Julian Wasser: L.A. Photographer of Marilyn and More

Photographer Julian Wasser – described as the ‘poet laureate of LA’ – died on February 8, 2023, aged 89, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pa in 1933, Julian was interested in photojournalism from an early age and strongly influenced by the maverick New York street photographer, Arthur ‘Weegee’ Fellig (who had memorably captured images of Marilyn blowing a kiss to reporters at Idlewild Airport in 1954.)

Even in his boyhood, Julian’s photos regularly made the news. “Every night I would climb out my bedroom window and steal my father’s car when I was 12 and take pictures, and they’d be on the front page of the Washington Post,” he recalled. “My father would say ‘look, there’s another Julian Wasser in Washington.’ I said ‘yeah dad.’”

In 1956, Julian enlisted in the US Navy and was sent to San Diego. This photo of Marilyn, taken on Coronado Beach during filming of Some Like It Hot in 1958, has been attributed to him.

After leaving the service in 1961, Julian settled in Los Angeles, and would photograph Monroe again at the Golden Globes in 1962. She arrived with screenwriter Jose Bolanos – whom she had met during a recent trip to Mexico – and would collect her World Film Favourite award that evening.

Julian went on to photograph many other celebrities, including bombshells Jayne Mansfield and Brigitte Bardot. ‘The glamour of Old Hollywood was still intact, but at the same time, everyone was approachable,’ he wrote. ‘There were no reserved VIP areas in clubs, no bodyguards or security men, no hordes of paparazzi.’

He was part of the Los Angeles bohemian scene, photographing writer Eve Babitz playing chess (nude) with artist Marcel Duchamp in 1963. His 1968 photo shoot with another California author, Joan Didion, gave us many iconic images that have been reproduced on her book covers, tote bags and more.

He also documented the civil rights movement and the 1965 Watts uprising. He photographed President Kennedy in Los Angeles, and later Democratic nominee Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel, just moments before his assassination in 1968. In the days after the horrific Tate-LaBianca killings of 1969, filmmaker Roman Polanski asked Wasser to photograph the crime scene at his home, where his wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered.

Although arguably best-known for his 1960s images, Julian worked in photojournalism for another three decades. In later years, he spent time in Paris and Berlin. A full retrospective, The Way We Were: The Photography of Julian Wasser, was published in 2014.

Julian Wasser is survived by a son and daughter, and his partner, singer Leslie Knauer.