Category Archives: Charity

Hollywood’s Formosa Cafe Closes

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The legendary Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard, where the cast of Some Like It Hot dined between filming scenes at the nearby Samuel Goldwyn Studios, closed its doors last month, as Julia Bennett Rylah reports for LAist. (The restaurant features in the Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential (1997), and was more recently the venue for a 2015 benefit for Hollygrove, the children’s charity named after the orphanage where the young Norma Jeane once lived.)

“Prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein opened the Red Spot in 1925 inside a defunct red trolly car, near a film studio that would, in the late 1930s, become Samuel Goldwyn Studio. It was a simple lunch counter that slowly grew into a much larger operation, and was renamed the Formosa Cafe around the same time that Samuel Goldwyn moved in, according to KCET. They served Cantonese and American food courtesy of Chef Lem Quon, who took over the joint after Bernstein’s death in 1976. He then enlisted the aid of his stepson, William Jung.

The Formosa was not a fine dining establishment, but it was famous for its famous clientele, which included actors and rock icons from the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.

In 1991, Warner Bros. replaced Goldwyn Studio and foresaw the Formosa as a parking lot. As often happens in Los Angeles, a group quickly assembled to save the cafe. Their protest were successful, and the little building remained as the city grew around it.

The worse it got, according to many, came via a remodel in the summer of 2015. The restaurant was gutted and revamped … while the exterior of the building, including its neon green sign, is protected, the inside was not.

However, since everyone apparently hated the remodel so very much, Formosa owners decided to put it back to the way it was. The revert was apparently not enough to save the historic restaurant from closure.”

However, all may not yet be lost, according to LA Magazine.

“The longtime operator of the recently shuttered Formosa Café hasn’t even turned in his keys yet, and the building’s owner is already hearing proposals from new tenants. Vince Jung abruptly closed the restaurant this week. New York-based real estate firm Clarion Partners purchased the West Hollywood Gateway shopping center in 2004 and owns the restaurant property. ‘My goal is to find someone that wants to bring back the history,’ said Gabe Kadosh, vice president of leasing firm Colliers International. ‘This is not going to turn into a Sharky’s or something.’

Jung had been on a month-to-month, below-market lease for many years and made several unsuccessful attempts to revive the business by taking on partners and hosting pop-up nights. One of those partners remodeled the interior without permission from Clarion … Now that the owners have control of the landmark they are seeking a new tenant to restore the Formosa.”

Marilyn, Ralph Roberts and the Missing Coat

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Marilyn arrives in London, 1956

Today, items from Marilyn’s wardrobe sell for thousands – millions, even. But as Hap Roberts – nephew of Marilyn’s masseur and close friend, Ralph – tells the Salisbury Post‘s Mark Wineka, the  Burberry trench-coat which she gave him is now lost.

It’s not clear exactly which coat this was – but Marilyn wore a trench-coat during her time in England, while filming The Prince and the Showgirl – and again for a scene in Let’s Make Love (1960.)

In one interview, Ralph claimed that Marilyn picked it up from Arthur Miller’s home in Roxbury, Connecticut after their divorce, but she decided to give it to Ralph when she found it smelled of another woman’s perfume. (This is odd, because in her own account of the same visit, Marilyn’s half-sister Bernice Baker Miracle said it was a fur coat, and that MM gave it to her dog, Maf, to sleep on.)

“Roberts became Monroe’s official masseur in 1959, and for the last three-plus years of her life, during her various romantic entanglements, Ralph would give her massages daily, becoming a close confidante and friend to Monroe.

Together, they ran errands, ate meals, attended parties and took plane trips across the country between New York and California.

Toward the end of his life, Ralph Roberts returned to Salisbury and lived in a little house off Parkview Circle, not far from Hap’s offices with Statewide Title. They would meet every afternoon around 4 p.m. to talk, and every Sunday at 5 p.m. Ralph would show up at Hap and his wife Annette’s house for martinis.

Ralph Roberts always brought his Sunday New York Times with him and would leave the newspaper with the couple so they could read it later. Once, Roberts carried with him an art deco martini set Monroe had given him.

Roberts also possessed a box of chandelier crystals Monroe had collected. The actress thought the crystals carried healing properties, and in the years after her death, Ralph sometimes would hand them out as gifts to friends.

Ralph Roberts died April 30, 1999, at age 82. About a month later, Hap and his cousin Claudette began the somber task of cleaning up and going through their uncle’s house. They noticed a woman’s Burberry trench coat in the closet and figured it was a friend’s coat, left at Ralph’s house in the past.

They placed it in the things going to Goodwill.

About a month later, Hap found a list of Marilyn Monroe items Ralph had inventoried. On the list was ‘Burberry trench coat.’

Hap could only ease the heartache of having given away the coat by thinking to himself  that ‘at least it’s keeping somebody dry and warm and Ralph would like that.'”

