Finding Marilyn on Hollywood Boulevard

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This evocative photo of a Marilyn lookalike was taken by Ken Hermann as part of a series, ‘Hollywood Street Characters’, now showcased on Mashable.

“Hollywood Boulevard is full of whimsical characters, but it’s not often that we stop and take a look behind their makeup and masks.

Street performers walk along this major thoroughfare of downtown Los Angeles every single day, dressed as everything from old Hollywood celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe to pop culture characters like Darth Vader and Thor.

But it was these performers’ private lives that inspired photographer Ken Hermann‘s raw and honest photo series, Hollywood Street Characters, which captures these entertainers off the clock.

‘After talking to several of the impersonators it became clear to me that many of them are, or once were, pursuing the American dream of becoming someone special and famous,’ Hermann told Mashable. While many of the performers, like a woman who impersonated Marilyn Monroe, made their living as lookalikes, others relied on costumes and makeup.

However, Hermann discovered that working on Hollywood Boulevard requires a big personality, too. ‘The success of the street characters wasn’t about being the most perfect look alike — it also depended upon acting as the most hyped or popular characters or maybe just having a funny or crazy attitude,’ he said.

‘Many regard the impersonators as failed actors, people who tried to make it big in Hollywood but couldn’t … However some of them are living out their own version of the American Dream.’

‘So even though many of them do this because the dream did not go as planned not all of them are fallen stars,’ Hermann added. Next time someone walks around downtown L.A., Hermann hopes they take a moment to appreciate these characters and the private lives they lead.”

‘Forever Marilyn’ in Manhattan

New Yorker Francine Lockwood takes a selfie with Marilyn.
New Yorker Francine Lockwood takes a selfie with Marilyn.

Just when I thought I’d heard the last of Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn’, a smaller replica has reappeared in Manhattan’s Garment District. As Yahoo News reports, she is currently occupying a stretch of Broadway between 36th and 41st Streets as part of Johnson’s latest installation.

‘I hope New Yorkers on their daily commute will be shaken for a moment and pause — either because they are unsure of what is real or because they are reminded of something familiar,’ Johnson said. ‘I try to celebrate the human relationship. What we are really about as people, individuals relating to each other and to nature,’ he added. ‘I like people being able to find a part of themselves in art.’

As the sculpture depicts Marilyn in the famous ‘subway grate’ scene from The Seven Year Itch, which was originally shot in New York before being re-enacted on Fox’s Hollywood lot, the location – and summer timing – seems apt.

Documentary filmmaker Kathy Brew does a video of a Marilyn Monroe sculpture, while making a film about artist Seward Johnson, whose 18 sculptures have been placed in the pedestrian islands on Broadway in the city's garment district.
Kathy Brew films Marilyn, as part of a documentary about artist Seward Johnson, whose 18 sculptures have been placed in the pedestrian islands on Broadway in the city’s garment district.

Tony Kushner on Miller, Marilyn and ‘The Misfits’

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The Library of America has included Finishing the Picture, Arthur Miller’s last play about filming The Misfits, in a new anthology, Collected Plays 1987-2004, edited by playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America.) It was previously published in England and France, but this is its first US publication. You can read my review of Finishing the Picture here.

Kushner has spoken to the Daily Beast about his work with Miller.

“The new volume of the Arthur Miller collection is the first U.S. publication of Finishing the Picture, which Miller wrote shortly before he died in 2005. What’s that play about?

It’s about Marilyn Monroe’s struggles with depression and drugs and various other interferences during the making of a film, and it’s about the collapse of his marriage to Monroe. It’s kind of a surprising thing. For a very long time, he was famously close-mouthed about his marriage to Monroe and her problems, and right at the end of his life he decided to write this play about it.

Is it sort of a biography of his Marilyn years?

I never actually asked him about it, but he was getting old and I think knew other people were going to write about his life and wanted to do his own dramatic account.”

‘Marilyn Lives’ on the Coronado Shore

m12The memory of Sugar Kane is alive and well on Coronado Island, where scenes from Some Like it Hot were filmed, Jackie Burrell writes in The Reporter.

