Category Archives: Memories & Anecdotes

Remembering Robert Mitchum at 100

Robert Mitchum was born 100 years ago, on August 6, 1917. During the early 1940s he worked at the Lockheed munitions plant with Jim Dougherty, and claimed to have met Dougherty’s pretty young wife, Norma Jeane, remembering her as ‘shy and sweet.’ (Dougherty has denied this early encounter between the two future stars occurred.)

One of Hollywood’s most celebrated tough guys, Bob starred with Marilyn in River of No Return (1954.) He and Marilyn remained friendly and worked well together, although neither got along with director Otto Preminger. Bob recalled that she didn’t take her ‘sex goddess’ image seriously, playing it as a kind of burlesque. He was later offered another chance to be her leading man in The Misfits, but was unimpressed by the script and the role went to Clark Gable instead.

Robert Mitchum died in 1997. River of No Return will be screened at this year’s New York Film Festival, as part of a major Mitchum retrospective. You can read more about the shoot here.

55 Years Ago: A Poem for Marilyn

Photo by Bert Stern, 1962

On Friday, August 3, 1962, Marilyn called her close friend Norman Rosten and talked about her plans to visit New York that fall, urging him joyfully, ‘Let’s start to live before we get old.’ By Sunday, the world was mourning her death. Norman wrote this poem while Marilyn was still alive, but she never had a chance to read it.

“We who spread the rainbow under glass
And weigh the most elusive sky and air,
Of that clan I come to track your heart –
But I’m baffled by those loose strands of hair.

You stand, finger at your lips, lost
In a long-abandoned heaven. No one within,
The angels gone, and all the harps undone.
What legend draws you there? O hurry down!

Surely your home’s with us, and not the gods.
Below your sealed window as you watch,
A river barge goes by, someone waves,
You laugh and throw a kiss for him to catch.

You’re not to be rescued wholly in this world.
It must be so. As many are saved,
That many drown. I see you clinging
To rooms, to phones, forgotten to be loved.”

Barbara Marx Sinatra 1927-2017

Barbara Marx Sinatra, the widow of Frank Sinatra, has died aged 90. A former model and Las Vegas showgirl, she was married to Zeppo Marx from 1959-73, and to Sinatra from 1976 until his death in 1998. As well as overseeing most of his his estate, Barbara was also a philanthropist and children’s campaigner. In her 2011 memoir, Lady Blue Eyes, she recalled meeting  Marilyn during the 1950s:

“Palm Springs was a celebrity circus where Clark Gable would pop his head over her hedge for a chat. She befriended Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. She played doubles matches with Bobby Kennedy and met Marilyn Monroe, who visited Sinatra and reportedly liked to walk around his house naked.

Once when Monroe was staying at the Compound, Barbara’s son Bobby, ‘who had the worst crush on Marilyn,’ insisted Barbara secure an invitation so he could meet the star. ‘So I called Dorothy, Frank’s secretary, and told her my problem and Frank called and said have him come over. Bobby met her and he was totally in love.’

On another occasion Barbara met the ‘beautiful and funny’ Monroe, then married to Arthur Miller, at the Palm Springs Racquet Club. ‘I could see why she’d attract the likes of Mr Sinatra, among others. But her dependence on drugs and alcohol left her vulnerable. We had a casual conversation and she seemed sweet, but we were never going to be close. A few years later she was dead.'”

Martin Landau 1928-2017

Actor Martin Landau has died aged 89. He was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1928, and worked as a political cartoonist at the New York Daily News before joining the Actors Studio (alongside Steve McQueen) in  1955. His audition piece was a scene from Clifford Odets’ Clash by Night, which had been filmed with a young Marilyn Monroe three years earlier. He became a close friend of fellow student James Dean, and reportedly dated Marilyn for a few months before her 1956 marriage to Arthur Miller.

