Joyce Carol Oates on ‘Fragments’

“Like all serious artists, Marilyn Monroe lived – lives – in her art. Fugitive pieces like those of Fragments will resonate most with those who know her extraordinary films. Here is a female artist for whom work was salvation, or might have been if circumstances had been slightly different; if, for instance, Monroe had remained in New York at the Actor’s Studio, and had not returned to Hollywood, in 1960, to make The Misfits. In an interview of 1959, as if in rueful acknowledgement of her impending fate, Monroe said, ‘I guess I am a fantasy’ – a luminous phantom in the lives of others.”

From the December issue of US Playboy – read in full here

Marilyn in Fragments

Ed Feingersh, 1955

“For at the heart of the Marilyn Monroe legend beats that most American of stories: a wholly engrossing, Great Gatsby–style quest for self-transformation that starts (and too often ends) with nothing. Fragments reveals previously unreleased images of the star, all cocked eyebrows and adamant hand gestures, fully engaged by art and conversation; her stalwart support of friend Ella Fitzgerald’s efforts to sing in white clubs; a voracious reader who favored such soothsayers as Steinbeck, Kerouac and Sherwood Anderson; and her scattered, sharply sensitive musings. The world’s most famous sex object was also, it seems, a shrewd and compassionate subject, if one bombarded by her impressions. “For life, it is rather a determination not to be overwhelmed,” she wrote in 1954. ‘For work, the truth can only be recalled, not invented.’

It was a difficult edict for a woman forever struggling to reinvent herself as a way to transcend a past strewn with abandonment and abuse. It was also one this book suggests she accepted as the price of authenticity with her characteristic cocktail of grace, forbearance and grief.

Now that I am roughly the oldest age Marilyn ever lived to be, I grasp what that postcard promised all along: An elusive admixture of hope and industry, will and willingness, to which she strove until her final days. An able, grownup-lady femininity that now, more than ever, is in too short supply.”

Lisa Rosman, LA Weekly

“The image of Marilyn Monroe as a lifelong reader is one I find deeply touching. Literature was not able to save her from a sad fate, but I have no doubt that it enriched her life, her thought, her feelings and gave her joy along the way. We cannot ask more of any art than that.

I’ve already seen, in lazy news items on this book, snarky comments exalting Marilyn and her reading habits above contemporary troubled sex objects the likes of Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton. But this is to entirely miss the point, which is, of course: You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Doubtless Marilyn contemporaries like Lawrence Olivier, who treated her contemptuously while filming The Prince and the Showgirl, would have scoffed at the notion she had any inner life at all. Yes, it seems likely Lindsay reads little more than Tweets on her smartphone, but we don’t know that for certain.”

Chauncey Mabe, Open Page

‘Maf the Dog’ at Bridport Literary Festival

“Movie icon Marilyn Monroe had a life that could only happen in Hollywood and had it all played out in the tabloids. As part of the Bridport Literary Festival, Andrew O’Hagan will be talking about Marilyn’s story, but with a twist. In November 1960 Frank Sinatra gave her a dog called Maf, and Maf the dog became a star in his own right. Marilyn died in 1962 and Maf was by her side throughout the last two years of her life. Andrew O’Hagan chronicles the time shared by the star and her devoted pooch, bringing a unique look at a life you might think you know. The talk takes place at Bridport Arts Centre on Saturday, November 6th at 4pm and tickets cost £8. Following the talk, there will be a screening introduced by O’Hagan of The Misfits – a film directed by John Huston and a script by Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller, which won great critical acclaim and proved to be the last film Marilyn made.”

View From Publishing

Read my review of Andrew O’Hagan’s delightful comic novel, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

Naomi Watts: A ‘Fragile’ Blonde

“I’m not especially comfortable playing damsels in distress,” the Australian actress Naomi Watts tells Nancy Mills of The Scotsman. “I like to play women who appear to be that but, at the last minute, show they’re anything but.”

This could be a description of Marilyn Monroe, who Watts is set to play in Andrew Dominik’s big-screen adaptation of Blonde (a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, based on Monroe’s life.)

Blonde has not yet begun production, but is already causing quite a stir in Hollywood. It is due out in 2012, which also marks the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death.

“Everyone thinks, ‘Ooh, Marilyn Monroe,”‘ Watts says, “but it’s not a glossy picture. It’s quite dark, but a great story.”

The two actresses would seem to have little in common, apart from their hair colour, but Watts sees more to it. “I get her fragility, definitely,” she says.

“I feel like I’m a fairly fragile person,” Watts admits. “It’s pretty easy for me to get upset or emotional, but not tough or angry. Having said that, I think I’ve survived certain situations that have made me tougher and made me pull through. Even this whole thing about being an actor – that took a long time. I don’t feel like I had thick skin, but the fact that I stayed there knocking away at it must make me resilient.”

“I am interested in dark things,” she adds. “I’m not afraid of them. We all have a dark side. It’s a matter of whether you want to embrace it or not. I’m willing to explore it, but it’s not going to eat me up.”

