Dior’s Marilyn at Proud Central

Bert Stern’s famous portrait of Marilyn wearing a black, backless Christian Dior dress – shot for Vogue magazine in July 1962 – is among the iconic fashion images featured in The Dior Collection, a new exhibition beginning a 2-month run at London’s Proud Central on February 7.

Babs Simpson 1913-2019

Babs Simpson in 1939

Legendary fashion editor Babs Simpson has died aged 105, the New York Times reports. Born Beatrice Crosby de Menocal in 1913, she was raised in an upper-class New York family. She married William Simpson of Chicago in 1935, but returned alone to the Big Apple seven years later. She first worked as a photographer’s assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, and in 1947, began her 25-year tenure at Vogue magazine.  Diana Vreeland, her boss from 1962, described Babs as ‘the most marvellous editor.” In 1972, she moved to House & Garden, where she would stay until her retirement in 1993.

Babs Simpson seated at right, 1967

One of Babs Simpson’s most famous Vogue assignments was with Marilyn and photographer Bert Stern at LA’s Bel Air Hotel in 1962. Stern had already spent a day alone with Marilyn on June 23, working on the iconic semi-nude images where she wears a gauzy scarf, some jewellery and little else.  But this wasn’t the high-fashion shoot Diana Vreeland had in mind, and another sitting was arranged for July 10-12.

“She was absolutely perfect,” Simpson said of Marilyn. Stern wrote about the fashion shoot in his book, The Last Sitting.

“The fact that Vogue were sending an editor on the shoot was a sign that they were getting serious. The first time they’d let me go off and do whatever I wanted, but now they had realised that I was on to something, and they were going to make sure they got what they wanted. Babs Simpson and I had worked together many times, and she understood me. I was sure they’d chosen her as the editor who could let me be the most creative and at the same time keep the most control. ‘Keep her clothes on,’ they’d probably told Babs. They saw where I was heading.

An editor has the difficult job of picking out all the fashions for a sitting, dressing the girl so that she looks just right, and helping the photographer in the best way possible. Babs Simpson was great because she knew when to step in and help, but she also knew how to leave the photographer alone with the model. I thought of her as ‘the needlepoint editor,’ because at every sitting, while the girl was doing her makeup or the photographer was shooting, Babs would sit on the side and work on needlepoint. Her whole house is decorated with pillows, rugs, the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen, which she made just sitting around studios over the years while the lights flashed.

Babs was bringing all the clothes, so I flew out to California with my assistant, Peter Deal, and we started setting up in the bungalow of the Bel Air … Babs arrived from the airport in a limousine. When I saw the heaps of designer dresses and fur coats being carried into the bungalow, I had to laugh.

Later that morning Kenneth [Battelle] arrived. Babs had all the clothes organised and ready and she worked seriously on her needlepoint while we sat in the garden waiting for Marilyn … But when four o’clock came, Babs folded up her needlepoint, put it in her bag, and said, ‘If she isn’t here in an hour, I’m leaving’ … I said, ‘Look, just give her until five. We’re all staying here in the hotel anyway, so what’s the difference?’

Babs agreed to wait. That crisis had been averted, at least for the moment. But not half an hour later my assistant, Peter, came over to me, looking pale. In his polite way, he said, ‘Bert, I really regret having to tell you this…’

At that moment Marilyn walked in.

If I had come with an entourage this time, so had she. She was flanked by Pat Newcomb … And then suddenly Peter was well … And now that Marilyn was here, Babs cheered up, too, and went right to work. The whole crew was there, and we were in business.

I looked around at all these people, busy getting Marilyn dressed, applying her makeup, doing her hair, pouring champagne, adjusting the lights – all the process and anxiety that accompanies high fashion  …This time I was going to do exactly what I’d been sent to do: take fashion pictures for Vogue. And I needed all these people, because this was going to be one tough assignment.

There was always a little disagreement about the accessories Babs had brought. I didn’t see the point to most of them. The white veil was almost strange enough to be interesting but the black wig … what was that all about? The last way I would have imagined Marilyn was as a raven-haired brunette … On the other hand, Babs didn’t want me to take pictures with the hat, and I thought the hat looked beautiful on her.

Babs had brought a lot of black dresses – the hardest thing in the world to shoot … Marilyn put on the simplest black dress. Kenneth combed her hair back. She was beautiful. All I had to do now was backlight it. That image was the essence of black and white … and blonde.

She was beginning to lose patience. I could see it on her face. She had been a good sport, but it was well after midnight, and the fashion was wearing thin … Babs had dug up another black dress, and I was ready for anything. But Marilyn had had it.