Landau made his theatrical debut in a touring production of Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night, starring Edward G. Robinson, in 1957. Marilyn had attended the Broadway premiere in 1956 (before Landau was cast.) Marilyn was offered the lead in the 1959 movie adaptation, but Kim Novak was eventually cast alongside Marilyn’s sister-in-law, Joan Copeland. Landau did not reprise his role, having been spotted by Alfred Hitchcock during a West Coast performance. His first major film was Hitchcock’s classic thriller, North by Northwest.

He went on to appear in Cleopatra and The Greatest Story Ever Told, finally achieving stardom in TV’s Mission Impossible. An established character actor, he also worked as a drama coach and became an executive director of the Actors Studio. After winning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), Landau was nominated again for Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), and at last won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994.)

He continued acting and teaching into his eighties, playing elderly billionaire  J. Howard Marshall in a 2013 biopic of Anna Nicole Smith, the tragic model and reality TV star whose bombshell image  was heavily influenced by Marilyn’s. Landau’s last major film was The Red Maple Leaf (2016), with two more currently awaiting release.

Martin Landau died at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centre in Westwood, Los Angeles on July 15, after being hospitalised and suffering from complications. He is survived by his former wife and Mission Impossible co-star, Barbara Bain, and their two daughters.

You can read more about his memories of Marilyn here.

On the Waterfront: Marilyn and John Garfield

Three years after their encounter on the set of We Were Strangers (see here), Marilyn and John Garfield were early contenders for the lead roles in On the Waterfront, according to Marilyn’s photographer friend, Sam Shaw, who was then developing it as a screenplay. (Director Elia Kazan denied all of this, but Al Ryelander, then a press agent for Columbia Studios, insisted the story was accurate.)

By 1952, Marilyn’s star was rising –  but Garfield’s career was destroyed, after he refused to ‘name names’ to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and became the most famous victim of the ‘red-baiting’ era. He died of a heart attack months later, aged 37. Author Robert Knott retold the story, which also touches on Marilyn’s relationships with Kazan and future husband Arthur Miller, in He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield (2003.)

On the Waterfront was released to acclaim in 1954, starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. Ironically, the film can be seen as director Elia Kazan’s self-justification for his own decision to name names. One can only imagine how different Marilyn’s subsequent career might have been had she played the role of demure Edie Doyle…

‘On the Waterfront’ (1954)

“Shaw gave Monroe the script while she was in New York to take in the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Monroe read the script and passed it on to her lover, Elia Kazan. Shaw, who called himself a ‘half-assed observer at the Actors Studio,’ had met Kazan on the set of the 1950 film Panic in the Streets. ‘Kazan had heard about my script (before Monroe gave it to him) and wanted to see it,’ Shaw said. ‘I wouldn’t give it to him, because he was involved with Arthur Miller on a similar project, The Hook.’ But after Monroe gave Kazan the script, the director called Shaw. ‘You’ve got an interesting script, but it needs a lot of work,’ he told Shaw. ‘Let Budd Schulberg work on it.’ Shaw, seeing the merit in Kazan’s suggestion, raised $40,000 to pay Schulberg to work on the script. According to Shaw, at this point Jack Cohn turned the script over to Sam Spiegel … Within a year Kazan, Spiegel and Schulberg were preparing the film for Columbia Pictures with Marlon Brando … By that point, neither Shaw nor Garfield were involved in any way.”

We Were Strangers: Marilyn and John Garfield

John Garfield, a legendary movie ‘tough guy’ of the 1940s, trained in the New York theatre and after his Hollywood breakthrough, became a prototype for the next generation of ‘rebel actors’ including Marlon Brando. In He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield, biographer Robert Knott describes the star’s alleged encounter with the young Marilyn Monroe on the set of John Huston’s We Were Strangers (1949.)

“[Sam] Spiegel brought agent Johnny Hyde and a young blonde starlet on the set. Spiegel asked Huston to film a silent test of the blonde, using as little film, time and money as possible. Huston said he would, but as soon as the producer left the set Huston asked [Peter] Viertel to write a scene for the girl to play on camera with Julie (Garfield’s real name was Julius.) The next day Huston, cameraman Russell Metty and Julie spent a good part of the day filming this brief screen test with the young blonde, one Marilyn Monroe. Spiegel was furious at Huston’s insubordination and blamed the director for letting the film fall behind schedule another day. Indifferent to Spiegel’s ranting but appreciative of Monroe’s potential, Huston cast her in a small role in his next film, The Asphalt Jungle. (No one seems to know what happened to that test film of Monroe and Garfield; one wonders if the actor made a pass at her.)”

