Although her career was eclectic (as we shall see in coming posts), Eve Arnold is now popularly remembered for her close association with two of last century’s greatest actresses: Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe. Although she had been collaborating with the latter for a decade, her best images of Marilyn Monroe came towards its end, at the set of the film The Misfits during the summer of 1960. In what would be her last screen appearance, Monroe gave her best performance playing a vulnerable divorcee juggling the affection of three men, and posed for the most revealing and poignant photos for Arnold as her marriage to playwright behind The Misfits, Arthur Miller was slowly crumbling.
Meanwhile, Nevada acted as the perfect backdrop to this drama. Four years earlier, Miller divorced his first wife in Reno, then on the verge of losing its crown as a divorce and gambling metropolis to Las Vegas. There, he encountered the titular “misfit” cowboys, whom he turned into a short story in Esquire now being filmed by John Huston.
The Misfits was perhaps unique in attracting many great photojournalists to its set. Magnum was given exclusive access to photograph the production, and the prolonged production — plagued by the sizzling Nevadan heat, Monroe’s temperament, Huston’s drink and gambling addictions, and Miller’s constant revisions to the script meant many great names in photojournalism of the last century managed to make it to the desert at one time or another during its four-month shoot.
If you look at photographs taken by such figures as Cornel Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Ernst Haas, Erich Hartman, Inge Morath, and Dennis Stock of poker games, slot machines, roulette tables, and showgirls in Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City and its environs, all of them bore that inevitable date, 1961.
The film’s other lead, Clark Gable died of a heart attack just twelve days after shooting his exhausting final scenes being dragged around by a horse. Monroe divorced from Miller even before the film came out; she died less than two years later. Soon afterwards, Miller married Inge Morath whom he met on the set.