Jonas Mekas Remembers Arthur and Marilyn

Jonas Mekas is a pioneering indie filmmaker and critic, who first championed Marilyn in a 1961 review of The Misfits for the Village Voice. He also wrote an impassioned tribute after her death in 1962, which is reprinted in his book, Movie Journal: The Rise of New American Cinema, 1959-1971.

“Saturday night I sat in the lobby of the New Yorker Theater, while Marilyn was dying. I was defending her for the last time. Because what people do when they watch The Misfits is listen to those big lines and not see the beauty of MM herself. How can they do that, I thought, listen to those lines and not see the beauty of MM herself, the little bits of screen reality she creates — fragile, yes, but true and beautiful, more beautiful than any other reality around them? Even when she is pronouncing her lines, I watch her and I see on her face something else, not what the lines say, something of much more importance than the lines. The lines are empty, big, ugly; much of the movie itself is ugly. But the reality created by MM is beautiful, with a touch of sadness. She never learned enough actor’s ‘craft’ to cover her true feelings, true embarrassments, true beautiful self; she kept her ‘amateurishness’.”

Now Mekas has published another book, a ‘part diary, part scrapbook’, as CNN reports. It’s unclear if Marilyn is featured in A Dance With Fred Astaire, but an extract published on the Lithub website includes a 1954 interview with Miller.

‘Nothing Personal’: Richard Avedon’s Marilyn

Marilyn by Richard Avedon (May 6, 1957)

With a major new biography of Richard Avedon, Something Personal, due to be published later this month, the New Yorker‘s Hilton Als looks back at Nothing Personal, the photographer’s 1964 collaboration with author James Baldwin. An exhibit of material from the book will go on display at the Pace/McGill Gallery, NYC, on November 17.

“As an artist, Avedon told the truth about lies, and why we need them or metaphors to survive, and how people fit into their self-mythologizing like body bags, and die in them if they’re not careful. Look at his portrait of Marilyn Monroe in Nothing Personal, perhaps one of the most difficult pictures in the book. In an interview, Dick said Monroe had given a performance as Marilyn Monroe earlier in the shoot, laughing and giggling and dancing. But then the shoot was over, and where was she? Who was she? Nothing Personal is riddled with these questions of identity—what makes a self?—a question that gave a certain thirteen-year-old ideas about the questions he might ask in this world: Who are we? To each other? And why?”

Marilyn’s Prayer Book Heads to Auction

A Jewish daily prayer-book acquired by Marilyn at the time of her 1956 marriage to Arthur Miller will be auctioned at William Doyle Galleries of New York as part of their Rare Books, Autographs & Maps sale on Tuesday, November 7. The book, which numbers some 648 pages, is described as ‘quite worn’ and includes a few notations in pencil, apparently by Marilyn herself. It was originally sold at Christie’s in 1999. The estimated price this time around is $4,000-$6,000. For more information on Marilyn’s conversion, read this excellent article by Simone Esther.

Also featured in the auction is a postcard reproduction of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn, signed by the artist.

UPDATE:  The Warhol postcard sold for $1,250, but Marilyn’s prayer-book went unsold.

Marilyn and Rock Hudson: An Affair That Never Was

Marilyn at the Golden Globes with Rock Hudson (1962)

Author Darwin Porter is nothing if not prolific, publishing new books every year. He has become a one-man National Enquirer of Old Hollywood, writing salacious biographies following this lucractive dictum: the dead don’t sue. Among film historians, Porter has very little credibility, but certain tabloid newspapers, more interested in cheap thrills than evidence, lap up his tall stories.

In 2012, Porter published Marilyn at Rainbow’s End, a lurid tome panned by many long-term Monroe fans. He has since mentioned her in equally dubious ‘biographies’ of Ronald Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. His latest victim is 1950s heartthrob Rock Hudson.

