Galician Author’s ‘Niche For Marilyn’

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A Niche For Marilyn, a 2004 novel by Galician film historian Miguel Anxo Fernandez, has been published in English for the first time by Small Stations Press. Here’s a synopsis:

“Frank Soutelo is a down-at-heel private detective, the son of Galician immigrants, based in Los Angeles, California. He doesn’t get much choice in his assignments and has to take pretty much what’s on offer, so when he gets hired and paid an advance of twenty-five thousand dollars, he’s understandably pleased, and his secretary even more so. The unusual thing, however, is what he’s been asked to do: to recover the body of the actress Marilyn Monroe, which has reputedly gone missing from her grave in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Big Frank, as he is known, is about to get drawn into a world that is unfamiliar to him: a world of necrophiliacs, zealous watchmen, uniformed chauffeurs and high-class mansions. The question is will he be able to extricate himself from this situation with his dignity and heart in one piece?”

Fernandez Nicho

It’s a short novel (142 pp), and not really about Marilyn herself so will only be of marginal interest to fans. Some may find the themes of body-snatching and necrophilia too morbid, so be warned. It is narrated by detective Frank Soutelo, who views Monroe compassionately albeit as something of a victim – both in life, and death.

Marilyn: Still Hollywood’s Favourite Blonde

'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' (1953)
‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1953)

In an article for The Australian, Philippa Hawker charts the history of blondes in cinema -arguing that Marilyn continues to leave her mark on the evocation of blondeness.

“In cinema — not to mention fairytale, myth, art, literature, politics and the realm of popular culture in general — the image of the blonde or the fair-haired woman has carried a strong symbolic charge. It can be identified with innocence and purity but also with artifice and duplicity. It can suggest bounty, dazzle and allure, the implication that all that glisters is not necessarily gold. It can convey a heightened sense of spectacle. It is almost always associated with a notion of the feminine. The figure of the blonde is one of Hollywood’s most potent emblems and exports, and it has had an influence on other movie cultures over the years.

In cinema, the figure of the blonde often appears alongside the contrasting figure of the brunette; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, is probably the most engaging example…

And, of course, there is Monroe, defining Hollywood blondeness, and to some degree transcending it by sheer effort of will. Her body of studio work is surprisingly confined: only once, in Clash by Night (1952), in which she portrays a cannery worker, did she play a character with an ordinary job. In her major roles she was always a variation on a gold-digger or a stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’ — yet she managed to subvert the stereotyping or deepen its implications, no matter what the challenge was off-screen. In The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), on what was reportedly a chaotic and troubled set, she gives an effortlessly appealing performance in an unlikely period piece: it is her co-star, Laurence Olivier (also her director), who appears awkward and uncomfortable.

Monroe, one way or another, continues to leave her mark on the evocation of blondeness. In the 80s, Madonna did her best to own it, restaging Monroe’s ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number, rifling through the Hollywood cultural dress-up box for a variety of shades and identities. Her video clip for ‘Vogue’, directed by David Fincher, explicitly raids both classic Hollywood portraiture and the vogueing phenomenon of the gay club.”

LIFE Goes ‘Noir’ With Marilyn

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A new Life magazine special, LIFE Film Noir: 75 Years of the Greatest Crime Films, has just been released, and one of the movies showcased within its pages is Niagara. The text is provided by novelist J.I.Baker, author of The Empty Glass and a previous Life special, The Loves of Marilyn. While his writings on the personal lives of the stars tend to be speculative in the extreme, he’s on firmer ground with the movies they made.

In this short feature, he also quotes another novelist, Megan Abbott, who describes Niagara as “sleazy, gorgeous and mesmerising,” noting that Marilyn “takes full advantage of her character’s complications and desperation.”

Life Noir

“Though sometimes overshadowed by her later turns in musicals, comedies and ‘serious’ dramas,” Baker observes, “MM made an early indelible mark in film noir,” citing her riveting performances in The Asphalt Jungle, Clash by Night and Don’t Bother to Knock. (Incidentally, The Asphalt Jungle is featured in another recent publication on film noir, Mark Vieira’s Into the Dark – although Marilyn is not mentioned specifically there.)

If you love old Hollywood and film noir, this magazine is a must-have. You can order it now from Amazon (UK price £9.99, or $13.99 in the US.)

San Francisco Remembers Marilyn

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Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1960

The San Francisco Chronicle has reposted their front page from August 18, 1962, in which news of Coroner Theodore Curphey’s report on Marilyn’s recent death shared space with a story about President John F. Kennedy, who was visiting California as work on the San Luis Reservoir commenced. (Click on the photo below to enlarge.)

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“In Hollywood, gloom still hung over the film industry two weeks after Monroe’s death.

‘Monroe’s will was filed for probate yesterday in New York,’ the story read. ‘The actress, reported by many … to be virtually broke, left an estate estimated to be more than a half-million dollars.’

