Special thanks to my go-to gal April VeVea for helping me make sense of the chronology of these shoots.
So what really was Marilyn’s last photoshoot? Who was her last photographer? I bet you’re thinking: Allan Grant, LIFE Magazine 1962. And if you asked me that question yesterday, I would have said the same thing. But recently I’ve been doing some research on some of her photo sessions, specifically her last ones, and I came to this realization: It is in fact George Barris that took the last professional photos of Marilyn Monroe. And I say professional because ….
These are actually the last known pictures of Marilyn. They were taken during the weekend of July 27-29 of 1962 at the Cal-Neva Lodge located in California/Nevada. (It overlooks Lake Tahoe, laying across the Cali/Nevada border). Marilyn would have passed away the following weekend. These pictures were taken by Ted Allan, who happens to also be a professional photographer, but these are candids, not posed pictures meant to be published in a magazine or publicity campaign. Simply like home movies. They are the last known photos of her, but I don’t count them as the last professional ones. Here she hangs out enjoying the day with friends Peter Lawford and Frank Sinatra. Buddy Greco is also pictured.
In other words, we can determine that the final professional photos of Marilyn Monroe were taken by photographer George Barris on Santa Monica beach in July of 1962.
However, the dates on these are pretty confusing. The reason everyone gets mixed up thinking that Allan Grant took her last pictures (the same reason I believed as well) was because the Grant photos accompanied her last interview. Once approved by Marilyn, the interview and the photos were published in the August 3rd, 1962 issue of LIFE Magazine. Marilyn had passed less than 2 days after the magazine hit the stands. Grant says he took his photos on the 7th , and that’s what I believe as well, but there has been a lot of confusion on how accurate that is. Here are a couple from the Grant session:
The George Barris session is the latest that we can confirm. We know that the swimsuit and towel pictures were at least taken July 12th, 1962. This is substantiated because of a couple reasons: First, Pat Newcomb (Marilyn’s publicist) wrote a letter to Marilyn dated July 11th, 1962 saying that she would pick her up “tomorrow (Thursday) at 5:30 to go to the beach and complete the Cosmopolitan layout.” (Barris’s pictures of Marilyn were to be published in Cosmopolitan). We can confirm that Pat did pick Marilyn up and took her to the beach for the shoot because she is shown in the rare color footage of the session. Second, a library in New York City had received the swimsuit pictures the next day (July 13th). There is no way Barris could have gone and developed those photos and sent them off and have the library receive them in such a short amount of time. There is speculation that the Mexican sweater photos could have been taken on July 13th, but they also could have been the same day, July 12th. Which is possible, but in Pat’s letter she says to “complete” the layout, so it’s also possible that this was all done on the same day, that Marilyn simply took off the sweater and put it back on later. Therefore we cannot confirm whether Whitey did her makeup or if Marilyn did it herself for the sweater pictures, as Barris also says it was just him and Marilyn on the sweater day. But again, that may not be true.
George Barris describes the last picture he took of Marilyn in an article published in the Daily Mirror (US & UK) on August 8th, 1962, just 3 days after she had passed away. If this is the first image that came to your mind, you’re correct:
To the best of our knowledge, this is the last professional photograph taken of Marilyn Monroe.
“Marilyn was a real trooper. Even when the sun went down and the winds blew and it became cold, and she shivered, she hardly whimpered or complained. Only when the day was almost over and I had just one last bit of film in the camera, she said, ‘This is for you, George.’ Then she puckered her lips and blew a kiss my way as I took the last picture of her ever on that beach.”
As stated previously, George Barris is the latest that we can confirm. This timeless session remains a favorite among the Marilyn community and will always be treasured. She seems so effortless and happy, and she looks stunning even with the cold temperatures. When Marilyn is being photographed, it’s just her and the camera, and she is completely herself and never holds back. We are lucky to have images such as these available to us today. Regardless of the conflicting dates and times, her last photo session is magical and will continue to be enjoyed and appreciated by fans for endless years to come.
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