Los Angeles, 1956: Marilyn Returns

The Los Angeles Times has posted a vintage report from February 25, 1956 – the day after Marilyn flew back to her hometown after a year’s absence, ready to film Bus Stop. (The picture was taken at Los Angeles International Airport – or LAX – by Leigh Wiener, better-known for his photographs of MM’s funeral six years later.)

“Actress Marilyn Monroe flew into town last night and brought activities at International Airport to a standstill.

As she stepped from an American Airlines flagship, hundreds of airport workers streamed out on the flight ramp to catch a glimpse of the glamorous film star.

Scores of newspapers, magazine, television and newsreel cameramen crowded around the New York to Los Angeles plane which arrived one hour and 45 minutes late due to headwinds…”

‘Marilyn Was My Mother’s Babysitter’

Dale Corvino‘s delightful reminiscence of Marilyn’s little-known connection to his mother’s family, the Rizzos – neighbours of the DiMaggios in San Francisco – is published in full at Salon today.

 “‘Marilyn Monroe was my mother’s baby sitter,’ I used to tell the neighborhood kids, whenever our rambunctious play took us inside the house. The girls went open-mouthed with wonder and admiration. The boys were skeptical, even scornful: ‘Movie stars don’t baby-sit!’

But then I’d point to the photo-booth image hanging in the vestibule of my childhood home…In the photo, my mother holds a pursed smile while looking right into the camera. A mass of dark curls surrounds her face as she upstages Marilyn in a way no studio executive would allow. Cousin Laraine is caught unawares by the flash; she looks out of frame with a half-smile. Marilyn is grinning candidly — not the practiced smile she’ll use for thousands of subsequent photos…

The DiMaggios were also Sicilian; Guiseppe, the patriarch, had fished Mediterranean waters, and relocated to the Pacific coast in pursuit of a bigger catch. His haul out of San Francisco bay was bountiful, and he went on to raise nine children. To his initial disappointment, three of his sons turned their backs on the family trade to become baseball players. Joe was the real power slugger, having gone on to a record-breaking hitting streak with the Yankees. Around the time the DiMaggios befriended my grandparents, Joe began courting Marilyn Monroe.

Joe brought Marilyn around on visits to get to know his family. During one visit in late 1953, two pictures were taken: In one of them, Marilyn and my grandmother Helen are seated on the couch. Helen gives Marilyn an affectionate hug, and Marilyn is smiling warmly. In the second shot, Helen stands behind Marilyn with a protective hand poised lightly on her shoulder, while my Great Aunt Rose, Helen’s older sister, looms and fawns over Marilyn like a hungry vulture; Marilyn has notably shifted her body away. When Great Aunt Rose heard that Marilyn was spending the weekend, she bought a ticket from New York to San Francisco, and tagged along uninvited.  On the back of the photo, Helen wrote: ‘Marilyn had a rash on her face at the time and didn’t want to be photographed, but Rose insisted. Marilyn agreed as long as it was black & white.’

…My mother isn’t in either of those photos, but she was around that day with her cousin and playmate Laraine, and the presence of these two playful little girls warmed Marilyn’s heart; she longed for children of her own. She took to the girls instantly and showed them great affection.

One day, Marilyn offered to take them to Playland. Laraine’s mother, consumed with a newborn, thought it would be good to get the girls out of the house. The trio took off to the amusement park, with Marilyn driving the short distance in her Pontiac convertible…The girls both liked the pretty blond lady who was taking them to Playland, but the main attraction was the Ferris wheel. It would be their first visit to the park…

The trio first found a photo booth, and posed for the picture that hung in the vestibule. Grandma Helen wrote on the back: ‘This is a 25¢ picture taken at Playland. She wanted to go on the rides with your mother & cousin Laraine. A sailor recognized her & she took a picture with him and it got around & the police were called. It was frightening.’ A brisk wind blew Marilyn’s headscarf off her signature platinum bob, giving that sailor a jolt of recognition. My mother vividly recalls the only ride they got that day — rushed through the throng out of the park on the shoulders of San Francisco policemen.”

Surfer Girl: Marilyn in Malibu

Marilyn at a surfer party, 1947

Writing for the Malibu Times, Colin Newton explores the history of Cypress Sea Cove, a hangout for surfers since the 1940s:

“The story of Cypress Sea Cove begins in the 1940s with its original owner George “Cap” Watkins, a Bunyon-esque character who would eventually turn the place into his own private Shangri-La.

Between the palm trees, hammocks were strung up, and five-gallon plastic jugs were filled with rum drinks. Guests as varied as then-California Governor—and later Supreme Court Justice— Earl Warren and blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe showed up, as well as pioneer surfers and many of Watkins’ lifeguard friends.”

The article states that Marilyn was then the girlfriend of lifeguard Tommy Zahn. This would place her visits around 1946-7, during her first year as a Hollywood actress.

George ‘Cap’ Watkins presents Tommy Zahn with a paddle-boarding trophy

Zahn was signed to Fox at around the same time – mainly because studio chief Darryl F Zanuck‘s daughter, Darrylin, had taken a shine to him. It was while working as a contract player that Tommy met the 20 year-old Marilyn.

Anthony Summers interviewed Tommy Zahn for his 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.

“‘[MM] was in prime condition,’ says Tommy Zahn, ‘tremendously fit. I used to take her surfing up at Malibu…She was really good in the water, very robust, so healthy, a really fine attitude towards life.'”

This echoes other recollections of a young, sporty Marilyn. In later years, however, she was less confident in water.

Zahn recalled that Marilyn was the most hard-working of all the young actors. They often worked together on dance, which they both found challenging.

