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‘Marilyn Monroe: A British Love Affair’ is a small display in Room 33 of London’s National Portrait Gallery, featuring photographs and vintage magazine covers related to The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), and other homegrown influences on Hollywood’s most iconic star.

On October 4th, biographer Michelle Morgan gave a lunchtime lecture about Marilyn’s stay in England. Her newly updated book, Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, includes two detailed chapters about this unique period.

Morgan’s research shows a post-war England rocked by Monroe’s arrival, and her many tales of ordinary people and their encounters with a Hollywood superstar are both quirky and amusing.

As a young girl, Norma Jeane lived for a time with her mother and a family of English actors. Some biographers have detected a slight trace of a British accent in Marilyn’s distinctive voice, which may date from this time.

Among the first professional photos of Marilyn, taken by Andre de Dienes, graced the cover of Picture Post (a British photo-journalistic magazine, equivalent to Life in the US) three times during the late 1940s.

Anthony Beauchamp began his career as an apprentice to his mother, the Downing Street portraitist Vivienne. He lived and worked in Hollywood for a time, and photographed a bikini-clad Marilyn on the beach in 1951.

Roy Baker directs Marilyn in ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ (1952)

Marilyn’s first English director was Roy Ward Baker, who guided her through a serious dramatic role in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952.) Baker considered her miscast, but recognised her star potential.

Monroe and Sitwell by George Silk, 1953

In 1953, a meeting was arranged between Marilyn and Dame Edith Sitwell. While publicists anticipated a clash of cultures, the two bonded over a mutual love of poetry.

In 1954, Marilyn – by then an established star – was photographed by Nahum Baron. Son of an Italian Jew, Baron counted politicians as well as actors among his famous subjects. Like Beauchamp, and Cecil Beaton, Baron was part of Prince Philip’s ‘Thursday Club’.

Marilyn by Nahum Baron, 1954

Baron captured Marilyn on a visit to Los Angeles, in the garden of a friend’s home. She arrived late, so he was obliged to photograph her in the fading light. She wore two outfits of Baron’s choosing: a sleeveless, striped dress, and a blue matador shirt over pedal pushers.

Baron was impressed by Monroe’s feline grace. ‘She does not know why she is sexy,’ he remarked. ‘She just is.’ He also noted her natural instinct for posing.

Beaton and Monroe, by Ed Pfizenmaier

Cecil Beaton photographed Marilyn in a New York hotel in 1956, with magical results. Model and photographer were shot at work by Beaton’s assistant, Ed Pfizenmaier.

Later that year, Monroe travelled to England to film The Prince and the Showgirl. While this was a difficult shoot for her, she instantly warmed to her cameraman, Jack Cardiff. One of his offscreen portraits became a favourite of Arthur Miller, Marilyn’s third husband.

Photos of Marilyn with cast and crew, including costumier Beatrice ‘Bumble’ Dawson, are also featured in the display, along with a selection of tinted lobby cards.

During the trip, Marilyn attended a Royal Command Performance and was introduced to Queen Elizabeth II. Both women were born in 1926, and the Queen celebrated sixty years on the throne earlier this year.

Marilyn by Larry Burrows, 1956

The Prince and the Showgirl has an Edwardian setting, but co-producer Milton Greene chose to depict Monroe in more contemporary, seductive poses for publicity shots, released to tie in with its premiere in 1957.

Let’s Make Love, Marilyn’s penultimate movie, was filmed in 1960, and two British stars were among the cast: pop singer Frankie Vaughan, and veteran actor Wilfred Hyde-White.

Monroe’s rise and fall were chronicled in the fan magazines of the era, such as Picturegoer, and loftier titles like Films and Filming. Two more Picture Post covers, both shot by Milton Greene, are on display.

Marilyn by Milton Greene

America’s most popular movie magazine, Photoplay, also had a UK edition and Marilyn appeared on several covers in typically glamorous style. But in later years, that image was countered by headlines like ‘Marilyn’s Search For Happiness’.

Pauline Boty and her muse, 1962

The British pop artist, Pauline Boty, was inspired by a photo of Marilyn taken on the set of Some Like it Hot (1959) to create her most famous painting, ‘The Only Blonde in the World’, in 1963. A photo of Boty – imitating Marilyn chewing on a string of pearls, in another painting – is presented in the display.

One of the last photos ever taken of Marilyn graced the cover of Town magazine in November 1962, three months after her death. This inspired another of Boty’s paintings, ‘Colour Her Gone’.

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

‘Colour Her Gone’

‘Marilyn Monroe: A British Love Affair’ is a modest, but evocative display. A book of postcards, featuring a selection of twenty images, is available to order but, as yet, there is no catalogue. The display is free to all and open until March 24th of next year.

Jack Cardiff, 1956

Further Reading

Full transcript of Michelle Morgan’s speech at the National Portrait Gallery

‘Talk at the BBC’ – transcripts from interviews with Dame Edith Sitwell and Wilfred Hyde-White

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