Marilyn at the Chateau Marmont

Shawn Levy is the author of several books about the entertainment in the 1950s and ’60s, including Rat Pack Confidential, which became a bestseller on its release twenty years ago. Marilyn’s association with the Rat Pack was covered in this entertaining book, but Levy’s style is gossipy and speculative.

In his latest tome, The Castle On Sunset, Levy explores the history of one of Hollywood’s most fabled hotels, the Chateau Marmont. Levy isn’t the first author to tackle the subject; Raymond Sarlot and Fred E. Basten beat him to it with Life At the Marmont back in 1987.

Marilyn stayed there while filming Bus Stop in 1956, although her official residence was a rented house in Beverly Glen. She most likely used Paula Strasberg’s suite for convenience, not to mention her secret trysts with Arthur Miller, who was waiting out his divorce in Nevada. (Miller’s legal battle with the House Un-American Activities Committee was hotting up at the time, and rather disturbingly, the FBI tracked the couple to the hotel.)

Levy also mentions that journalist Brad Darrach interviewed Marilyn there for her Time magazine cover story. This may seem a little odd, as the article’s author was Ezra Goodman. However, Darrach was apparently part of a team which assembled the piece. He first shared his memories with Anthony Summers for Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe in 1984. Here’s the original account, as related by Summers…

“When Time magazine mounted its first cover story on Marilyn, during the shooting of Bus Stop, its researchers began uncovering a good deal about Marilyn’s parentage. This was a vulnerable area because of her various deceptions. As a result, one of Time‘s youngest reporters, Brad Darrach, was granted a personal interview, in bizarre circumstances.

Darrach collected Marilyn at Fox at 11:00 A.M., and drove her to her hotel, the Chateau Marmont. Marilyn, herself a fast driver, asked the reporter to drive slowly. She seemed to him to be afraid, not of his driving, but ‘generally frightened.’ Once in her suite Marilyn soon declared she was tired, and asked if they could do the interview in her bedroom.

So it was that Darrach ended up, he laughingly remembered, ‘spending ten hours in bed with Marilyn Monroe’. She lay down with her head at one end of the bed. He settled at the foot, and there they talked until long after dark.

‘She was Marilyn, and reasonably pretty,’ Darrach remembered. ‘And of course there were those extraordinary jutting breasts and jutting behind. I’ve never seen a behind like hers; it was really remarkable, it was a very subtly composed ass. Yet I never felt for a moment any sexual temptation. There was nothing about her skin that made me want to touch it. She looked strained and a little unhealthy, as though there was some nervous inner heat that dried the skin. But there was no sexual feeling emanating from her. I am sure that was something that she put on for the camera.'”

Jazz DJ and Van Nuys Alumni Chuck Cecil Dies at 97

According to the Syncopated Times, the jazz radio DJ Chuck Cecil – who has died aged 97 – was a contemporary of Norma Jeane Baker. He was a student at Van Nuys High School, where his fellow alumni included Norma Jeane (who attended from September 1941 – February 1942, before moving on to University Senior High.) Marilyn’s future co-star, Jane Russell, and her first husband, Jim Dougherty, were also students. Five years older than Norma Jeane, they once appeared together in a school play.

Jim Dougherty and Norma Jeane

Moreover, the article states that Chuck Cecil attended Jim’s wedding to Norma Jeane in June 1942. Although he’s not usually mentioned among the guests at the intimate ceremony, it’s possible that Chuck may have joined them for their reception at the Florentine Gardens Restaurant. As Chuck was around the same age as Jim, he may have known the groom better than the bride.

On the cusp of stardom, Marilyn revisited her ‘alma mater’ (in reality, one of many) and was photographed chatting with students in 1951.

Marilyn ‘Pops Up’ in London, Lewes

Marilyn will star in two ‘pop-up cinema’ screenings at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, South London this summer. (The Rivoli Ballroom is one of the last remaining intact 1950s-style ballrooms left in London.) First up is Some Like It Hot on  May 17; followed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on July 18. Screenings start at 8 pm, with admission from £10; check out the full schedule here.

Meanwhile in Sussex, There’s No Business Like Show Business will be screened at Lewes Depot on June 4 at 2 pm. (Tickets cost £4.) Lewes has a personal connection to Marilyn, as according to biographer Michelle Morgan, she visited the historic town in 1956, dining at The Shelleys Hotel with husband Arthur Miller. “She wore no makeup but looked really beautiful,” receptionist Peggy Heriot recalled. “They ate in the drawing room and when they left they thanked the chef and me profusely …”

Don Murray Talks Marilyn in ‘Closer’

Don Murray, who made his movie debut in Bus Stop (1956), shares memories of his leading lady’s “uncontrollable anxiety, forbidden romances and secret acts of kindness” in a cover story for US magazine Closer.

