Eve Arnold
August 10, 1987 12:00 PM

In the early 1950s Marilyn Monroe saw a pictorial tribute to Marlene Dietrich in Esquire and asked to meet the photographer, Eve Arnold. “If you could do that with Marlene, imagine what you could do with me,” said Marilyn, then 24 and a relatively unknown starlet who had just appeared in a small part in The Asphalt Jungle with Sam Jaffe. Over the next decade, Arnold, a leading member of the photographers cooperative Magnum Photos, had six opportunities to capture Monroe with her camera. The shortest session lasted two hours, the longest two months, in 1960 when Monroe was filming The Misfits with Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach. When Marilyn committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills on August 5, 1962, Arnold embargoed many photographs of the star. “I didn’t want to exploit the material,” she explains. Now, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Monroe’s death, Arnold has published those pictures, along with a memoir of her friendship with Marilyn. In the following excerpt from Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation, the photographer tells of the wispy, insecure young woman who yearned to be loved and never quite knew she had achieved her goal.

The beginning of my photographic involvement with Marilyn coincided with the start of the big time in her career. She was bouncy, full of plans and hope for her future. It was fascinating to watch her progress and see the cleverness with which she handled herself in those days.

After I photographed Marilyn in 1952 for Esquire, she asked to see the pictures, and, being too inexperienced to know that most photographers do not show their results to the subject before publication, unless it is specifically agreed beforehand, I went to the Waldorf, where she was living, to show them. She had said that she had a woman from a European magazine coming to interview her at 4 o’clock, and if I didn’t mind coming earlier and sitting through the interview, she would look at the pictures afterward.

When she opened the door, she was wearing a diaphanous, totally see-through black negligee, her feet were bare, and she was holding a hairbrush in her hand. In a few minutes the interviewer arrived, and when she was seated and looking into her bag for notebook and pencil, Marilyn asked the woman if she minded if she brushed her hair. “Of course not,” the woman replied, and when she looked up, Marilyn was brushing her pubic hair. The woman was so startled that she sputtered her way through the interview and left very quickly.

When the pictures were projected, Marilyn was enthusiastic about them. There were one or two that she felt were not quite right, and I agreed to destroy them. As her celebrity grew, she was able to demand the right to reject or “kill” any photograph she disliked. This was not true of single newspaper photographs, only of magazines. If an editor wanted her, he had to agree to her terms.

The idea of the candid shot, the actress unaware, was impossible with her. She always knew where the camera was, and she responded before the first click was heard. She didn’t look in the camera’s direction, she just knew, and projected for a close-up even if there was a long lens trained on her that to others would have been invisible. It was like an unseen beam of light that only she picked up. One photographer working on a film set with a long lens said she always knew where he was, even though he was stationed unobtrusively 50 yards from her. She would play to his camera, and then, when tired of the game, she would drop her eyes, her signal that she was through.

As a subject she was unique, but there were days to make a photographer despair. She would look heavy, fat—as though if one put an apple in her mouth she could be served on a platter. Yet, surprisingly, she photographed 10 pounds lighter than she was—a rarity, as most people photograph 10 pounds heavier.

Another anomaly—her flesh. It was pneumatic, almost touchable on screen; she had what cinematographers call “flesh impact.” Her skin was translucent, white, luminous. Up close, around the periphery of her face, there was a dusting of faint down. The light fuzz trapped light and caused an aureole to form, giving her a faint glow on film, a double plus.

She was totally uninhibited when posing, and all angles seemed to work. If she had a bad side, it was never evident because she would maneuver herself to avoid showing it; if accidentally it was exposed on film, it didn’t matter—she would reject the finished picture.

She could think of more ways to get herself psyched up for a picture shoot or an interview than anyone else I ever met. One way was to get out of the taxi two or three city blocks away from her destination, then run (usually with her publicist puffing behind her). She would arrive breathless and manage to give the impression that she had just emerged from a delicious encounter with a lover.

Her makeup was a total mystery. According to “Whitey” Snyder, her veteran makeup man, she knew more secrets about shadowing her eyes and using special lipstick to make her mouth glossy than anyone else in the business. These “secrets” were kept even from him. But the routine of getting ready took so long that it would cut into the shooting time. The photographer might become impatient, but when Marilyn arrived, she brought with her the infectious ambience necessary to beguile, and away we’d go.

