Marilyn and Avedon: Something Personal

This photo of Marilyn chatting with photographer Richard Avedon at a 1961 Actors Studio benefit at New York’s Roseland Ballroom is published in Avedon: Something Personal, a new biography by Norma Stevens and Steven M.L. Aronson. Marilyn is mentioned in the introduction, where Norma Stevens describes her first meeting with Avedon. A photo of Marilyn and Avedon, taken by Sam Shaw in 1954, is also featured. It’s unclear whether the book includes any further material on their iconic collaborations, but this preview looks very promising.

And as a bonus, here’s the Roseland photo in colour…

Jazz in Cambridge With Ella and Marilyn

Helen Hancocks, author of the children’s book, Ella: Queen of Jazz, will appear at Cambridge International Jazz Festival on November 19, reports the Ely Standard.

“Ella Fitzgerald is celebrated in two affectionate tributes, Ella: Queen of Jazz on 19 November at Hotel Felix, with author/illustrator Helen Hancocks and award-winning vocal/piano duo, Miriam Ast & Victor Gutierrez. Featuring a selection of Ella’s famous songs, live illustration, plus a short reading and chat about Helen’s latest book and its themes. The inspiring, true story of how a remarkable friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe was born, and how they worked together to overcome prejudice and adversity.”

Marilyn’s Address Books On Kindle

Two of Marilyn’s address books have been photographed and published digitally by Lori Hall via Kindle. The first dates back to Norma Jeane’s modelling career, while the second seems to be from the last year of Marilyn’s life. Although they’re quite expensive compared to other ebooks, it could be a useful research tool, and appears to be in aid of a good cause – the author is listed as Art for Alzheimer’s, and the photographer is Alan Radom.

When Marilyn Came to Nyack

Writing for Nyack News & Views, Mike Hays tells the story of Marilyn and Arthur Miller’s visit to novelist Carson McCullers’ home on February 5, 1959. (What the article doesn’t mention, however, is that Marilyn and Carson had been friends since 1955, when they were both residents of Manhattan’s Gladstone Hotel. And although Arthur didn’t recall Marilyn having read any of Carson’s books, she did own a copy of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.)

“As a transplanted New Yorker and a famous author, McCullers had close friendships with the famous, including Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. She had always wanted to meet Isak Dinesen, the author of one of her favorite books, Out of Africa. McCullers met Dinesen at a dinner party following an arts awards in New York City.

Learning that Isak wanted to meet Marilyn Monroe, she asked Marilyn’s husband at the time, Arthur Miller, who was seated at a table nearby if the ‘Millers’ would come to lunch on February 5, 1959. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe picked up the 74-year old Dinesen and drove to Nyack. Monroe, 33, had just finished Some Like It Hot. She arrived dressed in a black sheath and fur stole. Isak wore a scarf wrapped around her head as a turban. The guests were fashionably late.

They dined on oysters, white grapes, champagne and a soufflé. They were all smokers including Monroe, although no ashtrays can be seen in the luncheon photos.

Marilyn told a story about once trying to make pasta. She was late, as usual, and the pasta was undercooked, so she tried to complete her attempt at cooking by heating the pasta with a hair dryer. Frail Dinesen told many stories and enjoyed talking to Ida Reeder, Carson’s housekeeper.

Towards the end of the afternoon, as the story goes, Carson put a record on the phonograph and invited Marilyn and Isak to dance with her on a marble table. They took a few steps in each other’s arms. Carson remembers that this was the ‘best’ and ‘most frivolous’ party she had ever given, and she expressed ‘pleasure and wonderment at the love, which her guests seemed to express for each other.’

It is improbable that the frail and ill Carson McCullers, her muscles shriveled, did much dancing and certainly not on a table. But she retold the story again and again over the rest of her life, perhaps telling the story the way she would have wanted it if she were not ill.

Others don’t remember the dancing although they do remember the lunch. Some time later, Miller said that Marilyn had never read anything by Carson, although she may have seen her play, A Member of the Wedding. He did sense a spontaneous sympathy between the women. Miller doesn’t remember the dancing, a story that seemed to have a life of its own in the media.”

Marilyn at Julien’s: Icons & Idols ’17

‘Marilyn in Korea’ screen print by Russell Young

The annual ‘Icons & Idols’ sale, set for November 17 at Julien’s, includes a number of interesting Marilyn-related items. Chief among them is this black fur coat, with an interesting back story – and further evidence of Marilyn’s generosity.

