64 Years Ago: Heartbreak on the Subway Grate

September 15 marks the 64th anniversary of the filming of Marilyn’s most famous movie scene, standing over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch with her skirt blowing up in the breeze. In an article for Mama Mia, Polly Taylor looks at the personal heartache behind one of Hollywood’s most iconic moments.

“The scene was filmed in public to generate publicity for the movie, and DiMaggio was among the crowd. Director Billy Wilder described the ‘look of death’ on DiMaggio’s face as Monroe’s skirt flew up and onlookers cheered, as reported by The Telegraph.

George S. Zimbel, one of many photographers on set, recalled DiMaggio becoming irate and storming off, riled up by the uproarious press and onlookers who were gathered to watch the scene … Just a month later, in October 1954, Monroe divorced DiMaggio on the grounds of ‘mental cruelty’.”

Burt Reynolds 1936-2018

Burt Reynolds, one of the most popular actors of the 1970s and beyond, has died aged 82. Born in Lansing, Michigan in 1936, he came from a military family and his father later became a chief of police. Burt attended Florida State University on a football scholarship, and when injuries ruled out a sporting career, his interest turned to acting. He moved to New York to pursue his new career, where as Vanity Fair reports, he caught his first glimpe of stardom.

“The actor’s life was brimming with stories like this, close brushes with some of the most famous women in the film industry. Reynolds also had a particularly bittersweet anecdote about taking an acting class with Marilyn Monroe as an up-and-comer in the late 1950s. He would walk with her from 58th Street to the Actors Studio, he said, surprised by the blonde icon’s quietude. ‘She didn’t say much, but she didn’t have to,’ he recalled in a March interview with Conan O’Brien. He was also surprised to see that one of the most famous women in the world wasn’t getting swarmed on the street. ‘How come they don’t jump up and down?’ he asked her, referring to the people breezing past her. ‘She said, “Oh—do you wanna see her?”’ And with that, the actress threw her shoulders back and started strutting with purpose. Within 20 feet, she was ‘surrounded by about 40 people,’ Reynolds said. ‘I liked her so much . . . she was so real and sweet and kind.'”

This is a familiar tale, similar to anecdotes shared by Eli Wallach, Sam Shaw and others – but Burt’s comments are warm and sensitive. He began to make his name during the 1960s, with appearances on television shows including Gunsmoke. His big-screen breakthrough was in Deliverance (1970), proving he had more to offer than just good looks. He famously posed nude for Cosmopolitan in 1972, the magazine’s first male centrefold. Over the next two decades, he juggled blockbuster hits with more dramatic roles, and branched out into directing.

Like Marilyn Monroe, Burt’s racy image meant that he wasn’t always taken seriously, though he would win a Golden Globe – and Oscar nomination – for Boogie Nights (1997.) He was married to actresses Judy Carne and Loni Anderson (a blonde bombshell in her own right), but by his own admission, his greatest love was Sally Field. In 2014, he faced bankruptcy. Burt Reynolds died of cardiac arrest, and his final movie was fittingly entitled The Last Movie Star.

Christopher Lawford 1955-2018

Christopher Lawford, the son of actor Peter Lawford and wife Patricia ‘Pat’ Kennedy, has died aged 63.  He had suffered a heart attack while at a yoga studio in Vancouver.

Christopher was born in 1955, a year after his parents’ marriage. He had three younger sisters, and was raised at the Lawfords’ beachfont home in Santa Monica.

Marilyn grew close to both Peter and (especially) Pat after returning to Los Angeles in 1961. Christopher shared a childhood memory of Marilyn in his autobiography…

“There were a lot of beautiful people hanging around our backyard pool on the beach in Santa Monica. Marilyn Monroe was there in her scarf, trying to stay out of the sun. She had a quiet voice, would smile at me and head out to walk on the sand with my mom. My mother told me Marilyn was like ‘her little sister.’ It surprised her that Marilyn was so open with her. My mom didn’t come from a background where emotions and feelings were openly shared. Marilyn Monroe trusted my mother’s love for her. There was nothing Marilyn had that my mom needed.”

After his parents divorced in 1966, Christopher moved to New York with his mother.  Unfortunately, he developed a serious drug problem in adulthood, and was forced to confront his demons when his cousin David died of a drug overdose in 1984.

Having earned qualifications in both law and psychiatry, in 1988 Christopher decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, acting on television (including a 3-year stint in the soap opera, All My Children.) He also worked as an independent film producer, and tried unsuccessfully to make a film about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. His memoir, Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption, was published in 2005.

