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An extensive series of photographs but many are not so good
on 11 July 2012
The book title accurately describes the reason for this book's existence. It shows the gradual progression in pictures of the teen-aged, brunette and unknown Norma Jean Baker into the blonde and very familiar Marilyn Monroe. However, some of the photographers whose images have been used seem either to be inexperienced or overwhelmed as their imagery is often not of the highest quality. For example, Andre de Diennes who photographed the infamous calendar session with the young Norma Jean made his reputation on that one session but the quality falls short of what it should have been.
Although there is a very extensive and varied collection of photographs on its pages, some of which will be very familiar to most of a certain age, there is one very apparent and important omission; namely, not a single image from the famous three-day final session with Bert Stern just a few weeks prior to her death is included. Stern used many rolls of film and took well in excess of 1000 black and white photographs plus hundreds more colour slides of Monroe, some of them reminiscent of the calendar session many years previously. Monroe was allowed editing rights on the images and took that role too seriously and actually destroyed many of the slides. Stern was angry at the time and more angry later when he learned of her death and the irrecoverable loss of many precious images. Whatever the reasons for the exclusion of a single image from that session, if the reader is familiar with any of its images, its closure to the story will be much missed. This was not the only occasion on which Stern would have photographed Monroe and I don't think a single image of his is included anywhere.
One of the consequences of the final Stern sessions was that Monroe was then to be seen as ageing. Her face was less tight and defined, her figure was losing definition and there other evident adverse signs. Her recent life on drink and drugs may well have taken their toll on the person whose face and figure were her fame and fortune; if both were to go, then what? Stern admitted that his demands for those sessions may have been extreme and excessive and he was pleasantly surprised that she agreed, whatever her thinking. Although intended as a feature article, rather few of the images were published following her unexpected death just as the magazine was going to press, although they have since appeared in several books.
The book is not solely filled with imagery; the story is largely repeated in words. However, on a quick initial browse, I was quite pleased with the book but after a second look I was much less pleased. I seriously question the selection of images as rather too many are really quite indifferent. They appear to be in chronological order, or certainly very close to it, and there may have been a desire by its editors to include as many as possible, regardless. There are some good ones but their presence is diluted by being surrounded by too many that are less good. Consequently, this is one for the out and out Monroe fan.