Nick Ray’s Long Goodbye

The final extract from Patrick McGilligan’s Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director concerns Ray’s reaction to Marilyn’s death.

Ray was filming 55 Days at Peking in Spain when he heard the news. (The magazine cover above shows a rather gossipy Confidential article about Marilyn and Ray from 1956, available to read at Everlasting Star.)

“The first week of August brought the bulletin that Ray’s old flame Marilyn Monroe had been found dead in the bedroom of her Brentwood home. More than Humphrey Bogart’s death, Monroe’s sudden passing, at thirty-six, seemed a personal augury to Ray. He had loved the blond sex symbol, for her obvious qualities but all the more for her elusiveness; now he would never have the chance to direct her in a motion picture. Monroe’s death left Ray ‘deeply shocked and grieved,’ according to news accounts, but the director could not leave the high-pressure filming in Spain and had to content himself with sending a floral display to her funeral.”

In later years, Ray criticised John Huston’s direction of The Misfits:

“In interviews, Ray himself tended to denigrate certain filmmakers by name. Though, for example, he praised Marilyn Monroe’s last picture, ‘The Misfits’, directed by John Huston, Ray said it was ‘not as good as The Lusty Men,’ his rodeo film.”

Marilyn Conspiracy Theories: ‘Everyone Was Murdered!’

‘The Marilyn Conspiracy’, Milo Speriglio, 1986

The 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death in August has, perhaps inevitably, led to yet another wave of speculation. As Maureen Callahan writes in the New York Post, ‘the hot trend in publishing is making sure the famous didn’t die of natural causes.’

“Though hard to quantify, our obsession with homicide has seemed to grow exponentially over the past couple of decades: Turn on the television any given night, and there are at least a few hour-long procedurals involving grisly homicides on the air — so reliable in formula and execution they almost take on the coziness of chicken soup. The true-crime genre has cut across age, class and education levels since its introduction in the 18th century; in the 20th, Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ and Norman Mailer’s ‘The Executioner’s Song’ brought into focus the true nature of our fascination, which lays with the murderer, not the victim.

True crime, however, is infinitely more popular among women than men, and David Schmid (a professor at the University of Buffalo specializing in true crime and celebrity) reports far more females than males in his classes.

He thinks it may be ‘pedagogical — women are looking for a way to negotiate the fear of being a victim and can take [warnings] from what the victim did to make themselves vulnerable. Stories help with that.’

And stories in which we spin out elaborate theories to explore the deaths of celebrities may, in the end, simply be our crudest yet best efforts to make sense of the greatest mystery of all. ‘We attempt to read mysteries into everything, because with that comes the notion that there are answers to be found,’ says Schmid. ‘That life isn’t as random and meaningless as it can seem, but there’s a pattern to events — and if we can decode those, we can arrive at the answer and prove there’s a point to it all.'”

Marilyn’s Death in Crime Fiction

Bye Bye, Baby, the recent novel by Max Allan Collins in which detective Nate Heller investigates Marilyn’s death, will be out in paperback on May 22. You can read a review by David Marshall (author of The DD Group and Life Among the Cannibals) here.

Then in July, James Ireland Baker – best known as a travel writer – turns his hand to crime fiction with The Empty Glass. Though the title reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, it is probably a reference to the glass found on Marilyn’s bedstand when she died:

‘In the early-morning hours of August 5, 1962, Los Angeles County Deputy Coroner Ben Fitzgerald arrives at the home of the most famous movie star in the world, now lying naked on her bed, still clutching the telephone. There, he discovers the starlet’s so-called “Book of Secrets”—Marilyn’s diary, revealing a doomed relationship with a man she refers to only as “The General.” The deeper Ben reads into the diary—“I hear clicking on the line”—the deeper he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy far bigger than he can imagine, and becomes the only person who may know the truth about Monroe’s life and death. Ben uncovers information that reveals not only a relationship between Marilyn and the Kennedy brothers but information about the Bay of Pigs invasion, the U.S. government’s involvement with the Mafia, the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro, the identity of a Soviet CIA mole, and (most significantly) a secret Monroe sex tape. Soon, the paranoid events in The Book of Secrets bleed into Ben’s own life, and he finds himself, like Monroe, trapped in a deepening conspiracy. The investigation here is fiction, of course—but the events surrounding the Monroe death (contradictory witness testimony, “dual lividity” on the corpse) are based entirely on fact. Most important, there were the photos taken of the night stand next to Marilyn’s bed, where no water glass was found by initial investigators—and when the second set of photos surfaced, more questions: the water service at Marilyn’s house had been shut off the night before, so how did she manage to swallow the pills? With deft research and captivating prose, author Baker takes us inside the star’s house on the day of her death, inside the coroner’s office on the day of the autopsy, and inside long-defunct Los Angeles landmarks like the Ambassador Hotel, Peter Lawford’s Pucini restaurant, and the fabled Hall of Justice. Along the way, we cross paths with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, and mobster Johnny Roselli. The Empty Glass is a heartbreaking, pulse-quickening novel that delves into one of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century, and weaves a stunning narrative on American celebrity, politics, and power.’

Peter Lawford: Downfall of a Golden Boy

The English-born actor, Peter Lawford, was one of the last people to speak to Marilyn on the night she died. A new radio documentary, Brother-in-Lawford, about his glamorous life and tragic decline, airs tomorrow at 10pm on BBC Radio 2 – narrated by Buddy Greco, with input from Lawford’s son, Christopher, reports the Daily Express.

