YOU WANT to do nudes?"
"Uh, yeah. It'd be nice, don't you think?"
"But what about my scar?"
"Oh, don't worry, we'll retouch it."
That was the initial exchange between Marilyn Monroe and photographer Bert Stern, as he tried to persuade her to pose in the semi-nude in 1962. (The scar was recent, the result of gall bladder surgery.) Marilyn agreed, under that condition - her scar would be retouched. She had not arrived ready to be photographed naked. This was, after all, a sophisticated session for Vogue magazine, something different, a nod to the changes in her image she realized had to happen.
Stern shot almost 3,000 photos of Monroe in three sessions over a long L.A. weekend. Many of them were fabulous. Many were not. He had provided a case of mood-enhancing champagne for the star. The actress became too relaxed. Monroe eventually saw some of the photos, and edited in her fashion - large X marks in grease pencil, or cutting the prints with a razor. This sort of ruthless professional self-critique was not unusual among great lady stars. Elizabeth Taylor used pinking shears on pictures that didn't pass muster.
But as we all know, six weeks after the shoot, Monroe was dead, and Stern went on to publish endless variations of this "Last Sitting" at every opportunity. And he did not retouch her scar, or anything else, for that matter. The then-and-now star requirements for smoothing out "flaws" were moot once Monroe was dead.
Controversially, Stern printed every photo Monroe herself had X-ed out or slashed. They were "interesting," he said. The photos became instantly iconic. The best of them showed a woman of 36 in her prime, slender, toned and "modern." The new decade ushered in a new look for the voluptuous '50s legend. The worst of them propagated the myth of beauty on the wane, the "reason" for her suicide. (Lesson? Do not drink to excess while being photographed for six hours under harsh lighting.)
LL vs. MM
So, how does Lindsay Lohan stack up against Miss Monroe? "Stacked" is the word! Lohan, 21, is far bustier than Marilyn ever was, even when Monroe was plump. The elegance of the best of the Monroe nudes was her trim body and unobtrusive bosom.
And I think somebody might have sprung for a better wig for Lindsay! That said, she looks fine. She certainly went for broke exposing herself. Monroe is one of her idols and she couldn't resist the opportunity to work with Stern.
Still, Lindsay looks more beautiful as herself these days - more healthy meat on her bones and - under her Monroe wig - she is back to brunette.
As for her own over-chronicled and often tumultuous life, she is taking it one day at a time. Lohan has all the makings of a great and enduring star. I think - I hope! - she has worked out most of the kinks and can concentrate on her career. She really cannot be classed with Paris Hilton, whose reason to be is to be famous and party, a harmless, empty ornament. Or with Britney Spears, who is a deeply disturbed young woman, out of control. Lohan has talent. She needs to channel it and regain the confidence of the industry.