Now 89, Don had a major role in the acclaimed 2017 revival of TV’s Twin Peaks, and is rumoured to be writing his memoirs. Out now in the US, the May 6 issue of Closer should reach British shores in a week or so (not to be confused with the UK magazine of the same name.)

“‘She was very, very nervous,’ Murray recalled to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue on newsstands. ‘She’d break out in a rash every time we’d shoot a scene.’

‘Paula would watch and listen and give Marilyn advice between takes,’ said Murray. ‘She was friendly and nice and a very good influence on Marilyn … [But] she would lose track of scenes very quickly, so they had to put her performance together out of small pieces. You never got the feeling of a complete scene or performance. I had to be at my best on every take — I couldn’t have a letdown.’

Despite the on-set struggles, Murray never regretted appearing in his first big film with Monroe.

‘I never really held it against her, because for her to agree to let me play this leading role was such a generous thing; she and I had never done a movie,’ said Murray. ‘I was always aware of that and grateful to her.'”

Thanks to Lorraine at Marilyn Remembered

Donald Zec Turns 100 (And Remembers Marilyn)

As entertainment writer for the Daily Mirror, Donald Zec was the British equivalent of US columnists Sidney Skolsky and Earl Wilson, and he is seen here sharing a joke with Marilyn at Parkside House in Egham, Surrey after she flew into London on July 13, 1956 to begin filming The Prince and the Showgirl.  They had met a few months before, on a flight to Phoenix, Arizona where Marilyn would film the rodeo scene in Bus Stop. (You can read about their airborne chat here.)

By the time Marilyn came to England, Marilyn had married Arthur Miller and with an independent production deal for The Prince and the Showgirl, she was about to lock horns with her esteemed director and co-star, Sir Laurence Olivier. Finding her standoffish, the British press soon took his side and she would doubtless have been glad to see a friendly face.

After recently attending Donald Zec’s 100th birthday party, author Howard Jacobson has paid tribute in an essay for the Jewish magazine, Tablet – recounting his boyhood idol’s show-business exploits, including the story behind his photo opportunity with Marilyn.

“For a while I had a page from the Daily Mirror pinned above my bed. It showed Donald Zec and Marilyn Monroe standing so close they could have been secretly holding hands. She was throwing her head back in appreciation of something he’d told her. A Jewish joke was my guess. Rabbi walks into a bar. But nothing suggestive. Jews didn’t do suggestive. Not English Jews, anyway. And Marilyn’s mirth had a clear innocence about it. As did my passion for Donald Zec. But it alarmed my father. Why him? ‘He knows how to make Marilyn Monroe laugh,’ I explained. ‘Joe DiMaggio made her go hot all over; Arthur Miller made her read the Oxford English Dictionary from cover to cover; only Donald Zec makes her laugh.’

I have said that he had just become a widower when we met. Dancing cheek to cheek with Hollywood beauties notwithstanding, his marriage had been by all accounts spectacularly successful. So he was suffering the cruel heartbreak that a happy marriage has in store for us. I never heard a man speak more reverently of his wife. And yet he could make sublime comedy out of his grief. This was the opposite of disrespect. He knew that if you are to bring the whole range of your emotions to remembering and describing love, then laughter is as important as sorrow.

‘So anyway, Marilyn …’ I said to him once. He shook his head. Nothing doing. ‘It touches me to think you remained such a good Jewish boy all those years,’ I said. This time he put a hand on mine. ‘Let’s not make a nebbish of me altogether,’ he said. Make what you will of that. Every heart, as D.H. Lawrence wrote, has its secrets.

He did not intend to give speeches at his 100th birthday, then ended up giving three. He has the fluency a man a quarter of his age would kill for. His comic timing is still perfect. But there is a weight in his words that wasn’t there in 1955. The weight of grief; of experience touched by love. If you didn’t know how he’d earned his living you’d guess teaching philosophy at Oxford, not making Marilyn laugh in Beverly Hills.

To Marilyn, the last word. Never really grasping that London and Hollywood were in different time zones, she would ring up at some crazy hour. Donald told me of his phone going off in his London apartment in the middle of the night. His wife would take the phone and in the sweetest tone of understanding pass the receiver over to Donald. ‘It’s Marilyn for you,’ she’d say.

I hear that and all my old envious idolatry returns. I can’t decide which I covet most, the age he has reached while still accumulating accomplishments, or the fact that Marilyn Monroe rang him in his bed.”

Behind the Scenes of Marilyn’s Last Movie

Alexandra Pollard takes a fresh look at Marilyn’s ill-fated last movie, Something’s Got to Give, in an insightful piece for The Independent.

“She hadn’t been on a film set for over a year when she was cast in Something’s Got to Give, a remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife. Her time off had been plagued by illness and drug addiction … The accumulative physical toll had caused her to lose so much weight that she was thinner than she had been in all her adult life. The studio, Twentieth Century Fox, was delighted. ‘She didn’t have to perform, she just had to look great,’ said the film’s producer Henry Weinstein, ‘and she did.’

