The shoot that came to be known as the ‘Last Sitting’ was photographed by Bert Stern for US Vogue over the course of three days, a fortnight before Marilyn Monroe died.
In the first session Marilyn posed almost nude (see colour images below), but Jessica Daves, then Editor of US Vogue, feeling that the pictures were too risqu é for the magazine - and could hardly be described as fashion - had Stern reshoot. Fashion editor, Bab Simpson contributed elegant black dresses, floor length chinchilla coats, pearls, hats, veils and sequined gloves, and as the news of Marilyn’s suicide hit the headlines, the September 1962 issue was already rolling on the presses, featuring the 8 page fashion feature, of which this exquisitely sombre, sophisticated, portrait was the lead shot.
They were the last pictures to be published – indeed to be taken - of Marilyn, and the Last Sitting became part of the cultural mythology of Marilyn Monroe.
The Bert Stern sitting is the backdrop for Marilyn, Forever Blonde, a new one-woman play that has just opened at the Leicester Square Theatre. Marilyn, played by the extraordinary Sunny Thompson, confides her life-story to the unseen photographer. The script is scrupulous in using only Monroe's own words, with the occasional voice-over quote from, say, Joe DiMaggio, or Arthur Miller, to construct its compelling and necessarily tragic narrative.
I went to Marilyn, Forever Blonde last night, as the guest of Sarah Churchwell, author of 'the most comprehensive life of the iconic movie star' - The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, and an exacting critic.
It's difficult to write a successful, intelligent play about a cult figure, particularly one which seeks to offer its audience a portrait of the real Marilyn, yet Marilyn, Forever Blonde succeeds, largely due to the astonishing skill of Thompson, who does more than play Marilyn, she inhabits her.
Overlook the slightly naff title of the piece and go and see it: even if you're interested in, rather than captivated by, the Monroe myth, it's worth seeing for Sunny Thompson's performance alone - it's rare to see something so authentic, or so full of integrity and depth: It even passed muster with Sarah.
Yet, when it comes to a notion of a 'real' Marilyn, I can't help but think Truman Capote, quoted in Sarah's book, had it best.
I said well, she's a little bit like you, she wears her heart
on her sleeve and talks salty and Marilyn said fuck you
and said well, if somebody asked me what Marilyn
Monroe was like, what was Marilyn Monroe really like
what would I say, and I said I'd have to think about that.
Marilyn, Forever Blonde is at the Leicester Square Theatre until 18th November
0844 8472 475
* "Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul" Marilyn Monroe.