Avedon, the Greenes and Marilyn

Amy and Joshua Greene with Paula Strasberg and Marilyn during filming of ‘Bus Stop’, 1956

Amy Greene is one of many luminaries interviewed by authors Norma Stevens and Steven M.L. Aronson for Avedon: Something Personal, in which she reveals the ties between Milton and Avedon, and later, Marilyn.

“One night in 1950, the photographer Milton Greene was having one of his Friday night open-houses in his penthouse studio, in the old Grand Central Palace building on Lexington Avenue. The room was packed with art directors, admen, models, photographers, actors, and dancers. Dick [Avedon] introduced himself to a fragile-looking blonde with almond-shaped eyes who was standing alone against the wall of the loggia – a wallflower. He broke the ice with, ‘How do you know Milton?’ She said, ‘I was married to him,’ and she filled Dick in: They were high-school sweethearts who had tied the knot in 1942 when she, Evelyn Franklin, was eighteen.

Dick said he was instantly taken by Evie’s feyness and elusiveness … He invited her to dinner that night at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal. From there the relationship took off like a choo-choo train, and the couple got hitched at the end of January 1951.

Avedon with his wife Evelyn in 1955

Milton Greene had meanwhile taken up with a cute Cuban-born model whom Dick had ‘discovered’, Edilia Franco (Conover, the modeling agency he sent her to, changed her first name to Amy and her last name to – in a nod to Dick – Richards.) In the spring of 1952, the year before he married Amy, Milton invited Dick and Evie to Sunday lunch in the country. ‘I wasn’t feeling so hot,’ Amy recalls. ‘I told Milton I wasn’t up to coming down. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I went through this shit for seven years with Evelyn, and I’m not going to put up with it from you. So get the hell up, put something decent on, and make an effort!’ He told me that one of the reasons he divorced Evelyn was she would stay in bed for days on end.

‘When Dick was in Hollywood for three months in 1956 consulting with Paramount on Funny Face, Milton was there producing Bus Stop with Marilyn, and Evelyn and I met for lunch,’ Amy recalls. ‘She and Dick were renting Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio’s old ‘honeymoon house’ on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills, and she complained that the tour buses would drive by several times a day and the guide would make a big thing over the megaphone about the master bedroom – she said it was sexually inhibiting. The minute Evie discovered that I detested Milton’s mother as much as she did, she started giggling, and we became sort of friends. I remember her grousing that all Dick ever did was work. So I guess there wasn’t much reason for her to get out of bed.’

The former DiMaggio home on North Palm Drive, occupied by the Avedons in 1956

Five years into his marriage to Evie, a movie inspired by Dick’s [first] marriage … lit up screens across the country. ‘Funny Face, by the way, wasn’t really about me. They just used my early fashion escapades as a pretext to make a glamorous musical extravaganza …’ (Avedon)

Amazingly, Dick’s boyhood idol, Fred Astaire, now an old boy of 57, played the 25 year-old lead, named Dick; Audrey Hepburn played Doe, renamed Jo … The day Fred Astaire made his leap into death, some thirty years after Funny Face, Dick appeared in the doorway to [Norma Stevens’] office with tears running down his cheeks. ‘I didn’t cry when Marilyn died, I didn’t cry when [Alexey] Brodovitch (Avedon’s art director at Harper’s Bazaar) died, he told [Stevens.}”

When Avedon Met Marilyn…

Richard Avedon’s first collaboration with Marilyn was in September 1954, when she visited New York to film The Seven Year Itch with director Billy Wilder. It may also have been their first meeting, and their warm camaraderie is evident in the resulting photos, taken by Sam Shaw. Earl Steinbicker, who was Avedon’s studio assistant at the time, remembers the shoot in Avedon: Something Personal.

“I met a helluva lot of famous people with Dick … I was there for the first sitting Dick ever did with Marilyn Monroe. The Daily News had sent a photographer to photograph him photographing her. I worked the fan blowing her hair, and at the end of the sitting she came over and said, ‘Wouldn’t you like a picture of me?'”