She looked around and then she walked off the white no-seam and grabbed a flimsy bed jacket that was lying casually on a chair near the strobe. I had tossed it there as a ‘no’ when we were going through the clothes earlier, because Babs said it was bad fashion, and I didn’t think much of it either. But Marilyn looked right in it.

I turned to Babs. ‘Why doesn’t everybody just leave the room and let me shoot her alone?’

Babs said, ‘I think that’s a good idea, Bert.’ Everyone got up and began to file out of the room. As they were leaving Babs said, ‘We’ll be right out here if you need us.’

‘Great,’ I said and I closed the door and locked it.

The next day she didn’t show up. Late in the morning, Babs told me that Pat Newcomb had called and Marilyn wasn’t going to work today … Then the phone rang again. It was Pat Newcomb asking whether Babs and Kenneth would come over to Marilyn’s house at one o’clock. I wasn’t invited. So Babs and Kenneth went off leaving me sitting there in the Bel Air Hotel. I didn’t feel great that day … And then Babs came back and said, ‘She’ll be here tomorrow’.

When she came in for the third shooting, everything was very different. Especially Marilyn and me. Sober, subdued, not very talkative. There was nothing to say. And then there were all these people around us again: Kenneth, Babs, Pat Newcomb, Peter Deal.

‘I want to do one more picture,’ I said. ‘A beautiful head shot.’  Babs said, ‘Oh, wonderful! We could use a great beauty shot. Kenneth will do the hair.’ Everybody was very excited.

Everybody was working. Kenneth combing Marilyn’s hair. Babs arranging a string of pearls around her neck. I was way up there in the dark, looking down on her lying there with her hair spread out.

‘Okay, I got it,’ I said, and I climbed down. It was all over. Marilyn left with Pat Newcomb, and we all packed up and got ready to leave.

As we were leaving, Babs Simpson said, ‘What’s going to happen to that poor girl?’

Poor girl?

I didn’t quite see what Babs meant. I didn’t feel sorry for Marilyn. I just figured I had done the best I could. And now I was going home.”

‘Essentially Marilyn’: Hit Or Miss?

The most surprising aspect of last week’s Essentially Marilyn auction at Profiles in History was how many valuable items from the Maite Minguez-Ricart collection and others (including movie costumes) went unsold, while others only reached the lower estimate. In a post for his MM Collection blog, Scott Fortner goes as far as to call it a flop – and noting the high prices reached at Julien’s only last month, he argues that poor organisation was to blame, rather than a lack of interest. Here’s a selection of items that sold well, and others that didn’t: you can find the full list over at iCollector.

Photo of Norma Jeane aged five, with her ‘first boyfriend’, Lester Bolender ($10,000)

Wedding photo of Norma Jeane and Jim Dougherty ($15,000)

Seven photos from Norma Jeane’s first assignments with the Blue Book Modelling Agency, 1945 ($11,000)

Marilyn’s personally inscribed photo with Ben Lyon ($37,500 – more info here)

Black silk cocktail dress with oversize white bow, designed by John Moore and worn by Marilyn in 1958 ($40,000)

Gold pleated halter gown designed by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ($100,000)

Crème-coloured gown by Travilla for How to Marry a Millionaire ($100,000)

Crème and blue gown by Travilla for There’s No Business Like Show Business ($70,000)

Pink and purple satin pantsuit with train, designed by Charles LeMaire for The Seven Year Itch ($100,000)

Silver cigarette box inscribed by Marilyn to Billy Wilder, 1954 ($10,000)

Sheer tan dress by JAX, worn by Marilyn in 1958 ($20,000)

Patterned wool overcoat, worn by Marilyn in 1961 ($30,000)

Marilyn’s personal key to Warner Brothers, 1956 ($10,000)

Red halter dress by JAX, worn by Marilyn in her final photo session with Milton Greene, 1957 ($100,000)

Certificate of nomination from the Golden Globe Awards for Some Like It Hot, 1959 ($10,000)

Black address book ca 1960-62 ($17,000)

John Bryson’s candid photo of Marilyn and Arthur Miller on the set of Let’s Make Love, signed by both ($8,00)

Pucci silk blouse, worn by Marilyn in 1962 ($95,000)

White Ferragamo pumps, worn by Marilyn in Something’s Got to Give ($16,000)

Marilyn’s original grave marker from Westwood Memorial Park ($38,400)

Period costume by Rene Hubert for A Ticket to Tomahawk (UNSOLD)

Brown Skirt Suit by Charles LeMaire for Love Nest (UNSOLD)

Costume sketches by Eloise Jenssen for We’re Not Married (UNSOLD)

