Category Archives: Friends

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.”

Bill Pursel 1925-2017

Bill Pursel, who befriended Marilyn during the early years of her career, has died aged 91, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“William Albert Lloyd Pursel was born July 24, 1925, in Marshalltown, Iowa. His family moved to Las Vegas in 1939. After graduating from Las Vegas High School, class of 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in The European Theatre during World War II. He became a sales manager for KLAS Radio and covered several atomic bomb explosions at the Nevada Test Site. He was a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant with The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company. He was president of The Life Underwriters Association of Nevada. He was active in The Las Vegas Jr. Chamber of Commerce, a founding member of The Sports Car Club of America in So Nevada, a charter member of Trinity United Methodist Church, and belonged to both the Masonic Lodge and the Elks Lodge. He served two-four year terms as a trustee at Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital (UMC).”

Snapshots given to Bill Pursel by Marilyn in 1947

Bill’s memories of Marilyn – they dated on and off for several years – were unknown to to the public until he spoke with Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. They met in 1946, when 19 year-old Norma Jeane was staying with a family friend in Las Vegas while waiting her divorce from Jim Dougherty. Bill later visited her in Los Angeles, and was waiting at the house she shared with Ana Lower when she returned from a meeting at Twentieth Century Fox with a contract and a new name.

She was dropped by the studio a year later, but pursued her craft at the Actors Lab, even once asking college student Bill to enroll. They remained close after she began a romance with Fred Karger in 1948, and she later asked Bill to protect her from a ‘beach wolf’ – none other than actor Peter Lawford, who would play a significant role in her final days. Bill saw her as both dedicated and vulnerable in Hollywood, recalling a distressing phonecall during the Love Happy promotional tour of 1949. And then, just as their relationship seemed likely to turn serious, Marilyn called it off – leaving Bill with nothing but a couple of signed photos (now owned by collector Scott Fortner.)

Marilyn’s parting gift to Bill

Bill heard from Marilyn just once more, shortly after she began dating Joe DiMaggio. By then, Bill was happily married. He later recalled seeing her singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy on television, just months before her death in 1962. He felt no bitterness, and knowing her sensitive nature, he was saddened but not surprised by her tragic demise.

Mr Pursel died last Thursday, June 1st – on what would have been Marilyn’s 91st birthday. He is survived by his wife of more than sixty years, Mabel ‘Mac’ Salisbury Pursel; and his children, William ‘Bill’, Kristie, and Kim (‘Bill’) Toffelmire, her stepchildren and their children, and several nieces and nephews.

Michelle Morgan has written an emotional tribute to Bill Pursel:

“He has been a constant presence in my life since 2005, when I first contacted him during the writing of my Marilyn book. What started out as an interview, turned into a friendship between Bill, his beautiful wife Mac, his family and my own … My work has been deeply enriched because of Bill’s stories, and my life has been changed because of his friendship. He was a huge supporter of my career, and gave me lots of advice in recent years … Good night, Bill. Thank you for your wonderful friendship. You were one of the best friends I ever had.”

You can pay your respects to Bill here.

Searching for Marilyn’s Scottish Roots

Marilyn by Sam Shaw, 1957

The search for Marilyn’s Scottish ancestors, first reported here, is still in progress, as Steven McKenzie writes for BBC News.

“The actress’s mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe, had ancestral links to Scotland, according to Clan Munro USA. It believes that an ancestor of Monroe, an alternative spelling of the Scottish surname Munro, was a Highlander banished to America in the 1650s.

Free DNA tests are available, but there has been a lower uptake than expected. The association’s genealogy committee said it was ‘surprised’ more Scots had not taken up the offer of the free test kits, but remains hopeful they will be forthcoming.

The society has already successfully tracked down and tested a living descendant of Monroe’s great grandfather. The results were compared to the others in its Munro DNA Project, a database of hundreds of samples provided by Munros living all over the world whose family trees have been studied.

The project includes the descendants of Munros from Easter Ross in the Highlands, also the fifth US president James Monroe and Scots soldiers who were imprisoned and then banished to the American colonies after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Worcester was the last battle of the English Civil Wars and involved thousands of Scots combatants.

The association said the YDNA test already done had shown that the Hollywood actress was a descendant of one of those soldiers, said to be a Highlander whose family came from Aldie, near Tain, in the Munro clan’s Easter Ross stronghold.”

