When Marilyn Came to Nyack

Writing for Nyack News & Views, Mike Hays tells the story of Marilyn and Arthur Miller’s visit to novelist Carson McCullers’ home on February 5, 1959. (What the article doesn’t mention, however, is that Marilyn and Carson had been friends since 1955, when they were both residents of Manhattan’s Gladstone Hotel. And although Arthur didn’t recall Marilyn having read any of Carson’s books, she did own a copy of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.)

“As a transplanted New Yorker and a famous author, McCullers had close friendships with the famous, including Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. She had always wanted to meet Isak Dinesen, the author of one of her favorite books, Out of Africa. McCullers met Dinesen at a dinner party following an arts awards in New York City.

Learning that Isak wanted to meet Marilyn Monroe, she asked Marilyn’s husband at the time, Arthur Miller, who was seated at a table nearby if the ‘Millers’ would come to lunch on February 5, 1959. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe picked up the 74-year old Dinesen and drove to Nyack. Monroe, 33, had just finished Some Like It Hot. She arrived dressed in a black sheath and fur stole. Isak wore a scarf wrapped around her head as a turban. The guests were fashionably late.

They dined on oysters, white grapes, champagne and a soufflé. They were all smokers including Monroe, although no ashtrays can be seen in the luncheon photos.

Marilyn told a story about once trying to make pasta. She was late, as usual, and the pasta was undercooked, so she tried to complete her attempt at cooking by heating the pasta with a hair dryer. Frail Dinesen told many stories and enjoyed talking to Ida Reeder, Carson’s housekeeper.

Towards the end of the afternoon, as the story goes, Carson put a record on the phonograph and invited Marilyn and Isak to dance with her on a marble table. They took a few steps in each other’s arms. Carson remembers that this was the ‘best’ and ‘most frivolous’ party she had ever given, and she expressed ‘pleasure and wonderment at the love, which her guests seemed to express for each other.’

It is improbable that the frail and ill Carson McCullers, her muscles shriveled, did much dancing and certainly not on a table. But she retold the story again and again over the rest of her life, perhaps telling the story the way she would have wanted it if she were not ill.

Others don’t remember the dancing although they do remember the lunch. Some time later, Miller said that Marilyn had never read anything by Carson, although she may have seen her play, A Member of the Wedding. He did sense a spontaneous sympathy between the women. Miller doesn’t remember the dancing, a story that seemed to have a life of its own in the media.”

Tommy Hilfiger to Sell Marilyn’s Jeans

Ahead of the Icons & Idols event in November, Marilyn will also figure in the Tommy Hilfiger sale at Julien’s Auctions on October 21, as People reports.

“Designer Tommy Hilfiger has a slew of celebrity fans and frequently references pop culture in his designs, so it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that he’s got an enormous collection of memorabilia worn by some of the most iconic celebrities of all time … A pair of Foremost JCP Co. blue jeans worn by Monroe in the 1954 film River of No Return are available and can be yours if you’ve got a ton of disposable income just lying around (they’re estimated to sell up to $40,000). Hilfiger previously owned two other pairs of the jeans worn by Monroe, but gifted them to Britney Spears and Naomi Campbell (#nobigdeal).”

As well as Marilyn’s jeans, the Hilfiger collection also includes this screenprint by pop artist Steve Kaufman.

UPDATE: Surprisingly, Marilyn’s jeans went unsold.

Lady Gaga on Pain, Fame and Marilyn

Pop star Lady Gaga has often referenced Marilyn in her work, sometimes with insight and sympathy (as in her past interviews with Vanity Fair and Google, and her ‘Dance in the Dark‘ lyric, ‘Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia/Tell ’em how you feel girls!’) At other times, however, she has depicted MM in a shallow, even crass manner (her ‘Government Hooker‘ song and ‘Do What U Want‘ video.) While she has also experienced the dark side of fame at first hand, her knowledge of Marilyn’s life and character seems rather limited.

Nonetheless, her latest comments about Marilyn – and other stars who died before their time – are quite intriguing, as Olivia Truffaut-Wong reports on the new Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, for Bustle.

“Speaking in her new documentary, Lady Gaga reveals that her wacky fashion choices come out of a desire for control in an industry that loves to take control away from its artists … ‘What I’ve done is that when they wanted me to be sexy or they wanted me to be pop, I always f*cking put some absurd spin on it that made me feel like I’m still in control,’ she says.

In the film, Gaga opens up about how the music industry and Hollywood treats women, particularly how men in positions of power, producers for example, think that female artists are there for their entertainment. ‘That’s not why I’m here. I’m not a receptacle for your pain,’ she says. ‘I’m not just a place for you to put it.’

To counteract those expectations of what a pop star should look like Gaga explains how she decided to show ugliness in fame while performing. ‘If I’m gonna be sexy on the VMAs and sing about the paparazzi,’ she says, ‘I’m gonna do it while I’m bleeding to death and reminding you of what fame did to Marilyn Monroe, the original Norma Jean, and what it did to Anna Nicole Smith.'”

Wolf Alice Gets ‘Unconventional’ With Marilyn

The British alt-rock band Wolf Alice has just released the video for ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, the latest single from their Visions Of Life album, with singer Ellie Roswell seemingly taking style inspiration from Marilyn, as MXDWM reports.

