‘Minding Marilyn’ by Dianne DeWilliams

Minding Marilyn is a short novel by Dianne DeWilliams, published via Amazon Kindle in November 2013. It is written from the perspective of Marveen, a widow who is moving from New York to a retirement home in California, to spend more time with her two grand-daughters. When she shows them a photograph of herself as a beautiful young woman in a nightclub, alongside Marilyn Monroe, they demand to know more.

Back in 1952, Marveen was hired as a maid to Monroe, then on the brink of stardom. While in reality there was no ‘Marveen’, Marilyn did employ a maid, Lena Pepitone, who later published a ghost-written memoir. Although Marilyn Monroe Confidential offered some insight into the star’s daily life, it was highly sensationalised. Her Los Angeles housekeeper, Eunice Murray, wrote a more creditable book, Marilyn’s Last Months – but she is more often remembered as the woman who discovered Marilyn’s dead body.

Hazel Washington, Marilyn’s studio maid, was also said to have written a manuscript about her memories of Marilyn, but it was never published; while her cook, Hattie Stevenson, was planning to move from New York to Monroe’s Los Angeles home before the actress died. Another maid, Florence Thomas, attended her funeral.

Like Marveen, these lesser-known figures in Marilyn’s life were African-American. As well as a re-imagining of Marilyn’s private world, Minding Marilyn explores what it was like to be a black woman in the USA during the 1950s and ‘60s, when endemic racism was being challenged by the growing Civil Rights movement.

Marveen’s story is told alternately through letters written to her mother during her years with Marilyn, and a contemporary narrative detailing her efforts to commit her memories to print. DeWilliams has clearly done her research; and while her tale is fictional, the factual background is mostly accurate.

DeWilliams also inputs minor details about Marilyn’s life – for example, her love of Judy Garland’s song, ‘Who Cares?’ These simple touches help to create a rounded and sympathetic picture of Monroe’s personality.

It is well-known that Marilyn was ahead of her time in her progressive attitude towards racial equality. In 1954, she helped the legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, to secure a residency at the Mocambo Club by promising to attend her show every night. She was also friendly with actress Dorothy Dandridge (dubbed ‘the black Monroe’), who features prominently in Minding Marilyn.

Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge

DeWilliams also includes another screen goddess, Ava Gardner, in the storyline. In reality, Marilyn and Ava didn’t know each other well. But they both came from modest backgrounds, and both were close to Frank Sinatra. Ava’s wild, earthy character makes an exciting contrast to the ambitious, but fragile Marilyn.

Gardner, the daughter of a North Carolina sharecropper, grew up among black people. Despite the colour bar that existed in Hollywood, she mixed freely with all races. Her maid, Mearene Jordan, was also her best friend. Living With Miss G, Jordan’s personal account of their many adventures spanning almost fifty years, was published in 2012, and provides a real-life parallel to Minding Marilyn.

While being a maid might be seen as a ‘subservient’ position, Marilyn was both thoughtful and generous towards those who worked for her, at home and on film sets. DeWilliams makes an interesting point that black audiences related more to Marilyn than other white stars, because she was ‘no stranger to pain’ – whether through suffering the impact of childhood trauma, or experiencing the pressures of fame. This observation about her cross-cultural appeal is echoed in W.J. Weatherby’s 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn.

Sadly, Monroe seldom experienced the loving support of a group of female friends depicted by DeWilliams in Minding Marilyn. Although she was not particularly religious, in one scene she is welcomed into a Pentecostal church. DeWilliams seems to be suggesting that these are alternate paths which might have led Marilyn towards a lasting happiness that eluded her in reality.

DeWilliams evokes the deep shock felt by Marilyn and those around her when, in 1961, she was committed to a psychiatric ward against her will. Famously, her devoted ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, came to her rescue. But DeWilliams implies that in times of crisis, the ‘little people’ who served Marilyn were just as valuable to her as the major players.

Minding Marilyn imagines a different response to Marilyn’s tragic death, in which the voice of Marveen is finally heard, setting the record straight. As a piece of writing, Minding Marilyn is not perfect – the paragraphs can be short and choppy, the sentences a little breathless – but the warm-heartedness of DeWilliams’ tale more than compensates for these minor shortcomings.

Although fictional, Minding Marilyn offers something that many of the biographies published over the years cannot – a sweet, charming tribute from a fan, and a testament to the sincere affection in which she is held by so many of us.

Reviewed by Tara Hanks, author of The Mmm Girl

Also available on Amazon.com

Book trailer for Minding Marilyn

Facebook page for Minding Marilyn

Read more about Marilyn’s employees

 

Colin Wilson 1931-2013

colin-wilson1

Colin Wilson, the British author whose first novel, The Outsider, was published to acclaim in 1956, has died aged 82, reports The Guardian. Initially feted as a major literary discovery, Wilson failed to repeat his early success, but published over a hundred books. He also met Marilyn Monroe in London during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, as retold on the excellent Nickel in the Machine blog.

