ABG Reveals Plans for Digital Marilyn

Marilyn sings – for real – to troops in Korea, 1954

“That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing.” – Marilyn Monroe, 1962

After recent news of a legal battle between ABG (Authentic Brands Group, the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate) and a company known as Virtual Marilyn LLC, the Wall Street Journal reveals that ABG are planning to launch their own 3-D, digitised Marilyn. Crass hypocrisy or an exciting new venture? You decide…

“The iconic actress is getting digitally revived by Pulse Evolution, the company that brought to life Michael Jackson this past year at the Billboard Music Awards. They’ve signed a long-term deal with the rights holder to Monroe’s estate Authentic Brand Group(ABG) to develop a commercially viable digital replica of her for commercials, TV shows, films and even a live show.

The partnership was signed at the beginning of October and there’s already a four-year commercial deal in place that ABG CEO Jamie Salter says is with a Fortune 500 cosmetic company worth over $100 million dollars. The two companies plan to split profits 50/50 for revenue she generates through Pulse’s creation.

‘This is a digital asset that’s digitally distributal,’ says Pulse CEO Frank Patterson. ‘Popularly [they’re] being referred to as holograms because people don’t know how to talk about it. We’re talking about the digital likeness of humans. Digital humans are new to us as a society. There’s a lot of spaces where digital humans will become very useful.’

Patterson says these aren’t true holograms and that we’re years off from developing that technology. Instead, they’re a ‘3-D digital object.’

For Pulse and ABG, they’re proceeding with caution, while at the same time trying to monetize her with new technology. ‘There’s only one Marilyn Monroe in the world, and we’re going to be very careful with her,’ Salter says.

Still, while there may be just one Monroe, the possibilities of putting her into a live setting are much different than your typical real-life performer. ‘Unlike a typical show, Marilyn Monroe can be in more than one location at a time,’ Patterson says. ‘Why couldn’t we open a show in Vegas and Seoul at the same time?’

Pulse plans to hire a creative team of writers, directors, and costume designers to flesh out the live show Monroe would undertake. They’re already well underway in developing a show for Elvis Presley, who they secured a deal with in August.

‘We’re taking these assets and applying them to traditional business structures,’ Patterson says. ‘First having them appear in major venue installations – think of a casino appearance with a major, 52-week show commitment. Then rolling them out into touring presentations and special appearances, generating sponsorship and branded-content opportunities.’ He says that it would take about 18 months to roll out a show of this nature, including time to build Monroe’s digital persona. When asked about whether or not venues would be interested in something like that, the response was ‘overwhelmingly positive.’

For ABG, the focus seems to be more about continuing using Monroe’s image for commercial purposes, as she did in a 2011 commercial spot where her likeness was used alongside Charlize Theron for a J’Adore Dior ad. ‘We’re sticking with the best companies in that [fashion] space,’ Salter says. ‘We’ll be very careful when Marilyn Monroe takes a job from a model standpoint. We’re treating her no different than if Brad Pitt or Lady Gaga was our client.'”

‘Bus Stop’ at BFI London

Bus Stop will be screened at London’s BFI on November 14-16, as part of ‘The Birth of the Method’, a season of movies celebrating great performances by Hollywood’s original Method actors.

“As with several Hollywood stars in the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe found in the Method a refuge from the typecasting she had come to resent; she became a regular at the Actors Studio, and had private lessons with Lee Strasberg. Her portrayal of a saloon singer who yearns to be respected for more than her looks, and who faces the overbearing affections of a naïve cowboy (a misjudged yet Oscar-nominated performance by Don Murray), is a model of the Method style – an exposing performance drawn from within.”

Marilyn: A Woman For All Times

Marilyn appears in The Times magazine today, so if you’re in the UK you might still find a copy (the online version is for subscribers only.) As part of their regular feature, ‘Contacts: The Story Behind the Picture’ – in which Marilyn has already appeared several times – Monique Rivalland looks at photographer Sidney Martin’s shots of Marilyn and Arthur Miller arriving at Parkside House, Surrey, in July 1956. They would stay there for four months, while Marilyn filmed The Prince and the Showgirl.

