House Passes Marilyn’s Post Office Bill

Norma Jeane by Bruno Bernard, 1946

Plans to name a Van Nuys Boulevard office after Marilyn, proposed by local representative Tony Cardenas, were approved by the House this week. The bill, which also requests for another post office to be named after musician Ritchie Valens, will now go to the Senate for further consideration. (The young Norma Jeane Baker lived in Van Nuys with her legal guardian, Grace Goddard. She was a student at Van Nuys High School, and later returned to the area with her first husband, Jim Dougherty.)

“Marilyn Monroe was born in Los Angeles, California and grew up in Van Nuys and attended Van Nuys High school. She grew up poor and bounced around orphanages as a child. Back then, the chances of a poor woman like Marilyn Monroe becoming a national success and musical legend was nearly impossible.

But she beat the odds.

Despite her turbulent childhood, Marilyn Monroe found stability and joy while living in Van Nuys. Her hard work and perseverance led her to become a timeless internationally recognized icon. In a world where many believe wealth, status, or name determines one’s destiny, Marilyn Monroe’s story defies the odds and inspires many others to believe they too can also achieve similar success.

She showed us that dreaming big and working hard means something in America. She went off to become an artistic trailblazer starring in her own movies and setting records during her singing career.”

Van Nuys News Press

Norma Jeane and the Drone Wars

Marilyn makes a surprise appearance in today’s edition of the left-wing newspaper, the Morning Star, as Miles Ellingham traces the history of drone warfare. It is illustrated with David Conover’s 1945 photo of the 19 year-old Norma Jeane at work in a munitions plant, which led her to pursue a modelling career as World War II came to an end. (Although Marilyn remained deeply patriotic and supported US troops during the Korean War, in later years she would join the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and told a journalist, ‘My nightmare is the H-Bomb. What’s yours?’)

“The idea of a drone, or telechiric machine, was initially floated as a way of exploring inhospitable zones, and it wasn’t until the second world war that a militarised drone was considered, with the aim of minimising human involvement in warfare.

First came ‘target drones,’ small remote-controlled planes for US artillery target practice. But it wasn’t long before the military-industrial complex thought to weaponise the concept and set thousands of factory workers to construct them. One of these workers was a girl by the name of Norma Jeane Dougherty, who had her first break in a photo for the Radioplane Company, launching an acting career as Marilyn Monroe.”

UPDATE: My response to the article is published in The Morning Star today.

Marilyn, Drew, JFK Jr. and a Notorious Cover Story

Over at Esquire, Kate Storey reports on George, the political magazine launched by John F. Kennedy Jr. in the 1990s. While some were shocked by the 1996 cover featuring actress Drew Barrymore as Marilyn, the original idea – to have ex-girlfriend Madonna pose as John’s mother, Jackie Kennedy – was even more daring, and a step too far even for the pop superstar. So why was John so willing to send up his own family myths? As the article reveals, it seems that Junior was ahead of his time in exposing fake news…

“With Madonna out, the September cover took a decidedly different turn—instead of referencing his mom, Kennedy chose to nod at another well-known woman in his dad’s life: Marilyn Monroe.

Drew Barrymore was posed in a nude-colored cocktail dress and platinum wig, with a mole perfectly placed on her left cheek. The idea came from George’s executive editor, Elizabeth Mitchell, who suggested it as a fiftieth-birthday tribute to President Bill Clinton. The reference: In May 1962, in front of fifteen thousand people during a Democratic-party fundraiser at Madison Square Garden, Monroe had famously serenaded Kennedy’s father ten days before his forty-fifth birthday with a breathy, seductive ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President.’ The subtext to the song, of course, is that the president and the actress were rumored to have had an affair.

That photograph might seem a strange choice for a man who adored his mother—even stranger than asking Madonna to impersonate her—but the thing was, according to Mitchell, Kennedy never believed anything had happened between his dad and Monroe. ‘He just thought it was sort of tweaking the expectations of the public,’ she says all these years later.”

Another aspect to this story is that Drew Barrymore is a lifelong Marilyn fan. As a teenage starlet, she was photographed in her bedroom, surrounded by Monroe posters. In a 2010 interview, Drew named Marilyn among her fantasy dinner guests; and in 2014, she filmed an introduction to Bus Stop with TCM host Robert Osborne.

Madonna as Marilyn, 1993

And while Madonna’s fascination with Monroe is well-known, she had already pipped George to the post by singing ‘Happy Inauguration Mr. President’ on TV’s Saturday Night Live in 1993, marking Clinton’s electoral victory.

Marilyn, Harold Lloyd and the ‘Careless Man’

Marilyn’s 1953 poolside photo session at the home of Harold Lloyd – and the mysterious accompanying clip, where she whispers seductively, ‘I hate a careless man’  – has long been the subject of speculation. Some have linked it to Coca Cola, as Marilyn was sipping a bottle through a straw. However, she was actually filming a PSA for the US military. In ‘Atomic Blonde’, an in-depth article for Californian lifestyle magazine Alta Journal, film historian Cari Beauchamp reveals the whole story.

