The Glamorous World of Hollywood and Fashion
Throughout his career, American photographer Milton H. Greene highlighted the glamorous world of Hollywood and fashion. His photography traced the passage of an era, helping to bring fashion photography into the realm of fine art along with his contemporaries such as Richard Avedon, Norman Parkinson, Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn. Born in 1922 in New York, Greene began taking photographs at the age of 14. Assisting one of the most prolific photographers at the time, Louis Dahl-Wolfe, he was referred to as the ‘Color Photography’s Wonder Boy’ by the time he was 23 years old. He worked with a plethora of celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich among many others with works showcased in some of the biggest publications such as Life, Look, Vogue, Town & Country and Harper’s Bazaar.
Although initially known for his fashion photography, it was Milton Greene’s images of Marilyn Monroe that earned him his iconic status. Greene first encountered Marilyn Monroe on assignment for Look magazine. They quickly became close friends and ultimately business partners, forming their own film production company which produced pictures such as Bus Stop, The Prince and Showgirl. Before Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller, she lived with Greene in his family in their Connecticut farmhouse and it was during this period that the photographer captured some of the most beautiful and intimate photographs of the icon. Throughout their friendship Marilyn Monroe posed for Greene for around 50 photo sessions, and under his lens, her personality shone. Also at this time, Monroe entrusted Milton Greene with her autobiography, simply titled My Story, which presented rare images of the iconic beauty.
The Ballerina Sitting
Perhaps one of the most recognizable sittings of their collaboration was the Ballerina Sitting shot in October 1954. In fact, Time magazine in 1999 named the image as one of the top 3 photographs of the 20th century. Taken in Greene’s New York studio, Marilyn Monroe is seen dressed in an ill-fitting tulle and satin dress. The dress has been attributed to Anne Klein, a close friend of the Greenes and who Milton Greene frequently borrowed clothes for models, however, the designer was actually another New York designer, Herbert Kasper. The fitting error occurred because Milton Greene’s wife did not know Monroe’s dress size, and apparently the dress was two sizes too small, requiring Marilyn to hold up the front bodice.
Dazzling and Fragile
The photograph is one of the most touching of Monroe’s portraits, revealing a certain softness, depth and sensuality. The session was not destined to be a success due to the styling inconvenience, however, Monroe made the bustier an atypical accessory, diverting the mood of the photograph. There is also a sense of sublimity in Monroe’s beauty captured by Greene; the subject appears both dazzling and fragile at the same time. Joshua Greene, Milton Greene’s son, assistant and project manager would say that their collaboration was,
“like two kids playing in a sandbox; they had a good time. Most of the shoots were for them, they weren’t on assignment.”
In front of Milton Greene’s lens, Marilyn Monroe was no longer a movie star who had to get in character or memorize lines, she could simply be herself, which speaks to the trust she had for the photographer as well. To this day, the artistic collaboration of the duo is considered to be the best and the most genuine.
Milton Greene has won many national and international honors, medals and awards; among them the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Art Director’s Club of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Detroit. One of his last awards was from the Art Director’s Club of New York for his work in Harpers Bazaar. In the recent years, his photography has been exhibited in and collected by numerous major museums and collections. He passed away in 1985 in Los Angeles, CA.