But in hindsight, Monroe wasn’t ready – either physically or mentally – to return to acting … ‘She was just fearful of the camera,’ said Weinstein, who recalled Monroe throwing up before scenes. Early on, he found her unconscious, in what he described as a barbiturate coma … The studio and production team had little sympathy for their star. ‘Yes this is a sick woman,’ said screenwriter Walter Bernstein, ‘but this is a movie star who’s getting her way, and who doesn’t give a damn about anybody else, and is being destructive and self-destructive.’

But watching Something’s Got to Give’s raw footage – most of which remained unseen for years after the film was scrapped – gives a very different impression. On camera, Monroe is earnest, demure, desperate to get her part right. If she messes up, she apologises profusely … She is gentle with her young co-stars, too. Alexandria Heilweil, who played her five-year-old daughter, is told to sit up straight. ‘If I do the right thing…’ says the little girl, but [George] Cukor cuts her off: ‘Be quiet.’ Monroe smiles at her. ‘You will,’ she says gently. It certainly doesn’t seem like the behaviour of someone ‘wilfully disruptive’.

And there were a few good days. During the now (in)famous swimming pool scene, Ellen takes a late-night skinny dip, attempting to lure her husband out of his bedroom. The set was closed, but a few select photographers were allowed to stay. When Monroe ended up removing the flesh-coloured swimming costume she had been given, they were caught completely off guard. ‘I had been wearing the suit, but it concealed too much,’ she later told the press, ‘and it would have looked wrong on the screen… The set was closed, all except members of the crew, who were very sweet. I told them to close their eyes or turn their backs, and I think they all did. There was a lifeguard on the set to help me out if I needed him, but I’m not sure it would have worked. He had his eyes closed too.’ Photos of Monroe emerging from the pool, sans suit, appeared on magazine covers in over 30 countries. By all accounts, spirits seemed high.

But things went rapidly downhill. On 19 May 1962, having been too sick to work for most of the week, Monroe flew to New York for President John F Kennedy’s birthday celebrations … Monroe had gained permission to attend the event long before filming began, but [Cukor] deemed it unacceptable. In June, just a few days after Monroe’s 36th birthday, she was fired for ‘spectacular absenteeism’, and sued by Fox for $750,000 for ‘wilful violation of contract’. ‘Dear George,’ wrote Monroe in a telegram to Cukor, ‘please forgive me, it was not my doing. I had so looked forward to working with you.’

In fact, it may not have been entirely Monroe’s doing. At the same time as Something’s Got to Give was being made, Fox was haemorrhaging money on its three-hour epic Cleopatra … The studio was panicking. ‘Tensions were high, nerves were frayed, funds were low,’ wrote Michelle Vogel in Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life, ‘and it’s clear that Something’s Got to Give and Marilyn Monroe were the scapegoats for some very anxious studio executives who felt they were spinning out of control with both productions. The lesser of the films had to go.’

A few days before she died, Monroe had given an interview to a journalist from Life Magazine, and the subsequent profile was published a few weeks later. It ended with the following: ‘I had asked if many friends had called up to rally round when she was fired by Fox. There was silence, and sitting very straight, eyes wide and hurt, she had answered with a tiny, “No”.'”

Chris Lemmon On ‘Some Like It Hot’ At 60

Photo by Richard C. Miller

Chris Lemmon, son of Jack, has talked to Fox News‘ Stephanie Nolasco about his dad, Marilyn, and Some Like It Hot – although as he was just four years old at the time of filming, his perspective comes from what his father told him. Nonetheless, it gives valuable insight into the dynamic on the set. (Later in the article, Chris also tells a more speculative tale about Marilyn and President Kennedy, which I discussed previously here.)

“Fox News: What was your father’s relationship like with Marilyn Monroe?
Lemmon: It was terrific. He saw Marilyn for what she was, unlike the persona … Marilyn had her own gimmick. But that wasn’t her at all. She was a very dedicated actress and a very intelligent woman. But also a very troubled woman who was hit by stardom way too quickly. She just simply didn’t know what to do with it. So my father instantly took to her because he saw those qualities. My father easily took to everybody. Jack Lemmon could get along with a log.

Fox News: How did your father cope with Marilyn’s troubles on set?
Lemmon: The truth is Marilyn did have some problems on the set. She was nervous that it could get in the way. There’s that famous story involving the line, ‘Hi, I’m Sugar’ … She had to do 30 takes of that. [Actually, the line was ‘It’s me, Sugar.’] That was the day before they shot that huge scene in the train car with the booze. Billy tended to be very rough with his shots. He didn’t want anyone messing around with his stuff.

