Bert's Story


Bert Stern was born on October 3, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrant parents. His interest in photography sparked at an early age after coming across a magazine photo by Irving Penn. Little did Stern know that years later he would photograph Penn himself. At the start of the Korean War, Stern was drafted by the army and dropped out of high school. Assigned to a base in Japan, he served as the base cameraman and photographer. His love of photography was evident even then.

Back in the States, he took a job in the mailroom at Look magazine where he befriended film director Stanley Kubrick. This friendship would lead to some of Stern’s most iconic photographs including the movie poster for Kubrick’s film "Lolita," starring Sue Lyon. This was only the beginning of Stern’s film career as he later photographed on set of Joseph Mankiewicz’s "Cleopatra," starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. In 1958, Stern had his turn at directing and cinematography for his own film, "Jazz On a Summer’s Day," of the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. The film was later added to the National Film Archive for its cultural, historic and artistic significance in 1999.

Look’s art director, Hershel Bramson, gave Stern his first assignment as a commercial photographer for a 1955 campaign introducing Smirnoff vodka to the American market. Stern pitched the idea of a pyramid reflected upside down in a martini glass. For Stern, the image already existed in his mind. It was simply a matter of making that image visible to the world. The advertising agency responded, “How are you going to shoot that? You’re going to have build a set” to which Stern simply replied, “No, I don’t. I’m going to Egypt, to the pyramids.” That campaign, “Driest of the Dry,” revolutionized product advertising. It’s why he is known as the original mad man. Shortly after, advertisers and celebrities sought him out. Throughout the last half of the 20th century, he shot famous models, actors, musicians and celebrities including Bridgette Bardot, Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper, Louis Armstrong, Veruschka and most famously Marilyn Monroe six weeks before her death.

Stern’s life and artistry were captured in an award winning documentary, "Bert Stern: Original Mad Man," which was  shot, directed and produced by his wife, Shannah Laumeister Stern, now Trustee of the Bert Stern Trust. He died in his residence in New York City on June 26, 2013. 

Bert Stern was born on October 3, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrant parents. His interest in photography sparked at an early age after coming across a magazine photo by Irving Penn. Little did Stern know that years later he would photograph the photographer himself. At the start of the Korean War, Stern was drafted by the army and dropped out of high school. Assigned to a base in Japan, he served as the base cameraman and photographer. His love of photography was evident even then.

Back in the States, he took a job in the mailroom at Look magazine where he befriended film director Stanley Kubrick. This friendship would lead to some of Stern’s most iconic photographs including the movie poster for Kubrick’s film Lolita, starring Sue Lyon. This was only the beginning of Stern’s film career as he later photographed on set of Joseph Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. In 1958, Stern had his own turn at directing and cinematography for his own film, Jazz On a Summer’s Day, of the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. The film was later added to the National Film Archive for its cultural, historic and artistic significance in 1999.

Look’s art director, Hershel Bramson, gave Stern his first assignment as a commercial photographer for a 1955 campaign introducing Smirnoff vodka to the American market. Stern pitched the idea of a pyramid reflected upside down in a martini glass. For Stern, the image already existed in his mind. It was simply a matter of making that image visible to the world. The advertising agency responded, “How are you going to shoot that? You’re going to have build a set” to which Stern simply replied, “No, I don’t. I’m going to Egypt, to the pyramids.” That campaign, “Driest of the Dry,” revolutionized product advertising. It’s why he is known as the original mad man. Shortly after, advertisers and celebrities sought him out. Throughout the last half of the 20th century, he shot famous models, actors, musicians and celebrities including Bridgette Bardot, Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper, Louis Armstrong, Veruschka and most famously Marilyn Monroe six weeks before her death.

Stern’s life and artistry were captured in an award winning documentary, Bert Stern: Original Mad Man, shot, directed and produced by his wife, Shannah Laumeister Stern, now Trustee of the Bert Stern Trust. He died in his residence in New York City on June 26, 2013. .