Marilyn Jetty Swim in Adelaide

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More news from Australia: a group of Marilyn lookalikes have swum around the Brighton jetty, near Adelaide, raising over $50,000 for Cancer Council SA, reports ABC News. (The event was initially planned as a mass ukulele strum.)

“The event, now in its third year, a little less than The Seven Year Itch, attracted 107 participants, and is part of the larger Brighton Jetty Classic ocean swimming events.

Marilyn Jetty Swim founder Sarah Tinney, an American, said water conditions were perfect for the event.

‘It was easy, much easier than last year, the conditions weren’t so favourable but that’s a great metaphor for life,’ Ms Tinney said.

‘Sometimes you have smooth seas and sometimes you don’t.’

A lot of preparation goes into playing the part of the Hollywood icon, who was born Norma Jeane Mortensen in 1926.

‘Over the years I think we have perfected it. But the basic plan is women come with their foundation on,’ she said.

‘They do their own blush and we do the vintage flicks on the eyes … and we also do the beauty spots you cannot forget or you are not a Marilyn … and we have a lipstick bar.’

‘We try not to [get wet]. We’re Marilyns. We are here for the glamour and we are here for the fundraising.’

Ms Tinney said her mother died after an eight-month battle with cancer in 2007 and she made a promise to raise money to find a cure.

‘My husband actually used to call my mother Marilyn and my dad John Wayne because he’s Australian and they were sort of the only American icons he knew … so I thought that was pretty weird and I saw it as a sign ...'”

Party With Marilyn at the Formosa Cafe

1011389_10151653671861878_1115085617_nIf you’re in Los Angeles today, why not get into the Christmas spirit – and help a child in need? The Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard (where Marilyn dined while filming Some Like it Hot) is hosting ‘Hollywood’s Hurrah for Hollygrove’, in aid of Hollygrove EMQ Familes First, a non-profit agency named after the Los Angeles Orphan’s Home, where Marilyn herself stayed as a child. Entry is $10, or else bring a new unwrapped toy for a Hollygrove child – more details here.

Multiple Marilyns to Strum for Charity

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A group of ukulele-playing Marilyn lookalikes from Adelaide, Australia will attempt to break the record for the World’s Largest Ukulele Ensemble in January 2016, reports Adelaide Now.

“The nimble fingered ensemble will be led by Mayor David O’Loughlin and the Marilyn Jetty Swim group, a group of Marilyn Monroe impersonators who raise money for Cancer Council SA.

‘I’ve had two ukulele lessons now,’ said Sarah Tinney (aka Marilyn), 36, from Brighton. ‘None of us have ever played the ukulele before but we’re all making great improvements every week so I’m very confident we’ll be able to accomplish it in time.'”

Beginners are welcome to sign up to learn the song ‘Daisy Bell (a Bicycle Built for Two)’ which will be played on the day.”

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Of course, Sugar Kane – Marilyn’s character in Some Like it Hot – played the ukulele as well as singing in an all-girl band, Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators. Maybe the Marilyn Jetty Swim Group should copy her 1920s style for the event?

(And if you’re wondering what happened to Marilyn’s ukulele, according to The Guardian it is currently on display at the Santa Barbara Surfing Museum in California.)

Immortal Marilyn in June

Flowers were placed at Marilyn’s graveside by Immortal Marilyn’s Jackie Craig on June 1st, along with a card signed by members. A further $400 has been donated to New York’s Animal Haven charity.

This month’s updates to the Immortal Marilyn website include this lovely drawing by Bruno Doucin, of Marilyn clutching her award for Some Like it Hot at the 1960 Golden Globes; a review of Stacy Eubank’s Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn – The Hollywood Years, by Fraser Penney; ‘In Defense of Marilyn’, a 1955 article for Modern Screen by columnist Earl Wilson; and my own review of Lifetime’s mini-series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn’s ‘Bombshell’ Hits Broadway

playbillA much-heralded, one-off benefit performance of Bombshell (the Marilyn-inspired ‘show within a show’ from TV’s now-defunct Smash) was staged at New York’s Minskoff Theatre on June 8, reports Variety.

“The one-night-only event at the Broadway’s Minskoff Theater (home to The Lion King) was presented as a fundraiser benefitting the Actors Fund. Looking to defer costs of the event, the Actors Fund raised more than $300,000 on Kickstarter from Smash fans panting to make Bombshell happen — and the goal had only been $50,000. ‘This is the largest theater Kickstarter in history,’ noted Christian Borle, a cast member of the TV show (and one of the winners at the Tony Awards the previous night).

‘Maybe if NBC had used Kickstarter instead of sponsors, we’d still be on the air right now,’ cracked Debra Messing, Borle’s costar on the show.

Borle and Messing played the composer and book-writer/lyricist, respectively, of the fictional Marilyn Monroe bio-musical Bombshell. ‘You are about to hear the score for Bombshell that we wrote,’ she joked, referring to herself and Borle. ‘I’m still working on the book.’

