Rewriting History: Marilyn, Arthur and #MeToo

In the wake of last year’s revelations about sexual abuse in Hollywood, Marilyn’s own experiences have often been cited as historical precedent. While she certainly did experience sexual harassment, it’s notable that she managed to succeed without recourse to the fabled ‘casting couch.’ She resisted Harry Cohn’s advances; was a friend but not a mistress to Joe Schenck; and her relationship with Johnny Hyde was based on real affection. As for Darryl F. Zanuck – perhaps the most significant Hollywood figure in her career – they were never close, and Zanuck himself admitted that Marilyn’s triumphs were of her own creation.

In a new article for the Daily Beast, Maria Dahvana Headley turns her attention to Arthur Miller, claiming that he ‘smeared’ Marilyn and ‘invented the myth of the male witch hunt.’ She begins with his 1952 play, The Crucible, based on the Salem witch trials of 1692, but widely perceived as an allegory for the contemporary ‘red-baiting’ crusade by the House Un-American Activities Committee, in which Arthur would later be implicated – but ultimately exonerated.

Arthur and Marilyn first met in 1951, when he was still married. There was a strong attraction between them, and they corresponded intermittently thereafter. Headley is not the first to argue that the adulterous affair between the teenage Abigail Williams and John Proctor might have been inspired by his conflicted feelings for Marilyn – Barbara Leaming also suggested this in her 1999 biography, Marilyn Monroe. Many historians have pointed out that Miller’s depiction of these protagonists is not accurate – Abigail was still a child, and there was no affair with Proctor. This mooted association between Abigail and Marilyn is purely speculative, however, and Miller would hardly be the first playwright to fictionalise events. (For a factual account of the trials, I can recommend Stacy Schiff’s The Witches.)

But Headley goes further still, conflating the story of Arthur rubbing Marilyn’s feet at a Hollywood party (as later told by Marilyn to her acting coach, Natasha Lytess) with an incident noted in the Salem court reports that inspired The Crucible, of Abigail touching Proctor’s hood and then becoming hysterical, crying out that her hands were burning. ‘Women, unless they are very devout and very old, The Crucible tells us, are unreliable and changeable,’ Headley writes. ‘They’re jealous. They’re vengeful. They’re confused about sex and about love. They might, given very little provocation, ruin the life of a good man, and everything else in the world too.’

Headley is on firmer ground with her interpretation of After the Fall, Miller’s 1964 play which featured a self-destructive singer, Maggie, who marries lawyer Quentin – a relationship widely acknowledged to be based on Arthur’s marriage to Marilyn (though he seemingly remained in denial.) ‘Maggie uses sex to bewitch Quentin out of his marriage to the long-suffering Louise,’ Headley writes, ‘marries him herself, and then becomes a catastrophe. By the end of the play, Quentin is wrestling a bottle of pills out of her hand. She drains their bank accounts, uses all of his energy for her own career, and demands endless love.’

This is a harsh portrayal of Marilyn, and many felt that Miller went too far. However, it is not without compassion. By focusing on the real-life parallels, Headley sidelines the broader themes of both plays. The Crucible was about the persecution of innocents for imaginary crimes, and After the Fall was, at least partly, a reckoning with the Holocaust (as well as Arthur’s own guilt over Marilyn’s death.) While the victims of the Salem witch hunts were mostly women, it is not surprising that Miller would identify more closely with a male protagonist. And the horrors of his own time – the holocaust, and HUAC – claimed both men and women.

In his final work, Finishing the Picture, Arthur revisited the troubled production of The Misfits. ‘She’s ceased to be the sex goddess she’s supposed to be,’ Headley says of Kitty, the Marilyn-figure in the play. ‘Instead, she is once again a naked girl in the woods, glimpsed running from the rest of the story, and in her flight, she makes everyone around her miserable … In Miller’s final statement on the matter, she’s what the world might become if a woman wanted too much consideration.’

In November 2017, Anna Graham Hunter accused actor Dustin Hoffman of sexually harassing her as a 17 year-old intern on the set of Death of a Salesman, the 1985 TV adaptation of Miller’s most famous play. According to the Hollywood Reporter, film director Volker Schlondorff responded with the glib remark that ‘I wish Arthur Miller was around, he would find the right words, but then he might get accused of sexually molesting Marilyn Monroe.’ Since then, other women have come forward with allegations against Hoffman. Whatever Schlondorff may believe, it’s impossible to know what Arthur would have made of the scandal, but it’s worth remembering that he reportedly disliked Hoffman’s performance in the prior stage production, although it had won a Tony award for Best Revival.

