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Photo by Tim Mantoani

Douglas Morley Kirkland was born in 1934 in Toronto, and moved to the small town of Fort Erie, Ontario with his parents when he was three years old. His father, Morley, was a tailor who made and sold men’s suits from a store on Jervis Street, and his mother Evelyn kept the books.

“The first picture I took was with a Brownie box camera,” Douglas told American History magazine. “I was about seven or eight, and I was allowed to take a photo of my family standing at the front door on a very cold Christmas Day. It was a big deal to take a photo at that time because film wasn’t much available during the Second World War. There were eight exposures on that camera, and I had one opportunity to photograph my family. I pushed this box camera into my stomach to hold it very steady. So I heard that magic click; there it was for the first time. That is what has been pushing me ever since. And it’s taken me into worlds that I could never have imagined.”

Every Friday, Morley brought home a copy of Life magazine, and his son was introduced to the art of reportage. “That’s where the dreams came from,” Douglas said. “One of our town’s few claims to fame was that in 1952 Marilyn Monroe had come to film Niagara not more than twenty miles away at the Falls,” he would write. “I was only seventeen, still in high school and photographing hockey games, weddings and passport pictures at every opportunity … Like most of my male contemporaries, I suppose I had a crush on the Marilyn I thought I knew.”

Douglas attended Seneca High School, directly across the river in Buffalo, New York. “I just felt my future was in the United States,” he admitted. “I wanted to be a photographer like those making pictures for Look magazine and Life magazine.” He even stayed in the YMCA for a few months while taking courses at the New York Institute of Photography. “I learned a lot,” he recalled, “and it was everything I had seen in the Life magazines.”

Back home, he found work at the Fort Erie Times Review and the Welland Tribune, a regional daily newspaper. “I learned how to think editorially,” he said. “I had to come up with an image that would fill a page and interest people, no matter what. I couldn’t come home saying, ‘Well, it didn’t work out. The light wasn’t good.’ I was expected to get a picture every time I was sent on assignment.”

While working as a commercial photographer at a small studio in Richmond, Virginia in 1957, Douglas began writing to his favourite photographer, Irving Penn, who invited him to visit Vogue magazine’s New York office. “As it turns out, one of his guys was going in the Army and was going to be gone for six months, so I got the job as his apprentice and moved to New Jersey,” Douglas remembered.

One day, he was left to clean the studio while Penn was out of town, and decided to brush the windows, which “seemed to have a lot of soot on them …  Penn came back from the trip, and his mouth dropped open. He was very upset because it turns out he hadn’t closed or cleaned those windows for four years, and they had just the look of the light he liked for his photos. I had lost it for him. I thought I was going to be fired.”

He also accompanied Penn on a trip to Miami. “I made a deal that I would drive and put his equipment in the trunk of my ’55 Ford hardtop convertible, so he wouldn’t have to spend the money to ship it there,” he explained. “I got my first wife, my son Mark, and my mother all in this big car, and I drove us to Florida. We stayed in a motel and I photographed with Penn. I learned so much watching him work on location instead of in a studio. I was a sponge, always learning.”

His early inquiries at Look magazine were rebuffed – “they pushed me out the door, essentially. They hadn’t hired a photographer in a dozen years, and they were staffed” – Douglas got a call from the magazine’s photo editor, Arthur Rothstein, a few months afterwards. “We haven’t put any new photographers in for twelve years, and now we are going to put in two,” Rothstein told him. “One of them we want to be a strong photojournalist, and the other one we want to be able to do colour fashion and food and whatever else we need.”

“And, long story short, he gave me a couple of assignments to do for Look,” Douglas said. “Eventually, I became Arthur’s guy. He really started promoting me.”

“I was in the right place at the right time,” he would reflect. “I couldn’t believe my good luck. Look was very powerful at the time and, surprisingly, they seemed to need me. Even more surprising, they started treating me like some sort of wunderkind – which in my heart I knew I was not – but I enjoyed the privileges anyway.”

Kirkland’s entry into the rarefied world of celebrity portraiture came in mid-1961, when he was sent to Las Vegas to sit in on a Look interview with Elizabeth Taylor. “At the time she was the biggest movie star in the world, but she had been very ill and had vanished from the public eye for close to a year,” he recalled to Vintage News Daily. “After the interview I went up to her and held her hand and said: ‘I am new with this magazine, can you imagine what it would mean to me if you let me photograph you?’ I did not let go of her hand, she wore jungle gardenia perfume which I could smell later on, she thought for a while and said “Come back tomorrow at 8pm.’”

