 20 Ibid, p.265. | 21 David Willis & Stephen Schmidt, op cit, p.219. | 22 Eve Arnold, Film Journal, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2002, p.13-15. | 23 Ibid, p.55. | 4 Jerry Tallmer, “Paris/Magnum in sharp focus”, New York Post, 24 April, 1982, p.10R. | 25 Jon Whitcomb (illustrator), “Milady’s Easter Bonnet”, The American Weekly, 6 April, 1958, p.13.