Christopher was also politically active, working for the Democratic National Committee and for his uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy. He also worked tirelessly to help people suffering from addiction.

Married three times, Christopher is survived by a widow and three children. You can read more about Marilyn and the Lawfords here.

Did Marilyn Pass Through Hong Kong in 1954?

Today’s obituary page in the Daily Mail includes an interesting anecdote from Timothy Goss, son-in-law of Derek Bishop who died recently, aged 85. Apparently, Derek met Marilyn at the former Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong one freezing night, while on guard duty as part of his national service in the British Royal Air Force.

Although the story is dated as from 1952, Marilyn didn’t travel to the Far East until 1954. National service usually lasted for 1 year, sometimes more. And I haven’t heard of her visiting Hong Kong before, but it’s possible she passed through while returning to husband Joe DiMaggio in Japan after entertaining US troops in Korea.

However, as April VeVea points out over at Marilyn Remembered, “That seems really far out of the way when Hong Kong is roughly 2000 miles [from South Korea] and Kobe, Japan is 800.” So did Derek really meet Marilyn, or another blonde starlet that night?

“When his shift came to an end at 9pm, Derek and another solider were asked if they would stay on because a delayed flight was expected and there was a ‘celebrity’ on board.

They agreed and when the plane landed at 11pm, the famous passenger who stepped out was none other than the woman who would become the ultimate screen goddess.

Derek said she was dressed in ‘everyday’ clothes and wore very little make-up. She insisted on thanking him and his pal personally for working late and took them for a drink in the Nissen Hut that served as the mess.

He had half a lager and his only comment was that ‘she had no side to her.'”

Marilyn and Joe in Japan

Over at Japan Today, Patrick Parr looks back at the newlywed Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio’s eventful trip to the Far East in 1954, where he attended a baseball junket and she entertained US troops in Korea. (They’re photographed here with the manager of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, where they stayed during their visit.)

“For Monroe, this was now her life when visiting other countries. As she puts it in her abbreviated as-told-to Ben Hecht autobiography, My Story: ‘My travels have always been of the same kind. No matter where I’ve gone or why I’ve gone there, it ends up that I never see anything. Becoming a movie star is living on a merry-go-round… you don’t see natives or new scenery. You see chiefly the same press agent, the same sort of interviewers and the same picture layouts of yourself… ‘

Before heading out to support the troops in South Korea, Monroe first visited soldiers who had been fighting over in Korea and were now recuperating in Japanese hospitals. Always under heavy security detail, on Feb 11 she visited the Iwakuni City military base south of Hiroshima and then on the Feb 14 traveled to Osaka. She also visited a Tokyo medical center for wounded soldiers.

At the time, she was being treated by Tokujiro Namikoshi, the ‘founder of modern shiatsu,’ for ‘chronic endometriosis,’ a painful condition that can affect the female reproductive system. During this downtime, Monroe always had on hand her favorite perfume.  According to writer Pauline Torin, back in 2009 a bottle of Monroe’s Chanel No. 5 was found sewn into a pillowcase by a housekeeper and dated ‘Feb. 5 1954.’

When Monroe returned to Japan, she came down with the flu and remained mainly in the Imperial Hotel. She and DiMaggio did eat in Ginza once, at Irene’s Hungaria Restaurant, an ‘elegant’ place to dine. One of the cooks there, Yoshimasa Saito, remembered the couple coming in for a bite in a May 2006 interview with Judit Kawaguchi for The Japan Times: ‘Mon-chan, as we called her, was more beautiful in person than on film. I only got a glimpse of her because I was busy cooking.'”

Marilyn’s 20th Century Fox Sold to Disney

Marilyn with the cast of ‘Something’s Got to Give’ on her 36th birthday – and her final day’s work at Fox

Last December, it was reported (here) that Disney had bought Twentieth Century Fox’s assets from its most recent owner, Rupert Murdoch. And on July 27, as Variety reports, the Fox-Disney merger went ahead with a $71.3 billion buyout. Marilyn’s films for her home studio will be included in the purchase. As many commentators wonder what this will mean for the venerable Fox brand, the Hollywood Reporter looks back on its colourful past with a series of articles including the fraught relationship between longtime studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and the biggest star of all – Marilyn – during 1951-62, a period described as the ‘Monroe Years’ (preceded by ‘Eve’s Gold Rush’ in 1950, a reference to the Oscar-laden All About Eve in which Marilyn had a small part.) Firstly, film historian Leonard Maltin offers a eulogy for Fox, and the personalities who made it great.