Marilyn also appears – among distinguished company, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Dame Sybil Thorndike, and Marlene Dietrich – in a new book edited by Sue Corbett, The Times: Great Women’s Lives – A Celebration in Obituaries. On August 6, 1962, The Times noted that her career ‘was not so much a Hollywood legend as the Hollywood legend,’ adding that she had a ‘gift for comedy that some thought outshone Olivier’s.’

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Elliott Erwitt: Regarding Women

Rarely does a year goes by without a new book from Elliott Erwitt, often with Marilyn on the cover. Regarding Women includes rare photographs taken during filming of The Seven Year Itch.

“Photographic master Elliott Erwitt has created many noteworthy portraits of womankind over the years. Regarding Women is Elliott Erwitt’s evocative personal tribute to female strength, intelligence, and beauty. Conveying respect, admiration, and sometimes awe, these photographs portray all the complex elements that make up the feminine nature, whether formidable and tenacious, or occasionally capricious and coy. Through capturing their many varied facets, Erwitt shares his insights into how all kinds of women make their way in—not to mention their mark on—the world. The archival material spans several generations, with many images not previously published or rarely seen before. In these pages, readers will find romance and glamour, touches of sensuality as well as much affection, and those disarming flashes of candid everyday humor that are so quintessentially Erwitt.”

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Marilyn, Sam Shaw in ‘TV Guide’ Special

2014 has been a bumper year for special edition magazines. Both Newsweek and Life have released one-off tributes to Marilyn. Now TV Guide, in partnership with the estate of photographer Sam Shaw, have published a 98-pp magazine. Part of their ‘American Icons’ series (previous subjects include John Wayne and Elvis Presley), it is on sale now in the US only for $9.99. (Whether there are plans to release it overseas is unclear: it is being sold on Ebay, though shipping to Europe is quite expensive nowadays.)

The promise of ‘never-before-seen photos’ of Marilyn is, perhaps predictably, not really true. However, Shaw’s photos are some of the loveliest ever taken, and with so many full-page reproductions it’s hard to complain. The text is composed of small captions, and while definitely secondary to the visuals, includes many snippets of little-known information, including people Marilyn knew during her New York years, and her favourite hangouts in the city.

Marilyn in her favourite white terrycloth robe
With Tom Ewell on the set of The Seven Year Itch

There are two previously unpublished pictures, both taken around the time of The Seven Year Itch. A caption reveals that the latter will feature in a Sam Shaw retrospective, touring Europe next year. Shaw’s granddaughter, Melissa Stevens, talks about the archive’s ongoing work, while his daughters Edie and Meta both remember Marilyn fondly.

What sets this apart from other magazine tributes is the warmth of Marilyn’s friendship with Shaw, evident in a letter he sent her from France in 1961. No other photographer captured her in such a happy, relaxed mood. Secondly, the magazine focuses on the positive and does not indulge in idle gossip.

The Shaw archive is now on Facebook. Hopefully this will be the first of many exciting projects, so get it while you can.

UPDATE: The Milton H. Greene Archive has confirmed that this photo shows not Sam Shaw behind the camera, but Marty Bauman.

Arnold Schulman Remembers Marilyn

Arnold Schulman became a playwright and screenwriter after taking classes at the Actors Studio. He became the second writer to work on the beleaguered Something’s Got to Give. He shared his memories of Marilyn’s last, unfinished movie with author Patrick McGilligan for the 1997 book, Backstory 3: Interviews With Screenwriters of the 60s. (The book also includes an interview with George Axelrod, who adapted The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop for MM.)