But she and my father, they nailed it on the first take. That’s the performance you see on the screen. He easily befriended her. She was flirty with him because she thought it might bring some spice into the scene. And of course, he flirted right back. And that’s how that great scene between them was born. That was all one take.”

Barbara Eden Remembers Marilyn

Actress Barbara Eden is best-known for her zany role in the 1960s sitcom, I Dream Of Jeannie. She also starred in the TV spin-off of How to Marry a Millionaire, which ran from 1957-59.  Her ditzy character, ‘Loco Jones’, was a blend of the roles played by Marilyn and Betty Grable in the 1953 movie. And as Barbara revealed in a recent interview for Studio 10, she would later meet Marilyn in the flesh.

Marilyn and her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty

“She eventually met Monroe, as they both shared the same stand-in – Evelyn Moriarty. Recalling the meeting, Eden said: ‘Marilyn was over there doing wardrobe tests. I’m standing there with [Evelyn], and Marilyn came out and [Evelyn] said, “Marilyn, I want you to meet my other star”.’

Monroe was filming her last movie at the time and Evelyn later confided in Barbara following the famous actress’ death, claiming she never believed the reports at the time.

‘Evelyn said, ‘”She would never take her own life”. I just feel it was probably an accident,’ Eden said. ‘She wanted to get to sleep, and took too many [pills]… I hope that’s what it was.'”

Remembering Marilyn in Hemet

In this week’s Valley Chronicle, Mark Lentine looks at Marilyn’s connection to the California town of Hemet. Although she was named Norma Jeane Mortensen at birth (after her mother Gladys’ estranged husband, Edward Mortensen) it is widely believed that her real father was C. Stanley Gifford. He and Gladys had a relationship while working at Consolidated Film Industries in Los Angeles.

Over the years, Marilyn made many attempts to contact Gifford, without success. Gifford had remarried and managed the Red Rock Dairy in Hemet. It is believed he did not want to upset his wife and children by letting Marilyn into his life.

Marilyn’s half-sister Berniece Miracle has claimed that they finally met in the year before Marilyn passed, and it has been reported that in 1965, a dying Gifford confessed to his pastor, Reverend Don Liden of the First Presbyterian Church, that he was indeed Marilyn’s father. Gifford was buried in the San Jacinto Valley Cemetery.

“Monroe was seen many times in the Hemet area, most times staying at the Soboba Hot Springs. She was seen making clandestine calls or stopping at bars (most frequently mentioned in the reminiscences of locals is Chappies Bar) and asking for a Charles Stanley Gifford.

‘My dad and mom were out at the Soboba Hot Springs for dinner, a very upscale dining spot in town. My dad started to get out of the car but was stopped by someone who looked familiar. The gentleman had gone to dad’s side of the car to let a woman out of the car. When the woman stepped out of the car, dad realised why the man had looked familiar; it was Joe DiMaggio, and he was holding the door open for his wife, Marilyn Monroe …’, said a smiling former Hemet mayor, Robert Lindquist.

I asked Lindquist if he believed that Gifford was indeed Monroe’s father. ‘Oh yes, it was quite well-known here in town. I delivered newspapers and was a child at the time, but I clearly remember Mr. Gifford very well; he was always very neat and had a small mustache; very debonair …'”

Blandon Carpenter Remembers Marilyn in Korea

Marilyn in Korea, 1954

Despite her glamorous appearance, Marilyn required no special treatment during her 1954 military tour of Korea.  Nonetheless, U.S. troops did their utmost to make their special guest comfortable throughout her stay, as this amusing tale from the Reading Eagle reveals.

“When Marilyn Monroe visited American troops in Korea in 1954, Arthur ‘Kip’ Bowers of Blandon was tasked with providing the movie star a key necessity.

‘I’m the only carpenter in the United States that built Marilyn Monroe an outside toilet,’ Bowers said. ‘She needed her own private toilet. We had no facilities and I’m a damn good carpenter.’

Bowers, 87, told that story Thursday immediately after receiving the Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal at the Paul R. Gordon Veteran Social Center in Reading, PA.

Bowers used his job as an Army military police officer to get the wood by setting up a speed trap and stopping Army vehicles.

‘Every guy that was carrying water I stopped if he was over 50 miles an hour,’ Bowers explained. ‘And I said we can do this two ways … I was as straight a cop as could be, but in this case, I needed lumber … I said we can take one of your stripes or you can bring me a load of lumber. Every one of them brought me a load of lumber.’

After the latrine was built, there was a lot of wood left over and Bowers’ skills were proved. He was moved from MP to carpenter for the rest of his service.”

UPDATE: Another memory from Bowers is quoted on the WFMZ website. “She came to put on a show,” he told fellow veterans. “She swung her hip two feet this way and hit me on the head, and then she swung two feet the other way and hit my buddy.”