Anna Graham Hunter’s story needs to be heard, as do countless other victims of predatory men. In Marilyn’s case, however, there’s a danger of rewriting history. While Headley’s literary critique is valid and interesting, her attempt to recast Miller as an abuser of women is grossly unfair.

Marilyn: Still Loved For Her Yellow Hair

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‘Love me for my yellow hair alone’, Marilyn once wrote to her friend, Norman Rosten – it was an ironical misquote (perhaps intentionally so) of a line from W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘For Anne Gregory‘, which actually read  ‘Love me for myself alone/And not my yellow hair.’

This weekend, two locks of Marilyn’s hair – previously owned by Frieda Hull, a former member of the teenage group known as the Monroe Six, who befriended the star when she moved to New York – were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000, as part of their latest Icons and Idols sale. Other items from the late Ms Hull’s collection, including many rare, candid photos, will be sold by in November’s Marilyn-only auction, also at Julien’s.

In a macabre footnote, the ashes of novelist Truman Capote – another friend of Marilyn’s – were also sold at Julien’s this weekend for $43, 750.  And in other hair-related news, a wig worn by Marilyn in The Misfits will be on sale at Heritage Auctions on November 12.

UPDATE: You can now read a CNBC interview with Remi Gangarossa, who placed the winning bid for a lock of Marilyn’s hair, over here.

‘Marilyn: Character Not Image’

Marilyn at the 'East of Eden' premiere in 1955 - photo and manipulation for Arthur Fellig, aka 'Weegee'
Marilyn at the ‘East of Eden’ premiere in 1955 – photo and manipulation for Arthur Fellig, aka ‘Weegee’

Marilyn: Character Not Image, a new exhibition curated by none other than the multi-talented actress, comedienne and host of TV’s The View, Whoopi Goldberg – a woman who has consistently defied stereotyping throughout her long career – will open at Jersey City’s Mana Contemporary on September 25, through to October 22.

weegee_10327_1993_8+2“This show presents a different side to the legendary actress: behind the glamour was a vulnerable, sensitive, and ambitious young woman who spent time writing poems and diary entries to self-analyze, understand, and reassure herself. In these writings, she craves love and friendship, and battles with ongoing pain, heartbreak, and disappointment. She attempts to understand the world on her terms, tries to accept her insecurities and fears, and to become a better artist.

Milton Greene was a personal friend who constructed many famous images of Marilyn the star, but he also took many intimate photographs of Marilyn the person. The images here demonstrate her sweetness, humor, and impatience: with husband Arthur Miller, talking to animals, receiving directions for a photoshoot, taking a summer dip. The images by Weegee reveal a sly complicity between subject and photographer: his dark-room distorted imagery pokes fun at the unreal and absurd facets of the Hollywood industry, of which Marilyn was keenly aware.

Also on view is the dress she wore during the unforgettable 1962 performance singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, perhaps the most significant moment of her career, the crystallization of the persona she was continually creating since she dreamed of becoming an actress as a little girl. The dress and the drawings are on loan from Julien’s Auctions’ forthcoming November events.

‘The image of Marilyn Monroe the icon endures and strengthens as time goes by, but her personal life remains a mystery,’ says Whoopi Goldberg. ‘With this exhibition I wanted to show a glimpse of the woman behind the icon using, before now, never-before-seen images, some of her personal writings, and some pieces of her artwork.'”

Thanks to Edgar Freire

Ivy Alvarez: ‘What Marilyn Ran From’

Photo by Jock Carroll, 1952
Photo by Jock Carroll, 1952

‘What Marilyn Monroe Ran From’, a poem by Ivy Alvarez, is published in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Marilyn mania continues unabated in Australia, with a series of workshops and screenings accompanying 20th Century Fox Presents MM, the acclaimed exhibition of Marilyn’s personal property at Bendigo Art Gallery. That exhibit will continue until July 10.  But if you’re still hoping to catch MAMA Albury’s art and photography exhibit, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, hurry – it closes this Sunday, May 8.

‘Blonde’ and the Lonesome Reader

Oates Blonde It

Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde is not one of my own favourite novels (nor one of my favourite books about Marilyn), although to be fair I haven’t revisited it since it was first published in 2000. After that first reading, I felt that Oates – a writer I had admired – distorted aspects of MM’s life, and portrayed her as a rather one-dimensional victim.

