Bruno Bernard was the photographer who discovered Marilyn Monroe. His iconic images of her, from shy teenager to Hollywood beauty, are legendary. His daughter, Susan Bernard, shares their story in a spellbinding new book…
In 1999, I gazed up at the skyscrapers of New York City set against a grey-blue sky and there she was – Dad’s Marilyn, 60ft tall on the exterior of the Museum Of Modern Art, floating as if reaching for a boundless universe, her white halter dress tied in a bow behind her neck, dress billowing from side to side as if angel wings, just as Truman Capote once put it, ‘the dream of being able to fly’. She is unabashedly blissful.
As I stood there in the sweltering heat of the July afternoon, I thought of the relevance of his photograph of Marilyn nearly 50 years later. He recorded and idolised the post-Second World War workingclass woman who dared to step out of the kitchen. I recalled another image from the same photographic session in which she is holding down her white skirt, her expression is one of pleasure. She is both satisfying the Puritanism of 1950s America, and mocking it. Housewives, secretaries, shop girls – decades before Women’s Liberation – would see Marilyn’s life and view their own with new eyes.
Berlin 1937 on the Gestapo list, Dad escaped to America alone and penniless. Losing family and homeland to capture the American dream. Marilyn and my Dad were survivors to the core.
Torn between academics and the arts and having completed his post-graduate studies at Berkeley, my father had changed the course of his life by moving to Hollywood and becoming director’s apprentice to Max Reinhardt, the magician of German theatre. Unable to get into the Directors Union, he earned money photographing the children of the Hollywood elite. Despite obscurity and lack of funds, he set up his first darkroom in the basement of his Hollywood apartment in 1940. Shortly thereafter, he moved his studio to the famous Sunset Strip. ‘No one knew the name Bernard, but they all knew Hollywood,’ my Dad declared and created his trademark signature, Bernard of Hollywood, that for decades captured the image of glamour.
Dad has been called the ‘Rembrandt of Glamour Photography’ and the ‘Vargas of the Pin-Up’. But of all the accolades that have been bestowed upon him, the one that gave him the most joy was ‘the man who discovered Marilyn Monroe’. He took great pride in his ability to uncover in Norma Jeane the mysterious photogenic qualities that transformed a nice-looking girl into a larger-than-life, illusionary beauty. Glamour photography has been described as ‘making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. However, had it not been for her almost pathological obsession with becoming a star, coupled with her uncanny ability to transform herself before the camera, Norma Jeane would not have become Marilyn and stepped on to the illustrious stage of the goddesses’ pantheon.
Since Dad’s passing in 1987, I founded Bernard of Hollywood Publishing, which preserves, exhibits and publishes his photographic legacy. What is astonishing is that I was also taking on Marilyn’s legacy, and she belongs to everyone. As Diane Arbus’s daughter, Amy, expressed to me, ‘A blessing and a curse.’ My mission in this volume is to record the metamorphosis of Norma Jeane to Marilyn and to document my Dad’s images that remain in our consciousness, forever frozen in time. The literal meaning of the word photographer, according to its Greek origin, is ‘light writer’. I trust with camera and pen this pictorial essay celebrates, with the light of compassion, the 50 years of Marilyn’s enduring allure.
An edited extract from Marilyn: Intimate Exposures. Images by Great Hollywood Glamour Photographer Bruno Bernard, by Susan Bernard (Sterling, £25): http://www.facebook.com/marilynintimateexposures
The book is published to coincide with an exhibition of photographs at Proud Gallery, 161 King’s Road, London SW3, until 9 September: 020-7349 0822, www.proudonline.co.uk – readers of The Lady can order the book at the special price of £17, plus p&p. To order: 01273-488005 and quote code R3760. The closing date is 3 December 2012. Please note: p&p is £2.95 for the first item and £1.95 for each additional item.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920