Unlikely Bedfellows? Marilyn and ‘Ulysses’

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Photo by Fraser Penney

Why does Eve Arnold’s photo of Marilyn reading Ulysses hold such perennial fascination? In an article for literary journal Kill Your Darlings, Siobhan Lyons explores this image’s iconic power. (There is one minor error in this insightful piece: Lyons claims that Marilyn was married to Arthur Miller at the time, but she wasn’t. Their romance actually began a few weeks after this photo was taken…)

“These images fascinate us because they are so out of alignment with the pervasive understanding of celebrity culture as a vapid, visually-oriented industry, working against the ‘highbrow’ terrain of capital-L Literature. But if the iconic image of Monroe reading Ulysses tells us anything, it is more about challenging our own assumptions regarding literature, and who we believe to be the ‘right’ kind of reader.

The famous Monroe photograph was featured on the cover of a 2008 issue of Poets and Writers magazine, as well as the front cover of Declan Kiberd’s 2009 Ulysses And Us: The Art of Everyday Living. In his 2008 book Women Who Read are Dangerous, Stefan Bollman notes: ‘The question, Did she or didn’t she? is almost unavoidable. Did Marilyn Monroe, the blonde sex symbol of the twentieth century, read James Joyce’s Ulysses, a twentieth-century icon of highbrow culture and the book many consider to be the greatest modern novel – or was she only pretending?’

Monroe’s love of reading is well-known – the 1999 Christie’s auction of her personal belongings included almost 400 books, and she was regularly photographed reading. Despite this, Monroe is evidently not the first person one would consider the typical ‘Ulysses reader’. And this, perhaps, is part of the problem.

The photograph, then, allows us to re-imagine the Ulysses reader – author Julie Sloan Brannon argues that the image subverts the ‘dumb-blonde’ stereotype with which Monroe is almost always associated. The image therefore works on two fronts: it forces us to abandon elitist assumptions about what kind of people read ‘difficult’ literature, while bringing Monroe to the attention of a more literary crowd.

‘Her image remains,’ [Anthony] Burgess concludes, ‘and no amount of analysis can properly explain [its] continued potency’. The continued analysis of the image, however, shows how keenly these assumptions, about who should read what kind of book, are held. While the image helps to challenge overtly sexualised readings of Monroe, it more importantly debunks myths about literature that have been based on difficulty, exclusion, and elitism.”

Monroe Six Pics Up For Grabs

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A remarkable collection of candid photos, including some never seen and taken by James Collins – an original member of the ‘Monroe Six’, the group of teenage fans who befriended Marilyn after she moved to New York – will be on sale via Heritage Auctions on February 20, the Mirror reports.

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“Marilyn moved to New York in 1955 and spent about five years in Manhattan. We all met on the street and we just sort of decided we were going to be a group. I just used any box camera I had, nothing fancy because I couldn’t afford an expensive camera.

We knew where she lived and her hairdresser [Peter Leonardi] was a friend of ours so he would tell us when she was going to an event and where she would be. Afterwards we would run to the drugstore to get our snapshots developed in multiples so that all of us could have all the shots we had taken of her.

We wanted nothing from her except the opportunity to take her picture or to get her autograph – and often she would sign on the very photographs we had just taken of her the day before. I kept them in a little satchel, but after she died I put it in my closet and left it for years.

They’re all candid photos, they show the two sides of her. By day she was this sweet, lovely girl and at night she became the movie star. But I never took them thinking they would be worth anything.”

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Advertisers Take Marilyn to the Superbowl

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Following the Snickers ad featuring Marilyn and Willem Dafoe, last night’s Superbowl included two further references to MM. The first was a coda to the Snickers ad, with Eugene Levy playing the ‘fan guy’, reports Adweek. (And if you’re wondering how Marilyn made it into the original clip, Bustle has some suggestions.)

“‘You wouldn’t have Hollywood history without the fan guy,’ Levy said in a statement. ‘It was an honor to portray one of Tinsel Town’s forgotten heroes. Marilyn Monroe might’ve been looking down at him, but every guy in America was looking up to that stage hand.'”

Meanwhile, Alfred Eisenstadt’s 1953 portrait of Marilyn – representing beauty – appeared in another Superbowl commercial for Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep brand, AdAge reports. This is not a first – footage of Marilyn was used in Bob Dylan’s Chrysler ad for the Superbowl back in 2014.

“‘Portraits,” which aired during the halftime show, looks backwards, weaving in references to Jeep’s 1941 roots as a military vehicle created for Allied soldiers in World War II. The spot uses 60 images from around the world, including photos of famous people who have links to Jeep … Ms. Monroe — who also starred posthumously in a Snickers Super Bowl ad this year — is connected to Jeep via a honeymoon trip she took to Korea with Joe DiMaggio in the wake of the Korean War.”

Marilyn Jetty Swim in Adelaide

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More news from Australia: a group of Marilyn lookalikes have swum around the Brighton jetty, near Adelaide, raising over $50,000 for Cancer Council SA, reports ABC News. (The event was initially planned as a mass ukulele strum.)