Mike Nichols On Marilyn, Miller and Avedon

The film and theatre director Mike Nichols, who died in 2014, is one of many whose memories are shared in Avedon: Something Personal.  He studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio in 1953, before developing a comedy act with Elaine May. After directing Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple on Broadway, he went on to make two of the best movies of the 1960s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, establishing himself as one of America’s leading directors.

“I met Dick [Avedon] early in 1960. He came to the Blue Angel, on East 55th Street, to see me and Elaine May in our nightclub act … Then one day he called me out of the blue, wanting to know if Elaine and I would be interested in writing a skit for Marilyn Monroe. Leland Hayward was producing a two-hour CBS special called The Fabulous Fifties and had promised Dick that if he could get Marilyn to do it he would direct it himself.

Our first meeting was at Dick’s apartment at 625 Park … that’s where we sat trying to come up with a Marilyn idea. At the end of the visit he put his arm around me and walked me to the elevator. He said, ‘I have the feeling we’re going to be friends for life.’

The next week he took us to Marilyn’s apartment, around the corner from Sutton Place, so we could present what we’d worked out to her and Arthur Miller. She had been in my acting class with Strasberg, so I knew the way she was,  which was sweet and not saying much. She just sat on the floor at Arthur’s feet – he had his hand on her shoulder. Dick and Elaine and I took turns acting out our rough little idea, whatever it was – after which Arthur said, ‘I don’t think it’s for Marilyn.’ So he nixed it, the jerk, although he and I became friends many years later when we were neighbours in Connecticut…”

Richard Avedon Biography Hit By Controversy

Richard Avedon with Marilyn in 1954 (photo by Sam Shaw)

Avedon: Something Personal, the new biography by Norma Stevens and Steven M.L. Aronson, is under fire from the Avedon Foundation, as the New York Post reported in December. Speaking on behalf of the Foundation, James Martin said that the book contains many inaccuracies, and that co-author Norma Stevens – Avedon’s former business partner – was not, as she claimed, with the photographer when he died in 2004, or at his funeral, which was for immediate family only. “Stevens tries to convince us that Avedon trusted her alone with his deepest secrets [which is untrue],” Martin added, “and directed her to ‘out’ him at her own convenience” (seemingly a reference to his alleged bisexuality.)

In a follow-up article for the Post, Richard Johnson commented that “the foundation ignores that bombshell and lists 10 factual mistakes, some quite trivial, such as whether a house was bought in 1970 or two years later.” The book’s publisher, Spiegel & Grau, fully support the authors and have rejected calls for the book to be withdrawn from sale, pointing out that Norma Stevens was appointed director of the Avedon Foundation in the photographer’s last will and testament. “The story she tells is the accurate rendition of the tales he told her and many others in the almost 30 years she worked alongside him,” a spokeswoman said.

Richard Avedon: Something Personal takes the format of an oral history, with various friends and associates relating memories in their own words. Norma Stevens began working for Avedon in the 1960s: one of the first confidences they shared, as reported by ES Updates in December, was of his friendship with Marilyn. Many of the book’s references to Marilyn relate to the exhibits and publications in which she was featured during Avedon’s later career, but there are also some interesting reminiscences dating from her own lifetime. I will review the book, and Marilyn’s part in it, in another post to follow.

Making Sense of Marilyn

Making Sense of Marilyn, a new book by Andrew Norman, has just been published, reports the Daily Mail It is 144 pages long with 32 black and white photos, and is now available at the Book Depository (with free postage worldwide), and on order from Amazon stores worldwide.

“Author Andrew Norman, who worked as a GP in Dorset before a spinal injury ended his medical career, has previously penned biographies of such famous faces as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, T. E. Lawrence, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen and Robert Mugabe.

He says that, despite probable suicide and a host of contradictory reports about her life, there do still exist enough reliable materials to shed new light on the star. ‘Trustworthy and reliable first-hand accounts of Marilyn do exist,’ he writes.

