Celebrity photographer Douglas Kirkland was just a few years into his professional career when he got his biggest break at age 27: photographing the sultry Marilyn Monroe for Look magazine’a 25th anniversary issue. Prior to this assignment, he was a staff photographer for the magazine for only 18 months. But that fateful November night in a rented Hollywood studio remains his most exhilarating shoot to this day.
Kirkland’s recollection of his shoot with Marilyn Monroe is part of the campaign by Christie’s New York for their Exceptional Sale happening on October 29th. One of the prized items to expect from the sale is the very Hasselblad 500C used by Kirkland during the memorable shoot. Along with it are two magazine backs, two Carl Zeiss lenses (50mm and 150mm), and two 40 x 60 limited-edition archival pigment prints: Marilyn (Hugging Pillow) and Marilyn (Overhead). The estimated value of this collection is pegged at $200,000-300,000.
Being the very young photographer that he was at the time, Kirkland initially found it difficult to telling Monroe how he wanted to photograph her. She took charge, and, according to the Christie’s feature, told him that a bed, a white silk sheet, some Frank Sinatra records, and plenty of Dom Pérignon champagne were all they needed to “make magic together.”
“I learned an important lesson from her: if you are to elicit her most outstanding performance, treat a star like the princess you want her to be in front of your lens,” Kirkland, now 85, recalled.
Marilyn wasn’t at ease when the shoot began with her in a dress. So she did the very Marilyn Monroe thing to do: she went back into the dressing room, undressed, and slipped unannounced into the unmade bed, where she wrapped herself with the white silk sheet. Then, it was Kirkland’s turn to do his share of the magic. He kept shooting as Marilyn tossed, turned, and writhed under the sheet, with a flood light constantly shining so they wouldn’t be interrupted by flash. At one point in the shoot, she even requested to be alone with the fresh-faced photographer and made the rest of the evening about, as Kirkland described, “just myself, the camera and Marilyn.”
Don’t forget to check out the full Christie’s feature to learn more about the fateful shoot and the upcoming Exceptional Sale.
Photos via Christie’s