Bert Stern, a commercial photographer best known for his images of Marilyn Monroe in what became known as The Last Sitting, and the documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day, has died in New York City. He was 83.
Stern died Wednesday at his Manhattan home, said Shannah Laumeister, 43, a filmmaker who said the two were secretly married in 2009. She said the reason for keeping it secret was private.
Stern shot thousands of pictures of Monroe at the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles in 1962 for Vogue magazine just weeks before her drug overdose death. They included nude and semi-nude images.
The 2,500 images, including ones Monroe rejected, were published in a 1982 book titled The Last Sitting, and a second book, Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting, that came out in 2000.
In Bert Stern: Original Madman, a documentary Laumeister made of the photographer, Stern said, "It was a one-time-in-a-lifetime experience to have Marilyn Monroe in a hotel room, even though it was turned into a studio."
"She was so beautiful at that time," Stern told Newsday. "I didn't say, 'Pose nude.' It was more one thing leading to another: You take clothes off and off and off and off and off. She thought for a while. I'd say something and the pose just led to itself."
He photographed many other celebrities, too, including Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Truman Capote.
"He was an enormously innovative photographer, both as a commercial photographer and a photographer of celebrities and fashion models. And one of the great people in his field," said Bruce Barnes, director of the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.
Jazz on a Summer's Day, Stern's only documentary, was released in 1959. The film, about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, was one of the earliest live concert movies as well as one of the most influential. In 1999, it was added to the National Film Registry in recognition of its historical significance.
Stern was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 3, 1929. In a 1968 interview with Newsday, he said his father was a children's portrait photographer. After dropping out of high school in his senior year, he served in the Army, working as a photographer on a base in Japan.
That experience helped him land a job in the mailroom at Look magazine, where he became a protege of Hershel Bramson, the art director, who would later give him his first job as a commercial photographer.
He launched his career with his first ad campaign, for Smirnoff Vodka, that featured a V-shaped glass of vodka set in the front of an Egyptian pyramid.
"He'll be remembered as someone who loved women and loved taking pictures and putting things he felt strongly about in the camera," Laumeister said. "His images will live forever and wow generations to come."
The Monroe images "go beyond the photograph and become a work of art," she added.
Stern was among a generation of photographers, including Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, who were known for their uncluttered and alluring images.
"He's not quite as well known but fits into that group for revolutionizing the way celebrities were photographed," said Jessica Johnson, assistant curator at the George Eastman House.
The Associated Press, with files from the New York Times