“Surf surges against this pristine shore, the white sand dotted picturesquely with red-striped cabanas. A paved footpath leads up to the iconic grand hotel. And it doesn’t take much imagination to see Marilyn Monroe on this beach, sun-kissed and wind-swept in her short white beach robe.

In fact, it takes no imagination at all. All over Coronado Island you’ll see photographs taken during the filming of Some Like It Hot, the 1959 comedy starring a ukulele-playing Monroe, and Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as fellow members of her, ahem, girl band bound for Florida.

Much to the consternation of Miami’s then-mayor, the role of Florida beach was played by this stretch of strand, which is crowned by the 19th-century Hotel Del Coronado. Legend has it that Coronado’s mayor told his much-aggrieved Floridian counterpart, ‘Some like it hot, but not as hot as Miami in September.’

Coronado actually is the bulbous end of a skinny peninsula that connects the ‘island’ to the mainland in Imperial Beach, seven miles south. But it’s easy to forget such topographic technicalities as you cross the sweeping bridge or arrive by ferry from San Diego.”

George ‘Foghorn’ Winslow 1946-2015

11401164_1135200846494211_626814316036863575_nGeorge Karl Wentzlaff, who appeared in two of Marilyn’s films under the stage name of George Winslow – and was nicknamed ‘Foghorn’ for his distinctive baritone – has died aged 69, reports the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Born in Los Angeles in 1946, George first found fame at the tender age of six on Art Linkletter’s radio show, People Are Funny. After hearing George on the radio, actor Cary Grant asked him to appear in his 1952 film, Room For One More.

George Winslow in 'Monkey Business' (1952)
George Winslow in ‘Monkey Business’ (1952)

This was followed by a role as a cub scout in Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business, which also starred Cary Grant alongside Marilyn, although she did not appear in any scenes with George. He then played the title role in another Fox comedy, My Pal Gus, opposite Richard Widmark. The press reported that a scene was being filmed outside the Beverly Carleton Hotel, where Marilyn was then living, and she was inadvertently filmed while watching the action from her balcony. However, she cannot be seen in the movie.

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George finally got his chance to work with Marilyn in another Hawks movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953.) He plays Henry Spofford III, a billionaire that gold-digger Lorelei Lee (MM) hopes to make a play for while on a cruise. When he sits beside her at the captain’s table, however, she is shocked to discover his true age.

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In another scene, Lorelei sneaks into the cabin of a private detective who is monitoring her antics, but becomes stuck while attempting to climb out through a porthole. Spofford, who is on deck, agrees to help her for two reasons: ‘The first reason is I’m too young to be sent to jail. The second reason is you got a lot of animal magnetism.’

They are interrupted when an elderly English aristocrat, Sir Francis ‘Piggy’ Beekman (Charles Coburn), also appears on deck. Hidden under a blanket, Spofford acts as Lorelei’s ventriloquist, explaining that she has a severe case of laryngitis. ‘A child with the voice of a man, Winslow contrasted with Marilyn, a woman with the voice of a child,’ author Gary Vitacco-Robles observed in his 2014 biography, Icon: The Life Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume 1 1926-1956.

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Photos taken on the set show a warm affection between George and his leading lady. ‘The thing I remember most is working with this beautiful lady from early in the morning until late at night,’ George said later. ‘Then as my folks were getting me dressed to go home she came out of her dressing room without any makeup. If I hadn’t recognized her voice I’d never have believed she was the same person.’

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George went on to star opposite Clifton Webb in Mister Scoutmaster (1953), and worked with Charles Coburn again in The Rocket Man (1954.) He appeared alongside Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in their 1956 comedy, Artists and Models. He also acted in TV shows including Ozzie and Harriet and Blondie.

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After his voice broke, the offers dried up, and twelve year-old George played his last film role in Wild Heritage (1958.) Putting stardom behind him, George served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, and later joined the Postal Service.

After retiring a few years ago, George volunteered at a military antiques store and museum in Petaluma, California, where he enjoyed talking with other veterans. Known as Wally to friends in the west county, George was an easygoing man, quirky and caring and ‘about the nicest guy you could ever know,’ Braafladt said. ‘I think he was genuinely happy with where his life was.’