‘“Marilyn taught me to dance the twist but it didn’t feel amazing at six years of age – only when I told people later,” says Christopher.

Indeed his father introduced Marilyn Monroe to JFK and brought her to Kennedy’s 45th birthday party to sing her infamous rendition of happy Birthday.’

Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Scandals

I’ve always suspected that Vanity Fair was just a high-class gossip mag – and they may have confirmed my hunch with this one-off, special edition, Vanity Fair: Hollywood Scandal. Available for a limited time only, it ties in with a recent 48 Hours special on CBS in the US, featuring the untimely death of Marilyn Monroe among other infamous real-life dramas.

You can read editor Grayson Carter’s introduction, At the Corner of Hollywood and ‘Noir’, online. Reviewing the magazine, Liz Smith comments, ‘This kind of collection pretty much puts the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons in their place.’

Famous Eulogies: Lee Strasberg on Marilyn

Photo by Allan Grant, 1962

Lee Strasberg’s tribute to Marilyn, read at her funeral, is featured at Flavorwire in a meme on famous eulogies, posted to mark Halloween. You can read the full text here.

‘Prestigious acting teacher and director of the Actors Studio, Lee Strasberg, gave screen icon Marilyn Monroe’s eulogy in 1962. Strasberg helped train the legendary star and noted, “The dream of her talent, which she had nurtured as a child, was not a mirage.” Norma Jean had a troubled childhood — spending most of it in foster homes — but her young modeling career eventually led to screen stardom, which was sadly cut short after her suicide. As Strasberg points out, “In her own lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain.” ‘

‘Marilyn: A Case For Murder’

A new investigation into Marilyn’s death by author Jay Margolis, now available in softcover, hardback or as a digital download from publisher i-Universe and other online stores.

“It is one of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century. How did Marilyn Monroe die? Although no pills were found in her stomach during the autopsy, it was still documented in the Los Angeles coroner’s report that she had swallowed sixty-four sleeping pills prior to her demise. In Marilyn Monroe: A Case for Murder, biographer Jay Margolis presents the most thorough investigation of Marilyn Monroe’s death to date and shares how he reached the definitive conclusion that she was murdered.

Margolis meticulously dissects the events leading up to her death, revealing a major conspiracy and countless lies. In an exclusive interview with actress Jane Russell three months before her death, he reveals Russell’s belief that Monroe was murdered and points the finger at the man she held responsible. While examining the actions of Peter Lawford, Bobby Kennedy, and Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, Margolis establishes a timeline of her last day alive that leads to shocking revelations.

In August 1962, Marilyn Monroe’s lifeless body was found on her bed, leaving all to wonder what really happened to the beautiful young starlet. Marilyn Monroe: A Case for Murder provides a fascinating examination of one of the most puzzling deaths of all time.”

Marilyn and Jean Seberg

Actress Jean Seberg had a few things in common with Marilyn. They shared two directors, Otto Preminger and Joshua Logan. I have often thought that Jean’s role in Logan’s Paint Your Wagon might also have suited Marilyn.

Both Marilyn and Jean were monitored by the FBI during the J. Edgar Hoover era. Marilyn was followed, and perhaps even bugged, because of her connections with liberals like Arthur Miller and, possibly, the Kennedys (whom Hoover hated.)

During the 1960s, Seberg was pursued for her radical views on issues like civil rights. The FBI used illegally obtained information to plant a false story in Newsweek, claiming that a leading member of the Black Panthers had fathered her child.

Some researchers believe that the FBI campaign against Jean led to her suicide in 1979. Like Marilyn, she suffered from depression, and died of an overdose. Unlike MM, however, Jean left a note.

Seberg’s death is now the subject of a docu-drama, The Murder of Jean Seberg, and the stills of Daphne Guinness as Jean are somewhat Monroe-esque.

“I want to write that allusions to Marilyn Monroe coupled with the presence of alcohol and cigarettes indicate self-destruction. I want to write about the sunglasses that often conceal Guinness’ eyes, and the way her eye sockets turn into hollow holes of light when she takes them off—that this suggests a lack of identity. I want to write about the inclusion of limiting traffic signs (‘No Parking’ and ‘Dead End’), and the voice-overs and footage from past political horrors, which allude to society’s capacity to subordinate. I want to write that these elements are all suggestive of the way Hollywood and society metaphorically- or literally- murder those whom we worship, and rob the famed of individual identities through exploitation. I want to say that the film is a meditation on fame’s destruction of the celebrity. But I shouldn’t…”

Wonder Mode

Marilyn and ‘Majestic 12’

Marilyn by Ted Baron, 1954

Robin Ramsay casts a sceptical eye upon one of the more exotic conspiracy theories linking Marilyn with JFK and UFOs in The Fortean Times, in response to allegations recently made in the UK’s Daily Mail.

In his article, Ramsay traces the Monroe connection to journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, who knew Marilyn professionally throughout her Hollywood years – though they were not close friends – and was one of the first to investigate the Kennedy rumours after her death.

However, the rumour appears to be based on documents compiled by Majestic 12, a secret committee formed at the orders of President Harry S. Truman in 1947, after the Roswell Incident. The FBI has since declared documents authorised by MJ-12 ‘completely bogus’ – though UFO enthusiasts will disagree.