"You're just a boy!" she exclaimed in wonder.
"And you're just a girl" she answered nonchalantly.
This was the first exchange of words between fashion photographer Milton Greene and screen, glamor and sex icon Marilyn Monroe.
On December 1954, photographer Milton Greene was sent on assignment from Look Magazine to photograph Marilyn Monroe while she was shooting the western The River of No Return. Prior to their meeting, Marilyn was given a portfolio of Milton's work and she was so impressed by the photographer's famously intimate and outstanding portraits of the most famous actors of the era, that she immidiately assumed he was an elderly man with vast life experience. One can only imagine how stunned the 28 year-old star was when she finally met the talented photographer, only to discover that he was actually 26! It was then that she uttered the words: "You're just a boy!" And Greene, who kept his wits about him and was seemingly unfazed by the presence of the all-American sex symbol, answered simply: "And you're just a girl."
Marilyn Monroe. "The Black Sitting", photographed by Milton Greene, 1956.
It might have been that very simplicity and informality, with which Greene treated Monroe, that ignited a deep friendship between the two. That same year, Marilyn made another crucial move in her life- she broke contract with her film studio, 20th Century Fox, and moved to New York to study at the Actors' Studio, under the tutelage of one of the greatest drama teacher of 20th century- Lee Strasberg. She was fed up with the way Hollywood Portrayed her, and the move to New York was an attempt to shake off the "dumb blonde" roles in which she was continuously cast, and to take on the more serious image of a dramatic actress.
For Greene this was his opportunity to photograph the most famous woman in the world during a pivotal shift in her career and image, thus becoming an internaionally known photographer and perhaps even break into film photography. While Monroe, for her part, saw in Greene as a person who respected her coveted serious image and who could market her as a woman of many facets, rather than just the superficial sex symbol that Hollywood had made her into.
Greene and Monroe- The beginning of a wonderful friendship.
Monroe and a classmate (one Marlon Brando) promoting a benifit event for the Actors' Studio. Photographed by Milton Greene, 1955.
The relationship between the two quickly grew, so much so that Monroe became Greene's muse, and in the first year of her life in New-York she even lived as a house guest in the home of Miltone, his wife Amy and their infant son Joshua. In April of 1955, a television crew from the Ed Murrow Show arrived at the Milton household to film their glamorous guest in their spacious kitchen. But what this interview also reveals is how surprised Murrow was at the idea that Monroe the sex icon could actually be a domestic person, and his belittling attitude towards her is evident throughout the interview. Still, Monroe managed to answer all of his questions with good humor and her famous charm, even telling Murrow how happy she was babysitting for the Greene's son on the nights when the couple was out.
In later interviews, Amy Greene (now in her eighties) would go on to insinuate that the time Monroe had spent in their home was the only time in the actress' turbulent life that she had experienced a stable family life.
Throughout 1956, Monroe posed for several of Milton's most famous photo sessions, which were completely different to anything she had ever posed for before in her life. In Milton's photographs she appears innocent, delicate and at times almost tragic- just the way she was in real life. In one session called "The Black Sitting" she is portrayed as a playful cabaret dancer, all in black and white against a black satin backdrop. In another session, which became known as "The Ballerina Photos", she resembles a little girl in ballet class with her feet touching the floor in a child-like manner; and in yet another photo Milton transforms Monroe into a mysterious gypsy. But there is no doubt that the most macabre session of them all is the one titled "The Peasant Sitting" in which Marilyn appears as a poor, sad peasant woman in heavy unflattering clothes- a far cry from the tantalizing outfits she was used to wearing in glamor shots.
Marilyn the mysterious gypsy. Photographed by Milton Greene, 1956
The cooperation between the two quickly developed into an even more professional one with the foundation of "Marilyn Monroe Productions", a company formed by Monroe and Greene for the purpose of both finding serious roles for Marilyn and providing leverage for Milton's career as a film photographer. This partnership proved successful in achieving its goal of transforming Monroe from a starlet, relying heavily on her sexuality, to a bone fide business woman and producer, when the two went on to produce Monroe's next film Bus Stop. For her work in this film, Monroe earned acclaimes for her acting skills for the first time in her career.
But like everything else in Monroe's tragic roller-coaster life, her friendship with Greene was not to last. At the end of that year, she fell in love with and married renowned playwright Arthur Miller (All My Sons, Death of a Salesman), who became increasingly jealous of his new bride's relationship with Milton, despite the fact that according to accounts the relationship was never a romantic one. Miller made the working relationship between the two partners very strenuous.
Naive and Child-like: Monroe as a dainty ballerina in a Milton Greene photograph from the "Ballerina Photos" series, 1956.
The straw that finally broke the camel's back for the two friends and business partners was their next project- a film adaptation of the play The Prince and the Showgirl, which was filmed in London in 1957 and featured British theatre legend Sir Laurence Olivier. Marilyn's psychological struggles on set (presumably depression and severe performance anxiety, which would often cause her to freeze and forget her lines) led her to seek support from strangers. Little did she know that her harmless little flirtation with a minor production assistant by the name of Colin Clark would culminate in a best-seller memoir by the name of The Prince, The Showgirl and Me written by the star-struck assistant when he grew up to become an author and documentary filmmaker; or that that book would, decades later, be made into the movie My Week with Marilyn (2011).
When all those issues were topped off by Miller's ever-growing jealousy and a failed pregnancy which Monroe had suffered during filming, her work with Milton became impossible. Finally, when the film failed at the box office, that was also the end of Monroe and Greene's professional and personal relationship.
Monroe wearing heavy old clothes, looking like a melancholy peasant. A stark contrast to the glamorous image we all know. "The Peasant Sitting" by Milton Greene, 1956.
Marilyn Monroe died tragically in 1962 at the tender age of 36, while Milton passed away in 1985. It wasn't until 1994 that his son, Joshua Greene, the same little boy whose babysitter was the most beautiful woman of her day, discovered digital technology and began digitally restoring his late father's work. Joshua Greene curated thousands of his father's photographs into several series of books, and displayed them in exhibitions all over the world. By doing so, he continues to commemorate the work of an artist who saw beyond the alluring makeup and the white wind-blown dress, and who succeeded in showing the world the gentle spirit of a woman who spent a lifetime in the pursuit of love, recognition and true creativity.