Biography Captures The Charisma And Confidence Of Photographer Inge Morath Biographer Linda Gordon chronicles Morath's escape from Nazi Germany, her boundary-breaking career and her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.
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Biography Captures The Charisma And Confidence Of Photographer Inge Morath

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Biography Captures The Charisma And Confidence Of Photographer Inge Morath

Biography Captures The Charisma And Confidence Of Photographer Inge Morath

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next we have the story of Inge Morath, a woman who escaped Nazi Germany, became a glamorous globetrotting photographer and married the playwright Arthur Miller. She's the subject of a biography now, and NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg has the story of a woman who rose from the ashes of World War II.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: When she came to NPR for an interview in 1987, Inge Morath was charming and spirited.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

INGE MORATH: I'm fascinated by the necessity of quick decisions.

STAMBERG: She made them with her Leica camera, a bit of photojournalism, portraits, fashion shots and picture stories for magazines. She took publicity stills for Marilyn Monroe's last movie, "The Misfits."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MISFITS")

MARILYN MONROE: (As Roslyn Taber) No, the trouble is I always end up back where I started - never had anybody much. Here I am.

STAMBERG: It was in 1960 on the set of "The Misfits" that she met the film's screenwriter, Arthur Miller. Inge's biographer Linda Gordon says Miller wrote the movie for his wife.

LINDA GORDON: Miller's relationship with Marilyn Monroe was already falling apart, and Marilyn Monroe herself was in very, very bad shape. And many of the people around the films thought it was a miracle that they actually got this film together.

STAMBERG: Little of that struggle showed up in Morath's photos.

GORDON: Inge took some very, very beautiful and sympathetic photographs of Marilyn Monroe. But Miller had struck her as intensely interesting, and he was quite impressed.

STAMBERG: They had an affair. In 1962, they married and stayed married for 40 years until Inge's death in 2002. She was a supportive partner for Miller, something Marilyn could never be.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

STAMBERG: Do you ever - have you in subsequent years wished you'd paid more attention to her then?

This is from my 1987 interview with Morath.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

STAMBERG: As a woman who'd been in the presence of an earlier wife, I mean, looking...

MORATH: Yes.

STAMBERG: ...Looking back at it that way...

MORATH: Well, no. I think you have to be yourself even if you are the first, the second or the third wife. If you try to take over anything or imitate anything, I think it would be a disaster.

GORDON: She was a woman of extraordinary self-confidence.

STAMBERG: Again, biographer Linda Gordon.

GORDON: One sees that throughout her life - both self-confidence as a photographer, as a person but also as her own sexual being.

STAMBERG: Lots of affairs, magnetic personality, gracious.

GORDON: She was just a person who drew you in.

STAMBERG: As a young woman, Inge Morath had a rough time in Germany during the war.

GORDON: After Allied bombs started falling heavily on Berlin and landing very near the ammunitions factory where she was a forced worker, she joined columns of hundreds, probably thousands, of people on foot just leaving Berlin.

STAMBERG: Biographer Gordon says Inge walked 455 miles to her parents in Salzburg, Austria. They were Nazi sympathizers. Their daughter was not. In Paris after the war, Inge got a job at Magnum, the elite photo agency founded by the great pioneers of photojournalism, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

GORDON: She was doing secretarial work. She was editing contact sheets. She was even cleaning the office space.

STAMBERG: And getting interested in photography. Cartier-Bresson was her mentor. After auditioning, Magnum made her their first full-time female member. With her camera, Inge followed her passion for travel. In Spain, she wangled her way into the dressing room of the great toreador Antonio Ordonez. Her 1954 photo shows him preparing for combat - bare muscled chest, skin-tight, sequinned and embroidered pants. It took chutzpah to get into his dressing room. Women there were considered bad luck.

GORDON: In fact, to get into that space, she half-jokingly made a completely outrageous argument. She said, I'm wearing pants when I work; therefore, I'm neither man nor woman.

STAMBERG: In Seville, Morath put on a flamenco costume and climbed up on a chair to shoot dancers whirling to the music in their layered red and white skirts and petticoats.

GORDON: The image is so saturated with red and white. And you only see these people from the waist down. The energy is there. She has captured the movement but with a camera just slow enough so that some of the picture is blurred as you see the skirts whirling around.

STAMBERG: Linda Gordon's illustrated biography of Morath has a handful of great pictures. But outside of photography circles, she's little known for her craft.

How do you think she would feel about always being in a sentence that also includes Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe?

GORDON: Well, I think she was resigned to it. I do not like the fact that many people only know of her as a wife of Arthur Miller and the wife immediately after Marilyn Monroe. But my impression is that she was pretty - pretty copacetic about it.

STAMBERG: Could be Inge Morath's confidence again, propelling her through another life passage. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

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