Over a period of 3 days in June 1962 Stern took over 2500 photos of the actress for a feature in Vogue and after she tragically died just 6 weeks later the photos, some nude and semi-nude, took on even more importance.
Stern has photographed a huge number of stars over the years including Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy, Sophia Loren, Scarlett Johansson, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Julie Andrews, Jacqueline Bisset and in 2008 Stern recreated the Last Sitting nude photos of Marilyn Monroe this time using Lindsay Lohan as the model. These photos of Lohan were published in the 25 February 2008 edition of New York magazine.
For the original Monroe Last Sittings photos Stern converted a large suite at the Hotel Bel-Air in LA into a grand photo studio. The hotel has been host to a bevy of Hollywood beauties over the years with Sophia Loren, Demi Moore and Britney Spears even choosing it to help celebrate their weddings. Grace Kelly was another famous celebrity guest and stayed there the night she picked up her Best Actress Oscar for The Country Girl in 1955. Grace also returned to visit the hotel after she married Prince Rainier and had become Princess Grace of Monaco. She now has a suite at the hotel named after her.
During the Monroe Last Sitting sessions Stern prepared a relaxed atmosphere for the actress by providing large amounts of chilled Dom Perignon 1953 champagne and even sprayed the suite with Chanel No 5, Marilyn’s favourite perfume.
All of this preparation enabled a very special 3 days of shooting and you can see by her expression and relaxed manner that Marilyn clearly trusted Stern and felt relaxed in his company. In fact there are several parallels with the way Princess Diana felt when she was being snapped by her favourite photographer Mario Testino. Just look at Marilyn’s face in some of these photos and she is clearly having a good time.
The new documentary Bert Stern: Original Madman, which is directed by Shannah Laumeister, has already been shown at a number of film festivals over the last few weeks and in the movie Stern explains that the photos from the sessions ended up being more nude than he originally had intended.
He said that he and Marilyn talked about how they wanted the photos to look and she picked up a see-through scarf and suggested that they took some photos with her nude behind the transparent scarf. Stern also reveals that Marilyn only wore a little eyeliner for the photo shoot. All of this seems worlds away from the crews of make-up artists, designers and many other back-up staff required by models and actresses these days, not to mention the Photoshop work required afterwards!
Bert Stern: Original Madman can be seen at a number of different cinemas around the US from early April. There are no plans so far to show it in the UK that we can see.
If you want a look at plenty more high quality images of Marilyn from the photos taken by Stern in June 1962 then we would recommend you take a look at the 1982 book Marilyn Monroe The Last Sitting: Bert Stern’s Favorite Photos of an American Icon. This book also contains several of the contact sheets from the sessions including some of images that Marilyn disliked and had crossed out.