Since then, I’ve spoken to many fans who feel the same. Obviously, I’m not impartial here, having written my own fictional take on Marilyn. Six years after completing The Mmm Girl, I’d like to read Blonde again, mainly out of curiosity – and especially if it was reissued on Kindle, as it’s rather a weighty tome!

However, I was pleased to discover the positive experience that Blonde has been for some others, leading them to impart their knowledge and challenge misconceptions – as posted recently on the Lonesome Reader blog.

“I wanted to highlight this novel specifically because I had a strange conversation with a colleague once. Somehow we started talking about Marilyn Monroe and he instantly said ‘Oh, that slut.’ I flinched in shock that he’d be so disdainful and answered him angrily. He tried to justify himself by saying that she basically slept with everyone and that’s the only reason she had a career. I have no doubt his opinion is shared by many people. It’s this sort of casual dismissal and thinking about women in only simplistic misogynistic terms which is the reason why feminism and the promotion of women’s writing is especially important.”

51 Years Ago: The Poetry of Marilyn

Among the tributes that appeared on the 51st anniversary of Marilyn’s death, three stood out for me.

Over at Backlots, one of my favourite classic film blogs, some of Marilyn’s own poems and drawings were featured, with this commentary:

“August 5, 2013 marks 51 years since the death of Marilyn Monroe. Though I try to keep Marilyn to a minimum on this blog because of her overwhelming overexposure in the media, the fact remains that Marilyn may well be the most fascinating personality to come out of classic film. The appeal that she holds for the public is evident–it is difficult to walk into any gift shop without seeing her face plastered on posters, shirts, lunchboxes, wallets, purses, and mugs. She has become a sex icon for the ages, and more than any other star, she sells. But amid all the financial gain she brings to businesses Marilyn Monroe continues to be exploited, just as she was in life, robbed of her essence and dignity as a human being for the sake of profits. That is precisely what she was trying to get away from, and thus whenever I see Marilyn memorabilia in a gift store, I feel a twinge of sadness.

Whenever I do mention Marilyn on this blog (which is usually on her birthday and the anniversary of her death), I try to make it count. She was a fascinating human being, the complete antithesis to how the public perceived her. An introspective, observant, intelligent woman who read voraciously and was unusually articulate about herself and her craft, the blonde bombshell image crafted for her only served to exacerbate her inner conflicts and demons.”

Tumblr blogger Penny Dreadful selected ‘for marilyn m.‘, by the great Los Angeles writer, Charles Bukowski:

“slipping keenly into bright ashes,

target of vanilla tears

your sure body lit candles for men

on dark nights,

and now your night is darker

than the candle’s reach

and we will forget you, somewhat,

and it is not kind

but real bodies are nearer

and as the worms pant for your bones,

I would so like to tell you

that this happens to bears and elephants

to tyrants and heroes and ants

and frogs,

still, you brought us something,

some type of small victory,

and for this I say: good

and let us grieve no more;

like a flower dried and thrown away,

we forget, we remember,

we wait.  child, child, child,

I raise my drink a full minute

and smile.”

Finally, from Sunset Gun‘s Kim Morgan:

“One of the most personally arresting images I’ve ever seen of Marilyn Monroe came not from a movie or newsreel footage or one of her many photographs. It came from a blanket.

Driving through Death Valley on a long road trip, I stopped in a tiny town for gas and a cold drink. Few seemed to live in this town: it served as a pit stop, a place to either check your radiator or check your mind (or, in my case, both) — one of those locales that offers such a bare minimum of services that a candy bar has never tasted so good. Delirious from hours of 70 mph signposts, I stumbled back into my car, feeling as if modern civilization had melted around me. For months, I’d been working on a piece about Marilyn (a cover story for Playboy, to honor their first, and most famous, cover girl and centerfold), and she had been on my mind nearly every day.

And then … there she was. Driving away, I spied Marilyn on the side of the road, 20 feet from the gas station. With a mixture of excitement and a strange sadness, I jumped out of the car and stared. Her face was hanging from clothespins, blowing in the breeze, next to an open garage. A warm blanket in the hot sun, set against the blue sky, flapping and undulating in the merciful wind, her face changing shape and expression. This desolate desert Marilyn, so frank and alone, just hanging there, cleared away all the clutter of so many T-shirts, stickers, shower curtains, pillows, purses, wall clocks, and coffee mugs — all those Marilyns you walk right past in any given gift shop on Hollywood Boulevard. A little hypnotized and maybe a little crazy, I thought of how Marilyn described herself, as the woman who ‘belonged to the ocean and the sky and the whole world.'”