He survived heart surgery in 2013, but on June 13, he died of a heart attack. Kevin Braafladt, George’s friend and owner of the museum, called at his Camp Meeker home after he failed to show up for work the next day, and found his body.

George was sharing his home with about 25 cats. Braafladt is currently caring for them all, and hopes to find them new homes through an animal shelter. ‘His love was the cats,’ Braafladt said. ‘He’d always talk about them.’

George had said he had no heirs and the coroner’s office was unable to locate any relatives, Braafladt said. A memorial service will be held in Petaluma at a date to be determined. Wentzlaff will be buried with military honors at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery near Dixon in July.

Sevdaliza: A Portrait of Marilyn, in Music

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Marilyn has inspired many musical tributes, including recent hits from Nicki Minaj and Pharrell Williams. A more sensual, melancholy take from the Dutch-based Iranian artist, Sevdaliza, is simply entitled ‘Marilyn Monroe’.

While Sevdaliza’s lyrics don’t reference Marilyn directly, they seem to evoke her poetic soul.

“It’s true
In this life
I’ve never been the one
In your eyes
I’ve never been the truth
All you saw
Was a broken mirror…”

The track is available on Soundcloud, and has been praised by critics. You can read the lyrics in full here.

“Sevdaliza’s new single ‘Marilyn Monroe’ moves like a marionette. Even with its fluidity, there’s something sad and distant about it. It is cold, empty, and gorgeous at the same time. Using space to her advantage, the 27-year-old Netherlands-based singer/producer delivers one of her most moving songs yet. ‘This song is part of a series that represent some kind of womanhood,’ she explains … ‘A portrait in shimmering polyrhythms of a single tear floating down the cheek of a disappointed woman.'” Pigeons and Planes

“Sevdaliza (who does not reveal her given name) co-produced ‘Marilyn Monroe’ with her collaborator, the Dutch producer Mucky … This version of womanhood extends beyond the veil of Marilyn’s quintessential blonde bombshell pop image, suggesting instead the Norma Jeane Mortenson version of Ms. Monroe that teems beneath the icon’s superficial surface. Sevdaliza vulnerably inhabits Marilyn’s personality through the song’s woeful lyrics … and when paired with the song’s steady bass line, it’s difficult to distinguish Marilyn’s identity from Sevdaliza’s. ‘Marilyn channels her fragility because it makes her strong,’ Sevdaliza explains. ‘When she sings, she breaks and there’s nothing left to hide.'” Interview

“Sevdaliza isn’t afraid to explore the complex facets of the human condition. While honing a sound that is distinctly her own, she’s started creating experimental lo-fi that is harmonic, spacious and deeply emotive … ‘Marilyn Monroe’ moves forward with a fluid melody and hypnotic repetition that engrosses you. Reverated harmonies soar over the top of a simple, steady beat – making this track minimalist, lullaby of sorts. With her opaque tones and emotionally palpable lyrics Sevdaliza’s takes on the lo-fi genre with style and nuance.” Purple Sneakers

“There were already clear signs of her talent in her previous releases, but with this latest single ‘Marilyn Monroe’ the girl has decided to go all the way by significantly raising the quality bar. With a production that closely resembles the early James Blake and reminiscences of FKA twigs vocalizations, Sevdaliza stuns you by mixing a glacial futuristic r’n’b with poignant lyrics reminding you that ‘There’s nothing left to break when it’s already broken.'” Some Candy Talkin’

Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years

The long-awaited new book by Michelle Morgan and Astrid Franse, Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, will be published in the UK on July 6. It is also the subject of a six-page article in today’s Mail on Sunday, with Norma Jeane gracing the cover of its supplement magazine. The Mail Bookshop is also offering a pre-order of Before Marilyn at a reduced price of £18.75. A US edition will follow in November, but if you simply can’t wait that long, the UK version of Before Marilyn can also be pre-ordered via The Book Depository.

“Twenty years ago, Astrid and Ben Franse, owners of a Fifties memorabilia store, were in a vintage shop in Los Angeles when the shopkeeper came over with a box, telling them: ‘It’s press clippings and pictures of Marilyn Monroe. I only got a quick look. It was take it or leave it.’ 

