Interviewer: This group of kids.

Irene Halsman: I had a show of my work.

Interviewer: I didn't.

Irene Halsman: Columbus.

Interviewer: Little kid. All right. Starting again. So starting with the 1949 life photograph.

Irene Halsman: Should I start from the beginning?

Interviewer: Sure

Irene Halsman: Felipe met Marilyn in nineteen forty nine when he had to photograph a story for you. Can we start?

Interviewer: Just please don't worry. Just start again.

Irene Halsman: We first met Marilyn when he was photographing a story for Life magazine and had to photograph five young starlets showing different aspects of acting. One was drinking the most delicious drink, laughing at the funniest joke. And hugging the most wonderful lover. Guess which one Marilyn excelled at? There was another. There was also another thing. He had to fear, fear that he had to show. Each girl had to show fear. And Marilyn was so good at showing the love embrace with an imaginary lover. That we my sister, my father and my mother and I said, she's the prettiest. We like her best.

Interviewer: In the photograph itself, one of the group.

Irene Halsman: Yeah.

Interviewer: She absolutely bounces forward with those little cross legs in front of a little tentative expression.

Irene Halsman: She was very fresh looking. She looked like a little girl next door. But she had a certain halo like light coming from within that none of the other girls possessed.

Interviewer: And he was obviously very aware of that.

Irene Halsman: Yeah. And he, at his suggestion, went to Life magazine and said, I want to photograph this young starlet, Marilyn, who is in California and do a story on her because she had been in bit parts in and movies, but nothing really important.

Interviewer: And this was before Asphalt Jungle, which one could call them the first mark of somebody noticing?

Irene Halsman: Yes. It was almost like Phillip discovered her. And he went to her small apartment, a cheap two room place, as he said. And there she was surrounded by bookcases and dumbbells. And it took a series of photographs following her around the city. One was of her famous walk. The other one was of her lifting her barbells. And he said to her, Marilyn, why are you lifting barbells? And she said, Well, Philip, I'm fighting gravity. Later on, when he photographed her in a semi transparent negligee, he said, oh, he noticed she wasn't wearing a bra. He said, oh, my compliments. And she said, You see, Philip, I told you I was fighting gravity. And then I have also photographed her when she was at the Drive-In eating a hamburger from in the car. And someone actually asked us to enlarge the bookcase because there were so many interesting books by Freud and Dostoyevsky and Fabian Socialism. My father was surprised, but then he realized that she was really striving to improve herself.

Interviewer: Many people have commented on that aspect of her, that sort of duality of this beauty excuse me, beauty, bombshell, sexy goddess, and at the same time, this one being taken seriously, really studious, attempting to learn more and more and more and. I wanted to comment on the you said, taking the picture of her famous walk, and when we were talking yesterday, you said, you know, how do you do this? She's it's not a movie. But you do see her famous walk in those photographs.

Irene Halsman: Well, it was a very difficult thing to do and one picture. But I think you captured it.

Interviewer: And the other thing I think is kind of great is the number of people who over the years and perhaps he was the first who shot her from behind, literally shot her from the back.

Irene Halsman: He did that later on when she was jumping. But he he saw that she was flirting with the camera. She loves the lens. And and she had a terrific talent for it.

Interviewer: By the time that he did, what was the life cover.

Irene Halsman: That was done in that setting. He did the life cover. And there's a little story that goes with that.

Interviewer: Let's hear it.

Irene Halsman: He put her in a corner and he was there with his assistant and the researcher from life, and they were all watching her, as Philip did a variety of pictures of her on the corner, which you're going to show. And she was flirting with each one of them. And when they left, they thought. Well, they thought and she was flirting with each one of them and they thought, oh, it's both of these to leave.

Interviewer: Somebody, voters.

Irene Halsman: Might be the maid.

Interviewer: Wages that a step.

Irene Halsman: Could somebody go to the top of the stairs and say, Pearl?

Irene Halsman: Pearl, right? Wait. Just a minute. I'm looking at my notes.

Interviewer: Flirting with the cameras where you were, and I wanted to hear that.

Irene Halsman: He said each one of us felt that if only the other two would leave. Maybe I better use his words.

Interviewer: Sorry.

Irene Halsman: Should I click up there?

Interviewer: Yes, you should, because they're so I'll lead you into it. So that can't be. Life magazine, the camera, the cover shot.

Irene Halsman: Oh. Were there were three people. My father, the assistant and the life researcher worth thinking if only the other two would leave. Something incredible will happen.

Interviewer: I think she did. I mean, I think she had to flee.

Irene Halsman: She had she had that power with them. Her.

Interviewer: That cover is. I hate the word, but it is it's absolutely iconic, it's one of those. That's one of those shots of her that shows up constantly and is absolutely extraordinary within within the context of that of that day. Did he ever speak about her? Do you remember anything that we're learning from him? Sort of. What made the choice? What was that as opposed to whether they chose that as opposed to any deals that happened that day? Or was that what they would shoot with? They were shooting specifically for the cover?

