Friday 23 October 2009


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.


Rachel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel said...

Wow, your review makes it sound amazing, used to be a lover of all things Marilyn *back in the day*, will definitely check it out....thanks!

Insomniac Mummy said...

I wish I lived in London. I'd love to see that play!

I'm not a total Marilyn fanatic but I do enjoy reading about her and will watch documentaries if I come across them.

I remember watching a documentary about her when I was pregnant with my son about her final days and the making of 'Something's Got to Give' (which she was of course famously fired from) followed by the 37 minute version of the film they were able to edit from the takes. Fascinating.

I think that whole era holds so much intrigue.

Wildernesschic said...

I do have a soft spot for all things Marilyn and have the book of the photographs the last sitting. Great review you have given the play.

Cassiopeia said...

That first photo is just so very beautiful. You have made me want to see it, though I am on an enforced theatre ban (over-consumption during the summer...) - Sigh!!! :-D Xxxc

Unknown said...

That sounds wonderful, I'll try to go. Love these pictures and the Capote quote is wonderful. Helena xx

one of 365 said...

Mrs. T. My favorite part of your piece was the fine print....that quote was amazing that Ms. Monroe said. How very sad...but so very true. I've never seen that last picture of Marilyn Monroe. She looks like she's in mourning. She looks tired. There's a beauty to the photo...but a sombre beauty...and I think that's why it is spectacular...because the woman we know was the woman in the colored pictures below....the woman open, and nude to the world. But really, I believe, she was just Norma Jean, a girl who DID really want to be covered up in pearls and black and maybe be taken seriously.

I think the play sounds intriguing. And I'm sure the actress is fantastic. I'm envious that you got to see it. It's amazing what an impact this mysterious woman had on our life as an icon. Hollywood is as tough a place now as it probably was then. I get the feeling she was a sensitive soul who wasn't cut out to be...well...for lack of a better term.....cut. always, you write posts that intrigue, that make me ponder and that are intelligent. Thank you for sharing and as always you have my utmost respect.. xoxoxox--One of 365

Welsh Girl said...

I'm glad they reshot because the top photo shows an entirely different woman to the typical fluffed blonde we so often see. The woman in that photo has history and sorrows and elegance and mystery. It's wonderful.

The play sounds interesting. I wish I were more efficient about booking tickets to go and see things when I am in London.