Dear Los Angeles: Letters and Diaries 1542-2017, edited by David Kipen, is a new anthology featuring two missives from Marilyn herself among its assorted diary entries and correspondence. The first – dated February 2nd, 1962 – is extracted from a letter to her stepson, Bobby Miller, recounting her meeting with the Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy during a dinner party at Peter Lawford’s home. (You can read it in full by clicking on the images below.)
The second – which she wrote just over two weeks later, on February 17 – is a brief note to the German Consul, Mr. Volkmar von Fuehlsdorff.
Marilyn was also mentioned by director Elia Kazan (her friend and former lover) in a tongue-in-cheek letter dated July 27, 1955. It’s unclear who Kazan was addressing, but his words are clearly in jest (Marilyn was in New York at the time.)
Duke Haney’s Death Valley Superstars: Occasionally Fatal Adventures in Filmland (available in paperback and via Kindle)is a collection of essays about Hollywood, including ‘Golden State Girl’, which muses on Marilyn’s myth. The dichotomy of her movie presence, Haney argues, lay between her training as a model – where each pose was carefully directed to create the perfect look – and her very real desire to be an actress.
While theatrical denizens Tennessee Williams and Sir Laurence Olivier may have doubted that she was really an actress at all, Haney believes she was a great artist – the cinematic equivalent of singers like Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, whose voices may be limited in range, but unlike more technically proficient performers, are “memorable from the gate.”
Haney shared further thoughts on Marilyn in a recent interview for the Cease Cows blog.
“Sex appeal is finally a product of charisma, not beauty, contrary to the rhetoric of literalists and ideologues; and to the extent that charisma is developed, not innate, it can’t be developed in a world where people have surrendered so much of themselves to tech devices. If Marilyn Monroe had lived in the age of Instagram, I’m sure she would have wasted her gifts on selfies, and no selfie will ever endure as Monroe’s collaborations with top photographers have endured. Then, too, the Internet is intrinsically opposed to mystery, and mystery is a key component of charisma, which people are no longer capable of recognizing, it’s so scarce.”
Clash By Night will be screened at the BFI Southbank in London on February 23rd and 25th, as part of a retrospective for leading lady Barbara Stanwyck.
“In Lang’s imaginative adaptation of Clifford Odets’ play, Mae Doyle (Stanwyck) returns home to a small fishing town after an extended stay in New York. Defiant, cynical, disenchanted, she soon finds herself unexpectedly caught up in a tangle of relationships. Stanwyck’s mature, complex characterisation is one of several excellent performances, which include Monroe’s memorable portrayal of a trusting young woman.”
Richard C. Miller’s photographic archive has been added to Getty Images, including his photos of James Dean on the set of his last film, Giant, and many other Hollywood icons. Marilyn is also featured, from the early modelling days to her roles in Some Like It Hot and Let’s Make Love. Among the selections are some rare outtakes and more familiar shots previously unattributed. (You can read my tribute to Miller here.)
Four years after her first assignment with Miller in 1946, Marilyn worked with him again in 1950, as he followed her to an audition at the Players Ring Theatre in Los Angeles. This shoot remained unpublished for many years.
When they reunited eight years later Marilyn was a superstar, shooting what would become her most popular movie, Some Like It Hot.
And finally, on the set of Let’s Make Love in 1960…
The story behind Marilyn’s nude calendar scandal is retold by Pierre Vulag, owner of the Limited Runs poster company, in an interview with Alec Banks for High Snobiety. It’s a good read, with a couple of minor corrections: firstly, Marilyn was shooting Clash By Night when the news broke in early 1952 (not Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which came later); and secondly, while Marilyn told reporters she had posed nude for photographer Tom Kelley because she was behind on her rent, it was actually to get her car out of hock. (Her friend Sidney Skolsky had advised her that the rent story would play better with the public, and it worked!)
“Every press person I talk to ends their questions with ‘why do you still think people are fascinated by Marilyn Monroe?’ It’s exactly that. When the studio insisted that she deny it, she said ‘I will not, and it is me. I have nothing to be ashamed of.’ It was that honesty that the public could relate to … You think of all the Hollywood actors that people still relate to today – James Dean, Elvis Presley, Humphrey Bogart. Those people bled on the screen. They were honest and their personality was like ‘this is who I am, take me or leave me.’ And it’s that thing that she had and people loved.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of Marilyn’s most popular movies, and it just seems to get better with age. In an article for Bust, Samantha Mann describes how it surpassed her expectations.
“Lorelei and Dorothy are the makers and shakers throughout the film. They are the ones who make events happen; events are not happening to them. Often in film, women are on the receiving end of action, or stand adjacent to it, but here, the women act on their own desires and motives to move the action forward. They unabashedly chase the things they want—Monroe’s character is chasing money, and Russell’s character is chasing a poor man to love. It would be easy to reduce Monroe’s character to merely a gold-digger, but she is looking for power and access in a culture driven by money. She is upfront about her intentions, and does not let society’s thoughts about her behavior change her plan of action.
Lorelei seems like the classic dumb blonde throughout, but she routinely gives the audience glimpses that this is merely an act. At one point, she blatantly states, ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it,’ so she’s literally giving men what they want as a means to an end.
Many have noted that not one scene in the movie passes the Bechdel-Wallace test, which didn’t even exist until 1985, but it should be noted that passing the Bechdel test does not inherently make art feminist. Towards the end of the film, Lorelei’s boyfriend tells her that she needs to change if she wants to maintain their relationship. Without hesitation, she declares this is the women she is, and he can take her or leave her. I find it feminist to stick to yourself and motives, and not wilt due to the desires of men. Overall, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a surprisingly feminist, funny buddy comedy.”
Over at the Culled Culture blog, Genna Rivieccio takes another look at Monkey Business.
“The 1952 vehicle that helped further establish Marilyn Monroe as a comically innocent sex symbol, Monkey Business, is an exploration of this very notion–that were the ‘old’ and ‘aged’ to lose some of their inhibitions as they were able to at the peak of their hormonal teen years, then they might just get a chance to finally do things right with their lives–at least sexually … The staidness of the adult mind, so bristled by sex more than excited by it as it was in adolescence, is manifested most clearly when Lois shows off her ‘stockings’ (filled by the signature Monroe leg) to Barnaby, who invented the no-snag fabric for them. He stares at it with not a lustful thought in his mind, examining it as a work of art for its practical, not biological purposes.”
The Lithuanian-born filmmaker, poet and artist, Jonas Mekas, has died aged 97. During World War II, he was imprisoned for eight months in a German labour camp while trying to flee his home country. In late 1949 he emigrated to the US with his brother, settling in Williamsburg, New York.
Mekas interviewed fellow Brooklynite Arthur Miller in 1954, and in 1958, he began writing a ‘Movie Journal’ column for the Village Voice. He would review The Misfits in 1961, praising Marilyn’s performance highly. He later wrote a rapturous tribute to Marilyn after her death.
In 1964, Mekas launched a campaign against movie censorship. His innovative art films inspired Andy Warhol to make movies. Throughout 2007, Jonas released a film each day on his website. He would continue his ‘online diary’ until his death.