Magnum Photos arranged for the exclusive rights to all still photographs on Marilyn’s film The Misfits in 1960. I was part of the photographic team. When Marilyn greeted me on location the morning after our arrival, she was very sweet but wanted to know how she looked. She looked radiant, and I was happy to tell her so. It was four years since we had worked together, and she looked at my face for a long moment to make sure she could still trust me. Then she drew in her breath and said, “I’m 34 years old. I’ve been dancing for six months [on Let’s Make Love], I’ve had no rest, I’m exhausted. Where do I go from here?”

On the set her moods often shifted. Her unpredictability was understandable but hard to take. Her friendship with Eli Wallach, going back to early Actors Studio days in New York, underwent a change. They had been close friends, but she would suddenly grow cold. One day she would sit on his lap or he on hers, and the next day she would ignore him. With Gable she was always at her best—considerate, gracious and amusing. One day Gable told her he was expecting his first child. He was then 59 and thrilled about it. She was very happy for him, and it was touching to see them together at this moment. Marilyn had been raised in orphanages and by foster parents, and she once told me that in her make-believe world Clark Gable was her father and that in her dreams he brought coloring books to the orphanage, not only for her but for her to give to all the other little girls.

Marilyn’s relationship with John Huston was one of awe. Having him as her director was a dream come true. He had been responsible for casting her in The Asphalt Jungle, the first film in which she was noticed. He was her talisman. He treated her in the same courteous but distant way he treated all his actors. In return, she tried to please him, and in the love scene on a bed with Gable, when he, fully dressed, woke her with a kiss, she, nude and covered only in a sheet, sat up and dropped the sheet. Showing her breasts nude was not in the script—it was her own notion of how the scene should play. When you consider that this was I960 and frontal nudity was a rarity in films, she thought she was doing something praiseworthy.

Huston let her finish the scene her way, didn’t say “Cut!” until she was through, but he did cut it in the editing. And when she looked at him for approval, all he said was, “I’ve seen ’em before.”

The night before the last day’s shooting, Huston gave a joint birthday party for Montgomery Clift and Arthur Miller [screenwriter for The Misfits and then Marilyn’s husband]. Marilyn arrived with Arthur, though their marriage was by now essentially over. The film was almost finished, and we celebrated noisily.

After dinner we went into the bar to shoot craps. When Huston gave Marilyn the dice, she asked, “What should I ask the dice for, John?” His answer: “Don’t think, honey, just throw. That’s the story of your life. Don’t think—do it.”

All during the making of The Misfits, Marilyn was supposed to have been checking and editing Magnum’s photographs. She had the right of refusal on everything. The plan was that I go through everything with her that had been done by all the photographers. It took a full week. She had announced her divorce from Arthur Miller, and each day I would run the gauntlet of the press waiting outside her apartment house. Each day she appeared in her living room barefoot, silver-toed and wearing her white terry-cloth robe. Each day she would ask the same questions: Had the crowd of paparazzi diminished, and how come? With everybody desperate for pictures, why didn’t I take any? I explained that my concern was with the thousands we had already taken and that I wanted to photograph her on some happier occasion—a new film, a new man—who could guess what might be in store for her?

Daily we set to work, each with a pile of contact sheets, sharpened red grease pencils and a magnifying lens. The first day I explained the problems and the standards appropriate to editing a picture story. She was quick and perceptive, would listen when I explained why a certain picture or situation was necessary and would concur if she was convinced. If not, we would battle until one or the other backed down.

When she came across a picture of Miller, she would automatically put an X through it. We would follow the same routine—I would explain that she had no jurisdiction over his pictures but only over any in which she appeared with him. These were a battle. If she could be convinced that a picture was necessary in the context of the story, she would okay it. Otherwise, no.

Whenever she came across a picture with Gable, she would give me meticulous instructions on how to retouch him. The first time she did it, I told her that my kind of photography was “as is,” with no tampering. She persisted in her explicit directions for retouching nonetheless. We both realized that this was her way of thinking she was doing something for Gable, and I did make the notes she dictated, even though we both knew that nothing would be done.

As the days passed, it was evident that Marilyn was enjoying herself. We would start about noon and go on until 6 o’clock, stopping for a snack or coffee. We worked over a table in her living room. As I remember it, the room was furnished in beiges, a fitting background to her fairness.

On the day we finished the editing, I wanted to give Marilyn a gift to show my appreciation, and recalling that she had once wanted to look like the Botticelli Venus, I stopped at Scribner’s on Fifth Avenue and bought her a set of Botticelli prints. I placed the Venus on top, wrote on the flyleaf, “To the other Venus,” and when we had finished looking at her pictures, I gave her the gift.

She looked at the Venus without recognition, lost, uncertain and appealing, but for what it was hard to tell. It occurred to me that she had created her own Venus, but when the fantasy became reality, it was too much for her to bear.

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