Marilyn at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, 1953

“Perhaps the idea of the video gets at how a culturally ultra-conventional icon like Marilyn Monroe is actually an unconventional individual. To be conventional would one would have to be anything other than an American icon. To be conventional is to be part of the cultural masses—going to work, raising a family, having normal things to talk about. Monroe’s life was hardly normal, and she would stick out ‘sorely’ in a regular, everyday context. Convention is normal, beautiful unconventionality is someone who sticks out not like a sore thumb, but like Marilyn Monroe.”

Gwendoline Christie Inspired by Marilyn

Gwendoline Christie, the English actress who plays Brienne of Tarth in TV’s Game of Thrones, has revealed that Marilyn was a formative influence on her chosen career. “I remember seeing Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop on television and thinking, what she was doing was so incredibly extraordinary,” Christie told People magazine. “I didn’t come from an acting background, but I just knew —that’s what I want to to do.”

Marilyn in the Saturday Evening Post

Marilyn graces the cover of The Golden Age of Hollywood, a  new one-off special from the Saturday Evening Post. It costs $12.99 and can be ordered directly here. (Unfortunately I don’t yet know if it ships outside the US, but I’ll update you if I find out.)

Marilyn has a long history with the Post, as one of her most revealing interviews with Pete Martin, ‘The New Marilyn Monroe’, was serialised over three weeks in 1956, and later published in book form with the playful title, Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe?

On Marilyn’s birthday this year, the Post paid tribute with a blog about the sex symbols who preceded her – including Lillian Russell, Theda Bara and Clara Bow, all of whom she impersonated in her extraordinary ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ shoot with Richard Avedon. But she turned down the chance to play showgirl Evelyn Nesbit in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (the role went to Joan Collins.) And of Mae West, she told W.J. Weatherby, ‘I learned a few tricks from her – that impression of laughing at, or mocking, her own sexuality.’ Jean Harlow, perhaps Marilyn’s greatest influence, is a surprising omission.

You can read Marilyn’s Post interview here.

American Goddess: Gillian Anderson as Marilyn

As reported here last summer, Gillian Anderson has appeared as Marilyn for her ‘Media’ role in ‘Lemon Scented You’, the fifth episode of American Gods, a new sci-fi series on the US Starz channel. While Gillian may not resemble Marilyn physically (I was reminded of another Hollywood icon, Barbara Stanwyck) her performance has been praised by both critics and fans of the show. Morit Chaplynne  reviews it on Culturess:

“The two best things about this episode are Gillian Anderson and Gillian Anderson. Sure, Shadow —and us along with him — manages to learn a little more about his new weird reality, and that’s definitely interesting. But Gillian Anderson appears as both David Bowie (in the teal Ziggy Stardust suit with the short red hair) and as Marilyn Monroe (in the iconic white dress from The Seven Year Itch) and it is everything.

Back at the police station, they lock Shadow and Wednesday in an interrogation room … Someone unlocks the door. It’s not the cops. It’s Marilyn Monroe.

Media floats into the room and speaks to them in a breathy whisper. Shadow asks Wednesday to tell him it isn’t real. He does not. The mysterious Mr. World enters the room, all overcoat and fedora, apologizing to Wednesday for not reaching out ages ago, but he hadn’t seen him.

Wouldn’t you like an upgrade? A brand new lemon-scented you?

Media gives an extensive sales pitch. Wednesday wants no part of it. He smells a con. When he laughs in Mr. World’s face, Media blows him a high-powered kiss that knocks out his two front teeth and leaves his mouth bloody.”

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gillian talks about her multifaceted role:

“I didn’t know all that much about Marilyn as much as we all know what’s in the greater consciousness: the key pieces of her death and her struggle and her marriage and all that. And actually, I was surprised at how easy I found it to immerse myself in that and how much fun it was. She was definitely the one I had the most fun doing, just because there’s an imminent joy to her. There is also with Judy [Garland], but there’s something so delightful and delicious about Marilyn that was a lot of fun to jump into. And there’s a mechanism that we used to get her floating — I was on this robotic contraption that had been built with fans in it so that my skirt was constantly moving, even though they were going to recreate and enhance some of that in CGI. So for the majority of that scene, it was me being driven around via remote control with fans blasting vertically up my dress. So, that was fun.

The fact that [Media] does manifest as male and female and however Bowie might identify himself… I mean, certainly, you say ‘worship,’ and Michael Jackson was worshipped as much as any female icon we’ve ever had. Actually, we discussed Michael Jackson at one point as a character I might do, and Prince. But to me, what was important for Media, male or female, was that we got to see that the women, the female gods, and the females in general are and can be as powerful as the male gods and the men [on the show]. That they are equal. I guess it makes sense that one of the most powerful gods in the story is embodied as female.”

Elle Fanning: Studying Marilyn

At 19, Elle Fanning is one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed young actresses – and although she hasn’t yet followed the well-trodden route of posing for a Marilyn-inspired photo shoot, she has never made a secret of her love for MM. In a new cover story for Vogue, Elle reveals how studying Marilyn’s life – both on and off the screen – has influenced her own career.

“Marilyn Monroe has been Fanning’s hero for about fifteen years—most of her life. She studies Marilyn’s interviews the way some study paintings by Cézanne. ‘You could always see the emotions that she was feeling . . . in her eyes,’ she says. ‘She didn’t know how great she was.’

She often wonders how Marilyn would have managed social media. For years, Fanning resisted what she calls (in excellent old-lady fashion) ‘the Facebook and the Twitter.’ But as time went on she worried she was too much in her shell. ‘I need to evolve with the times!’ she says.”

Alice Denham Remembers Marilyn

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.

Marilyn at El Morocco, 1954

“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.”