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Apr 10, 2018 11:34 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Photo Of 'Lolita' Star Taken At American Hotel Comes Back More Than 50 Years Later

A photo of Sue Lyon sitting outside the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, currently positioned behind the front desk of the hotel. KYRIL BROMLEY
Apr 17, 2018 4:19 PM

It’s a tantalizing tagline on one of the most recognizable movie posters in cinematic history: “How did they ever make a movie about Lolita?” The image of a young girl staring out from heart-shaped sunglasses perched on the tip of her nose, with a lollipop grazing her lips, also begs another question: How did they ever get that picture of Lolita?

In 1962, the world saw 15-year-old Sue Lyon in the now iconic photo for the controversial Stanley Kubrick film of “Lolita.” Based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, it tells the story of a middle-aged college professor who becomes infatuated—and, ultimately sexually involved—with a 14-year-old girl, played by Ms. Lyon. Like the novel, the movie is a taboo-smashing classic of the 1960s film era and is a hallmark of one of Hollywood’s greatest directors of all time.

And it may never have made it to the screen if it weren’t for photographer Bert Stern—and the American Hotel in Sag Harbor.

In a nod to the relationship between the film and the town, a photo of Sue Lyon is currently hanging behind the front desk at the American Hotel lobby. The photo, taken by Mr. Stern in 1961, features Ms. Lyon on the hotel’s front porch in a lounge chair, long bare legs and bare feet propped up on the arm of an empty chair nearby, her body relaxed, her face brooding.

According to Ted Conklin, the owner of the American Hotel, the photo was put up last fall after he purchased it at an art show put on by local art curator Julie Keyes. Mr. Conklin said that the photo is part of the “lore” of the hotel and Sag Harbor itself.

According to Shannah Laumeister Stern, Mr. Stern’s widow, the photo came together via a mutual friendship between Mr. Kubrick and Mr. Stern, who worked together at Look magazine before the former started directing movies full time.

Ms. Laumeister Stern said that filming “Lolita” in 1961 was a very low-budget effort with no set photographer, so Mr. Kubrick had no money left over to shoot promotional photos for the movie. That’s when the director asked Mr. Stern, based in New York City at the time, to come to Sag Harbor and shoot some photos of the movie’s young star.

Ms. Laumeister Stern said that her husband drove to Sag Harbor, with Ms. Lyon and her mother following, to scope out locations to shoot photos for his friend’s movie.

“Bert read the book, actually underlined images from it and tried to recreate them in Sag Harbor,” Ms. Laumeister Stern said. “He thought to do the shoot in Sag Harbor because it was such an American town, and ‘Lolita’ is a very American book—which is kind of ironic, since it’s written by a Russian.”

Mr. Stern shot between 40 and 50 photos of Ms. Lyon in Sag Harbor, not just in front of the American Hotel. Ms. Laumeister Stern said Mr. Stern also photographed Ms. Lyon in front of Baron’s Cove and the building where Apple Bank currently sits in the village.

In fact, the movie’s poster, with Ms. Lyon longingly looking out with heart-shaped sunglasses and a lollipop, was shot in front of Pierson Middle/High School. Further tying the movie to Sag Harbor: Ms. Laumeister Stern said the famous heart-shaped glasses and lollipop seen on the movie’s poster were both purchased across the street from the American Hotel, at the Sag Harbor Variety Store.

The photos were shot over the course of a week in the spring of 1961, more than a year before “Lolita” finally hit theaters on June 13, 1962. It was an interesting time for Mr. Stern, who famously photographed actress Marilyn Monroe six weeks before she died on August 5 of that year.

The “Lolita” shoot stayed with Mr. Stern, so much so that Ms. Laumeister Stern said that her late husband took her back to the American Hotel around 1988 to re-create the original photo shoot. He also bought a house on Main Street in Sag Harbor in 1992 after becoming infatuated with the town.

Ms. Laumeister Stern said that only some of the photos from the “Lolita” shoot were published, with the rest kept in storage before and after Mr. Stern’s death in 2013. Last June, Ms. Keyes came to visit Ms. Laumeister-Stern and told her that she was putting on a show at Christie’s Art Center. As a fan of Mr. Stern, Ms. Keyes asked if she could display some of his “Lolita” photos.

“I originally wanted the ‘Lolita’ photos in a Sag Harbor show but was turned down by a lot of people, because they wanted Bert’s photos of Marilyn instead,” Ms. Laumeister Stern said.

Ms. Laumeister Stern brought nine photos from the “Lolita” shoot and showed them to Ms. Keyes. Her ecstatic response to the pristine photos persuaded her to dedicate the entire show to the “Lolita” shoot.

That show, held last summer, drew many guests to see one of the village’s beloved attractions intertwined with cinema history. One of those guests was Mr. Conklin, who bought two pieces from the show, with one of them being Ms. Lyon posing in front of his hotel.

“Bert created the visual expose of the movie with those photos,” Ms. Laumeister Stern said. “People see them and it impacts them. As an artist, you’re always trying to top yourself. For Bert, the idea of ‘Lolita’ and the visuals of it were very important to him. He knew that he tapped into something.”

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