“My favorite thing in the world is women. There have been basically only two women who interested me. One I was married to–Allegra Kent. The other was Marilyn Monroe. I had no way of knowing what her demons were.”
Stern’s first Smirnoff picture won an award. His photo career was launched.
“I liked advertising. There was an opportunity to try different ideas. And we tried to shoot pictures that had never been seen before in ads.”
Walking on 5th avenue with a Martini glass filled with water, for inspiration, Stern noticed the Plaza hotel was inverted in the glass that acted like a lens and turned the image upside down. “I came up with the idea to photograph the Pyramid of Giza upside down in the glass — but I would have to go to Egypt to do it.”
“To sleep with with Marilyn Monroe was my desire, but I had taken a pill of dexedrine to stay up, it was three a clock in the morning. Marilyn was on her usual Champagne cocktail, spiked with vodka. She was going like a house on fire. I was trying to keep up with her. The dexedrine pill gave me energy but I lost my sexual appetite. She said to me “I want a men with a easy touch and a slow hand.” So I tried to kiss her, but then she said no.
“I brought the film back to New York and showed them to the the art director, Alexander Lieberman, at Vogue, who thought they were wonderful.” Shortly after Stern received a phone call telling him they loved the pictures so much they wanted him to go back and shoot some fashion.
Stern returned to LA and photographed Marilyn for two more days. This time it was much bigger production with a fashion editor and Stern found it difficult to make the same spontaneous pictures.
Vogue had sent Marilyn the photos from the first day for approval—it was not usual practice but for Marilyn they had made an exception. “A lot of the pictures she had put markings on with magic marker, directly onto the transparency [to indicate images that didn’t reflect her own self-image]. I thought it was interesting but I didn’t think I would use them. Then the art director Herb Lubalin heard about [the crossed out frames] and said they would like to use them in a new magazine they were starting, called Eros. They talked to her PR people and they had no objections.”
“Our first session was shot in June, the last sitting in July. Vogue went to press on august 6. on a Monday. She died the night before on Sunday August 5. I had no idea what was going on with her. I did not understand what her demons where, what pain. Because I was just a kid, wanting to make out with Marilyn Monroe.
The next best thing was the pictures. Maybe the best thing, because they still exist
And people still want it. They still want a piece of that passion that I had.”
“I tended to want to shoot portraits. Richard Burton — who I had already shot in my studio in New York — was playing Marc Anthony and they [Taylor and Burton] began an affair. I became friends with the two of them and began to hang out with them off set — I would shoot more candid, fun pictures.”
Stanley Kubrick asked Stern to take some publicity shots for the film. Stern took then 13-year-old actress Sue Lyon and her mother to a five-and- dime store in Sag Harbor, on eastern Long Island, to make the pictures. “I walked into the store and saw all these sun heart-shaped sunglasses and candy canes and other fun stuff that became the props for the shoot. I had not seen the movie but I underlined passages in Nabakov’s book that would make picture ideas. I always work with words that become pictures.”
“I get obsessive about the things I’m looking at. I want them and I put them in the camera, and they’re mine. They’re all mine.” Bert Stern