John Garfield with Jennifer Jones in ‘We Were Strangers’

Marilyn and Arthur’s ‘Tragically Beautiful’ Wedding

Today marks the 61st anniversary of Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller, on June 29, 1956. Over at History Buff, Mary Miller (no relation, I assume) looks back on a ‘tragically beautiful’ wedding, quoting a diary entry from Marilyn herself.

“I am so concerned about protecting Arthur I love him—and he is the only person—human being I have ever known that I could love not only as a man to which I am attracted to practically out of my senses about—but he [is] the only person … that I trust as much as myself—because when I do trust my- self (about certain things) I do fully.”

What Marilyn’s Housekeeper Did Next

Rightly or wrongly, Marilyn’s housekeeper Eunice Murray is perceived as being one of the most controversial figures in the mystery of her final days. In a fascinating article for HuffPost, Joel Brokaw recalls the events following Marilyn’s death in 1962, when his mother Florence suffered a nervous breakdown, and a new nanny was hired. (You can read more about Marilyn’s friendship with Joel’s father, the legendary Hollywood agent Norman Brokaw, here.)

“It was the fall of 1962 and I was aware enough of current events to know that Eunice Murray was not a run of the mill domestic worker that my father Norman Brokaw employed to take care of my brothers and me during one of my mother’s involuntary vacations at the mental hospital. Mrs. Murray was indeed in the news and for all the reasons you’d never want to make you famous.

First impressions do matter. There was something that didn’t quite add up about her. To a nine-year-old, she seemed nice enough. But warm and openhearted she definitively was not. She was caring, responsible and totally stalwart, but with more in common to an English butler, tinged with a cold and slightly standoffish manner.

It had been only a matter of a few weeks if not days before Mrs. Murray showed up in her late model Dodge Dart to our Laurel Canyon home that she had became part of one of those infamous, iconic moments of history. Early one morning before dawn, she noticed the light on behind her employer’s locked bedroom door. Inside was the most famous woman in the world at that time, lying naked on the bed and quite dead, clutching a telephone in her hand. It was Marilyn Monroe.

For the rest of her days, Mrs. Murray was ensnared in all sorts of conspiracy theories. What a perfect storm between the mysterious suicide of the most iconic film actress in history and intrigue with the Kennedy family! Had she given Marilyn an overdose in the form barbiturate-laced enema as some have theorized? Did she have the inside scoop about the affairs with President Kennedy and his brother Robert? Had Robert been at the home that evening? Could he have killed her with a lethal injection because a leak about the alleged affair could have destroyed JFK’s reelection campaign? Were the pill bottles on the bed stand planted there? Everyone believed that Mrs. Murray had to know the truth, but why wasn’t she telling anybody? She was an easy target of suspicion in the category of ‘the butler did it.’

I can only guess how my father came to hire Mrs. Murray to be our nanny. True, my father had a personal connection to Marilyn. He took the then up and coming starlet around to studio auditions in the late 1940s and early 1950s when she was the paramour of his uncle Johnny Hyde, a powerful movie agent. He told us at that time that he was somewhat embarrassed about driving her around in the old jalopy he had. So, he removed the old fashioned running boards on the side of the car to make it look more presentable.

My best guess was that Mrs. Murray had been a referral from a professional. Perhaps my mother was also a patient of Marilyn’s psychiatrist Dr. [Ralph] Greenson. Dr. Greenson was known to place Mrs. Murray as a housekeeper/companion to his patients. Timing is everything. Mrs. Murray was available and could use a new gig (and perhaps a place to hide out). She did have an apartment in Santa Monica. Her next-door neighbor was Stan Laurel of the golden age of film comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Mrs. Murray said that I could come with her to meet him, an invitation I regretfully did not accept.

