- Historic Sites
“Do You Want To See Her?”
An ambitious young magazine editor and a tormented photographer together discovered a Marilyn Monroe nobody knew
November/December 2005 | Volume 56, Issue 6
She looked at me with a flinching smile that said she knew all about being used. It set off a flash-back in my mind: Mike Cowles, the publisher of Look , telling of a visit to Twentieth Century–Fox in the late 1940s, when a studio head remarked, “We have a new girl on the lot with something unusual. Instead of sticking straight out, her tits tilt up.” He sent for Marilyn, who came in smiling, and he lifted her sweater to show what he meant. She never stopped smiling.
We talked about Sam for a while, and then Marilyn said, “There’s another reason I’m doing this: Your magazine never made fun of me.” Her eyes brightened. “Even gave me an award.”
I felt accepted and at the same time burdened with her trust. The most famously sexual woman in the world was being childlike and vulnerable but also using her openness to get what she wanted for a few days: my loyalty. All her life that mixture of innocence and guile had apparently drawn protectors and betrayers, many of them the same people.
It was not long before one popped up. The next day I got a call from Milton Greene, a mediocre photographer and world-class hustler who had persuaded her to form a partnership with him called Marilyn Monroe Productions. We can do the story, he said, but only with a photographer on his payroll. I told him to get lost, and when Eddie and I met Marilyn the next day, I related the shakedown attempt. She frowned, and we started on our story. (It took her a while to get the full picture, but eventually she fired Greene for mismanagement.)
I told Marilyn we wanted to show her as she really was: no poses, no blowing kisses to the camera, no studio setups, just a straight look at her life.
In the heyday of 35mm cameras and available light, Eddie worshiped Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose pictures were being shown not only in magazines but in museums. His idol would not allow prints to be cropped, and neither would Eddie. The “decisive moment” was framed in the photographer’s eye, and to change a picture later would be like taking slices off a Renoir or van Gogh. At a time when Italian and French films were showing up Hollywood fluff, Eddie and others were transforming traditional frozen magazine pictures with on-the-fly realism. The world was going grainy.
Alone among them, Eddie wanted to go beyond witnessing an event with the camera, to enter it and show how it looked from the inside—risking himself for moments nobody had ever seen. He took pictures while crawling with patrols in Korea, lashed to the periscope of a diving submarine, jumping from a plane with paratroops. Back home, on a racetrack with Irish Horan’s Lucky Hell Drivers, he crouched, elbows hugging his body, between boards tented at a 45-degree angle while speeding cars careened by so close he could see the ply marks on their tires.
Short, thin, and stooped, with a face far from handsome, Eddie was magnetic for everyone who knew him. He was as passionate about friendship as work. He was an artist at both.
He lived in the now, letting moments take him wherever they would. Costello’s was more home than hangout. He must have had an apartment or room somewhere, but in all our years as close friends, I never saw it. He got his mail and phone messages at Costello’s and spent every evening in town at the bar, as people he knew came and went, moving a few feet to a table for food and later, if the mood was right, slipping coins into the pay phone to ask some young woman to call her friends while a few of us brought over a bottle to drink and flirt away the night. His energy was unending. He would spend hours talking excitedly, gesturing, scrawling his version of Thurber dogs on napkins, getting up to pace around, crouched like Groucho in a serpentine glide. Life with him was never at a standstill.
Tracking Marilyn, Eddie’s camera was telling more than we knew at the time. The public Marilyn was keeping appointments—fittings for her costume to ride a pink elephant at a charity premiere of the circus, meetings with lawyers and agents (Twentieth Century–Fox had suspended her for decamping), a grand entrance in white furs at the opening night of Tennessee Williams’s new play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof . Before going out, she put on a performance with the stopper from a bottle of Chanel No. 5, stroking her skin in sensuous delight.
But between moments of being seen, there was another Marilyn, suddenly drained of energy, like the air being let out of a balloon. She sat in a darkening hotel room with drink in hand and went out on the terrace to stare unseeing at the Manhattan skyline. Eddie’s shutter kept clicking, and rolls of 35mm film filled up with images of the marilyn monroe you’ve never seen: withdrawn and alone. He never asked her to pose. She hardly knew he was there.
Marilyn had never been in a subway. Wrapped in the camel’s hair coat, her famous hair subdued, she walked to the Grand Central stop of the IRT and down to the platform. Nobody recognized her. Eddie’s camera kept clicking while she stood straphanging on the uptown local. No heads turned.