This latest publication, Rock Hudson: Erotic Fire, is featured in the UK’s Daily Mail. Porter claims that his source is actor George Nader, whom inherited the interest on Hudson’s estate along with his partner Mark Miller, Hudson’s former secretary. The couple were close to the star throughout his long career. Rock’s homosexuality was hidden until shortly before his death from AIDS in 1985. (George Nader died in 2002.)

Porter claims that Rock met a young Marilyn on the Universal lot in 1949 and offered to buy her lunch. They met for dinner on several occasions at a ‘hamburger den’, before Marilyn reportedly told him, ‘We don’t want this to get more serious. Both of us will have to lie on a few casting couches.’

This alleged quote is third-hand at best, and besides, Marilyn never worked at Universal. It’s highly unlikely that an affair between two such famous names could have gone unnoticed for sixty years. Rock was initially considered for the male lead in Bus Stop (1956), while Marilyn was considered for Pillow Talk (1959.) Marilyn also wanted him to star in Let’s Make Love (1960.)

Hudson presented an award to her at the 1962 Golden Globes, where they were photographed hugging affectionately. However, her date that night was Jose Bolanos. Hudson also narrated the documentary Marilyn, produced by Twentieth Century Fox after her death.

All of this suggests that they were on friendly terms, but nothing more. In a life as scrutinised as Marilyn’s, there are very few secrets left. Her relationships with celebrities like Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Yves Montand are well-known. At this late stage, a rumoured affair with Hudson should be treated as hearsay, if not outright fantasy.

Jazz in Cambridge With Ella and Marilyn

Helen Hancocks, author of the children’s book, Ella: Queen of Jazz, will appear at Cambridge International Jazz Festival on November 19, reports the Ely Standard.

“Ella Fitzgerald is celebrated in two affectionate tributes, Ella: Queen of Jazz on 19 November at Hotel Felix, with author/illustrator Helen Hancocks and award-winning vocal/piano duo, Miriam Ast & Victor Gutierrez. Featuring a selection of Ella’s famous songs, live illustration, plus a short reading and chat about Helen’s latest book and its themes. The inspiring, true story of how a remarkable friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe was born, and how they worked together to overcome prejudice and adversity.”

Marilyn and Emily Dickinson Inspire Swedish Poet

Marilyn and the 19th century American poet, Emily Dickinson, are the dual inspirations for I tvillingarnas tecken (In the Characters of the Twins), a 2015 collection by Eva-Stina Byggmastar, a Swedish poet living in Finland.

‘She surprises us readers with poems addressed to Marilyn Monroe and Emily Dickinson,’ a review notes. ‘Monroe and Dickinson become trustworthy guides through the wandering of the soul’s landscape – a walk towards acceptance of an honest, more sensitive and more lively self.’ Unfortunately, the book is not available in English.

While on the surface, the two women may appear to be polar opposites (Emily was famously reclusive), Marilyn had more in common with her than meets the eye, as she also wrote poetry and owned a volume of Dickinson’s selected works, as catalogued by Christie’s in 1999.

Thanks to Jerker Bergstrom at Immortal Marilyn

Miranda Hart, Sophie Monk Inspired by Marilyn

Marilyn in London, 1956

British comedienne Miranda Hart has named Colin Clark’s The Prince, the Showgirl and Me among her six favourite books in the Express today. Although its sequel, My Week With Marilyn (after which the 2011 biopic was named), is believed by many fans to be bogus, the first book is quite a good read.

“I was always fascinated by fame. Not the desire to become famous, although I was intrigued by what it might be like, but by the unique quality and lifestyles of true icons. They don’t get more iconic than Marilyn Monroe so I found this diary of a young man becoming her assistant riveting.”

Meanwhile in other celebrity news, Sophie Monk – who played Marilyn in a 2004 TV movie, The Mystery of Natalie Wood, and is currently starring in The Bachelorette in Australia – tells the Brisbane Courier & Mail of an earlier turn as MM :

“My first job was … at Movie World (Gold Coast) as Marilyn Monroe. I got it when I was 17 after I left school and started when I was 18.”

