This glorious photo of Marilyn filming the ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch – taken by Garry Winogrand in New York, 1954 – is featured in ‘People and Places: Photographs From the Collection’, showing at the Boca Museum of Art in Boca Raton, Florida, until this Sunday, August 23.
So many plays about Marilyn are produced these days, and it’s difficult to tell them apart. But NUDE – Beneath the Beauty Spot, currently at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda, Australia, and starring Carina Waye as MM, will distinguish itself with a one-off performance for nudists on Wednesday, August 19, with writer-director Jayde Kirchert citing Marilyn’s relaxed attitude to nudity as inspiration. If you prefer to dress up for the theatre, the play runs until August 23.
Interior designer Carleton Varney was consulted by Marilyn and Arthur Miller in 1957, after they bought an 18th century farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut. The property was in need of renovation, and according to Architectural Digest, the couple ‘added sliding glass doors to its rear façade and created a one-room studio where the playwright could work.’
Varney writes about Marilyn’s personal style in an article for Palm Beach Daily News. Her preference for simplicity is in marked contrast to her glamorous public image.
“I met Marilyn only once in my life, when she was married to Arthur Miller, the playwright. At that time, she divided her time between Connecticut and her New York City apartment on 57th Street.
Marilyn was not, shall we say, energetically enthusiastic about the ways and styles of interior design. Her tastes were simple. She expressed her personal style as more ‘cottage’ than ‘High Hollywood’ — a simple white clapboard house, say, or a California stucco-clad ranch home. A white picket fence was more Marilyn, I believe, than any fancy grill-work iron gate on a Beverly Hills mansion. I think her design preferences reflected her pre-Hollywood roots as Norma Jean Baker.
I have always said that taste develops in one’s earliest days, probably from the very first room one can recall … Like Marilyn, most of us have a comfort zone that makes us happy and content. And if the look of high glamour does not fit you, don’t go that way! Stick to a style of decorating that suits you and reflects the adventures you have enjoyed in life.”
Marilyn may never have won an Oscar, but the Academy is paying tribute to her most enduringly popular film, Some Like it Hot, with a dedicated page on their website, including costume sketches, script pages, and this previously unpublished photo of Marilyn on Coronado Beach with director Billy Wilder.
With Marilyn so often cited as an exemplar of ‘curvy’ beauty, comes the misconception that she was overweight. Several articles debunking this myth have appeared recently, on websites like Mental Floss and newspapers such as the Daily Mail. Another excellent article on this topic has been posted by Scott Fortner on his MM Collection blog, measuring Marilyn’s true size from the original clothing in his possession.
Newsday have dug into their archives for an account of Marilyn’s belated arrival in New York on July 2nd, 1957, from her summer home in Amagansett, to launch the construction of a new Time-Life building.
Arthur Miller wrote about the event in his autobiography, Timebends, recalling his astonishment at Marilyn’s star power – who else could keep a Rockefeller waiting? In the book, he described her dress as yellow, but his memory may be faulty. The article describes it as pink and white, matching its appearance in colour photos taken that summer by Sam Shaw.
Another interesting point, for me, is that the article names Warren Fisher as Marilyn’s manager that day. According to Stacy Eubank, author of Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn, Fisher (or ‘Fischer’) was a press agent who also assisted Marilyn a few weeks later, when she suffered a miscarriage. In her memoir, Marilyn & Me, Susan Strasberg describes Fisher as ‘a secret friend she often met on Fridays for drinks at the St Regis Hotel.’
“Marilyn Monroe, a girl accustomed to standing out in a crowd, yesterday stood one up. And this crowd included a Rockefeller, who finally couldn’t stand it any longer. He waited for almost two hours and then left before Miss Monroe finally arrived.
The occasion was a ceremony at the site of the $70,000,000, 47-story Time & Life building now being built at 50th St. and Sixth Ave. Marilyn, a girl who sets off explosions wherever she walks, was supposed to set one off at the excavation by lighting a giant firecracker. The blast was planned to mark the reactivation of the old Rockefeller Center Sidewalk Superintendent’s Club.
