Category Archives: Books

55 Years Ago: The Many Meanings of Marilyn

Marilyn in ‘Let’s Make Love’, 1960

Academic website JSTOR Daily is exploring its archive for perspectives on Marilyn’s enduring fame, featuring quotes from Susan J. Hubert, Gloria Steinem, Lois Banner and Lore Segal (whose essay, ‘Sexy and Her Sisters’, was also published in the 2002 anthology, All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader.)

“Marilyn’s mature comedies trust us to have internalized both myths, so that our expectations can be at once satisfied and mocked. In Let’s Make Love, sexy Marilyn is so sweet and good, she sympathetically coaches the newest member of the cast, who has been hired because he looks so much like the millionaire the play is going to make fun of. Luckily for the plot, her innocent decency keeps her from catching on to the fraud: her protege is the actual millionaire, hanging around to make love to her. But Marilyn’s specialty was to conflate the good girl and bad girl into the one and only Marilyn. It is the neatest trick.”

Marilyn’s Secret Career Genius

Marilyn in Manhattan author Elizabeth Winder has written an excellent article for Marie-Claire about Marilyn’s escape to New York and triumphant battle with Hollywood. It’s well worth reading, and a great preview of the book. (However, as MM: A Day in the Life author April VeVea points out, Marilyn wasn’t, as is sometimes claimed, the first woman in Hollywood to start her own production company – the Talmadge Sisters, Rita Hayworth and Ida Lupino all preceded her.)

“Years ahead of her time, and dead at the age of 36 in 1962, Monroe wouldn’t live to see the changes she made possible. But her reach went far beyond the machinations of Hollywood and shifted the way women around the world viewed themselves: Bra-less and never in girdles, Monroe didn’t apologize for her raw sensuality and frankly admitted to posing nude in the past; she’d been a penniless starlet and whose business was it anyway? At the same time, she wasn’t afraid to appear ‘unsexy.’ She loved being photographed in grimy boas and ripped fishnets, or puffy-eyed and makeup free, hair tangled from hours of fitful sleep. Monroe wanted to express herself, no matter the risk.”

Barbara Marx Sinatra 1927-2017

Barbara Marx Sinatra, the widow of Frank Sinatra, has died aged 90. A former model and Las Vegas showgirl, she was married to Zeppo Marx from 1959-73, and to Sinatra from 1976 until his death in 1998. As well as overseeing most of his his estate, Barbara was also a philanthropist and children’s campaigner. In her 2011 memoir, Lady Blue Eyes, she recalled meeting  Marilyn during the 1950s:

“Palm Springs was a celebrity circus where Clark Gable would pop his head over her hedge for a chat. She befriended Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. She played doubles matches with Bobby Kennedy and met Marilyn Monroe, who visited Sinatra and reportedly liked to walk around his house naked.

Once when Monroe was staying at the Compound, Barbara’s son Bobby, ‘who had the worst crush on Marilyn,’ insisted Barbara secure an invitation so he could meet the star. ‘So I called Dorothy, Frank’s secretary, and told her my problem and Frank called and said have him come over. Bobby met her and he was totally in love.’

On another occasion Barbara met the ‘beautiful and funny’ Monroe, then married to Arthur Miller, at the Palm Springs Racquet Club. ‘I could see why she’d attract the likes of Mr Sinatra, among others. But her dependence on drugs and alcohol left her vulnerable. We had a casual conversation and she seemed sweet, but we were never going to be close. A few years later she was dead.'”

Norman Mailer, Marilyn and the FBI

Over at the MudRock website, JPat Brown looks back at the FBI’s abandoned attempt to ‘fact-check the factoids’ about Monroe and the Kennedys in Norman Mailer’s 1973 bestseller, Marilyn. Did the FBI think Mailer’s claims were too outrageous to be believed? Or were they content to let him smear Camelot? (Incidentally, longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover – who kept tabs on Marilyn, and led the official investigation into President Kennedy’s assassination – passed away a year before Mailer’s book was published.)

