70 Years Ago: Marilyn, Hollywood’s Glamour Queen

The French e-zine, Crazy for You, continues tracing Marilyn’s ascent throughout 1952 with three new issues looking at three glamorous photo shoots. In the first, ‘Birth of an Icon’, we take a closer look at the navel-cut, sleeveless black Travilla gown with white collar that Marilyn wore to the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City on September 2nd. She wore the same gown in an undated session with studio photographer Gene Kornman (often misattributed to Frank Powolny.) These images were used to promote Niagara when it was released in January 1953, and would inspire the iconic silkscreens created by artist Andy Warhol after Marilyn’s death in 1962.

The second issue, ‘Glamour,’ addresses the confusion over which photographers were responsible for Marilyn’s layouts during this period. In the cover photo (by Frank Powolny), Marilyn wears a black lace negligee. She also posed for Nickolas Muray in the same garment. (These photos are often mistakenly credited to Ernest Bachrach, who had photographed Marilyn during filming of Clash By Night at RKO in 1951, a year prior.)

In both Powolny’s and Muray’s images, she wears the same hairstyle and earrings. These features can also be found in Gene Kornman’s black dress sitting – from the first issue, above – and his photographs of Marilyn in a red Oleg Cassini dress, which she also wore to the premiere of Monkey Business in Atlantic City. (She posed in the same dress for another photographer, Frank Livia, during her East Coast trip.)

The same hairstyle and earrings show up in another Frank Powolny shoot, in which Marilyn wears a lace-trimmed, orange teddy and peignoir (now in the collection of Greg Schreiner.) Therefore, it’s quite likely that all four layouts were shot on the same day.

The final issue goes in depth with Nickolas Muray, my favourite of these photographers. Bringing humour and a painterly sensibility to what could have been typical studio glamour shots, he had Marilyn pose in peasant dress, biting on an apple, or draping herself in a colourful patterned scarf. In one of Muray’s black lace negligee images, Marilyn holds a fruit basket, looking rather like a renaissance queen. (Some time earlier, an auburn-haired Marilyn had worn the same garment over a red gown for photographer Slim Aarons; while actress Yvonne de Carlo also posed in the negligee.)

One of the outfits Marilyn wore for Muray, a blue pantaloon suit, was first worn by actress Eve Arden in We’re Not Married! (1952), the portmanteau film in which Marilyn also appeared. (The film’s costumer was Elois Jenssen.)

As well as drawing out Marilyn’s classical beauty, Muray also photographed her in modern attire, including the pink dress designed by Dorothy Jeakins for Niagara. Another Muray image, which made the cover of Redbook in March 1953, shows Marilyn in a dark blue beaded dress. Designed by Ceil Chapman, the dress was first seen on Marilyn (with matching jacket) at a party for Photoplay magazine on October 3, 1952; and she would wear it again to the Redbook Awards in February 1953. Marilyn also owned a more famous version of the same ensemble in purple, which she would wear while singing to U.S. troops when she visited Korea in 1954.