‘Victim’ Revisited

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British author Matthew Smith’s Victim: The Secret Tapes of Marilyn Monroe (2003) was an update of his 1996 book, The Men Who Murdered Marilyn. After a further US release, Marilyn’s Last Words (2005), Victim remains in print and on Kindle – proof, if nothing else, that scandal will always find an audience. (Smith has also written books about the assassination of President Kennedy.)

Victim, like Smith’s other Monroe books, is based on the alleged tapes she made for Dr Ralph Greenson. However, the tapes have never been found, and Smith (along with other authors) relied on the memories of John Miner, an assistant to the prosecuting attorney during the original investigation into Marilyn’s death, who claimed that Greenson had played him the tapes. Miner created the ‘transcript’ decades later.

In 2005, Melinda Mason wrote ‘Songs Marilyn Never Sang‘, an article disputing the credibility of the Miner transcripts, for her MM and the Camera website.

Now a thoughtful review of Victim has been published on the Literary Lollipop website…

“Published in 2003, Victim is already more than ten years old, but the content could’ve been from the 1970s or 1980s…I’m skeptical of the legitimacy of Monroe’s words because of a point Smith makes himself throughout this book, on more than one occasion. He admits and argues how easy it is to splice tapes together, to form sentences and thoughts that weren’t originally intended. There were a few moments when Monroe’s statements felt orchestrated, conveniently sexualized or titillating. I could be completely wrong, but that is my interpretation – forever the pessimist.”

Russell Young: Wild at Heart

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Russell Young is another British artist inspired by MM. His ‘Marilyn Crying’, coated in diamond dust, has become quite popular in recent years. It has inevitably been compared to Warhol, though personally I like the tenderness of Young’s image.

“One thing that is clear from the Wild at Heart series is his indebtedness to Andy Warhol through his print process and subject matters. The likeness is almost uncomfortably apparent, lacking the ‘here and now’ and intimacy that Warhol shared with his subjects during his Factory days. Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych was completed during the weeks after Monroe’s death and addresses her celebrity status, portrayal by the media and early death. Young’s glitzy prints salute old school Hollywood glamour and appear to sugar-coat as opposed to challenge representations of iconic Hollywood figures.” – Nastassja Smart, The Upcoming

What Marilyn Crying arguably lacks in originality, however, it may gain in context. The image – based on a photo by George Silk – was previously used for Anthony Summers’ 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of MM. It was taken during a press conference in October 1954, when Marilyn announced her separation from Joe DiMaggio. Disturbingly, the image reveals a bruise on Marilyn’s forehead, perhaps the result of spousal abuse.

George Silk, 1954
George Silk, 1954

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‘Marilyn Crying’ is currently on display at Young’s latest exhibition, Wild at Heart (perhaps riffing on the title of David Lynch’s cult movie), at the cheekily-named Imitate Modern in London’s West End.

Russell Young with photographer David Bailey, and Marilyn
Russell Young with photographer David Bailey, and Marilyn

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One photo taken at the exhibition appears to show Young’s image juxtaposed with a press picture taken several months before, when Marilyn entertained US troops in Korea. It was one of the high-points of her career, but some felt it also marked the dawn of her marriage’s end.

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Galt Marilyn Raises Funds For Children

Artist Ed Chapman has created a 5ft square, Warholian image of Marilyn using Galt Toys products. Galt has paid £2,050 for the mosaic to the Toy Trust, and the money will help disadvantaged and disabled children in the UK and abroad.

Chapman previously created other ceramic mosaics of Marilyn, including one after Bert Stern’s famous 1962 photo sessions.

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‘Forever Marilyn’ Leaves Palm Springs

Photo by Mel Melcon
Photo by Mel Melcon

Seward Johnson’s giant Forever Marilyn sculpture has left Palm Springs for the East Coast. Carol Channing, star of the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, made an appearance at a farewell party on Friday, which was attended by 2,000 people – with city officials promising to get her back, reports the Desert Sun.

‘Forever Marilyn’ is heading for Trenton, New Jersey, for a Johnson retrospective at the annual Grounds For Sculpture exhibition, opening on May 4 through to September 21.

Photo by Michael Snyder
Photo by Michael Snyder

Lois Banner’s ‘Proto-Feminist’ Marilyn

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Dr Lois Banner, author of MM – Personal and Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, has written an article for Miss Millennia about re-interpreting Marilyn from a feminist perspective.

