Fire at Racquet Club, Palm Springs

Fire engulfed parts of the historic Palm Springs Racquet Club on Wednesday, reports the Desert Sun. Opened by Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy in 1934, the Racquet Club was known as a Hollywood hangout frequented by many stars including a young Marilyn Monroe, who met agent Johnny Hyde there at a New Year’s Eve party in 1949. But the former hotspot has been empty for some time, although current owner Judy Dlugacz revealed plans to create a new LGBT housing project back in 2013. At the time of the fire, there was a ‘For Sale’ sign at the site.

In the Bamboo Room with Racquet Club owner Charlie Farrell and actor William Powell, 1954

Marilyn at the Villa Nova: Then and Now

An article for WeHoVille looks back at the history of the former Villa Nova restaurant on Sunset Strip (once a hangout for Old Hollywood’s elite, now the Rainbow Bar and Grill.)

“Countercultural hippies. Rock ’n’ roll. Hollywood’s Golden Age. Over the years, the Sunset Strip has evolved. One era saw Marilyn Monroe falling for Joe DiMaggio, another Jim Morrison dangling over the boulevard out of a tenth-story window.

Ninety-year-old Charlotte Dale’s memory glimmers bright with the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood. During that bygone era, Dale ran Villa Nova alongside her late husband, Allen. The eatery’s celebrity connections go back to its beginnings. Allen Dale opened the original Villa Nova, located on Vine, with $100 in backing from silent film icon Charlie Chaplin. It later moved to the Sunset Strip, where for years the Dales catered to a diverse clientele that included movie stars, advertising and radio professionals and gangsters.

When Dale recently visited the former Villa Nova site at 9015 Sunset Blvd. at  Wetherly, now the Rainbow Bar & Grill, she was struck by how much of the venue seemed frozen in time. The skylight and stained glass were still there.  The staff still uses the same system for numbering the tables. Dale even spotted a cash register that’s apparently been there since the days when Dean Martin and Judy Garland were familiar faces.”

Marilyn: A New, Illustrated Biography

Hardly a year goes by without a new pictorial biography of Marilyn hitting bookstores. This latest, budget-priced tome has just been released on, and will probably soon be made available elsewhere. It’s 80pp in total, and its dimensions are 10.7 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches. ISBN is 1472351355.

Here’s a quick review, plus some photos from Fraser Penney:

“Got this new American book today by Parragon Books, with text by Gabrielle Mander. It’s a picture book with images from The Kobal Collection. Nothing new but lovely done mainly focusing on her films, marriages etc very nicely written.”

James Garner and ‘Something’s Got to Give’

Actor James Garner, who first found fame as a comedic cowboy in the 1950s TV series, Maverick, has died aged 86. His most popular role was that of private detective Jim Rockford in the long-running series, The Rockford Files. He also made over fifty films, including The Great Escape, Victor/Victoria, Murphy’s Romance, Sunset (as Wyatt Earp) and Maverick (a big-screen remake, starring Mel Gibson.) One of Garner’s final roles was in The Notebook (2004.) He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Lois Clarke, and two daughters.

Garner is best-known to MM fans as Doris Day’s leading man in Move Over Darling, the 1963 remake of Marilyn’s unfinished last film, Something’s Got To Give. What readers may not recall, however, is that Garner was originally chosen to star alongside Monroe, as Ted Schwarz explained in his 2010 biography, Marilyn Revealed.

“James Garner demanded $200,000 to do the picture, but Fox thought he was a $150,000-a-picture actor and would pay him no more. He quit. Then, in the convoluted thinking of Hollywood, the new producer, a man named Henry Weinstein, turned to Dean Martin that March, paying Martin double what Fox had wanted to pay Garner.”

Marilyn with her Something’s Got to Give co-star, Dean Martin
James Garner and Doris Day, Move Over Darling

Garner commented on both projects in his autobiography, The Garner Files (2012.)

“The best part of this remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favourite Wife was Doris Day. I’d been slated to make it as Something’s Got to Give with Marilyn Monroe, but I did The Great Escape instead, so Dean Martin took my part. Twentieth fired Marilyn for chronic tardiness and stopped production, retitled it Move Over Darling, and made it with me and Doris.

Doris didn’t play sexy, she didn’t act sexy, she was sexy. Which is better in the bedroom than a lot of things. And Doris was a joy to work with.”

After Marilyn was fired, executives at Fox spread the rumour that her work on the film was ‘unwatchable.’ However, footage from Something’s Got to Give, uncovered in 1990, shows Marilyn looking better than she had done in years. Her screen chemistry with Dean Martin was evident, and the opening scene, in which she greets her long-lost children after being rescued from a shipwreck, ranks among her finest work.

