Marilyn Stafford Obituary – Honoring this pioneering, underappreciated photographer who died in January at 97. In Shoreham, West Sussex’s Tom Foolery coffee shop, 90-year-old Marilyn Stafford showed her work. Customers were surprised to find candid shots of Albert Einstein, Édith Piaf, Indira Gandhi, refugees in north Africa, fashion shoots in 1950s Paris, and swinging 1960s London. This inconspicuous occurrence rediscovered her as one of the most important female mid-20th-century photographers.
In 2021, Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography, a large book of her photographs, was published, as were several exhibitions in Britain and internationally. “Never in my wildest dreams did I suppose all of those pictures under the bed or in shoe boxes sat on by my cat would ever see the light of day again,” she remarked afterwards. After being commissioned, much of my work was permanently stored.
Marilyn Jean Gerson was born in 1925 to successful Cleveland pharmacist Maurice Gerson. Middle-class households owned Brownie box cameras, and Marilyn adored taking pictures of her family and surroundings. She told BBC TV about her first photo, a family picnic by a creek. “I was standing in the river watching the water fall over the stones and feeling really emotional. Pure water.
I needed this recalled. Marilyn’s mother, Dorothy, pushed her to act in the Cleveland Play House, the first professional regional theater, when she was small. She joined Joel Grey and Paul Newman’s Curtain Pullers kids’ club. Stafford later said that her mother wanted her to replace Judy Garland, but she failed an acting audition after failing to recite “Bring that man to me.”
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in drama and literature, she relocated to New York and found little playing and singing opportunities off Broadway and on television. She married film industry executive Joseph Kohn in March 1947, but they separated in 1953. Her photography career began in 1948 when she photographed Albert Einstein for friends making a documentary film about him. She received her first 35mm SLR camera and a quick tutorial in the backseat on the way to his New Jersey home.