Irene Halsman: I don't know what life wanted, but when they saw it, they probably felt that it was. It just said so much. She was so vulnerable. But she at the same time, with the come hither look. She looked so delicious to men at that time who wanted a kind of a child woman. And this is what she was.

Interviewer: By the time he starts to do the jumping shots, I'd like to talk a little bit about what was the concept of the jump, why he had people do it, and then how he interpreted Marilyns.

Irene Halsman: Well, a long time ago, he had to photograph a bunch a series of comedians and to make the pictures different. He had them each jump. And what happened is he was very interested in psychology and he noticed that each person jumped in character. Some vivacious, some, you know, shy, and he decided to try with every with all the people that he photographed, even including Nixon, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and all the Grace Kelly, all the famous movie actresses and actors that he photographed for life and many other magazines. And he asked Marilyn, would you jump from me? And she jumped and he expected a goddess like jump. And then she was very childlike. And he said, Are you sure you expressed yourself? And she and she looked in shock. She said, You mean this is going to reveal me? And she was panic stricken and she didn't want to jump anymore. But later on, when he had done a million people jumping, he asked her again in 1959 to jump. And she jumped 100, 150 times because she said, Philip, whatever. If you don't like any of these jumps up, call me up. I'll come any time and you can ask me again. Well, let's talk, because it was a kind of it was for her at that point. It was showbiz.

Interviewer: Let's talk a little bit about how she is in those terms, because there's a reason the knees are together, the arms are down, your fists are tight in all of them. We were looking at them yesterday in all the contact sheets and that comment about this child, the child a child jumps his legs to get.

Irene Halsman: Well, a girl child. He noticed that the three most famous actresses of the time, one Gina Lollobrigida and Natalie.

Interviewer: Getting a little noise.

Irene Halsman: That's Pearl. So they don't hear your question?

Interviewer: No, no, no questions. But you're doing fine.

Irene Halsman: I don't need questions. Here. Well, you're important. That's Pearl, right? But she's gonna go back up.

Interviewer: Your way. Yes. All right. So we were talking about the jumping, and that's sort of the child.

Irene Halsman: And they are building outside.

Interviewer: The child. God is the way she jumped in their legs together.

Irene Halsman: Fully noticed when he put the three most famous actresses of the time in France. It was BGT, Bordeaux and Italy it was Gina Lollobrigida. And in America, it was Marilyn Monroe. And he noticed when he put the pictures together that each of these women jumped with their knees together, almost like a child, because when in those days, a girl was told to keep her legs together. So these three women who were basically what my father called child. Quite what did he call them? This is child women and child fantasies. Sorry.

Interviewer: Well, the concept is still.

Irene Halsman: I know what I want to get the wording right. So am I OK? It's my hair, OK? Oh, I can't find it. This is real. And I just. We just had it yesterday. Classes. Did you all see this for. Here it is, the childlike playfulness of their jumps shows the image of the public as the love goddesses he called them. Childlike playfulness, all with their lives closed. This is my teaching instinct. Did you see it? I finally found that. But you're going to have to be able to do I started from the top.

Interviewer: You can just talk about. Yeah, that. Yeah. Do it again, would you?

Irene Halsman: Sorry.

Interviewer: No, sorry.

Irene Halsman: Philip noticed that all three women, Gina Lollobrigida from Italy, sheep Bob Dole from France and Marilyn from America, all were love goddesses who jumped the same way. Which way was that? They jump with their knees together. And as every mother tells their little girl. Hold your legs together. And these were child women, which was a reflection of the times. That's what men wanted. I don't think in this day and age they care. But later on. Marilyn had to jump four in 1959 for a life sitting and she jumped many, many times. She said, Phillipe, if you don't like any of these jumps. Call me up and I'll I'll jump. Poppy, happy to jump again for you.

Interviewer: What difference? You know. Well.

Irene Halsman: Yeah, he thought they were good friends. But then at the end, he noticed that she was very distrustful of people because so many people heard her and she wasn't sure whether people liked her for herself or married her for herself or as a conquest or if, you know, they just like my father wanted her as a good subject for a photo.

Irene Halsman: But he was he she was a good subject. And he was a good I mean, the thing I said yesterday, I'm so struck by before I forget. Let's talk about Marilyn, The Marilyn Monroe Show, because also he had this great surrealistic. He was very.

Irene Halsman: Well dallier, as someone asked him. I'd love to see Marilyn Mao. So with a lot of technical ability and a small scissor, he cut the face of Marilyn and Mao and fused them together. He did the same thing later. He didn't. He did it also with Dali, said he wanted to be half Dali and half Picasso. So we have a Picasso Dali.