“The event, now in its third year, a little less than The Seven Year Itch, attracted 107 participants, and is part of the larger Brighton Jetty Classic ocean swimming events.

Marilyn Jetty Swim founder Sarah Tinney, an American, said water conditions were perfect for the event.

‘It was easy, much easier than last year, the conditions weren’t so favourable but that’s a great metaphor for life,’ Ms Tinney said.

‘Sometimes you have smooth seas and sometimes you don’t.’

A lot of preparation goes into playing the part of the Hollywood icon, who was born Norma Jeane Mortensen in 1926.

‘Over the years I think we have perfected it. But the basic plan is women come with their foundation on,’ she said.

‘They do their own blush and we do the vintage flicks on the eyes … and we also do the beauty spots you cannot forget or you are not a Marilyn … and we have a lipstick bar.’

‘We try not to [get wet]. We’re Marilyns. We are here for the glamour and we are here for the fundraising.’

Ms Tinney said her mother died after an eight-month battle with cancer in 2007 and she made a promise to raise money to find a cure.

‘My husband actually used to call my mother Marilyn and my dad John Wayne because he’s Australian and they were sort of the only American icons he knew … so I thought that was pretty weird and I saw it as a sign ...'”

Edward Parone 1925-2016

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The stage and television director Edward Parone died aged 90 on January 24 after a short battle with cancer, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.

Born to an Italian immigrant family in Hartford, Connecticut on August 30, 1925, he attended Trinity College after serving in the US Navy.

During the 1950s, Parone worked as a production supervisor at the off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre, read plays for famed literary agent Audrey Wood, and wrote occasional pieces for the New Yorker.

Parone is credited with ‘discovering’ the great American playwright, Edward Albee. While working for the William Morris Agency in 1959, Parone read Albee’s one-act play, The Zoo Story, and signed him up.

After leaving the William Morris Agency, Parone helped to run the New York office of Marilyn Monroe Productions (following the departure of Milton H. Greene.)

In 1961, Parone was hired as assistant to Frank E. Taylor, Arthur Miller’s editor, who was producing his screen play, The Misfits. The Nevada shoot was infamously gruelling, not least because Miller’s marriage to Marilyn – also his leading lady – was on the rocks.

As journalist W.J. Weatherby observed, the Misfits crew was split into two camps. As Taylor’s aide, Parone was part of Miller’s group. In an interview for the 2002 documentary, Making the Misfits, Parone would recall Marilyn’s legendary unpunctuality – although his niece, Lynn Ladue, said he admired her professionalism.

Marilyn at work on 'The Misfits', 1961. (Photo by Eve Arnold)
Marilyn at work on ‘The Misfits’, 1961. (Photo by Eve Arnold)

Weatherby remembered an encounter with Monroe and Parone in his 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn:

“One morning on the dry lake I watched her repeat an emotional outburst ten times before [John] Huston was satisfied with her nuances … The wear and tear on her nerves must have been savage…

I was surprised then in the early afternoon to see her looking composed and dazzling in a simple dress – looking, in fact, every inch her image … She was out shopping with Eddie Parone … I heard her say to him, ‘Who’s that?’ He told her and she asked to be introduced. She gave me a friendly smile …”

In 1963, Parone returned to the theatre as managing director of the new Albee-Barr-Wilder Playwrights Unit. After directing LeRoi Jones’ The Dutchman in 1964, Parone’s name became synonymous with cutting-edge drama, and his later discoveries included playwright Sam Shephard.

In 1967, Parone moved to the newly opened Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, directing ground-breaking plays such as Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, as well as some classic revivals. He edited two books of new writing, and also worked in television. ‘He wasn’t in it for fame,’ Lynne Ladue said. ‘He was in it for the love of what he did. It was never about winning awards or who he knew, it was always about the work.’

In 1985, Parone retired and moved to a farm in Nambé,  New Mexico.  He enjoyed gardening and walking his dogs, as well as helping his friend, Harvey Perr, to stage a reminiscence piece in New York last year. ‘He always seemed to be very, very young,’ Perr recalled.

‘Forever Marilyn’ Lands in Australia

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Marilyn’s Australian year kicks off next week as the touring exhibit, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon opens at the Murray Art Museum (MAMA) in Albury, New South Wales. The exhibition will feature 150 artworks and supporting programs, reports the Border Mail.

Meanwhile the arrival of Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn’, in Bendigo Park, Victoria (around 90 miles from Melbourne) heralds another upcoming exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn, opening at Bendigo Art Gallery on March 5. You can watch a video of the installation here.

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Glynis Traill-Nash reports on both exhibits in an article for The Australian.

“The two exhibitions deal with Monroe in different ways: for Bendigo, it is about getting closer to the woman herself, and includes screen costumes, photographs, her own wardrobe items and personal effects, such as make-up and notebooks; MAMA instead opens Monroe to the gaze and interpretation of others, including images of the star created both during her lifetime and after her death, from the likes of photographers Cecil Beaton and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and artists including Andy Warhol and Richard Lindner.

