Intimate Exposure: Marilyn Monroe 50 Years On | Film reviews, news & interviews
Intimate Exposure: Marilyn Monroe 50 Years On
She died half a century ago, and still nobody photographs better as a new collection underlines
It’s 50 years since Marilyn Monroe died alone on the night of August 4, 1962, from swallowing too many sleeping pills. The sad story soon became the stuff of legend. When they found her, she was still slumped over the telephone receiver; she had been ringing around, desperately trying to get help. Rumours soon spread about her relationship with Senator Robert Kennedy and possible access to state secrets, which gave rise to far-fetched conspiracy theories implicating the CIA in her death.
The intrigue may have helped keep her memory alive, but it goes nowhere near to explaining why, half a century on, her image is still as vibrant and inspiring as ever. Since her death, she has become an enduring icon, as glamorous and charismatic as when she was posing for the camera and performing for her adoring audience.
Despite wanting to be taken seriously as an actor, stills were her favourite medium
In her book Marilyn: Intimate Exposures Susan Bernard reminds us of how her father, Bruno Bernard of Hollywood, discovered Marilyn on a July day in 1946. Coming out of the dentist and walking along Sunset Boulevard, he spotted Norma Jean Dougherty strolling by, gave her his card and invited her to the studio for a photo shoot. The pictures he took show a charming, all-American girl with a round face and wavy, light brown hair. Next he photographed her in a two-piece, which at the time was considered rather risqué; but because she looks so wholesome and chubby, the results are more cute than sexy.
In those early pictures the smile often looks false – the result of saying “cheese” rather than expressing an emotion. You can tell she is being art-directed. Later when the impetus for the pose more often came from her, she was able to inhabit the moment. And it shows in every detail of her body, including the smile; seeming to radiate happiness and desire, it became one of her most captivating features. Johnny Hyde, vice president of the William Morris talent agency, soon took Norma Jean under his wing and paid for a nose job that refined her features by removing the chubbiness and emphasising her cheek bones. Her hair was bleached a dramatic silver blonde, and Marilyn Monroe was born.
Continuing to photograph her throughout her career, Bruno Bernard took some of the most enduring and iconic shots of Marilyn (see gallery overleaf) including the famous scene taken in 1954 on the New York set of The Seven Year Itch, when an updraught of air from through the subway grill blows a breeze up under the skirts of her white, halter-neck dress. The book contains a colour print of the delicious image for you to tear and frame.
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