In the summer of ’62 Peter Levathes was head of production for 20th Century Fox. He had only been in this position for about a year and before 1962 was over he’d be fired by Fox. It was during his tenure as the head of Fox that Marilyn was fired. Just over two weeks after Marilyn was let go Levathes was at her home to make the first overtures of re-hiring her. His offer came with the condition that she get rid of Paula Strasberg, Dr Greenson and Pat Newcomb. What Levathes didn’t know was that Newcomb was secretly listening in from an adjacent room. By this point Newcomb had inserted herself into every aspect of Monroe’s life.
Newcomb would be instramental in setting up what would happen the next day. It was on Sunday, June 24 that Bert Stern would rent a room at the Bel Air Hotel. It would be the first of three shoots Stern had with Marilyn that summer.
I’ve never thought much of the lying and exploitative Bert Stern so I don’t have much to say about him. So below a pic of a Bert Stern serigraph I’ll reproduce a Liz Smith article she did about Stern that seems to share my feelings about Stern but on a much milder level.
Stern photographed Monroe for Vogue in June of 1962, shortly after she had been fired by 20th-Century Fox.
According to Stern’s own lengthy introduction to his massive collection of those shots, titled “The Last Sitting,” MM arrived alone, wearing no makeup, casually dressed. He said she looked more beautiful (and much slimmer) than he’d expected. Despite this being a Vogue sitting, Stern had no clothes for her. Instead, there were scarves and beads. Monroe picked up one of the scarves, and said, “You want to do nudes?” Stern recalled, “She’d seen right through me!” (Stern wrote how his fantasy had been to photograph her nude.)
Monroe insisted she would not take off her slacks and worried over her recent gallbladder scar, “We’ll retouch it,” Stern promised. The photographer had supplied a case of champagne and by the evening’s end; Marilyn’s slacks were gone with the Dom Perignon.
Vogue liked the shots, but wanted her in clothes. Two more sessions followed — now she was accompanied by super press agent Pat Newcomb and a small entourage — and MM looked ravishing covered up in simple, classic designs by Dior. And then she died. Vogue had already laid out the spread, which was oddly, presciently melancholic.
A year later, Bert Stern would publish more of MM in the short-lived magazine “Eros.” He included photos that Monroe had crossed out, because he thought they were “interesting.” In fact, he was infuriated by Monroe’s editing. (But this had been her right as a star for a decade.) Anyway, he had sent her less than half of the 3,000-plus shots.
In years to come, Stern would exploit these images ruthlessly. Not only did he publish every single frame — some of them showing the actress clearly inebriated or in less than flattering poses — he declined to airbrush her scar or anything else; the blonde fuzz on her face, her freckles, tiny lines — magnified by the harsh lighting he used. He allowed the shots to be reproduced horribly, the color entirely “off.” (How did the famously pale Monroe end up looking orange?) It smacked of some kind of revenge. (Stern had attempted to kiss Monroe while she was all but incapacitated by drink, but she turned aside and fell asleep.)
I INTERVIEWED Bert Stern some years ago. He was generally testy, and seemed irritated that his major claim to fame were the Monroe shots, though it was he who had kept them in circulation. (He even went so far as to photograph Lindsay Lohan as Monroe!)
Unlike Marilyn, Liz wore her scar as a symbol of survival.
I asked him about Monroe’s scar. “Yeah, that was a nasty scar!” “Why didn’t you retouch it?” Stern paused and gave me a thin smile, “She was dead, why bother?” We spoke of other things, but he kept returning to Marilyn, with a mixture of gratitude, awe and some deep resentment. I asked him why he’d published every single photo of her? Not all of them were great. Again the smile. “Why not?” There was no artistic argument or explanation about the overload. Just — why not?
Shortly before Stern’s death in 2013, he began to alter his own story of the “Last Sitting.” Now, it was Marilyn who wanted to do the nudes, not him — it was all a big surprise!
Stern was a great photographer, and many of his Monroe photos are wonderful — the fashion shots especially, which give a glimpse of the elegant woman who lurked beneath the flashy image, what she might have become had she lived.
But I can’t say he impressed me much, personally. (Maybe he had a headache that day?) The exhibition will run through June 20th. Perhaps this time, those in a position to choose the photos will edit more judiciously and kindly than Stern.
SOURCE: LIZ SMITH: Hollywood Honors a Real Survivor. Wednesday, April 1, 2015