“On the 12th October 1956 on his way home from another party (at Faber with TS Eliot in attendance no less), and apparently worse the wear from champagne, Wilson noticed huge crowds outside the Comedy Theatre situated just off the Haymarket. Intrigued he asked the taxi driver to drop him off and he managed to make his way through the thronging crowds to the stage door.

The huge crowds were there to see Marilyn Monroe who was currently in London to appear in a film version of Terrence Rattigan’s play The Sleeping Prince – the film that eventually became The Prince and the Showgirl directed and co-starring Lawrence Olivier.

Marilyn and her husband Arthur Miller had arrived in Britain three months previously in July 1956. The couple had just gone through a tumultuous few weeks. Not only had they just got married the month before but Miller had appeared, three years after his play The Crucible had first been staged, in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee accused of communist sympathies.

Miller had been subpoenaed after applying for a passport to accompany his new wife to London. He refused, in front of the committee, to inform on his friends and fellow writers, and was cited for contempt of Congress – the trial for which would take place the following year.

Monroe, against a lot of advice, had publicly supported Miller through these hearings but generally there was huge worldwide support for the acclaimed playwright. Wary of hurting American credibility around the world, the State Department ignored the committee’s advice and issued Miller with a passport enabling him to accompany his wife to London.

While Marilyn was filming with Lawrence Oliver at Pinewood, Miller decided to put on a rewritten version of his latest play called View From The Bridge to be directed by Peter Brook. The crowds that intrigued Colin Wilson enough to stop his car to investigate, were surrounding The Comedy Theatre in Panton Street hoping to catch a glance of Marilyn Monroe who had come for the premiere of her husband’s play.

Arthur Miller was actually no fan of the ‘trivial, voguish theatre’ of the West End, considering it, not entirely unfairly at the time, as ‘slanted to please the upper middle class’. When the auditions started for View From A Bridge in London he asked the director Peter Brook why all the actors had such cut-glass accents. ‘Doesn’t a grocer’s son ever want to become an actor?’ he asked. Brook replied, ‘These are all grocer’s sons.’

Ironically at the end of the auditions a Rugby-educated lawyer’s son called Anthony Quayle came closest to portraying a working-class American accent and he was chosen to play the main part of Eddie the New York docker.

Luckily Colin Wilson had recently become a slight acquaintance of Anthony Quayle and after pushing through the crowds surrounding the stage-door he used Quayle’s name to be allowed to the party back-stage. He soon saw Marilyn standing alone in front of a mirror where she was trying to pull up a, very beautiful, but tight strapless dress. Wilson noted that, despite her best efforts, the dress ‘was slipping down towards her nipples’. Not wasting the chance of a lifetime, he went to introduce himself – ‘I had been told she was bookish’, he once remembered .

According to Wilson there was a definite ‘connection’ with Marilyn and she actually grasped his hand as they made their way through the throng to their waiting cars.

A gossip columnist buttonholed Wilson before he left the party and asked what he was doing there. Wilson said that he had spent the evening hoping to talk to TS Eliot and ended up meeting Marilyn Monroe.

The next morning the columnist duly wrote about the young author meeting Marilyn at the premiere adding that Wilson, while there, had been asked to write a play for Olivier.”

The Millers arrive at the Comedy Theatre
The Millers arrive at the Comedy Theatre

Michelle Morgan interviewed Wilson for her 2012 biography, Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, detailing a second encounter between Wilson and MM:

“On 18 November, during a last public appearance in England, the Millers attended an intellectual discussion at the Royal Court Theatre. The event was supposed to be dedicated to the state of British drama, but was quickly transformed into a war of words between authors Colin Wilson and Wolf Mankowitz. The two members had opposing views on most subjects, leaving the other members of the discussion panel, Arthur Miller, Kenneth Tynan and Benn Levy, lost for words. Sitting on the fourth row and dressed demurely in a black suit, Mrs Miller looked tired but calm as the discussion took place on stage. Wolf Mankowitz remembered that there was a great deal of excitement when Marilyn entered the building, as once again there were rumours abounding that the star was pregnant. He recalled that there was a lot of fuss in order to find her a seat, and many people were ‘running around as if she were about to have a baby on the spot.’

Having been brought in to discuss great British drama, Mankowitz was disappointed to discover that Marilyn’s presence destroyed the point of the occasion, as the audience was far more interested in trying to see her, and Arthur Miller seemed so preoccupied that he could hardly concentrate on the discussion at all. Still, Mankowitz managed to say a few words to Marilyn at the end of the discussion, although he remembered she wasn’t too communicative – something he put down to the rumoured pregnancy.

