Marilyn at Julien’s: Honeymoon With Joe

Goodman Basil Espy III, M.D. loved purchasing sports and Hollywood memorabilia, so it’s not surprising that Marilyn’s romance with baseball legend Joe DiMaggio – and especially, their tour of Japan and Korea – would be at the heart of his Monroe archive, as we discover in this third post about today’s auction, A Southern Gentleman’s Collection. And first up, this ‘Official American League Ball‘ is signed in blue ballpoint ink ‘Marilyn Monroe’ – but not in the sweet spot! (You can read all posts about this sale here.)

“A set of two travel alarm clocks; the first beige metal with a ribbed plastic retractable cover by Westclox; the second brass with a red face by Tiffany & Co., engraved on the bottom ‘Marilyn Monroe;’ interestingly, MM was shot in a series of black and white photographs by Bob Beerman circa 1953 where the Westclox piece can be seen on her bedside table.”

Following a two-year courtship, Marilyn and Joe were married in January 1954. Weeks later, they went on a ‘honeymoon‘ of sorts, as Joe promoted baseball in Japan. These four photos show the couple en route, and after their arrival in Tokyo. And sold seperately, “a traditional Japanese fan likely made of bamboo and painted black with a natural wood handle … according to a catalogue description from Christie’s where it was originally sold, ‘…Joe immediately purchased this small memento for his one true love’ apparently on ‘February 2, 1954.'” 

“A standard United States Department of Defense identification card issued to Marilyn, featuring a small black and white photograph of her in the upper left corner, text reads in part ‘DiMaggio, Norma Jeane,’ photograph is dated ‘4 Feb 54,’ card is dated ‘8 Feb. 1954,’ signed by Monroe in blue ballpoint ink on the lower margin ‘Norma Jeane DiMaggio,’ further black fountain pen ink annotations of the issuing officer appear below, verso displays Monroe’s finger prints next to her typed statistics reading ‘Height 5′ 5 1/2″ / Weight 118 / Color of Hair Blonde / Color of Eyes Blue / Religion None / Blood Type UNK / Date of Birth 1 June 26,’ laminated. Monroe visited Japan and then Korea while on her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio in February of 1954, and she was given this ‘Noncombatant’s Certificate of Identity’ so she could perform for the American troops while there.”

A group of three snapshots, all taken in February 1954 when Marilyn was performing for the US troops in Korea; the first shows MM from the back as she walks by; the other two show a cake the soldiers presented to her (though she’s not in the shots). And sold separately, a strip of paper with a soldier’s name and other information on it, signed in blue ballpoint ink ‘Marilyn Monroe.'”

“A single sheet of paper, typed with notes about Marilyn’s Korean tour that appears to be for photo captions or perhaps an interview, heavily annotated in pencil in Monroe’s hand where she revises or edits the typed text, ending with ‘I knew it was raining – but I somehow didn’t / feel it – all I could think was I hoped / they weren’t getting too wet / Korea – / an experience I’ll never forget.'”

“A standard issue military jacket made of olive green wool, long sleeves, two front flap pockets, six button front closure, stamped on inside lining in part ‘Medium,’ adorned with countless Army-related patches, insignia, and lapel pins, further patch sewn above left pocket with white stitching reads ‘Monroe;’ presented to the star by a VIP soldier when she famously visited the troops in February 1954 while on her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio; the jacket is displayed within a shadow box along with two black and white images [sold separately, here]: one shows MM receiving the folded-up jacket from a soldier named McGarr; the other shows MM with McGarr and Jean O’Doul [wife of baseball great, Lefty O’Doul] wearing the jacket.

“A single page of stationery printed with an ‘M,’ penned in blue ballpoint ink, no date, to ‘Jimmy,’ reading in part ‘I was so happy you met us / at the airport and I got to see you / again – your [sic] one of my favorite / people you know,’ ending with ‘Have a Happy Birthday and a / wonderful time / Marilyn’ — Jimmy being James ‘Lefty’ O’Doul, professional baseball player and later a manager and mentor to Joe DiMaggio; included with its original envelope addressed to ‘Mr. Jimmy Gold O’doul [sic] / Personal.’ And sold separately, four photos taken in Korea; three depict Marilyn with others as she wears her fitted checkered dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953); one depicts Jean O’Doul [wife of baseball great Lefty O’Doul] and a soldier; versos of all display various handwritten annotations in pencil and fountain pen ink including the date of ’27/2/54.'”