Green dress by Travilla for Don’t Bother to Knock (UNSOLD)

Marilyn’s personally owned Ceil Chapman dress (UNSOLD)

Unreleased studio master for ‘Down Boy’ (UNSOLD – more info here)

Showgirl costume by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (UNSOLD)

Charles Feldman’s archive regarding The Seven Year Itch (UNSOLD)

Pearl encrusted gown, one of several copies made for The Prince and the Showgirl (UNSOLD)

Two address books, ca. 1950s-60s (UNSOLD)

Various exhibition prints by Milton Greene (UNSOLD)

Marilyn’s White Gloves in Springfield, MA

Marilyn in court, 1954

A pair of Marilyn’s white gloves will be on display as part of Pop! Icons of American Culture at the Smithsonian, at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, MA from this Friday, December 7, until February 24, 2019, as Ray Kelly reports for Mass Live. (And if you’re wondering why there aren’t more substantial Monroe artefacts in the Smithsonian collection, it’s because they’re too expensive. Donations, anyone?)

Marilyn ‘Shoulders’ High-School Controversy

This rather lovely photo of Marilyn in her Bus Stop costume – taken by Milton Greene on the Fox lot in 1956 – ran into the trouble this week, when a student wore the image on a sweatshirt at high school in South Ogden, Utah, as reported by Yahoo News. The image had been digitally altered to feature rapper Tupac Shakur (who once wrote a poem about MM), but that wasn’t the problem. It was Marilyn’s exposed shoulder that led a teacher to send the 13 year-old to the vice principal, who cited the garment as a violation of the school dress code – a claim  challenged by the girl’s mother.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Hollywood Icons & Idols

A wide range of Marilyn-related items, including her 1956 Thunderbird, will be up for grabs at Julien’s Icons & Idols auction on November 17.  Another high-profile item is the white beaded Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business, purchased at Christie’s in 1995; as yet it’s unclear whether this is the same dress listed at Julien’s in 2016.

Marilyn owned several pairs of checked trousers, wearing them repeatedly throughout her career. This pair, seen in one of her earliest modelling shoots, was purchased from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.

A number of photos owned by Marilyn herself are also on offer, including this picture with US troops, taken on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a set of publicity photos for Love Nest; a photo of Joe DiMaggio in his New York Yankees uniform; and Roy Schatt‘s 1955 photo of Marilyn and Susan Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

A postcard from the Table Rock House in Niagara Falls was signed by Marilyn and her Niagara co-stars, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, in 1952.

This publicity shot from River of No Return is inscribed, ‘To Alan, alas Alfred! It’s a pleasure to work with you – love & kisses Marilyn Monroe.’

A set of bloomers worn by Marilyn in River of No Return (as seen in this rare transparency) is going up for bids.

Marilyn in Korea, 1954

Among the mementoes from Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Japan and Korea are two fans and an army sewing kit.

Also among Marilyn’s personal property is this ad for There’s No Business Like Show Business, torn from the December 24, 1954 issue of Variety.

Marilyn’s hand-written poem inspired by Brooklyn Bridge is also on sale.

Among Marilyn’s assorted correspondence is a latter dated August 22, 1954, from childhood acquaintance Ruth Edens:

“I have long intended to write you this letter because I have particularly wanted to say that when you used to visit me at my Balboa Island cottage, you were a shy and charming child whose appeal, it seems to me, must have reached the hearts of many people. I could never seem to get you to say much to me, but I loved having you come in and I missed your doing so after you’d gone away. I wondered about you many times and was delighted when I discovered you in the films. I hope the stories in the magazines which say you felt yourself unloved throughout your childhood, are merely press-agentry. In any case, I want you to know that I, for one, was truly fond of you and I’m proud of you for having developed enough grit to struggle through to success … I hope you are getting much happiness out of life, little Marian [sic]. I saw so much that was ethereal in you when you were a little girl that I fell sure you are not blind to life’s spiritual side. May all that is good and best come your way!”

Marilyn’s loyalty to the troops who helped to make her a star is attested in this undated letter from Mrs. Josephine Holmes, which came with a sticker marked ‘American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

“My dear Miss Monroe, I was so happy to hear from Mr. Fisher about your visit to the Veterans Hospital. When I spoke to Mr. Alex David Recreation he said the veterans would be thrilled, probably the best present and tonic for them this holiday and gift giving season. I am sure it will be a wonderful memory for you, knowing you have brought happiness to so many boys, many have no one to visit with them. Thank you, and may God bless you and Mr. Miller for your kindness.”

Marilyn wore this hand-tailored black satin blouse for a 1956 press conference at Los Angeles Airport, as she returned to her hometown after a year’s absence to film Bus Stop. When a female reporter asked, ‘You’re wearing a high-neck dress. … Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’ she replied sweetly, ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.’

