Barbara Rush Remembers Marilyn

Actress Barbara Rush has shared memories of her long career with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News. Born in 1927, she met a young Marilyn Monroe in the late 1940s, while both were residents at the Hollywood Studio Club, a home for aspiring actresses.

‘Oh yes, we were friends,’ she said. ‘We were in the studio club together. At least with me, when you first come to Hollywood, and I went to Paramount, they put me immediately in the studio club. It’s kind of like a sorority house. And Marilyn Monroe was there. I loved her. Marilyn was such a darling lady. She was very sweet and nice. All the girls in the studio club just had a good time.’

In 1954, Barbara won the Golden Globe award as ‘Most Promising Newcomer – Female’ for her role in the sci-fi classic, It Came From Outer Space. She was then married to actor Jeffrey Hunter. She played the wife of James Mason in Bigger Than Life (1956.) Director Nicholas Ray, a mutual friend of Marilyn, offered the star – who was filming Bus Stop on another soundstage at Twentieth Century Fox – a cameo role in his film, but due to Marilyn’s nerves, it never transpired.

In The Young Lions (1958) Barbara starred opposite Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, who would later work with Marilyn on her last completed movie, The Misfits.

Barbara married Hollywood publicist Warren Cowan in 1959. As Marilyn’s biographer Gary Vitacco Robles tells me, ‘Warren Cowan was part of a publicity firm (Rogers & Cowan) that had merged with Arthur P. Jacobs’ Company. I believe the two firms separated again around 1959. Both had represented Marilyn.’

Barbara still remembers her disbelief at hearing of Marilyn’s death three years later. ‘It was in the middle of the night when we got the call,’ she recalled. ‘My husband, who handled her, was very shocked. So shocked. I just kept hearing him go, Oh my God, over and over… We were all just very disturbed by it.’

During this time Barbara also worked in television, including a memorable role as the devious Nora Clavicle in Batman. She also appeared in the Rat Pack musical, Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), and with Paul Newman in the 1967 Western, Hombre.

In 1970, Barbara won the prestigious Sarah Siddons Award (referenced in All About Eve) for her stage role in Forty Carats. She would later star in a one-woman Broadway show, A Woman Of Independent Means. She returned to her sci-fi roots with a recurring part as Lindsay Wagner’s mother in TV’s The Bionic Woman. Since 1997 she has lived at the Harold Lloyd Estate in Beverly Hills, where Marilyn was photographed by the former silent movie comedian back in 1953.

Barbara’s most recent screen credit was in 2007, when she appeared in several episodes of another television series, Seventh Heaven. She is still active, having just made a short film and attending a Hollywood Museum exhibition, Batman ’66.

Marilyn Goes Back to Burlap

‘What makes your hometown weird?’ Mey Valdivia Rude asks over at Autostraddle. Her hometown of Blackfoot is also the home of the Idaho Potato Museum, which ‘houses things like a life size pin-up of Marilyn Monroe in a dress made from a potato sack and the world’s largest potato crisp.’

The museum’s website includes ‘Movie Star in Burlap‘, an article revealing how Marilyn came to wear an Idaho potato sack, and souvenirs are available in the gift shop. (You can see more photos from the shoot with Earl Thiesen here.)

“In the early days of her struggle to attract the attention of the Hollywood community and the media, Norma Jeane wore a sexy and revealing red dress to a 1951 holiday-season party. A columnist commented in a print about the incident and observed that Marilyn’s stunning figure would look good even if she wore a potato sack. The remark prompted her publicity agent to have a dress made from a burlap bag obtained at the local produce market, which Marilyn wore for a photographic session. The bag had been packed at Long Produce in Twin Falls, Idaho, and displayed the Idaho identification and Long’s Sawtooth brand as never before.

The Longs wrote to Marilyn and thanked her for the publicity and she graciously responded with an autographed picture that was displayed on the office wall and reproduced for advertising and promotional purposes.