Original photo, though now creased and wrinkled, depicting Marilyn in a living room with four other females circa 1954, a black ballpoint ink annotation handwritten on the verso reads ‘This is the interior / of the house in / Beverly Hills. It was / rented by Joe;’ also included are three other snapshots from the same day but printed decades later.”

“A small clutch-style purse, made of beige raw silk, gold-tone metal frame with rhinestone closure, zipper on bottom opens to reveal another compartment, inside lined in tan-colored silk, label reads ‘Saks Fifth Avenue,’ additional studio label reads ‘1-6-3-1667 M. Monroe A-729; used by Marilyn as ‘Vicky Parker’ in an extended sequence with Donald O’Connor as ‘Tim Donahue’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954.)”

“A standard playbill for The Teahouse of the August Moon signed in blue fountain pen ink on the top margin of the cover by Marilyn and in turquoise fountain pen ink on the side margin of the cover by Joe DiMaggio.” [The play starred David Wayne, who had appeared with Marilyn in four films, including How to Marry a Millionaire. She would see the play again after moving to New York, when her Actors’ Studio buddy Eli Wallach joined the cast.]

“A group of four telegrams, variously dated in December 1954, to the star and her lawyer [Frank Delaney] from an executive at 20th Century Fox, outlining how Marilyn needs to fulfill her obligation to The Seven Year Itch even though she’s sick; funny documents showing how Marilyn was being Marilyn and the studio had to acquiesce because she was…Marilyn. And sold separately, a contact sheet depicting 12 images of Marilyn wearing a white fur stole as she stands next to Itch director Billy Wilder in 1954, mounted to cardboard, signed in black felt-tip ink in the lower right corner ‘for Billy Wilder from Dick Avedon / 67.'”

“A small piece of paper with the top and bottom portions torn off, one side has penciled questions written in another hand, likely that of Ben Hecht or Sidney Skolsky [as both men who helped Marilyn to write her 1954 memoir, My Story, which wasn’t published until 1974], reading in full ‘Think about / 1) anecdote about pics / working on / 2) about Johnny Hyde – / how helped you – gave courage,’ rest of page and other side have Monroe’s blue fountain pen ink responses, with one compelling part reading ‘for those who want to / judge – I’ve traded my (paper purposely torn off here but evidently ‘body’) / more than once / for shelter and small quantities / of understanding and / warmth. I never traded for money / or a job directly or anything (one) could see / with the naked eye / except from one man / who was also deeply lonely…’ and it ends there on that cliffhanger!”

Robert Evans 1930-2019

Robert Evans as a young actor

Robert Evans, who has died aged 89, is best-known as the producer who saved Paramount Studios from ruin in the 1960s and ’70s with a string of hits, including The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, True Grit, Love Story, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby, and Chinatown. His fortunes changed for the worse in 1980 when he was convicted of drug trafficking, and the spiralling budget of The Cotton Club (1983) accelerated the downturn in his career, although he continued producing films sporadically for another twenty years.

Born Robert J. Shapera in 1930, Robert grew up on New York’s Upper West Side and began his career promoting his brother’s fashion company, Evan-Picone, and doing voice work on radio. In 1956, actress Norma Shearer spotted Bob by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and suggested him for the role of her deceased husband, legendary Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, in Man Of a Thousand Faces, a Lon Chaney biopic starring James Cagney.

It was not his first movie role – he had already played a minor part in Jean Negulesco’s Lydia Bailey (1952), and an uncredited bit part in The Egyptian (1954), both at Twentieth Century Fox. (The studio’s top female star, Marilyn Monroe, had been tipped for the role of Nefer in this expensive biblical epic, until head of production Darryl F. Zanuck cast his girlfriend Bella Darvi instead.)

After shooting Man Of A Thousand Faces at Universal, Evans returned to Fox at Zanuck’s behest, to play bullfighter Pedro Romero in a star-studded adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises. He was second-billed in The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958), and worked again with director Negulesco on what would be Evans’ final acting role for many years, as Dexter Key in The Best of Everything (1959), starring Hope Lange and Joan Crawford.

