Rita Hayworth was the original ‘love goddess’, and the parallels between her and Marilyn Monroe are striking. Both enjoyed glittering careers, but their lives were touched by personal tragedy. You can read my article in full here.
Heritage Auctions’ recent online auction of Marilyn photos brought in a combined total of $80,000 – far exceeding expectations, reports Fine Books & Collections. ‘This was the first Marilyn online only auction we have held and the strong results – especially for the Bert Stern images – are a testament to the iconic Marilyn Monroe,’ said Rachel Peart, Director for Photographs at Heritage.
Today’s Los Angeles Times looks at Gavin Bryars’ opera, Marilyn Forever, which has its US premiere on March 21 at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. Bryars has previously worked with revered artists such as John Cage, Brian Eno and Tom Waits. (Marilyn will be played by two different singers: Danielle Marcelle Bond, and Jamie Chamberlin.)
“Working with Canadian poet and novelist Marilyn Bowering, Bryars combines languid jazz trio passages with somber, primarily low-register woodwinds, horns and strings to weave a broodingly emotional portrait that probes Monroe’s troubled mind and yearning spirit instead of laying out her biography or re-creating moments from her films.
This is a poetic and philosophical Monroe, whose lines include ‘all life on this planet is a film gone too far’ and ‘you think desire evolves in stages? No, it’s all one moment of strange beauty.’
Bryars, 72, said his Monroe was consistent with the Marilyn who briefly became his obsession in 1963 when he was a 20-year-old philosophy student at Sheffield University. The Misfits, the 1961 drama that was the last film for Monroe and co-star Clark Gable, arrived at a local cinema, and Bryars was there every night, sitting through a forgettable second feature to see it over and over without having to pay an extra admission.
After becoming friendly with [Marilyn] Bowering, a neighbor on Vancouver Island, Bryars began reading her books. One is Anyone Can See I Love You, a series of poetic monologues spoken by Marilyn Monroe that was published in 1987 and adapted as a BBC radio drama.
‘I thought [Bowering] grasped many of the important things I found in Marilyn,’ Bryars said. ‘Often, she plays the dumb blond, the bimbo as it were, but you always have a sense of something else, something in depth and intelligent behind that facade.’
Bryars asked Bowering if she’d help him turn her Marilyn into his protagonist, and in 2010, they began developing the opera in a retreat at Banff in the Canadian Rockies.
The composer said he quickly vetoed including or elaborating on songs Monroe had sung in films — for the purely practical reason that it would have been expensive to secure the rights to use them. Instead, he wrote a couple of 1950s jazz standards-style ballads of his own for scenes in which Monroe is recording a song or slow-dancing with one of the men in her life, all played by a single baritone.
With Marilyn Forever, he said, librettist Bowering had no problem revising her book and radio script to go with the musical flow and propel the drama.
The 2013 premiere of Marilyn Forever in Victoria [Canada] and the recent Australian staging featured the same director and core musicians from Aventa Ensemble. Now Bryars will have to let go and see what Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera’s artistic director, will make of it.
[Mitisek] has decided that Marilyn Forever should have two Marilyns — a soprano for the public figure and a mezzo-soprano for the inward, private woman.”
Some of the last photos taken of Marilyn – by Bert Stern and George Barris – are up for grabs at Heritage Auctions‘ online sale, running for five days from tomorrow (March 10). Photos by Andre de Dienes, Philippe Halsman, and Milton Greene are also included among the forty-five items – which could raise a combined total of $36,000.
‘This collection is well curated by a collector and highlights her entire career,’ Rachel Peart, Director for Photographs at Heritage, told Artfix Daily. ‘Marilyn is such an icon and the images continue to be as stunning today as they were 60 years ago.’
In a forthcoming anthology, Dark City Lights: New York Stories, author and artist Jonathan Santlofer has contributed a short story, ‘The Garmento and the Movie Star’, imagining a twelve year-old boy’s bittersweet encounter with Marilyn.
One summer, the boy was working as an errand boy for his father, who owned a company on Seventh Avenue – at the heart of New York’s garment district – where top designers made and sold their cocktail dresses. In Santlofer’s story, Marilyn visits the shop one day:
“Her expression changed often but in slow motion: happy to sad to mad to determined or lost. A couple of times she turned to me and asked my opinion about a dress and I always said she looked beautiful.
‘Really?’ she’d say, as if no one had ever said that to her before and I’d bob my head up and down like a puppy and say ‘Really‘, and she’d throw me a smile like a bunch of wild flowers tossed into the air.
A couple of times she called my father over and cupped his ear and whispered like a child would, and when I think about it now that’s exactly how she seemed: childlike.
