“She was seducing me”: Canadian photographer Douglas Kirkland on shooting Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood icons

“She was seducing me”: Canadian photographer Douglas Kirkland on shooting Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood icons


The Fort Erie–born photographer Douglas Kirkland spent three weeks with Coco Chanel in Versailles, conducted photo shoots on the set of Titanic and photographed more celebrities than he can count—but he’s never had an exhibition in his home country. Yorkville’s Izzy Gallery has corrected that with A Life in Pictures, on display until June 30, which showcases the photographer’s most iconic snapshots from the golden age of Hollywood. We asked him to share the stories behind some of his famous photos.


Marilyn Monroe

Look Magazine, 1961
“Marilyn was supposed to arrive at 7 p.m. By 9:30, she still hadn’t shown up. When she finally came in through the back of the studio, she seemed to be moving in slow motion. There was a glow, like she was a heavenly figure. We put on a Frank Sinatra record, and she had the idea of wearing a white silk sheet and nothing more.”

“We took a few pictures and they didn’t seem to work. She said, ‘I want to be alone with this boy. I find it usually works better that way.’ There was a hair and make-up person, and a couple of colleagues from my magazine—everybody else was kicked out. There was a buzz in the air. She suggested we be very comfortable with each other. She was seducing me! I’m a kid raised in Fort Erie. She’s Marilyn Monroe, a superstar. Can you imagine the vibes? I just kept taking pictures, and she eventually took off around 1 in the morning.”

“The next day, I rang her doorbell once or twice, and nobody answered. I thought the whole thing would continue as it had last night, where she was seducing me and the camera. Eventually, she came to the door with sunglasses on and something covering her head. I was sure I had woken her up. She disappeared for a while, came back without the glasses and said, ‘Show me what we did last night.’ She looked at the pictures quickly, and she didn’t like them at first. When she looked at them a second time, she started to appreciate them more and more.”

“When she saw this picture, she referred to herself in the third person: ‘That girl is in love with a man. That man is represented by the pillow she’s holding. She’d like to be holding a man like that—and be in love with him.’”



Coco Chanel

Look Magazine, 1962
“Coco didn’t trust me, because she didn’t know me. At first, all conversation took place through an interpreter. She asked me to take some test pictures, not of her but of her clothes. After looking at them, she started speaking with me in English. Then she opened herself up amazingly. I was with her three weeks. She felt like she was tutoring me. She said, ‘You must learn French.’ She started to understand what I did not know, and she started saying, ‘You should do that,’ or, ‘You should pick up a few words a day.’”

“I never saw her without her hat and pearls. People said she was dressed the same in every shot, but the truth is her entire closet was filled with similar garments. It was almost like a uniform.”



Audrey Hepburn

How to Steal a Million advertising shoot, 1966
“Audrey was a wonderful woman, and very sensitive. She had come through the war and became a star by accident. There was a gentleness about her—she cared about people. I met my wife Francoise when I was in Paris with Audrey.”



Liz Taylor

Look Magazine, 1963
“Elizabeth had been ill for a while after the first attempt to film Cleopatra and the death of her husband, Mike Todd. She agreed to do an interview with the Look writer Jack Hamilton in Las Vegas but had one condition: no pictures. The magazine asked me to go and sit in on the interview and see if there was any chance she would let me photograph her. After sitting quietly at the side, at the end of the interview, I approached her and took her hand and looked deeply into her eyes and said, ‘Hello, Elizabeth’—she did not like being called Liz—’my name is Douglas Kirkland. I’m new to the magazine. Can you imagine what it would mean to me if you allowed me to photograph you?’ She thought for a beat and said, ‘Okay, come tomorrow evening at 8:30,’ and then added, ‘I don’t have to do this, you know.’ The photographs ended up launching my career. After they ran on the cover and in the magazine, they were syndicated around the world, and I became a bona fide celebrity photographer.”



Jack Nicholson

People Magazine, 1975
“This was for a cover for an early issue of People magazine. It was at Jack’s house in Beverly Hills. He was living there with Anjelica Huston, who opened the door for me. They had overslept and forgotten about the appointment. Jack got ready quickly while Anjelica made coffee for us. He was easy and playful, and there were no handlers. He said, ‘Let’s give your editors a big smile,’ and put a magnifying glass in front of his mouth. Then he said, ‘What if I smoked a match?’ I brought the photos back to People, and they thought the shots were too sophisticated—more Harper’s Bazaar. They asked for a reshoot, which I was willing to do, but Jack had gone to England to shoot The Shining. They reluctantly ran the cover with the match between his teeth. I later found out it was the most successful cover that year.”


Kirkland took this photo of President John F. Kennedy and United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson II while on assignment at the White House in 1962.

John F. Kennedy

Look MAGAZIne, 1962
“I was on assignment with Look to do a story on Adlai Stevenson, who was the UN Ambassador at the time. He had a close relationship with JFK. I travelled with him from New York to Washington, D.C., for his meeting. After I was introduced to the President, they started their work in the Oval Office and I quietly photographed them as they talked.”

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June 1, 2016

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Izzy Gallery was in Yorkdale.