The blow-up was scheduled for 11:30 AM. Laurance S. Rockefeller, a member of the board of directors of Rockefeller Center, was there in plenty of time. And so was Roy Larsen of Time Inc. But no Marilyn. When she did arrive, after a helicopter flight into the city from her vacation retreat in Amagansett, the blonde actress was more than two hours late.
About 500 ogling fans and 50 newsmen and photographers, climbed over each other for the most advantageous positions to photograph and to admire Miss Monroe’s charms. She smiled and two hours of sweat and swears were forgotten in an instance. The crowd loved it.
But Rockefeller, one of the late John D’s grandson, and Larsen were no longer around. After sweltering in the hot sun for almost two hours, they had announced politely at 1:15 PM that they wouldn’t wait any more.
The official left in charge, G. S. Eyssell, who later was overhead making a few irritated-sounding remarks to Miss Monroe’s manager, Warren Fisher, gave the actress a ‘warm welcome’ when her limousine rolled up to the scene. And the big blast finally went off.
The trip represented a vacation for Marilyn from her summer vacation in Amagansett. Her husband playwright Arthur Miller, stayed home to water the grass. Marilyn had arrived in New York in a nasty old helicopter that had made her airsick.
Lovely as a picture in a low-cut pink-and-white summer dress, the blond smiled and said, ‘Hi.’
Despite the brevity of her greeting, it was perfectly clear why gentlemen prefer blondes. She added that ‘it was a windy trip.'”
As so many outlandish conspiracy theories have arisen in the 53 years after Marilyn’s death, it is instructive to look back at how the tragic event was covered in the days after the news broke. Firstly, an extract from Time magazine’s obituary, which focused on the ill-fated production of Something’s Got to Give, claiming that only a few minutes of usable footage were shot. This myth persisted until 1990, when Marilyn’s impressive, if unfinished work was shown in public for the first time. (Headlined ‘The Only Blonde in World’, Time‘s obit inspired a painting of the same name by British pop artist, Pauline Boty.)
“She had always been late for everything, but her truancy was never heedlessness. Beset by self-doubt and hints of illness, she would stay alone, missing appointments, keeping whole casts waiting in vain. In the past year, her tardiness was measured in weeks instead of hours … She seemed euphonic and cheerful, even while 20th Century-Fox was filing suit against her in hopes of salvaging $750,000 damages from the wreckage of Something’s Got to Give.”
The New York Times noted the gulf between Marilyn’s ‘golden girl’ image and her sad demise, echoing the shock felt by many fans:
“The life of Marilyn Monroe, the golden girl of the movies, ended as it began, in misery and tragedy.
Her death at the age of 36 closed an incredibly glamorous career and capped a series of somber events that began with her birth as an unwanted, illegitimate baby and went on and on, illuminated during the last dozen years by the lightning of fame.
Her public life was in dazzling contrast to her private life.
No sex symbol of the era other than Brigitte Bardot could match her popularity. Toward the end, she also convinced critics and the public that she could act.
During the years of her greatest success, she saw two of her marriages end in divorce. She suffered at least two miscarriages and was never able to have a child. Her emotional insecurity deepened; her many illnesses came upon her more frequently.
In her last interview, published in the Aug. 3 issue of Life magazine, she told Richard Meryman, an associate editor: ‘I was never used to being happy, so that wasn’t something I ever took for granted.’
Considering her background, this was a statement of exquisite restraint.”
Writing for The National, Lincoln Kerstein – co-founder of the New York Ballet – praised Marilyn’s comedic gifts and unabashed sexuality:
“Marilyn Monroe was supposed to be the Sex Goddess, but somehow no one, including, or indeed first of all, herself, ever believed it. Rather, she was a comedienne impersonating the American idea of the Sex Goddess … When people paid their forty millions to see Monroe, it was for an aesthetic performance, not a simple provocation. And she, perhaps even consciously, exemplified a philosophy which had come to her pragmatically, and which a lot of American women don’t like very much—a philosophy at once hedonistic, full of uncommon common sense, and, even to some intellectuals, deeply disturbing. Her performances indicated that while sex is certainly fun, and often funny, it is only one of many games … Marilyn Monroe’s life was not a waste. She gave delight. She was a criterion of the comic in a rather sad world. Her films will continue to give delight, and it is blasphemy to say she had no use. Her example, our waste of her, has the use of a redemption in artists yet untrained and unborn.”
