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Photographer Sam Shaw is remembered for his iconic images of such stars as Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando. He also produced several films, including 1961's Paris Blues.
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Born in 1912, Sam Shaw took photographs of the making of Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets (1950). He then worked on A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and photographed Marlon Brando in a ripped t-shirt, which came to symbolize the film. Around this time, Shaw met and photographed Marilyn Monroe,
and the two formed a lasting friendship. He later produced Paris Blues (1961) as well as several films by John Cassavetes. Shaw died in 1999.
Born in 1912, Sam Shaw grew up on New York City's Lower East Side as the son of Russian immigrants. He loved drawing and painting as a child, and he even made statues out of street tar. Shortly after high school graduation, Shaw shared a studio with famed African American artist Romare Bearden for a time. They continued to work together throughout their lives and collaborated on projects with jazz and literary critic Albert Murray. Many of Shaw's photographs of jazz and blues musicians appear in Bearden's collages.
In the 1940s, Shaw worked as a courtroom artist and then as a political and sports cartoonist and art director for the Brooklyn Eagle. He then became a reporter and photojournalist for Collier's magazine for which he traveled around the United States documenting American life in the mid-twentieth century. These portraits of subjects ranging from coal miners and sharecroppers to burlesque performers and New Orleans' musicians comprise Shaw's "Americana" collection.
Shaw began working as a photographer on film sets in the 1950s. One of his first projects was taking publicity stills for director Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets (1950). The following year, he worked on the set of A Street Named Desire (1951) starring Marlon Brando. Shaw photographed Brando in a ripped t-shirt, creating one of the most famous images of the film star.
A short time later, Shaw worked again with Brando on the set of Viva Zapata! He also befriended Brando's co-star Anthony Quinn, and Marilyn Monroe, who was Elia Kazan's girlfriend at the time and would visit the set. Kazan asked Monroe to drive Shaw to the set everyday and they became friends. Over the years, Marilyn spent time with Shaw and his family—his wife Anne and their three children, Larry, Meta and Edie. Shaw also worked on the set of Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch starring Monroe. He was the special photographer for this film, and it was his idea to set up the famed image of Monroe in a white dress standing over a subway grate and to use the scene and the photographs to create publicity for the film.
Shaw captured other numerous images of Monroe both on and off the set. He once explained his intentions in photographing Monroe. "I just want to show this fascinating woman, with her guard down, at work, at ease off-stage, during joyous moments in her life and as she often was—alone." Shaw also served as a shoulder to lean on for Monroe, according to some reports. He knew her during her marriages to baseball great Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller.
See Sam Shaw's iconic Hollywood photos in Sam Shaw by Lorie Karnath.
100 Photos by Sam Shaw for Press Freedom, published in English and French by the non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders, includes Shaw's rare behind-the-scenes movie photography as well as previously unpublished images. Sales of the book support Reporters Without Borders.
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