Saturday, November 5, 2011

Photos | Lost LOOK Photos: Marilyn Monroe

Every morning before work I go through a pretty standard routine... shower, breakfast, browse the internet. The first thing I do online is check out the news section on Yahoo. Although it is rare (it seems the world is more interested in people who are famous for being famous) I am always excited when something from old Hollywood pops up. Most recently it was a page about photos that were recently rediscovered of Marilyn Monroe from the early 50's. 

My introduction into Classic Hollywood (which will be discussed further in a later post) was through the films of Marilyn Monroe. Some of her films (such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, & Some Like It Hot) are among my all-time favorites. It was through her films that I was introduced to some of my now favorite stars. Stars like Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and Jane Russell are among those. So with Marilyn being one of my favorite stars, I was interested in these new photos.
It turns out the photos were taken during the filming of River of No Return starring Monroe and the great Robert Mitchum. The photos were taken by LOOK magazine photographer John Vachon. He was on assignment to photograph three American films that were shooting in the Canadian Rockies. Up to this point, most photos seen of Marilyn were staged and styled by her studio and handlers, but Vachon was given full access to the woman behind the image. He was able to photograph the charismatic girl next door that was the real Monroe instead of the studio driven blonde bombshell she was known for.

The photos were taken in Alberta, Canada in mid-August 1953. John Vachin captured Marilyn poolside in crutches, with her soon-to-be-husband Joe DiMaggio, and enjoying the lush wilderness environment the film was being shot in. He was pretty lucky to get to shoot the future DiMaggio's because they, up to that point and after, never posed for formal photos. My favorite pictures from the shoot were the photos of Monroe taking pictures using an old twin-reflex camera. I think it is more out of jealousy because I would love to own one of those medium format cameras! 

After the shoot was done, only three of the photos taken were used in the October 20th, 1953 article in LOOK magazine. Where did the others go? The negatives were stored away for over 60 years! When LOOK was forced to close in the 1970's its founders donated their photo archives to the Library of Congress. Luckily the photos were discovered and have recently been published in a book titled Marilyn: August 1953. The book contains 100 black and white images that have been unpublished until now. There is also text in the book about Vachon's approach of shooting the star and even letters he wrote to his wife about his time in Canada. Many of the negatives were in disrepair and required extensive digital restoration.

You may be wondering why Marilyn was in crutches during the peak of her career. During the shooting of River of No Return, Monroe's director required her to do some difficult scenes in a very chaotic river. During shooting, she slipped on some wet rocks and sprained her ankle. From what I've read the injury didn't actually require a cast, but Marilyn insisted. Probably as payback to the director for pushing her during shooting.

I hadn't heard of Joan Vachon until now, but it turns out he made quite an impact on 20th century photography. He was actually a documentary photographer, not the usual celebrity/glamor photographers that usually surrounded Monroe. His subjects were usually real people in real situations and that I think that is why his photos show a side of Marilyn's life and personality that is much different than the sex symbol status she was come to have. Great photographs...

If you are interested in this book, you can find it here on Amazon. It's actually on sale (as of 11/05/11) for under $20.

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