Marilyn, Ben Lyon and the Story of a New Name

Ahead of the Essentially Marilyn exhibition’s grand opening at the Paley Centre in Los Angeles tomorrow, Olivia B. Waxman uncovers the story behind this signed photo – taken during filming of The Seven Year Itch – showing Marilyn with Fox talent scout Ben Lyon, in an article for Time. The photo – to be sold at auction by Profiles in History in October – refutes some of the more outlandish rumours about how Marilyn got her name (I’m looking at you, Mickey Rooney.) It won’t be news to longstanding fans, however, as biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles first quoted Marilyn’s words to Lyon back in 1969.

“The above photograph — inscribed by Marilyn Monroe to Lyon: “Dear Ben, You found me, named me and believed in me when no one else did. My thanks and love forever. Marilyn’ … [is] Considered to be one of the most important photographs in Hollywood history because it debunks myths about how she got her iconic stage name, it could fetch more than $100,000, according to Profiles in History CEO Joseph Maddalena, who runs the auction house that specializes in Hollywood memorabilia. He said photos autographed by Monroe usually fetch between $20,000 and $30,000.

So how was the name Marilyn Monroe chosen?

It was a team effort, according to one account of how it happened by Monroe biographer Donald Spoto. At the time, Lyon thought there were too many possible pronunciations of “Dougherty,” the surname of her soon-to-be ex-husband. The 20-year-old model — who was born Norma Jeane Mortenson and later baptized Norma Jeane Baker — suggested Monroe, another surname on the mother’s side of the family, while Lyon came up with Marilyn because she reminded him of Marilyn Miller, the Ziegfeld Follies Broadway musical star who starred with him and W.C. Fields in Her Majesty, Love. (Miller and Lyon were also thought to have been romantically involved at one point ) It would be apt that the two performers would share the same name, in more ways than one. Spoto points out that not only were they similar on the surface — both blonde in appearance — but also because they both had complicated personal lives, including failed marriages.”

Marilyn Featured in University Archives Auction

This signed photo of a young Marilyn (taken in 1947) is among three interesting lots coming up at University Archives on August 22.

Also featured is a type-written letter from Marilyn, allowing her name to be quoted in Green Eyes, a 1957 movie starring Susan Oliver, released as The Green-Eyed Blonde.  Interestingly, Marilyn’s friend Steffi Sidney (daughter of columnist Sidney Skolsky) played a small role in this teen drama set in a home for wayward girls.

“The dialogue which Monroe granted permission to use was for the film, the Green-eyed Blonde: ‘JOYCE: / (before mirror) / How’s my hair? / BETSY: / (genuine admiration) / It’s beautiful, Joyce! / JOYCE: / (preening herself) / It’s kind of the way Marilyn Monroe does hers.’ The film was released by Warner Bros. on December 14, 1957.”

And finally, this 1958 letter to Manhattan department store Bloomingdale’s allowed Marilyn’s secretary, May Reis, to use her charge account.

Arthur Miller’s Unseen Archives

In an article for the New York Times, Jennifer Schluesser reports on the dispute over Arthur Miller’s unseen archives, and sheds new light on his reaction to Marilyn’s death – including his decision not to attend her funeral.

“More than 160 boxes of his manuscripts and other papers have been on deposit for decades at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, uncataloged and all but inaccessible to scholars, pending a formal sale. Another cache — including some 8,000 pages of private journals — remained at his home in rural Connecticut, unexplored by anyone outside the intimate Miller circle.

Now, the Ransom Center has bought the entire archive for $2.7 million, following a discreet tug-of-war with the Miller estate, which tried to place the papers at Yale University despite the playwright’s apparent wishes that they rest in Texas.

‘Arthur wrote about everything in his journals,’ said Julia Bolus, Miller’s longtime assistant and director of the Arthur Miller Trust, who is coediting a volume of selections. ‘They were the place where all the elements of his life came together.’

Among the extensive unpublished material in the archive is an essay Miller began on Aug. 8, 1962, the day of the funeral of Marilyn Monroe, his second wife. ‘Instead of jetting to the funeral to get my picture taken I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery,’ Miller wrote. ‘Not that everyone there will be false, but enough. Most of them there destroyed her, ladies and gentleman. She was destroyed by many things and some of those things are you and some of those things are destroying you. Destroying you now. I love as you stand there weeping and gawking, glad that it’s not you going into the earth, glad that it’s this lovely girl who at last you killed.’

Those journals are closed to researchers until after publication of that volume, by Penguin Press.

An inventory of the archive notes journal entries relating to Monroe. But it does not list any personal correspondence between her and Miller, the survival of which has been the subject of speculation over the years.