The couple bought the box and took it home to the Netherlands, where it was stored under a desk and promptly forgotten – until 2012 when a dealer telephoned from the U.S. about a client who was a big Marilyn fan. 

Ben remembered the box and went to check what it contained. He was stunned. It was the archive of Blue Book, the modelling agency that launched Marilyn’s career. 

There were negatives, letters, telegrams, photos and worksheets.

Using this treasure trove of unseen images, Astrid and Marilyn expert Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private And Undisclosed, have been able to tell the little-known story of Marilyn before she was famous…

Emmeline Snively appraised the girl in front of her in the office of her model agency.

She was ‘in a simple white dress and armed with her portfolio, which offered no more than a few snaps. You wouldn’t necessarily wear a white dress on a modelling job, and it was as clean and white and ironed and shining as she was.’

It was August 2, 1945 and this was the first meeting between Norma Jeane Dougherty – later known as Marilyn Monroe – and the mentor who launched her career.

Many in modelling believed Blue Book was essentially an escort agency, providing girls for lonely businessmen staying at the hotel to take to dinner.

‘The LAPD kept a close watch,’ said a source who knew the agency at the time.

Snively admitted: ‘Many of my girls whose husbands were overseas dated on several nights of the week. But not Norma Jeane. She was interested only in legitimate assignments.’

The reception walls were covered in glossy photos of clients past and present, as was Snively’s office. There was a statue of the ancient Eygptian princess Nefertiti on her desk – ‘the most beautiful woman of her era,’ Snively believed.

The boss spoke in an English accent, though she was American. And she was picky about who she took on.

Snively later recalled, ‘She had a white dress which looked terrific on her, although models usually shy away from white. It accentuated her bust and called attention to her figure. It was extremely tight across the front.’

The only other things she seemed to own were a bathing suit and a blue suit ‘that didn’t do a thing for her’, according to Snively.

‘She had a girl next door look. All right, you never saw a girl next door who looked like Marilyn but that’s how she looked the day she came in. For me that’s how she always looked.’

Norma Jeane’s looks, enthusiasm and naivity won over the agency owner. She signed her up and set about training her in grooming, presentation and coordination. There was ‘good solid work on my part to analyse and develop her best points (no pun intended)’.

She determined that Norma Jeane could do two types of modelling. She couldn’t enter beauty contests – a useful way of raising a model’s profile – because she was married, which disqualified her.

Nor could she do catwalk modelling. As Snively observed: ‘She did have a pleasant personality; an all-American girl personality – cute, wholesome and respectable.

‘There was no sultry sexiness about her. That came much later, although I did realise immediately that Marilyn would never do as a fashion model. Most fashion models are tall, sophisticated-looking and slim-chested. Marilyn was none of these.’

And there was another problem – her walk. Her famous ‘wiggle walk’ went against everything a catwalk model was ever trained to do.

It has been claimed that she used to cut part of the heel from one shoe, causing her bottom to rock from side to side. Another suggestion was she had suffered from an illness as a child, resulting in a slight limp. Snively had a different theory.

‘She’s double-jointed in the knees, so she can’t relax and that is why her hips seem to sway.

‘She couldn’t stand with a relaxed knee like most models, because her knees would lock in a stiff-legged position. Her walk is a result of that locking action… This she turned into an asset.’

While Norma Jeane was eager to soak up any advice about her smile, she was less happy with what Snively suggested for her hair: bleach and straightening. There was no way the young model could afford the upkeep of such a style, and she had no wish to be made into a glamour girl.

‘She was a believer in naturalness,’ wrote Snively. ‘Any suggestions about lightening her hair or even styling it met with defeat.’

‘Look darling,’ Snively told her. ‘If you intend to go places in this business, you’ve got to bleach and straighten your hair; your face is a little too round and a hair job will lengthen it. Don’t worry about money, I’ll keep you working.’

She was hired for a shampoo ad on the understanding that she would sort out her hair. When the photographer offered to pay for the process, Norma Jeane finally agreed to go to the Frank and Joseph salon in Hollywood.

