Colin Clark on Marilyn

An extract from Colin Clark’s My Week With Marilyn – reissued to tie in with the new film adaptation – is published in today’s Mail on Sunday. (As I’ve mentioned here before, I don’t believe Clark was intimate with Marilyn, though he did indeed work on The Prince and the Showgirl.)

“I’ve met all sorts of famous people, but Marilyn is different. Her aura is incredibly strong and in the flesh is almost more than one can take. When I am with her my eyes don’t want to leave her. It is a feeling one could easily confuse with love. No wonder she has so many fans and spends most of her time shut up at home. She seems frightened. I know I must not add to those persecuting her, but it is my job to assist her and I can’t resist being in her orbit.”

Spotlight on Schenck’s Carolwood Home

Today’s Hollywood Reporter documents the history of 141 South Carolwood Drive, the Holmby Hills estate owned by Joe Schenck, co-founder of Twentieth Century-Fox, in the late 1940s. The mansion features in a new book by Michael Gross, Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles.

As a starlet, Marilyn Monroe visited Schenck’s home frequently, and according to columnist Sheilah Graham, she became known as one of his ‘gin rummy girls’. Schenck even allowed her the use of his guest cottage.

Gross asserts that Marilyn and Schenck had a mutually beneficial affair, as other biographers have done previously. However, Marilyn and Schenck both denied it, as did friends of MM. One thing is for certain – Schenck liked Marilyn and was an early champion in her career. She last visited him in hospital in 1960, a year before he died.

Schenck sold his Carolwood home to Tony Curtis in the late 1950s. Curtis, who starred alongside Marilyn in Some Like it Hot, has claimed an affair with her dating back to the 1940s. His stories have been widely disputed, and this later residence may explain some of the details he gave about the guest cottage.

Subsequent occupants of the Carolwood estate have included Sonny and Cher. Though Marilyn frequented many such grand properties in her lifetime, her own addresses were comparatively modest.

Marilyn and the ‘Stranger on the Shore’

It is sometimes said that Marilyn had a dual identity – that of Monroe, the glamorous movie star, but also the insecure Norma Jeane. The same could be said of Peter Drouwyn, the Australian surfer who now lives as a woman, Westerly Windina, on the Gold Coast. In a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, she described how Marilyn Monroe inspired her to make a life-changing decision.

‘ ”Peter’s gone now,” she says, matter-of-factly. ”He was always a compromise on the real thing: the girl [inside him]. He was a stranger on the shore and he always knew there was something wrong. But although he’s gone, I still have his memories … they’re the only memories I have.”

”With Peter, there was always a shyness and confusion – almost a feeling of insanity – when he had to do things in front of a camera. He started having terrible panic attacks at the age of 12,” she turns and indicates an image of Marilyn Monroe on an etched wall mirror, ”like that girl there. She had panic attacks. Peter bought that picture in 1979 and carried it with him ever since. Why would he do that? I think it was because he recognised someone who was a part of him, or part of me, for a long, long time.” ‘

Marilyn and the Mountains

An unusual essay/short story by Diana Davidson is published in this month’s Winnipeg Review:

‘The horse is a real beauty. He has smooth cocoa hair and a cream blaze down his face. He is calm and proud and waits while people around him arrange tripods and shout instructions.

She looks at the teenager handling the horse. “Can you take his bridle off for the picture?”

The director snaps, “We can’t even trust you to remember your lines or be on time. We’re not going to let you pose free with a horse. God knows what will happen to it!”

Embarrassed, she smiles at the ground and grabs the reins to steady herself. She reminds herself she is good at this part. She knows the camera can make things flat or it can make things real. She has taught herself how to make the camera capture “Marilyn.”  She shifts her hips. She leans her exposed shoulder into the horse’s body and places her cheek against his soft neck. She takes in his warm earthy smell and gazes out at the distance.

“Okay Miss Monroe, we’re ready. One. Two. Three.”


Why Marilyn’s Back in Fashion

Sketch by Miss Led

Writing in the Financial Times, Carola Long has investigated why Marilyn’s unique style is so popular right now…

‘ “People aren’t trying to be shocking, now they are trying to be elegant,” explains Elizabeth Saltzman of  Vanity Fair. “I dress a lot of women and more and more they don’t want to wear … nothing.”

There’s an irony here: while Monroe’s capri trousers, polo necks or pencil skirts might be demure by today’s standards, in the 1950s many of her red carpet and film costumes were deemed highly risqué.

“Her longevity depends on the duality of her image: child-woman and sex goddess, dumb blonde and aspiring intellectual, adored star and exploited victim,” says the feminist critic Elaine Showalter. “Monroe’s look itself emphasised strong contrast, with pale skin, white-blond hair and bright red lips. That combination spells glamour.” Even mixed-up, pastiched and homaged by everyone from Madonna to Lady Gaga, it still does.’

