Rockhaven Sanitarium at Risk

rockhaven6Following the controversial demolition of the ‘Dougherty House‘ in June, Danny Jensen reports for LAist that another Marilyn-related location – the former Rockhaven Sanitarium, where her mother Gladys was a resident from 1953-67 – is also the focus of controversy.

“The future looks uncertain for L.A.’s oldest sanitarium, which was originally built as a humane mental health facility for women in Los Angeles county.

The Rockhaven Sanitarium in Montrose opened in 1923 as an alternative to the grim treatment offered to women in many mental institutions at the time. And now the group Friends of Rockhaven is hoping to save the historic site, after preservation plans by the city of Glendale fell apart and developers proposed other uses, according to the L.A. Weekly. Home for a time to some of Hollywood’s early notables—including Billie Burke who played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard Of Oz and Marilyn Monroe’s mother—the 3.5 acre property was nicknamed the Screen Actor’s Sanitarium. The mental health facility was first developed by early feminist Agnes Richards and features small cottages where residents lived.

Richards helped women escape from the cells of mental wards throughout California and across the country, offering Rockhaven as a refuge from places where they were commonly abused and mistreated. The aging property includes 15 buildings that are a mix of Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival styles, which feature names like the Rose Cottage and the Willows. The sanitarium was designed to be a serene, landscaped complex for healing, rather than an intimidating, American Horror Story-style institution. The interiors of the buildings have remained largely untouched for years.

In 2008, Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles, which had used the site for nursing care for the elderly since 2001. The city had hopes to develop Rockhaven into an historic park with a community center and library, but after the recession hit, the plans fell apart. When Glendale’s plans fell though, developers then set their sights on Rockhaven with a variety of plans that included home for female veterans, an all-girls’ school, and condos. But the city put the brakes on those plans when the Friends of Rockhaven argued that they would compromise the site’s historic architecture and legacy.

The Friends of Rockhaven has now organized as a nonprofit corporation is looking to raise money to turn the property into a publicly accessible park. They also hope to obtain California Historical Landmark status for the Sanitarium. But considering Glendale spends $50,000 a year to maintain the property, there are more than a few hurdles for the group to get past. The city also just agreed to let the Crescenta Valley Water District tap a well beneath the Sanitarium to provide water to about 1,200 homes in the area.”

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In a related article for LA Weekly, Liana Aghajanian explores Rockhaven’s unique history.

“Beyond its ornate entry gate and picturesque transom windows sit the sanitarium’s largely untouched rooms — the walls of the dining room, sitting rooms and bedrooms still lined in peeling floral wallpaper, sofa sets neatly arranged, Murphy beds at the ready. Family photos lie on a table; a dressy coat hangs abandoned.

[Mike] Lawler, who was raised by a single mother and has four daughters, sees Rockhaven as a monument to women’s dignity, a mental health industry game-changer that must be saved.

He belongs to Friends of Rockhaven, whose president, Joanna Linkchorst, wants to ensure the site is preserved as a public space. Her love affair with the sanitarium began on her first visit.

The duo has led tours through the sanitarium, a sprawling and serene complex that housed around 125 residents at its peak and is, they say, one of the most endangered historic spaces in the Los Angeles area.

In a bid to save the facility, in 2008 Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles. But now, city officials sound almost tongue-twisted about its status.

‘We do not have the ability to go and either try to realize what was kind of nebulously described and envisioned for that site, but at the same time we can’t simply divest in the property because of the expectations of a number of the stakeholders have,’ says Glendale city manager Scott Ochoa. ‘So we’re in this position where we’re floating somewhere between the ceiling and the floor.’

Former Glendale city councilman John Drayman led the city effort to preserve Rockhaven as a historic park or library, saving it from demolition. But no funds were appropriated beyond the acquisition price, Ochoa says. After the recession, the idea of reviving the site fizzled, and so did Drayman’s influence — he was convicted last year of embezzlement, perjury and filing false tax returns.

‘Rockhaven lost all momentum,’ Ochoa says.