Colin Wilson also remembered meeting Marilyn in the backstage of the theatre, after the discussion had ended. By this time the crowds had become huge outside, so Wilson found himself helping the Millers make their escape by the back door, and recalled Marilyn grabbing his hand during the ensuing escape.”

Marilyn at the Royal Court Theatre
Marilyn at the Royal Court Theatre

‘Blonde’ and the Lonesome Reader

Oates Blonde It

Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde is not one of my own favourite novels (nor one of my favourite books about Marilyn), although to be fair I haven’t revisited it since it was first published in 2000. After that first reading, I felt that Oates – a writer I had admired – distorted aspects of MM’s life, and portrayed her as a rather one-dimensional victim.

Since then, I’ve spoken to many fans who feel the same. Obviously, I’m not impartial here, having written my own fictional take on Marilyn. Six years after completing The Mmm Girl, I’d like to read Blonde again, mainly out of curiosity – and especially if it was reissued on Kindle, as it’s rather a weighty tome!

However, I was pleased to discover the positive experience that Blonde has been for some others, leading them to impart their knowledge and challenge misconceptions – as posted recently on the Lonesome Reader blog.

“I wanted to highlight this novel specifically because I had a strange conversation with a colleague once. Somehow we started talking about Marilyn Monroe and he instantly said ‘Oh, that slut.’ I flinched in shock that he’d be so disdainful and answered him angrily. He tried to justify himself by saying that she basically slept with everyone and that’s the only reason she had a career. I have no doubt his opinion is shared by many people. It’s this sort of casual dismissal and thinking about women in only simplistic misogynistic terms which is the reason why feminism and the promotion of women’s writing is especially important.”

Eleanor Parker 1922-2013

Eleanor-Parker-2

Actress Eleanor Parker – perhaps best-known for her role as the scheming baroness in the 1965 musical, The Sound of Music – has died aged 91.

Born in Ohio, Eleanor Jean Parker made her screen debut at 18, in They Died With Their Boots On (1941.) However, her scenes were cut. Signed to Warner Brothers, she played Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage (1946); and starred in the 1948 adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ mystery novel, The Woman in White.

In 1950, Parker was nominated for an Oscar for her role as a teenage convict in Caged. She was nominated again in 1951, for another Noir role, in Detective Story. Her third nomination was for Interrupted Melody (1955), a biopic in which she played Marjorie Lawrence, an Australian opera singer stricken with polio. She also starred alongside Frank Sinatra in The Man With the Golden Arm (1956), a harrowing look at heroin addiction; and in another Maugham story, The Seventh Sin (a 1957 remake of Garbo’s The Painted Veil.)

Parker had three children, and found lasting happiness with her fourth husband, Raymond N. Hirsch, whom she married in 1966. Her last screen role was in 1991. An unusually versatile actress, Parker was known as the ‘woman of a thousand faces’.

What movie fans may not know is that Eleanor Parker was also a friend of Marilyn Monroe. They met during the late 1940s, when they were both living at the Hollywood Studio Club, a hostel for aspiring actresses – as Marilyn later revealed in ‘I Want Women to Like Me!’, a signed-by (or approved) article, published in Photoplay magazine’s November 1952 issue.

Photoplay_1952_November_b crop

You can read the article in full at Everlasting Star

Martin Sharp 1942-2013

Martin Sharp, the Australian pop artist famed for his psychedelic portrait of Bob Dylan, first published on the cover of counter-cultural magazine Oz in 1967 and later an ubiquitous student poster, has died, reports the New York Times.

In 1973, Sharp painted Still Life: Marilyn, a surrealist work that channels both Andy Warhol and Vincent Van Gogh, as explained on the National Gallery of Australia website:

 “The painting that Sharp did with artist Tim Lewis, Still life: Marilyn 1973, pays homage to both Warhol and Marilyn Monroe. In the months that followed Monroe’s death in August 1962, Warhol made more than twenty silkscreen paintings of her, combining two of his consistent preoccupations: death and the cult of celebrity. Sharp initially made a collage of the still life by pasting Warhol’s image of Monroe from a Tate Gallery poster onto a print of the much-reproduced Sunflowers by Van Gogh.

‘This collage was only possible to me at the time because Marilyn’s green eyeshadow was the same green as the background of the sunflowers. There was also an echo of Marilyn’s life and Vincent’s. They were both great artists, they died at a similar age and one could describe Marilyn as a sunflower. I called the painting Still life, because though they had left this world they were still alive in their art and influence …2

Although the painting Still life: Marilyn was done later than the collage, the idea had come about while Sharp was living in London. Like many young Australian artists, he was drawn to the the swinging sixties in London where he lived from 1967 to 1969.”