Both as it related to parenting and mental illness in America of the early 1960s, there was not a lot of sensitivity or higher consciousness for that matter. If the answer wasn’t in Dr. Benjamin Spock’s ubiquitous book on child-rearing or if you didn’t have a strong and active grandparent in the home, you were on your own. Doctors did make house calls though, and the milkman delivered. The options for emotionally sick people like Marilyn Monroe and my mother were crude and often barbaric compared to today’s treatments. Mother’s little helpers like Milltown was my mother’s go-to. The shock treatments she got as the next step up when the medicines didn’t give relief were highly disturbing for a child like me to think about.

Sometime later in the summer of 1963, my mother returned home. By that time, Mrs. Murray had had enough of my brothers and me. What drove her over the edge was driving us a dozen or more times a month to night games at Dodger Stadium, waiting hours at a nearby friend’s house, ear glued to Vin Scully’s voice to know when to fish us up. My father wisely bought us the season tickets to give us a healthy escape from our messed up childhoods. Mrs. Murray did little to hide her burn out, becoming progressively grouchier. The last straw was one night when the game went into extra innings and didn’t pick us up until 1 a.m. My brother David recalls that although most cars didn’t have air conditioning back then, the air in Mrs. Murray’s car that night was cold as ice. So, as soon as Florence Brokaw was stable enough and showed capacity to more or less manage her responsibilities, Mrs. Murray quit and she and her Dart turned around in the driveway and disappeared forever out of my life.”

When Jane Met Marilyn…

In Scotland’s Sunday Post this weekend, Craig Campbell looks back at the life of Marilyn’s most congenial co-star, Jane Russell, who would have turned 96 this week. The article was first published in the June 17 issue of Weekly News – and you can read my own tribute to Jane at Immortal Marilyn.

“This most-unusual woman, by Hollywood standards, also started a weekly Bible study group, something she would invite a most-unexpected guest to in years to come.

Jane was an established star by the time that she made Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953 with the most-famous blonde of them all — but her opposite number certainly hadn’t yet attained iconic status.

Already an ‘old, established broad who’d been around’, Jane felt Marilyn Monroe might like to come to some faith discussions, but the idea didn’t quite click.

‘At that time, Marilyn didn’t even have her own dressing-room, which sounds insane now!’ Jane laughed. ‘She only got one for that movie.’

‘She was super-sensitive, had her feelings hurt a lot, and the guys around the studio weren’t exactly tactful.’

‘We had a group called The Hollywood Christian Group, and I asked Marilyn along.’

‘She did say the next day: It’s not for me!’

What both leading ladies did have in common, however, was movie success … Jane’s razor-sharp wit was the perfect foil for Marilyn’s portrayal of gold-digger Lorelei Lei, and the song ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ became a classic.

Russell would also star in the follow-up, Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes, which was lacking the Monroe effect and didn’t fare so well.”

Gabe Pressman 1924-2017

Gabriel ‘Gabe’ Pressman, a reporter for New York’s WNBC-TV for over 50 years, has died aged 93. Born and raised in the Bronx, he covered events ranging from the assassination of Malcolm X to 9/11. Among his many interviewees were Harry S. Truman, Elvis Presley, Fidel Castro and, of course, Marilyn. Gabe is at her left in the above photo, as she confirmed her engagement to Arthur Miller in 1956. In a recent Facebook post, he paid tribute to Marilyn.

“She was effervescent. She was beautiful and she transfixed the reporters who interviewed her one day in New York. I was one of them.

I remember the main topic of the conversation. It was her new boyfriend who later became her husband, playwright Arthur Miller.

Marilyn was in a good mood. She laughed and she made us laugh. I asked her: ‘What do you see in this guy?’ And she trilled in a dreamy, soft voice: ‘Have you seen him?’ She rolled out the seen word in a mischievous way.

And she made us all laugh. She was charming and made us all part of the fun.”

Gabe Pressman (left) with Marilyn at Rockefeller Centre, 1957