Eve Arnold and Marilyn Monroe: ‘To Know About Women’ 

15th June 2023
Eve Arnold, 'Marilyn Monroe, Misfits'

In this week’s ‘The big picture’, The Guardian highlights a pensive portrait of Marilyn Monroe, taken by Eve Arnold on the set of ‘The Misfits’ in 1960. Many photographers flocked to the Nevada desert to photograph Monroe and her co-star Clark Gable smiling away behind the scenes. But Arnold’s intimate photographs of Monroe—her close friend—have certainly become the most poignant. Guardian journalist Tim Adams contextualises this moment against the backdrop of Monroe’s failing marriage with playwright Arthur Miller, who wrote The Misfits. Arnold captured some quieter, more reflective moments over the course of filming that relay one of the world’s most famous actresses struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and the drug addiction that saw her hospitalised.

The article precedes the UK’s first major retrospective of Arnold’s work in ten years, ‘To Know About Women’, which will open next month at Newlands House Gallery in Petworth, West Sussex. The exhibition considers broad themes of social injustice, civil rights, religion, power, fame, sexuality and birth. Many of these themes are illustrated rather beautifully through a series of personal and candid images that display Arnold and Monroe’s enduring friendship.

Eve Arnold 'Marilyn Monroe During Filming Of The Misfits (Seated), Nevada, 1960'
Eve Arnold, 'Marilyn Monroe resting before a speech, Belmont, Illinois, 1955'
I have been poor and I wanted to document poverty; I had lost a child and I was obsessed with birth; I was interested in politics and I wanted to know how it affected our lives; I am a woman and I wanted to know about women.
Eve Arnold

Tim Adams writes for The Guardian:

Eve Arnold took this picture of Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits in 1960. Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller had initially written the movie for his wife to star in – opposite her teenage crush, Clark Gable ­­– as a Valentine’s gift, but by the time of the production, Miller and Monroe were close to divorce. Arnold had been invited on set to chronicle the making of the film, but she ended up documenting the end of a marriage.

The photographer had first met Monroe in 1952, and she helped to make her legend, photographing her in an airport bathroom with her skirt hitched up to her waist, and reading the Molly Bloom section of Ulysses in Central Park. This picture is included in a new exhibition of Arnold’s images of women, which takes in fashion shows in 1950s Harlem and her era-defining reportage for the Magnum agency. I interviewed the photographer in 2002, when she was 90, and she reminisced about Monroe, her muse and her friend: “She made me feel as if I were brilliant,” Arnold said, “and I suppose I made her feel as if she were brilliant. Actually we were two young women starting out in this quite male world, so we just played together, had the most fun we could.”

That fun was in fairly short supply on The Misfits, however. The film was shot in the 40C-plus heat of the Nevada desert. The director, John Huston, was drinking and gambling, and Monroe’s prescription drug addiction saw her frequently absent from the set and finally hospitalised for two weeks. “She was being atrocious to Arthur,” Arnold told me. “It began in the heat of the summer and ended in the cold of the desert. It was not a happy set, and it got less happy.”

FeaturedEve Arnold

Eve Arnold Portrait
Eve Arnold Portrait

The ArtistEve Arnold’s remarkable body of work, characterised by her empathy for her subjects and her ability to capture the essence of their lives, not only established her as a pioneering female photojournalist but also left an indelible mark on the field of documentary photography.


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