Marilyn Fans Respond to Celebrity Deaths

This last week has seen at least three suicides among people in the public eye, including fashion designer Kate Spade, chef Anthony Bourdain, and Inés Zorreguieta, younger sister of the Dutch Queen. Perhaps inevitably, this tragic news has led to some rather irresponsible headlines about an alleged epidemic, with some journalists citing the reported spike in suicides among young American women shortly after Marilyn’s death.

Marilyn’s death was ruled a ‘probable suicide’, although wild rumours and conspiracy theories have abounded ever since. While I personally would never rule out any possibility, having studied the evidence over many years I consider it highly unlikely that Marilyn was murdered. (This is my own opinion, and I don’t presume to speak for the membership of Everlasting Star.)

The recent unfortunate events have led to some soul-searching within the Marilyn fan community, and a serious examination of the mental health problems she faced. At the same time, an excellent article in the latest issue of American History explores her addiction to prescribed drugs, now the leading cause of death in Americans aged under 50 (see here.)

Psychotherapist Gary Vitacco Robles, author of Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, discusses these issues in a new blog post, ‘Myth-Busting Suicide.’

“I hear the public reactions to a publicized suicide such as, ‘He seemed happy’ and ‘She was planning for the future.’ The suicide seems incongruent with a recent, apparently positive mood state. However, people are at higher risk when they appear to being doing well and planning for the future. They now have the energy to complete the suicide which they didn’t have when they were experiencing major depressive symptoms.”

Scott Fortner addresses Marilyn’s death specifically on his MM Collection Blog today:

“In spite of the evidence that proves she died of an overdose of prescription drugs consumed orally, conspiracy theories surrounding Marilyn’s death are plentiful … Sadly though, these conspiracy theories, in a way, help keep her legend alive. Fans simply can’t accept the fact it was either intentional or accidental, and I am regularly surprised at the frequency in which people I talk to bring up, and believe, the outrageous theories.”

Over at Immortal Marilyn, Leslie Kasperowicz believes that fans need to confront these issues openly to support those at risk and end the stigma of suicide.

“Marilyn’s death could have – should have – been one of the biggest blows to that stigma.  But instead, by choosing to look for conspiracies and murder, we took away her impact.  An impact that may have helped the people named above and so, so many others, had we let the blow fall.  Who were we protecting?  Not Marilyn. She is already beyond protection.”

How Marilyn’s Addiction Became America’s Scourge

Marilyn is on the cover of American History‘s latest issue (dated August 2018), with an article inside by Robert Dorfman, Emily Berquist Soule, and Sukumar Desai MD, about her struggle with addiction to prescribed drugs and ultimate death by overdose prefigured the national opioid crisis, which has now reached epidemic proportions. Although the subject matter is bleak, the piece is well-researched and insightful. You can also read it in full here.

“Then, as now, abuse of drugs was nationwide. But if prescription drug abuse had an epicenter in the 1950s, it was in Los Angeles at Schwab’s Pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard, where Orson Welles shopped, Ava Gardner worked the soda fountain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald reportedly had a heart attack buying cigarettes. At the pharmacy counter, celebrities and regular folks could get their prescriptions filled. In 1950s Hollywood, that meant barbiturates for nerves and amphetamines for energy and weight loss. One studio employee claimed that in those days most Hollywood actors were on prescription drugs.

In that era, when psychological treatment was the province of the very privileged or the very ill, pharmaceuticals seemed to hold great promise for treating mental illness. More patients got relief without undergoing lobotomy, previously the recommended treatment. But the medical community knew prescription pharmaceuticals were addictive. Studies in the 1950s showed the best treatment for such addictions to be hospital detox followed by inpatient psychological care. Those convicted under federal drug laws could be forced to undergo such treatment, but Marilyn’s drug use never became a criminal matter. Her treatments were strictly voluntary.

It is impossible to know whether Marilyn Monroe took her own life or was self-medicating and miscalculated. Many friends insisted she died by accident. But in her final interview, Marilyn called celebrity ‘only a temporary and partial happiness,’ adding in an aside on her career that ‘it might be kind of a relief to be finished.’ Days later, she was.”