At one point she sagged onto the couch beside me in a half-unzipped dress and sipped champagne and asked me more questions – if I liked school, if I had siblings, if I liked to read (I could not come up with a single title, not even one of my Hardy Boys books or Classic Comics), so I turned it around and asked her, ‘What’s your favorite movie you ever made?’ and she thought for a while before saying ‘Bus Stop, because…Cherie was a…real girl, you know, sad but…trying to be happy’, her pale face inches from mine, and I said, ‘Oh you were great in that’, though I hadn’t seen it and again she said ‘Really?‘ as if my opinion mattered, and I said, ‘Yes!’ and she smiled and asked me if I got along with my sister and I said ‘sort of’, and I asked her if she had any kids and she blinked and pulled back as if slapped and her eyes welled up with tears and in a quivering whisper said ‘I…have not been…lucky,’ and my father cut in and said ‘Kids? Who needs kids? Brats, all of ’em!’ and swatted me a little too hard on the thigh and forced a laugh, then quickly fetched a new dress. Marilyn dashed behind the screen looking as though she might shatter to pieces but emerged in less than a minute in a white satin dress with a tight bodice and the same less trim along the bottom, all smiles and absolutely radiant, the movie star, Marilyn Monroe.”
In a blog entry posted on July 2014, Santlofer mentioned seeing Marilyn on the big screen. Maybe that experience inspired his story?
“Film Forum is having a ‘Femmes Noir’ festival, all the great films. The other night Joyce Carol Oates her husband Charlie Gross, Megan Abbott and NY Times humorist, Joyce Wadler and I, all went to see Niagara. I had never seen it on the big screen, always thought it was a sloppy B movie only worth seeing for the luscious 25-year-old Marilyn, but it’s better than that. Joseph Cotten plays the tortured husband well and Jean Peters is really pretty and the color is fantastically lurid. It’s true one misses Marilyn when she’s not on the screen but she’s kind of acting in her own film anyway. The first scene of Marilyn/Rose in bed and obviously nude, is a showstopper, and that face, dewy and open despite the heavy makeup, was made for the screen.”
Grace Hartigan was an American Abstract Expressionist painter of the New York School in the 1950s. One of her most famous works, ‘Marilyn’, was created after the death of MM. In a new biography, Restless Ambition: Grace Hartigan, Painter, Cathy Curtis reveals that Hartigan’s interest in Marilyn dated back to the summer of 1957, when she spotted her on vacation with husband Arthur Miller in the Hamptons. She also kept a photograph of Marilyn with author Isak Dinesen (taken in 1959), pinned to her wall for inspiration.
“Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962 from a barbiturate overdose inspired Marilyn (1962.) Grace floated vivid details in a giddily feminine pink and purple haze; the actress’s gleaming teeth in an open-mouthed smile (from a Life photograph), a wavy blonde lock of hair, a blue eye, white klieg lights, and a gesturing hand emerging from a ruffled sleeve (based on a photograph of a detail from a fifteenth century fresco). Despite the luminous quality of the painting, it has a strangely terrifying quality because of the contrast between the brilliant white arc of Marilyn’s teeth – the only area that seems to push forward into space – and the empty black space inside her mouth.
As a subject for serious art, in an era when popular culture was still held at arm’s length from highbrow culture, Marilyn Monroe was not on a part with Dido and Aeneas. But [May] Tabak had urged Grace not to have any qualms about making a painting about Marilyn. (‘What does abstraction mean if she wasn’t an abstraction?’) At the opening of Grace’s fall exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery, [art critic] Harold Rosenberg told his wife that this was the most interesting piece in the show. Grace may also have gained courage from her mentor’s example. [Willem] De Kooning had led the way with his big-eyed, lipsticked Marilyn Monroe (1954), whose oddly chunky torso echoed the colors of her hair and lips. She could also look to Frank O’Hara, whose poem ‘To the Film Industry in Crisis,’ written the following year, evokes the actress ‘in her little spike heels’ in the 1953 thriller Niagara. In ‘Returning’ (1956), he facetiously quotes the film goddess on being a sex symbol.
In its wistful sensibility – though, of course, not its style – Grace’s version is akin to Audrey Flack‘s glossy Photorealist still lifes Marilyn (Vanitas) and Marilyn (Golden Girl) from the late seventies. Flack viewed the actress as ‘a symbol for love, the need for love, and the pain of never having enough love,’ identifying with her because ‘she never really got enough love from her mother or father.’ This was an ache Grace knew well. She and Flack were also nostalgic about – as Grace put it – a time when people had a choice of gods and goddesses to worship. ‘We don’t have these now,’ Grace said, ‘so we set up all of these popular culture idols, and we invest them with qualities of love and hostility and so forth.'”
