Interviewer: Can you tell me when we first want to talk about this in January? One of the things is taking a picture of somebody like Marilyn Monroe is to have something that's unique that no one else has. And we talked about that on the surface stuff as a bird's eye view. So let's talk about that.

Phil Stern: Well. Back in the 50s from me, the photograph, Marilyn Monroe. It was a catch as catch can situation. I did not have her at my disposal the way some photographers did. So the only time I could get her is either surreptitiously or at a photo opportunity situation. And in that case, I had all these competitors of mine being a freelancer myself. It was important for me, both professionally and for economics, to try to get a photograph that doesn't look the same as the others. So I had to watch carefully. And if she did anything unusual with her face it expression or anything like that. I had to be alert enough to snap it. And I didn't have that alertness at that time. I don't have it today, but I did have. And I would photograph it.

Interviewer: What was she like in that moment?

Phil Stern: Although, as I remember and as so many years now, it's so little blurry, but I do remember that she seemed to savor the events that she was in and alternately was nervous. She went on and off enjoying it, being nervous and fidgety. I suppose if I decided to be an amateur psychiatrist, I'd say she was insecure. But I will. I'll resist that.

Interviewer: With one group of jobs you have with a group backstage with Barney. As I said to you before, seeing this particularly interesting is how you just drop the one. That one, Barack rather startled shoppers and then and with him, without Benny's presence in the shop. It's this two different chats. And I think I likened it to you before to an Arnold Newman did no crap her out. Sandra with Sandra is one shot without it's another and often don't see it's the same shot.

Phil Stern: Well, again, being the quintessential freelance photographer, the photos that I turned out want from my agency, which at the time was. Very energetic and selling things. It was to my benefit to crop it both with her and Beneš together or alternately with her alone, without Benny and I might add, to milk it further off that crop her out and have just many because Benny was. A very vital name in show business at the time. And the result of that is that people who decide it when I say people, I'm talking about editors of magazines who decided to use that material. In some cases, they would crop out modern Monroe or they they would use Benny alone, I'm sorry, use Monroe alone, because the print I supplied did not have Benny. For me, it was a win win situation because I was able to tap the markets that murdered her with money and the ones that did not. Most of the market at that time did not want money in it.

Interviewer: So this is just entirely the expression on your face a different way, with and without.

Phil Stern: The truth. As far as her express, I buy less often. What does she have in her mind? What was she thinking of? I don't know what the hell she was thinking. Really? Except that in that photograph you don't see it. But below she's holding in her hand a typewritten script, which was part of her tete a tete she had with Benny. And she was trying to memorize that and she possibly had difficulty memorizing it. That gave her that worried look.

Interviewer: If you went to sleep for that, it was a back backstage.

Phil Stern: Oh, yes. That was the whole event. They were sitting backstage waiting for the cue to go on. And it was a benefit program. For the Los Angeles Children's Hospital, Kimberly was 19 when the data were I remember the date I've had to refer to it many times. December the 13th, 1953.

Interviewer: So she was up in it. She was in the rise. She was just the beginning starlet. Here she is, certainly Marilyn Monroe by now. Do you remember any of the interaction between her and Danny? Because I think Danny quite liked her.

Phil Stern: I don't remember any. I. Matter of fact, as far as I can remember, there was no interaction between them that I witnessed.

Interviewer: The next time you come in contact with her that you have concentrated on, essentially. Okay. And that was the one that you said to be was specifically. Give me your hand.

Phil Stern: We are now also the photos taken at Goldwin Studio. Where the film. Some, like it hot, was made. If I remember correctly, it was something like nineteen sixty one or two. Yeah, well in the early 60s. And at that time. I had an assignment from Look magazine. The assignment was what Sam Goldwyn seized from his window. Now, Sam Goldwyn had an office that faced the Goldwyn Studio. St.. On one side of the street or the star's dressing rooms and the other side of the street, about 25 feet away, were the big soundstages where films like Some Like It Hot were made. And that was made in one of those stages. So inevitably, the movie artists, players, actors, actresses had to. Go from the dressing room across the street to the. Soundstage or vice versa. And I had a telephoto cameras located at Sam Golden's office, and it was set up in such a way as there was no knowledge, whatever, of the people below. And I was getting intimate pictures of them. And that's where I was able to get those pictures of Marilyn Monroe either alone or walking with. Charles Charlie Snyder. Watch her. Her makeup man and the woman, she spent a lot of time with them. And if that look at that filming was. Paula Strasberg at certain days. They were inseparable. And I have pictures of them together, forwards, backwards and so on. And that was the time when she was pregnant during her marriage with Arthur Miller. At one point, your pregnancy was such. There she is beginning to show it. And in one of those photos that I made, she wore a dark kimono over a white outfit. And the wind blew open the kimono and it was very obvious she's pregnant. And I do have those photographs.