Linckhorst has joined forces with Lawler, former head of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley and author of Murder and Mayhem in the Crescenta Valley, and an expert on the stories of the region. Lawler says the sanitarium’s own story began in the 1920s when Richards came to the Crescenta Valley — then famed for having the healthiest air quality in the United States — with six patients and some chickens. Richards was bent on helping her charges escape cells in mental wards throughout California and the nation where women were commonly abused.

Rockhaven quickly earned the nickname the ‘Screen Actors Sanitarium’ thanks to its famous clientele such as Burke; Broadway actress Peggy Fears; Babe Egan (front woman of Babe Egan’s Hollywood Redheads); and Monroe’s mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, who slipped away from Rockhaven several times while Marilyn paid $250 a month for her care.

At the end of the 1920s, when Richards wanted to expand her sanitarium, she was met with opposition from the community. One resident accused Richards of being unfit to run it. The flinty nurse sued the resident in a $100,000 slander case and won, although she was granted just $500 in personal damages.

‘This land was purchased with the promise that it would be a park,’ Lawler says. ‘If [the city] won’t create a park there, like they said they would, then we’ll do it ourselves.’

But with Rockhaven owned by Glendale, which spends about $50,000 a year to maintain the site, a number of bureaucratic issues stand in the way, and it’s not clear what the group’s next move should be. For now, the city has agreed to give them time to look for independent funding.

‘We’re certainly aware that it’s there, and we’re trying to find solutions for it — it’s not something that anybody is going to forget about,’ says Glendale city council member Laura Friedman.

Rockhaven stands as a hopeful feminist symbol of humanity during inhumane times — one that may or may not survive the wrecking ball.”

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Marilyn’s ‘Red Velvet Collection’ Goes on Tour

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Limited Runs, who curated a Marilyn-themed photo exhibition in 2014 (see here), have announced a new touring event – featuring Tom Kelley’s famous nudes, as well as photos by Len Steckler and Gene Lester. Opening in Los Angeles on July 29, ‘Marilyn Monroe: Red Velvet Collection’ will also visit San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York. More details here.

“On May 27, 1949, an out of work and broke, Monroe posed nude for photographer Tom Kelley at his studio in Hollywood, California. Agreeing to the session under the condition that Kelley’s wife, Natalie, attend the shoot, Monroe signed the model release as ‘Mona Monroe’ and earned a paltry $50. Neither the photographer, nor 22-year old Monroe realized the historic moment they were creating.

Chicago-based printing company John Baumgarth Company acquired the prized ‘Red Velvet’ Kodachrome photograph in 1951. Baumgarth used them to create three iconic images of the bombshell that were then printed and sold in an estimated 9 million ‘Golden Dream’ calendars. Reproducing Monroe’s refined features, supple texture and luxurious tones was no small feat – print artisans painstakingly created and corrected the many layers of film for the full color printing process to make the original Chromalin color proof separations – a masterpiece of printer’s art.

Believed to have been lost forever, the Kodachrome and color Separations actually remained amidst Baumgarth’s massive print archives. Narrowly escaping destruction on multiple occasions, the separations changed hands several times through a series of corporate asset acquisitions until acquired as part of a corporate art collection purchased by the Messenger Art Collection in 2010. These are the only known surviving examples of the original separations used to produce Golden Dreams calendars.

The framed Kodachrome photograph and the color Separations are now mounted and protected in OP3 museum-quality acrylic frames (29” x 24”) and will be suspended from gallery ceilings across America.”

Ray Anthony: ‘Marilyn and I’

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Ray Anthony, the saxophonist who scored a hit with ‘My Marilyn’ in 1952 – and threw a star-studded pool party in his dream girl’s honour – is now 93, and the subject of a short film, Marilyn and I, directed by Phil Messerer. You can watch it here.

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“What inspired me at first was the amazing quality of the original content.  Ray spent most of his life in the limelight and so much of his career was documented with beautiful, high resolution photography.  This allowed me to generate very dynamic camera movement within the photographs themselves and attempt to create a feeling that we were watching a motion picture rather than a slide show.  And I tried pacing it like a modern day music video.  It’s basically Ken Burns on speed.  Most classic content is treated with great reverence by incorporating a very slow, deliberate editing technique.  Our content was fairly lighthearted so I took the rare liberty of approaching historic documents with comic decorum.  Most people forget that Marilyn was a comic actress.  Her films were predominantly sex comedies.  So I actually think this film is very much in tune with her body of work (no pun intended).  After studying her career I felt it was practically called for.  To do a somber Marilyn story would be a disservice to memory.  But the film also has a very touching, very human element; something that I feel Marilyn had and is the reason for her longevity in the hearts of her fans.