After talking to Zahn, Summers formed an interesting theory as to why Marilyn was dropped by the studio in 1947, which may also partly explain why – even after she became a star – Zanuck was never a strong supporter of MM.

“Tommy Zahn, Marilyn’s lifeguard boyfriend, thinks he knows what happened, not least because he was fired at the same time. Zahn believes that he was only hired in the first place because Zanuck wished to groom him for marriage to one of his daughters. Zahn’s dalliance with Marilyn was noted and disapproved from on high, and both were fired. Zahn shipped out to Honolulu. Marilyn was adrift, professionally and emotionally.”

By the time Tommy Zahn died in 1991, he was a sporting hero, with a distinguished career behind him. You can read a recollection of his life by Craig Lockwood at EatonSurf.com. A biography of Zahn – including a chapter entitled ‘Hollywood & Marilyn’ – is downloadable from the Legendary Surfers website.


Schiller Exhibit in Berlin

Lawrence Schiller‘s ‘A Splash of Marilyn’ exhibition – featuring photos from Marilyn’s last, unfinished movie, Something’s Got to Give – is coming to Berlin’s Galerie Mellili Mancinet on October 4th, through to November 9th.

Marilyn’s Blue Book Days

Marilyn in 1946

Last year, it was reported that files related to Emmeline Sniveley’s Blue Book agency – where Marilyn made her name as a model – had been recovered in Holland.

On her blog today, Michelle Morgan (author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed) announced that she is working on a book and documentary with Astrid Franse, owner of the archive.

With a working title of Marilyn’s Blue Book Days, this exciting project also has a Facebook page.

‘Marilyn Forever’: An Opera

Marilyn Forever, an opera, will be staged this weekend at the McPherson Playhouse in Victoria, British Columbia, reports the Times-Colonist. Starring the Faroese singer, Eivor Palsdottir, it features a libretto by poet Marilyn Bowering, based on her 1987 book, Anyone Can See I Love You, set to music by the British composer, Gavin Bryars. An earlier version of the show was produced in 2010.

“Pálsdóttir, chatting between rehearsals, said Marilyn Forever commences unconventionally with the movie star’s death. ‘She’s lying dead in her bed and she kind of wakes up. And her thoughts go back,’ the 30-year-old said.

She worked with Bryars five years ago, performing a piece called Tróndur i Gotu. In Marilyn Forever, aside from a couple of sequences, she makes no attempt to replicate Monroe’s breathy delivery. Pálsdóttir deliberately sings in her own voice, which at times sounds ethereal — somewhat reminiscent of Björk and Kate Bush.

‘My biggest challenge is probably [Monroe’s] body language. And the link between not trying to sound like her, but still being her. That’s quite a challenge, actually. It’s Marilyn with a different voice,’ she said.

Bryars…recalls obsessively watching her 1961 film The Misfits for an entire week.

Back then, British cinema-goers typically saw two films in a row — an ‘A’ and ‘B’ feature. Bryars would watch The Misfits, read the movie’s script while the second feature played, then watch The Misfits once more.

‘There was a sense it was the end of a whole group. And the film itself was about the end of a world, this world of rounding up horses and so forth, this whole neo-cowboy world,’ Bryars said.

Most of all, there was that intangible something about Marilyn Monroe. Bryars’ interest was rekindled when he read Bowering’s 1987 book of poems about Monroe, Anyone Can See I Love You. Bowering also created a stage and a radio version — the latter was broadcast by the CBC and the BBC.

She says Marilyn Forever is intended to reflect the experience of life flashing before one’s eyes, as is said to happen when death looms. There are ‘psychological moments, reflections, reminiscences and so on,’ she said, adding: ‘Basically, she’s discovering and saying who she is through this night.’

Bryars says there’s something ‘Shakespearean’ in the way Marilyn Forever presents Monroe at a moment of tragedy.”

Stern’s Marilyn Inspires Prabal Gurung

Designer Prabal Gurung, whose latest collection has been unveiled at New York Fashion Week, was inspired by Bert Stern’s photographs to create a ‘futuristic Marilyn’, according to AFP.

The resemblance is not that obvious, although I noticed vague comparisons in the black/white block prints, icy pastel shades, and the applique roses, similar to those which Stern later super-imposed onto some pictures. (And it goes without saying that the models don’t have Marilyn’s curves.)

However, it must be acknowledged that Gurung has created something new from what went before, rather than merely reproducing the past.

“Singapore-born Gurung — whose creations have been worn by Kate Middleton, Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey — went to extremes to ‘preserve an elegant woman who is more and more rare.’

Gurung’s dresses and skirts fell mid-calf, some elegantly off-shoulder, in pastel pink, lavender, canary yellow, green or bold prints. Lips were bright pink and tangerine while hair was slicked back.

Describing his collection as ‘femininity with a bite’ the designer — who launched his eponymous brand in 2009 — said he pushed into the future using unusual fabric choices.

Gurung told AFP his collection was ‘an ode to all the women I love and women in general.’

He said he was inspired by actress Marilyn Monroe from Bert Stern’s The Last Sitting photoshoot…and wanted to recreate ‘that melancholic feel.'”

Makeover for Cal-Neva Lodge

The Cal-Neva Lodge in 1997

Plans are afoot to renovate the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe – where Marilyn partied with Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies in the early 1960s – reports the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“‘There will be an elegant, clean, post-modern feel to it after we’re done,’ [developer Robert Radovan] said. ‘You don’t want to lose the history of the Frank Sinatra era and eras before it. But you have to … bring it back to where it’s a modernized version of what it was in the heyday.”

Owners hope to reopen the Cal Neva on Dec. 12, 2014, which would have been Sinatra’s 99th birthday. He died in 1999.”