In bed with Marilyn Monroe

By Todd Leopold, CNN

Updated 1910 GMT (0310 HKT) September 21, 2015
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In memory, Marilyn Monroe -- who died 53 years ago, on August 5, 1962 -- is perpetually vital and beautiful. That's the way photographer Douglas Kirkland saw her when they met in 1961. "She was like the girl next door," he recalls. "She wasn't this superstar. She laughed easily and was very comfortable to be around." Kirkland's photographs of Monroe have been collected in the book "With Marilyn: An Evening/1961." Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated
Kirkland, a staff photographer for Look magazine, wanted "the hottest photographs I could get" for the publication's 25th anniversary issue. Monroe knew just how to help. "I know what we need," she told Kirkland. "We need a bed with a white silk sheet -- it must be silk -- Frank Sinatra records and Dom Perignon champagne, and I know we'll get good pictures." Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated
Kirkland had made his name with photographs of Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland, but he was only 27 and admittedly nervous. "I must confess I woke up during the night on more than one occasion, wondering if I was in over my head," he said. Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated
Monroe was two hours late for the session at a Los Angeles photography studio, but once she arrived, things went smoothly. Kirkland remembers being impressed. "What I saw step through the doorway was like a gleaming figure -- very special, brilliant," he said. "To me, she didn't seem to walk. She almost floated in slow-motion." Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated
Monroe could be known as a handful on the movie set. Billy Wilder, who directed her in "The Prince and the Showgirl" and "Some Like It Hot," said he was "too old and too rich to go through this again." But Kirkland said she was different when shooting stills. "She liked photographers," he said. "She liked the creativity she could have with the still photographer. She could be herself." Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated
Monroe was not the fragile creature she has occasionally been described as. She had lost weight before the photo session -- she'd just recovered from an illness -- but she was forthright and sexy. She came out wearing a white robe, slipped it off and climbed into bed. "For a boy from a small town in Canada, this was unbelievably exciting," Kirkland said. Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated
The two had an instant chemistry, Kirkland said. "I did not say to Marilyn, 'Do this, do that.' We just flirted and played." Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated
Moreover, Monroe was comfortable enough with Kirkland that, midway through the session, she told everyone else to leave the room. "That's when I did my strongest pictures," he recalls. "We were frankly flirting like crazy, and I did not stop. I just kept taking pictures as quickly as I could." (However, there was no hanky-panky, he said.) Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated
Kirkland's shoot was in late 1961. He had hoped to work with Monroe again, but he never got the chance: While shooting in France the next year, he saw the headline, "Marilyn est mort" -- "Marilyn is dead." Perhaps ironically, because of her untimely death she'll be forever young, he said. "Marilyn is remembered as a very special individual," Kirkland said, noting her freshness, her sex appeal and her good nature. "She came along and made it fun in front of the cameras. She liked to play, and she played Marilyn very well." Douglas Kirkland via Glitterati Incorporated