The photo shoot resulted in Kirkland’s first Look cover, showing Taylor standing behind a door, wearing a yellow jacket in diamond earrings. Inside were further images of the star in a simple black cocktail dress, and snapshots showing her with husband Eddie Fisher. “This was the first time people were going to see her,” Kirkland said, noting that the scar from her recent tracheotomy was visible. “She felt it was her statement and who she was at the time. She wasn’t into hiding it, ‘cause it was something that had saved her life.”

“These were exhilarating times in America,” he added, as a new decade began with the Kennedys in the White House, “bringing with them not only their political friends and intellectuals but ‘hip’ personalities such as Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Everything felt fresh and new and there was an electric optimism in the air.”

President John F. Kennedy with Adlai Stevenson

In November 1961, he was asked to photograph Monroe for Look’s 25th anniversary issue. She had returned to Los Angeles after a long sojourn in New York, and her publicist Pat Newcomb invited Douglas to discuss the shoot at Marilyn’s rented home. “As I walked into her small garden apartment on [North] Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills, I was struck by the apparent simplicity of her life,” he recalled in an essay for his 2002 book, An Evening With Marilyn. “Her home was definitely not what one would expect from a great movie star. It was little bigger than a deluxe hotel room with a kitchenette. I arrived with two of my Look magazine colleagues, Jack Hamilton and Stanley Gordon. Marilyn directed them to sit on the only two chairs in the room and then slapped the bed for me, saying with a giggle, ‘Sit here, I think of it as a couch.’ Her voice was light and playful, quite different from the one that I expected to hear, the breathless one which had come down to me from so many movie screens. Her smile and easy manner also relaxed me almost immediately. It felt as though I were with a real person, not a superstar. She seemed like the ‘girl next door,’ or the kind of sister that I would have liked to have had.”

“My greatest difficulty during that meeting was telling Marilyn exactly how I wanted to photograph her,” he continued. “As I’d looked into her eyes, which seemed especially warm and virginal to me that evening, I felt as though my two older colleagues were sitting there in judgement, like two ancient schoolmasters, as I tried to gently seduce her into doing the picture I had envisioned … But then Marilyn, with her sweet intuitiveness, made it easy. She simply said, ‘Okay, I know what we need. We need a bed with white silk sheets and nothing else, and it will work. But,’ she added, ‘the sheets must be silk.’ She had done the biggest part of my job for me; understood my ideas and articulated them better than I had been able to – bless her.”

Marilyn in Niagara (1953)

The concept, though simple, was not new to Marilyn. She was filmed nude under silk sheets for her first scene in Niagara, and had then posed in the same style for photographer Bob Beerman in July 1953. In the layout for Modern Screen magazine – shot during her earlier tenancy at North Doheny Drive – a bottle of Chanel No. 5 sat prominently on Monroe’s bedside cabinet, in a sly nod to her famous comment on what she wore to bed. She slipped between the sheets again that September for another Look magazine photographer, Milton Greene. She filmed another bedroom scene for Bus Stop (1956); and in 1960 she revisited the idea with Magnum photographer Eve Arnold, echoing a scene in her final movie, The Misfits.

Before Kirkland left Marilyn’s apartment on that November evening, Pat Newcomb took him aside and explained that Monroe had recently been ill – she had undergone an appendectomy a few months prior – and that she had lost a lot of weight, which pleased her “because she had always been worried about being too heavy. But now she was fixated on her breasts, which she thought were too small!”

They arranged to meet again the next day at 7 pm in a West Hollywood studio, but Marilyn was characteristically late. “It was now 9:30 pm,” he worried. “Was this shoot ever going to happen? Was I going to have to go back to New York empty-handed?” Then he heard a knock on the door. “She had arrived. She must have been wearing street clothes as she came in, but I can’t remember them. All I do remember is an impression of her dazzling, misty whiteness. In my recollection she moved with a floating slow motion, more ethereal than real. That was the strange thing about Marilyn’s voluptuousness and beauty; it wasn’t really earthly. I felt that I was now seeing for the first time the Marilyn Monroe the world knew, and she was more spiritual than mortal … The curtain was rising on one of the most amazing, memorable evenings of my life.”