Finally, (and I know this sounds a tad pretentious talking about a 14 minute short) I feel that Marilyn and I paints a picture of America itself.  Mr. Anthony’s story wasn’t just filled with run of the mill celebrities.  These were all Icons of Twentieth Century American culture.  Glen Miller – Ray’s first bandleader – the tragic war hero who was the first to make Jazz ‘cool’. Hugh Hefner – Ray’s best friend – who ushered in the sexual revolution.  Berry Gordy – Ray’s tennis nemesis – who started Motown and was at the center of the civil rights movement. And of course Marilyn Monroe – who gave us the term ‘sex goddess’.”

How Jimmy James Discovered Marilyn

jimmy jamesIn an interview with San Antonio Current, female impersonator Jimmy James recalls how seeing a picture of Marilyn inspired him to start an acclaimed career. (Although he no longer performs as MM, photos such as the one posted above are still mistaken for Marilyn, and are regularly used for tattoos and iphone covers.)

“What was your initial spark to start impersonating Marilyn Monroe?

I was studying theatrical makeup at San Antonio College, and I was studying facial bone structures … I was skimming through a book called Life Goes to the Movies and it struck me — a photograph of Marilyn Monroe, who I had always heard about but didn’t really know much about. The way her face was in this photograph reminded me of my face, and I know that sounds presumptuous, but again, I was a makeup artist so I knew about facial structure. And I was doing theater that never paid anything, and I knew that the drag queens in the clubs got paid money [so] I thought, ‘What if I could present this as an actor playing the part of Marilyn Monroe on stage in a club?’ And that’s how it started. But it took about three years of hard work and research to figure out who and what she was.

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So once you got that act together, what did it consist of?

I would lip-sync a little bit … I could do ‘Happy Birthday’ live because I could sing that a cappella. And I would seek out instrumentals in thrift shops … you know there was no karaoke back then and there was no way of paying someone to make the music.”

Marilyn and the Truckee River Ring Myth

ScreenShot660Did the newly divorced Roslyn Tabor (as played by MM) throw her wedding ring off Reno’s Virginia Street Bridge, and into the Truckee River in The Misfits? The answer is no – while her friend Isabel (Thelma Ritter) mischievously suggests it, Roslyn laughs and proposes to ‘get a drink’ instead.

As recently reported, the bridge is now being replaced. Lindsay of the IAmNotAStalker blog visited the location of Marilyn’s Misfits scene in 2011.

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And as Mark Robison reports in today’s Reno Gazette-Journal, the long-held belief that divorcees commonly toss their rings in the river is somewhat exaggerated – but not without precedent. (In fact, Hollywood had burnished the myth for decades before Marilyn set foot on that bridge.)

“Some have speculated it started with the 1961 film The Misfits where Marilyn Monroe’s character thinks about throwing her ring into the Truckee.

Nevada historian Guy Rocha goes back further. In a Reno Gazette-Journal column published in 2008, he writes, ‘The first-known account of throwing wedding rings into the Truckee River (is) in the pamphlet titled: Reno! It Won’t Be Long Now’ NINETY DAYS AND FREEDOM from 1927.

This topic of freedom in Reno refers to the city’s liberal divorce laws, which allowed couples to get divorced after a short residency of three months, often spent in a hotel casino. (The time was shortened even more later.) Other locations in the first half of the 20th century made divorce much harder and required much longer waits before finalizing the decision. This made Reno especially popular among people who needed a divorce before they could marry someone else.

Rocha wrote that an early pop culture reference to tossing wedding rings into the Truckee River occurs in Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.’s 1929 book Reno. A movie of the book released in 1930 ‘first introduced movie-goers to Truckee River ring-flinging, Rocha said.