Interviewer: But his rage is so as we were talking yesterday, that sort of odd that Marilyn Mao, the jumping shots have a whole sort of another kind of aesthetic and mood to them. The early stuff is just cute. And the hamburger, the drive in the walking stuff, it was a great range of things that if you looked at them, you would never see. This was all the same photographer. And they are. I mean, I don't know if you can comment.

Irene Halsman: But that was all in one day.

Interviewer: But I'm talking about even over the expanse of the years, even from the first starlet stuff, which she did with the group, that group stuff somehow or other. These are different as the years as.

Irene Halsman: Well. Well, Marilyn changed over the years. I guess she was more naive in the beginning. I just wanted to say that when she would come to the studio, she would arrive with no makeup looking so plain. Nobody would even recognize her in the street. And the assistant once said she came in and he said to her, she said to him, Now I have to become Marilyn. And she went and sat for an hour in front of the mirror, putting on more lipstick, taking it off, putting on more mascara, taking or wasting so much time that that it exasperated people. She was known for her lateness.

Interviewer: He writes about it, about the starlets to the. She kept putting her makeup on and taking it off and putting it on.

Irene Halsman: Yeah, that's that's what I was referring to. She she also that reminds me, she also came to the house once in Men in Pants, and my father had to do a shoot for Esquire magazine and color. And he said, Marilyn, did you bring a skirt? And she said, no, I just brought some pants. So he had my mother run up into my closet and choose one of my wide skirts, my red Tucson, Arizona skirt, and which she wore in 1954. And I still have it. And it still fits, even though I was very young and. And that's that,.

Interviewer: Right? Uh, just just be so.

Irene Halsman: We didn't marry. We did the starlet's. You know what I didn't know? Did I say that the negligee? I did the negligee. You'll show the negligee. You'll show the barbells. You'll show the bookcases. And the hamburger.

Interviewer: About that odd group of photographs, the interview, we decide to use some of them.

Irene Halsman: Yeah. What's her name? Dana. See where it says interview on a look at them.

Interviewer: I think you're right.

Irene Halsman: And I have to refresh my mind. I don't know. Marilyn was afraid of women. She thought that they resented her sex appeal. She was convinced that all women despised and hated her. When Yvonne treated her with treated her kindly, Marilyn's response was touchingly grateful.

Interviewer: That picture talk about two.

Irene Halsman: Yeah, but it doesn't go in with anything.

Interviewer: We can still show.

Irene Halsman: It says if something is wrong with my jumps, found me at any hour and I will come immediately to jump again. Fine. I know what I said in a different way. Wasn't funny.

Interviewer: Well, you really got it. You just read it so we can use it.

Irene Halsman: Yeah, but I have this in front of me.

Interviewer: We can use your voice without you. Without the show. What. You can do it. Without it. We can do it again.

Irene Halsman: Oh, I'm better, Regan.

Interviewer: I don't want you to read those glasses. Look good. Yeah.

Irene Halsman: Why don't do it with the glasses. Oh. We want glasses, take off the librarian look. Here it says once in my studio, and she jumped tirelessly, stopping only every few minutes to take a sip of Scotch. I remembered that five years earlier in Hollywood she did not drink at all. And I worried about this change. And then you show this picture.

Interviewer: Well, he definitely had a rough day, which is pretty amazing free anybody.

Irene Halsman: He said. He also did a collage of her. Oh, I hope my voice is a voice over and you're not seeing my ugly face. OK. What was I gonna say? Oh, yeah. He also put a collage together with his little scissors and made three Marilyn Monroe's. That was pretty popular. Well, I don't know. Those are bad ones. He also made a seat. I don't really know if this was my father's idea or it was an idea given to him by life. And I don't even know if these were published anywhere. But he did a series called The Interview where Marilyn. And then you show the picture. That picture number one is the approach. Picture number two is called pelvis thrust at the enemy. Picture number three is taking battle positions. Very in this picture, number four is. Breastwork, whatever that means. And there's no caption for this, but you can make up your own.

Interviewer: It's remarkably of another era. Isn't it this little, this little?

Irene Halsman: It's very. Let's put it. It's a very politically incorrect, you know, at this point. At this point. You know, my father was pretty much a massive chauvinist. My sister and I were always saying that to you.

Interviewer: Do you think we need saving work? Because I think we did it.

Irene Halsman: Our wrap up thing.

Interviewer: Would be good.

Interviewer: I mean, you were around. I know you didn't actually meet her, but you were around in that time. You must remember her impact as a teenage girl at that point.

Interviewer: I always regretted not having met her because she was such a well-known actress. And she looks like a lot of fun and really sweet underneath it all. And my father photographed her four or five times, and all I got was that she used my skirt.

Irene Halsman
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Irene Halsman, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 19 Apr. 2006,
(2006, April 19). Irene Halsman, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Irene Halsman, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). April 19, 2006. Accessed July 06, 2022


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