In his best-selling 1994 memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Evans described how missing out on the chance to co-star with Marilyn in Let’s Make Love (1960) put paid to his hopes of stardom, and ultimately changed the course of his life. (He was first suggested for the role of Tony Danton by producer Jerry Wald, before losing out to the British singer Frankie Vaughan.)

Marilyn with Frankie Vaughan in Let’s Make Love (1960)

“From the moment we met, Jerry Wald and I became fast friends. Jerry was by far the most entrepreneurial producer in Hollywood. No one had a greater flair with both industry and press. Best of all, he even respected me as an actor and wasn’t shy in telling anyone. From the Saturday Evening Post to Photoplay, to television, radio and print, the industry was well aware that I was Jerry Wald’s pick as ‘the romantic rage’ of the sixties.

It didn’t happen. As a bullfighter, the head of a studio, or a crazy killer, at the very least, I was believable. Playing myself, I was a dud. Why? I was a better imitator than actor.

Jerry Wald felt different. Maybe because he had already gone out on a limb announcing me for the second male lead in The Billionaire, opposite Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand. Who was I to argue?

The title is not the only thing that got changed. Now called Let’s Make Love, principal photography kept getting pushed back and back. Monroe was being her usual indecisive self. Meanwhile, Jerry Wald offered me a co-starring part in Return to Peyton Place. What could be worse than being in a sequel to a piece of shit? Playing the same part I had just finished, that’s what. Only this time it was ‘Dexter Key Goes to New England.’

‘No thanks,’ I said.

‘Fine,’ said Lou Schreiber, who ran business affairs at Twentieth. ‘You’re on suspension.’

Dumb move, Evans. Being on suspension, Twentieth cast someone else in the Monroe film.”

Marilyn at Julien’s: Home and Family

In the latest post on the November 1 event at Julien’s Auctions, Property From the Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe, let’s take at a little-known side of Marilyn, her home and family life.
(You can read all my posts on the sale here.)

“A set of two books; the first The Woman Who Was Poor by Leon Bloy, hardcover, no dust jacket, published in 1947; the second Lidice by Eleanor Wheeler, hardcover, dust jacket, published in 1957.”

SOLD for $4,375

“A receipt from Morgan Smith Jeweler located in Reno, Nevada, dated November 11, 1960, for the purchase of three Navajo rugs and a sterling silver bead necklace. Marilyn had been staying in Reno while filming The Misfits.”

SOLD for $320

A brass mechanism with a mother of pearl push button doorbell, previously wired, now not in working order; used by Marilyn in her Brentwood home which she bought in 1962.

SOLD for $3,840

“A glass coupe design champagne glass with a bulbous stem, ‘Marilyn’ is etched on the outside rim so it can be read while sipping from it; a gift to the star for her birthday from her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson.” [And sold separately, a photo of Marilyn by George Barris.]

Glass sold for $6,250; photo sold for $768

“An ornate, Italian-style, carved wood corner chair with olive green velvet upholstery; one of the star’s own chairs that was in her newly-purchased Brentwood home when Life magazine photographer Allan Grant took a number of photographs of her sitting in and on it to accompany an article written by Richard Meryman in July 1962; Monroe wore high heels that day which caused a small tear in the upholstery (which can still be seen) and she also slightly cracked the frame as she sat on top of the chair … Included are two letters: one from 1977 noting that a Joanne Raksin bought this chair directly from Inez Melson [Monroe’s business manager] and one from years later outlining how Raksin sold it to another person.”

Chair SOLD for $$81,250; photos SOLD for $768

“A three-page handwritten letter from Grace Goddard, Marilyn Monroe’s former foster mother, dated July 8, 1953. In the letter, Goddard informs Monroe that she had written to C.S. Publishing [Christian Science] on behalf of Mrs. Gladys P. Eley (Monroe’s mother, formerly Gladys Monroe Baker Mortensen) to renew her subscription for C.S. Literature. Goddard also informs Monroe that her mother is ‘improving and seems happy in her nursing.’ Goddard also states that she sent Eley a pair of white shoes along with a personal letter, which Eley received and was happy about.”