Paint company founder Leonard Bocour – who had once been president of an MM fan club – congratulated Grace on the painting, declaring himself ‘President of the Grace Hartigan Price Fan Club.’ Grace objected to comparisons between her work and Andy Warhol’s ‘big facade,’ adding, ‘my work gets into the woman herself.’
Alistair Cooke was an English journalist based in America, best-known for his weekly broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Letter From America; and as the host of PBS Masterpiece Theatre. He was also a respected film critic from the 1930s onward, and a collection of his articles and reviews – first published in 2009 – has now been released as an ebook.
In honour of International Women’s Day, Flavorwire’s Emily Temple placed Donald Spoto’s Marilyn Monroe: The Biography 23rd on her list of 50 Great Books About 50 Inspiring Women. (While Spoto’s book is a good choice, I would nominate Michelle Morgan’s Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed as the best biography of Marilyn written by a woman.)
Over at Papermag, Michael Musto shares his choices for The 10 Best Celebrity Memoirs, including Marilyn’s own My Story. “Far from a giddy bombshell, Monroe was a keenly perceptive observer of the human condition,” Musto comments. “In this unfinished book — released years after her death — the sex symbol talks about her unhappy childhood and her adult stardom, revealing a mind full of illumination and curves. Who knew she was an intellectual, in her own way?”
Musto’s list also includes two other books in which Marilyn features prominently: Susan Strasberg’s Bittersweet, and Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up With Eileen Heckart, a tribute to Marilyn’s Bus Stop co-star penned by her son, Luke Yankee.
Holding a Good Thought For Marilyn: 1926-1954, The Hollywood Years is a new book by Stacy Eubank, who will be well-known to Everlasting Star members as ‘chickeyonthgo’. Stacy is the most knowledgeable Marilyn fan I’ve ever known (and believe me, I don’t say that lightly!)
She is also an extremely modest and generous lady, always willing to share her wisdom. Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn is a project she has been working on throughout the eleven years that I’ve known her, and The Hollywood Years is its first fruition. A second volume, The New York Years, is also planned after Stacy takes a well-earned break.
Some may compare this book to Gary Vitacco-Robles’ two-part biography, Icon. But Stacy is truly in a league of her own. She previously served as a research assistant for Lois Banner, and I’m sure Dr Banner would say the same as author Maurice Zolotow once did about James Haspiel – that Stacy could have written an even better biography than hers.
Fortunately, Stacy has risen to the challenge, using her extraordinary collection of vintage magazines and newspapers as the basis of her work. There are no photographs inside the book, but Stacy has instead provided her own illustrations – she is also a talented artist, and was previously featured in Roger Taylor’s Marilyn in Art.
Marilyn herself admitted that she owed her stardom in part to the men who served in Korea, and 5% of the profits from sales of this book will be donated to the Korean War Memorial Veterans Foundation. Holding A Good Thought for Marilyn is available now in paperback from Amazon (UK, £14.58; US, $24.95.)
UPDATE: here is my review…
“This 562-page tome covers Marilyn Monroe’s tumultuous early life and rise to fame. What makes it different to most biographies is the in-depth focus on how her career was chronicled in the media. The wealth of material on how Marilyn was perceived in her own time is unprecedented, and even the most well-read Monroe fan will learn many significant facts that have been overlooked by other authors. The reader is also able to understand how Marilyn’s public image shifted from one-dimensional sex object to beloved American icon in just a few years. And the private Marilyn – sensitive and intelligent – is not neglected. A full chapter is devoted to her trip to Korea, to entertain the US troops who helped to make her a star. Reading the many tales of her kindness and generosity, one is impressed by her being clearly so at ease with ordinary men – much more so, in fact, than she would ever be in Hollywood. Fittingly, a percentage of the profits from sales of this book will be donated to Korean War veterans. The book is illustrated with drawings of Marilyn, giving it a unique charm. An accomplished artist herself, Stacy also examines Marilyn’s work with still photographers. Having started out as a model, she was more confident, and able to take control in a way that simply wasn’t possible on the sets of her movies. While some of her early photo shoots were formulaic, with her best photographers – including Andre de Dienes, Philippe Halsman, and Milton Greene – Monroe posed for images that would establish her as one of the 20th century’s defining beauties. A second volume, covering ‘the New York years’ – is forthcoming, but while this might be a heavy read for new or more casual fans, ‘Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn’ deserves to be known as one of the best, and most fully-researched volumes ever published about the ultimate screen goddess.”