This New Exhibition Reveals the Softer, Intimate Grace of Marilyn Monroe

Douglas Kirkland and Milton H. Greene are, arguably, the final word on the most intimate portraiture of Marilyn Monroe. The starlet’s skirt-flying silhouette and stratospheric notoriety as a blonde-bombshell, alongside her career as an actress and her untimely passing, sketch out a superficial, perfectly polished shell of a character: beautiful, but the sort of beautiful that keeps the viewer at a distant arm’s length.

In a new photography exhibition Meeting Marilyn Monroe brought to Shanghai (Shanghai Tower) by The Plus’ parent company VisionNow Media, Kirkland, Greene, and the latter’s son Joshua Greene, each iconic figures in the world of photography, illuminate the darker, softer sides of Marilyn; the sides to which only those in her closest confidence were privy.

Take a look on the opening:

Away from the film cameras, in the medium of stills – Marilyn’s preferred style according to Kirkland – we see a record of an intimate narrative, of an easy grace with which the young star conducted herself behind closed doors. We caught up with Joshua Greene, eminent authority on digital imaging and restorer of his Father Milton’s extensive photographic legacy – itself an intimate record of his family’s close relationship with Marilyn – and Douglas, at Meeting Marilyn Monroe.


The Plus: Which words come to mind when you think about Marilyn Monroe?
Douglas Kirkland:
Sexuality, because she was a symbol of sex. But beyond that she was a very special human being. She changed frequently. I was with her on three occasions and it was like I was never with the same person two times in a row. The first time we talked at her small apartment, she said “I know what we need, we need champagne and I won’t wear anything but be in the bed”.

Two days later we did the photo session. That night, she was a totally different person that I met at her small apartment. It was like I saw a motion picture in slow motion when she came in. That’s how she affected me. On day two it was very sexual, and we became very intimate, and that’s what went into the pictures. I didn’t feel that intimacy and sexuality the first time, and I also didn’t feel it the third time. That night it felt like I could have done anything with her and she would be OK with it.

Marilyn Monroe by Douglas Kirkland (pictures via Iconic Images)

TP: Your father was a businessman and artist. Which one truly describes your father?
Joshua Greene:
He was an artist first. He thought he was a better businessman than he turned out to be.

TP: So you think you are a better businessman than him?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But I’ve learnt from his mistakes. So as the next generation yes – I fall more into the category of sharing the success, believing that there will always be money there, and giving back. I’d always share love and celebration and so would my father.


TP: Has anyone ever doubted the relationship between your father and Marilyn Monroe?
It was assumed that there was some sort of affair before they started their partnership together. My father loved my mother very much and when they got married it was based on love and raising a family. My father was a very handsome man, and there was no problem, women wanting to enjoy his company. This doesn’t mean it happened with everybody.

TP: Any surprises you found in his work during restoration?
The surprises are more about the satisfaction of completing it. When you see a picture like this [unrestored] and it’s all purple and it’s faded and there’s no colour and you have no idea how it’s going to end up, you clean it and you mask out all the pieces and then you look at it and you have to make it into a print…

And fine art printing is a whole art all to itself… So the surprises are when it works, the surprise is when I like it. The surprises are when we do something we could only do digitally. My standards are high, I like to win, I like to see it done right, and there are times when I struggle with an image for weeks at a time.

Marilyn Monroe by Milton H Greene (pictures via Iconic Images)

TP: Why do you think it is that Marilyn’s fame has been so enduring?
There’s two answers. One: she die young. Like Elvis, Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin: they died young. That automatically creates a following, and it locks them in history. You never saw them grow old. They died in their prime and it stuck in the world’s history that way. There’s something that dynamic in the human psyche that means that you always think of that person that way…

The second thing is that Marilyn has been reintroduced to a younger audience by Madonna, by Elton John, By Christina Aguilera, a little bit by Beyonce and a little bit just by copycats. Her look – her red lips, the dress, the blonde hair – has almost become synonymous with Marlborough or anything american or iconic. So there’s that driving it. Those two things keep her young and keep her in the forefront of our minds.

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Exhibition Space in Shanghai Tower

Marilyn Monroe by Milton H Greene (pictures via Iconic Images)

Marilyn Monroe by Milton H Greene (pictures via Iconic Images)