SOLD for $437.50

A standard issue United Airlines ticket for a flight the star took on March 18, 1954 from Los Angeles to San Francisco using the name ‘Mrs. Joseph DiMaggio.’

SOLD for $1,024

“A single sheet of stationery from Parkside House, the English manor where Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller stayed in Surrey while Monroe filmed The Prince and the Showgirl in London in 1956. The page contains a mournful handwritten poem in pencil on front of sheet with multiple strikethroughs and edits, reading in full, ‘Where his eyes rest with pleasure-I/ want to still be-but time has changed/ the hold of that glance./ Alas how will I cope when I am/ even less youthful-/ I seek joy but it is clothed/ with pain-/ take heart as in my youth/ sleep and rest my heavy head/ on his breast for still my love/ sleeps beside me.'”

SOLD for $6,250

“A one-page typed letter from an author’s representative by the name of Alex Jackinson dated September 7, 1957. The letter references a query Jackinson had received regarding Marilyn Monroe’s family heritage and a potentially forthcoming news article mentioning Edward Mortensen’s daughter, who was claiming to be Monroe’s half-sister. Mortensen was listed as Monroe’s father on her birth certificate; however, it is known today that Stanley C. Gifford is Monroe’s biological father. The Jackinson letter reads in part, ‘One of the unhappy aspects of agenting is that articles come along which I would rather they did not, such as the one about which I am now writing. For the story concerns you, your father(?) and half-sister (?). The enclosed query is something which I received from Graham Fisher, one of my English clients.’ The letter continues, ‘He came across the story about your alleged family from a Scandinavian source. Once the query was in my hands, I sent it to THE AMERICAN WEEKLY. They showed an interest in running the story, but expressed some doubt as to the authenticity of Mr. Mortensen being your father. At any rate, I would not be a party to the sale unless the story had your okay.’ A copy of the article is included in this lot. It reads in part, ‘Living quietly in the small military town of Holback, 30 miles from Copenhagen, is a baker’s wife whose sister is the most famous movie-star in the world. Yes Mrs. Olava Nielsen has never seen her famous sister, Marilyn Monroe, in the movies.’ The article continues, ‘Her father, Mortensen, was a Norwegian who left for the United States in 1924 to check on the prospects of immigration. His wife, however, decided against leaving her native Norway. The result – Mr. Mortensen fell in love with a follies dancer in the states … and Marilyn Monroe was born. When the scandal leaked back to Norway, his wife and family found life embarrassingly difficult and moved to Denmark.’ Interestingly, Monroe s birth certificate reads ‘Mortenson’ while the article reads ‘Mortensen.’ The word ‘Answered’ is handwritten in pencil on the original letter from Jackinson.” 

SOLD for $750

“A pair of letters from the North American Newspaper Alliance regarding Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller’s requested appearance at the organization’s annual cocktail party. The first letter, dated March 26, 1958, reads in part, ‘Since your husband and you have been nice enough to come other years, we would like it very much to have you – and will miss you if you cannot make it.’ The second letter, dated July 2, 1958, sent to Lois Weber, Monroe’s publicist, reads in part, ‘Tell her we were disappointed that she could not attend the annual cocktail party, but I don’t blame her because I think cocktail parties are a pain in the neck, anyway, and she has been very patient in the past.’ Both letters are signed by John N. Wheeler.”

SOLD for $192

Marilyn at Julien’s: A Life In Pictures

Property From The Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe, coming to Julien’s on November 1, features images from all stages of her life, starting with David Conover, the photographer who first discovered Norma Jeane Dougherty in 1945. (You can read all my posts on the sale here.)

Photo sets SOLD for $256 and $384, respectively

Norma Jeane poses here with another of her early photographers, Joseph Jasgur (includes his later inscription to a fan.)

