Greene with Envy: He lived with Marilyn Monroe

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Milton H. Greene ©2017 Joshua Greene. Taken from the book 'The Essential Marilyn Monroe', published by ACC Editions.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Joshua Greene was only a toddler when Marilyn Monroe babysat him. Having an iconic Hollywood actress play the role of your caretaker in real life sounds fascinating, yes, but the truth is, he was too young to remember all the details.

What does, however, bring back snippets of memories are the photographs Joshua’s father, Milton H. Greene, captured of Marilyn. Known as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, Milton loved sharing emotion through his art. And his new coffee table book, The Essential Marilyn Monroe (ACC Editions) shows just that.

Released in October, it features 284 photographs (including 176 never-before-published  images) taken by Milton and restored by Joshua. There are also 500 limited-edition, hand-numbered deluxe editions produced with high-quality paper and cloth binding, packaged in a cloth clamshell presentation case, going for $2,000 each. The new tome comes 23 years after Joshua’s first book, Milton’s Marilyn (Schirmer/Mosel), which told the story of duo’s friendship and work relationship.

Of those limited-edition copies, 15 are sold at Barney’s and features special photos of Marilyn with three dogs. Dogs and Marilyn?  Can’t do better than that.

As a photographer himself, Joshua spent years shooting and living in New York before the world went digital. “As I started learning about Photoshop, it came to me that I have this archive that no one has ever seen and made me rethink what the second part of my career is going to be,” Joshua says on the phone from his home in Florence, Oregon. “So, I dedicated myself to photo restoration and eventually, archival printing.”

Six years ago, Joshua selected about 400 photos from his family’s archive as well as from the Library of Congress. Over the years, he and his team edited them down and eventually, the photos were organized by categories, some named after what Marilyn wore, “Gold Dress” and “Red Sweater”, while others captured behind-the-scenes moments from movie sets, such as “The Seven Year Itch” and “The Prince and The Showgirl”.

It was photographer Douglas Kirkland who introduced Joshua to Mac Holbert, who ran Nash Editions, a pioneer in the fine art of digital printmaking. Holbert was the first to show Joshua how to scan photographs into the computer and retouch them—tweaking the color and tonal values, removing surface marks, scratches and oil residues from fingerprints.

“When you look at the book every now and then, you’ll see very grainy, black-and-white candids,” says Joshua. Due to his excitement, Milton processed film from his 35mm Nikon himself in a hotel and the exposure appears incorrect, as the development time and water temperature were inconsistent.

“One of my father’s favorite quotes was ‘Imperfection is perfection.’ I felt that is true and these photos capture that emotion,” says Joshua. “He believed accidents or spontaneous mistakes are part of the fun in life. It’s a great lesson he instilled in me and my brother.”

By a matter of kismet, Marilyn met Milton in 1953 during a photo shoot for Look magazine that took place in Los Angeles. The two connected creatively, becoming close friends and business partners, forming their own production company. Marilyn was welcomed to live with the Greene family in their Connecticut home, for the convenience of work and impromptu photoshoots ensued, many of which are featured in the book.

“I want the reader to feel a sense of pleasantry,” says Joshua. “The Essential Marilyn Monroe is done with a sense of humor. If anything, enjoy yourself—it’s there for you to look at and appreciate the work everyone has done to make it possible. Take a moment and smell the roses. I’m a photographer, what can I say? Smile.”


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