However, there is something undeniably stilted and weary about Something’s Got to Give – perhaps a combination of the hackneyed script, and George Cukor’s indifferent direction. Move Over Darling is a briskly efficient 1960s rom-com, though lacking some of the star-power Marilyn could have brought. Patrick Samuel compared the two versions in a 2011 review for Static Mass Emporium:

“Despite its shortcomings it has its charm and moments of fun but misses what Monroe and Martin brought to the unfinished Something’s Got To Give; sensuality and a high doses of sex appeal. Although, from watching what remains of Something’s Got To Give, it misses the charm and fun of Move Over Darling! Cukor’s version is sombre and swings more toward melodrama than screwball comedy. If only there was a way to move something over.”

Robert Stein on Feingersh, Marilyn, and Joe

Robert Stein, 1950

The respected journalist and editor, Robert Stein, has died aged 90, reports the New York Times. As editor-in-chief of Redbook during the 1950s, Stein oversaw several profiles of MM, including ‘The Marilyn Monroe You’ve Never Seen‘, a 1955 cover story in which, shortly after Marilyn’s self-imposed exile from Hollywood, New York photographer Ed Feingersh chronicled a week in her life.

In my 2010 profile of Feingersh for Immortal Marilyn, I explained how the project took shape:

“In his introduction to the 1990 book, Marilyn 55, Bob LaBrasca stated that it was Milton Greene who arranged for a cover spread in Redbook. But Robert Stein, magazine editor at the time, has claimed that it was another of Marilyn’s photographers, Sam Shaw, who arranged the initial contact, and one of Shaw’s portraits of Marilyn graces the resulting July 1955 cover story, ‘The Marilyn Monroe You’ve Never Seen’.

However, neither Shaw nor Greene worked on the story directly. Over a hectic week, photojournalist Ed Feingersh followed Marilyn, along with Stein, and Marilyn’s small coterie of business associates. Whether shopping, dining, or dressing up, Marilyn’s daily life was captured on film.

In a 2005 article for American Heritage, ‘Do You Want to See Her?’, Stein recalled that ‘the two Marilyns kept fading in and out’: in other words, the star charisma she could switch on at will, and the nervous, sensitive woman that lay just behind that mask.

According to Stein, Feingersh was also a rather unpredictable character.   ‘He lived in the now, letting moments take him wherever they would… He must have had an apartment or room somewhere, but in all our years as close friends, I never saw it… His energy was unending… Life with him was never at a standstill.’”

Stein’s own thoughts on Feingersh and Marilyn, published in 2005, can be read in full on the American Heritage magazine’s website.

But as a tribute on The Moderate Voice website notes, Stein’s writings on Marilyn didn’t end there. Stein also kept a blog, posting a moving portrait of Joe DiMaggio in 2008:

“I met DiMaggio soon after their divorce the next year, when Marilyn came to New York and Joe, still in love with her as he would always be, confided how happy he was that she was getting away from ‘that Hollywood crowd.’

Five years after Marilyn’s death, the story I wanted as a magazine editor was Joe’s. He had arranged her funeral, kept it private and was still sending flowers to her grave three times a week but had not said a word about her.

He invited me to his New York suite at cocktail time and poured a drink. There were half a dozen men there, and it became clear he wanted me to sit at the edge of his circle, listening to locker—room banter, while he eyed me once in a while, freshened my drink and made up his mind about talking to me.

He was a matador surrounded by his entourage. Two men in business suits came in for a Polaroid picture. With DiMaggio’s arms draped over them, years fell from their middle-aged faces. They were boys in the embrace of their boyhood hero…

The evening ground on, the friends chattered, Joe said little. Finally I asked, ‘Could we talk?’ ‘Tomorrow morning,’ he said. ‘Come up about ten.’

When I arrived, he was packing his bags. I talked as he kept putting shirts, socks and underwear into a suitcase. He never looked up.

I told him I didn’t want to intrude, but it was my job to ask if he would ever say anything about Marilyn. If he did, he could trust me to make sure it came out right.

He was still staring into the suitcase, but I could see his eyes clouding. His jaw muscles tightened. For a long minute, he was silent.

‘I could never talk about her,’ he finally said in a choked voice. ‘Never.’

He never did.”

Elaine Stritch 1925-2014

American actress Elaine Stritch, whose remarkable career spanned eight decades, has died aged 89, a sad event commemorated by her longtime friend, columnist Liz Smith, in today’s Boston Herald. Stritch made her Broadway debut in 1944, and went on to appear in plays by Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Stephen Sondheim and Edward Albee.