Marilyn and ‘Ella, Queen of Jazz’

Ella Queen of Jazz is a new children’s book by Helen Hancocks, recounting the famous story of Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald. Although its historical accuracy has been questioned and some of the details may be embellished, the anecdote came from Ella’s own lips. What we can be sure of is that Marilyn helped Ella to secure a nightclub engagement in Hollywood, and that she attended her show on at least one occasion. Marilyn considered Ella her own greatest musical influence, and the women remained friendly until her death. A Christmas card sent by Ella to Marilyn was auctioned at Julien’s last year, and they would both perform at President Kennedy’s birthday gala in 1962. Although we may quibble over the details, it’s an empowering tale of female friendship overcoming social barriers and is rendered colourfully in this charming book.

Marilyn (and Truman) in Manhattan

Over at The History Reader today, Marilyn in Manhattan author Elizabeth Winder writes about Marilyn’s friendship with Truman Capote, and how she inspired his 1958 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (Marilyn was one of several muses for his heroine, Holly Golightly; more details here.)

“Where Truman shrank from his backwoods pedigree, Marilyn wore hers like a badge. She was rightly proud of overcoming her obstacles- the foster homes, the orphanage, the abuse that began as a child and continued into her starlet years. And when Truman longed to be ‘terribly rich’ Marilyn ‘just wanted to be wonderful.’

She was wonderful, and Truman knew it. Between dancing and lunching and knocking back cocktails, he spent most of that summer glued to his typewriter clanging out a novella. The inspiration—a black frocked girl with a ‘soap and lemon cleanness,’ a curvy mouth, upturned nose and saucer eyes of green-flecked blue. Her tussled hair cut like a boy’s, dyed in ‘ragbag’ shades of light with ‘tawny streaks’ and ‘strands of albino-blond and yellow.’

She scamped around the city in sunglasses and slips, full of nerves and insomnia and a stamped-out past. She drank bourbon to fight off the ‘mean reds,’ she believed in self-improvement, she read horoscopes and Hemingway and William Somerset Maughn. She was Holly Golightly—Truman’s love letter to hope, New York City, and Marilyn Monroe.”

Marilyn in Love (and Art…)

8523930E-AA83-4863-91F9-D6D2AA080306-1091-0000008949CE46A8_tmpMarilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller is featured in a new book, The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex and Artistic Influence. Her platonic friendships with Truman Capote and Ella Fitzgerald are also mentioned. The Art of the Affair is a collaboration between novelist Catherine Lacey and illustrator Forsyth Harmon.

Marilyn and Judy Garland

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Marilyn chats with Judy Garland at a concert, 1962

Showbiz impresario Sid Luft was married to Judy Garland from 1952-1965. He died in 2005, leaving behind an unfinished memoir, which is now being published as Judy and Me. As Liz McNeil reveals in an article for People, the book also mentions Judy’s friendship with Marilyn.

Marilyn and Judy arrive at a Hollywood luncheon for President Khrushchev of Russia, 1959
Marilyn and Judy arrive at a Hollywood luncheon for President Khrushchev of Russia, 1959

“According to Luft, Monroe’s death was ‘especially troubling to Judy since Marilyn had been one of Judy’s telephone pals during her years of insomnia.’

The book also includes an excerpt from an article written by Garland about Monroe for Ladies Home Journal in 1967, in which she revealed a haunting conversation she’d once had with the star.

In the article, Garland described a Hollywood party one evening in which Monroe followed her ‘from room to room.’

‘I don’t want to get too far away from you,’ she said. ‘I’m scared!’

I told her, ‘We’re all scared. I’m scared, too!’

“If we could just talk,” she said, “I know you’d understand.”

I said, “Maybe I would. If you’re scared, call me and come on over. We’ll talk about it.”

They never did.

As Garland wrote: ‘That beautiful girl was frightened of aloneness — the same thing I’d been been afraid of. Like me, she was just trying to do her job — garnish some delightful whipped cream onto some people’s lives, but Marilyn and I never got a chance to talk. I had to leave for England and I never saw that sweet, dear girl again. I wish I had been able to talk to her the night she died.’

‘I don’t think Marilyn really meant to harm herself,’ Garland continued, in an eerie foreshadowing of her own death from an accidental drug overdose in 1969.

‘It was partly because she had too many pills available, then was deserted by her friends. You shouldn’t be told you’re completely irresponsible and be left alone with too much medication. It’s too easy to forget. You take a couple of sleeping pills and you wake up in 20 minutes and forget you’ve taken them. So you take a couple more, and the next thing you know you’ve taken too many.’

Luft’s memoir also describes how Monroe would visit their home and play with their young children, Lorna and Joey Luft.

‘She’d sit by the fire, not talking much, a quiet presence,’ Luft writes. ‘Marilyn was sweet and very unhappy. She’d chat with Judy and play with the children, hang out. She was separated from one of her husbands [whom Luft doesn’t name] whom she complained was a nice person but said didn’t know how to make love to a woman. She’d hoped this pattern would change when they married. She was frustrated and disappointed.’