“It’s hard to apply the term ‘feminism’ to Marilyn, since the movement didn’t really exist during her lifetime.  In its modern incarnation, it can be dated to the publication of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique in 1963.  (Marilyn died in 1962). Yet I was surprised to find that Marilyn was always egalitarian…regarding Marilyn as a tough career woman, I call her a ‘proto-feminist.’  But the real tragedy of her life was that she had no ideology with which to understand her condition, no way of putting the oppression she experienced into a framework that would enable her to name it…Without a feminist point of view, she kept recycling old solutions that didn’t work–an overdependence on men, an addiction to drugs, and a continuation of presenting herself as a sex object to the point that she herself felt degraded by it.”

Behind the Scenes With Marilyn

Gabriella Apicella has written a great article about Marilyn, celebrating her lesser-known performances as part of a ‘Great Actresses’ series at Bitch Flicks.

“Unfortunately, Marilyn Monroe was seldom cast in a truly excellent role… Rather it is her presence that lifts otherwise mediocre fare into essential viewing.  Her leading men were frequently unable to match her charisma onscreen…Despite this, even from her earliest roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, she delivers nuanced and sensitive performances of rather bland parts, making a forgettable supporting role into a highlight of both iconic films.”

Revisiting Rockhaven

Southern California-based readers may be interested to know that one of the least-known, and most poignant Marilyn-related sites will be opened to the public on Saturday, April 26, at 10 am. Rockhaven Sanitarium in Glendale was in its time one of the region’s most progressive, humane clinics for women, and Marilyn’s mentally ill mother, Gladys, lived in its beautiful surroundings for fifteen years.

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“Founded in 1923, Rockhaven was one of many sanitariums in the Crescenta Valley. What made this business unique was Agnes Richards’ approach to treatment of mental issues by giving the patients dignified individualized care in a home-like setting. It was also run by women for women for 78 years. It began with 6 women and as the numbers grew she bought neighboring homes. Soon she built new buildings.”

Gladys Baker Eley (right) with her legal guardian, Inez Melson, at Rockhaven in 1963
Gladys Baker Eley (right) with her legal guardian, Inez Melson, at Rockhaven in 1963

This free tour has been organised by the Crescenta Valley Historical Society. Writing for Crescenta Valley Weekly in 2012, Robin Goldsworthy traced the history of Rockhaven, which closed its doors in 2001. Some of the buildings have since been sold off, but local residents have formed Friends of Rockhaven in the hope that this former sanctuary will be restored as a library or community centre.

“By far the most famous Rockhaven resident was Marilyn Monroe’s mother Gladys Baker Eley. Gladys’ relationship with her daughter was tumultuous, and undoubtedly had much to do with the instability of Monroe’s troubled life. Most likely insane, Baker put Monroe in various foster care situations, while she herself went in and out of young Marilyn’s life, spending much of her time in state mental hospitals. When the actress achieved fame, she finally faced the confusing relationship she had with her mother, and in 1952 she had her transferred from the cold Norwalk State Hospital to the more personal care of Rockhaven. Monroe’s death in 1962 rendered her mother even more unstable and several suicide attempts took place, along with several very well publicized escapes.

Gladys was a tiny woman and once managed to squeeze out of an 18-inch closet window in her room, climb the fence, and walk 15 miles to a church in Shadow Hills. Her room and that tiny closet window are still there. Monroe’s estate after her death was entirely eaten up by unpaid taxes and creditors, leaving nothing for the care of Gladys Baker. Rockhaven, to its credit, kept Baker on gratis until 1967, when her other daughter took her in.”

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If you would like to participate, please email in advance: friendsofrockhaven@gmail.com

Robert Wagner Remembers Marilyn

Marilyn Monroe During Interview
Marilyn with Robert Wagner, 1954

Actor Robert Wagner is now 84, and still busy – both onscreen, and in print. He began his career at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1950.

On June 14, 1951, Wagner made a screen test alongside one of the studio’s most promising starlets. “I was the guy they always used when the studio was making screen tests of new actresses,” he told author Warren G. Harris in 1988. “And believe me, no job is more dead-end than that. The only interesting thing that came out of it was when they were testing a new kid and asked me to do a couple of scenes with her. Her name was Marilyn Monroe.”