When Long Produce ceased business in the late 50’s, the prized autograph disappeared. Another print, however, was found recently at a garage sale in Minneapolis and purchased by a Union Pacific Railroad executive who presented the Idaho Grower-Shippers Association with two copies for their use. Reproduction of the picture by the Association in their yearbook publication captured the fancy of a new generation of fans.”

Sally Kirkland Inspired By Marilyn

Actress Sally Kirkland began her career just after Marilyn died, in 1963. She played small roles in some notable films, including The Sting, The Way We Were, A Star Is Born and Private Benjamin, before earning an Oscar nomination for Anna (1987.) She later played Marilyn in The Island, a 1998 comedy which imagines a young man finding Monroe and John F. Kennedy still alive and well on a desert island (which sounds rather like a bizarre sequel to Something’s Got to Give.)

Now 76, Sally has unforunately suffered a head injury after falling during a radio appearance, and is now in hospital undergoing surgery but is expected to make a full recovery. In a 2016 interview with Jeff Cramer for his Stone Cold Crazy blog, she revealed that Marilyn had been an important influence on her career. (The story that Shelley Winters told Sally about Marilyn’s ‘fuck-me shoes’ should probably taken with a large pinch of salt, as Shelley was prone to exaggerate. As far as I know, the phrase was popularised during the 1990s.)

“I stopped being shy sometime in the early ’60s,with what’s called ‘the private moments’ at the Actors Studio where I do my imitation of Marilyn Monroe on the calendar. I would find some way to take my clothes off in a private moment, and with Lee Strasberg’s support. Pretty soon, everybody in the Actors Studio was waiting for me to take my clothes off.

I was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and also at 18 I had met Shelley Winters who took me under her wing, adopted me. She had lived with Marilyn. So she gave me Marilyn’s shoes that were open toe, open back and they were called ‘Fuck Me Shoes’ according to Shelley. Marilyn’s Fuck Me Shoes. I wore them everywhere. I wore them absolutely everywhere and that gave me the power of being Marilyn Monroe. It also gave me the power to take off all my clothes.”

Beloved Collaborators: Capote, Avedon and Marilyn

Richard Avedon and Marilyn had a dear mutual friend – the novelist Truman Capote, who provided the text for Avedon’s 1959 book, Observations.

“Truman leapt at Dick’s invitation to collaborate on a book project. He sent his text to Dick in stages, written in his fussy little hand on yellow legal pads and always accompanied by a note that endearingly began ‘Beloved Collaborator.’ Dick was dazzled by Truman’s lapidiary descriptions of his portraits … Marilyn Monroe – ‘a waif-figure of saucy pathos … an untidy divinity – in the sense that a banana split or cherry jubilee is untidy but divine’ … Though Truman’s contributions would be labelled as ‘comments’, they added up to a composite portrait of their own and succeeded in making Observations as much a book with pictures as a picture book with text.”

From Avedon: Something Personal by Norma Stevens & Steven M. L. Aronson

The Millers in Avedon’s ‘Observations’, 1959

Avedon’s Marilyn: A Persistent Memory

A note from Paula Strasberg, overlaying Avedon’s ‘Sad Marilyn’

Taken at the end of a long sitting in 1957, the portrait now known as ‘Sad Marilyn’ has become one of her most iconic images, and a stand-out in her collaborations with Richard Avedon. Mark McClish, who worked with Avedon during the 1990s, names it as a favourite in Avedon: Something Personal.