The Los Angeles Times gave a detailed report about Marilyn’s final days, and the still-disputed circumstances of her death, under the headline ‘Marilyn Monroe Dies; Pills Blamed’…
“Two motion pictures executives were bidding for her services at the time of her death. One of them was reportedly J. Lee Thompson, director of the film The Guns of Navarone, who planned to meet with her Tuesday.
Producer Sam Spiegel also wanted her to star in a picture for him, it was reported.
Miss Monroe had received an offer of $55,00 a week to star in a night club appearance in Las Vegas recently, but she turned it down.
Further evidence that her career was on the upswing was indicated by a typewritten message on a table in her home.
It was from a representation of Anita Loos, creator of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and said:
‘Dear Miss Monroe: On behalf of Anita Loos, now in Europe, we would like to know if you would be interested star role new musical based on French play Gogo. Book by Anita Loos, lyrics by Gladys Shelley and enchanting music by Claude Leville. Can send you script and music if you express interest. (signed) Natalia Danesi Murray.'”
Finally, The Guardian‘s W.J. Weatherby published a personal tribute to Marilyn (click to enlarge.) He would later write a book about their friendship, Conversations With Marilyn.
Writing for Variety, Tim Gray recalls how the movie industry’s leading trade publication chronicled Marilyn’s ‘nine years of stardom and a legacy that won’t quit’…
“Few Hollywood stars have created such a powerful legacy based on such a small, brief output: starring roles in 11 films, released during a nine-year period.
Fox ran an ad in Daily Variety in 1952, the year Monroe starred in Don’t Bother to Knock, proclaiming her ‘a new star.’ Studios often took out ads to promote contract players and 20th Century Fox was building her career, so the promo wasn’t unusual. However, in her case, the words sound more factual than hype.
Her big breakthrough occurred in 1953, when she starred in Niagara, How to Marry a Millionaire and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, all for Fox. From that point until her death, at age 36, she was the hottest thing in Hollywood.
Her final completed film came in 1961 with The Misfits. The following year, Daily Variety ran regular updates on the progress of her planned role in Fox’s Something’s Got to Give, from which she was eventually fired for not showing up.
Undeterred, she sought other roles. When Grace Kelly, aka Princess Grace of Monaco, dropped out of the Alfred Hitchcock project Marnie, Monroe expressed interest in playing the role of the chilly, neurotic kleptomaniac. ‘It’s an interesting idea,’ a noncommittal Hitchcock told Variety’s Army Archerd. It is indeed. It would have been a very different film.
Monroe died on Aug. 5, 1962, and the coroner eventually declared the cause of death was ‘acute barbiturate poisoning’ resulting from a ‘probable suicide.’ Laurence Olivier, her co-star and director in The Prince and the Showgirl, said ‘She was a complete victim of ballyhoo and sensation.’ An op-ed piece in the Albany Times-Union said, ‘It’s hard to understand that a girl so many people loved could be so lonely.’
But, as always, the public had the final word. A week after her death, Variety reported a poll by Creative Research Associates of Chicago on public reaction. Men and women liked her equally, describing her as a sex symbol, ‘having a quality of innocence, an unawareness of her physical endowments.’ Of the films she starred in (or had supporting roles in), the respondents predicted she would be best remembered for Some Like It Hot, The Seven Year Itch and How to Marry a Millionaire.
Public tastes are very fickle, but her fans were on the money, even back then.
Though many of Hollywood’s biggest stars had long careers, like Charlie Chaplin, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Marlon Brando, two other notable names also had short resumes: James Dean and Grace Kelly, who, interestingly, also rose to fame in the early 1950s.”
In an excellent Buzzfeed article, Immortal Marilyn’s Marijane Gray analyses Marilyn’s enduring appeal.