In a 2002 article in Talk Magazine, Andreas Brown, the dealer who arranged the earlier deposits to the Ransom Center, described coming across an odd bundle, which Miller told him held nearly 100 letters from Monroe. ‘It was all sealed and tied-up,’ Mr. Brown, who is now retired, recalled in a recent interview.

Miller’s memoir, Timebends, refers to correspondence with Monroe, and one of his passionate love letters to her fetched $43,750 at auction in Beverly Hills in 2014. ‘It was a really over-the-top Tom Cruise, jump-on-the-couch-kind of letter,’ Christopher Bigsby said.

But Mr. Bigsby is skeptical that a secret motherlode survives. ‘When I asked, he said he had no more than 4 or 5 of her letters,’ he said of Miller.”

 

JFK Files Rehash Marilyn Conspiracy Theories

Today’s leading news story concerns the release of US government files on the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Predictably, tabloid journalists have focused on the president’s rumoured affair with Marilyn before her death in 1962, but in fact, little of substance has emerged on the subject.

Prior to the disclosure, a reporter for gossip website TMZ spoke on camera with Clint Hill, the secret service agent who was in the car when Kennedy was fatally shot. When asked about the alleged Monroe affair, Hill said ‘That’s a fallacy. I never saw her, and I was with him a lot.’

The New York Post notes that an 11-page file was compiled on The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe, a 1964 polemic by the right-wing conspiracy theorist Frank Capell, and the first to implicate the Kennedys in her death. David Marshall, author of The DD Group: An Online Investigation Into the Death of Marilyn Monroe, has reviewed Capell’s book here, while April VeVea – author of Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life – has written about Capell here. With all this in mind, you can also read the book in full here, and judge for yourself.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Icons & Idols ’17

‘Marilyn in Korea’ screen print by Russell Young

The annual ‘Icons & Idols’ sale, set for November 17 at Julien’s, includes a number of interesting Marilyn-related items. Chief among them is this black fur coat, with an interesting back story – and further evidence of Marilyn’s generosity.

Marilyn in her black fur coat, with Mickey Rooney at ‘The Emperor Waltz’ premiere, 1948

“A mid-1940s black colobus coat worn by Marilyn Monroe to the 1948 film premiere of The Emperor Waltz (Paramount, 1948). The coat has broad shoulders, a cordé collar, a satin lining, and a Jerrold’s Van Nuys, Calif. label. Although the black colobus is currently on the endangered species list, it was quite fashionable in the 1940s. Monroe wrote in a letter to Grace Goddard dated December 3, 1944, ‘I found out that its [sic] possible to buy a Gold Coast Monkey Coat. I shall write to you about it later.’ The coat was gifted from Monroe to Jacquita M. Rigoni (Warren), who was the great-niece to Anne Karger, mother of Monroe’s voice coach, Freddie Karger. Monroe had a close relationship with the family, and the coat has remained in their possession. Accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Jacqui Rigoni detailing the family’s relationship to Monroe and the history of the coat.

(The monkey species used to make this Marilyn Monroe monkey fur coat is on the Endangered Species list.)”

As the accompanying letter explains, Jacquita is the granddaughter of Effie ‘Conley’ Warren, who was Anne Karger’s sister. They had performed together in vaudeville as the Conley Sisters. Jacqui was a teenager when Marilyn dated her uncle, Fred Karger, for several months in 1948. Accepted as part of the family (long after the affair ended), Marilyn would often take Jacqui to her apartment and gave her clothes on numerous occasions. Fred and Marilyn also visited Jacqui’s parents, Jack and Rita Warren, at home. By the early 1950s, Marilyn was still regularly visiting Anne Karger with gifts including the monkey fur coat which she requested that Anne give to Jacqui. She also attended Jacqui’s wedding with Anne, while Fred brought his new wife, actress Jane Wyman.

A young Marilyn with Fred Karger

Two intriguing photos are included in this lot. One shows a young Marilyn sitting at the piano with Fred. Never before seen, it is the only known photo documenting one of her most intense relationships. The second shows Marilyn in 1961 with Anne and another lady, perhaps Effie Warren. A cropped version has been published before, but the whole version is extremely rare.

Marilyn visits Anne Karger (left), 1961

Another item which sheds new light on Marilyn’s life is a letter from ‘Uncle Art’, a relative of her legal guardian, Grace Goddard. Sent to the teenage Norma Jeane, ‘So glad you are making satisfactory progress in school. I advise that you be particularly diligent in the cultural subjects … sad is the fate of the young woman who has not the ambition to so model and mold her language and conduct as to have [illegible] herself to the point where she can mingle with cultured people inconspicuously.‘ The letter is written on International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania stationery, undated and signed ‘Devotedly Yours, Uncle Art.’ One wonders if this high-minded gentleman might have inspired Marilyn in her lifelong quest for self-improvement.

This photo (available in negative) was taken by Joseph Jasgur on the Fox studio back lot during the early days of Marilyn’s acting career, in 1947.