Marilyn in her black fur coat, with Mickey Rooney at ‘The Emperor Waltz’ premiere, 1948

“A mid-1940s black colobus coat worn by Marilyn Monroe to the 1948 film premiere of The Emperor Waltz (Paramount, 1948). The coat has broad shoulders, a cordé collar, a satin lining, and a Jerrold’s Van Nuys, Calif. label. Although the black colobus is currently on the endangered species list, it was quite fashionable in the 1940s. Monroe wrote in a letter to Grace Goddard dated December 3, 1944, ‘I found out that its [sic] possible to buy a Gold Coast Monkey Coat. I shall write to you about it later.’ The coat was gifted from Monroe to Jacquita M. Rigoni (Warren), who was the great-niece to Anne Karger, mother of Monroe’s voice coach, Freddie Karger. Monroe had a close relationship with the family, and the coat has remained in their possession. Accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Jacqui Rigoni detailing the family’s relationship to Monroe and the history of the coat.

(The monkey species used to make this Marilyn Monroe monkey fur coat is on the Endangered Species list.)”

As the accompanying letter explains, Jacquita is the granddaughter of Effie ‘Conley’ Warren, who was Anne Karger’s sister. They had performed together in vaudeville as the Conley Sisters. Jacqui was a teenager when Marilyn dated her uncle, Fred Karger, for several months in 1948. Accepted as part of the family (long after the affair ended), Marilyn would often take Jacqui to her apartment and gave her clothes on numerous occasions. Fred and Marilyn also visited Jacqui’s parents, Jack and Rita Warren, at home. By the early 1950s, Marilyn was still regularly visiting Anne Karger with gifts including the monkey fur coat which she requested that Anne give to Jacqui. She also attended Jacqui’s wedding with Anne, while Fred brought his new wife, actress Jane Wyman.

A young Marilyn with Fred Karger

Two intriguing photos are included in this lot. One shows a young Marilyn sitting at the piano with Fred. Never before seen, it is the only known photo documenting one of her most intense relationships. The second shows Marilyn in 1961 with Anne and another lady, perhaps Effie Warren. A cropped version has been published before, but the whole version is extremely rare.

Marilyn visits Anne Karger (left), 1961

Another item which sheds new light on Marilyn’s life is a letter from ‘Uncle Art’, a relative of her legal guardian, Grace Goddard. Sent to the teenage Norma Jeane, ‘So glad you are making satisfactory progress in school. I advise that you be particularly diligent in the cultural subjects … sad is the fate of the young woman who has not the ambition to so model and mold her language and conduct as to have [illegible] herself to the point where she can mingle with cultured people inconspicuously.‘ The letter is written on International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania stationery, undated and signed ‘Devotedly Yours, Uncle Art.’ One wonders if this high-minded gentleman might have inspired Marilyn in her lifelong quest for self-improvement.

This photo (available in negative) was taken by Joseph Jasgur on the Fox studio back lot during the early days of Marilyn’s acting career, in 1947.

A signed check for $500, made out to The Christian Community, is dated October 11, 1954 – just six days after Marilyn announced her separation from husband Joe DiMaggio. And this photo of Marilyn, taken by Manfred Kreiner on her arrival in Chicago to promote Some Like It Hot in March 1959, is inscribed in red pen by Marilyn herself with the words ‘Kill kill’ – indicating that the photo should not be published.

The auction also includes photos attributed to Bruno Bernard, and some items that appeared in previously last year’s dedicated auction at Julien’s (including Marilyn’s copy of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s script, and her typed skincare regime from the Ernst Laszlo Institute.) And finally, she is featured alongside various other celebrities – including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Carol Channing, and future president Donald Trump – in an Al Hirschfield caricature from 1988.

Marilyn and Jack Cardiff on the London Stage

Jack Cardiff – the legendary cinematographer who befriended Marilyn on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl – is the subject of a new play, Prism, at the Hampstead Theatre in London, as Holly Williams reports for the Telegraph. The  play is written and directed by Terry Johnson, author of Insignificance – the surrealist fantasy featuring a Marilyn-inspired character, which became a successful movie in 1985 – and Cardiff is played by the popular English actor, Robert Lindsay. Prism runs until October 14 – more info here.

