She was one of the world’s biggest movie stars, who charmed leading men and audiences alike with her angelic face, killer curves and bewitching personality. But if there was one relationship that has had the most enduring effect on Marilyn’s legacy – it is surely her love affair with the lens.
In her short lifetime, Monroe’s image was captured by countless photographers all over the world, including some of Britain’s most well-known snappers.
Hampstead-born Cecil Beaton famously captured the actress during an intimate session in his Ambassador hotel suite in New York. The celebrated portrait photographer was hugely in demand in 1950s Hollywood yet it took him three months to arrange his shoot with Monroe, for which she showed up an hour and 15 minutes late.
But the star was in high spirits when she did finally arrive on that February afternoon in 1956: “She romps, she squeals with delight, she leaps on the sofa. She puts a flower stem in her mouth, puffing on a daisy as though it were a cigarette,” said Beaton. “It is an artless, impromptu, high-spirited, infectiously gay performance. It will probably end in tears.”
On the contrary, the above shot of the star clutching a flower is said to be Monroe’s favourite image of herself (Marilyn Monroe, 1956, by Cecil Beaton. Courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s). She framed the picture, alongside an article Beaton wrote about the session, in a silver picture frame, which sat on a side table in the living room of the East 57th Street apartment she shared with husband Arthur Miller from 1956 to 1960. The frame, still holding the photo and Beaton’s article sold at auction in 1999 for $145,500.
Life photographer Larry Burrows was one of the other British names to work with Monroe. The photojournalist was charged with covering Monroe’s four-month visit to Britain in 1956, during which she filmed ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ opposite the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier.
Here, Monroe is shown at the press launch for the film greeting an eager crowd of fans from a window of the Savoy Hotel.
Marilyn Monroe at the press launch of The Prince and The Showgirl, Savoy, 15 July 1956, Photograph by Larry Burrows © 2012 Larry Burrows Collection
A life in short: Born Norma Jean Mortenson in 1926, Monroe began her career as a model, rising to superstar status before her untimely death in 1962. During her career Monroe received a BAFTA nomination for her role alongside Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl and a Golden Globe award for her role in Some Like it Hot. Her final completed film was 1961’s The Misfits, co-starring Clark Gable.
These iconic images and many more are displayed within the exhibition ‘Marilyn Monroe: A British Love Affair’ at Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery until 17 May.