Famous photographer Douglas Kirkland recounts an evening he spent with Marylin Monroe just one year before she died in a revealing new photographic memoir.
Compiling Douglas Kirkland’s iconic photographs in their entirety for the first time, With Marilyn: An Evening/1961, reveals the intimate moments the then 27-year-old photographer shared with the sexiest woman in the history of Hollywood.
“Sex ran high on the evening we shot,” Douglas Kirkland recalled.
“I was 27, but mentally like a 16-year-old, alone with Marilyn Monroe, and only a white silk sheet draped across her nude body. Can you imagine the charge I felt as a young man?”
Shooting her for Look magazine’s 25th anniversary issue in 1961, the photographer, who has also captured iconic images of Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot, met with Marilyn Monroe on three separate occasions.
Douglas Kirkland’s encounters with the superstar enabled him to capture a series of timeless portraits that have helped to define how we remember her today.
And just how she came to be dressed in only a white silk sheet, Douglas Kirkland, originally from Fort Erie, Canada, says he owes to the icon herself.
“It started with me visiting her with my colleagues [from Look]. I wanted something really hot but in my small town way I didn’t feel comfortable articulating that,” he said.
“I was embarrassed to say what I really had in mind, she invented the idea. She said, <<I know what we should do! We should have a bed, and get a white silk sheet, it must be silk. I’ll be there and I’ll wear nothing, just that silk sheet>>.”
When they started shooting the next day, Douglas Kirkland said it began slowly, heating up gradually.
“It got really hot. It’s all real. They’re not poses. It’s all Marilyn herself, I didn’t say turn this way turn that, I just encouraged her as she got excited.”
He believes that the reason she felt an uninhibited comfort with him, was because of his modest background, and his young age.
“I had an innocence about me, my eyes were wide open. I was very young for my age, just because of where I grew up in Canada, and suddenly I was with this superstar of all superstars, and she responded to me, and I, of course, responded to her.”
He admitted he was surprised by the closeness she felt towards him.
“I was the new kid on the block,” he said.
“But she was warm and caring and at one point at the end of our photo session I lay down beside her, she was on the bed, and we just shared stories about our lives. She had been in foster homes and all places, but she found her way through it.”
“She got knocked around a lot on her move to the top. But at the base of Marilyn… she was a very sweet, wonderful woman,” he said, before adding, “…wonderful, girl”.
The pair began shooting at 9:30 a.m. in the small apartment, the superstar was an hour and a half late, but an hour in their session, just before lunch time, the icon ordered everyone to leave the room.
“I wanna be alone with this boy, I find it usually works better this way…” Douglas Kirkland recalls her whispering.
“And before I knew, I heard the door close.”
Douglas Kirkland, who is and was married at the time to his wife Francoise, says that even though “nothing happened” between the pair during their 16 hours of shooting, he admits: “This is Marilyn seducing, period.”
“It didn’t happen, but it could have happened. The magnitude of the images are a result, I put all of it into the pictures,” he explained.
“Had I probably taken the opportunity to make love with her, the pictures wouldn’t have had the same power.
“What we did, was put the power of that love I was feeling, and what she was projecting, we put that into the images, and those are the images you see.”