“In a garage in Ely, Cambridgeshire, hangs a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. On it she has written: ‘My darling Jack, if only I could be how you made me look.’ Cardiff called Monroe ‘as near perfect as any cameraman could wish for’. She in turn called him the best cinematographer in the world.

The seed was planted seven years ago, shortly after Cardiff’s death following a struggle with Alzheimer’s. The youngest of his four sons, Mason – a film writer/director, named after James Mason – met Robert Lindsay in a local pub, and as their friendship developed, the actor became fascinated by stories of how Alzheimer’s had suspended Cardiff in his glory days as a cinematographer.

Mason showed Lindsay the garage where the family kept all the film memorabilia they’d surrounded Cardiff with in his final years. And when Lindsay spied that signed portrait – and then heard how the frail Cardiff had become convinced that one young care assistant was, in fact, Marilyn Monroe – he knew they had a show. The pair took Johnson to lunch to discuss writing the script; by pudding, he was convinced too.

Cardiff also adored her, admiring with a cameraman’s eye her beauty. ‘She had a classically sound bone structure,’ he once said. ‘But I had to be careful about her nose, so delightfully retroussé. For if the key light was too low, a blob would show up on the tip.’ Prism shows the pair getting close during a photo shoot – ‘art’, as Cardiff also liked to say, ‘is an intimate thing’, although in reality their relationship probably never went beyond mutual affection.”

Jerry Lewis 1926-2017

One of the most popular American comedians of the last century, Jerry Lewis has died of heart disease aged 91.

He was born Joseph (or Jerome) Levitch to Russian Jewish parents in Newark, New Jersey, in 1926. His father was a vaudeville performer, and his mother played piano. He joined them onstage at an early age, and dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. A heart murmur rendered him ineligible for military service in World War II. Already a prankster at 15, he developed a ‘Record Act’, exaggeratedly miming the lyrics to popular songs. He married singer Patti Palmer in 1944, and they would raise six sons together.

In 1946, he formed a comedy partnership with crooner Dean Martin. Over the next ten years, they graduated from nightclub act to the internationally celebrated stars of radio, television and movies.

On February 9, 1953, Marilyn Monroe met Lewis and Martin for the first time, at the annual Photoplay Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She was wearing the revealing gold lame dress fleetingly glimpsed in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Actress Joan Crawford would later speak witheringly of Marilyn’s ‘vulgar display’ as she collected the award for Fastest Rising Star. “The audience yelled and shouted, and Jerry Lewis shouted,” Crawford told reporter Bob Thomas. “But those of us in the industry just shuddered. It reminded me of a burlesque show.” At twenty-six, Marilyn was the same age as Jerry Lewis, and part of Hollywood’s new vanguard. Crawford, a star from a prior generation, later apologised for her remarks amid widespread criticism.

On February 24, Marilyn appeared on the Martin and Lewis Radio Show, accepting an award from Redbook magazine, and sparring with the comedy duo in an eight-minute sketch, ‘So Who Needs Friends.’ Columnist Sidney Skolsky, who accompanied her that day, wrote about it in his 1954 book, Marilyn.

“Jerry Lewis visited her dressing room and said, ‘I know you’re scared. Don’t be. I was awfully nervous when I went on the radio for the first time, with Bob Hope.’ He pressed her hand. ‘You’ll be great,’ he said, and left the room. This brief talk and vote of confidence from Lewis helped Marilyn considerably. Marilyn was great on the program. After it, Jerry said to me, ‘She’s got nothing to worry about. She knows more about sex than I do about comedy.’ Which is the highest compliment a comedian could bestow on an actress who is selling glamour.”

Marilyn became good friends with both Jerry and Dean Martin. Sensing her loneliness, they often invited her to dinner alongside fellow pal Sammy Davis Jr. A lifelong insomniac, Marilyn would sometimes call them in the small hours and ask to meet up at all-night diners.

On October 18th, columnist Sheilah Graham published an interview with Marilyn in which she named the ten most fascinating men in the world, including future husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, her River of No Return co-star Robert Mitchum, Asphalt Jungle director John Huston, close friends Marlon Brando and Sidney Skolsky, acting coach Michael Chekhov, photographer Milton Greene, and India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (the only one she hadn’t met.) And the last man on her list was Jerry Lewis…

“I think that Jerry has a lot of sex appeal. It might have something to do with his vitality. I can’t figure out what it is. He makes funny faces because he thinks people want him to make funny faces. But behind it all there’s something serious and very sexy. I just think he’s sexy.”