Stritch relocated to London in the 1970s, starring alongside Donald Sinden in the ITV sitcom, Two’s Company. After returning to the US, she made two films with Woody Allen, and a series of acclaimed one-woman shows on Broadway. She recently played Alec Baldwin’s mother in TV’s 30 Rock. In 2013, she returned to her home state of Michigan, where she died yesterday.

Elaine with Liz Smith in 1956

One of Elaine’s breakout roles was as Grace, a ‘sassy diner manageress’, in the original Broadway production of William Inge’s Bus Stop (1955.) She can be seen briefly with Kim Stanley here.

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that she also knew Marilyn at this time. In a 1995 interview with New York Magazine, Stritch shared her memories of Monroe:

Thanks to Christy Cauley

‘Don’t Go, Monroe’: Tale of a Chinese Statue

You may have thought Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ statue was the largest of its kind, but a Chinese real estate company went one better with a very similar, but even bigger likeness, unveiled at a shopping mall in Guigang in December 2013. Like its predecessor, the sculpture attracted a great deal of controversy. But unlike Seward Johnson’s more fortunate creation, the Chinese Marilyn was removed and scrapped within six months – and a photo of the forlorn MM, abandoned in a rubbish dump, was circulated across the globe. An article published today at ECNS explores the curious story behind this ill-fated work of art.

 “The original artwork by American artist Seward Johnson swept over the US with her charming smile and natural body language. But the imitation in China has received limited attention.

This was not what Wu Wei, the general manager of the Bali Real Estate Company, expected.

Wu had hoped that the Monroe statue in China would become a new landmark for Guigang.

The statue is a part of a shopping mall. When some investors were considering whether the copycat artwork would become embroiled in a copyright dispute, the shopping mall staff believed that lawsuit with the US would make them world famous.

Monroe was 30 in The Seven Year Itch [actually, she was 28] and Johnson reflected her true face on the ‘Forever Marilyn’ statue, while the Chinese one has a younger face, according to the designers at South China Normal University in Guangzhou.

The team of designers, led by professor Sheng Enyang from the university, spent over a year working on the statue and even visited the original one in Chicago to get inspirations for the artwork.

‘I feel so sad it was demolished,’ said Sheng.

From design to construction, the 4-ton statue took two years and cost more than 5 million yuan ($805,529). Monroe’s body parts were finished in Guangzhou, neighboring Guangdong Province, and transported to Guigang.

Wu was quite satisfied with the artwork. ‘It’s so vivid that we can see the blue blood vessels under white skin.’

Thousands of people gathered at the downtown square to see the unveiling ceremony. Wu tried to promote the unveiling ceremony to the top news in some websites but failed. The reason was that ‘the news did not pass the censors.’

…Wu did not expect that the most common discussion topic would focus on whether Monroe had ‘exposed too much of her body’ in that depiction.

In a local online forum, people admired Monroe’s beauty and Western style that they had not seen before, but some joked that many parents would lodge complaints as many children would ‘play under Monroe’s skirt.’

As a new landmark in a third-tier city with a population of more than 5 million, the statue did attract lots of people taking photos with the beauty.

‘Many young men came and took photos with their arms surrounding the statue’s legs,’ security guards outside the shopping mall recalled. ‘I had to chase them away.’

Four months after the erection of the statue, Monroe was circled with fences around 90 centimeters high. ‘We had to do that as many children would worm their way down to the skirts of Monroe,’ said Wu.

Finally, the company decided to remove the statue. On June 11, Wu called a local crane company.

‘I asked why they are removing it, they (the real estate company staff) said that it was because the statue had badly affected the beauty of the city,’ a crane driver recalled…

While the crane was about to start working beside the statue, An Xiao (pseudonym), a local citizen, dressed in a white skirt and took a picture posing like Monroe.

She put up a banner saying ‘don’t go, Monroe’ on the fence surrounding the statue…

An felt disappointed. In fact, she had never watched The Seven Year Itch and before knowing the demolition news, she had never taken a picture with it.

‘But I like her,’ she said. Monroe’s statue represents what she has been looking forward to: a different and international life.

For her, Guigang is a boring city. ‘There is no cultural life here,’ An said.”

Comic Strip Mourns Marilyn

As with other famous tragedies, many people remember where they were when Marilyn died. This excerpt from John Wilcock: The New York Years (an ongoing comic book biography of underground publisher John Wilcock, by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall), recreates the moment Wilcock heard the news in a Paris bookstore. You can read the extract in full at Boing