SOLD for $1,024

“Original pages from Andre de Dienes’ manuscript that were used 17 years later to create Hollywood, the small soft cover book (with the black elastic band) included with the Taschen box set, Marilyn; approximately 180 pages, the document is typed with De Dienes’ black fountain pen, felt-tip, or ballpoint ink annotations throughout, exactly as they appeared in the miniaturized version that was released to the public; of particular interest are all the original print black and white photographs of Monroe that De Dienes glued to these pages as well as magazine cut-outs and other photographs he used to ‘decorate’ his manuscript; his black ink credit stamps can be seen on the versos of most of the photographs if the pages are held up to the light; frustratingly, the document starts with page 157 (just like the black booklet does) as this was all that was found after De Dienes’ death in 1985.”

SOLD for $3,200

“A standard design parasol made of crème-colored nylon with a wooden hook handle; used by the then-called Norma Jeane in 1949 when Andre De Dienes took photographs of her at Jones Beach and at Tobey Beach on Long Island in New York; saved by the photographer for the rest of his life.”

Parasol SOLD for $21,875; photo SOLD for $640

Selected photos by Andre De Dienes.

SOLD for $1,152 each

A candid snapshot of Marilyn holding a cocker spaniel on the Fox parking lot during her 1953 photo shoot with Alfred Eisenstadt for LIFE magazine.

Photo set SOLD for $896

“A collection of 6 color transparencies and 7 black and white negatives, all originals, all depicting Marilyn wearing her red bathing suit from the 1953 20th Century Fox film, How to Marry a Millionaire; shot at Harold Lloyd’s ‘Greenacres’ Beverly Hills home by the Air Force photographer Harold Davidson, who was likely working on the odd PSA commercial Marilyn filmed there where she purrs ‘I hate a careless man.'”

SOLD for $5,000

Framed print from Marilyn’s 1956 ‘Black Sitting‘ with photographer Milton Greene.

SOLD for $768

“An original Cecil Beaton print with a matte finish, depicting Marilyn in 1956 as she lays against a Japanese print holding a flower, mounted to a mat board which is signed by Beaton in red pencil in the lower right corner … according to MM lore, this was her favorite photograph …”

SOLD for $3,437.50

And finally, selected photos by Bert Stern and George Barris.

Stern photos SOLD for $7,500 and $1.920; Barris photos SOLD for $1,250, $768, and $896.

The Boy (and Man) Who Saw Marilyn at Chicago’s Midway Airport

The singer and actor Mandy Patinkin, perhaps best-known for his role as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, describes his first, and rather frightening encounter with the world of celebrity in The Guardian today.

“When I was four, we were at Midway airport in Chicago, and there was a large crowd of people surrounding a lady – everyone was screaming at her, lights were flashing. It was scary. I later learned she was Marilyn Monroe.”

Marilyn flew into Chicago Midway at least twice: in 1955, en route to Bement, Illinois, to celebrate Abraham Lincoln; and again in 1959, while promoting Some Like It Hot. And on both occasions, she drew a crowd, As Mandy was born in 1952, the former incident seems most likely to be the time he saw her. (Marilyn also visited Chicago in 1949, but that was before his time!)

In his 2012 book, When Hollywood Landed at Chicago’s Midway Airport, author Christopher Lynch recounted photographer Mike Rotunno’s version of events.

“Actually, Chicago was just a layover for Monroe. Her final destination would be the little town of Bement, Illinois, not far from Champaign and famous for being the site of one of the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates. The tiny town of Bement was having an art exhibition to celebrate its one-hundred-year anniversary, and a member of the National Arts Foundation had approached Monroe asking her to make an appearance at the exhibit. To the surprise of just about everyone there, she readily agreed, and with her hairdresser and personal photographer in tow, they had left that morning from New York.

Meanwhile, back at Chicago Midway Airport, after he was given just twenty minutes’ notice of her arrival, Mike Rotunno wrote, ‘As I rushed down the corridor, people would ask me, “Who’s coming in?” I yelled back, “Marilyn Monroe!” By the time I got to the gate a huge crowd had gathered … There was a slight drizzle as the [airplane] door opened and here was Marilyn with the umbrella in front of her. I shouted, “Marilyn, pull the umbrella back of you [sic] and let us see you.” She cheerfully obliged, and gave me several different poses.’

Since she had a two-hour layover before boarding a plane to fly to Champaign, the photographers suggested that Monroe go upstairs to the Cloud Room … According to Jim O’Hara, whose father was a beat cop at the airport, Rotunno got a good shot of Monroe’s posterior as she sashayed up the stairs – the picture was pinned outside the Metro News office later that week and no doubt sold briskly.