Marilyn, From Korea to Connecticut

A recent obituary for a Korea veteran in the Hartford Courant includes a reference to Marilyn’s 1954 visit. (I wonder if he ever bumped into Marilyn after she moved to Connecticut with Arthur Miller in 1956?)

“Gordon Thomas Calano died peacefully in his sleep in Hobe Sound, Florida, on April 9, 2018 …  Gordon was born on July 1, 1929, in Hartford, Connecticut. He graduated from East Hartford High School in 1947 and from the University of Connecticut in 1951, leaving soon after for Korea, where he served in the army for two years as a war correspondent and earned a Purple Heart. One of his most treasured memories was acting as Marilyn Monroe’s personal escort while she entertained the troops. Following military service, Gordon taught English and history at East Hartford High before launching Calano Furniture … “

Elsewhere in Connecticut, Greenwich Time reports on a new book by local author Matthew Bernard,  Victorian Summer: The Historic Houses of Belle Haven Park, which also has a link to Marilyn, Arthur, and the producer of The Misfits.

Frank Taylor (centre) with the Millers on location for ‘The Misfits’

“The house he grew up in, for instance, was previously owned by Frank Taylor, publisher of Playbill magazine and a Broadway and film producer. Taylor entertained major creative talents at the home, including Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller…”

The Character Assassination of Marilyn

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

In an article for The Independent, Andy Martin explores the subject of public humiliation, citing Marilyn’s ‘dumb blonde’ stereotyping as a prime example of character assassination. He also looks at her marriages and battles with directors, although I would argue that it is her continuing misrepresentation in the media – and in particular, false and degrading conspiracy theories – that is most damaging to her legacy today.

“Consider the case of Marilyn Monroe. Unequivocally one of the icons of the 20th century …The ‘Stradivarius of sex’ as Norman Mailer described her. But therein lies the rub. Did she necessarily want to be some kind of instrument? Does anyone? … Anything is possible, but more likely she was the victim of humiliation.

There is a case for saying that Joe DiMaggio, her baseball player husband, was humiliated on account of the shoot when she is standing on a subway grate and her dress is being blown up in the air and she is trying to hold it down … She is exposed. But it is DiMaggio – coming from a working-class Italian-American family – who feels humiliated …

She was certainly no airhead, no kind of ‘bimbo.’ You would think that, all in all, the Monroe-Miller combination ought to have been workable. But it wasn’t … He wanted an All-American Girl to symbolically get him off the hook of the McCarthy black list … Maybe Monroe could save him. But she needed him to save her. And instead of that he humiliated her … Laurence Olivier was another of her humiliators (an ugly word, I know, but then it is ugly) …

She almost certainly committed suicide. Overdosed on barbiturates. Or, rather like Amy Winehouse, abdicated life … No one can coincide (at least, not for very long) with their own myth. But everyone else wanted her to be nothing but the thing she was supposed to be. She strove to be something else, quite what she never knew, or was never allowed to know. She was asked to get back in her box. But she didn’t want to. So she ended up in a box anyway. No living being wants to be reduced to a thing, like a frying pan. Not even a Stradivarius.”

Marilyn Featured in Ella Fitzgerald Biography

Marilyn is featured in a new book by Geoffrey Mark. ELLA: A Biography of the Legendary Ella Fitzgerald is fully illustrated, and in the text, Mark describes the two iconic women as ‘true girlfriends, each had the other’s back as both felt overworked, put-upon, and under-appreciated by the men in their lives as well as their employers.’

The story of Marilyn’s helping Ella secure a nightclub engagement in Hollywood has been somewhat exaggerated over the years (more info here), but there does seem to have been a genuine affinity between them. Geoffrey Mark gave his take on their friendship in an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News.

“Mark told Fox News Fitzgerald’s estate gave his book ELLA their blessing and he had full cooperation from the star’s recording companies. Mark also assisted Fitzgerald in her later years and befriended her inner circle. Mark insisted that despite Fitzgerald’s sweet, sunny voice that easily lit up any stage, few fans know the full measure of the cruelty she endured as a child before finding fame.