Marilyn photographed with another writer, George Axelrod, on the Backstory 3 cover

“I know from reading David Brown’s autobiography, ‘Let Me Entertain You’, that you had at least one not-marvelous experience in Hollywood in the sixties, working with Cukor again, this time on the last, never-completed Marilyn Monroe picture: ‘Something’s Got to Give’.

I haven’t read David’s book, but I’ve been told he said I wore a kimono and sat on the floor when I wrote. Clearly, I was crazy, so he fired me. I still wear a kimono and sit on the floor when I write, and lots of people think I’m crazy— maybe I am—but David and I recall the situation differently. Actually, I quit. Cukor wanted me because we had such a good experience on the Magnani picture, but when I found out what they were doing to Marilyn, I quit. They were setting her up. A guy from the advertising business named Peter Levathes had come in as head of the studio, having taken over from [Spyros] Skouras, who was kicked out, as I recall, because Cleopatra [1963] went so much over budget. Levathes had to prove himself a hero. He had to prove he wouldn’t take any shit from any star. He wanted to humiliate Marilyn into quitting and then sue her, I was told.

You were Marilyn’s friend?

From way back. I met her when she first left Hollywood and came to join the Actors Studio. I got a call one night from Lee Strasberg, and he said, ‘I’ve got two tickets to a poetry reading at the Y. I can’t go. Will you take the person I’m supposed to go with?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I had no idea it was Marilyn until she opened the door. This was at the peak of her fame. I didn’t have a car or anything, so we had to catch a cab. We got mobbed. We finally got to the Y. I’m thinking, ‘Why does she want to go to the Y? Why didn’t Lee tell me who I was going with?’ And, of course, the program couldn’t go on, because everybody left their seats to catch a glimpse of her. We escaped through a side door and ran up the street with a mob chasing us, and finally wound up on 125th Street in a dinky Chinese restaurant I knew about. That’s how I met her, and we became good friends.

What was her condition at the time when you were working on the script? Was she deteriorating, as everybody has written?

I didn’t see any of that. When I was with her, she was bright, warm and loving, and in good shape.

She wasn’t demanding?

Not at all.

She was on time for everything?

She didn’t have to be on time. This wasn’t even preproduction. I hadn’t written a word. But her agent would call and request things—I remember one thing in particular—and Fox would deliberately say no, doing everything to make her quit. She wanted her regular hairdresser, I remember. No—she couldn’t have her regular hairdresser. Whatever she wanted, the rule was, she couldn’t have it. Gradually, it became clearer and clearer what was going on—and then I overheard conversations about it between the executives. As soon as I realized it, I went ape. I think I grabbed David Brown, who is about two feet taller than I am, and shook him against the wall; if not, I wanted to, which is probably closer to the truth. I called Marilyn and told her. She understood what was happening, but there was nothing she could do about it.

You think they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams—driving her to her death?

It’s not that cut and dried. But they certainly didn’t contribute to her will to live.

Cukor was party to this?

He knew about it.

That’s shocking.

The whole thing was shocking to me. She asked me to come back and write the picture and be on her side. I told her I was on her side, and that is why I got out of it. I told her she had to get out of it. ‘If I go back,’ I told her, ‘I’m powerless.’ I have terrible guilt about that experience, still. Terrible guilt. The lingering feeling, however irrational, that if I had gone back, I might have made a difference, and she might still be alive today.”

David Brown was the original producer on Something’s Got to Give. He later said of Schulman, ‘He was a great writer, but I was somewhat alarmed when I passed his office and saw that he had removed his desk, and was writing in a yoga position. Bear in mind that the myth of Hollywood is much less than the reality.’

Marilyn in Something’s Got to Give

Author Keith Badman adds further detail in The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe (2010), claiming that Marilyn was dissatisfied with Schulman’s script. However, given that Nunnally Johnson’s original adaptation – which she loved – had been rejected, this may be a reflection of her growing concerns about the production rather than a personal attack on Schulman.