Marilyn’s Address Books On Kindle

Two of Marilyn’s address books have been photographed and published digitally by Lori Hall via Kindle. The first dates back to Norma Jeane’s modelling career, while the second seems to be from the last year of Marilyn’s life. Although they’re quite expensive compared to other ebooks, it could be a useful research tool, and appears to be in aid of a good cause – the author is listed as Art for Alzheimer’s, and the photographer is Alan Radom.

Thoughts on Marilyn, Ulysses, and Poetry

Vintage website Flashbak has compiled transcripts of Marilyn’s poetry, as well as a list of the 430 books she owned (first posted here on ES Updates, of course!) They have also included a quote from the English novelist Jeannette Winterson about Eve Arnold’s famous photos of Marilyn reading Ulysses.

“This is so sexy, precisely because it’s Marilyn reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. She doesn’t have to pose, we don’t even need to see her face, what comes off the photo is absolute concentration, and nothing is sexier than absolute concentration. There she is, the goddess, not needing to please her audience or her man, just living inside the book. The vulnerability is there, but also something we don’t often see in the blonde bombshell; a sense of belonging to herself. It’s not some Playboy combination of brains and boobs that is so perfect about this picture; it is that reading is always a private act, is intimate, is lover’s talk, is a place of whispers and sighs, unregulated and usually unobserved. We are the voyeurs, it’s true, but what we’re spying on is not a moment of body, but a moment of mind. For once, we’re not being asked to look at Marilyn, we’re being given a chance to look inside her.”

When Marilyn Came to Nyack

Writing for Nyack News & Views, Mike Hays tells the story of Marilyn and Arthur Miller’s visit to novelist Carson McCullers’ home on February 5, 1959. (What the article doesn’t mention, however, is that Marilyn and Carson had been friends since 1955, when they were both residents of Manhattan’s Gladstone Hotel. And although Arthur didn’t recall Marilyn having read any of Carson’s books, she did own a copy of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.)

“As a transplanted New Yorker and a famous author, McCullers had close friendships with the famous, including Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. She had always wanted to meet Isak Dinesen, the author of one of her favorite books, Out of Africa. McCullers met Dinesen at a dinner party following an arts awards in New York City.

Learning that Isak wanted to meet Marilyn Monroe, she asked Marilyn’s husband at the time, Arthur Miller, who was seated at a table nearby if the ‘Millers’ would come to lunch on February 5, 1959. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe picked up the 74-year old Dinesen and drove to Nyack. Monroe, 33, had just finished Some Like It Hot. She arrived dressed in a black sheath and fur stole. Isak wore a scarf wrapped around her head as a turban. The guests were fashionably late.

They dined on oysters, white grapes, champagne and a soufflé. They were all smokers including Monroe, although no ashtrays can be seen in the luncheon photos.

Marilyn told a story about once trying to make pasta. She was late, as usual, and the pasta was undercooked, so she tried to complete her attempt at cooking by heating the pasta with a hair dryer. Frail Dinesen told many stories and enjoyed talking to Ida Reeder, Carson’s housekeeper.

Towards the end of the afternoon, as the story goes, Carson put a record on the phonograph and invited Marilyn and Isak to dance with her on a marble table. They took a few steps in each other’s arms. Carson remembers that this was the ‘best’ and ‘most frivolous’ party she had ever given, and she expressed ‘pleasure and wonderment at the love, which her guests seemed to express for each other.’

It is improbable that the frail and ill Carson McCullers, her muscles shriveled, did much dancing and certainly not on a table. But she retold the story again and again over the rest of her life, perhaps telling the story the way she would have wanted it if she were not ill.

Others don’t remember the dancing although they do remember the lunch. Some time later, Miller said that Marilyn had never read anything by Carson, although she may have seen her play, A Member of the Wedding. He did sense a spontaneous sympathy between the women. Miller doesn’t remember the dancing, a story that seemed to have a life of its own in the media.”