Marilyn with Darryl F. Zanuck in 1954

“Zanuck always had someone waiting in reserve in case one of his stars became uncooperative. Betty Grable was hired as a threat to musical star Alice Faye and soon surpassed her as Fox’s premier attraction (and No. 1 pinup) of the 1940s. Faye grew tired of Zanuck’s belittling behavior and walked off the lot one day without saying goodbye. (Zanuck wouldn’t have survived in the #MeToo or Time’s Up era. He was notorious for taking advantage of starlets.)

Zanuck reigned until 1956, when he resigned from Fox and moved to France to become an independent producer. In the fractious years that followed, the studio wooed him back for projects more than once, even allowing him to cast his mistresses (Bella Darvi, Juliette Greco, et. al) in leading roles. But while movie attendance soared during the years following World War II, it sank nearly as quickly with the introduction of television. Fox’s response was to unveil a widescreen process called CinemaScope and its aural equivalent, stereophonic sound. Films like the biblical epic The Robe drew people back to theaters. So did Fox’s newest star, blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe.

It was believed the wildly expensive epic Cleopatra — which paid Elizabeth Taylor an eye-popping $1 million salary — nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, but president Spyros Skouras already was selling off the company’s valuable backlot (now known as Century City) before the movie’s budget ballooned to $44 million. Facts aside, Cleopatra became a scapegoat for all of the studio’s ills.

In a final coup, Darryl F. Zanuck returned to Fox in the early 1960s and named his son, Richard Zanuck, president … Then, in 1970, Zanuck Sr. fired his son and sparked an Oedipal family feud that sucked in Zanuck’s ex-wife — Richard’s mother, a major shareholder — and ended with the elder Zanuck being pushed out of the studio he co-founded. Repeated changes of regime and ownership in the ensuing years took their toll on the company that had once put its distinctive imprint on such classics as LauraMiracle on 34th StreetTwelve O’Clock High and All About Eve.”

Marilyn with her ‘Bus Stop’ co-star, Don Murray

In another article, ‘Life in the Foxhole‘, Mitzi Gaynor describes the working atmosphere at Fox as ‘like a family’, while Don Murray recalls his movie debut at the studio, and his mercurial leading lady…

“Zanuck loathes Marilyn Monroe (‘He thought I was a freak,’ Monroe once said) and nearly tears up her first contract after her nude Playboy cover comes out. But by 1953, Monroe has three of the studio’s biggest hits — NiagaraGentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire — and rene­gotiates a new contract paying $100,000 a picture and giving her creative approval. Her first film under the new deal is 1956’s Bus Stop, co-starring Don Murray. ‘I’d never done a feature before,’ says the actor, now 88, ‘so I didn’t know what to expect. From what others on the set told me, Marilyn was on her best behavior. She’d just been to the Actors Studio, and she really wanted to concentrate on her acting. But even so, she was late every day. She’d get to the studio on time, but then she’d spend hours dawdl­ing in her trailer, getting the nerve up to act. She was trying hard — she would sometimes do 30 takes in a scene — but she was very anxious about her acting. She would actually break out in a rash before the cameras would start filming. The cameras gave her a rash.'”

Finally, you can read Marilyn’s take on Fox, and Zanuck – as told to biographer Maurice Zolotow – here.

Beaton’s Marilyn in the Sotheby Archive

The Sotheby’s blog takes a look at Cecil Beaton’s extraordinary portraits of Marilyn today. The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive is located at the London auction house.

“Cecil Beaton had only one shoot with Marilyn Monroe, which took place at the Ambassador Hotel in New York in February 1956. The actress turned up at his suite 90 minutes late and in his diary Beaton admitted that he was: ‘startled, then disarmed, by her lack of inhibition’.

Marilyn shot to fame playing dumb yet witty blondes in films … Beaton acknowledged that while it was likely ‘press agentry or manufactured illusion’ that had helped her find success, it was ‘her own weird genius that [had] sustained her flight’ .

Prophetically, his diary entry ends, ‘It will probably end in tears’.”