The Bendigo exhibition also includes two particularly notable personal looks. ‘We have the little green Pucci blouse, which was quite understated, and was the last thing that Marilyn was photographed publicly in, so it’s quite poignant,’ says Curtin. There is also a photo of the star in a red cotton housecoat, with a pattern of chickens and roosters. ‘It’s quite ordinary, housewifey,’ says Curtin. ‘It was worn when she was about two months’ pregnant (to third husband Arthur Miller). You can see in the photo she looks quite proud, but sadly she lost the baby. But that human side of Marilyn gives us some insight that we don’t usually get to see.'”

Marilyn Returns in Snickers Superbowl Ad

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After last week’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ teaser, comes the real thing: Marilyn recreates the ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch, with a little help from Snickers (and Willem Dafoe.) The commercial was made for this weekend’s Superbowl, reports Adweek, and you can watch it now on Youtube.

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Willem Dafoe as Marilyn

“‘I have to admit playing a Hollywood bombshell is a new challenge for me,’ Dafoe said in a statement. ‘But as a huge fan of Marilyn Monroe, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a walk in her shoes and famous white dress.’

Snickers brand director Allison Miazga-Bedrick added: ‘It doesn’t get much bigger—or better—than combining one of the most legendary moments in movie history from the iconic Marilyn Monroe with some modern day icons of our own.'”

‘Marilyn’ Soundtrack Reissued on Vinyl

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The soundtrack to Twentieth Century-Fox’s 1963 documentary, Marilyn, has been reissued on vinyl by Rumble Records. As with the original release, it includes a print of the cover photo. You can watch the documentary on Youtube; it was also reissued digitally last year, as part of the Fox100 celebrations.

“Released in the same year that America’s obsession died of an overdose of barbiturates in her Brentwood home, this Marilyn Monroe release compiles her tunes from the classic musicals There’s No Business Like Show Business(1954), River of No Return (1954), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Here performing songs from such legendary American songwriters as Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Berlin, Marilyn may not have been the most classically trained vocalist in history but the voice is undeniably recognizable; she performed here as an American icon, and looked good doing it.”

You may recall that Marilyn was also recently included as a bonus CD on Soundtrack Factory’s Some Like it Hot reissue. Unfortunately, the audio commentary from the original Marilyn – and the introductory Fox fanfare – was omitted from the CD, and it doesn’t appear on the vinyl reissue either.

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I think they haven’t had access to the original source tapes,’ says Immortal Marilyn staffer Fraser Penney. ‘In the commentary you hear ‘The Girl’ theme used in The Seven Year Itch and none of that is noted on the original sleeve or tracklist, so I think they’ve basically just gathered together the songs and compiled it from whatever has been available to them without actually knowing the commentary was there on the original album. The original LP was re-issued many times, most widely known as Remember Marilyn, up to the 1980s and always had that. ‘ However, Fraser also tells me that the versions of the songs on this LP are better quality than those versions included on the CD.

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‘The Misfits’, Kate Cameron and Marilyn

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The release of The Misfits on February 1, 1961 – exactly fifty-five years ago this week – was overshadowed by the recent death of Clark Gable, and Marilyn’s divorce from Arthur Miller. Nonetheless, one of the most favourable reviews came from Kate Cameron, critic for the New York Daily News, and has been republished in full.

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“Arthur Miller sang a sweet swan-song to his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, in The Misfits. His written tribute describes her as a beautiful, beloved and ‘loving, sweetly sentimental woman with an emanating lost lady’ aura. The story is prophetic when the song, gay through most of the action, goes into a minor key, as if the author were aware that his love was slipping away from him …

Gable has never done anything better on the screen, nor has Miss Monroe. Gable’s acting is vibrant and lusty, hers true to the character as written by Miller.

It is, I believe, of finer quality and of greater dramatic interest than any American product released last year … The screen vibrates with emotion during the latter part of the film, as Marilyn and Gable engage in one of those battles of the sexes that seem eternal in their constant eruption …”

While some highbrow critics were slow to warm to Marilyn’s talent, Kate Cameron was one of her early champions. Here is a selection of her comments:

“Marilyn Monroe, cast as Miss Stanwyck’s gay, excitement-craving future sister-in-law, is a real acting threat to the season’s screen blondes.” – Clash by Night (1952)

“Marilyn Monroe and David Wayne play their roles well, the former representing a successful contestant in the ‘Mrs America’ beauty pageant, the latter as her disgruntled husband.” – We’re Not Married (1952)

“Ginger and Cary are assisted in this amusing nonsense by Marilyn Monroe, who can look and act dumber than any of the screen’s current blondes.” – Monkey Business (1952)

“Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe give off the quips and cracks, generously supplied by Nunnally Johnson, with a naturalness that adds to their strikingly humorous effect, making the film the funniest comedy of the year.” – How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

“Marilyn stars in three specialty numbers amusingly, as she does a comic burlesque as the sexy singer of naughty songs.” – There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)