She disappeared into a changing room with two female assistants while Kirkland “nervously” checked his equipment, wondering which Sinatra song he should play (‘Nice and Easy’ or ‘Blues in the Night’) and how to tell her that he wanted to try an additional picture that hadn’t been discussed. As she reappeared, he poured her a glass of champagne. “I had come up with the idea of also photographing Marilyn with a very long piece of white cloth,” he explained. “She might be able to lean into it as it was stretched out, or perhaps wrap herself in it. My ideas weren’t totally clear, even to me, but I felt that this prop would allow room for her creativity. I would learn an important lesson here that evening: Always have your ideas clearly defined – or at least look as if you do – when you present them to a star.”

“I could see immediately that she wasn’t crazy about it,” he admitted, “but being the nice person that she was, she offered to try it anyway. She said she had a dress that would be just right for this. I later learned how accommodating as Marilyn had been that evening.” Minutes later, she emerged from the dressing room in an emerald green beaded sheath, one of designer Norman Norell’s famed ‘mermaid gowns.’ “Sinatra crooned as she moved to the centre of the black background paper and wrapped herself in the long white cloth. She did her best to work with the cloth but it was evident after only a few frames that nothing was going to happen with this setup. Our movements were completely out of synch.” Marilyn stopped in her tracks and said, “I know what the problem is! This cloth is cheap! This is cheesecloth. This is not me. It should be silk. I’m not a cheesecloth kind of girl!”

Realising his mistake, Kirkland panicked. “I’m quite sure that I was one of the youngest photographers to have ever done a session like this with her,” he reflected. “She could easily have walked out and demanded that Look magazine send her any photographer she wanted. I believe that what saved me on that evening was Marilyn herself. She was a very sweet and kind girl who had lived through many battles of her own. She may have quietly understood that I was in a little bit over my head and decided to help.”

After taking a short break to check out the bedroom setup, he found Marilyn chatting with Jack Hamilton and her makeup and wardrobe ladies. “They were exchanging stories of the past, from long before my time. Everything seemed relaxed again so I asked if we could move over to the bed and resume shooting. I had previously suggested to Marilyn that, since we were working on a picture for Look’s 25th anniversary issue, she might like to show how she’d like to be remembered twenty-five years into the future … As I reminded Marilyn of our ‘statement picture,’ she nodded with a smile and headed back to the dressing room.”

“When she came back she was wearing a white robe which she immediately took off, as she laid down on the bed and slipped under the silk sheet. I stole little glimpses of her backside and breasts as she moved. She may have intended for me to catch those little glimpses. This was, of course, very exciting for me in my young man way. I mean, here I was with Marilyn Monroe in front of me. She was within arm’s reach, twisting and turning under that sheet, which was semi-transparent. We started by doing head and shoulder close-ups, then after a roll or two we stopped … She leaned towards me and drank a few sips of champagne, and I did as well. Then, to my great surprise, she suddenly sat up in bed, covered her breasts and announced to all, ‘I think I should be alone with this boy. I find it usually works better this way!’ Her words were firm yet bewitching. An instant later the door slammed shut. Now it was just the two of us … I wasn’t sure exactly what was expected of me. What was I supposed to do? I retreated behind my camera and started shooting again.”

“Through the years I have often been asked what really happened in that room with Marilyn,” Kirkland wrote. “I can only say this: It was extremely intimate. When I looked down on her from the high position over the bed, I felt like I couldn’t put film in the camera fast enough. I had no assistant there. It was just myself, the camera and Marilyn. I didn’t even use a strobe light. It was just a flood light, a constant light, so that there was no interruption of flash. Frank Sinatra filled the room with his seductive, beautiful ballads. That was the atmosphere of the evening: quiet, soft, and enticing … Then at a certain point she stopped and looked up and pleaded, ‘Why don’t you come down here with me?’”

“When I’ve told close friends this story, most of them have responded with disappointment,” he revealed. “They’d say, ‘You were there with Marilyn Monroe and she asked you to get into bed with her and you didn’t? What was wrong with you?’ … What stopped me? In simple terms I remembered that I had a wife and three kids waiting at home for me in New Jersey … What did come from those powerful feelings that evening were the pictures. I wonder if I had gotten into that bed with her then, if the pictures would have been as charged. I’d say probably not.”

When the shoot ended, he lay down on the floor beside Marilyn and they talked “about simple things. All sorts of things that we’d experienced in our different worlds, and also what we believed in.” After twenty minutes, he opened the door and his assistant took a few more pictures. Marilyn’s robe was brought to her, and she went back to the dressing room.