‘A short while later, in Los Angeles, Coroner Theodore Curphey officially ruled that Miss Monroe’s sleeping pill death Aug. 4 or 5 was a probable suicide.’

Whether the glamour icon killed herself was never proved beyond a doubt, but her impact on pop culture remains unquestionable.”

Marilyn and Jane: Queens of Rom-Com

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Scottish TV and radio presenter Edith Bowman declares her undying love for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in an article about classic romantic comedies for The Sun today.

“From almost the moment people started making romantic comedies, it seems that the roles of female characters in cinema have been passive. One way or another, our heroines do little more than sit at home, like Bridget Jones in her pyjamas, waiting for Mr Right.

Or do they?

Perhaps not. In fact, perhaps it was never really like that at all. Because while conducting research and thinking in more detail about the hundreds of films I’ve watched over the years, I have to say that fewer leading ladies belong to this category than I originally thought.

The first female characters I remember being in awe of were Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Watching those two dominate the movie, completely in control of every situation, is still an eye-opener: here are two stunning women who may appear vulnerable and needy but are obviously very smart, blatantly using their beauty and sex appeal to manipulate every situation for their own benefit.

And that film was released in 1953. Amazing!

So have women in film evolved from blushing eye candy to strong, funny, independent leads in their own right? Sure they have… but perhaps only because of the work put in by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Diane Keaton and Julia Roberts back in the day – all stars of what appeared to be traditional romcoms, but who brought something else entirely to their films. Without Monroe, perhaps there would be no [Amy] Schumer.”

‘Marilyn & Sinatra’ in London

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Marilyn & Sinatra, an hour-long play with songs, is playing through this weekend at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre.  Here’s a selection of reviews…

“On the face of it, Marilyn is a gift: the sex symbol, the pills and drink, the suicide, the famous husbands and lovers … But it’s too much of a gift.  Writers and directors seem to feel that all they have to do it to put the life, or part of it, on the stage, and they have a hit show on their hands.” Traffic Light Theatregoer

“There appear to be a number of versions of the story of their relationship, though this play prefers to avoid being unnecessarily sensationalist. It is quite likely, given how private conversations are acted out on stage, that there was a modicum of artistic licence going on – the play never claims to be a verbatim account of who said what and when.” London Theatre 1

Marilynproduction

“In his prologue to the audience, the writer and  director, Sandro Monetti, explains that the premise of the show was inspired by Monroe’s final moments spent listening to various Sinatra albums. The overall performance also benefits from its desire to connect with the audience, with the actors interacting with them while they sing hits made famous by both stars.” The Upcoming  

“A palpable lack of insightful direction remains a recurring problem with this show, as each character tends to stand (or sit) around on the side-lines while the other narrates dialogue that is both awkward and awkwardly delivered … Erin Gavin bears a passable resemblance to the star and does vulnerability well, even if her voice has an occasional sharp edge to it that Marilyn’s carefully nuanced delivery never did.” Theatreworld IM2

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“We are presented with two narrations, starting from the first falterings of Monroe’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio. In her spoken role, Erin Gavin captures the breathy, seductive tones that Monroe used on screen, although there is more devotion to the accent than to its volume, rendering some lines inaudible even within the tiny confines of the Jermyn Street Theatre. There are the signs of vulnerability there, despite Monetti’s clunkingly obvious script, and although her attempts to sing the actress’s trademark songs ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ and ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ are beset with timing issues, one does wish that Gavin (a co-producer of this show) had better material with which to develop her impersonation.” Reviews Hub

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“It’s quite a moving  show … Not really a musical, this little piece is firmly a play with songs. And little is the operative word. It really is very short. Perhaps it would be better staged in a double bill with another short item.” Musical Theatre Review

“Marilyn Monroe’s story has been told on stage hundreds of times in dozens of different ways but her character is always compelling.  The play only just scratches the surface, never really delving deeply into what made Marilyn and Sinatra tick. It falls short of being truly emotional but is entertaining …” Bargain Theatreland

Larry Tye on Bobby Kennedy, and Marilyn

RFK Larry Tye

In a new biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, author Larry Tye briefly addresses the rumours of an affair between Marilyn and John F. Kennedy’s younger brother. (It should also be noted that they only met on four verified occasions, so the allegations are speculative at best.)

