The photographer Bert Stern claims that the only truly great portrait of a movie star was the famously stark 1929 Edward Steichen image of Garbo with her hair severely pulled back, revealing that immortal face. He set about to do the same for Marilyn Monroe on a Vogue commission and, especially with the winsome yet haunting nude poses shot shortly before her death in her last sitting, achieved his goal.
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man, a terrific, jaw-droppingly candid documentary made by his longtime lover, Shanna Laumeister, covers this heady episode, which took place in a champagne-soaked hotel suite, in depth, but also reveals that Stern, born in 1929, was so much more than Monroe’s greatest, most intimate photographer. One of the absolute original Mad Men, he made his name in the 1950s with a remarkable series of Smirnoff vodka ads—notably one taken in front of the pyramids—which not only revolutionized ad imaging, but also turned the world into vodka drinkers. Coming from humble, non-artistic Jewish origins, at his height he ran a bustling studio that was a nonstop creative assembly line of photo and commercial film shoots.