Once upstairs in the air-conditioned elegance of the Cloud Room, Marilyn was immediately recognised by a gaggle of sailors dining there. According to Rotunno, they started ‘yelling, whistling and screaming. They came to our table and got her autograph.’ Marilyn talked with the excited sailors, obliging them with her attention. Rotunno remembered that the assembled photographers ‘decided to make her a member of the famous “Pastafazula Club”, whose members are Italian news photographers or descendants. The scroll which was presented to Marilyn contained honorary members of the White House and of the movie industry.’ There is a photo of Rotunno standing to Marilyn’s right, camera in hand, as she signs the scroll, while the Chicago Tribune photographer Dan Tortorell stands to her left. Marilyn laughs while signing this document, as important as the Magna Carta to the photographers. Rotunno wrote that ‘Marilyn got a big kick out of the initiation and we sent her a copy. Marilyn was very photogenic and showed it.’

After waving to the photographers at Midway and flying on to her appointment downstate in Bement, Monroe’s flight out of Champaign was grounded due to bad weather. In order to catch their eleven o’clock flight out of Chicago, the governor’s office gave permission for Marilyn Monroe’s car to be escorted by two Illinois motorcycle troopers, wailing at top speed, all the way back to the airport at Chicago. At Midway, the governor’s men even held the plane for ten minutes so that Marilyn Monroe could board her flight back to LaGuardia.”

Marilyn and the Legendary Women of Hollywood

Marilyn’s latest dedicated auction at Julien’s is now only a week away. Property From the Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe is part of a two-day event, Legendary Women of Hollywood, also featuring auctions for Mae West, Lucille Ball and Olivia Newton-John. The display of Marilyn’s movie costumes at London’s May Fair Hotel has now ended, and a public exhibition of the entire catalogue will open at Julien’s in Beverly Hills on October 28, ahead of the sale on November 1. (You can read all my posts on the sale here.)

The 103pp hardback catalogue is now available for $75 plus shipping, and if you order a copy before the auction you will also receive the other three catalogues in the set, which is worthwhile as the Women of Hollywood volume (with Lucille Ball on the cover) also contains another 42 pages on Marilyn, including this spread on the necklace she wore to the Cinemascope party at the Cocoanut Grove on New Year’s Day in 1953. You can preview the catalogue here, and place your order here.

I’ll be looking at the auction lots in depth over the next few days, but until then, here’s a catalogue preview from Lorraine at Marilyn Remembered.

UPDATE: In addition to the Legendary Women of Hollywood event, Marilyn is prominently featured in another upcoming auction at Julien’s, A Southern Gentlemen’s Collection, gracing the cover of one catalogue in a three-volume set. The sale includes lots related to Marilyn’s early years and marriage to Joe DiMaggio, and an army jacket gifted to her in Korea. More to follow…

Beyond the Blonde: Debbie Harry and Marilyn

In my previous post (see here), I revealed how Blondie singer Debbie Harry was influenced by Marilyn, as described in her new memoir, Face It. Now I’m looking at some other parallels in their careers. In 1975, Debbie posed on the New York subway for her bandmate and boyfriend Chris Stein, echoing Marilyn’s photo shoot with Ed Feingersh twenty years earlier (shown above.)

Debbie Harry with Sam Shaw

In 1977, Marilyn’s photographer friend Sam Shaw filmed Blondie playing live at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles for a short documentary about the band, released a year later (more info here.) “It was an odd sort of thing, about Blondie but also about my fantasy of being Marilyn Monroe’s daughter,” Debbie recalls. This was also mentioned in a New York Times profile in 1979. (At the time, Debbie said Marilyn was adopted. This was technically incorrect, but she did spend most of her childhood in the care of family and friends.)

Debbie in LA

“In the summer of 1978, she was asked by the photographer and film maker Sam Shaw to provide biographical information for a one‐hour documentary film on Blondie. Interviewed by the screenwriter/novelist Ted Allan, Debbie mentioned liking a play, Fame, loosely based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The conversation continued:

ALLAN: Do you have an affinity for Marilyn Monroe?