When Marilyn Met Tab Hunter

Actor Tab Hunter, one of the great Hollywood heartthrobs of the 1950s, has died aged 86. Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York, he moved to California with his mother as a child, and lied about his age to join the U.S. Coast Guard at fifteen. He began acting in 1950, winning his breakthrough role in wartime drama Battle Cry five years later. Rumours of his homosexuality were first reported in Confidential magazine, but didn’t dent his burgeoning career as a teen idol. Over the next four years he was Warner Brothers’ most popular male star, with roles in Damn Yankees (1958), and They Came to Cordura (1959.) He also enjoyed a No. 1 hit single with ‘Young Love’ in 1957, and was given his own TV show.

From the 1960s onward Hunter also acted onstage, and starred in spaghetti westerns before returning to Hollywood in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972.) He later became a favorite of independent filmmaker John Waters, and made two films with legendary drag queen Divine. In his 2005 memoir, Tab Hunter Confidential, he spoke openly about the challenges he faced as a gay actor under the Hollywood studio system. The book inspired a documentary of the same name, and a biopic is currently in development.

Cover to Cover: Tab Hunter and Marilyn in the Chilean magazine, ‘Ecran’ (1957))

Just five years younger than Marilyn, Tab Hunter was also judged by his striking good looks during his early career and had to struggle to prove his talent ( a 2016 article on The Wow Report website even describes him as ‘the male Marilyn Monroe’.) In  2011, Tab spoke to Monroe expert Scott Fortner about (among other things) an encounter with Hollywood’s other favourite blonde, as recalled on the MM Collection Blog:

“I of course asked Mr. Hunter if he’d ever met Marilyn Monroe, and their paths did cross in the early 1950s at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Both were there for a Hollywood event, and upon meeting, Mr. Hunter told Marilyn, ‘I loved you in Clash By Night. No one wears a pair of Levis like you,’ to which Marilyn replied, (spoken in Mr. Hunter’s best Marilyn impersonation) ‘Thank you, Tab.'”

‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ at 56

This rare photo was taken by a fan after Marilyn sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, 56 years ago today.  Marilyn looks far younger than her thirty-five years, and the dress worn by her loyal publicist Pat Newcomb can be seen close behind. Over at Getty Images, Bill Ray – the LIFE magazine photographer who covered the event – shares memories of that legendary evening.

“A quick scan of the program for ‘New York’s Birthday Salute to President Kennedy’ on May 19, 1962, reveals a veritable who’s who of Old Hollywood: Jack Benny, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Danny Kaye. And there, nestled between Peter Lawford and Jimmy Durante, an unmissable entry: Marilyn Monroe. No explanation. No footnote.

‘You could have heard a pin drop,’ recalls Bill Ray … who made the now-iconic image of the actress from behind. ‘I think people were stunned when she finished.’

Due to the disparate lighting conditions — Monroe in a bright spotlight, Kennedy in total darkness — Ray’s dream of getting the two in the same picture didn’t come to fruition. ‘If I’d been luckier, there would have been a tiny bit of light that would have spilled onto Kennedy, who was over her shoulder between the podium and her head.'”

RUMOUR: Marilyn and the Bubblegum King

There are more rumours (often unfounded) about Marilyn’s love life than any other actress. Today, the Stockton Record names Andy Paris – whose latex-based bubblegum empire made him a millionaire at 29 – as an early contender for her affections. (He is also the subject of a 2010 documentary, Andy Paris: Bubblegum King.)

“Hollywood recruited Paris to teach 10-year-old Natalie Wood to blow bubbles for her famous scene with Kris Kringle in the 1947 classic, Miracle on 34th Street.

They hit it off, said John Paris. ‘She said to my dad, “Mr. Paris, I really love you. You’re too old to be my boyfriend. I want you to meet this friend of mine,” and it was Marilyn Monroe,’ an up-and-coming starlet.

Paris dated Marilyn Monroe. Other starlets, too. It didn’t hurt that he was rich, charming, movie-star handsome himself and always dressed to the nines.”

Natalie Wood (left) and Marilyn (centre) with June Haver (right) in ‘Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!’

Although now considered a classic Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street was first released in June 1947. Three months previously, Natalie had filmed  Scudda Hoo! Scudda HayThe film is remembered today as Marilyn Monroe’s Hollywood debut. She and Natalie briefly appear together in one scene, leaving church with June Haver.

Natalie would speak fondly of Marilyn in later years, but did she really know her that well at the time? It’s possible that Mr. Paris may have met Marilyn, though he hasn’t been mentioned in any biographies to date.

We’ll file this one under ‘Rumours’…