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Who Shot Marilyn? : A Book of Movie-Star Pics Has Photographers Fighting Over Who Took Which Image

June 23, 1993|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two books, one published, the other poised, are stirring old adulations and fresh contention around Marilyn Monroe.

Hollywood's photographic elders accuse the first of pirating several dozen of their pictures. And a Monroe estate official says an inscription and her signature in the book appear forged.

The second is a prodigal boxed volume that may never reach publication. Planning has slowed amid lawsuits alleging breached and conflicting contracts, a widow wronged, canceled checks--and more forgeries.

"Bernard of Hollywood's Marilyn" was published last month as a 122-page elegy to her moment, an album of nine dozen photographs credited to the late Bruno Bernard.

But several Hollywood portraitists--including those who photographed, even aided the evolution of Norma Jeane Dougherty to Marilyn Monroe--say many images in the book are theirs, published without permission, fee or credit.

"Between 50% and 60% of the pictures in the book are not Bruno Bernard's," says Sid Avery, 74, photo-biographer of Bogart, Dean, Gable and founder of the Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive in West Los Angeles.

He blames Susan Bernard of Hancock Park, Bernard's daughter and a former soap actress who compiled the $29.95 book published by St. Martin's Press: "Obviously she didn't have enough of her father's images, so she borrowed from 10 or 15 other photographers to flesh it out."

Last month, New York photographer Sam Shaw, 81, filed a $4-million suit against Bernard and St. Martin's.

Shaw alleges the book credits nine of his photographs to Bernard, including a signal image: Marilyn Monroe, skirt blown high by subway breezes, taken during filming of "The Seven Year Itch."

Susan Bernard denies it all: "Basically, this book is a tribute to my dad and his integrity, his artistry and his legendary work. I stand behind my father's work. I stand behind my book."

Says a spokesperson for St. Martin's: "We stand behind Susan Bernard."

And Lincoln Mint, a small group of Century City entrepreneurs, says it is standing behind "Monroe by Norma Jeane," its planned prayer to the deity.

Its book is a contrived collectible, a rich, hard-cover collection of 118 pictures taken by celebrated Hollywood form photographer Andre de Dienes, who died in 1985. Sample albums are leather covered, with vellum separation pages and silk end sheets. They will be sold in burl wood boxes with a gold-plated title plaque and hinges. Cost: $600.

And well worth it, says Sean O'Keefe, Lincoln Mint president. He believes the elegance of De Dienes' photographs and the immortal Monroe mystique--plus the extravagance of the album--will surely create "something quite unique that can't be replicated."

O'Keefe, 25, claims exclusive rights to the De Dienes' pictures. He says most have never been seen because they spent 20 years buried in the photographer's Sunset Boulevard back yard. A few images, he says, have received only "limited exposure in exhibitions."

Not really, says Shirley de Dienes, who married De Dienes on his deathbed.

She knows from her earlier business dealings that most pictures planned for the book are available as loosely limited editions through Edward Weston Galleries, an auction and retail outlet in Northridge for affordable art.

De Dienes says the supposedly rare photographs also were exhibited last year in Las Vegas and sold by the dozens at a 1992 London auction. Some were published in 1986 in her late husband's book, "Marilyn, Mon Amour," and three years later appeared in a book published in Germany.

And the widow, now living in Palmdale, says the contract that helped transfer control of her husband's photographs to Lincoln Mint was prepared by former business associates who forged her signature.

O'Keefe says, "This kind of crap" is "just coming to light" and he wants to "wait and see" before commenting on the validity of the signature.

He says he has "just been apprised" of the broad exposure given the images. But he doesn't think it will affect production because "they (exhibitions and auctions) haven't been the whole collection of Andre de Dienes."

Lincoln Mint, according to O'Keefe, has spent $1 million--including an initial $750,000 payment on a $3-million contract for rights to De Dienes' prints--on developing the book.

*

Richard Miller, 81 and retired to Malibu, Joe Jasgur, 74, of Palms, and other Monroe photographers claim Susan Bernard obtained their work for her book by covert borrowing from collectors, galleries and stock houses.

Bernard approached the John Kobal Collection in New York a year ago. Also Globe Photos of Los Angeles and New York, Avery's Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive and others.

Some were pitched by telephone, others by letter from Suzanne Sommer Productions, claiming to be "in the process of producing a documentary and a pictorial book on the life of Norma Jeane-Marilyn."

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