Paula Strasberg’s annotated scripts for Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot, Let’s Make Love, and her production notes for The Misfits are available; and a book, Great Stars of the American Stage, inscribed “For Marilyn/With my love and admiration/ Paula S/ May 29-1956” (the same day that Marilyn finished work on Bus Stop. )

Letters from Marilyn’s poet friend, Norman Rosten, are also included (among them a letter warmly praising her work in Some Like It Hot, and a postcard jokingly signed off as T.S. Eliot.)

Among Marilyn’s correspondence with fellow celebrities was a Christmas card from Liberace, and a telephone message left by erstwhile rival, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

File under ‘What Might Have Been’ – two letters from Norman Granz at Verve Records, dated 1957:

“In the September 5, 1957, letter, Granz writes, ‘I’ve been thinking about our album project and I should like to do the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to an album called MARILYN SINGS LOVE SONGS or some such title.’ In the December 30, 1957, letter, he writes, ‘… I wonder too if you are ready to do any recording. I shall be in New York January 20th for about a week and the Oscar Peterson Trio is off at that time, so if you felt up to it perhaps we could do some sides with the Trio during that period.'”

Also in 1957, Marilyn received this charming card from the Monroe Six, a group of dedicated New York teenage fans, mentioning her latest role in The Prince and The Showgirl and husband Arthur Miller’s legal worries:

“Marilyn, We finally got to see ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ and every one of us was so very pleased. We are all popping our shirt and blouse buttons. Now we will be on pins and needles ‘til it is released to the general public. You seemed so relaxed and a tease thru the whole picture and your close ups, well they were the most flawless ever. You should be real pleased with yourself. No need to tell you what we want for you to know now is that we hope everything comes out all right for Mr. Miller and real soon too. Guess what we are working on now. We are trying to scrape up enough money for the necessary amount due on 6 tickets to the premiere and the dinner dance afterwards. Well again we must say how happy we are about T.P.+T.S. and we wanted you to know it. Our best to you.”

Among the lots is assorted correspondence from Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, dated 1958. In that year, Marilyn sent Xenia a check which she used to replace her wallpaper. She regretted being unable to visit Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot, but would write to Arthur Miller on November 22, “I wanted to tell you how much your visit meant to me and how glad I was to see you and my beloved Marilyn being so happy together.”

In April 1959, Marilyn received a letter from attorney John F. Wharton, advising her of several foundations providing assistance to children in need of psychiatric care, including the Anna Freud Foundation, which Marilyn would remember in her will.

This telegram was sent by Marilyn’s father-in-law, Isidore Miller, on her birthday – most likely in 1960, as she was living at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love. She was still a keen reader at the time, as this receipt for a 3-volume Life and Works of Sigmund Freud from Martindale’s bookstore shows.

After Let’s Make Love wrapped, Marilyn sent a telegram to director George Cukor:

“Dear George, I would have called but I didn’t know how to explain to you how I blame myself but never you. If there is [undecipherable due to being crossed out] out of my mind. Please understand. My love to Sash. My next weekend off I will do any painting cleaning brushing you need around the house. I can also dust. Also I am sending you something but it’s late in leaving. I beg you to understand. Dear Evelyn sends her best. We’re both city types. Love, Amanda Marilyn.”

Here she is referencing her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and Amanda Dell, the character she played. “Dearest Marilyn, I have been trying to get you on the telephone so I could tell you how touched I was by your wire and how grateful I am,” Cukor replied. “Am leaving for Europe next Monday but come forrest [sic] fires come anything, I will get you on the telephone.”

There’s also a June 30, 1960 letter from Congressman James Roosevelt (son of FDR), asking Marilyn to appear on a television show about the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research, to be aired in October. Unfortunately, Marilyn was already committed to filming The Misfits, and dealing with the collapse of her marriage to Arthur Miller.

In 1961, movie producer Frank McCarthy praised Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits:

Rather touchingly, Marilyn owned this recording of ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ sung by Adriana Caselotti. The record copyright is from 1961, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was originally released in December 1937, when Marilyn was just eleven years old.

This pen portrait was sketched by George Masters, who became Marilyn’s regular hairdresser in the final years of her life.

