Marilyn Monroe : The Last Sitting, 1962
By Bert Stern
(…) I was going to do a head shot. One classic black and white photograph that would last forever. But if I was honest with myself, what did I really want?
To get Marilyn Monroe alone in a room, with no one else around, and take all her clothes off.
No one had gotten Marilyn Monroe to pose in the nude since Tom Kelley took those famous calendar shots.
Pure Marilyn was what I wanted, and I didn’t see what clothes had to do with it. Somehow getting her clothes off made the same kind of sense to me as going to Egypt to turn a pyramid upside down in a martini glass.
I just didn’t see how I was going to do it.
Well, I’d worry about that later. First, I had to decide where we were going to do it. Marilyn had set only one condition: the sitting had to be done in L.A.
A downtown Hollywood studio didn’t fit the bill at all. She would never take her clothes off in a rented studio. In a hotel room, on the other hand . . .
I had it. The Bel-Air Hotel.
The Bel-Air is the most secluded, private, beautiful hotel in L.A. It’s tucked away up in the hills of Bel-Air, and at first sight it looks Japanese. It has those artistic qualities of space and design, trees and flowers and quiet. There’s a little bridge across to the entrance, swans in the pond down below, and a labyrinthine garden you could get lost in. It’s really a fairytale environment- all arches, and pink stucco, and little courtyards full of flowers, and cool passageways down which discreet maids hurry with fresh sheets, and waiters with rattling carts of room service. It’s a sexy hotel. Every room has a fireplace and every room is placed to give maximum privacy.
I didn’t know that Marilyn knew and loved the hotel. She actually lived there off and on in between various husbands, and now she was on her own again. It would make sense, meeting me at the Bel-Air. She would feel at home.
Back in New York I felt a little like a man planning his wedding and honeymoon. I was going to photograph Marilyn Monroe. All I had to do was figure out how to get what I wanted: pure Marilyn, nude. But I didn’t know how to approach her with that idea. I certainly couldn’t just walk up to her and say, “Hi, my name’s Bert Stern, take your clothes off.”
Maybe the only way I was going to get it was through illusion: screens, veils. So, I went to Vogue and said, “Can you get me some scarves? Scarves you can see through- with geometrics. And jewelry.” Jewelry doesn’t need much clothes, right?
Vogue found a couple of dozen filmy scarves and some other odds and ends and gave them to me. I threw it all in a bag and took it with me to California. (…)
Excerpt from Marilyn Monroe : The Last Sitting, 1962
By Bert Stern
Published by William Morrow and Company, 1982
Bert Stern : Marilyn Monroe, The Last Sitting 1962
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