 

‘Making The Fall’ and Marilyn

Making The Fall is a new book by Richard D. Meyer, who worked closely with Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan on their 1964 production of Miller’s controversial play, After the Fall – which many felt was based on Miller’s troubled marriage to Marilyn. (Shar Daws wrote an excellent essay on the play, which you can read at Loving Marilyn.)

The blurb for Making The Fall goes like this:

“An intimate account of Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller working together on After the Fall, Miller’s autobiographical play about Marilyn Monroe.

Lincoln Center’s Repertory Theater opened in 1964 with the premiere of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, an explosive play about Miller’s personal life with an emphasis on his marriage to Marilyn Monroe.

Richard D. Meyer’s book, Making the Fall, is a first-hand account of that production, starting with initial meetings and rehearsals, all the way through the final performances.

The book offers the unique perspective of a newcomer on the scene, taking in every detail. It includes verbatim conversations between Miller, Kazan, and the cast, as well as excerpts from Kazan’s personal notes and letters.

As a director and theater scholar, Meyer delves into the play’s deeper theme, how it reflects the lives of those involved (and represented) in the play, and its impact on the American public.

Making the Fall is an in-depth, up-personal account of a historical year in American theater. It will appeal not only to theater buffs but to anyone interested in the complex tangle of relationships between Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, and Elia Kazan.”

Carson, Marilyn, and the ‘Clock Without Hands’

Marilyn and Carson McCullers, 1959

The novelist Carson McCullers became friendly with Marilyn in 1955, while they were both living at New York’s Gladstone Hotel. Four years later, they were reunited for a literary luncheon with Marilyn’s husband, Arthur Miller, and the Danish author, Isak Dinesen.

Carson’s final novel, Clock Without Hands, was published in 1961. Like most of her work, it is set in her native South. Even more than her earlier books, Clock Without Hands deals with racism and bigotry, at a time when America’s Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum.

While reading, I was interested to find a reference to Marilyn in the first paragraph of Chapter 11 – a passage about Jester Clane, a teenage boy who disagrees with his grandfather’s prejudiced attitudes. Marilyn appears to him in a dream.

(Marilyn owned one of Carson’s novels, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. I wonder if she knew that she was mentioned in another?)

“Who am I? What am I? Where am I going? Those questions, the ghosts that haunt the adolescent heart, were finally answered for Jester. The uneasy dreams about Grown Boy, which had left him guilty and confused, no longer bothered him. And gone were the dreams of saving Sherman from a mob and losing his own life while Sherman looked on, broken with grief. Gone also were the dreams of saving Marilyn Monroe from an avalanche in Switzerland and riding through a hero’s ticker tape in New York. That had been an interesting daydream, but after all, saving Marilyn Monroe was no career. He had saved so many people and died so many hero’s deaths. His dreams were always in foreign countries. Never in Milan, never in Georgia, but always in Switzerland or Bali or someplace. But now his dreams had strangely shifted. Both night dreams and daydreams. Night after night he dreamed of his father. And having found his father he was able to find himself. He was his father’s son and he was going to be a lawyer. Once the bewilderment of too many choices was cleared away, Jester felt happy and free.”

Vision in White: A Poem by Cecilie

A lovely tribute from Norwegian fan, Cecilie Therese Andersen.

Vision in White

A vision in white haunted by the night
Hollywood and Golden Dreams,
A city where nothing is what it seems.
Was “she” ever real to you,
an immortal goddess on screen or a woman like the rest?
That sweet laughter and smile,
dancing to music and toasting champagne-
or reciting a poem for friends with a soft voice
waiting for the rain.
Reaching out for endless love, can you feel it now?
Did you know your own strength to make it like you did?
A force of nature is never easy to comprehend.
So here`s to you, Marilyn, for inspiring me like nobody else
To be all the things you are to me!

Reading With Marilyn

Marilyn reads Walt Whitman, 1952

A few years ago, I made a list of all the books owned or read by Marilyn Monroe (some 436 at last count) for ES Updates. At the time, I wondered if anyone else would be interested.

In recent weeks, my list has been picked up by the New YorkerYahoo, and many other websites, after first being spotted by Dan Colman over at Open Culture.

I’m glad to have played a small part in widening public knowledge of MM, and hope that more people will now discover that for Marilyn, reading was much more than an intellectual pose.