“No one knows what happened for sure what happened when the doors were closed. The FBI tried to find out, but its reports on Bobby mainly repeated wild rumours, including those caught on wiretaps and bugs of Mob figures that Bobby easily refuted …

The most exotic speculation revolved around a relationship between Bobby and Marilyn Monroe, who was said to be having an affair with both brothers, consecutively or simultaneously, depending on who told the story. Again, the accounts were second-hand or based on tape recordings that supposedly vanished years before … The accusations don’t stop with infidelity. Bobby helped her commit suicide or outright murdered her – to cover up his affair, or JFK’s, or her ties and theirs to the Mafia – various authors and journalists have charged, starting in 1964 and continuing unabated. Then he concealed his complicity in her death, so the story goes, with help from the FBI, the Los Angeles police, and his own investigators and aides. The rumours swirled so feverishly that the Los Angeles County district attorney reviewed all the claims and counter-claims in 1982, twenty years after the sex siren’s death. ‘Her murder would have required a massive, in-place conspiracy…’ the off-the-record report concluded. ‘Our enquiries and document examination uncovered no credible evidence supporting a murder theory.’

… Eleanor McPeck, a Massachusetts landscape architect and historian, makes no claims of knowledge of any ties Bobby had to the movie star. She does assert that nearly a decade before he met Marilyn, he was fascinated with her. When McPeck was a teenager living a couple of blocks from them, Bobby and Ethel [his wife] would have her over for dinner and to play a game of ‘Who Would You Rather Be With?’ You could name anyone you found interesting, she says, and it was all in fun. Ethel’s favourite was Andy Williams, who later became a close friend of hers and Bobby’s. Bobby’s, she adds, was ‘Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Monroe, repeated over and over and over again.’

Ethel has lived with the rumours for over fifty years, and she says she long ago stopped listening to or reading them. She tried to block them out then, too, although they must have hurt. She never disclosed any suspicions.”

‘Marilyn Taught Me How to Walk!’

Marilyn by Jock Carroll, 1952
Marilyn by Jock Carroll, 1952

In a blog post for the Hips and Curves website, author Kim Brittingham studies Marilyn’s uniquely sensuous walk – and tries it out herself.

“In mere seconds, she transformed into a cinematic sex kitten. A subtle lifting of her shoulders. An alluring elongation of her back. The coy tilting of her head and a suggestive swing of her hips and va-voom! Immediately, people noticed. Our legendary bombshell was quickly surrounded by frantic admirers.

I imagined I was confident and beautiful. I psyched myself into a state of absolute belief. I felt it in my body.

I lifted my shoulders and immediately felt compelled to take a deep, cleansing breath. My limbs flooded with warmth and I felt my posture lifting and lengthening, my weight shifting from a burdensome sensation like a sandbag around my neck to a decisive, sure balance upon the backs of my hips. Then I let those hips sway.

There was definitely something to this. It was all in the way I carried myself. As if I felt like a million bucks. And all that pulsating and emanating I imagined I was doing – well, I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed one other person had picked up on it. And it had been easier than I thought. My god, I gasped. I’m a sorceress!

I began to suspect that beauty and attraction have less to do with the size and contours of our bodies, and more to do with the energy we emit. That when a woman fires up her inner Marilyn, the first thing people see is that je ne sais quoi that shimmers around her and winks, I’m special. That when we feel worthy of the space we occupy, we broadcast the best of what’s inside of us, like a radio signal, and the people we’re meant to take this journey with will pick it up.”

Australia’s Marilyn Moment

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Following two major exhibitions in Bendigo and Albury, it can be said that 2016 (so far) has been Australia’s Year of Marilyn. Journalist Inga Walton has also made a significant contribution with ‘A Moment With Marilyn’, her detailed and insightful four-part series for Trouble magazine, which you can read here.

“There is something of the universal fable in Monroe’s story, in the way tales are re-cast, with a different setting, for a new generation. There is also an unmistakable touch of the heroic about her, given where she came from and where she went. ‘We take her seriously as an artist and person, a liberated woman before it became fashionable, who won an honoured place and lost her life,’ Norman Rosten attests. ‘A woman of obscure beginnings who studied and struggled against great odds to create a life of dignity and respect. She confronted a world of caste and prejudice; she broke into the clear for herself and others.’

There are myriad reasons for Monroe’s inextricable hold over generations of audiences. Her unique and intoxicating combination of beauty, talent, sensuality, impulsiveness, and emotional turmoil continues to beguile and haunt. Monroe’s life was plagued by frailty, isolation, and self-doubt. She suffered from the thwarted ambition and unfulfilled promise that afflicts so many of us- and yet she demonstrated great resilience. We have come to empathise with Monroe’s faults, feel compassion for the many challenging aspects of her life, and applaud her candour. Sometimes it seems as though the desperate pathos of her tragic demise might threaten to overwhelm the pleasure her work continues to bring. It is as though Monroe anticipated this paradox when she mused,

Life- I am both of your directions,
Somehow remaining hanging downward,
The most, but strong as a cobweb in the wind-
I exist more with the cold glistening frost.
But my beaded rays have the colours I’ve seen in paintings
Ah life, they have cheated you…”

Fact Check: Marilyn in Palm Springs

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Marilyn in Palm Springs, 1949
Following the recent news that Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn‘, may soon make a permanent return to Palm Springs, another more spurious story has emerged. Last week, it was widely reported that Marilyn’s former home in Palm Springs had been burgled. However, while Marilyn visited the resort many times, there is no evidence of her ever living there. Bruce Fessier has investigated the rumour for the Desert Sun.