“Hollywood was a relatively small community in the early 1950s. Lloyd and Monroe had become friendly when he accompanied his friend, Philippe Halsman, to her apartment to photograph the actress for Life magazine. Lloyd invited Monroe to Greenacres for a visit that could include a photo shoot.

Gloria [Lloyd’s daughter] was still living at Greenacres in 1953, and she recalled some details of Marilyn Monroe’s visit as if it had occurred the week before.

‘When Marilyn arrived, I took her up to the pool house,’ she told me. ‘She was my age, or maybe a year or two younger, but we came from very different worlds. She sat down to put on her makeup, and we just started chatting about our lives. She insisted on seeing the baby and talked about how she dreamed of having a child of her own one day. That’s what I remember most. That, and when daddy and the other men were taking her picture, she kept saying, “I hate a careless man” over and over again.’

A closer examination of the photos, zooming in until the letters are blurry, reveals the words ‘Lookout Mt. Laboratory’ on an equipment box and on the front of the jeep that Monroe arrived in. Lookout Mountain, snuggled near the top of a hill in the Laurel Canyon residential neighborhood of Los Angeles, began humbly in 1947 as a radar station for Southern California, but became a government film studio a few years later.

Recently, authors Kevin Hamilton and Ned O’Gorman, while researching their book, Lookout America! The Secret Hollywood Studio at the Heart of the Cold War, came across a bit of film with Marilyn saying, ‘I hate a careless man.’ When I heard about that, the puzzle pieces began to fall into place.

Lookout Mountain became the home of the 1352nd Motion Picture Squadron, which churned out training and recruiting films as well as documenting atomic bomb testing in the Pacific and the deserts of Nevada and New Mexico. Initially, the plan was to release edited versions of the films for public awareness, but when the Atomic Energy Commission saw the footage of the explosion of the first hydrogen bomb in 1952, it decided it would petrify the general population. Everything was suddenly top secret, but word of the tests kept leaking out through letters home and conversations with family and friends. Too often, these ended up published in local papers.

With a new series of tests, code named Operation Castle, scheduled to begin in early 1954 on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, secrecy became paramount. As Hamilton and O’Gorman explain in their book, ‘posters saying “Loose lips sink ships” were no longer enough.’ Lookout Mountain’s commander, Lt. Colonel Gaylord, came up with the idea to make short films stressing the danger of leaking information to be used in orientation and as trailers shown during the servicemen’s regular movie nights. Gaylord believed it was important to get away from the ‘punishable by court martial’ attitude and make the trailers ‘friendly albeit flavorful.’

But what tied the military and Monroe to Greenacres and Harold Lloyd? The estate’s sheer size guaranteed isolation, and Lloyd could be trusted. As a good friend of Gov. Earl Warren and a delegate to the 1952 Republican Convention that nominated Eisenhower, Lloyd’s connections went way beyond Hollywood. His name was listed among the many in the visitor log at Lookout Mountain, as well as someone who helped with the unit’s work. But the person who may have suggested Harold’s participation was his son Dukie [Harold Lloyd Jr.], who was stationed at Lookout Mountain.

A total of 10 short films were made, each focusing on ways secrets could be leaked and the importance of confidentiality. (Apparently only one survives, available on YouTube.) In each film, Monroe was tacked on to the end, cooing ‘I hate a careless man.’ There she was, in all her glory, smiling broadly in her bathing suit and saying her line — and then she was gone. Jolting as it was, the message was clear: If you wanted a chance to sleep with Marilyn Monroe, you’d better keep your mouth shut.

According to the official records of the 1352nd Motion Picture squadron, the films ‘appeared to have done the job intended.’ A report by Lookout Mountain in 1954 proudly stated that there were ‘no security breaks on the part of the Castle personnel.’

While it may remain a small slice of film history, we finally know that what looked like a routine photo shoot — involving a luminous actress and an accomplished actor/producer/ photographer — also played a key role in keeping the nation as ignorant as possible as thermonuclear bomb tests exploded in the South Pacific.”

Marilyn and the Judge Who Made History

Stephen Reinhardt, the US appeal court judge known as the ‘liberal lion’, has died aged 87. In an article for the Los Angeles Blade, Jon Reinhardt recalls how Reinhardt cited Marilyn in his historic ruling on gay marriage.

“In 2012, Judge Reinhardt wrote the Ninth Circuit’s politically-savvy opinion in Perry v. Brown, which affirmed the lower court’s decision holding California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The Supreme Court subsequently vacated that appellate decision, holding that the Prop 8’s opponents had no right to appeal the trial court’s ruling, but Judge Reinhardt’s opinion still shines with insight and humanity. He saw that, because California extended all the rights it afforded married couples to same-sex couples who registered as domestic partners, the only point of Prop 8 was to deny same-sex couples the ‘status and dignity’ of marriage.