Following Marilyn’s death, Inez Melson, Marilyn’s business manager from 1954 to 1956, was appointed by attorney Aaron R. Frosch who was a witness to Marilyn’s will and the court to act as administrator. It is thanks to Inez that two filing cabinets containing Marilyn’s personal effects were saved for posterity.

Norman added: ‘Film documentaries of the life and death of Marilyn contain invaluable, first-hand, eyewitness accounts from such important people in her life as George Barris, Hyman Engelberg, Eunice Murray, and Cyd Charisse.

‘In this way, by teasing out what is authentic from what is inauthentic, it is possible to shed new light on the enigmatic character of Marilyn Monroe, who is regarded, arguably, as the world’s most famous ever movie star.

‘To make sense of this complex, endlessly fascinating, and all too fragile person, it is necessary to embark on a journey that proves to be both rewarding, and an infinitely moving experience.'”

Making Sense of Marilyn is 144 pages long with 32 black and white photos, and as the table of contents indicates, brings a psychological perspective to Marilyn’s life story.

“Preface; 1 Birth: Parents: Forebears; 2 Childhood; 3 George Barris: Marilyn’s Confidante; 4 The Legacy of Marilyn’s Childhood; 5 Childhood Sexual Abuse, and its Possible Consequences for Marilyn; 6 First Marriage: James Dougherty; 7 James Dougherty’s Observations About Marilyn; 8 Early Success: Popularity: A Scandal; 9 Second Marriage: Joe DiMaggio; 10 Third Marriage: Arthur Miller; 11 Further Success for Marilyn; 12 Myths And Rumours; 13 Marilyn in Profile; 14. Marilyn’s Continuing Need For an Attachment Figure; 15 Encounters with Psychiatrists and other Would-Be Diagnosticians; 16 Marilyn and Borderline Personality Disorder; 17 Arthur Miller: After the Fall; 18 Mental Disorders in The Family: The Origin of Marilyn’s Condition; 19 Something’s Got to Give; 20 Death of Marilyn; 21 Epilogue.”

Fox Film Historian Talks Marilyn (and More)

Michael Troyan, author of Twentieth Century Fox: A Century of Entertainment, will be giving several talks at local libraries in his native Sacramento over the next few weeks, as Debbie Arrington reports for the Sacramento Bee.

(The story mentioned in the article about Marilyn shaving an inch off the heel of her shoe to achieve her signature wiggle – as told to Troyan by photographer Lawrence Schiller – may be apocryphal, as none of her shoes sold at auction appear to have been altered. As Marilyn once said, ‘I learned to walk at six months old and haven’t had a lesson since.’)

“How Troyan managed to compile a definitive history of an ever-evolving entertainment giant is an amazing accomplishment in its own right. First, he had to talk Fox into it.

‘I started this project in 2010 – five years out (from Fox’s 100th anniversary in 2015),’ he said. ‘It took them five years to decide yes.’Then, I spent two more years actually getting it done. You can’t do a book like this without the studio’s art and photos. I needed access to their archives.’

‘Unlike Disney, Fox had never done a book about its history,’ Troyan said. ‘They did one book on costumes (Styling the Stars, co-written by Angela Cartwright), but that was it.’

Once Fox gave his project its blessing, Troyan discovered a treasure trove of forgotten photos and movie mementos, stashed away in hundreds of file boxes for decades in studio storage. Fox archivist Jeffrey Paul Thompson became a collaborator, as did filmmaker and Hollywood historian Stephen X. Sylvester.

‘I wanted to see everything and hear everything,’ Troyan said. ‘You can read all the articles and books on a subject, but it’s not until you started interviewing people did you really get it – the full picture.’

‘This is a celebration of Fox and movie making,’ he said of his book. ‘We covered the scandals and controversies – and there were plenty – but most of all, I wanted (the book) to be accurate.'”

Arthur Miller’s Unseen Archives

In an article for the New York Times, Jennifer Schluesser reports on the dispute over Arthur Miller’s unseen archives, and sheds new light on his reaction to Marilyn’s death – including his decision not to attend her funeral.

