Bert Stern photo of Marilyn Monroe in black dress at Hotel Bel-Air
Art and culture

Marilyn Monroe – The Last Sitting

September 16, 2021

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In 1962, Marilyn Monroe arrived at Hotel Bel-Air – alone, five hours late and ready to discard her inhibitions for the camera of legendary photographer Bert Stern. Discover why these images still resonate today and where you can see them.
Marilyn Monroe with Champagne by Bert Stern

The Last Sitting®

This 12-hour photo shoot, and the following two sessions, yielded nothing short of magic. A series of 2,571 portraits revealed a Marilyn completely unreserved yet utterly glamorous in wispy scarves, pink silk, birdcage veils, and an iconic black velour gown by Christian Dior. Collectively called ‘The Last Sitting®’, these intimate portraits would be the public’s final glimpse into the life of the Hollywood icon, before her untimely death six weeks later.

Q&A with Shannah Laumeister Stern

Bert Stern’s widow, Shannah Laumeister Stern, has curated an exclusive exhibition of these precious images of Marilyn. They are on display in Hotel Bel-Air’s lobby (from September 1 until October 31), as part of the hotel’s 75th anniversary celebrations. Here Shannah reveals insights about the man behind the camera and the exceptional photos created that day.

Photos courtesy of Sara Mally

Sara Mally standing in a garden
Hotel exterior with logo sign, pink building and trees

Why do you think Bert chose Hotel Bel-Air for the photo shoot?

One of Bert’s amazing talents was understanding the importance of location and choosing where to shoot his subjects. When he learnt that Marilyn had known and loved Hotel Bel-Air and even lived there, he thought it would make sense to photograph her at the hotel, as it would be somewhere she would feel at home.

How did you go about selecting the images for this exhibition?

The dimensions and feeling of the space were crucial to making this show. I wanted to reveal 17 different moods of Marilyn Monroe, encompassing all of her complexities that made her so dynamic. I asked myself, “How did Bert and Marilyn communicate together over those days at Hotel Bel-Air to result in these photos?” I wanted to convey motion, movement and life so you could feel her vivaciousness. I believe that when people see the exhibition they will truly experience Marilyn.

Collage of Bert Stern photos of Marilyn Monroe on display at Hotel Bel-Air
Photo of Marilyn Monroe in pearls by Bert Stern taken at Hotel Bel-Air

How do you think Bert managed to capture Marilyn in such a carefree and uninhibited way?

There was a very unusual aspect to the shoot that doesn’t occur with movie stars today, the fact that they got to be alone for much of the shoot. This gave the chance for a creative intimacy between them to flourish. Bert respected and revered Marilyn, which I’m sure she could feel and therefore was able to be herself. I don’t think Marilyn got many opportunities to just be herself, especially in what was supposed to be a fashion shoot.

Why do you think people continue to be fascinated by Marilyn?

There’s still a sense of mystery the surrounds Marilyn. She was a movie star for the world rather than herself. She was always giving. That selfless quality, along with the complexity of her blinding beauty, alluring sexuality, sweetness, vulnerability and innocence, made her America’s favourite starlet. Even though Marilyn was all these things, it’s the sense of mystery around her that has made her more popular over time.

Bert Stern photo of Marilyn Monroe on chair in black

We invite you to discover a rare exhibition of Bert Stern – The Last Sitting® in Hotel Bel-Air’s lobby from September 1 until October 31. If you’re interested in buying any of the images, please contact [email protected].

Photos courtesy of ©BertSternTrust

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