HARRY: Tremendous. I always thought she was my mother.

ALLAN: Did you ever seriously think that you’d go and meet her and say, ‘You might be my mother.’

HARRY: No! God! Well, you know, there’s that kind of admiration, I guess. They say that most adopted children now, in their adult life, look for their real parents … I sort of have my wild imaginings. Like she [Monroe] had wild imaginings about Clark Gable being her father … See, my mother did keep me for three months, and I have memories, a visual memory of when I was 3 months old when I was adopted.

Such fantasies percolated through Debbie’s adolescence. She says that she felt ‘different,’ worried about being crazy. As late as last year, Debbie reminded a reporter that ‘Marilyn was also an adopted child.'”

There is also a curious story about this photo, taken by Chris Stein at his and Debbie’s New York home in the 1970s. Debbie explains that Maria Duval, their downstairs neighbour and an aspiring actress, had bought this gown at auction and gave it to Debbie, believing it had been worn by Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch. I don’t recognise it as a costume from that movie, but nonetheless, perhaps it was connected to Marilyn in some way. While Debbie and Chris were on tour, there was a fire in their apartment, which leads us to this story…

“When we finally did get back, it was hugely upsetting. The place was strewn with debris from the fire. And because people were able to walk into our apartment and take things, they did … Fortunately, Chris had his guitar and camera with him. So he set up a photo session in the burned-out kitchen. The walls were caked in soot and the range was covered in ash. I put on Marilyn’s dress, which had been badly singed in the fire, and our latest close call (which wasn’t really close at all) became a work of art.”

UPDATE: Fraser Penney has suggested the dress could have been worn by Marilyn during her 1956 photo shoot with Cecil Beaton. The mystery deepens!

Face It: Debbie Harry and Marilyn

Of all the performers influenced by Marilyn’s style, few have paid homage with as much panache as Blondie singer Debbie Harry – albeit with a punk rock edge all her own. In the first of two extracts from her new memoir, Face It, Debbie looks back to her childhood days with her adoptive New Jersey family, when Marilyn was her idol. (UPDATE: you can read my second post here.)

“By the time I was fourteen, I was dyeing my hair. I wanted to be platinum blond. On our old black-and-white television and at the theater where they screened Technicolor movies, there was something about platinum hair that was so luminescent and exciting. In my time, Marilyn Monroe was the biggest platinum blonde on the silver screen. She was so charismatic and the aura she cast was enormous. I identified with her strongly in ways I couldn’t articulate. As I grew up, the more I stood out physically in my family, the more people that I felt I related to in some physical way. With Marilyn, I sensed a vulnerability and a particular kind of femaleness that I felt we shared. Marilyn struck me as someone who needed so much love. That was long before I discovered that Marilyn had been a foster child.”

Later on, Debbie describes how she incorporated her fascination with Marilyn’s image into her own stage performances with Blondie.

“Iggy Pop apparently described me once as ‘Barbarella on speed’ … Our band shared its name with a cartoon character, after all. And I was playing at being a cartoon fantasy onstage. But the mother of that character was really Marilyn Monroe. From the first time I set eyes on Marilyn, I thought she was just wonderful. On the silver screen, her lovely skin and platinum hair were luminescent and fantastic. I loved the fantasy of it. In the fifties, when I grew up, Marilyn was an enormous star, but there was such a double standard. The fact that she was such a hot number meant that many middle-class women looked down on her as a slut. And since the publicity machine behind her sold her as a sex idol, she wasn’t valued as a comedic actor or given credit for her talent. I never felt that way about her, obviously. I felt that Marilyn was also playing a character, the proverbial dumb blonde with the little-girl voice and the big-girl body, and that there was a lot of smarts behind that act. My character in Blondie was partly a visual homage to Marilyn, and partly a statement about the good old double standard.

The ‘Blondie’ character I created was sort of androgynous. More and more lately, I’ve been thinking that I was probably portraying some sort of transsexual creature … A lot of my drag queen friends have said to me, ‘Oh, you were definitely a drag queen.’ They didn’t have problems seeing it. It was the same thing with Marilyn really. She was a woman playing a man’s idea of a woman … My Blondie character was an inflatable doll but with a dark, provocative, aggressive side. I was playing it up but I was very serious.”

