Sam Shaw: John and Gena

Sam Shaw was a close friend of Marilyn Monroe from even before she became a star. She became an honorary member of the Shaw family, which was part of Marilyn’s thing – sort of adopting herself into already-existing families – but the Shaws loved her, and it was a friendship that lasted until Monroe’s death. Sam Shaw took many pictures of Monroe – one being the most famous and most replicated of all (Monroe on the grate with her skirt blowing up) – but my favorites that he took are the more casual ones, of Marilyn cavorting in the lawn of the house she shared with husband Arthur Miller, hanging out in various places, reading the newspaper, whatever.

Before we get on to Marilyn, I wanted to mention one other thing about Sam Shaw. My love for him pre-dates my love for Marilyn, strangely enough, because in the early 90s I came across some photos in Interview magazine that Sam Shaw had taken while hanging out at the Cassavetes household. There’s John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzarra, and Peter Falk clowning around beside the pool. There’s the garden that Gena Rowlands loved to work in outside her house. And – best of all – one of my favorite photographs of all time, spread out over two pages – of John and Gena, holding their dog. I ripped the pages out and went to a Xerox joint and made a huge copy of the two ripped out pages on thick heavy paper – not just cheap Xerox paper. I have had it on my wall ever since. You can see the rip down the middle in the Xeroxed copy. I love it for its character and also its long history in my own life. I love it that it has a quote from Ben Gazzarra on the photo, about John’s love for Gena as an actress. I love the roughness of it, and the image itself. I have never seen this image online anywhere else – in Sam Shaw collections or elsewhere – so it’s even more precious to me, especially in its imperfections. It has been on my wall in every apartment I have lived in, my apartments in Chicago, in Hoboken, in New York … I look at it, and I remember who I am, who I want to be, the kind of life I would like to have (and, come to think of it, the kind of life I do have), my values.

Michael told me he fell in love with me when he first walked into my bedroom and saw that I had this photo of these people on my wall.

“I should have proposed to you immediately when I saw that.” he said.


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2 Responses to Sam Shaw: John and Gena

  1. Catherine says:

    I don’t know for sure, but I think Gena and John are my favourite celebrity couple of all time.

    Okay, this is TOTALLY unrelated and my apologies for this, but I think you’re the best person to ask about this. I’ve been listening to some Teaching Company lectures as podcasts on my daily commute, all about the Founding Fathers, the Constitutional Congress, Republican Vs Federalists etc, and I’m getting really interested in that whole period. So I’m wondering if there’s any particular book you’d recommend that gives a good overview of the time? Or would I be better just picking out some of the main guys and reading their biographies? Help! Bear in mind I’m coming at this from a VERY novice and clueless level…

  2. red says:

    Catherine – I feel the same way about John and Gena.

    And I love your question – putting together an email for you right now – look for it!!

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