A 1931 book called The Reno Divorce Racket has a photograph of Marjorie MacArthur and Dorothy Foltz throwing their wedding rings into the river, Rocha reported.

Many stories in magazines and newspapers followed, some debunking the trend, others celebrating it.

Rocha mentions a 1950 United Press news story about 50 Junior Chamber of Commerce volunteers cleaning the river and finding one — but only one — wedding ring.

Rocha concluded, ‘The tradition might have been fakelore originating in promotional literature, then reinforced many times by publicity gimmicks. While not common practice, real wedding rings found their way into the Truckee because some divorcées acted on what they believed to be a tradition.'”

‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?’

Photo by Ben Ross
Photo by Ben Ross

‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?’ was the title of a panel discussion held at the BFI in June as part of their MM retrospective. Film programmer Jemma Desai chaired a wide-ranging debate that encompassed acting methods, body image and feminism. Film scholar Lucy Bolton, writer Jacqueline Rose (Women in Dark Times) and playwright/novelist/critic Bonnie Greer (Marilyn and Ella) share their perspectives on why Monroe’s life and work continue to fascinate – with Greer even suggesting that “Marilyn was a hundred times more radical than Arthur Miller could even begin to dream of being.” You can watch the discussion in full here.

’17 Years Marilyn’ Catalogue Available

1129929.MAD.9The recent ‘Happy Birthday Marilyn‘ exhibition at Pop International Galleries, NYC – curated by Andrew Weiss – has inspired a 166-page catalogue, entitled 17 Years Marilyn: The Making of a Legend, featuring works by seven photographers, from her beginnings as a model in 1945, to her final days as one of the world’s most beloved movie stars in 1962.

“It is available for purchase from the Andrew Weiss Gallery for $45 (USD),” says Immortal Marilyn member Livia. “Although their shipping defaults to US only they are working on it. I have emailed them and they welcome international customers. Just send them an email with your postal address and they will send you an invoice.”

The email address for the Andrew Weiss Gallery is info@andrewweiss.com

Marilyn Miller: The Sunshine Girl

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Over at Classic Movie Hub, Sara and Cynthia Brideson – authors of Ziegfeld and His Follies, a new biography of the great Broadway producer – profile Marilyn Miller, one of his most popular stars. Miller would posthumously inspire Marilyn Monroe’s stage name, as the young Norma Jeane reminded talent scout Ben Lyon of her. Some years later, during her marriage to Arthur Miller, Monroe’s legal name was Marilyn Miller.

“In the 1920s there were two types of girls in the movies. First, there were the angelic waifs. Second, there were the flapper girls brimming with ‘It.’ One diminutive, blonde actress embodied both types. She was at once traditional and defiant of old conventions. She bobbed her hair and was never dependant on a man for money, but she enjoyed receiving the conspicuous gifts Stage Door Johnnies lavished upon her. She gave up dozens of marriage offers from wealthy middle aged men, favoring the old adage that marriage must be based on love.  Who was this girl?

Her name was Marilyn Miller. At the peak of her success between 1918 and 1928, she personified the youth of the Jazz Age. She began as a sprite-like ballerina in the Ziegfeld Follies and came within a hair’s breadth of being cinema’s new ‘It’ girl before her tragic, premature death. Marilyn Miller, though almost forgotten today, is as much the tragic heroine of the Jazz Age as Jean Harlow was of the 1930s and Marilyn Monroe was of the 1950s.

Following her passing, Hollywood made two attempts at preserving the memory of Ziegfeld’s greatest star; first in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), a film celebrating the music of Jerome Kern in which Judy Garland admirably portrays Marilyn in three musical numbers, and second in a highly fictitious biopic entitled Look for the Silver Lining starring June Haver. Neither come close to conveying the real Marilyn—an actress ‘intended only to smile’ but was, in reality, a complicated, willful woman. In the words of a friend, she always ‘…seemed so happy…that no one suspected the depth of her feelings and her capacity…for pain.’ On stage, and indeed, in the precious few films that document both her flaming youth and elfin charm, Marilyn epitomes a pretty girl who, like a melody, haunts you night and day.”