“He let me choose a print when I left, and I picked the sad Marilyn. I had fallen in love with that picture when I was emptying wastebaskets every night as fourth assistant – I was all alone in the building, and so was she, somehow, and, I don’t know, she spoke to me. Dick did one of his smiley faces in the archival paper he wrapped her in for me – except he gave the face a frown and put tears in the eyes, which I’m not embarrassed to admit brought tears to mine. I still have my Marilyn – I haven’t had to sell it, my kids aren’t in college yet …”

Avedon was fiercely protective of Marilyn’s memory, as revealed in a chapter concerning a 2002 exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“The two photographs he had designated for promotional purposes were the cross-dressing dancer John Martin and the Bee Man, but now the Met wanted to replace them with the sad Marilyn (a photograph that her own husband, Arthur Miller, had described as ‘succeeding as much as any single picture can in its attempt to portray her as herself’ and that Time magazine characterised as ‘the most psychologically inward picture ever taken of her’). The museum argued that Marilyn enjoyed a ‘Q Score’ of twenty-five (high for a ‘deleb’, or dead celebrity) and that using her to advertise the exhibition could make a disproportionate difference in the number of attendees. Dick protested that this would be exploiting her as a sex celebrity and proposed using June Leaf instead. In the end the Met got their Marilyn, and Dick got his June on the cover of the catalogue.”

Avedon shared another memory of Marilyn in conversation with model turned psychiatrist Lauren Helm, whom he photographed and interviewed for Vogue in 1983. “I remember saying something to the effect that I could never see myself the way other people said they saw me,” she recalls, “and he said that Marilyn Monroe had said practically the exact same thing to him.”

Avedon’s Marilyn: Fabled Enchantments

Penny Cobbs, who worked for Richard Avedon during the 1980s, has described their collaboration on a series of posters based on his ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ sessions with Marilyn. “We did four Marilyns – her impersonating the old-time sex symbols Jean Harlow, Theda Bara, Clara Bow, and Lillian Russell – he’d done those pictures for Life in 1958,” Cobbs recalled in an interview for Avedon: Something Personal. “But since nobody could recognise Marilyn, they didn’t go over well.” Ironically, these posters are now highly collectible and because of their rarity, they sell well at auctions.

Richard Avedon’s Marilyn in Motion

In his early years as a fashion photographer, Richard Avedon was known for his use of movement, as opposed to the rather stiff poses of the day. He carried this through to his work with Marilyn, as Tim Walker – who worked with Avedon in the mid 1990s – recalls in Avedon: Something Personal.

“Dick had put up this huge bubble-jet poster of a sequence of pictures he’d taken of Marilyn in a tight sequinned dress: she was laughing in one of them, she had her hands on her hips in another one, in another her head was down, then up … One morning the first thing, when I was making the coffee, I observed him standing in front of the poster mimicking  all her poses, reliving the shoot in a way – almost asking, with his own body, ‘Did I get all I could?’ And of course he had!”

Richard Avedon: Waiting for Sugar

Frederick Eberstadt, who was Richard Avedon’s studio manager from 1958-60, shared his memories of the Some Like It Hot photo shoot in Avedon: Something Personal.

“When Dick was doing the publicity photographs for Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis came in carrying the most elaborate camera you ever saw. He said to Dick, ‘You’re the perfect person to show me how to use this thing.’ Dick took one panicked look and said, ‘My studio manager Frank [Eberstadt] will be happy to help you out.’ One of the first things he said to me when I went to work for him was, ‘Don’t bother to learn any technique – you can always hire some guy for a few bucks a week.’ Dick simply did not know how he did what he did. Learning to photograph from him would have been like trying to learn to sing from somebody who has perfect pitch and just can’t help hitting the right note.

At noon on the day he was to shoot Marilyn, a woman with a doughy face and a babushka, who I presumed to be her maid, dropped off some clothes for her at the studio. It turned out to be the star herself – that was what she looked like when she was not in full drag. She was supposed to come back at three, but Dick had booked somebody else in that slot, knowing she most likely wouldn’t show up until six and wouldn’t be ready to work until nine. He told me to stick around, that my job would be to make sure her vodka was diluted enough so she didn’t get too drunk but not so much that she realised it was mostly water.”


