Douglas Kirkland admitted he was speechless when the photographer found himself alone with a nude Marilyn Monroe.
America’s most famous sex symbol was at the now-85-year-old’s rented studio in Santa Monica Boulevard when she reportedly decided to clear everyone else out of the room, declaring “I need to be alone with this boy.”
The married father of three recently told UK’s Daily Mail he was “terrified” and pretended not to hear Monroe as he fiddled nervously with his camera during that November 1961 shoot.
“A successful photo session is a seductive dance between the photographer and his subject,” Kirkland told the outlet. “This is how interesting photographs happen. There has to be some sort of attraction and tension, whether you are photographing a man or a woman.”
On Tuesday Christie’s is auctioning the camera from that session, a 1958 Hasselblad, along with the lenses that captured the photos, as well as two prints from the shoot. It is expected to fetch $200,000 - $300,000. According to Christie’s, the buyer will also have the opportunity to host Kirkland for dinner, where he’ll shoot his or her portrait with the same camera.
Kirkland was only 27 years old when he received his first assignment — to photograph Monroe for Look magazine’s 25th anniversary issue. According to the outlet, Kirkland was worried the Hollywood star would sense his inexperience and demand another photographer.
Instead, Monroe requested Dom Perignon champagne and Frank Sinatra records.
The outlet revealed that Monroe was two hours late for the session when she arrived as “a burst of ethereal beauty” at 9:30 p.m. A nervous Kirkland immediately poured the champagne and played a Sinatra record as she “sashayed into a dressing room” with her hair and makeup team.
However, Kirkland claimed Monroe wasn’t thrilled with his initial idea to photograph her wearing an ankle-length dress with a long piece of white cloth. He claimed “she stomped” and complained the fabric was “cheap cheesecloth.”
“I’m not a cheesecloth kind of girl,” said Monroe.
The moment provided an epiphany for the young photographer.
"I was learning another important lesson of my profession," Kirkland said. "You must treat a star like the princess you want her to be in front of your lens if you are to elicit her most outstanding performance.”
Kirkland feared Monroe was going to walk out. She didn’t. Instead, Monroe wore a white dressing gown that she “immediately took off.” Then she slipped into bed, under a single silk sheet.
“I stole little glances of her backside and breasts as she moved,” said Kirkland. “She may have intended for me to catch those little glimpses.”
Kirkland shared it was “very exciting for me in my young man way” and Monroe “was within arm’s reach, twisting and turning under the sheet, which was semi-transparent.”
Kirkland started snapping away when Monroe suddenly declared, “I know what we need — I need to be alone with this boy. I find it usually works better that way.”
“[Monroe] showed me how she felt, slithering erotically between the sheets,” he reflected. However, he insisted nothing came from the night and instead, it “was just an exciting tease.”
“[She] was just being Marilyn and playing to the camera as she knew how to do very well,” he explained.
And the photographer, who was married to his high school sweetheart at the time, said his photos of Monroe from that night would not have turned out as captivating if he had given in to temptation.
“We were both on such a fine, teetering edge,” he said. “Ultimately, all of that fused energy was channeled directly into the lens.”
At one point, Kirkland claimed, Monroe “pleaded” for him to join her in bed.
Two ended up lying next to each other as they spoke about their lives.
“She told me about her difficult beginnings," he said, "and I told her about coming from a small town in Canada and never dreaming I would someday be photographing the goddess she had become."
Monroe and her team didn’t leave the studio until well past midnight. Kirkland told the outlet he had trouble sleeping that night at the Chateau Marmont hotel, wondering what might have been.
“We had nearly been lovers an hour earlier and now she was gone,” he reflected. “The Marilyn Monroe I had been with on that night of the shoot unquestionably took a firm hold on me. She arrived in a misty vision, and when she left it was as if she had evaporated. I admitted to myself with some embarrassment that I missed her already.”
Kirkland said he was stunned when he went to Monroe’s home the following day to show her the photographs he’d taken.
The woman who answered the door wasn’t the glamorous screen siren he spent the night with, Kirkland said, but rather a “darker, sadder” woman who sounded “drawn, tired and disturbed” while wearing sunglasses and a scarf over her head.
Kirkland claimed that initially, Monroe bluntly told him that the photographs “aren’t great” and cut up half of them with scissors. However, the star lit up when she finally found a photo she liked.
“I like this girl because she’s the kind of woman every man would like to be in there with,” Monroe told Kirkland about a photo of her clutching a white pillow. “The kind of girl a truck driver would like to be in that bed with.”
According to Kirkland, Monroe told him, “I want to do this with you again, real soon.”
The two never worked together again. Nine months later, Monroe was found dead in 1962 at age 36 from a barbiturate overdose. Kirkland was in Paris when he saw the shocking headlines.
“I was in disbelief and heartbroken like the rest of the world,” he said. “The pictures are some of the last professional photos that were taken of Monroe.”
When asked how he feels about his session with Monroe today, Kirkland said he still “gets a buzz” thinking about the night he spent with Hollywood’s ultimate blonde bombshell.