Marilyn & Johnny, 1949-50

Susan Bernard flips open the archives of her father, great Hollywood glamour photographer Bruno Bernard.

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The mornings came with tears on pillows, fears, and collective betrayals. Being dropped by Fox and the six-month Columbia Studio buildup coming to a halt were the least of it. Marilyn held her breath, waited for a revelation, wished on a star, pounded the streets, and exhausted her modeling agency. She showed up at Dad’s studio, looking for a break, an assignment, some indication. Chance and timing had been their destiny. He had been commissioned to do a cover story layout at his home away from home, the Palms Springs Racquet Club, a destination for disappearance.

In a mystical, sleepy little desert valley in 1934, actors Ralph Bellamy and Charles Farrell founded a hideaway for Hollywood. The stars were close enough to Hollywood and yet far away enough to have fun, let their hair down, roll up their shirtsleeves, and simply be themselves, as opposed to their carefully orchestrated screen images.

The social climate of Hollywood’s Golden Era reflected a postwar American optimism. These heroes were glamorized on the silver screen. It was a time and place when glamour was truly glamorous, and the stars behaved as such. The reigning studio system, which created these stars, was a prosperous business and dictated a strict lifestyle, an image, and ultimately an illusion.

Maria Shriver, interviewing my dad for the CBS morning news, asked, “Would you like to create photographs of the stars now?”

And Dad replied, “I would if they had the right attitude. They were very cooperative with me. The behavior was different because the whole climate, which was created by Hollywood, was different. Which was a great climate of artificiality, I must admit.”

At the club, the illustrious would consort with their peers, nurture discretely those private relationships on which their careers depended, and commence and end relationships that were symbols of romance in our minds. They felt safe and guarded from the flashbulbs and glare of the media spotlight. Dad was the only one given photography privileges, because he was on a first-name basis with all and had established one of his three studios in the Springs. Charley would always say, “Don’t worry, he’s one of us. He will never release any photos that should not be published, but simply turn them over to the club for our family album.”

The club was sprinkled with tight-eyed, tanned, saddle-skinned, Eastern money, white and diamond-wearing stars. Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Clark Gable taking a shot of a Pimm’s cup at the Bamboo Bar. Gene Tierney lounging on aqua and meeting Oleg Cassini. Joan Crawford looking upset after spotting Ginger Rogers looking happy with Joan’s ex beau. Rita Hayworth in the locker room.

It was in the Springs one auspicious morning that Marilyn, smelling like baby powder, was unloaded along with the camera equipment from Dad’s station wagon. This magical photo safari would change the course of her life forever, when Dad introduced her to Johnny Hyde, vice president of the William Morris Agency, who fell head over heels for her.

Bruno Bernard remembered, in his own words, the meeting between Monroe and Hyde:

“The Palm Springs Racquet Club’s tennis courts were swept clean when the voluptuous Marilyn posed in her body-hugging swimsuit and four-inch cork heels on the diving board.

“‘Who’s this gorgeous dame . . . your girlfriend?’

“I knew at that instant this could only have been Johnny Hyde, a vice president at William Morris, a shrimp in stature, but long in connections. I felt annoyed at what he was implying. He asked if I would mind taking a few snapshots for private use. In Marilyn’s present state of unemployment, this introduction to Johnny was welcome.

“Johnny said, ‘Trust you don’t mind me taking a few snaps strictly for private use!’

“Without waiting for an answer to his rhetorical question, Johnny made a quick dash to his bungalow adjacent to the pool and stormed out armed with a Leica and several telephoto lenses. To the amusement of all bystanders, the former circus acrobat-turned-agent crouched on his belly and fired away from his frog perspective as if Eastman Kodak would go out of business tomorrow. After he had shot his bolt of 36 exposures, he ran back to his bungalow for more ammunition.

“This interlude prompted Marilyn to ask, ‘Who is this jerk snapping all of these pictures?’

“‘This jerk is Johnny Hyde, an ardent amateur photographer. Professionally, he happens to be vice president of the William Morris Agency,’ I whispered in her ear. After this input, I might just as well have packed my camera gear.

“Johnny would not permit me to take any more pictures of Marilyn in a two-piece bathing suit, which, ironically, had endeared her to him only a few months before.

“Her goal was to be a movie star. It was not money. She turned down money from Johnny.

“Johnny obtained for Marilyn her first really good part, “Angela,” a gangster’s moll in the MGM film The Asphalt Jungle. So anxious to obtain the part was this girl with the most perfect figure, and so insecure, she put falsies in her bra for the film test. She studied each of her lines diligently with her coach Natasha Lytess, who had taken Marilyn under her wing after her short stay at Columbia.

A cosmetic surgeon in the Springs had restyled her nose and straightened the facial tissues under her skin. Under his tutelage, the changeover from the natural nice girl next door to the siren, Marilyn, was complete.

The indefatigable Johnny obtained a copy of the uncut scenes from The Asphalt Jungle, made a rough cut, and projected it for his pal Joe Schenck in his penthouse. Within days of having a massive heart attack, Johnny negotiated a seven-year contract with Fox for Marilyn.

Marilyn called me crying out of control.

“He’s got all these tubes running through him, Bernie, and they’ve got him under a big oxygen tent,” Marilyn blurted out to me through the phone.

“Who, Marilyn, who?” I asked.

“Johnny! He had a heart attack in Palm Springs.”    

“Marilyn, listen to me carefully,” I said slowly. “You are not in a state to drive.”

“If anything happens to Johnny,” Marilyn whispered, her voice beginning to crack, “I can’t go on without him.”

Portraits’ in Palm Springs

Jan. 14, 2012 4 p.m.
Palm Canyon Theatre
(In conjunction with Palm Springs International Film Festival)
538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

Jan. 14, 2012 5:30 p.m.
Just Fabulous, 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

Uptown Design District businesses throughout the Palm Springs International Film Festival (Jan. 5-16 2012)

Bernard of Hollywood is offering a limited-edition series of five previously unpublished photographs, available to the public for the first time. Contact:

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