“Aftab Dada, a hotelier and head of the P.S. Resorts organization charged with finding ways to attract tourists to Palm Springs, says [the statue] may be placed in front of the Spa Resort Casino before hopefully landing in the downtown park being developed near Desert Fashion Plaza, where it attracted voyeurs with cameras for 22 months before going on the road again.

Dada, who also runs the Palm Springs Hilton Hotel, is now trying to raise money to ‘bring Forever Marilyn back to Palm Springs where she belongs.’ City spokeswoman Amy Blaisdell says it belongs here because ‘Marilyn Monroe has a rich history in Palm Springs.’

‘She once owned a home in the city’s Movie Colony neighborhood,’ Blaisdell said in a news release, ‘and she was first discovered by her Hollywood agent at the historic Racquet Club.’

Frankly, I don’t think she ever owned a home in Palm Springs. Blaisdell told me Marilyn and her second husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio, owned a place on Rose Avenue. That’s actually in the Las Palmas district, but, besides that, my sources say it’s not true. I asked Blaisdell where she got her information and she said Dada — the guy in charge of drawing tourists to Palm Springs.

Dada says he learned about Monroe and DiMaggio’s Palm Springs’ roots from the heads of the private equity firm KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts). Founding partners Henry Kravis and George Roberts used to stay at the Hilton …They hung out with DiMaggio and his granddaughter, Paula Hamra, in the Hilton hospitality lounge when the Yankee Clipper used to play in the Dinah, Dada said, and DiMaggio told them he and Marilyn once owned a Palm Springs home.

I looked up Hamra on Facebook. She’s one of two daughters of the late son DiMaggio had with his first wife, Dorothy Arnold, who ran Charcoal Charlie’s restaurant in Cathedral City in the late 1960s and ‘70s. She also led Cathedral City’s incorporation efforts as president of their chamber of commerce from 1973 to 1975.

Hamra didn’t respond to my Facebook message, but Dada said photographer Marc Glassman took a picture of him with the KKR boys and DiMaggio. So I called Glassman and told him I was trying to track down the mystery of whether or not Monroe and DiMaggio had ever owned a home in Palm Springs. I said Dada told me Glassman had taken a photograph of him with DiMaggio and the KKR heads at a Dinah Shore golf reception at the Hilton when DiMaggio mentioned he and Monroe had owned a  Palm Springs house. Glassman confirmed he had taken a picture of them at the Hilton.

‘Unfortunately,’ he deadpanned, ‘no one was wearing a picture on their lapel of DiMaggio and Marilyn in front of their Palm Springs home.’

So I started checking the rumors of Marilyn and DiMaggio owning a house on Rose Avenue. The Internet abounds with reports saying Marilyn lived there … Public records show the house was built in 1961 – one year before Marilyn died … and six years after she and DiMaggio divorced. The house was owned by Audrey Blanchard for more than 40 years until her death in May at age 94. On Dec. 12, 2008, her attorney, Philip S. Klatchko of the Palm Springs firm of Klatchko & Klatchko, contacted the owner of Locations Unlimited, Sylvia Schmitt, demanding she cease and desist spreading the erroneous information that Monroe once lived at Blanchard’s house.

‘In recent months, she has had numerous people come to her front door claiming that her home had been identified by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce or its representatives as having once been owned or occupied by Marilyn Monroe,’ Klatchko wrote to Schmitt (then Jenette) a day after talking to her. ‘This claim or assertion is absolutely false and the people coming to her door are an annoyance and a nuisance.’

Tour buses were regularly stopping in front of Blanchard’s home, Klatchko said, and erroneously calling it Monroe’s house. Postcard manufacturers and other businesses were doing the same.

‘After full discussions with those local business entities … they each agreed to stop their reference to Mrs. (sic) Monroe,’ Klatchko wrote. ‘The matter had been laid to rest because in fact there was no truth to the allegation. It has only been more recently that the unwanted visitors to the home have started reappearing.’

Schmitt, who books celebrity homes for movie shoots and rentals, took the reference to Monroe’s house out of her map of celebrity homes. But she probably wasn’t the source of the problem. She says she gained her information from the tour guides who trained her. She passed along one hilarious story of a man who just made up stories as he went along. But more conduits of misinformation simply convey stories that haven’t been thoroughly vetted…

Unfortunately, the city is still perpetuating these myths and now someone is paying for it. Last week, someone burglarized the Blanchard house. TMZ reported it was Monroe’s place and a local TV station repeated that error.”

Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962

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