“The Red Party” Fetes Marilyn Monroe’s Last Sitting by Photographer Bert Stern

Marilyn Monroe red scarf, 1962
All photos: Bert Stern
©The Bert Stern Trust
The Last Sitting® 1962

Remember that old joke: What’s black and white and red (read) all over? Rather than a newspaper, last night it was the theme for an opening of “The Red Party,” an exhibition of Bert Stern’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe: The Last Sitting® at midtown’s HGU Hotel. Documentary filmmaker, actress, and “secret” second wife (they wed in 2009) Shannah Laumeister Stern curated the show in collaboration with Julie Keyes of Keyes Art Gallery and The Bert Stern Trust.

Marilyn Monroe with crucifix & striped scarf, 1962
Photo: Bert Stern

“The (18) photos I chose show the playful side of Marilyn Monroe. They’re not the ones you’re used to seeing,” said not-even-born-yet-in 1962 widow of the late photographer. The famed Bel Air Hotel photos were taken that year for Vogue Magazine becoming known as The Last Sitting as they were taken just six weeks before Monroe’s death.

The use of red tones in the photos is meant as a tribute to the red lipstick which Monroe reportedly used to cross out the photos she didn’t like, although here the mark looks more like a grease pencil than lipstick. Several attendees (me included) wore red to incorporate the theme – Shannah wore red earrings and carried a red clutch. I wish she had included the photo Stern had taken of her as Marilyn on a rock in Central Park but she didn’t.

Marilyn Monroe, Wink, Ruby Red Roses 1962
Photo: Bert Stern

“Bert captured Marilyn in a series of images so comprehensively. He went beyond her external and ethereal beauty to her essence. Marilyn seemed to trust Bert and let go in ways she had never before. She was free and playful and Bert captured the total of her with the reverence and passion he felt. They had a relationship through what they both related to most, the lens of the camera,” she wrote in a press release.

Shannah Laumeister Stern
Photo Laurel Marcus

The negatives which are archived in New Jersey and Sag Harbor were used to make a limited edition of eight of each of these oversized images. Laumeister Stern was only recently allowed to use these images pending a court ruling — a “beautifully written summary judgment” in her favor over the objections of the Lavender Twins, who used to sell Stern’s prints when he was still alive. The couple met when she was a 13-year-old skate enthusiast – he took photos of her and they kept in touch through the years. When she was 40 the relationship became romantic. Why was their marriage a secret? “There were those who didn’t want us to be together,” she answered cryptically.

Mariana Verkerk & Debbie Dickinson
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Last night brought together many of those who witnessed the golden age of advertising/photography/modeling/fashion magazines — former models and stylists who worked with the likes of Richard Avedon as well as a few fashion designers and their newbie muse models. Mariana Verkerk was the coach for Scandinavia’s Holland’s, Benelux and Norways’sTopModel and now is the Founder Partner of The Model Convention spoke of her stint on Survivor (“It was really hard. I lost 20 pounds eating little fish that we had to catch and cook”).

Verkerk and Debbie Dickinson briefly demonstrated their catwalk skills mid-party. Dickinson said she’s ready for the upcoming Brooklyn Museum retrospective of Studio 54 as she referred to an iconic 1977 photo of her and Steve Rubell on the dance floor taken by Robin Platzer. She was never photographed by Stern but her sister Janice was.

Marilyn Monroe black and white scarf 1962
Photo: Bert Stern

Jerry Della Femina calls Bert Stern “the original Mad-Man,” — see Laumeister Stern’s 2011 documentary. Bert was famous for the 1955 Smirnoff vodka ad campaign, “Driest of the Dry” shot in the Egyptian pyramids through the prism of a martini glass. A follow- up ad featured a camel on Fifth Avenue — almost getting the photographer arrested, but vodka sales skyrocketed.

Later, Stern became known for his celebrity portraiture including Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Marlon Brando, and many others. In the documentary, Art Director George Lois called Stern “one of the first really important pioneers and cultural provocateurs.”

Photo: Laurel Marcus

On film Stern confesses to being obsessed with only two women in his life: his first wife Ballerina Allegra Kent; the other — Marilyn Monroe. He famously suffered a breakdown when Kent left him — hospitalizations and drug addiction ensued. At a time when many were experimenting with psychoactive drugs, Stern produced 1973’s The Pill Book which seemed to pop up on everyone’s coffee table back in the day.

Designer Sheguang Hu with model Ovo Drenth
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Stern was celebrated posthumously for his photos of Sue Lyon in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1961) – an exhibition of those photos that occurred in 2017 in Sag Harbor where they were originally taken. Dickinson said she spent Thanksgiving at Stern’s Sag Harbor estate with about 20 others. At one point the door to a room slammed shut on its own. “It was the door to Bert’s photo archives,” she said spookily referring to Bert’s ongoing presence in his former residence.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

  1. Fantastic Exposition done with great style and guile!!!
    Sent goosebumps through my
    Body and soul.
    I was a stylist during Studio 54
    And had the best luck by working and becoming
    A very close friend to them both!
    I did miss seeing the incredible shots Bert
    Took of the gorgeous, Shannah!
    A raving beauty, greatly enhanced by her husbands
    True love and adoration of STAR♥️♥️

  2. Great article! Awesome show! Beautifully curated.
    Congrats Hgu Hotel, Shannah Stern, Julie Keyes.
    Let’s have more from archives of the Bert Stern Trust.

  3. Thank you so much for coming! What a beautiful review of our fabulous show! At HGU HOTEL 34 e 32nd st Call curated by Shanna Stern and mike namer the owner of the hotel, and the great visionary who allowed us to do the show!

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