‘Mad About Marilyn’: Issue 26

‘American Blondes’, my essay comparing Marilyn Monroe with Lana Turner (originally posted here), is republished in the latest issue of the excellent Mad About Marilyn fanzine, which also features Marilyn’s 1956 interview with Elsa Maxwell; a profile of photographer Gene Lester; and a feature on the Moon of Baroda diamond.

If you would like to subscribe to Mad About Marilyn, please email emmadowning@blueyonder.co.uk

‘Something Had to Give’

Photo by Fraser Penney

Something Had to Give is a new, fully illustrated biography by UK author Richard Kirby, now available to order in paperback from self-publishing website Lulu.

It is 553 pages long and there are hundreds of photos reproduced in black and white (some are a bit grainy, but many of these have not previously been seen offline.)

The pictures are chronologically placed, which makes this a unique book for fans. I haven’t read the text yet, so can’t comment on that. But Kirby has also written a biography of Jean Harlow, The Carpenter’s Daughter.

Gable’s Influence on Marilyn

Amber Grey writes about Marilyn’s relationship with one of her childhood heroes, Clark Gable, over at BellaOnline today:

“Although the cast looks worn and tired, Gable and Marilyn looked as though they were completely comfortable with each other as co-stars … The passing of these two Hollywood icons would make a permanent stamp on the final sequence in The Misfits when Gable and Monroe are riding off into the mountain range under a beautiful sky.”

If you found this interesting, try this article I wrote for Immortal Marilyn: Dear Mr Gable

The Goddess in the Library

Marilyn at home in 1952, by Andre de Dienes

The publication of Fragments has renewed interest in Marilyn’s literary side – and as one blogger noted this week, MM owned more than 400 books.

“The magic castle of Hollywood and her image had become a prison and she did what many of the incarcerated do to keep from going insane. She retreated into the private world of books  and explored her thoughts and feelings as a diarist and journal-keeper.” Book Tryst

Marilyn and Mae: Great Film Comics

Marilyn mimics Mae West in a deleted scene from ‘The Seven Year Itch’

“Austerlitz notes that his biographical chapters are intended to create a conversation among comedy’s most influential practitioners. Arranged in rough chronological order, the effect is cumulative. Mae West’s brazen sexuality primps the pillow for Marilyn Monroe’s bombshell self-awareness; unlikely bedfellows Jerry Lewis and Richard Pryor somehow manage to conceive Eddie Murphy.”

Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy by Saul Austerlitz, reviewed at the Boston Globe

Marilyn in Washington

Marilyn and Arthur Miller in Washington, 1957

“I recently traveled to Washington, DC for vacation, and visits to museums, monuments and even walking down the streets of the US capitol provided associations to Marilyn in varying ways. From Abraham Lincoln to Emilio Pucci, Marilyn’s connection to Washington is evident.”

Scott Fortner recounts his trip to Washington and mulls over the city’s long association with Marilyn, from her girlhood admiration for Abraham Lincoln to her controversial friendship with John F. Kennedy.

Marilyn herself visited Washington on at least one occasion, in May of 1957 with her husband, Arthur Miller, who was later convicted for contempt of Congress after refusing to name associates who had been Communist Party members.

Marilyn supported Miller throughout his trial, and the guilty verdict was repealed in 1958.

Vintage newsreel footage

Michael Chekhov Festival in Connecticut


The life and work of Michael Chekhov is celebrated this weekend in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

The nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov, Michael was born in Russia in 1891, studied under Stanislavsky. He later developed his own theories of acting, and moved to the US on the eve of World War II. In 1939, Chekhov founded a drama school in Connecticut.

Chekhov’s most acclaimed screen performance was in Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945.) Six years later, Marilyn Monroe was introduced to Chekhov by actor Jack Palance, after each had talked about the problem of being typecast due to their distinctive physical appearance. Marilyn began studying with Chekhov twice a week, much to the chagrin of her on-set coach, Natasha Lytess.

Chekhov told Marilyn, ‘Our bodies can be either our best friends or our worst enemies. You must try to consider your body as an instrument for expressing creative ideas. You must strive for complete harmony between body and psychology.’ It was his contention that the only way to really enter a dramatic character was to use creative imagination, to ‘want to be another character’.

Marilyn studied Chekhov’s book, To the Actor, and on his advice, she also read Mabel Elsworth Todd‘s The Thinking Body. Chekhov once admonished Marilyn for her lateness, and she wrote him a letter saying how much she appreciated his patience and valued his friendship.

In 1952 they worked together on a scene from Shakespeare’s King Lear, in which Chekhov played Lear and Marilyn his daughter Cordelia. Though nobody else saw the performance, Marilyn considered it one of her most rewarding experiences as an actress.

At around this time, Marilyn gave Chekhov an engraving of Abraham Lincoln, with the note, ‘Lincoln was the man I admired most all through school. Now that man is you.’

Michael Chekhov died in September 1955. When she heard the news, Marilyn asked Arthur Miller to read with her from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

Marilyn stayed in touch with Chekhov’s widow, Xenia, and remembered her in her will. In 1962, Marilyn told reporter W.J. Weatherby that she wanted to see a statue of Michael Chekhov, and was prepared to petition President John F. Kennedy if necessary. Sadly, she would not live long enough to realise her dream.

Michael Chekhov is not as well-known as Marilyn’s other teachers, Natasha Lytess and the Strasbergs. His approach differed from the ‘Method’, which Marilyn would turn to after his death, in that he emphasised the creative imagination, whereas Strasberg urged his students to delve into their own psychological history to build a character.

This change of style proved controversial and while Marilyn won critical acclaim for her later performances, some friends felt privately that it made her too introspective and self-doubting. While Chekhov was deeply fond of Marilyn and believed in her talent, he never allowed her to become dependent on him as others did. Perhaps this is why she never felt used or let down by him.

More news on the second annual Michael Chekhov Theater Festival at Ridgefield Press or visit the website of The Michael Chekhov Center

Additional information from The Marilyn Encyclopedia by Adam Victor

Remembering Marilyn’s Namesake

A profile of the Broadway star whose name inspired Marilyn Monroe’s, at NPR

“Reading about Marilyn Miller, I found several surprising items. The name Marilyn, for example — Miller made it up from her own given name, Mary, and her mother’s name, Lynn — had apparently been quite rare until Miller’s stardom made it one of this country’s most popular girl’s names.

Decades later, Ben Lyon — a Twentieth Century Fox executive and former leading man who had co-starred with Miller and W.C. Fields in Miller’s last and best movie, Her Majesty, Love — signed up another pretty blond actress, Norma Jean Baker. She reminded him of Miller, and he urged her to change her name to Marilyn.

Both Marilyns had problems with their marriages and with substance abuse, and both died very young — Monroe at 36, Miller at 37, from complications of a chronic sinus infection.

Marilyn Monroe’s films will always keep her memory alive. Marilyn Miller didn’t live far enough into the movie era to appear in films that would do the same for her.”