“FBI files released to Conor Skelding reveal that the Bureau was sufficiently alarmed about author Norman Mailer’s accusations about their role in Marilyn Monroe’s death, leading them to investigate if they had, in fact, wiretapped the actress phone.

The incident, near the end of Mailer’s sizable file, began in 1973, when the former agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, William Simon, received a call from Lloyd Shearer, the editor of Parade. Shearer had received an advance copy of Mailer’s upcoming book, which contained some fairly salacious gossip regarding the Bureau and the Blonde Bombshell.

Simon’s response was a pretty unequivocal ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

While it’s unclear how believable Shearer found Simon’s protestations of innocence, the Bureau apparently found the charges alarming enough to inquire if they did actually know what Shearer was talking about.

The Bureau’s attitude changed completely, however, when they actually got ahold of an advance copy.

Mailer had apparently taken some of the more lurid theories surrounding Monroe’s death and ran with them, positing a joint CIA-FBI murder plot as retaliation against the Kennedys for being mad at them for bungling the Bay of Pigs invasion.

The FBI, releasing the futility of fact-checking someone who was openly challenging the very concept of truth … and who would no doubt capitalize on the controversy, decided to just let the matter rest here.

What’s the takeaway here? If you’re going to lie about the FBI, make it big.”

Movie Greats: Barry Norman on Marilyn

Barry Norman, the British critic who fronted a weekly film show on BBC television from 1972-1998, has died aged 83. In the late 1970s, he wrote and presented The Hollywood Greats, a documentary series profiling legendary stars. An episode about Marilyn, featuring interviews with Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder and Eli Wallach, and many others, was broadcast in 1979 – you can watch it here.

He also wrote two books accompanying the series. The latter volume, The Movie Greats (1981), includes a chapter about Marilyn.

“What she most certainly was, and what she proved herself to be time and again, was a most wonderfully gifted comedienne, a woman whose contribution of abundant physical charms – a positive cornucopia of femininity – and wistful shyness made you at once want to laugh at her and protect her. Nobody since has come even remotely close to replacing her.

If only, you think, if only someone had given her a great big hug when she was still a little girl and said, ‘Hey, listen, I love you,’ then maybe everything would have been different. But in that case she would probably never have become Marilyn Monroe and the world would have been the poorer for it because Marilyn Monroe was something rather special.

You can take every possible identifiable ingredient that she had and put them together and multiply them and add in the date and the number you first thought of and at the end of it all you’ve got is a blonde, a small girl with a sweet face and a remarkably voluptuous body. But you still haven’t got another Marilyn Monroe.”

Marilyn and Hedda Hopper

It’s hard to imagine today that gossip columnists like Hedda Hopper once had the power to make and break careers, but in the age of the Hollywood blacklist, that’s exactly what she did. Hedda was never Marilyn’s closest ally in the press: that honour fell to Sidney Skolsky, and Hedda’s bitter rival, Louella Parsons.

However, it was Hedda who planted the (possibly apocryphal) story about an ailing Howard Hughes spotting Norma Jeane on a magazine cover back in 1946, and in 1952, she would champion MM as Hollywood’s finest ‘blowtorch blonde.’ She made no secret of her disapproval when Marilyn abandoned her studio contract and formed her own production company, and in 1960 she would expose Marilyn’s adulterous affair with Yves Montand.

Although more feared than liked, Hedda’s influence should not be underestimated. Originally published in 1963, her memoir, The Whole Truth and Nothing But, has now been reissued via Kindle, and for fans of Hollywood history, it’s a must-read.

French Author On Marilyn’s Last Picture Show

Olivier Rajchman’s Hollywood Ne Repond Plus (Hollywood Unresponsive) is a new book in French exploring the crisis at Twentieth Century Fox in 1962, focusing on three films made that year: the scandalous Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and helmed by Joe Mankiewicz; Darryl F. Zanuck’s magnum opus, The Longest Day; and Marilyn’s last movie, the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give. It is available now in paperback and via Kindle.

Thanks to Eric Patry