Now 61, their son Joey Luft, has sweet memories of Monroe, whom he remembers would sport jeans and eyeglasses for her casual visits.

‘She kind of looked like a really pretty schoolteacher,’ Joey recalls to PEOPLE. ‘That’s what I was thinking to myself. This can’t be like one of the huge sex symbols! My sister had just explained to me who she was before she walked in. My dad and mom were talking to her about movies and things and directors and people. I couldn’t figure it out. She came over the second time and she did the same thing and she only stayed for about 20 to 25 minutes. The next day or following day, I turn on the TV and I see Marilyn Monroe singing to President Kennedy, Happy Birthday. I put it together. I thought, Oh, that’s right! Now I get it.'”

Robert Wagner: ‘The Marilyn I Knew’

Marilyn films a screen test with Robert Wagner, 1951
Marilyn films a screen test with Robert Wagner, 1951

One of the last survivors of Hollywood’s golden age, Robert Wagner has written about Marilyn in his memoir, You Must Remember This, as well as providing the introduction to David Wills’ Marilyn – In the Flash. In his latest book, I Loved Her in the Movies: Memories of Hollywood’s Legendary Actresses, Wagner writes about her again, and an excerpt is published on the Town and Country website.

“I have no horror stories to tell. I thought she was a terrific woman and I liked her very much. When I knew her, she was a warm, fun girl. She was obviously nervous about the test we did together, but so was I. In any case, her nervousness didn’t disable her in any way; she performed in a thoroughly professional manner. She behaved the same way in Let’s Make It Legal, the film we later made—nervous, but eager and up to the task.

Years later, Marilyn began dropping by the house where Natalie [Wood] and I lived. Our connection was through Pat Newcomb, her publicist. I had known Pat since our childhood. She had also worked for me and often accompanied Marilyn to our house. I bought a car from Marilyn—a black Cadillac with black leather interior.

Marilyn (right) with Wagner's second wife, Marion Marshall, in 'A Ticket to Tomahawk' (1950)
Marilyn (at right) with Wagner’s second wife, Marion Marshall (second left) in ‘A Ticket to Tomahawk’ (1950)

Marilyn had an innately luminous quality that she was quite conscious of—she could turn it on or off at will. The problem was that she didn’t really believe that it was enough. My second wife, Marion [Marshall] knew her quite well; she and Marilyn had modeled together for several years, and were signed by Fox at the same time, where they were known as ‘The Two M’s.’ Marion told stories about how the leading cover girls of that time would show up to audition for modeling jobs. If Marilyn came in to audition, they would all look at each other and shrug. Marilyn was going to get the job, and they all knew it. She had that much connection to the camera.

When Marilyn died, Pat Newcomb was utterly devastated; Marilyn had been like a sister to her, a very close sister, and she took her death as a personal failure. Marilyn’s death has to be considered one of show business’s great tragedies. That sweet, nervous girl I knew when we were both starting out became a legend who has transcended the passing of time, transcended her own premature death.”

Marilyn at Julien’s: The Lois Weber Collection

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Lois Smith, publicist to Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and others, died in 2012, aged 84. “In a tough business known for steel-sharp elbows,” her New York Times obituary read, “Ms. Smith stood out for being nurturing. She was at the birth of Marilyn Monroe’s kittens...”

Born Lois Eileen Wollenweber of Brooklyn in 1928, she began working for publicist Ted Saucier in the 1950s. His most famous client was the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he and Lois recruited celebrities who had come there to escape Hollywood’s crumbling studio system. One of them was Marilyn, who lived there for several months after moving to New York in 1955.

Lois later married journalist Gene Smith, and formed Pickwick Public Relations with Pat Newcomb – Marilyn’s publicist at the time of her death – in 1969. A number of items in the current Julien’s sale, ending today, come from her estate (under the name of Lois Weber.)

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This photo was taken by Hans Knopf on February 22, 1956, when Marilyn was walking to Cecil Beaton’s studio for their famous session. Lois, who accompanied her that morning, is generally cropped out of the picture.

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Two other photos taken by Knopf that day show Marilyn and Lois getting into a taxi cab en route to lunch at the Ambassador Hotel with society columnist Elsa Maxwell.

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Interestingly, some copies of the candid photos taken by Frieda Hull and other members of the ‘Monroe Six’ were also in Lois’ possession. The young fans gave each other copies of their photos, so perhaps they shared a few with her as well.

A 32-page transcript of Marilyn’s 1960 interview with George Belmont, submitted by Lois to Look magazine, is also on offer. Perhaps the most significant items from her estate, however, are the many beautiful photos, negatives and colour transparencies from the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. Marilyn exercised a strict  approval process over all images, and relegated these to a ‘Kill’ folder.

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