Via Financial Times

A deep vein of sadness runs through Eve Arnold’s photographs from the set of The Misfits, John Huston’s 1961 movie set in the wide-open spaces of the Nevada desert.

The film is a story of expectations, broken dreams and failed relationships — and it echoes what was happening to its key players off screen.

Within 18 months of shooting, two of its stars, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe — both symbols of Hollywood’s Golden Age — would be dead.

Monroe struggled with addiction and depression throughout filming, checking herself into rehab midway through production. Her marriage to the film’s screenwriter, Arthur Miller, was falling apart.

Huston was often drunk on set, reportedly falling asleep during filming, and was as interested in spending time in Nevada’s casinos as he was in shooting the movie. Such was the backdrop to Arnold’s tender, intimate on-set photographs.

Eve Arnold’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe and co-star Eli Wallach on the set ‘The Misfits’ in 1960
Eve Arnold’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe and co-star Eli Wallach on the set ‘The Misfits’ in 1960 © Eve Arnold

Arnold was the first female member of Magnum Photos, joining the agency in 1951. A year later, she met and photographed Monroe for the first time. Unlike many photographers who spent time with Monroe, Arnold was rooted firmly in documentary and photojournalism. Her pared-down shoot with Marlene Dietrich for Esquire was what initially drew the attention of Monroe.

USA. Nevada. FILM: The Misfits. Marilyn MONROE being given a neck massage by Arthur Miller, to help relieve tension during location filming. 1960.
Monroe being given a neck massage by her husband, Arthur Miller, who wrote the screenplay of ‘The Misfits’. Eve Arnold said: ‘This was Miller’s Valentine to Marilyn […] The marriage was already over but what he had wanted to do with it was give her a gift. And he did, I think’ © Eve Arnold

In a 1987 interview, Arnold recalled that when the two first met (at a party held coincidentally for Huston), Monroe said to her: “If you did that well with Marlene, can you imagine what you could do with me?” It marked the beginning of a friendship and working relationship that lasted 10 years, culminating in the two months Arnold spent with her on set for The Misfits.

USA. Nevada. US actress Marilyn MONROE on the set of 'The Misfits' by John HUSTON. 1960.
The only non-studio portrait Monroe allowed Arnold to take of her © Eve Arnold
USA. Nevada. Clark GABLE during the filming of
Clark Gable on set. Monroe was devastated by his death, 10 days after filming wrapped. She told Arnold how, while growing up in an orphanage, she would imagine Gable bringing her and the other children crayons and colouring books. Arnold said: ‘She adored him’ © Eve Arnold

Arnold’s photographs are striking for the way she captures these legends of the silver screen as lonely, troubled individuals. She strips away their movie stardom and reveals them as fragile, vulnerable. Even when photographed together, everyone seems to inhabit their own world, disconnected from one another, lost in the desert.

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Josh Lustig is deputy photography editor of FT Weekend Magazine

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