Screen test for 'Let's Make It Legal', 1951
Screen test for ‘Let’s Make It Legal’, 1951

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On the strength of this test – a love scene – Wagner was cast alongside Marilyn in a romantic comedy, Let’s Make It Legal, starring Claudette Colbert. The pair never acted together, but became friends and were often pictured together at Hollywood parties. Wagner, who had affairs with many beautiful actresses, was never romantically involved with MM.

“Nothing happened easily for Marilyn,” he said later. “It took a lot of time and effort to create the image that became so famous.”

In recent years, Wagner has published two books: Pieces of My Heart (2008), an autobiography; and the just-published You Must Remember This, a memoir of Hollywood’s golden age, in which he recalls Marilyn’s tragic death.

“It’s odd how your mind associates certain people with certain events. In August 1962 I was in Montecatini, Italy, the same time as Sheilah Graham [the Hollywood gossip columnist.] I was on the terrace of my hotel when she leaned out a window and yelled, ‘Marilyn Monroe died! Marilyn Monroe died!,’ to the world at large, in exactly the same way she would have announced that her building was on fire. That was how I found out that the girl I had worked with twelve years earlier, and who had since become a legend in a way nobody could have foretold, was gone.”

Marilyn with Sheilah Graham, 1953
Marilyn with Sheilah Graham, 1953

Wagner is no stranger to tragedy. His wife, Natalie Wood, drowned in 1981 during a yachting trip. Her death, like Marilyn’s, is the subject of endless speculation.

Natalie was the child star of Marilyn’s first film, Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay! She admired Marilyn, and spoke with her at a party weeks before her death.

With Natalie Wood
With Natalie Wood

Natalie married Robert in 1957 and they divorced five years later, but were remarried in 1972. There are shades here of Marilyn’s relationship with Joe DiMaggio, who had grown close to her again in the years before her death.

Dr Thomas Noguchi, so-called ‘Coroner to the Stars’, performed autopsies on both women. He was demoted in 1982, after speaking too freely in the media about the case, and in that year’s reopened investigation of Monroe’s death. His career has since recovered, however.

Wagner featured on Photoplay cover with MM, 1954
Wagner featured on Photoplay cover with MM, 1954

In Pieces of My Heart, Wagner criticised Noguchi:

“Noguchi was a camera-hog who felt he had to stoke the publicity fire in order to maintain the level of attention he’d gotten used to. Noguchi particularly enraged Frank Sinatra, who knew the truth and, in any case, would never have allowed anyone who harmed Natalie to survive.”

Natalie’s case would also be reopened in 2011, when the captain of the boat claimed that a fight with Wagner had led to her drowning. The official cause of death was later amended from accidental drowning to ‘drowning and other undetermined factors.’ Wagner was ruled out as a suspect.

In You Must Remember This, he speculates on the proliferation of conspiracy theories in the internet age:

“Intellectually, I understand the perception that the rich and privileged are invincible. That’s why some people need to believe, for example, that Marilyn Monroe was murdered by the Kennedys…The randomness of life and death can be terrifying, so a certain kind of person seizes on minor discrepancies of memory or the garbled recollections of marginal personalities to cast doubt on a reality they don’t want to acknowledge.”

Hollywood Legends in April

Julien’s Hollywood Legends 2014 auction, set for April 11, features many Marilyn-related items (she is pictured with Marlon Brando on the back cover.) Highlights include rare behind-the-scenes photos from Niagara; original photos by Manfred Linus Kreiner; the rhinestone clip-on earrings worn to the Rose Tattoo premiere; a black ruched Ceil Chapman cocktail dress, worn on several occasions in 1953; a Mexican painting and tapestry from Marilyn’s Brentwood home; personal correspondence to Inez Melson, and letters from Jean Negulesco and William Inge.

Thanks to Eric at MM Fan Club Belgium

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Marilyn on Fantasy Island

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Marilyn, along with a host of other dead celebrities, is featured in a bizarre new German commercial for Bavaria Radler beer. An elderly MM is seen living on a tropical island with Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur. The clip includes yet another pastiche of the ‘skirt-blowing’ scene from The Seven Year Itch. You can view it here.

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