Marilyn and Arthur: Artists in Love

The Millers at the April In Paris Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, NYC, 1957

My review of Artists In Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, part of a 2016 documentary series for the Sky Arts satellite channel and presented by the British actress Samantha Morton (who played an MM impersonator in the 2009 film, Mister Lonely), is published today at Immortal Marilyn.

 

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.

Marilyn: A Political Animal

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Marilyn had a lifelong affinity with the underdog and a passion for justice. Her hero was Abraham Lincoln. She was proud of her working-class origins, and defended husband Arthur Miller in his stand against red-baiting. She also supported the Civil Rights movement. In an article for Time, Lily Rothman interviews Marilyn’s biographer, Dr Lois Banner, on the subject of her ‘forgotten radical politics.’

“Those beliefs were a product of her time, Banner says: being born in 1926 meant that she was a child during the Great Depression … As a result of her own poverty and her close contact with people of other races, Monroe grew up with progressive views on race and what Banner calls a ‘populist vision of equality for all classes.’

Her background peeked through in her film roles, as she was often cast as a working girl … Even as Monroe stepped out in public in glamorous evening gowns, she favored blue jeans and flat shoes at home.

In 1956, when she married the playwright Arthur Miller, her working-class roots blossomed into full-on political fervor. In 1960, she became a founding member of the Hollywood branch of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy; that same year, as she kept a home in Roxbury, Conn., she was elected as an alternate delegate to the state’s Democratic caucus. She did not hide her pro-Castro views on Cuba or her support for the then-burgeoning civil rights movement.

Broadway was not affected by McCarthyism and anti-Communist investigations to the same extent as the movie business, but Miller was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee shortly before their marriage. Monroe was never called on, which Banner believes was because the anti-Communist Congressmen ‘thought she was just a dumb blonde.’ (In fact, some historians have theorized that Miller saw Monroe as a political shield.)

‘When you put it all together, [her political side] is pretty substantial. But in most of the biographies, including mine, it comes out as salt scattered on the biography, because one gets so fascinated by her psychological makeup,’ [Banner] says. ‘But the political involvements are no less real.'”

Unlikely Bedfellows? Marilyn and ‘Ulysses’

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Photo by Fraser Penney

Why does Eve Arnold’s photo of Marilyn reading Ulysses hold such perennial fascination? In an article for literary journal Kill Your Darlings, Siobhan Lyons explores this image’s iconic power. (There is one minor error in this insightful piece: Lyons claims that Marilyn was married to Arthur Miller at the time, but she wasn’t. Their romance actually began a few weeks after this photo was taken…)

“These images fascinate us because they are so out of alignment with the pervasive understanding of celebrity culture as a vapid, visually-oriented industry, working against the ‘highbrow’ terrain of capital-L Literature. But if the iconic image of Monroe reading Ulysses tells us anything, it is more about challenging our own assumptions regarding literature, and who we believe to be the ‘right’ kind of reader.

The famous Monroe photograph was featured on the cover of a 2008 issue of Poets and Writers magazine, as well as the front cover of Declan Kiberd’s 2009 Ulysses And Us: The Art of Everyday Living. In his 2008 book Women Who Read are Dangerous, Stefan Bollman notes: ‘The question, Did she or didn’t she? is almost unavoidable. Did Marilyn Monroe, the blonde sex symbol of the twentieth century, read James Joyce’s Ulysses, a twentieth-century icon of highbrow culture and the book many consider to be the greatest modern novel – or was she only pretending?’

Monroe’s love of reading is well-known – the 1999 Christie’s auction of her personal belongings included almost 400 books, and she was regularly photographed reading. Despite this, Monroe is evidently not the first person one would consider the typical ‘Ulysses reader’. And this, perhaps, is part of the problem.

The photograph, then, allows us to re-imagine the Ulysses reader – author Julie Sloan Brannon argues that the image subverts the ‘dumb-blonde’ stereotype with which Monroe is almost always associated. The image therefore works on two fronts: it forces us to abandon elitist assumptions about what kind of people read ‘difficult’ literature, while bringing Monroe to the attention of a more literary crowd.

‘Her image remains,’ [Anthony] Burgess concludes, ‘and no amount of analysis can properly explain [its] continued potency’. The continued analysis of the image, however, shows how keenly these assumptions, about who should read what kind of book, are held. While the image helps to challenge overtly sexualised readings of Monroe, it more importantly debunks myths about literature that have been based on difficulty, exclusion, and elitism.”

‘From the First Moment’: Arthur Miller at 100

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Arthur Miller was born 100 years ago today. In this extract from her 1960 interview with Georges Belmont for Marie-Claire magazine, Marilyn describes how they first met and what attracted her to him.

“When I met Arthur Miller for the first time, it was on a set, and I was crying. I was playing in a picture called As Young As You Feel, and he and Elia Kazan came over to me. I was crying because a friend of mine had died. I was introduced to Arthur.

That was in 1951. Everything was pretty bleary for me at that time. Then I didn’t see him for about four years. We would correspond, and he sent me a list of books to read. I used to think that maybe he might see me in a movie – there often used to be two pictures playing at a time, and I thought I might be in the other movie and he’d see me. So I wanted to do my best.

I don’t know how to say it, but I was in love with him from the first moment.

I’ll never forget that one day he said I should act on the stage and how the people standing around laughed. But he said, ‘No, I’m very serious.’ And the way he said that, I could see that he was a sensitive human being and treated me as a sensitive human being, too. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s the most important thing.”

