Shannah Laumeister on Bert Stern: Original Madman by Bill Biss originally published in ShowBiss.
Now and for some time, Shannah Laumeister has been Mrs. Bert Stern. In 2013, I interviewed her for a very special reason. Laumeister had just released a documentary film and a brilliant one at that… on Bert Stern. Stern was a remarkable photographer of the first caliber and her partner in life at this time. You wouldn’t imagine how many famous people he’s had the pleasure of photographing… but to drop just one name; is Marilyn Monroe. Her documentary is titled Bert Stern: Original Madman. There are many incredible photos to discover through his skills and many indelible moments to discover from a realistic and loving portrait of Stern from Laumeister. (Bert Stern died a few months after this interview). Her love for him lives on.
The Search for Love and Lolita in Sag Harbor by Annette Hinkle originally published in Sag Harbor Express.
In the summer of 1961, photographer Bert Stern traveled from New York City to Sag Harbor with a 15-year old actress and her mother.
The trio stayed at the home of stylist Nancy Pearl and her husband, Arnold, and for the next seven days, Stern shot countless roles of film of the young actress in various Sag Harbor locations — on the porch of The American Hotel, in front of Barons Cove Inn, and through the mullioned-windowed door of the long-gone Bayview Hotel (now the site of People’s United bank).
Finally, he took the young actress to Pierson High School where he photographed her in a car after outfitting her with a series of all-American props he had picked up at the Sag Harbor Variety store, including lollipops, American flags, and a 39-cent pair of red heart shaped glasses.
The photographer Bert Stern claims that the only truly great portrait of a movie star was the famously stark 1929 Edward Steichen image of Garbo with her hair severely pulled back, revealing that immortal face. He set about to do the same for Marilyn Monroe on a Vogue commission and, especially with the winsome yet haunting nude poses shot shortly before her death in her last sitting, achieved his goal.
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man, a terrific, jaw-droppingly candid documentary made by his longtime lover, Shanna Laumeister, covers this heady episode, which took place in a champagne-soaked hotel suite, in depth, but also reveals that Stern, born in 1929, was so much more than Monroe’s greatest, most intimate photographer. One of the absolute original Mad Men, he made his name in the 1950s with a remarkable series of Smirnoff vodka ads—notably one taken in front of the pyramids—which not only revolutionized ad imaging, but also turned the world into vodka drinkers. Coming from humble, non-artistic Jewish origins, at his height he ran a bustling studio that was a nonstop creative assembly line of photo and commercial film shoots.
I wasn’t expecting much from Shannah Laumeister‘s Bert Stern: Original MadMan. Everybody knows Stern as the sharpie who took those legendary semi-nude snaps of Marilyn Monroe (i,e. “The Last Sitting“) a few weeks before she died, but I didn’t know anything about Stern, the man. (Or madman.) But I wanted to.
Laumeister’s film started off like a typical blowjob profile so right away I was antsy. It showed Stern attending a Manhattan art-gallery exhibition of his work and being glad-handed by the swells and the hangers-on. And then a series of reputable authorities began telling Shannah what a visionary fellow Stern is/was/will always be. Blah blah blah.
But then it shifted gears and Stern started telling the story of his life, and before I knew it I was hooked. I began to feel relaxed with the guy and those big sad eyes and that quiet, low-key, matter-of-fact way of speaking. And then I began to learn about what he’s done and I realized soon enough that Stern really was one of the biggest portrait photography and zeitgeist-capturing ad visionaries of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. And perhaps one of the great nookie kings of that era. Jesus God, a kid in a candy store!
If the plaudits are to be believed, Bert Stern is the man who, amongst other things, revolutionised American advertising in the 1950s; initiated the relationship between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and inspired America to become a nation of vodka drinkers.
He also found time to father three children, have a string of marriages and divorces and photograph just about anybody who was anybody. His extensive career and personal life are portrayed in BERT STERN: ORIGINAL MADMAN through a combination of interviews, home-movies, still photographs and stock footage.