“He quit the film in protest when he discovered the menacing treatment Marilyn had been receiving from certain members of the Hollywood hierarchy. He had encountered the actress for the first time in 1955 during her first spell in New York and regarded her as a true and trusted friend. However, friendship meant little in the Hollywood movie industry and Marilyn soon made it clear she was unhappy with several parts of Schulman’s work. Her loathing of it was manifested in several handwritten notes, scrawled across the screenplay’s front page and across several pages inside. ‘This is funny?’ she asked. ‘Not funny,’ she maintained. ‘Not a story for me,’ she insisted.”

In late 1961, Brown was fired and replaced by Henry Weinstein, a rather inexperienced young producer who  was a good friend of Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson. Schulman was later replaced by Walter Bernstein, who told biographer Donald Spoto, ‘Everbody was aware that Greenson had put Marilyn in a cocoon-like situation. I always felt that she had become an investment to people like him…’

Thanks to Sherry at Immortal Marilyn

Beauty, Sorrow, Pain: Diane Keaton on Marilyn

Diane Keaton never met Marilyn, and at first glance, the two actresses appear to have little in common. However, both women are known for a certain girlish quality, and like MM before her, Diane has a flair for comedy.

Born in 1946, Diane was sixteen years old when Marilyn died. In her recent memoir, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, Keaton reflects on a woman who remains a byword for glamour and femininity.

“If we’re lucky we have a long time to consider what beauty means. One thing I know, there is no beauty without pain. Beauty flourishes on sorrow. It’s enriched by the knowledge that life is fleeting, sometimes cruel, and often ends without resolution. That’s what makes beauty deep. Marilyn Monroe’s insecurity explains her continuing appeal. It wasn’t just her pretty face. It was the depth of her sad experience. Without living through the journey of orphan to goddess with a breathless voice, would she have become a legend? In the complexity of her suffering lies the universality of her appeal.”

Marilyn by Ben Ross, 1953

In another chapter, Keaton remembers hearing of Monroe’s tragic death:

“I was a junior in high school when Marilyn Monroe committed suicide. Somewhere in the darkest reaches of my mind, I understood that her breathless insecurity held not only the weight of her appeal but may have caused her death. My girlfriend Tammy said it was because she was getting old and her personal life wasn’t so hot. Plus, she had no children. I wasn’t so sure.”

And in the book’s final paragraph, Keaton makes it clear that Marilyn’s influence remains strong.

“Mother and father gave me their beauty, part silhouette, part shadow box. Part cleavage. Part Cheryl Crane. Part anger and remorse. Part failure. Part admiration of Diana Vreeland’s will to redefine beauty. Part Al. Part sex, drugs and Marilyn Monroe. I carry their beauty inside the very soul of my being. Dark, with shades of grey. Light, with storm clouds in the distance. Because of dad and Mom, I’m not afraid to dream of dark victories and black beauty. I’m not afraid to be in love with the night.”

Richard Brautigan’s ‘Calendar Girl’

Richard Brautigan is the very essence of a cult writer. Born in Tacoma, Washington in 1935, he had a difficult childhood and was committed to Oregon State Hospital aged twenty. He was treated with electroconvulsive therapy twelve times. Upon his release in 1956, Brautigan moved to San Francisco and began writing. His novels included Trout Fishing in America (1967), which proved popular with America’s emerging hippie movement. He died in 1984, after shooting himself in the head.

Several of Brautigan’s stories and poems include references to Marilyn, most notably ‘The Post Offices of Eastern Oregon’, featured in the collection Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970. The story is also posted on the F***YeahRichardBrautigan blog.

Marilyn’s famous 1949 pose for Tom Kelley. (In some versions, lingerie was added)

The story begins when the narrator visits a post office during a road trip with his Uncle Jarv:

“There was a large nude photograph of Marilyn Monroe on the wall. The first one I had ever seen in a post office. She was lying on a big piece of red. It seemed like a strange thing to have on the wall of a post office, but of course I was a stranger in the land.