A signed check for $500, made out to The Christian Community, is dated October 11, 1954 – just six days after Marilyn announced her separation from husband Joe DiMaggio. And this photo of Marilyn, taken by Manfred Kreiner on her arrival in Chicago to promote Some Like It Hot in March 1959, is inscribed in red pen by Marilyn herself with the words ‘Kill kill’ – indicating that the photo should not be published.

The auction also includes photos attributed to Bruno Bernard, and some items that appeared in previously last year’s dedicated auction at Julien’s (including Marilyn’s copy of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s script, and her typed skincare regime from the Ernst Laszlo Institute.) And finally, she is featured alongside various other celebrities – including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Carol Channing, and future president Donald Trump – in an Al Hirschfield caricature from 1988.

Norman Mailer, Marilyn and the FBI

Over at the MudRock website, JPat Brown looks back at the FBI’s abandoned attempt to ‘fact-check the factoids’ about Monroe and the Kennedys in Norman Mailer’s 1973 bestseller, Marilyn. Did the FBI think Mailer’s claims were too outrageous to be believed? Or were they content to let him smear Camelot? (Incidentally, longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover – who kept tabs on Marilyn, and led the official investigation into President Kennedy’s assassination – passed away a year before Mailer’s book was published.)

“FBI files released to Conor Skelding reveal that the Bureau was sufficiently alarmed about author Norman Mailer’s accusations about their role in Marilyn Monroe’s death, leading them to investigate if they had, in fact, wiretapped the actress phone.

The incident, near the end of Mailer’s sizable file, began in 1973, when the former agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, William Simon, received a call from Lloyd Shearer, the editor of Parade. Shearer had received an advance copy of Mailer’s upcoming book, which contained some fairly salacious gossip regarding the Bureau and the Blonde Bombshell.

Simon’s response was a pretty unequivocal ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

While it’s unclear how believable Shearer found Simon’s protestations of innocence, the Bureau apparently found the charges alarming enough to inquire if they did actually know what Shearer was talking about.

The Bureau’s attitude changed completely, however, when they actually got ahold of an advance copy.

Mailer had apparently taken some of the more lurid theories surrounding Monroe’s death and ran with them, positing a joint CIA-FBI murder plot as retaliation against the Kennedys for being mad at them for bungling the Bay of Pigs invasion.

The FBI, releasing the futility of fact-checking someone who was openly challenging the very concept of truth … and who would no doubt capitalize on the controversy, decided to just let the matter rest here.

What’s the takeaway here? If you’re going to lie about the FBI, make it big.”

Collecting Marilyn’s Medical Mysteries

Over at Atlas Obscura, Eve Kahn explores the darker side of celebrity memorabilia, and the market for medical items such as pillboxes, prescriptions and X-Rays of stars like Marilyn who died in unusual circumstances.

“Scott Fortner, a major buyer and scholar of Marilyn Monroe’s former possessions who loans widely to museums, owns bottles for her prescription eye drops and anti-allergy pills. He has bought related paperwork, too … Because of his focus on objects that she owned, he says, he is not much interested in medical records such as her chest x-rays that hospital staff may have taken home. And he would firmly draw the line against acquiring anything invasive, prurient and morbid …

Fortner points out that there is plenty of other illuminating and emotionally powerful material to collect instead, which she would have wanted her fans to know about. Throughout her tumultuous career, while shedding husbands and movie personas again and again, she somehow remembered to preserve her own memorabilia down to the drugstore receipts and eyedroppers. ‘She saved everything,’ Fortner says. ‘She didn’t throw anything away.'”

Marilyn’s Little Black Book, and More

The annual Hollywood Legends auction at Julien’s, set for April 29, features a number of Marilyn-related items, including a 1961 check  book which, as UK tabloid The Mirror reports, shows she was overdrawn at the time.

Here are some of the more unusual lots…

“A Marilyn Monroe novelty game night set. The Brown & Bigelow set contains two decks of playing cards, one showing Monroe in the ‘A New Wrinkle’ pose and one of Monroe in the ‘Golden Dreams’ pose from her 1949 Red Velvet photo session with Tom Kelley, and a set of four tin coasters showing Monroe in the ‘Golden Dreams’ pose and ‘Marilyn Monroe’ printed on each. Contained in a black flocked presentation box, stamped with an image of Monroe and branded text that reads ‘Always First/ with the Best Figures/ T D F CO.’ at lower right.”

Rare photos taken by Bruce Davidson during filming of Let’s Make Love.

A number of items related to photographer John Florea, including this contact sheet from the ‘Heat Wave’ number in There’s No Business Like Show Business.

A personal note from photographer Zinn Arthur to Marilyn and Milton Greene, probably penned during filming of Bus Stop.

And an invitation to the 1961 Berlin Film Festival