On July 5, 1962, Hattie Stephenson – Marilyn’s New York housekeeper – wrote to her in Los Angeles:

 “My Dear Miss Monroe: How are you! Trusting these few lines will find you enjoying your new home. Hoping you have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Fields by now. Found them to be very nice and the childrens [sic] are beautiful. Got along very well with there [sic] language. How is Maff and Mrs. Murray? Miss Monroe, Mrs. Fields left this stole here for you and have been thinking if you would like to have it out there I would mail it to you. Miss Monroe Dear, I asked Mrs. Rosten to speak with you concerning my vacation. I am planning on the last week of July to the 6th of August. I am going to Florida on a meeting tour. Trusting everything will be alright with you. Please keep sweet and keep smiling. You must win. Sincerely, Hattie.”

Hattie is referring to Marilyn’s Mexico friend, Fred Vanderbilt Field, who stayed with his family in Marilyn’s New York apartment that summer. She also alludes to Marilyn’s ongoing battle with her Hollywood studio. Sadly, Hattie never saw Marilyn again, as she died exactly a month later. Interestingly, the final check from Marilyn’s personal checkbook was made out to Hattie on August 3rd.

After Marilyn died, her estate was in litigation for several years. Her mother, Gladys, was a long-term resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, which had agreed to waive her fees until her trust was reopened. In 1965, Gladys would receive hate mail from a certain Mrs. Ruth Tager of the Bronx, criticising her as a ‘hindrance’ due to her unpaid bills. This unwarranted attack on a sick, elderly woman reminds one why Marilyn was so hesitant to talk about her mother in public.

UPDATE: See results here

Marilyn’s Little Black Dress, and the ‘Master of Chiffon’

This elegant black shift dress with a chiffon midriff launched a fashion craze when Marilyn wore it at London’s Savoy Hotel, quipping that while the dress was not her idea, her midriff was. Writing for the Hollywood Reporter, Vince Boucher notes that the couturier – the subject of a new exhibition at Drexel University in Philadelphia – was James Galanos, who went on to dress First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s.

“Hollywood is represented in a brown-tweed suit from the fifties from Rosalind Russell with a portrait collar and empire-effect belt with trapunto stitching and in a violet jacketed gown similar to one that Diana Ross wore to the Academy Awards. And in a group of black dresses, there is a 1993 mini with a sheer midriff, a motif the designer returned to again and again, all the way back to a black sheath with chiffon inset worn by Marilyn Monroe at her 1956 press conference for The Prince and the Showgirl, as shown in the exhibition catalog.”

In the late 1940s, Galanos was hired as a sketch assistant by Columbia Pictures’ costumier, Jean Louis (who would also design for Marilyn.) By the 1950s, Galanos was designing collections for Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, and Neiman Marcus in New York. He later settle in Los Angeles, and was known as the ‘master of chiffon.’

Marilyn’s wool crepe cocktail dress was purchased at Bergdof Goodman department store in Manhattan, and was sold at Christie’s in 1999. It was also featured in ‘A Short History of the Little Black Dress’, an article posted on the Real Simple website in 2011.

Marilyn’s Pucci Style in ‘Yours Retro’

Marilyn’s Pucci wardrobe is the subject of an article in the latest issue of UK magazine Yours Retro. She favoured his colourful designs in the final years of her life, in contrast to the form-fitting neutrals she had worn during the 1950s. It’s an interesting glimpse at how her style evolved as she matured, and how she adapted to the changing fashions of the 1960s.

Thanks to Fraser

Moon of Baroda Recasts Spell in Marilyn’s Hollywood

The legendary Moon of Baroda diamond – valued by its current owner at between $500,000 and $750,000 – is now on display at Christie’s in Los Angeles until October 20, and will be auctioned in Hong Kong on November 27 alongside a signed photo of Marilyn wearing it, as Jordan Riefe writes for the Hollywood Reporter.

“‘It’s gorgeous,’ said Marilyn Monroe when first gazing upon the Moon of Baroda; not a heavenly body to match her own, but a diamond, a rare 24.04-carat canary yellow gem pulled from the legendary Golconda mine, outside Hyderabad, in 16th-century India.

Monroe was on a publicity tour for her breakout 1953 comedy Gentleman Prefer Blondes with its unforgettable song, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ when the Moon of Baroda became her best friend, on loan from Meyer Jewelry Company in Detroit.

Meyer Rosenbaum loaned it to the legendary actor for publicity purposes surrounding Howard Hawks’ classic comedy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, co-starring Jane Russell, and photos of Monroe wearing it went viral.

What won’t add to its price is a rumored curse alleging that if the gem travels overseas, bad luck will come to its owner. Its 19th century stint in Austria ended with the death of Maria Theresa, and others claim that Monroe’s fortunes took a southward turn after wearing it in 1953, when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes launched her to stardom.”

UPDATE: The Moon of Baroda diamond has been sold at auction in China for $1.3 million – more than double its low estimate, as Christie’s reports.