Monday, June 28, 2010
Photo of the Day: Marilyn's Chest
Lord knows I've published many a picture of Marilyn Monroe's chest over my years as a magazine editor. Here is another one, and it's a little different from all the others. Aside from everything else one might say regarding this photo (see below), let us start with this: It's kind of beautiful. Much more lovely, even sensuous, than most x-rays, I think.
This woman, Marilyn, simply could not take a bad picture.
The x-ray comes from one of three sets of images taken of Marilyn's chest during a 1954 visit to Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Florida. It was at that hospital that Marilyn was operated on for endometriosis. Hospital records show she used the name "Marilyn DiMaggio," though she and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio had at that point separated.
The x-rays were kept by a doctor in the hospital's radiological unit, who passed them to his daughter. She recently put them up for sale at an auction of movie memorabilia in Las Vegas. Estimated to sell for $3,000, the x-rays went instead for $45,000.
Novelists from Normal Mailer to Joyce Carol Oates have tried to understand and explain the never-ending fascination with Marilyn. That fascination, as Andy Warhol understood, was created and advanced by photography. Marilyn was always highly conscious of the power of photography to define her, and she was equally conscious of her power over the camera. I have over the years spoken with most of the photographers who famously photographed her, and without hesitation they described her effortless command of the creative process and her careful attention to the editing process of photography.
One can't help but wonder if she approved her own x-rays for release.
Call me ghoulish--it wouldn't be the first time I've heard it--but at $45,000 I consider the x-rays a wonderful art buy. These are not mere pieces of movie star trivia (a chair she once posed in also sold at the auction for $35,000, which is stupid), but another example that certain creatures are meant to live in photographs. Marilyn never existed as intimately, as forcefully, or as poignantly as she did in her pictures. Her movie roles just seem like background noise to the still image, and her real life has become the stuff of over-told tragedy.
Her x-rays provide evidence that there was a real life behind the movies and the still portraits--a young woman with health problems that may have left her infertile. Yet even this evidence exists as an intriguing, beguiling, offering image.