“I think I should be alone with this boy."
November 17, 1961
THE PHOTO SHOOT
On a cool November evening in 1961 a handsome young photographer waited nervously for Marilyn Monroe in the Hollywood studio he had rented for their photo session. Look magazine was planning a special 25th anniversary edition and had hired him to capture a “sizzling” photograph of the iconic star.
Though just 27 years old, Douglas Kirkland had already been at Look for a year and a half, with such plum assignments as shooting Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich. Look and the very similar Life were eagerly awaited weekly magazines publishing outstanding photojournalism – the images that documented American life in an age before internet and social media. A staff position at Look was a heady position for a young man, but Kirkland had talent and it was the Youthquake age.
In 1961 Marilyn Monroe was at the peak of her stardom, with a string of hits in the 50s and early 60s including Some Like it Hot, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Bus Stop, The Seven Year itch and The Misfits. Her marriages to Joe di Maggio and Arthur Miller were over and she had moved back to California after six years in the East. Within a year she would be dead.
Earlier in that week of November 1961 Kirkland and two of his magazine colleagues had met with Monroe and her agent at her Beverly Hills apartment to plan the shoot. Marilyn took the awed young photographer in hand, telling him all they needed was a bed, a silk sheet and some Dom Perignon and they could make magic together.
That Friday evening, though, Kirkland’s nerves surfaced again as he waited two and a half hours for the star to arrive. Waiting with him were his photo assistant, Look writer Jack Hamilton, and Monroe’s press agent. Finally, in a burst of ethereal beauty, Marilyn appeared. Kirkland poured the champagne and started Sinatra on the record player as Marilyn slipped into the dressing room.
Over the next few hours Kirkland snapped as Marilyn preened and played for the camera, the two of them locked in a sort of dance of seduction, a dance of magical tension that shows in the amazing Kirkland photographs. At one point Marilyn sat up in the bed and said in her breathy voice, “I think I should be alone with this boy. I find it usually works better that way”. The retinue all left and the dance intensified, Kirkland now shooting with floodlight only – no distracting strobe – and nothing between them but a thin silk sheet and the Hasselblad.
Kirkland went on to a long and illustrious career in photojournalism, shooting such stars as Julie Christie, Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve and Diana Ross as well as icons like Coco Chanel, Stephen Hawking and Andy Warhol. His portrait of Charlie Chaplin is in the National Portrait Gallery, London; other work is in the collections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian, the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, the Houston Center for Photography, the Eastman House in Rochester and the Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles.
He was special photographer on over 150 movie sets including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sound of Music, Out of Africa, Sophie’s Choice, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Moulin Rouge! and Titanic. Kirkland is the author of a dozen photo books and has received numerous awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American motion pictures Society of Operating Cameramen (1995), a Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Photography (2003), the American Society of Cinematographers President’s Award (2011) and the 2018 Hollywood Beauty Awards Outstanding Achievement in Photography (2018).
The Hasselblad business was founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1841; the founder’s son began the photographic division. But it was after World War II that their camera business really took off. Descendant Victor Hasselblad was keen to develop a high quality camera business and in the late 1940s and early 1950s the company began producing an increasingly sophisticated group of cameras. The landmark 500C model debuted in 1957 and was to become the mainstay of their business for the next six decades.
Douglas Kirkland was an early user of the 500C and in fact was given one of the first by his editor to try out. As he shot the windows of Bergdorf’s with this camera one evening an older man with cultivated European accent stopped to ask how he liked it; by remarkable coincidence it was Victor Hasselblad.
The 1959 Hasselblad (no. 36980) being offered in this auction is the camera Kirkland used to shoot many stars, most notably Marilyn Monroe on the night of November 17, 1961.
The buyer will have the opportunity to host Francoise and Douglas Kirkland for dinner and to have Douglas shoot his or her portrait with the Hassleblad.