Restoring Jack Cardiff’s Renoir Collection

With Christmas on the way, there are sure to be many demands on your purse – whether buying presents for friends, or donating to charity. However, if you’d like to give the gift of Marilyn this year, here’s a novel idea.

Mason Cardiff, son of the legendary cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, is embarking on an exciting new project, and is looking for sponsors via Kickstarter. You can donate as little as £1. (Benefits include a postcard for £7; a poster for £17; and more…)

“Not being commercially minded, he was very selective in whom he photographed. On the film set of Laurence Olivier’s Prince and the Showgirl, he became close friends with Marilyn Monroe and took many photographs of her at her home in Esher. She was later to call him ‘the best cameraman in the world.’ Apart from the black and white pictures, he did a series of Marilyn in 19th century French costume; these are in colour and he called them ‘The Renoir Collection’. This collection remains private and most of them have not yet been shown publicly. Over 50 years these negatives became faded and marked.

In 2003 my Father with the help of the Regan Gallery undertook a venture to restore some of these negatives. My Father was never afraid to embrace new ideas and methods and he was amazed at how new digital techniques could restore negatives shot 50 years previously and produce prints of the most exquisite quality. He was closely involved with the restoration and printing process of his portraits of these screen icons and was always amazed at the accuracy of the digital re-touching of his negatives. He was so pleased to see these reproductions of screen icons immortalised by this superb restoration process. Before he passed away in 2009 a total of 25 negatives were restored of Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Kendall and Anita Ekberg.

Our Kickstarter project is to restore the negatives of the Monroe ‘Renoir collection’ and to bring them back to their former glory. Once the negatives are restored, a print is reproduced using the Giclee method of printing, which allows the reproduction of the finest tones and has great archival stability on the finest paper. Once we have the full collection, it is our aim to show my Father’s work to a gallery in New York or Los Angeles with a view to a one off exhibition.”

UPDATE: As the target amount was reached on December 30, 2013, this project will now be going ahead. You can still donate here.

George Sanders’ Sussex Home For Sale

Rothbury2

The British-born actor, George Sanders – most famous for his role as Addison DeWitt in All About Eve – owned an Art Deco mansion, Rothbury, in Storrington, West Sussex. The property is now on the market for just under £1 million.

Sanders Sussex

An article recently published in the West Sussex County Times claims that Marilyn once spent a night at Rothbury:

“In 1959 he was at the centre of tabloid gossip when Marilyn Monroe spent a night at the Storrington mansion during her shoot on The Prince and the Showgirl (her time spent in England that year is depicted in 2011’s My Week With Marilyn).

Honoured with a blue plaque, the property is steeped in history across 4,000 square feet.”

This story was also reported in the Daily Mail last week:

“During the stay the pair left other diners aghast when they enjoyed a meal at nearby Manleys restaurant, before returning to the star’s house.”

Rothbury3

Sanders hosted many lavish parties at Rothbury, with guests including Sir Laurence Olivier – Marilyn’s co-star in The Prince and the Showgirl.

However, there are several problems with this story. Firstly, The Prince and the Showgirl was filmed in 1956, not 1959. On days off, Marilyn visited the East Sussex towns of Brighton and Lewes with her new husband, Arthur Miller (as noted by Michelle Morgan in Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed.)

However, there is no record of Marilyn visiting Rothbury, and if there was tabloid gossip about her and Sanders at the time, it’s news to me. I’d be interested to know if there is a traceable source for this rumour. Furthermore, Marilyn never returned to England after 1956.

Sanders with Marilyn in 'All About Eve', 1950
Sanders with Marilyn in ‘All About Eve’, 1950

Back in 1950, Marilyn had played Sanders’ companion, aspiring actress Claudia Caswell, in All About Eve. Sanders’ wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor, was allegedly so jealous that she refused to allow him to spend any time with Marilyn off-set – although whether her suspicions were justified remains unclear. (In her unfinished memoir, My Story, MM claimed that Sanders had asked her to marry him the first time they met, at a Hollywood party. Sanders and Gabor divorced in 1954.)

After Marilyn’s death in 1962, Sanders recalled fondly, “Marilyn was very inquiring and very unsure -humble, punctual and untemperamental. She wanted people to like her, [and] her conversation had unexpected depths. She showed an interest in intellectual subjects which was, to say the least, disconcerting. In her presence it was hard to concentrate.”

Perhaps this earlier encounter is where the Sussex rumour originated. Nonetheless, there is no solid evidence to suggest Marilyn visited Sanders in England. (Cynically, one might conclude that it’s a case of local tittle-tattle transformed into an estate agent’s perfect marketing ploy…)