Celebrating Marilyn

August 5 marks 60 years since Marilyn Monroe’s passing. We take a look back at her life as captured by Magnum photographers

New York, USA. 1956 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles on June 1, 1926, started her career as a model after World War II. She quickly become a popular photographer’s model before signing a short-term contract with 20th Century Fox in 1946. It was at this time that she took on the screen name, Marilyn Monroe — a name that in a few years would become known as Hollywood’s most celebrated and adored star.

Monroe’s career as an actor lasted just over a decade, from a minor role in The Asphalt Jungle in 1951 to more serious, critically acclaimed roles such as in Some Like It Hot (1959), and finally, The Misfits in 1961, written by her husband and playwright, Arthur Miller. Monroe passed away one year later, on August 5, 1962, at the age of 36.

New York, USA. 1956 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Magnum photographers were often regulars behind the scenes of Hollywood sets during this period, and some were there to document Monroe’s life in the limelight, from the early days of her career to her final shoots. Capturing Monroe on set, or in quieter moments away from the film crews, they build up an intimate, yet powerful portrait of the iconic actor. 

The first encounter between a Magnum photographer and Monroe was Philippe Halsman on a shoot for Life magazine in 1949. Three years later, in 1952, Halsman was to find himself in the rising star’s studio apartment in Hollywood, shooting for another assignment for Life. But this time, she was posing for the cover.

Photoshoot for LIFE Magazine. Hollywood, USA. 1949 © Philippe Halsmann/Magnum Photos
Marilyn Monroe in an acting exercise: "Laughing at Good Joke." Hollywood, USA. 1949 © Philippe Halsmann/Magnum Photos
Marilyn Monroe posing in her two bedroom apartment. Under the lamp is a picture of Italian actress Eleonora Duse, whom she admired greatly. Hollywood, USA. 1952 © Philippe Halsman/Magnum Photos

Eve Arnold was the photographer closest to Monroe, photographing her in different moments over a 10-year period. In the memoir of her life and career, In Retrospect, Arnold wrote: “She liked my pictures and was canny enough to realize that they were a fresh approach for presenting her; a looser, more intimate look than the posed studio portraits she was used to in Hollywood.”

Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce. Long Island, USA. 1955 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
Long Island, USA. 1955 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
Mont Sinai, New York, USA. 1955 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

The shooting of John Huston’s The Misfits, scripted by Miller and featuring both Monroe and Clark Gable, was to become the last film that she finished before her death. Nine Magnum photographers in total were sent under the scorching sun of northern Nevada to photograph the making of the film. Inge Morath and Henri Cartier-Bresson were the first to arrive, and were followed in turn by Eve Arnold, Cornell Capa, Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Ernst Hass, Erich Hartmann and Dennis Stock

Marilyn Monroe on the set of "The Misfits" by John Huston. Nevada, USA. 1960 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

As Gerry Badger writes in the introduction to his book, Marilyn by Magnum: “Although Magnum photographers, such as Arnold, had photographed Marilyn on individual assignments, The Misfits project gave them a unique opportunity — albeit in a slightly unplanned and intuitive manner — to make a collective portrait of the star, an integral part of the collective portrait they had already built up of the Monroe.”

Film set of "The Misfits" by John Huston, with US actors Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach and writer Arthur Miller. Nevada, USA. 1960 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
Set of "The Misfits". Nevada, USA. 1960 © Inge Morath/Magnum Photos
Marilyn Monroe during the filming of "The Misfits." Nevada, USA. 1960. Cornell Capa © International Center of Photography

In remembrance of the sixtieth anniversary of her death, many of these iconic images are available to buy as posters, contact sheet prints, limited edition fine prints, and more in the ‘Celebrating Marilyn Collection’ on the Magnum Shop.
Visit here to browse the collection.

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