“It was well past midnight when everyone left,” Kirkland remembered. “After the door closed I took my record off the turntable for the last time and put my cameras in their cases. Then a strange empty feeling came over me, as I looked over those few rolls of exposed film in my hands … It seemed extremely dark as I headed back to my hotel in the November rain.” Early next morning – a Saturday – Kirkland took his film to the lab. “There was nothing more to do but wait,” he recalled. “There were no special instructions or requirements, just straight E2 Ektachrome processing. It all felt too simple.”

He returned to the lab a few hours later and viewed his pictures on the light box. The first few were disappointing, but soon he found “a few good frames and then some even better ones.” He marked the corners of his favourites with a grease pencil, but he planned to visit Marilyn, who had photo approval, later that day. “I believed her judgement would be better than mine,” he explained. “Today I would say I was just being indecisive. Many stars have terrible judgement when it comes to selecting pictures of themselves, and many great images have been killed or lost through the years because of this. Fortunately I would not suffer this fate with Marilyn, who loved still photography, photographers and the art of making stills. This had always worked to her benefit right from the start, as she’d built her career.”

At 6:30 pm he left his suite at the Chateau Marmont and drove across the Sunset Strip in his baby-blue Thunderbird convertible, with Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’ on the radio. Standing outside Marilyn’s ‘secret apartment’ on Doheny Drive – she even put her secretary Marjorie Stengel’s name on the buzzer to deter autograph hunters –   Kirkland brought only the pictures and a small lightbox. “Today I would have undoubtedly arrived with roses and a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate the occasion,” he thought, “but at the time, I simply didn’t know any better.”

The woman who opened the door to him was unrecognisable. Marilyn wore dark glasses and a headscarf, and her tone of voice was flat, sounding “drawn, tired and disturbed.” Even her apartment seemed “darker and sadder” than before. Kirkland laid the 6×6 cm transparencies out on the lightbox. “Where’s your magnifying glass?” she asked. When Kirkland said he hadn’t brought one, she told him to go to “Thrifty Drug, down there on Sunset,” and buy a magnifying glass, grease pencil and scissors. When he returned, she sifted through a hundred pictures “with nervous, impatient movements,” and then left the room wordlessly. When she came back, the glasses were gone.

“They aren’t great,” she said bluntly, “but I want to look at them again.” Holding the magnifying glass, she examined them more methodically, and her mood brightened a little. “There are some good ones here,” she told him. “But those I don’t want. I don’t want any of these!” she added, pointing to her stack of ‘kills.’ She explained, quite reasonably, why she didn’t like them – her movements were blurred, or her eyes were shut – and began cutting them up with scissors, much to Kirkland’s alarm. He was relieved when she turned to her pile of ‘selects,’ cheerfully pointing out the best ones.

“She grew more and more enthusiastic,” he wrote, “almost as if she believed she were giving birth to them on the spot, by her effort and discovery.” She zoomed in on a few favourites, viewing them over and over again until she settled on “what has become the horizontal classic, the quintessential Marilyn Monroe image of ‘the girl’ clutching the pillow. Once Marilyn had found or ‘created this image’ she sat and stared at it at length. It was as if she wanted to see what her invention of Marilyn Monroe had now become, and what it could become in the future. It was then that she said, ‘I like this girl because she’s the kind of woman that every man would want to be in there with: the kind of girl that a truck driver would like to be in that bed with.’”

That photograph was first published in Look’s December 1961 issue, alongside Kirkland’s recent photographs of Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine and Judy Garland. Headlined ‘Four for Posterity,’ the article (accurately) predicted that all these female stars would still be relevant in another 25 years. “I’ve been on a calendar but never on time,” Marilyn quipped, adding, “I don’t want to be just for the few, though I hope they’re with me. I want to be for the many – the kind of people I come from. I want a man to come home from a hard day’s work, look at this picture and be inspired to say, ‘Wow!’”

Taylor expressed her desire “to do a bit of everything before I’m through,” while Garland believed that “my best years and my best work lie ahead of me, and I’m going to give them everything I’ve got.” Kirkland had joined her while filming a TV special in the summer of 1961, and to the premiere of Judgement at Nuremberg, for which she earned an Oscar nomination. The cover story was published in Look’s April 1962 issue.