The postmistress was a middle-aged woman, and she had copied on her face one of those mouths they used to wear during the 1920s. Uncle Jarv bought a postcard and filled it up on the counter as if it were a glass of water.

It took a couple of moments. Halfway through the postcard Uncle Jarv stopped and glanced up at Marilyn Monroe. There was nothing lustful about his looking up there. She just as well could have been a photograph of mountains and trees.

I don’t remember whom he was writing to. Perhaps it was to a friend or a relative. I stood there staring at the nude pho­tograph of Marilyn Monroe for all I was worth. Then Uncle Jarv mailed the postcard. ‘Come on,’ he said.”

Marilyn’s lifeless body is removed from her home on a gurney, August 5, 1962.

The story ends with a reference to a very different image of Marilyn:

“Strange is the thing that makes me recall all this again: the bears. It’s a photograph in the newspaper of Marilyn Monroe, dead from a sleeping pill suicide, young and beautiful, as they say, with everything to live for.

The newspapers are filled with it: articles and photographs and the like—her body being taken away on a cart, the body wrapped in a dull blanket. I wonder what post office wall in Eastern Oregon will wear this photograph of Marilyn Monroe.”

Monroe Estate Opposes ‘Virtual Marilyn’

Wardrobe test for Love Nest (1951)

Marilyn’s estate is at the centre of yet another legal battle, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Virtual Marilyn LLC says it holds copyright registrations encompassing ‘audiovisual work and character artwork depicting a computer-generated virtual actress adopting the persona of Marilyn Monroe.’

The Marilyn Monroe estate has been threatening this virtual character for some time. More than two years ago, we wrote about a volley of legal letters upon talk that ‘Virtual Marilyn’ would be taken on the road to sing and interact with live music stars.

Since then, the Marilyn Monroe estate suffered a great legal loss. In August 2012, in the midst of a battle over licensed photographs, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the estate couldn’t claim in court anymore that the legendary actress was living in California at the time of her death. She was domiciled in New York instead. While such a detail as her place of residence at the time of a drug overdose might seem trivial, New York’s publicity rights laws are far less generous than California’s. Most importantly, New York doesn’t allow post-mortem publicity rights.

So forget about publicity rights, but what about other potential claims? The Monroe estate reportedly makes up to $30 million a year in licensing income, so the question is definitely important.

According to the new lawsuit, Monroe’s estate has conveyed word that ‘use of Marilyn Monroe’s identity and persona without the Monroe Estate’s prior authorization constitutes unfair competition and false designation of origin’ — claims grounded in the Lanham Act — and that its adversary couldn’t use or license ‘marks, names, logos, designs, avatars, or the like.’

So the company now owning ‘Virtual Marilyn’ is going to court for declaratory relief, citing both the previous 9th Circuit opinion, plus more precedents, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s very important 2003 Dastar ruling, which stands for the proposition that trademarks can’t be used as perpetual swords to counter copyrighted work falling into the public domain.

‘Accordingly, in view of these appellate precedents, it is difficult to fathom that the courts would somehow accord a longer period of private protection for a trademark than the time-period that governs the underlying publicity/persona rights from which the trademark interest derives,’ states the complaint filed in New York federal court by attorney Michael Wolk.

The plaintiff has designs of its own. It’s both attempting to knock down defendants’ intellectual property grab while maintaining its own authority to obtain trademark protection on its own ‘branding rights’ associated with the CG Marilyn Monroe. A ‘fractured ownership situation’ involving Marilyn Monroe is not a problem, it argues, because disclaimers can always be used to “make it clear to consumers that the Monroe Estate has no affiliation with the Virtual Marilyn character or the Virtual Marilyn brand.’

Interestingly, it’s remarked in the lawsuit that when the late actress was living, she never registered any aspect of her persona as a trademark and was conscious about who she belonged to.

As Monroe once said, ‘I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.'”