Bert Stern was a well-known photographer in the 1950s and 1960s. Along with Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and Mark Shaw, Stern started the lasting trend of simple, direct photography in the language of glossy magazine advertising. Stern's celebrity relied on his proximity to famous 'alluring' women; stars like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor graced his lens. But his career on the whole was eclipsed by one photoshoot with Marilyn Monroe.
The shoot was based on the premise that there had not yet been one immortal black-and-white photograph of Marilyn. Commissioned by Vogue, it was to be the first time Marilyn had ever appeared in the magazine. Marilyn had just turned 36 and Bert Stern 33 when he got this break-of-a-lifetime. The classic black-and-white concept was not strictly adhered to. To a suite at the Bel-Air Hotel, Bert brought a bunch of see-through scarves and beads from the Vogue accessories closet and had Marylin pose with them wearing nothing else. Stern writes bluntly in his book about his sexual desire for Marilyn.
Vogue's September issue was on the press when the news broke of Monroe's death. In September of that year, Vogue published the eight-page spread of Marilyn. The photos selected were all black and whites of her, fully clothed. In 1982 Stern later compiled his images into a photo book, including a very detailed account of the shoot, and called it The Last Sitting.
The opening copy in the Vogue editorial read like this:
'The word of Marilyn Monroe's death came just as this issue of Vogue went on the press. After the first shock of tragedy, we debated whether it was technically possible to remove the pages from the printing forms. And then while we waited for an answer from our printers, we decided to publish the photographs in any case. For these were perhaps the only pictures of a new Marilyn Monroe - a Marilyn who showed outwardly the elegance and taste which we learned that she had instinctively; an indication of her lovely maturity, an emerging from the hoyden's shell into a profoundly beautiful, profoundly moving young woman.'