‘That designation is important,’ he wrote. ‘A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of registered domestic partnership does not.’ Adding a litany of cultural references to marriage, he quipped, ‘Had Marilyn Monroe’s film been called How to Register a Domestic Partnership with a Millionaire, it would not have conveyed the same meaning as did her famous movie, even though the underlying drama for same-sex couples is no different.’

Because Prop 8 furthered no legitimate government objective and was only an expression of the majority’s view of same-sex relationships as less worthy than their own, it violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equality for all.”

Marilyn and the Presidents Club Scandal

Images of Marilyn have been used to promote a controversial gala held last night at London’s Dorchester Hotel for the Presidents Club, a men-only organisation, as Martin Belam reports for The Guardian. Female staff at the most recent ball have complained of groping and sexual harassment, leading to calls for better protection of workers in the hospitality trade. It’s unclear whether the use of Marilyn’s image has been approved by her estate, but regardless, this is yet another example of corporate branding at its most crass.

However, Monroe impersonator Suzie Kennedy, who has performed at a past gala, takes a different view, as she told LBC Radio‘s Shelagh Fogarty today…

“It was three years ago. It’s rich men having a night out. They are usually very powerful in business and are very generous to the charities. The charities need these balls to happen.

Everybody at that job was told what the job is. It’s a businessman’s night out. Everyone’s going to drink, they are going to have cigars, they are going to have fun.

I didn’t see any of the girls thinking ‘Oh no, I have to wear this’. They were fine with wearing it. In nightclubs in London, girls are wearing a lot less.”

Marilyn’s Misfit Horses At Risk

The threat to America’s wild horses – a major theme in The Misfits – has returned with a vengeance, as Susan Wagner, head of the non-profit organisation, Equine Advocates, reports for the New York Daily News.

“Back in the 1950s, wild horses were at the brink of extinction. They had no federal protections. People known as Mustangers were chasing, rounding up and selling them for slaughter by the thousands. Anyone who has seen the classic 1961 Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe film The Misfits has a sense — albeit a sanitized, Hollywood sense — of this dirty work.

The biggest threat to wild horses today is a group of ranchers — known as ‘welfare ranchers’ — who use federal lands to graze their cattle. They have made it clear that they want the horses and burros gone. They believe they are entitled to the land and water rights for their livestock.

There is no doubt that our wild horses and burros can be managed humanely, but that is not what is going on. Nearly 50,000 healthy animals are now being held captive in Bureau of Land Management holding facilities. Many suffer and die horrible deaths during the roundups, which are cruel and unnecessary.

In July, the House Appropriations Committee narrowly voted to adopt language, in the 2018 budget, known as the Stewart Amendment, allowing for the sale of wild horses and burros ‘without limitation,’ which means slaughter.

No equine has been legally slaughtered in the United States since 2007. According to polls, most Americans are strongly opposed to horse slaughter.

But if lawmakers controlled by special interests have their way, those 50,000 captive wild horses and burros could meet that fate in Mexico, Canada or by returning horse slaughter to U.S. soil.”

Shining a Light on Marilyn

Photo by Hans Knopf, 1956

In an article for the Biography website, Sara Kettler sheds light on some lesser-known aspects of Marilyn’s personality including her struggle to overcome a traumatic childhood and mental health problems; her passion for justice and equality; and her charitable nature.

“Monroe was generous throughout her life, a trait that was apparent even as she spent time in institutions and foster homes. She gave an acting teacher a valuable fur coat and offered money to people in need; shopping companions would often find Monroe had sent them items she’d ostensibly purchased for herself. She was especially generous with children, and offered assistance to child-focused charities like the Milk Fund for Babies and the March of Dimes.”

Will Marilyn Be the End of May?

On the eve of the UK general election, a stencil painting of Prime Minister Theresa May wearing her favourite leopard-skin stilettos, in a recreation of Marilyn’s ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch (originally photographed by Sam Shaw) signed by street artist ‘Loretto’, has appeared in London’s West End, reports Fitzrovia News.

The merging of Marilyn, an icon of youth and beauty,  with a right-wing politician is either comical or grotesque, depending on your perspective. However, comparisons of this kind are nothing new, especially in the art world. Photographer Philippe Halsman started the trend with ‘Marilyn Mao‘, blending his own 1952 portrait of MM – her first Life magazine cover – with the head and shoulders  of the Chinese premier, Mao Tse-tung.

Perhaps it’s the rumoured affair with President Kennedy that triggered this strange phenomenon, or just that Marilyn’s own cultural reach rivals that of our world leaders. For me, these images evoke the contrast between her radiant humanity, and the dangerous aura of those who wield power.