‘It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances,’ said Mark. ‘Ella’s mother died in a car accident. And the man who was her mother’s companion, turned to Ella for comfort. He drank too much and forced himself on Ella, forcing her to run away from home… And because she ran away… the government grabbed her and stuck her in this awful place where children were sent — far away from where she was living.’

‘Marilyn Monroe began going to Ella Fitzgerald’s concerts and nightclub gigs,’ Mark explained. ‘She struck up a conversation with her and what they found out was they had both been teenagers forced out on their own, they had to survive for themselves, they both had to deal with being women in a business that was completely dominated by men… And Marilyn saw how Ella was treated sometimes for being black, for being overweight and for being in the jazz world.'”

When Marilyn Broke the Silence

In the wake of recent revelations about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood, Marilyn has often been mentioned in discussions about the ‘casting couch’. Unfortunately, much of this coverage has been inaccurate, depicting Marilyn as either a passive victim or somehow complicit.

A new article by Sean Braswell for OZY takes a different perspective, praising Marilyn as ‘Hollywood’s first big silence-breaker.’ Braswell cites the story of Marilyn turning down a pass from Columbia boss Harry Cohn, as well as her 1953 piece for Motion Picture magazine, ‘Wolves I Have Known.’

“In the years after her death, Monroe’s biographers, largely men, tended to ignore the star’s silence-breaking role, preferring to focus instead on the more salacious details of her personal life and the rumors that she slept her way to the top. Nor did Monroe, while she was alive, think of herself as a social reformer or a trailblazer for women’s rights. As the singer Ella Fitzgerald, a good friend of Monroe’s, once reflected about the screen legend: ‘She was an unusual woman — a little ahead of her times, and she didn’t know it.'”

Braswell also refers to authors Michelle Morgan and Sarah Churchwell, both of whom have done excellent work in recent years to address the sexist presumptions of earlier biographers. ‘Marilyn was really one of the first big stars to speak out about what we would now call sexual harassment,’ says Churchwell. ‘She was talking about a culture in which women were unsafe [and] her whole point was to say this happens over and over and over.’

Unfortunately, Braswell is on shakier ground when he uses ‘off the record’ quotes. For example, he quotes her saying in an interview before her death, ‘When I started modeling, [sex] was like part of the job … and if you didn’t go along, there were twenty-five girls who would.’ Braswell also states that Marilyn wrote ‘You know that when a producer calls an actress into his office to discuss a script, that isn’t all he has in mind. I’ve slept with producers. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t,’ in her 1954 memoir, My Story – but that line doesn’t appear in any version of the text.

In fact, both quotes are taken from an alleged conversation with writer Jaik Rosenstein, published in Anthony Summers’ 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.  Summers claims that Marilyn had known Rosenstein for years, and she trusted him not to write about it at the time. Whether or not Rosenstein is a reliable source, it should be made clear that Marilyn did not say them for publication.

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.

Rare Photos of Young Marilyn at Heritage Auctions

Rare photographs showing a young Marilyn, taken from the private collection of Hollywood security guard Aviv Wardimon, will be on offer at the Entertainment Signatures sale at Heritage Auctions, ending on April 15, reports the Daily Mail. (Eagle-eyed fans will notice that the image shown above is very similar to the cover photo of Michelle Morgan’s MM: Private and Undisclosed, given by Marilyn to Bill Pursel.)

“The images show Marilyn posing alongside guard Aviv Wardimon and are believed to have been taken outside the 20th Century Fox studio some time in the late 1940s. Wardimon’s family discovered the images recently and said they had no idea their relative was friends with Monroe, who is shown embracing him in several shots. Wardimon, who later changed his last name to Blackman, emigrated to the US from Israel before working for a time as a security guard. His images are now expected to fetch $1,000 (£700) each at auction.