“Judy was fragile but loved the attention,” Kirkland said. “I photographed her with her kids, with her husband. And at the end of our time together, I wanted to get something that was special. I said, ‘We’ve done a lot of good pictures. I’d like a quieter picture of you, Judy.’ And I moved in with my Hasselblad with a 250 [mm] lens, and she looked off to the side and started to cry. She did have a hard life in many ways, and that’s where the tear came from. I just encouraged it; she responded, and that’s the picture that I would always like on my wall, if possible.”

In July 1962, Marilyn slipped under the sheets again, in a studio layout for Vogue. Compared to the joy and vitality captured in Kirkland’s pictures, she seems tired and wan in some of those images. As photographer Bert Stern revealed in his 1982 book, The Last Sitting, the idea came up after a long day’s shoot, when Marilyn was exhausted, irritable, and a little tipsy. At one point, when she was almost asleep, Stern bent over to kiss her and she whispered, “No.” When the feature was published, it became a eulogy to a fallen star, with only a few fashion photos selected. She had personally approved the images a few weeks before, but in years to come, Stern would eventually publish every negative, including Marilyn’s ‘kills’ with tears and crossings fully visible.

That August, Kirkland was working on another Look story with the French fashion designer, Coco Chanel. “Time has a funny way of rushing by and blurring daily events, especially when you’re on a career fast track as I was then,” he wrote. “It seemed as if I had only blinked and eight months had passed, and I woke up in Paris … The learning curve was intense as I followed ‘Mademoiselle’ around and documented her world with my camera, once more heavily relying on my instinct. It seemed as if there was no end of the catching up I had to do … All during this time, Marilyn was never far from my mind. I kept remembering her last words to me, after seeing the pictures. ‘I want to do this again, real soon!’”

On Monday, August 6, Kirkland left work early and was walking back to his hotel when a large black headline on a newsstand caught his eye: ‘MARILYN EST MORTE!’ He was aghast. “What did it mean?” he wondered. “My Marilyn was dead? Could it have been a different Marilyn?” As he walked further, he passed more newsstands bearing similar headlines, and finally a picture. When he reached the hotel, the man at the front desk confirmed everything. “It was then that these strange words rang through my head,” Kirkland recalled. “‘No Marilyn,’ I thought, ‘we won’t have that other shoot together … we will not …’”

“Looking back I realise that although I was with Marilyn on only three occasions,” he reflected, “I never felt as though I was with the same individual more than once. She had always become a different woman than the one whom I’d expected to meet. I have memories of the happy, sunny ‘girl next door’ from that first evening. In many ways she hardly resembled the Marilyn that I had expected to find, though she was delightful. Then, of course, there was the ‘true’ Marilyn Monroe, from the night of our shoot, the girl that I, predictably, fell in love with during that evening. With her I thought that I’d discovered who Marilyn really was, but that notion was quickly put aside when I saw the other darker, sadder individual, whom I had sat with on that last night, as we looked through pictures. I never knew what had gone wrong then, but I did know that it had little to do with me or my being there.”

By the mid-1960s, Kirkland’s first marriage had fallen victim to his demanding career. “Probably the hardest thing was him travelling and being away from us,” his son Mark Kirkland reflects. “I missed him terribly when I was young. It did cause stress for my mother, and I could feel that stress in the household.” As Douglas explained to him later, “I thought I could better help my family – provide – by doing these trips.”

In 1965 he went to Paris again, working with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole on the set of How to Steal a Million. During that trip he began a lifelong romance with Françoise Kemmel-Coulter, the daughter of Hepburn’s publicist. “He was so jet-lagged, he slept with his arms behind his neck and his legs propped on a desk,” Françoise said of their first encounter. “It gave me a chance to just look at him for twenty minutes without him even knowing.” He returned to the U.S. with Brigitte Bardot, promoting Viva Maria, and also photographed Julie Andrews for The Sound of Music. Then in 1968, he was reunited with a former colleague at Look, photographer turned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Kirkland worked on over 150 movies, including Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969), The Last Picture Show (1971), Saturday Night Fever (1977), Alien (1980), and Out of Africa (1985.) He was never an official unit photographer, but was hired by magazines for ‘special photography.’ “It was a time when the unit photographers were generally shooting black-and-white with Rolleis and just one focal length,” he told American Cinematographer. “There was a certain kind of photo the studios wanted, but they couldn’t get dramatic effects or really capture the essence and the look of a film … I have a fascination with the power of cinema and watching how it all works.”