Avedon, the Greenes and Marilyn

Amy and Joshua Greene with Paula Strasberg and Marilyn during filming of ‘Bus Stop’, 1956

Amy Greene is one of many luminaries interviewed by authors Norma Stevens and Steven M.L. Aronson for Avedon: Something Personal, in which she reveals the ties between Milton and Avedon, and later, Marilyn.

“One night in 1950, the photographer Milton Greene was having one of his Friday night open-houses in his penthouse studio, in the old Grand Central Palace building on Lexington Avenue. The room was packed with art directors, admen, models, photographers, actors, and dancers. Dick [Avedon] introduced himself to a fragile-looking blonde with almond-shaped eyes who was standing alone against the wall of the loggia – a wallflower. He broke the ice with, ‘How do you know Milton?’ She said, ‘I was married to him,’ and she filled Dick in: They were high-school sweethearts who had tied the knot in 1942 when she, Evelyn Franklin, was eighteen.

Dick said he was instantly taken by Evie’s feyness and elusiveness … He invited her to dinner that night at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal. From there the relationship took off like a choo-choo train, and the couple got hitched at the end of January 1951.

Avedon with his wife Evelyn in 1955

Milton Greene had meanwhile taken up with a cute Cuban-born model whom Dick had ‘discovered’, Edilia Franco (Conover, the modeling agency he sent her to, changed her first name to Amy and her last name to – in a nod to Dick – Richards.) In the spring of 1952, the year before he married Amy, Milton invited Dick and Evie to Sunday lunch in the country. ‘I wasn’t feeling so hot,’ Amy recalls. ‘I told Milton I wasn’t up to coming down. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I went through this shit for seven years with Evelyn, and I’m not going to put up with it from you. So get the hell up, put something decent on, and make an effort!’ He told me that one of the reasons he divorced Evelyn was she would stay in bed for days on end.

‘When Dick was in Hollywood for three months in 1956 consulting with Paramount on Funny Face, Milton was there producing Bus Stop with Marilyn, and Evelyn and I met for lunch,’ Amy recalls. ‘She and Dick were renting Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio’s old ‘honeymoon house’ on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills, and she complained that the tour buses would drive by several times a day and the guide would make a big thing over the megaphone about the master bedroom – she said it was sexually inhibiting. The minute Evie discovered that I detested Milton’s mother as much as she did, she started giggling, and we became sort of friends. I remember her grousing that all Dick ever did was work. So I guess there wasn’t much reason for her to get out of bed.’

The former DiMaggio home on North Palm Drive, occupied by the Avedons in 1956

Five years into his marriage to Evie, a movie inspired by Dick’s [first] marriage … lit up screens across the country. ‘Funny Face, by the way, wasn’t really about me. They just used my early fashion escapades as a pretext to make a glamorous musical extravaganza …’ (Avedon)

Amazingly, Dick’s boyhood idol, Fred Astaire, now an old boy of 57, played the 25 year-old lead, named Dick; Audrey Hepburn played Doe, renamed Jo … The day Fred Astaire made his leap into death, some thirty years after Funny Face, Dick appeared in the doorway to [Norma Stevens’] office with tears running down his cheeks. ‘I didn’t cry when Marilyn died, I didn’t cry when [Alexey] Brodovitch (Avedon’s art director at Harper’s Bazaar) died, he told [Stevens.}”

When Avedon Met Marilyn…

Richard Avedon’s first collaboration with Marilyn was in September 1954, when she visited New York to film The Seven Year Itch with director Billy Wilder. It may also have been their first meeting, and their warm camaraderie is evident in the resulting photos, taken by Sam Shaw. Earl Steinbicker, who was Avedon’s studio assistant at the time, remembers the shoot in Avedon: Something Personal.

“I met a helluva lot of famous people with Dick … I was there for the first sitting Dick ever did with Marilyn Monroe. The Daily News had sent a photographer to photograph him photographing her. I worked the fan blowing her hair, and at the end of the sitting she came over and said, ‘Wouldn’t you like a picture of me?'”