More About ‘Liz and Marilyn’

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Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn, the current exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, has been favourably reviewed by the Daily Beast‘s Emily Shire.

“The exhibition features soundless footage of Monroe as a glowing bride in a relatively informal white dress and short veil enjoying a small reception at the home of Miller’s agent, Kay Brown, in Katonah, New York, hours after that ceremony.

The exhibition is rather small, a single room that takes no more than 30 to 40 minutes to fully explore. But the space fosters a sense of intimacy, enhancing the deeply personal revelations about two of the most famous and photographed women in American history.

While the exhibition includes clips of Miller and Monroe arm-in-arm at press conferences and plenty of photos of them, it doesn’t capture the same sense of gushing affection that is so apparent between [Mike] Todd and Taylor.

Fewer markers of Monroe’s connection to Judaism are on display, though the ones present are quite special.

One that particular stands out is Monroe’s beautiful, simple musical menorah, which played the Israeli national anthem, ‘Hatikvah.’

There is less information or, for that matter, evidence of Monroe’s connection to Judaism after her marriage to Miller ended in 1961—though that may very well be a sad consequence of the little life she had left to live.

Nevertheless, according to letters from Rabbi Robert E. Goldburg, who oversaw Monroe’s conversion, the blond bombshell told him she had no intention of renouncing Judaism after the divorce.

She also, apparently, remained very close to Miller’s children and father until her passing.

Becoming Jewish features two detailed letters from Goldburg: one from September 7, 1962, barely a month after Monroe was found dead, and another from August 6, 1986. His descriptions of Monroe provide a new perspective on one of the most iconic and enduring celebrities.

Goldburg wrote about his first time meeting Monroe at her apartment on Sutton Place after Miller invited him and how he was ‘struck by her personal sweetness and charm.’

Unlike Taylor’s draw to Judaism, Monroe’s does not necessarily seem driven by a romantic-related desire.

Goldburg’s letters describe how Marilyn expressed her respect for Jewish individuals. Albert Einstein and his book of essays, Out of My Later Years, were especially significant to her.

Goldburg also wrote that she felt no connection to the ‘Fundamentalist’ Christianity she was raised with in her foster home. Instead, she was attracted to Judaism’s ‘concept of close family life.’

Perhaps most eerily poignant to those of us who have poured of the tragic details of Monroe’s short life—from her tattered childhood to her struggles to be taken seriously as an actress to her failure to conceive the children she so wanted—is Goldburg’s line that Monroe sought Judaism because she ‘often identified with the underdog.’

‘I have always felt that she was an extremely lovely person who was not able to overcome the terrible emotional burdens, which were a part of her childhood and which were aggravated by her tremendous fame,’ Goldburg wrote.”

Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn

modern screen nov56Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn, a new exhibition at New York’s Jewish Museum, explores the parallels between Marilyn and Elizabeth Taylor, who both converted to Judaism, and Andy Warhol’s fascination with the cult of celebrity.

As Flavorpill reports, the exhibition (opening on September 25, through to February 7, 2016) is divided into three sections – Celebrity, Conversion, and Myth & Legend.

The New York Observer reveals that Marilyn’s Menorah will be on display, alongside two 1962 paintings by Warhol, ‘Mint Marilyn’ and ‘Blue Liz’, as well as two print portraits of the women, and assorted photographs, letters, and ephemera.

Marilyn Miller: The Sunshine Girl

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Over at Classic Movie Hub, Sara and Cynthia Brideson – authors of Ziegfeld and His Follies, a new biography of the great Broadway producer – profile Marilyn Miller, one of his most popular stars. Miller would posthumously inspire Marilyn Monroe’s stage name, as the young Norma Jeane reminded talent scout Ben Lyon of her. Some years later, during her marriage to Arthur Miller, Monroe’s legal name was Marilyn Miller.

“In the 1920s there were two types of girls in the movies. First, there were the angelic waifs. Second, there were the flapper girls brimming with ‘It.’ One diminutive, blonde actress embodied both types. She was at once traditional and defiant of old conventions. She bobbed her hair and was never dependant on a man for money, but she enjoyed receiving the conspicuous gifts Stage Door Johnnies lavished upon her. She gave up dozens of marriage offers from wealthy middle aged men, favoring the old adage that marriage must be based on love.  Who was this girl?

Her name was Marilyn Miller. At the peak of her success between 1918 and 1928, she personified the youth of the Jazz Age. She began as a sprite-like ballerina in the Ziegfeld Follies and came within a hair’s breadth of being cinema’s new ‘It’ girl before her tragic, premature death. Marilyn Miller, though almost forgotten today, is as much the tragic heroine of the Jazz Age as Jean Harlow was of the 1930s and Marilyn Monroe was of the 1950s.

Following her passing, Hollywood made two attempts at preserving the memory of Ziegfeld’s greatest star; first in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), a film celebrating the music of Jerome Kern in which Judy Garland admirably portrays Marilyn in three musical numbers, and second in a highly fictitious biopic entitled Look for the Silver Lining starring June Haver. Neither come close to conveying the real Marilyn—an actress ‘intended only to smile’ but was, in reality, a complicated, willful woman. In the words of a friend, she always ‘…seemed so happy…that no one suspected the depth of her feelings and her capacity…for pain.’ On stage, and indeed, in the precious few films that document both her flaming youth and elfin charm, Marilyn epitomes a pretty girl who, like a melody, haunts you night and day.”