Margaret Barrett, Director of Entertainment Memorabilia, said: ‘We have a few lots of never before seen snapshots taken when she is between 21-22 years old. We dated it by her haircut, it is still long, down to her shoulders and a light brown that turns light strawberry blondish in certain lights.’

‘These have never been seen before, she’s standing outside on the back of 20th Century Fox, she’s with a man. It was a mystery to the man’s own family, they know he worked as a security guard at one of the studio lots and had come over from Israel with his wife and children.’

‘Marilyn is with him for most of the shots, they obviously had some sort of a friendship. She’s in three different outfits so it could be from three different days, she must have known him beyond being a passing acquaintance.’

‘There are three lots, I have a feeling he had a massive crush on her, saw her on the lot and had these early shots of her. When the family found them, they said, Oh my gosh, it’s Marilyn Monroe.’

Rare black and white signed photographs where Marilyn Monroe thanks her co-workers in similar notes – ‘It’s a pleasure to work with you’ – are estimated at $7,000 (£5,000) and $4,000 (£2,800.) Publicity shots including an unseen postcard where Marilyn and another female were hired as pin-ups for the 1947 National Postmasters Convention in Los Angeles.

A signed menu from Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s honeymoon in Hawaii in 1954 is estimated to go for $2,000 (£1,400). In her note, she penned ‘The food was wonderful’ before writing her name ‘Marilyn Monroe DiMaggio’. Although her marriage to the New York Yankee’s star nicknamed Joltin’ Joe would end within a year, the menu preserves a precious moment of the couple’s life.

Margaret said: ‘This is when she flew from LA to Hawaii, she was only there for a night and went to a Trader Vic’s restaurant, which was very 50s. She signed the menu with something cute, then Joe signed the next page and Joe’s friend who went on the honeymoon with them. Marilyn was obviously signing it for the waiter or owner, if it was just a fan she wouldn’t have commented on the food.’

Never before seen photographs from Marilyn Monroe’s visit to Korea, shortly after her honeymoon with soldiers and close-ups of her in a spaghetti-strapped dress on stage, are estimated at $2,000 (£1,400).”

UPDATE: Auction results here

How Marilyn Helped Writer to Confront Abuse

Author Joy McCullough has revealed how a youthful fascination with Marilyn spurred her to write a play, and how her subsequent decision to volunteer at a YWCA helpline for sexual assault victims triggered memories of an abusive relationship with her high school pastor, in an article for Signature Reads.

Joy’s debut novel, Blood Water Paint, is based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century painter who was raped in her teens, and after taking the perpetrator to court, expressed her rage in art. While some might say that Marilyn wasn’t an ideal role model for a self-harming adolescent, it may be that her own tragic history of sexual abuse and mental illness that started Joy on the long and painful journey towards confronting her own demons.

“I was fascinated by Marilyn Monroe – her life, her death, her sexuality, her victimization. The play I wrote about her won an award and was staged by the university.

In my apartment the next school year, I hung a poster of Marilyn gazing directly at the camera, wearing an enormous tulle skirt and clutching the bodice to her chest. I’d never articulated why Marilyn became an obsession. Like my gut need to volunteer for the YWCA, I had followed a driving instinct. But sitting alone in that room, staring at that poster, the connections became clearer.

With Marilyn gazing out at me, I wielded a knife against my own skin. I wanted to see blood – a visible, logical reason for the pain that only intensified the longer I tried to dismiss it.

I didn’t believe Marilyn had intentionally taken her own life, but however it ended, it had been in deep pain and loneliness. If I stayed alone in my room with only my knife and a poster of a long-dead film star for company, I could end the same way.”

Marilyn and the Newman Brothers

Marilyn with Lionel Newman on the set of ‘Niagara’, 1952

The Newman brothers – Alfred and Lionel – were part of a Hollywood musical dynasty that continues to this day. They worked as composers and musical directors on Marilyn’s major films at Twentieth Century Fox, and as Lee Cowan reports for CBS News, Marilyn said she wouldn’t do a musical without Lionel. He would later write the sleeve notes to a 1973 compilation album, Remember Marilyn, which you can read here,