Marilyn and Saul Bellow

The novelist Saul Bellow wrote after dinner with Marilyn Monroe:

“I have yet to see anything in Marilyn that isn’t genuine. Surrounded by thousands she conducts herself like a philosopher.”

Later, he reflected:

“She was connected with a very powerful current but she couldn’t disconnect herself from it. She had a kind of curious incandescence under the skin…”

From Saul Bellow: Letters, out now in hardback

Vachon’s Marilyn, Reviewed

By Bob Duggan at Big Think

“Wallis remarks on Monroe’s ‘stagy performance of threatened innocence’ that Cindy Sherman and Madonna, most notably, mimicked years later. In fact, many of Vachon’s photos seem like precursors of Sherman’s famous ‘film noir’ stills, yet Sherman, like the rest of us, couldn’t have possibly seen them until now. In Vachon’s photographs, Monroe the collaborator in her own image-making emerges…

…Yet, even when she posed with a stuffed grizzly bear (shown above), Monroe managed to achieve that ‘threatened innocence’ Wallis praises and makes even the stagiest photo seem interesting. Marilyn becomes a grown-up Goldilocks in this photo sensing Papa Bear’s hot breath on her nape. In the fairy tale world of Hollywood glamour, Monroe knew both the dangers and rewards first hand, yet still could mock the system with a single look as much as with a sprained ankle…

…In a later shot taken by someone else on that same day, Vachon and Monroe posed together, but with Vachon using the crutches. The two artists both understood the game they had to play, and both enjoyed the joke they were playing on the game itself.

Marilyn, August 1953: The Lost ‘Look’ Photos by John Vachon, Brian Wallis

DiMaggio Lawyer Criticises Author

Morris Engelberg, former attorney to Joe DiMaggio and executor of his estate, has criticised Yale University Press for using a photo of DiMaggio with Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a forthcoming biography, Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil.

“It’s in poor taste with anybody who knows anything about Joe DiMaggio,” Engelberg said in a phone interview from his home in Florida last Monday. “It’s a cheap shot to sell books. I have no objection to what they use inside the book, but a cover of Joe and Marilyn is a cheap shot,” Engelberg said. “There’s no class. It’s a lack of respect and just shows that the author really has no knowledge of the real Joe DiMaggio.”

The photograph was taken while Monroe was filming River of No Return in Canada, a few months before her wedding to DiMaggio. It is part of a series by photographer John Vachon, published in another new book, August 1953: The Lost ‘Look’ Photos.

Yale University Press Director John Donatich said in an e-mail to the Yale Daily News that the YUP “intend[s] to use the photograph as planned in accordance with our First Amendment rights.”

Daniel J. Kevles, a history professor who teaches a course on intellectual property rights at the Law School and is a member of the content-focused YUP Publications Committee, which approves books for publication, said that the YUP’s use of the photograph was “a matter of academic freedom.”

However, Kevles said that he could see why Engelberg objects to the photo.

“I can understand [his] point because inside the book, the photo is simply Joe and Marilyn as just another feature or element in Joe’s life,” Kevles said. “One among many. To put it on the cover is to imply that Joe’s life was defined by his marriage to Marilyn.”

Engelberg, who met DiMaggio in 1983, became the baseball star’s executor after he died in 1999. In 2003, he published a memoir of his friend, DiMaggio: Setting the Record Straight.

However, Engelberg is himself a contentious figure, particularly since he allowed DiMaggio’s diaries to be auctioned in 2007, according to New York Daily News.

Jerome Charyn has published over fifty books, including a brief, but erudite life of Marilyn Monroe, The Last Goddess. Here is a synopsis of Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil, to be published in February 2011.

As the New York Yankees’ star centerfielder from 1936 to 1951, Joe DiMaggio is enshrined in America’s memory as the epitome in sports of grace, dignity, and that ineffable quality called “class.” But his career after retirement, starting with his nine-month marriage to Marilyn Monroe, was far less auspicious. Writers like Gay Talese and Richard Ben Cramer have painted the private DiMaggio as cruel or self-centered. Now, Jerome Charyn restores the image of this American icon, looking at DiMaggio’s life in a more sympathetic light.

DiMaggio was a man of extremes, superbly talented on the field but privately insecure, passive, and dysfunctional. He never understood that for Monroe, on her own complex and tragic journey, marriage was a career move; he remained passionately committed to her throughout his life. He allowed himself to be turned into a sports memorabilia money machine. In the end, unable to define any role for himself other than “Greatest Living Ballplayer,” he became trapped in “a horrible kind of minutia.” But where others have seen little that was human behind that minutia, Charyn in Joe DiMaggio presents the tragedy of one of American sports’ greatest figures.


Carl Rollyson Reviews ‘Fragments’

“As portrayed in her own words, Marilyn Monroe emerges as thoughtful and accomplished — not characteristics that most biographies emphasize. She had marvelous taste and could decorate a house or cook a meal with panache. Photographs in this book document her avid reading and her craving for the classics. Her diaries, letters and notes record responses to literature even as they reflect the misspellings and grammatical errors of an earnest but self-educated artist.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, reviews Fragments