The closure of Look magazine in 1971 led Kirkland to re-evaluate his career, and he moved from New York to Los Angeles, buying a home in the Hollywood Hills. He and Françoise, now his manager, were married in 1973. In the same year, he was featured alongside other eminent photographers in Marilyn Monroe: The Legend and the Truth, an exhibition curated by Lawrence Schiller; and in an accompanying book, Marilyn. His ‘statement picture’ would also grace the cover of James Spada’s Monroe: Her Life in Pictures (1982.)

Douglas shot album covers for Diana Ross, and photographed Michael Jackson on the set of his music video for ‘Thriller’ for LIFE magazine over four days in 1983. He created portraits of rising stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet for James Cameron’s Titanic; and in 1998, his tie-in book became the first photography title to top the New York Times bestseller list. During filming of Moulin Rouge (2001), director Baz Luhrmann announced Kirkland’s arrival to the entire cast and crew.

“The word ‘celebrity’ is a rather peculiar word,” Douglas told Photo Insider in 1998. “I work with celebrities, but I’m not in awe of them. Individuals are less important to me than the possibilities of creativity. It’s making images that excites me. Honestly, the names have come and gone, but my good fortune is that I’ve remained.” He also produced documentaries like A Day in the Life of Canada, and covered news stories from royal weddings to the rust belt.

He photographed Angelina Jolie for Life or Something Like It (2002), recreating poses from his layout with Marilyn, at Jolie’s request. (The iconic shoot has also been imitated by many other stars, including Lana Del Rey, Bella Thorne, and Léa Seydoux.) In the same year, Kirkland published the complete original sitting for the first time. An Evening With Marilyn was later reissued in a larger format as With Marilyn, An Evening.

Among the twenty acting nominees photographed ‘out of character’ by Kirkland for the 2012 Academy Awards was Michelle Williams, star of My Week With Marilyn. “To have played Marilyn, and then to have been able to meet someone who had been in her life … Never in my life could I have imagined this sort of circumstance,” she said.

“Douglas enthusiastically embraced digital photography and took to the medium like a duck to water,” Mark Sparrow wrote for Forbes, examining his unusual longevity. “Finding a more engaging and giving person willing to share his knowledge and skill would be hard … Douglas was a hugely talented man who naturally saw life through a viewfinder.”

“It’s not just me behind these photos, it is both Françoise and I,” Douglas told CNN in 2017. “With whatever time I have left – being ten or, if I’m lucky, maybe fifteen years – I want to continue taking photos under any circumstance. But, most importantly, I want to be with this beautiful woman by my side.”

Photo by Jianai Jenny Chen

In 2017, he wrote an introduction for The Essential Marilyn Monroe: 50 Sessions, featuring images by another former Look colleague, Milton Greene;  selected images by both photographers were also featured in a touring exhibition. And in 2019, a feature-length documentary, That Click: The Legendary Photography of Douglas Kirkland, and an accompanying book, Douglas Kirkland: A Life in Pictures, was released. His work is also featured in recent monographs for Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Paul Newman, plus a forthcoming tribute to Brigitte Bardot.

“Everybody else wanted to be on her [Monroe], and he gave her some space,” said Sharon Stone – a blonde sex symbol from a different generation – in an interview for That Click. “He let her feel free and safe and went up and away … There was something about just allowing her the safety that was so elegant.” Moulin Rouge star Nicole Kidman agreed: “There’s such a fragility to it and such a delicacy to it, and honesty. She’s almost like a cat, a beautiful cat … I like when I can see an image which isn’t exploitative of her, but is very loving towards her, and protective of her.”

In recent years, Kirkland’s photos of Marilyn continued to grace the covers of magazines like Vanity Fair, Le Figaro, and Professional Photo. In 2020, he launched another touring exhibition, Coco + Marilyn; and in 2021, the Champs-Élysées Film Festival used a Kirkland photo of Marilyn for its poster art. In one of his final interviews for the Italian magazine, OGGI, Douglas shared his thoughts on the 60th anniversary of Marilyn’s passing. “There was something about her that touched me deeply: beauty, of course; but above all her vulnerability, which was her most attractive and seductive trait,” he concluded. “But no, I don’t know who Marilyn really was. How could I know?”

Douglas Kirkland died in Los Angeles on October 2, 2022, aged 88. He is survived by his wife, Françoise; and his three children; Karen, Lisa, and Mark.

Our beautiful Douglas died last night like a gentleman, like the Prince he was, quietly calmly at home with myself, two friends and Sonny Boy our dog.

I am heart broken.

I don’t have words for the magnitude of the loss.