Snively loved it. ‘It was bleached to take it out of the obscurity of dishwater blonde,’ she wrote.

‘Marilyn emerged a truly golden girl… She went into her bathing-suit stage, and the demand for her was terrific.

‘She averaged $150 a week, and men began talking to her about going into motion pictures.’

It was the beginning of Norma Jeane’s transformation into Marilyn Monroe and from modelling to movies. Around this time Marilyn was walking down the street one day when a man pulled his Cadillac up next to her. He rolled down the window and told the young woman that she was so beautiful she should be in movies.

The man said he worked for the Goldwyn Studio and she should come for an audition.

Unfortunately, his studio turned out to be a rented suite, where the ‘executive’ persuaded her to pose in a variety of inappropriate positions, while reading a script.

‘All the poses were reclining, although the words I was reading didn’t seem to call for that position,’ Marilyn recalled.

‘Naive as I was, I soon figured this wasn’t the way to get a job in the movies. I manoeuvred toward the door and made a hasty exit.’

But magazine covers led to items in gossip columns which in turn led to a screen test at Twentieth Century Fox.

Snively later recalled a chat with Marilyn, now married to baseball star Joe DiMaggio, the actress confessed that she felt inadequate in her career.

‘She didn’t feel she was a qualified actress [but] how could she? She’d signed her first contract before she had her first acting lesson.

‘God, I wanted to cry for her then. This can be the loneliest town in the world and it’s even lonelier for you if you’re on top of the heap.’

By summer 1962 Marilyn was not in regular contact with Snively. But, having been fired from her last film, Something’s Got To Give, after missing numerous days through illness and through travelling to New York to sing for President Kennedy, she did a shoot for Blue Book, posing for amateur photographers. These photos have never come to light.

Then, on August 5, the actress was found dead, victim of an overdose. She was just 36.

Snively reflected on her untimely death. ‘We should have known that a person who works that hard and puts everything else aside for a career, is looking for love – not just a job.’”

Marilyn: A Life in Portraits

Photographed by Eve Arnold on a break during a public appearance in Bement, 1955
Photographed by Eve Arnold on a break during a public appearance in Bement, 1955

In another great article for the BFI website, Nigel Arthur explores photographs from the National Archive, and considers how Marilyn’s image was purveyed through different modes of photography: including promotional and paparazzi shots, film stills, portraits and behind-the-scenes photos.

“In Richard Dyer’s Stars, first published by BFI in 1979, the author refers to Marilyn Monroe’s image as ‘situated in the flux of ideas about morality and sexuality that characterised 1950s America’. Indeed, her image transcended her films, and swiftly became firmly entrenched in pop culture. Andy Warhol (Marilyn Diptych, 1962) and Richard Hamilton (My Marilyn, 1964/65) both manipulated her photographic image using a silkscreen process, provocatively referencing her wide eyes and open mouth. In the early 1950s, Monroe was put under contract by Darryl F. Zanuck and became the leading artist at Twentieth Century-Fox. Her public persona was constructed, to a large extent, through the distribution of a wide variety of images, which served to increase her popularity with cinema goers.”

Marilyn’s ‘Dougherty House’ Demolished

Marilyn's former home at Hermitage Avenue, photographed before demolition
Marilyn’s former home at Hermitage Avenue, photographed before demolition

Marilyn’s former home at 5258 Hermitage Street (now Avenue), North Hollywood (or Valley Village), has been demolished by property developers while awaiting a decision on landmark status, reports the L.A. Daily News. Marilyn lived there from 1944-45 with her husband Jim’s family, while he served in the Merchant Marine. During this period, the teenage Norma Jeane took a job alongside her mother-in-law, Ethel Dougherty, at the Radioplane munitions plant, where she was ‘discovered’ by army photographer David Conover.

Norma Jeane with Ethel Dougherty
Norma Jeane with Ethel Dougherty

“A backyard home where Marilyn Monroe lived when she was first discovered as a bombshell pin-up was slated this week to be considered for landmark status.

But three days before the hearing, a developer bulldozed the Valley Village home.

