Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe has been thought of as one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen for more than 60 years. This is despite the fact that she has been dead for over 50 years. Part of the reason was the fact that she was probably the most photographed person of the 20th century. Besides her film career, part of her mystique was built up courtesy of the tons of photos taken of her. Many of the best photographers from the 20th century took Marilyn’s photo. From the nude shots to the unforgettable shot from The Seven Year Itch to more intimate shots taken by famous photographers these shots really illustrate how Marilyn was the killer combination of sexy, graceful and innocent.
Gail Levin’s documentary uses photos, interviews with photographers or their families, film clips, news reels, and old interviews with Marilyn herself to tell the story of the impact that this woman had and how it was captured in photographs. Levin’s film uses the stories told by those photographers who are still around to construct an intimate portrait of the star.
Marilyn Monroe was different from every other starlet from Hollywood. There was something special about her and that specialness showed up in photographs. Photographers themselves admit that when Marilyn Monroe was the subject they no longer were the artists, she was. It was Monroe who painted the picture into the camera. Many women are beautiful, but Marilyn was made for the camera. She had the unique ability to be both sexy and angelic at the same time.
From a young age Marilyn had sex appeal. Even before she went platinum blonde and became Marilyn Monroe. Photographers recognized the value of photos of Marilyn. It was a relationship that benefited both the star and the photographers. Early in her career photographer Eve Arnold met Marilyn at a party. Both were young and neither knew much about their respective métiers. They decided to take photos and during the session they just “played”. She seduced the camera and it loved her.
A very smart woman, Marilyn saw the benefits that good photographs brought to her career. Some thought otherwise. The well-known feminist Gloria Steinham believed that Marilyn was a creation of male photographers and filmmakers. Being sexy was something that Marilyn accepted, but also felt it was a burden at times. She felt that her sexy nature made women hate her. It was only once the women’s movement came along that women were more able to relate to her vulnerability.
Some of the photographers struck up relationships with Marilyn. One was Milton Greene. They met when he was 32 and had just moved from Life magazine to Look magazine. After the photo session they spent four years working together. She trusted him and he protected her. Greene took those famous photos of her in black velvet and in the ballerina dress.
The shot seen around the world of her was the one on the subway grate. It has been seen by millions. It was taken during the filming of The Seven Year Itch. She allowed the still photographers to shoot while Billy Wilder set up the shot. Joe DiMaggio was fuming as he felt his wife was on display in way that wasn’t proper. Marilyn was never embarrassed of her body or played down her sexuality. She knew that it was what seperated her from all the other blondes in Hollywood.
Through the photographs you could really tell what this woman was going through and feeling. For instance, the pictures of her during her New York period show that she was an unhappy woman. A sad woman who could no longer really work.
Author Norman Mailer felt that she had an artist’s intelligence and by the end of her career her taste was transcendent. She created her own image, controlled it and even mastered it. Some saw her as a joke, but it was a joke she was in on. Over the course of her career Marilyn seemed most happy when modeling. People connected with the photos because they felt like she gave them access to something they normally weren’t.
Movies don’t tell the whole story when it comes to Marilyn Monroe. You have to look at the still photos to understand and see it. That quality that made her a star really came through in photos.