“More than 160 boxes of his manuscripts and other papers have been on deposit for decades at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, uncataloged and all but inaccessible to scholars, pending a formal sale. Another cache — including some 8,000 pages of private journals — remained at his home in rural Connecticut, unexplored by anyone outside the intimate Miller circle.

Now, the Ransom Center has bought the entire archive for $2.7 million, following a discreet tug-of-war with the Miller estate, which tried to place the papers at Yale University despite the playwright’s apparent wishes that they rest in Texas.

‘Arthur wrote about everything in his journals,’ said Julia Bolus, Miller’s longtime assistant and director of the Arthur Miller Trust, who is coediting a volume of selections. ‘They were the place where all the elements of his life came together.’

Among the extensive unpublished material in the archive is an essay Miller began on Aug. 8, 1962, the day of the funeral of Marilyn Monroe, his second wife. ‘Instead of jetting to the funeral to get my picture taken I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery,’ Miller wrote. ‘Not that everyone there will be false, but enough. Most of them there destroyed her, ladies and gentleman. She was destroyed by many things and some of those things are you and some of those things are destroying you. Destroying you now. I love as you stand there weeping and gawking, glad that it’s not you going into the earth, glad that it’s this lovely girl who at last you killed.’

Those journals are closed to researchers until after publication of that volume, by Penguin Press.

An inventory of the archive notes journal entries relating to Monroe. But it does not list any personal correspondence between her and Miller, the survival of which has been the subject of speculation over the years.

In a 2002 article in Talk Magazine, Andreas Brown, the dealer who arranged the earlier deposits to the Ransom Center, described coming across an odd bundle, which Miller told him held nearly 100 letters from Monroe. ‘It was all sealed and tied-up,’ Mr. Brown, who is now retired, recalled in a recent interview.

Miller’s memoir, Timebends, refers to correspondence with Monroe, and one of his passionate love letters to her fetched $43,750 at auction in Beverly Hills in 2014. ‘It was a really over-the-top Tom Cruise, jump-on-the-couch-kind of letter,’ Christopher Bigsby said.

But Mr. Bigsby is skeptical that a secret motherlode survives. ‘When I asked, he said he had no more than 4 or 5 of her letters,’ he said of Miller.”

 

‘Marilyn 1962’ Optioned For TV

French author Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, has been optioned as a 10-episode TV mini-series, Variety reports.  Sebastien is a longtime admirer of MM, so this is great news for the fan community – and while we wait, let’s hope an English edition of his book is also on the way!

“Berlin-based Barry Films (Life) partnered with Marianne Maddalena (Scream) to option rights to Marilyn 1962, Sebastien Cauchon’s novel chronicling the last months in the life of icon Marilyn Monroe.

The critically-acclaimed book, which was published by Editions Stock in France and Chuokoron Shinsha Publishing in Japan, sheds light on what Monroe’s life and psyche was like on the year of her death, through the perspectives of twelve people in her closest entourage – from her feared publicist to her controversial doctor.

Cauchon, who has been passionate about Monroe for most of his life, said he got access to archives which emerged within the last several years at sales auctions. These memorabilia allowed him to identify members of Monroe’s entourage before her death in 1962. He also conducted interviews with photographers such as Bert Stern, George Barris, Douglas Kirkland, Larry Schiller and Bob Willoughby who spoke about their relationships with Monroe and her entourage.”

Marilyn ‘Pops Up’ to Palm Beach

This 1956 photo of Marilyn hugging a copy of the ancient Greek statue, ‘The Discus Thrower’, at Joe Schenck’s Beverly Hills home can be seen in the sumptuous new Milton Greene book, The Essential Marilyn Monroe. It also appears in The Women, a pop-up exhibition at the new Assouline bookstore in the Royal Poinciana Plaza, organised by gallery owner James Danziger and on display from January 12-16, reports the Palm Beach Daily News.