Marilyn Monroe's final days were, depending on the source, a time of renewal for the actress, when she was happy to be working on a new film and sharing her plans for the future with close friends, or a low point in her life, filled with chemical dependence, insecurity, and heartbreak. Her death was either the inadvertent result of an overdose of prescription pills, or the devious plot of a cabal of villains that may have included her housekeeper, her psychiatrist, the 35th President of the United States, his brother and possibly the Illuminati. Whatever the truth, her death, at age 36, was a loss that continues to reverberate throughout generations. John Lennon once said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. For that comment, he was pilloried and his band mates and their work shunned and burned by religious stalwarts. It can be said that Marilyn Monroe is bigger than the Beatles. And that is saying a lot. Monroe has not been canonized, but, in death, she has come very close to sainthood, and the story of her life, how she overcame a childhood of severe privation that included abandonment by a mentally unstable mother, a Dickensian orphanage, foster care predators, the casting couch and an exploitive Hollywood, to become the icon by which all icons are measured, can possibly be called a miracle.
Marilyn Monroe has permeated the global consciousness and become embedded in popular culture like a vaccine. Her image is virtually everywhere; used to sell everything from coffee cups to high end perfume to hair products. A Facebook page dedicated to Monroe passed the 13 million fans mark on July 16th of this year, and that does not include all the satellite pages that are dedicated to her. A new website recently appeared in cyberspace, www.MiniMarilyn.com, that features an adorable animated avatar of Monroe that keeps alive the message of originality, daring, and being true to oneself that is often attributed to MM. And just when you think you have seen the entirety of Monroe imagery, Limited Runs, the e-commerce site that is the go-to source for all things original and vintage in print art and photography, has assembled a collection of 38 never before seen photographs of the photogenic star taken by five photographers Monroe held close as friends.
"Marilyn: The Lost Photographs of a Hollywood Star" opened on Tuesday night, July 22nd, at SUMO, the new contemporary fine art gallery located in the heart of Tribeca that features two full floors of exhibit space, and is equipped with state-of-the-art audio/video and lighting. The show, currently on view to the public until July 26th, and then by private appointment, features 26 vivid, high quality prints from the Lmited Runs collection. All of the images in the show are available for purchase either framed or unframed. The 38 images in the collection are available for purchase directly from the Limited Runs e-commerce site. One of the more extraordinary images in the collection is a black and white photograph shot by Thomas "Doc" Kaminski on the 1960 set of "The Misfits". The 40"x 40" framed print on display at SUMO features a denim clad Monroe under an umbrella with co-star Montgomery Clift, sitting next to a huge Panavision film camera. Kaminski caught a perfect candid moment between Monroe and Clift, two stars who shared a history of vulnerability, substance abuse, and, eventually, untimely deaths. The image epitomizes what is most unique about the Limited Runs collection, the candid and un-staged moment that highlights Monroe's eternal appeal.
When asked his opinion on Monroe's timeless status in the cultural consciousness, Limited Runs' founder, Pierre Vudrag, replied "She had no pretense. She presented herself as 'this is who I am'. Nobody likes a phony, and you can feel her honesty in these candid photographs." Vudrag explained that, when necessary, Monroe "knew how to turn it on, to become the star, but, in these photographs, where she is with friends, the guard is down." "You get to see an intimate side of her", Vudrag explains. Indeed, in one image from the collection, shot by Monroe's longtime makeup artist and trusted confidant, Allan "Whitey" Snyder in 1953, Monroe is standing in a wooded area next to two black bears that are rummaging around in some overturned garbage bins. The star is dressed down in a pair of baggy black trousers, an unflattering smock and loafers, yet, with her platinum hair and Rayban sunglasses, her wattage still comes through. The photo seems to say that no mere mortal can hang so casually with a couple of hungry black bears.
For any die-hard Monroe fan, the photographs in the Limited Runs collection are a must see. The show is slated to move on to Houston after it closes at SUMO, but anyone with a computer or a handheld device can easily view and purchase prints off the Limited Runs site. Vudrag counts himself among those Monroe fans, and he promises more rare and never before seen Monroe imagery from Limited Runs in the future. There are some "very unusual" images shot with what Vudrag calls a "spy camera", most likely a Minox, first invented in 1936, that, according to Vudrag, are "like nothing you've ever seen of Monroe". Another collection of 300 or so negatives comes from studio stills that were originally intended for the trash bin by Fox in the 1980's, but were saved by a prescient employee who said the negs might be of value in the future. Both collections, in Vudrag's words, "will really surprise people". NYC's Monroe fans were pretty bowled over on Tuesday night, as SUMO gallery became progressively jammed with people as the night wore on. After the show, people moved on to Tribeca Grand for an after party with drinks sponsored by Peroni and Pampelonne sparkling wine. The music for the evening, which had guests out of their seats and dancing in spite of the heat, was provided by NYC's epic DJ team, Miss Guy and Angelica Morrow, who got some assistance from the beautiful MM lookalike model, Gia Genevieve.
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