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"AMERICAN MASTERS Marilyn Monroe: Still Life" on PBS, July 19

Features interviews with photographers Arnold Newman, Eve Arnold And Elliott Erwitt

There is an oft told tale of Marilyn Monroe walking down a New York City street, incognito, turning to her companion and saying, “Do you want to see her?” With that, she threw off all vestiges of Norma Jeane and miraculously transformed. There were no grand gestures, no change of clothes, no make-up.  It was a simple shift, a slithering out of one skin into the other. Arguably the most photographed person ever, the “outing” of Marilyn is something she looked at with both skepticism and awe. She once said, “I carry Marilyn Monroe around with me like an albatross.” In a new film, American Masters offers a unique take on one of the world’s first superstars by turning to the still photographs that captured Monroe’s beauty, her complexity and, ultimately, her own complicated relationship with the star side of herself.  AMERICAN MASTERS Marilyn Monroe: Still Life premieres Wednesday, July 19 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).      


Marilyn Monroe during a photo shoot for
The Seven Year Itch, 1954, © George S. Zimbel 2005

“The vast archive of Marilyn Monroe photographs cemented her in the public conscience like no one before or since,” said Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of American Masters. “We are telling her story through the iconography of the 20th century. Her relationship with the lens was, perhaps, her greatest and most successful love affair.”

Says director Gail Levin: “She was brilliantly conceived for the camera and perhaps equally its victim.  Almost like Eve she entered the world naked and broke—a potent combination that created her indelible image.”

If she had lived, Monroe would celebrate her 80th birthday in June. This film is aimed at the persistence of her image. Through interviews with photographers such as Eve Arnold, Arnold Newman, Elliott Erwitt, George Zimbel, and Phil Stern, and especially through the photos themselves, Still Life captures moments of great triumph and great tragedy. From the 1949 nudes—when she posed because she needed the money—to the classic air grate photo from The Seven Year Itch through the final shots taken by George Barris in 1962, the photographs remain as an ageless memento of her guts, grace and sexiness.

Still Life looks at Marilyn from the inside out. Ultimately, it was the camera that was her friend and the rules of friendship applied—they respected each other. The unremarkable girl with the amazing smile. The sex goddess. The great dame. The movie star in the snapshots taken by the enlisted men in Korea. The worldwide seductress. She was, as Some Like it Hot director Billy Wilder described her, an original. “The first day a photographer took a picture of her,” he said, “she was a genius.”

The film is a highlight of the 20th anniversary season of AMERICAN MASTERS, a five-time winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series and a recent recipient of its seventh Peabody Award.