Actually, the Hairspray duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman penned the songs, and there never really was a book written for the show-within-the-show. So the concert strung together the pre-existing tunes with biographical texts written by Marilyn and her friends and lovers, like Lee Strasberg and Arthur Miller.

It was all there, from the signature song ‘Let Me Be Your Star’ to a ‘Big Finish’ encore, with Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee trading off in the role of Marilyn. Jeremy Jordan brought down the house with ‘Cut, Print… Moving On,’ and the suggestive choreography in ‘The National Pastime’ got a lot more risqué than broadcast television would ever allow. Brian d’Arcy James, Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Harada and Wesley Taylor also showed up to sing a song or two…

The full-length evening, which included several of Josh Bergasse’s fully choreographed dance sequences, closed with Shaiman and Wittman arriving onstage to take the mic. ‘What you saw tonight was the best part of Smash for us,’ Wittman said. ‘It was being in the room with all of these incredible people.'”

In a review for The New Yorker, Michael Schulman argues that despite lacking ‘a book’, Bombshell was the true highlight of Smash:

“But what about that Marilyn Monroe musical? What we saw of it, chopped up and sprinkled across the two TV seasons, was always the strongest part of the series—actually, stronger than the series, as if some superior, nonexistent work of art were struggling to break free from a fatally flawed one…When Smash premiered—before its narrative dysfunctions became apparent—it was suggested that some day, once the show caught on, the fake musical could become a real one, a cross-medium spin-off like none the world had ever seen.

I should back up: the first delightful surprise of the evening was that Bombshell has an overture, which was played by a sumptuous onstage orchestra. Then it was on to the song that has been stuck in my head since the pilot, ‘Let Me Be Your Star,’ sung by Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee. In Smash land, they were the duelling divas Ivy and Karen, who fought over the role of Marilyn Monroe like matinee ladies squabbling over an armrest.

Finally, we could hear Shaiman and Wittman’s Bombshell without the surrounding silliness of Smash. As on the show, Hilty and McPhee seemed to echo Monroe’s split personality, with Hilty as brassy, sexy Marilyn and McPhee as whispery, semi-catatonic Marilyn. Hilty was especially strong on ‘They Just Keep Moving the Line,’ a bluesy ‘Maybe This Time’-esque anthem, which could just as well become a cabaret standard. Shaiman and Wittman’s lyrical wit shone through in ‘Second Hand White Baby Grand,’ a ballad of neglect about Monroe’s childhood piano. (Fun fact: it now belongs to Mariah Carey.) And the wordplay of ‘The National Pastime‘ (‘a baseball diamond is a girl’s best friend’) made as good a case as any for Bombshell as a real, live musical. In between, there were cameos from Smash supporting players…

So why isn’t Bombshell a real show? After the event, Wittman pointed out the obvious: it doesn’t have a book…To make up for the lack of connective scenes, the actors read excerpts of Monroe in her own words, bringing us glimmers of her isolation and thwarted attempts to love and be loved. Over the course of the evening, Marilyn became a kind of metaphor for Smash itself—eager to please the wrong people, breakable under pressure, and, in the end, just too beautiful to live.”

Immortal Marilyn in January

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After raising $405 for the Animal Haven charity with their ‘Flowers for Marilyn‘ Christmas appeal, Immortal Marilyn have started 2015 in style with updates to their website, including a 1956 article from Anything Goes magazine, about Marilyn’s calendar shoot with Tom Kelley; two new drawings from Bruno Doucin; and from me, an expanded profile of Pat Newcomb (which you can also read here.)

AmfAR to Honour ‘Red’ Marilyn at Cannes

Sketch for Bulgari necklace, designed for AmfAR gala
Sketch for Bulgari necklace, designed for AmfAR gala

AmfAR, the charity founded by Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor, will dedicate this year’s Cinema Against AIDS gala at the Cannes Film Festival to Marilyn, reports Women’s Wear Daily. (Dr Krim was the wife of Arthur B. Krim, the entertainment lawyer who hosted a party at his home after the John F. Kennedy birthday gala in 1962. Marilyn brought Isidore Miller along. And while she never visited Cannes, MM was chosen as the festival’s poster girl back in 2012.)

Design sketch by Ralph Lauren
Design sketch by Ralph Lauren

Exclusive designs by leading houses from Salvatore Ferragamo to Alexander McQueen will be unveiled. Among the celebrities involved are Sharon Stone, Harvey Weinstein and Milla Jovovich, and Lana Del Rey is set to perform a song or two.

“The amfAR benefit on May 22, widely considered the social highlight of the annual Cannes Film Festival in France, will stage a red-themed fashion show of gowns created for the occasion. After shining a spotlight on the colors black and gold in previous years, Carine Roitfeld, who is overseeing the runway show for the third time, said she wanted to dedicate the show to Monroe.

‘She searched for love all her life, and I think she would have been a big supporter of the foundation,’ she told WWD.”