misfits

51 years ago Marilyn Monroe  tragically died of an overdose.  Katerina Vasiliou takes a look at the photos taken during the filming of Monroe’s last movie, The Misfits, which reveal a vulnerable, haunted star at the brink of a breakdown.

stoleThe photograph of Marilyn dripping with diamonds, a fur stole nonchalantly hanging off her shoulders and a tremendous laugh escaping from her lips has come to be one of the symbols of classic Hollywood and maybe even the 20th century.

The more vulnerable side of her personality has often been alluded to but was rarely caught on camera. However, a set of photographs commissioned by the makers of her last film, The Misfits (1961), show a startling, almost haunting vision of Marilyn as well as capturing a significant moment in the history of American cinema.

The film, directed by John Houston and written by Marilyn’s second husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, was intended to be an opportunity for her to ditch her dumb blonde persona and reveal her talents as a serious actress. Miller wanted to boost Marilyn’s confidence after a miscarriage and distract her from her escalating mental health issues.

The film also starred handsome actor Montgomery Clift, who was another troubled soul and the studio paid for a 24 hour on-call doctor to attend to him and Marilyn. The film’s third star was the legendary Clark Gable, also cast against type, whose strenuous performance tragically caused him to die of a heart attack 10 days after filming was completed.

Lee Jones Schoenburg of Magnum, a world renowned photographic agency, seemed to have had a premonition that the making of The Misfits was to be an important moment and so arranged for a team of photographers to document the production, an unprecedented action at that time. The resulting images are a mixture of production stills and behind-the-scenes captures as the cast wait around the set.

castWhen filming started, Miller and Marilyn had a deeply loving, though fraught, relationship but by the time the final “cut!” was called the relationship was all but over. The Magnum photographs charted the disintegration of Monroe’s marriage in moody monochrome. In the images Marilyn has a paired down look: little pigtails with a white shirt over jeans, or a simple black dress emphasising her curves in all the right places.

Her hair is longer, less styled and her face is sparsely made-up. She looks younger and more innocent than ever before and is often caught in quiet reflection with the expansive and foreboding desert sky looming behind her. She is often bathed in soft light in contrast to her co-stars, whose every wrinkle and imperfection is exposed by the harsh glare of the Nevada sun.

Gable’s tired face casts a benevolent smile over the proceedings, the image of fading glory, whilst Clift is every inch the languorous cowboy he portrays.

The film was beset with problems and turned out to be a box office disaster. However, in recent years it has become a classic for its meditation on the human condition and its beautiful cinematography. The Misfits was the last production for both Gable and Marilyn, while Clift went on to make only a couple more films before dying of alcoholism in 1966.

To view the collection of photos go to www.magnumphotos.com.

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