Bert Stern, Elite Photographer Known for Images of Marilyn Monroe, Dies at 83. Words by Michael Klinkhamer. Photography Bert Stern.
Bert Stern, an elite commercial photographer who helped redefine advertising and fashion art in the 1950s and ’60s but is perhaps best known for his painfully raw and poignant photos of Marilyn Monroe, taken for Vogue six weeks before her death, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.
50 years after her death Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jeane Baker) continues to amaze the world with her iconic pictures. Unreleased photo’s still turn up and her truly iconic smile and beauty are there for us to enjoy and lighten up even the darkest places on earth.
Marilyn Monroe died on 5 Augustus 1962, age 36. Exactly fifty years ago. Perhaps the most photographed woman of our times died a mysterious death and left the world wondering and grieving for what could have been.
I' ve always loved woman. I think being a woman must be very difficult. After all, you're always on the inside. Men look at the outside. It's that illusion wich is so delicious. Once you break that mask, then you in another world~ Bert Stern.
Photographer Bert Stern held three photo sessions between June and July 1962 intended for Vogue Magazine only weeks before her death shrouded by mystery. These pictures became known as "The Last Sitting." At the time Bert Stern was a star photographer in his one right. Notoriously nicknamed the “Badboy” of photography he photographed all the major artist, movie stars and celebrities in the late fifty's and sixty's.
Now at the age of 84, Bert Stern talks to Michael Klinkhamer at his apartment in New York City, about his most famous work and why that photo shoot left him personally undone for the rest of his life.
Contracted by Vogue, Stern commanded in his contract that he could shoot and publish his personal photo work for the magazine at least 10 pages a year on anything he wanted to do.
To his own surprise he concluded that Marilyn Monroe never before featured the pages of Vogue magazine.
Bert Stern had met Marilyn Monroe before, briefly at an Actors Studio party in 1955. Taken aback by her fame and beauty and too shy he dared not to approach her personally. She made a huge impression on Stern, who was a young upcoming New York photographer and an all ready notorious womanizer. It took him years to gain self-confidence to even dare talking to her. Finally, years later he had gained enough self confidence and status as a famous star photographer to approach her for his personal Vogue photo shoot in June 1962.
“Bert Stern was the ‘original madman’. He could do just everything in photography.”~ Benedikt Taschen-book publisher.
Monroe and Stern locked themselves up at the biggest suit at the Los Angeles Bel Air Hotel and converted the place into a studio. Armed with a few cases of Dom Perignon Champagne and some basic props, jewelry and scarves. Finally Marilyn Monroe was his muse for a day and a long creative night that continued into the early next morning.
“Tell me how did you do it, Mr Stern?
"When she walked up to me I could see that she had changed. She lost weight, she wore no makeup. Dressed in some black tight slacks a pink sweater and a scarf around her neck. I said to her, wow your beautiful!” She replied; “what a nice thing to say." But I really ment it, I did not expect her to be so beautiful. She had this blond hair and a luminous skin.”
“To photograph her naked was not my intension. I wasn't out to do it. But it ended up more nude than I expected. I brought with me all these scarves and jewelry and thrown them on the bed. She said, what do you want to do? I replied what do you like to do?
You want to do me naked, don't you? She replied. She picked up this scarf and held it up. She asked her personal hairdresser George, what do you think, about nudes with scarves? He replied "divine" and I knew my life was in his hands for that moment. She went into the bathroom and came out naked, she said how is this for a 30th of a second, holding up a see through scarf. I already understood at the time this was something never to be repeated. Me being with Marilyn Monroe, naked in a hotel room and I could do anything I wanted to do."
“She embodied so much in the pictures; divinity, goddess, living, passion. I did that self portrait, on the bed sitting next to her, a wine bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothchild on the foreground. I placed a mirror in front of us. I had no idea of what the exposure was, but it came out all right.
Somehow there was an other force with her, a magical force. After all we are our pictures, we are a visual experience. She was just perfect. We kept shooting that day and night until she passed out on the bed.
After the shoot Vogue called me and said we love these pictures so much and want you to go back to L.A and continue with her. So we kept on shooting for two more days, this time at first in clothes and in black and white.
But we loved our first session better and we decided to retreat into a room by ourselves, and do our own pictures. So I did the sexy pictures of her naked on the bed. I really wanted to make out with her, since that was my intension from the beginning.”
“To sleep with with Marilyn Monroe was my desire, but I had taken a pill of dexedrine to stay up, it was three a clock in the morning. Marilyn was on her usual Champagne cocktail, spiked with vodka. She was going like a house on fire. I was trying to keep up with her. The dexedrine pill gave me energy but I lost my sexual appetite. She said to me “I want a men with a easy touch and a slow hand.” So I tried to kiss her, but then she said no.
Woman are everything, man are just a muscle~Bert Stern.
“What made Marilyn cross out the pictures so dramatically? Vogue never let people see the pictures before publication, but for her I made an exception. She returned them with those orange crossed out X markings and some even scratched with a hairpin deep into the emulsion. Because in some of them she found a reflection of her image she did not like. But they are very interesting, as a matter of fact she kind of created art. Orange translucent crossings on black and with pictures! Don' t you just want to eat them? Laughs Stern.
If you see something you like, just shoot it. ~Bert Stern.
“Our first session was shot in June, the last sitting in July. Vogue went to press on august 6. on a Monday. She died the night before on Sunday August 5. I had no idea what was going on with her. I did not understand what her demons where, what pain. Because I was just a kid, wanting to make out with Marilyn Monroe.
The next best thing was the pictures. Maybe the best thing, because they still exist
And people still want it. They still want a piece of that passion that I had.”
Portrait Bert Stern in front of Monroe photograph by Neilson Bernard.
Recommended documentary movie on Bert Stern’s life and work: http://www.bertsternmadman.com
Three Legends: Monroe by Mailer and Stern
TASCHEN has paired Mailer's original text (his 1973 biography Marilyn) with Bert Stern's extraordinary photographs—widely considered the most intimate ever taken of Monroe—to create a fitting tribute to the woman who, at the time of her death in 1962, was the world's most famous, a symbol of glamour and eroticism for an entire generation.
Norman Mailer/Bert Stern: Marilyn Monroe
Text; Michael Klinkhamer.