Magnum on Set: The Misfits • Eve Arndold • Magnum Photos

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Cinema

Magnum on Set: The Misfits

Eve Arnold captured the troubled final cinematic outing for both Marilyn Monroe and co-star Clark Gable

Eve Arnold

Eve Arnold US actress Marilyn Monroe on the Nevada desert going over her lines for a difficult scene she is about to play with Clarke Gable in the film "The Misfits" by John Huston. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos

Magnum photographers have, over more than seven decades, captured pivotal moments in popular culture as much as historic events and societal sea changes. Working behind the scenes on sets of many classic films, they have captured not only iconic stars at various stages of their careers, but also documented the changing nature of cinema and film production. Sets, equipment, and special effects that once seemed futuristic are, with the passing of time rendered disarmingly romantic.

Here, we look at Eve Arnold’s coverage of the making of The Misfits, a film that failed at the box office, in spite of its deeply troubled all-star cast – two of whom would never make another film.

A number of images of Arnold made on the set of The Misfits are available as prints and posters on the Magnum Shop, here.


 

Eve Arnold didn’t know it at the time, but what she photographed on the set of 1961’s The Misfits was to be the last movie completed by  Marilyn Monroe and her co-star Clark Gable. The film, an elegiac tale of divorce and aging cowboys, is tainted with sadness as Monroe’s swansong. She died of an overdose just a year after the film’s release.

Eve Arnold US actress Marilyn Monroe on the Nevada desert during the filming of "The Misfits", directed by John Huston. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold US actress Marilyn Monroe during the filming of "The Misfits" by John Huston. Reno. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold USA. Nevada. Reno. US actress Marilyn MONROE on the set of 'The Misfits' by John HUSTON. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold US actress Marilyn Monroe. Los Angeles. California. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos

By all accounts, The Misfits was a troubled production. Directed by John Huston from a script by Arthur Miller, it was shot in the blistering 107-degree heat of the Nevada desert. There was the breakdown of Monroe and Miller’s marriage to contend with. There was Huston’s drinking and gambling. There was Monroe’s descent into alcohol and prescription drug use, not to mention the fact she rarely showed up on time, if at all. Huston, in a Rolling Stone interview, later said he was “absolutely certain that she was doomed” during the production. Filming even halted for two weeks while she was hospitalized, reportedly for detox.

Eve Arnold Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe on the set of 'The Misfits'. Dayton. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold US actress Marilyn Monroe with Arthur Miller showing her some dance steps for a scene she has to play. Miller was describing the way his father used to "Skip-to-my-lou", a rustic dance from middle (...)
Eve Arnold Clarke Cable learing his lines during the the filming of the The Misfits. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold John Huston, the director during the filming of The Misfits. Reno. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos

In her photographs, Arnold captures Monroe and Miller sitting on the back of a truck, her staring pensively at the ground. In another, Miller is showing her some dance moves for a scene. The photographer captures Gable – who died 12 days after production wrapped – with his wife, dressed formally and standing under an orange tree. Arnold followed the production from Reno to Dayton, from the Nevada desert to LA. Sometimes she was a fly on the wall, revealing an unseen side of these cultural icons. Other times she asked them to pose for her camera in-between takes.

 

Eve Arnold Clarke Gable and his wife Encino. California. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold US actress Marilyn Monroe rest between takes under the surveillance of Paula Strasberg, Monroe's drama coach, on the set of the 'The Misfits' by John Huston. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold Marilyn Monroe on the set of the Misfits sleep during a lunchbreak. Nevada. USA. 1960 © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold US actress Marilyn Monroe on the set of "The Misfits" by John Huston. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos

Though it was both Monroe and Gable’s final film, it tanked at the box office. Only in recent decades has it garnered acclaim as a moody, monochrome story of loneliness in the West, with the Guardian dubbing it a “melancholy drama that pulses with sadness and symbolism”. Like the mournful tone of the film, Arnold’s pictures carry an unintended emotional weight, the story behind the production – Monroe’s tortured soul – as intriguing and stirring as the film itself.

Eve Arnold Marilyn Monroe being given a neck massage by Arthur Miller, to help relieve tension during location filming. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Misfits. Reno. Nevada. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold Marilyn Monroe during the filming of 'The Misfits'. USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold for AP © Eve Arnold