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.
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.
Finland is a country with great appreciation for Marilyn, as this new fiction anthology reveals. Edited by Salla Simukka and Marika Riikonen, Marilyn, Marilyn includes twelve short stories, imagining MM both in her own time and the present day, and exploring her enduring appeal. It comes recommended by film historian Antti Alanen, himself the author of a book about Marilyn. (And just in case you’re wondering, the cover image comes from an original publicity shot for Let’s Make Love.)
“The tragic and mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of Elizabeth Short, or the Black Dahlia, and Marilyn Monroe ripped open Hollywood’s glitzy façade, exposing the city’s ugly underbelly of corruption, crime, and murder. These two spectacular dead bodies, one found dumped and posed in a vacant lot in January 1947, the other found dead in her home in August 1962, bookend this new history of Hollywood. Short and Monroe are just two of the many left for dead after the collapse of the studio system, Hollywood’s awkward adolescence when the company town’s many competing subcultures—celebrities, moguls, mobsters, gossip mongers, industry wannabes, and desperate transients—came into frequent contact and conflict. Hard-Boiled Hollywood focuses on the lives lost at the crossroads between a dreamed-of Los Angeles and the real thing after the Second World War, where reality was anything but glamorous.”
A previous book by Lewis, Essential Cinema, featured on its cover a still from My Week With Marilyn, the 2011 biopic starring Michelle Williams. In Hard-Boiled Hollywood, Lewis inevitably covers the pernicious rumours about Marilyn’s death, while acknowledging the slippery evidence. When mentioning her alleged ‘red diary‘, Lewis notes that “for those who believe Monroe was murdered, its very disappearance supports their point of view. For those who believe she died by her own hand (by intention or accident), the red diary is another piece of macabre Monroe folklore.”
For the most part, though, Lewis views Marilyn’s career and demise in the light of the studio system’s ongoing decline. Although I think he underestimates her self-determination (suggesting she may have fared better if she had stayed at Fox), he also recognises her as the last true star of Hollywood’s classic era, that her tragic death changed the public perception of celebrity.
Alice Denham, who died last year aged 89, was armed with a master’s degree in literature when she came to New York in 1953, hoping to be a writer and supporting herself by nude modelling. Within three years, she was a Playboy centrefold – the magazine also published her short story, ‘The Deal’, in the same issue. Like other independent women of her era, however, Alice’s promising career stalled while her male peers triumphed.
Forty years later she published a sensational memoir, Sleeping With Bad Boys: A Juicy Tell-All of Literary New York. In it, she wrote of her encounters with James Dean, Marlon Brando, Sam Spiegel, Norman Mailer and Hugh Hefner, among others. She also spoke admiringly of Marilyn, and described a brief sighting of her at the El Morocco nightclub in Manhattan.
“We table-hopped and Harry introduced me to Cary Grant and Esther Williams, Jack Benny, and both Gabors. Out on the floor again, I danced past Marilyn Monroe in a plain black short gown with spaghetti straps. Marilyn looked incredibly beautiful and bored, as she danced with a fat short producer, then returned to her table where there were three other short fat producers in tux. Marilyn was far more gorgeous than her photos.”
My interview with Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, Marilyn’s Addresses and Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, is spread over six pages in Issue 11 of Art Decades magazine, now available from Amazon and priced at £9.60 (UK) or $13 (USA.) Michelle has also written biographies of Madonna, Carole Lombard and Thelma Todd.
“I think the biggest myth about Marilyn is that she was a dumb blonde. She absolutely was not! Here is a woman who rebelled against the studio system; who set up her own film company and went to acting school when she was already at the top of her profession. She had a very intelligent head on her shoulders and I think that when people say she was a dumb blonde, it is revealing more about them than her. Yes, many times Marilyn played a dumb character on screen, but why should that mean she was that way in life?”
Marilyn also graces the cover of Cecil Beaton: Portraits and Profiles, one of many celebrities featured, out in paperback on October 5. This book was originally released in hardback (with Beaton on the cover) back in 2014.
Dr Rock Positano’s memoir, Dinner With DiMaggio – first announced back in 2015 – will be published in May, and is already attracting coverage in celebrity magazines and on gossip websites.
Marilyn’s relationship with Joe is the subject of a cover story in the current issue of Closer Weekly (USA only.) And Radar Online has claimed that their marriage ended because she was unable to have children. In fact, Marilyn left Joe because he was too controlling. While Marilyn certainly wanted children, she wasn’t ready during their marriage because of her burgeoning career.
“From Joe’s point of view, they didn’t stay married, because Marilyn was not able to have children. It was as simple as that,” Positano writes. “Joe wanted kids, and Marilyn could not have them.” However, when reporters at their wedding asked if they wanted children, Marilyn said “six,” only for Joe to interrupt, as if correcting her: “one.”
While Marilyn certainly wanted to be a mother – she suffered at least two miscarriages during her later marriage to Arthur Miller, and even considered adoption – I don’t believe it was a priority during her marriage to Joe. And such was Joe’s enduring devotion to Marilyn, I don’t believe he would have divorced her for that reason either.