‘I can’t even breathe. My neighbors and I are in mourning,’ said Jennifer Getz, of Valley Village, who had nominated the so-called Dougherty House for designation as a city Historic-Cultural Monument. ‘It’s one of the biggest losses in the San Fernando Valley.

‘I’m beyond outrage.’

A case for preserving a plain pair of single-story houses — the front one built during World War II, the rear thought to have been an early-century gabled farm house where Monroe then lived — was to have been heard Thursday by the Cultural Heritage Commission.

But then neighbors discovered a heavy backhoe Monday ripping down both houses at 5258 Hermitage Ave. The owner, Joe Salem of Hermitage Enterprises LLC, could not be reached for comment. City officials said he’d sought a demolition permit last year to build condos.

It was there that 17-year-old housewife Norma Jean Dougherty moved in with her in-laws in April 1944 while her sailor husband James was far away at sea.

She moved out of the North Hollywood area house in the summer of 1945, would soon divorce Dougherty and went on to become the iconic Marilyn Monroe.

While at her wartime job inspecting parachutes, Dougherty was picked to model for morale-boosting military magazines by a photographer sent by U.S. Army Capt. Ronald Reagan. Her career took off, and she became an actress.

Photographed by David Conover, 1945
Photographed by David Conover, 1945

City officials said the house wasn’t significant enough to be named an official landmark. Not only did the house not have any distinguishing characteristics, according to city planners, but the actress didn’t become a movie star until long after she moved.

Critics of the demolition blame Councilman Paul Krekorian, whose office would not support the landmark request or step in to help save the house.

They also accuse the developer of tearing down the house just after the landmark hearing was posted, and before the commission could put the brakes on demolition, a common practice across the city. They also accuse him of violating a law requiring a 30-day public notice to demolish buildings older than 45 years.

‘It was never posted,’ said Los Angeles historian Charles J. Fisher, who penned the Dougherty House nomination. ‘The problem is that the city failed to adhere to the law. We’ve lost a portion of Marilyn Monroe’s life, a very significant portion.'”

Marilyn’s ‘Misfit’ Bridge Will Be Replaced

Marilyn and Thelma Ritter filming 'The Misfits' on Virginia Street Bridge, Reno
Marilyn and Thelma Ritter filming ‘The Misfits’ on Virginia Street Bridge, Reno

The Virginia Street Bridge, which stands over the Truckee River in Reno, Nevada – where Marilyn filmed a scene for The Misfits with co-star Thelma Ritter – is set to be replaced, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“Built in 1905, the reinforced concrete bridge has succumbed to years of wear and tear and is being replaced with a new structure. As portrayed in the 1961 film, the bridge was known as the place where newly divorced women who came to Nevada because of the state’s short residency requirement would throw their wedding bands into the Truckee River.

History and preservation buffs are disappointed that the bridge will soon be just a memory. Memories are still fresh of the loss of the historic Mapes Hotel, which sat on the north side of the bridge, imploded in 2000.

But residents are also excited about the new span, which will have a single arch and become a new gateway into the resurging downtown district.

Kerrie Koski, street program manager for the city Public Works Department, said the bridge is not only unsafe but also causes problems during flooding. It is the most unsafe bridge in the state, she said.

The new $18 million span will incorporate elements of the original bridge — to honor the history of the bridge — when it opens next May, including the lights. The historic railing has been salvaged and will be used in an area adjacent to the bridge.

According to an article in Reno Historical, a special project by the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries, the bridge was known as the ‘Wedding Ring Bridge’ and the ‘Bridge of Sighs,’ and became the subject of national folklore.

According to the article by Mella Harmon, the legend, dating to at least the 1920s, held that divorcees, upon receiving their final decree from a judge, exited the Washoe County Courthouse, kissed the columns supporting the courthouse portico and proceeded past the Riverside Hotel to the bridge to throw their wedding rings into the river.

In The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe’s character, Roslyn, is told the tale while standing on the bridge, considers it for a moment, then places her ring back in her purse and heads to Harrah’s for a drink, Harmon wrote.

[Hillary] Schieve said the city is looking at the potential of making pieces of the bridge available to the public, but details are still being worked out.”