On December 6, Hedda Hopper reported that Jerry and Dean had called upon friends to donate items for a charity auction for muscular dystrophy. “They asked Marilyn Monroe for something personal – anything close to her. What they got was a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace autographed by Marilyn.”

After Marilyn moved to New York in early 1955, the men-only Friars’ Club broke code and invited her to their annual roast, compered by Milton Berle in Martin and Lewis’s honour. When Berle called her to the podium, Marilyn blew a kiss and whispered, “I love you, Jerry.”

Lewis remembered Marilyn with great affection in his 2005 memoir, Dean & Me: A Love Story…

“To my vast regret, the one actress we never performed with was Marilyn Monroe – and how great she would have been in a Martin and Lewis picture. She had a delicious sense of humour, an ability not only to appreciate what was funny but to see the absurdity of things in general. God, she was magnificent – perfect physically and in every other way. She was someone anyone would just love to be with, not only for the obvious reasons but for her energy and perseverance and yes, focus. She had the capacity to make you feel that she was totally engaged with whatever you were talking about. She was kind, she was good, she was beautiful, and the press took shots at her that she didn’t deserve. They got on her case from day one – a textbook example of celebrity-bashing.”

In 1956, the Martin and Lewis collaboration ended as Dean, tired of being the ‘straight man’, decided to pursue a solo career. Jerry was heartbroken but his partner was adamant, and despite occasional public appearances together, the pair were estranged for thirty years.

In 1958, Jerry was offered the chance to star opposite Marilyn as jazz musician and ‘bosom pal’ Jerry/Daphne in Billy Wilder’s classic drag farce, Some Like It Hot. Unsure of his ability to convincingly impersonate a woman, he declined and the part went to Jack Lemmon. In 1959, Lewis signed a groundbreaking deal with Paramount Pictures, earning $10 million plus 60% of the profits for 14 films over the next 7 years. In partnership with director Frank Tashlin, Jerry also produced and co-wrote his movies, including his greatest success, The Nutty Professor (1962.)

Shortly before her death in 1962, Marilyn had been filming Something’s Got to Give with Dean Martin, who refused to work with another actress after Monroe was fired. Many of the rumours surrounding her demise have focused on her alleged affair with John F. Kennedy, but in a 2002 interview with GQ magazine, Lewis – himself a friend of the president – quipped that it wasn’t true, because Marilyn was having an affair with him. This bizarre remark – possibly a joke – nonetheless made headlines, but a sexual liaison at this time seems unlikely.

By the mid-1960s, Jerry’s popularity was fading, though he became a cult figure in France, where he was hailed as a comedic auteur. In 1966, he hosted the first of 44 annual US telethons for muscular dystrophy on Labour Day weekend. His long marriage to Patti Palmer ended in 1982, and a year later he married 30 year-Old stewardess San-Dee Pitnick. They later adopted a daughter.

His performance in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy (1983), as a television host stalked by obsessive fans, hinted at a darker side to the Lewis persona and established him as a serious actor. He played further acclaimed roles in Arizona Dream (1994), Funny Bones (1995.)

In recent years he suffered from increasingly poor health. Tragedy struck in 2009 when his 45 year-old son Joseph died of a drug overdose, and in 2010, Lewis began raising funds to build a facility for vulnerable and traumatised children in Melbourne, Australia. In a recent television interview, he spoke candidly about his fear of dying. He continued working until the end, playing the titular role in Max Rose (2016.) Jerry Lewis died at home in Las Vegas on August 20, 2017.

Further Reading

Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn: 1926-1954 – The Hollywood Years by Stacy Eubank (2015)

‘Jerry Lewis: the knockabout clown with a dark and melancholy inner life’ by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, August 20, 2017

‘Marilyn, Jerry Lewis and Some Like It Hot’ by Tara Hanks, ES Updates, October 8, 2015

‘Jerry Lewis and Marilyn Monroe: Inside the Comedy King’s Story of His Secret Affair With the Sexy Screen Siren’ by Victoria Miller, The Inquisitr, August 21, 2017

‘My Two Days With Jerry Lewis’ by Amy Wallace, GQ, August 21, 2017

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.”

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.”