Marilyn and the Brother Mankiewicz

The Brothers Mankiewicz, a dual biography of screenwriters Joseph and Herman Mankiewicz, has just been published. Herman, the elder brother, boasted credits for Dinner at Eight, The Wizard of Oz, and Citizen Kane; while Joe, eleven years his junior, also worked as a producer and director, and gave a little-known actress a big break.

In 1950, Marilyn won a minor role in All About Eve. As an ambitious starlet, notes author Sydney Ladensohn Stern, she had “unusually good lines,” and given her subsequent rise, the performance has “unintended retrospective importance.” Stern then claims that she was hired “mostly as a favour to her mentor/lover, William Morris agent Johnny Hyde.” While Hyde’s influence may have helped, Joe Mankiewicz would later say he had chosen Marilyn after seeing her in The Asphalt Jungle, noting that she had “a sort of glued-on innocence” which made her ideal for the part.

Stern also claims that the story about Marilyn and Joe Mankiewicz discussing Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, which she had picked up in a bookstore, is unreliable because she had actually been given the book by her acting coach, Natasha Lytess. But however Marilyn may have acquired the book (and she already had a charge account at a Los Angeles bookstore), both her telling of the story, and Joe’s, emphasise her understanding of its themes. Her personal copy was auctioned by Christie’s in 1999.

In 1954, Marilyn contacted Mankiewicz expressing her wish to play nightclub singer Miss Adelaide, the long-suffering fiancee of Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), in his upcoming musical, Guys and Dolls. Producer Sam Goldwyn also wanted Marilyn to star, but the role went to stage actress Vivian Blaine. According to Stern, Mankiewicz joked that “he couldn’t imagine [Marilyn] waiting fourteen years for a guy.” (You can read more about Guys and Dolls here.)

However, Monroe biographer Barbara Leaming believed the rejection was rather more personal, while Mankiewicz would later make disparaging remarks about her to another author, Sandra Shevey. He dismissed outright the notion that Marilyn was a victim of Hollywood, although he was no stranger to industry disputes and volatile stars.

In 1961 Mankiewicz became mired in Fox’s notoriously fraught production of Cleopatra, which took him two more years to complete, and almost bankrupted the studio. In fact, the Cleopatra debacle is thought to have indirectly caused Marilyn to be fired from her final movie, Something’s Got to Give. (During his brief, inglorious tenure as studio boss, Peter Levathes also sacked Elizabeth Taylor from Cleopatra. She was swiftly re-hired, but Marilyn would pass away before negotiations for her own reinstatement were realised.)

While The Brothers Mankiewicz contains little new information about Marilyn, it’s a valuable resource about two men who shaped Hollywood’s golden age. In her 1954 memoir, My Story, Marilyn praised Joe as “a sensitive and intelligent director”, and in 2010 she was featured on the cover of a French tome, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and His Double.

How Norma Jeane Inspired ‘Blonde’

Norma Jeane visiting her half-sister Berniece (centre) in 1944

With the Netflix adaptation of Blonde now in production, Joyce Carol Oates tells Crime Reads that it was originally conceived on a more modest scale – and while this epic novel has its admirers, others may wish it had stayed that way. (The photo above shows Norma Jeane aged 18. Oates was inspired by a picture of her at 16, but doesn’t say which one. As there aren’t many photos of Norma Jeane at 16 apart from her wedding portraits, I’ve chosen this one as it seems to capture the wholesome quality that first caught Oates’ eye.)

“I saw a very touching photograph of Norma Jeane Baker taken when she was 16—brunette, pretty but not glamorous, very sweet & hopeful—looking—not unlike my mother & girls with whom I went to school many years ago. Girls whose great hope was to be loved—married, & to have children. I felt such sympathy for her, who would be dead in twenty years, as an American ‘icon’—who made millions of dollars for others (men) but not so much for herself. The project began as a short novel, a post-Modernist ironic tragedy that would end with Norma Jeane’s new name: ‘Marilyn Monroe.’ But when I came to this ending, I saw that the great story lay ahead—& reconstituted the material as an epic, with many sub-themes that allowed me to explore obsessions of the era, particularly Cold War politics.”