Picturing Marilyn

 "The camera loved her." I suppose. But that robs her of agency, her one active power. She loved the camera. I'd recognize her voice, I think, but I remember her for that breathless, little girl parody, her Betty Boop simper. For me, she is here, now, in the timeless, still eternity of bromide.

I have the calendar poster from the Tom Kelley shoot that included what came to be the first Playboy foldout, and I have a strange candid picture, of her in toreador pants. And there is, on the wall behind me, my favorite photo, which I've never seen online: it's from the black derby series, by Milton Greene. She is sitting on a black bench, one leg vertical, the other on the floor. She is wearing a black leotard and the black derby, and the black backdrop creates an astonishing effect, as if she were a disembodied apparition: legs, arms, head, bodiless. Her expression is at once affectionate and noncommital. It communicates what I, like Steinem, wanted her to be, a woman aware of the nature of her power and comfortable with who she is. It is one of the rare moments when she was that woman.

And then there is the centerpiece of the American Photo homage, the restoration of Bert Stern's shot of her on the bed, one arm draped on the floor, grinning for the camera. The restoration gives us the missing left half of the photo. The famous reproduction of the shot, which ended at her waist, possessed a kind of sexy chastity, plus the unnerving poignance of the similarity to the position she was found in, dead, a few months later. The restored remnant of the picture is wonderful: Her naked bottom rises out of the bed like twin scoops of peach ice cream. A kind of resurrection, a last laugh on death's pride.

It is sad, I suppose, that she was happiest in front of the camera, that the rich sensual joy in her photographs was the best of her life. But maybe not. It's more than many us will have, and perhaps, if she could choose the vehicle of her immortality, she would choose this.