St Vincent: Marilyn’s Words Into Music

New York-based singer-songwriter St. Vincent has spoken to The Guardian about Marilyn, whose writing inspired ‘Surgeon’, a track on the new album, Strange Mercy:

‘Strange Mercy, she says, is very much about anaesthetising pain, and searching for ways to transform, “to be a whole person”, a sentiment expressed in a line Clark lifted from Monroe’s diaries for the song Surgeon: “Best finest surgeon, come cut me open.” “Marilyn was this relic of the 60s, and not particularly compelling when I was younger, but when I started reading about her, I really sympathised,” she says. “For all the Hollywood glitz, it was a pretty dark life. That line was just the strangest, most poignant line. I wonder how she’d feel about it being put into a pop song.”

The Monroe story, of course, ended badly: she was found dead in her bedroom by her psychoanalyst, her blood filled with nembutal and chloral hydrate. It was ruled to be suicide, though conspiracy theories abound. For Clark, though, there is something somehow redeeming in having been able to look back at Monroe’s troubles and find a spark that could give life to new art. “Creating something out of something unfortunate feels productive,” she says. She gives a small, satisfied nod.’

Costumer Angela Alexander Dies

Costumer Angela Alexander, reported to have worked on several Monroe movies during her tenure at Twentieth Century-Fox’s wardrobe department, has died aged 94.

I must admit, I haven’t heard of Ms Alexander before, so can’t comment on her relationship with Marilyn. Her IMDB listing doesn’t mention any MM movies, but it’s quite likely that her early work was uncredited.

Here is an extract from an obituary published today by the Hollywood Reporter:

“Alexander, as a member of the costume department at Fox, met Monroe on the set of the actress’ first film, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947), and they became close friends, according to Alexander’s nephew, editor and director Nicholas Eliopoulos.

Often summoned by Fox to help ease tension during production, Alexander worked with Monroe on We’re Not Married! [pictured above]Don’t Bother to Knock and Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business, all from 1952; Niagara (1953); There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954); and Something’s Got to Give, which was never completed as Monroe died during filming in August 1962. Eliopoulos said Alexander never believed that Monroe committed suicide.

Eliopoulos recalls his aunt telling him a story about the time Monroe was upset about being set up on a blind date. Alexander asked if she knew anything about the guy, and Monroe replied, “Oh, he’s just some ballplayer.” When Alexander found out it was Joe DiMaggio, she urged Monroe to go. “The rest is history,” Eliopoulos said.”

The Unheralded Marilyn Monroe

Over at The Hairpin, Anne Helen Petersen writes an insightful analysis of Marilyn, considering both her film roles and the way her persona was depicted in the fan magazines of the day:

“The gossip industry’s other tactic was to explain Monroe in terms of battling images. The Saturday Evening Post divided Monroe into three parts: ‘the sexpot Monroe’ of the early 1950s; ‘the frightened Marilyn Monroe,’ from the tales of her childhood; and ‘the New Marilyn Monroe,’ a ‘composed and studied performer.’ Photoplay distinguished between Monroe ‘The Legend’ and Monroe ‘The Woman.’ ‘The Legend’ was draped in furs and jewels, responsible for ‘Monroe-isms,’ and ‘robbed The Woman of friends, love, and peace of mind,’ while The Woman was ‘shy, hesitant, removed, and terribly lonely.’ Monroe’s marriage to Arthur Miller offered ‘The Woman’ a third chance at happiness, but only if she could put the ‘Frankenstein-like Legend’ to rest. And ‘The Woman also becomes a mother.’

The bifurcation of Monroe’s image served a distinct ideological purpose: sexuality and intelligence, sexuality and happiness — those can’t co-exist! Only dumb girls are sexual; sexual girls all end up miserable. In order to make Monroe (and liking Monroe) less transgressive, the magazines had to siphon off and condemn the sexual components of her image, at least within their pages.

We all know how Marilyn Monroe’s story ends. She collapsed under the weight of her image — her thing-ness, a feeling she despised. This ending is tragic, but it’s important to recall that Monroe challenged the status quo for appropriate female behavior, and made sex visible after a long history of sublimation on the screen. She also confronted, even flaunted, the rules that had theretofore governed acceptable behavior for a star contracted by a studio. At the same time, she proved an immensely lucrative asset to a struggling studio, and leveraged the resultant power against the studio to her artistic and financial advantage. In other words, she was one savvy lady, and much, much more than the sum of her beautiful parts.”

Marilyn 3rd on Forbes List

Marilyn comes 3rd on Forbes’ list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities for 2011, just behind Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. She had dropped off the list during 2009 and 2010, but in the last year her estate has earned $27 million.

Writing for Forbes, Dorothy Pomerantz attributes Marilyn’s ‘comeback’ to ABG, the marketing company that acquired licensing rights this year. I would add that the upcoming 5oth anniversary, and My Week With Marilyn have also played their part.