Interviewer: She was the one that's really just the one of your in love. She actually looks quite at peace. She looks quite lovely.

Phil Stern: Yeah. I believe I'm not sure this, but I believe it's the only photo of her pregnant.

Interviewer: I think you're right. Tell us how tell the whole story of the incorrect size of the sunshade and how this distorted became a happy accident.

Phil Stern: Oh, to make those photographs a required very long telephoto lenses. I had a little experience with that kind of photography. So I had to wrench and learn about the use of telephoto lenses. And in so doing, I made a technical error of buying. Getting the wrong size sunshade, the result of that was that. Many of the photos I made using that sunshade than the other photos when he edited by Settlin yelling it. I mean, the image came out with a black circle around the edges. So that is a lot. Look like you're looking through a funnel or the whole image was there, but it had that funny, strange look, which was not my intention. However, being lucky, it turns out that that made the pictures look even more mysterious and more spontaneous. And. I don't mind mentioning that now at the time. I never admitted to any errors of technical judgment.

Interviewer: Quite perfect for them. I wanted to talk one little bit more about the fact that we have a lot of people in this film who are with her in New York. A lot of photographers in New York, like people wonder today's that kind of a day of L.A. And certainly she was in everybody's camera in L.A. and in Hollywood. And you were here with her at certainly the key those years where the big failure of those years by some like it hot. It was very little laughter that. So I guess I want to just get a sense of, if you can remember the phenomenon of Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood.

Phil Stern: Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood in the 50s and 60s. She was a big item. Definitely. Of the photographers that photograph her, I'm talking about, th at schmuck. And I have to get my train of thought back on track. So I said, oh, yeah, you're forgiven. But don't let it happen again. If you want to work in this town again. I love. You mean you you what you're supposed to say is that a threat or a promise

Interviewer: Okay, so you obviously. OK. So, Marilyn.

Phil Stern: Where was I?

Interviewer: Well, who was it? You said it was just a pretty big item, you know. And.

Phil Stern: Now, I my relationship with Marilyn Monroe was actually zero. I did not have her. On my terms at any time. My colleagues like Bert Stern, Avidan, et cetera, had her very specifically for special photographic sessions. So I have to catch her as catch can. I did the best I could. My relationship with her was just about zero if she happened to still be alive and walk into this room. I don't think she'd know me from a hole in the ground. So I'd love to be able to be in a position to claim a very strong intimacy with her, that I took her to bed with me, that I did this and I did that. But unfortunately, I cannot.

Interviewer: Was that was it? Absolutely. I mean, she is she would have been 80 this year. She remains whose presence she's alive was the actuality of her as that patient at that time, was it or was it a starlet?

Phil Stern: Well, at that time. I've been working with many movie stars. I'm talking about movie stars at the top end of the spectrum. The Schnauzers, the Bogarts, the Judy Garland, et cetera. And I had a tendency to be somewhat jaundiced by that. So that. I was not a fan of any of those people, actually. And the only people that I was a fan of, I never met. I would say that one of my disappointments in life was that although I could have under some circumstances met Charlie Chaplin, I never met him. But for me, Charlie Chaplin has been. I mean, if I could be a fan of anybody, I'd be a fan of his. That's about it.

Interviewer: Shall we talk about some of these photographs? Well, shoot them. You don't have to even be on camera because you might come back.

Phil Stern: In the 50s and 60s, and especially right after JFK is assassination, there are all kinds of rumors and reports. About the relationship between. John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. And one of the reports was that she was introduced to him by Sinatra and they had meetings at Malibu Beach at the home of Peter Lawford. And. Nothing came of those reports. And I should add. That it was reported that a photographer took pictures of Monroe and JFK cavorting in Malibu Beach. And no such photographs ever appeared. However, there was a quite a serious search for them. I remember that I was Callachor once from Europe and two or three times here in the States saying, look, you were in the area at the time and it's conceivable that you made some photographs of them on the beach. If so, you have it with me. We can really make it worth your while. And of course, I had nothing of the sort and other photographers I knew that came in the same category as I did. We'll also question those kind of interesting because who knows, maybe somebody is sitting on a roll of film that could be very valuable.

Phil Stern
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Phil Stern, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 21 Apr. 2006,
(2006, April 21). Phil Stern, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Phil Stern, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). April 21, 2006. Accessed June 30, 2022


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