Milton H Greene photographed some of the biggest movie stars in the world during the Golden Age of Hollywood: Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich.
But to this day, nothing sells like his iconic work with Marilyn Monroe.
“She’s lived on from generation to generation to generation,” said Milton’s son, Joshua, who has restored many of his late father’s photos for a new book, “The Essential Marilyn Monroe”.
The book is made up of 284 images, “of which 176 have never seen the light of day,” Joshua Greene said. Many of these photos were long thought to be lost for good.
The film had deteriorated over the years, Joshua Greene said, and his father “died believing all his work was ruined.” But with new technology, the photos were able to be salvaged — albeit with hours and hours of restoration work.
Milton Greene first met Monroe on an assignment for Look magazine in the fall of 1953. They struck an immediate friendship and later formed a business partnership when Greene helped Monroe get out of her studio contract with 20th Century Fox.
The two created Marilyn Monroe Productions, giving Monroe more say over what films she would do and what roles she would play. They produced two films — “Bus Stop” and “The Prince and the Showgirl” — and took thousands of photos together.
The images in the new book come from 50 different photo shoots — some of which are familiar to Monroe fans, and some that have never been seen before.
“Milton would do a lot of these sittings not particularly while under assignment, but more to explore her range and to give her a sense of confidence and also show how good she was as a chameleon, if you will, how good she was in creating characters,” Joshua Greene said. “So a lot of his focus was to make her look like a character.”
Some of the photos were taken on the set of Monroe’s films. Others were taken in a private studio session or on the back lots of a movie studio. Some were serious, maybe sensual — others were fun and playful.
“She had a great sense of humor. My father had a great sense of humor,” Greene said. “They enjoyed each other’s company and were able to really relax and explore and play and create these images that were all fantasy, you know?
“You put on an outfit that looks like a ballerina dress. You put on an outfit that you look like a peasant and you go shoot on the back lots of 20th Century Fox in an environment that looks like a town in the countryside in France, in Europe at the time of the war. So there’s these environments that they would use to play off of.”
Joshua Greene was just a few years old when he met Monroe, but he remembers her being like part of the family when she stayed at their Connecticut home after moving from Los Angeles.
“She would take care of me when my parents would go to the movies or give me bubble baths,” he said. He recalled jumping on her bed often, right into her arms. “She would tickle me and I’d get up and do it again over and over like a dog,” he laughed. “There are some fond memories.” It wasn’t until he got older when he became aware of just how famous she was.
Monroe’s business partnership with Milton Greene ended shortly after her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller, but Greene kept the film and the rights to all the photos they took together. And now, thanks to his son’s painstaking work, we are able to get a different look at one of the biggest icons in entertainment history.
“Her natural ability shows in the pictures,” Joshua Greene said. “And it’s not just with my dad. I mean, she’s a wonderful muse. …
“He loved photographing her. She was gifted, truly gifted in that way, and it shows.”