FĂȘte for Marilyn Monroe

“My agent Charles Block called to tell me that 20th Century Fox had a press call for a party that was to honor Marilyn Monroe, and he wanted me to cover it. Ray Anthony, the popular band leader, had written a song called Marilyn and there would no doubt be other celebrities to photograph.

Portrait of Marilyn Monroe at a party held in her honor by 20th Century Fox, 1952.

Portrait of Marilyn Monroe at a party held in her honor by 20th Century Fox, 1952.

I told him that I just didn’t feel this was my kind of photography, but the logic of his argument was too irresistible: ‘You need money to pay the bills, and anything you get on Monroe will sell!’

Reluctantly, I went. There were at least 50 other Hollywood photographers there, waiting for Marilyn to arrive. Fox had flown Marilyn from the studio to the party in a helicopter, hoping to make a dramatic entrance. As the chopper was landing, the downdraft blew all of the umbrellas, the sheet music from the orchestra, several ladies’ hats and God knows what into the pool. I was standing up above, laughing at this scene.

The photographers all rushed toward the landing helicopter, and I just stood where I was. And then an amazing thing happened: Marilyn walked right up to me, with all of the other photographers trailing behind her. For one very brief moment, I had her alone. It was probably the only single shot made of her like that, and it was just pure luck.

As I was about to take the photograph, and looking down at her through my reflex viewfinder, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising. Marilyn had some sort of energy field that it would seem she could switch on or off when she posed, which I don’t think I will ever see again. Hollywood’s publicity departments called it sex appeal and thought it was achieved by showing cleavage, but they missed the point. This attractive energy is something you are born with. It is there to see at any age. Some people have more, some less, and I prefer to call it gender.”