Many photographers have taken numerous portraits of Marilyn Monroe throughout the blonde bombshell’s career, and perhaps among the best known of these are the portraits taken by the equally renowned Alfred Eisenstaedt. This installment of Influential Photographs looks back at the portrait series by the legendary German photographer and offers a glimpse at some of his contact prints!
On the Spring of 1953, Alfred Eisenstaedt paid Marilyn Monroe a visit in her Beverly Hills home to do a portrait shoot for a LIFE Magazine assignment. “Eisie,” as he was known by his friends and colleagues, photographed the 26-year-old Hollywood star in her patio; she was stunning even in her simple black turtleneck top and white pants (checkered pants in some photographs). It was certainly not a glamor-filled photoshoot yet the intimately casual portraits Eisenstaedt took — both in color and black and white — became some of his best known work, as well as Monroe’s most sought after photographs to this day. LIFE told us why in a tribute post last year:
“What’s perhaps most striking about these photos, especially in light of all we now know about Marilyn’s fraught and deeply sad life is how relaxed, self-possessed and (dare we say it?) how happy she looks.
“In 1953, her biggest, brightest roles — in Bus Stop, The Seven Year Itch, and the American Film Institute’s greatest American comedy of all time, Some Like It Hot — were still ahead of her, as were her unlucky marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller and her increasingly lonely, desperate last years. But it’s worth noting that she really does not resemble a legend, an icon or an idol in these pictures. Instead, she looks like a beautiful young woman evidently, and perhaps momentarily, at peace with herself and her place in the world.”
For his part, the then 54-year-old Eisenstaedt was already a respected photographer who cemented his career with iconic photographs such as the iconic Times Square Kiss (1945), and would go on to take more fascinating portraits of some of the most notable people of his time.
On the fateful shoot and the photographs he took, Eisenstaedt said:
“When I photographed Marilyn Monroe, I mixed up my cameras — one had black-and-white film, the other color. I took many pictures. Only two color ones came out all right. My favorite picture of Marilyn hangs always on the wall in my office. It was taken on the little patio of her Hollywood house.”
We can only assume that Eisenstaedt’s favorite photo of Marilyn would be a self-portrait he took with her, as his colleagues very well remember his habit of photographing himself with his subjects. One of them even recalled that his office had framed photos of himself with some of the people — including John F. Kennedy and Sophia Loren — that he photographed for his LIFE Magazine assignments.
Our intention with the Influential Photographs columns is not to glorify or demean the subject of the photo. Our intention with this column is to highlight the most influential analogue photographs of history. The photographs we feature are considered icons, for their composition, subject matter, or avant-garde artistic value.