Marilyn Monroe's looks and allure made her a desirable subject for photographers around the world, and several photographers built their careers by documenting hers. The only thing more fascinating than the unforgettable images of Marilyn they captured are the memories many of them took home when the sessions were over. For the first time in one place, the photographers responsible for some of Marilyn's most beloved pictures pick their personal favorites.
The Black Sitting - Milton Greene
When Milton first met Marilyn, she said, "You're just a boy." He famously replied, "Well, you're just a girl." Thus began a friendship that grew into a business partnership through Marilyn Monroe Productions. Milton's son and the steward of his archives, Joshua Greene, describes the photos he believes best exhibit his father's work:
To me, the most powerful, important pictures of their collaboration are the Black Sitting. It was never done for publication; it was done completely for their own self-serving needs. Milton was one of those guys who would shoot a roll or two. He didn't overshoot. The thing about the Black Sitting that was so amazing is, it lasted four hours and he shot 28 rolls... 12 frames per roll.
Milton, Joe Eula - my father's friend who was there as a stylist - and Marilyn drank a bunch of red wine, listened to some great music and did this fantastic, amazing series of pictures using essentially a black velvet background over a daybed. The photos are very personal, and they show the sense of humor and sensibility that they shared and enjoyed together. It was just a bunch of kids playing in a playpen.
Also, you don't see any nudity. Nowhere in the photos were there ever straight naked photos. He just didn't do that. Milton did that on purpose so Marilyn wouldn't feel betrayed or inappropriate, and this is a woman who liked being naked and didn't mind shooting naked. But Milton was a classy guy, and it wasn't necessary. To him, it was more the suggestion of nudity than the nudity. And that's what makes them so sexy. This is a timeless picture of a woman looking beautiful, and that's why it holds up. -Joshua Greene
The Actor Photo - Zinn Arthur
A former big-band leader and celebrity in his own right, Arthur found a second career as a photographer to the stars and captured some of the most memorable images of Marilyn at work in Hollywood. He first photographed her on the set of 1956's Bus Stop. Arthur's friend Frank Whitney and Katherine Van Acker, curator of Arthur's archive at the Image Works, Inc., share their thoughts on his favorite photo:
As a collection, Zinn liked the Bus Stop shots because he (and Marilyn) considered it to be her best film, thanks to Joshua Logan's direction. Josh was Zinn's best friend, and Zinn was a great admirer of Josh and his talents as a director. Marilyn loved Josh and how he brought out the best in her, and because Zinn was Josh's friend, she loved Zinn by association. - Frank Whitney
When Zinn was going to show someone, he wanted to be sure it was flattering. He wasn't out to overly sensationalize them or to take an unflattering picture. Zinn genuinely liked Marilyn. He was an entertainer. He understood what it was to be an entertainer and liked shooting them at work. This is a real moment. Marilyn was talking to the director of photography, and Zinn snapped off a few pictures and captured her in a flattering, nice way. - Katherine Van Acker
The Bedsheet Photo - Douglas Kirkland
One of only a handful of living photographers to have shot Marilyn, Kirkland has worked on the sets of more than 100 motion pictures and has shot as many celebrities, from Elizabeth Taylor to Michael Jackson. He photographed Marilyn in 1961 for Look magazine.
This is my favorite photo of Marilyn because it was her favorite. When she saw this photo she said, "That girl is the kind of girl that any man would want to be in that bed with. Even a truck driver."
On the first night of the shoot, she said, "I want a bed and white silk sheet. I won't wear anything but that white silk sheet. And I want Dom Perignon champagne and Frank Sinatra records." You felt like it was the real Marilyn there. The person who was behind "Marilyn." And that was the person I found myself taking pictures with. It was very sensual.
We were flirting like crazy, that's what it really came down to. She asked that everybody leave the room because she "wanted to be alone" with me. The energy was extraordinary, and it went into those pictures. That's why the pictures have been as successful as they have been. She didn't hold back. She gave the camera everything. - Douglas Kirkland
The Misfits Photo - Elliott Erwitt
After serving as a photo assistant in the U.S. Army during the 1950s, Elliott Erwitt went on to become one of the premier photojournalists of his generation, capturing iconic images of
John F. Kennedy, Che Guevara and Marilyn Monroe, among others. He was on the set of The Misfits to take photos of Marilyn hard at work on what ended up being the actress's last film.
My favorite thing about shooting Marilyn was how friendly and cooperative she was. She didn't mind me hanging around and shooting her candidly, even in the more personal pictures I took.
This photograph is my favorite, because it was a monumental task assembling all of these incredibly busy people together for the picture. I was taking publicity stills on the set of The Misfits and wanted to gather all the principal players in one photo. Photographing Marilyn was always easy once she arrived for the shot. The trick was getting her to show up on time. She was always difficult to pin down, which only adds to my pride at gathering her with all these stars for this photo. Now it's a record of the combination of talents present at the time. There was never any secret to get a good picture of Marilyn: Just aim the camera, shoot and let Providence do the rest. - Elliott Erwitt
The Pool Photo - Lawrence Schiller
In 1962, Marilyn was in freefall. She wanted to prove her value to 20th Century Fox and keep her name in the magazines. Lawrence Schiller, a 25-year-old photojournalist whose star was on the rise, was hired by Paris Match magazine to shoot her latest film, which would turn into a stunt of Marilyn's design: In one scene from the film, while swimming, she decided to be photographed nude, and off came her bathing suit. It would be their last collaboration.
A photographer is either a witness to something or he is a collaborator at an event. In this instance, I was both. The exploitation of the pictures was the reason she decided to do the scene nude. She could have done the scene with a flesh-colored bathing suit on and it would have worked perfectly, but she went further because she needed to achieve something else.
This photo became one of my favorites of Marilyn because years later it became my 8-year-old daughter's favorite. I showed her my photos and asked, "What do you think? Which is your favorite?" She chose this one. I said, "Why?" She said, "Because that's a picture that says everything but shows nothing." - Lawrence Schiller