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.

Collaborators: Marilyn, Miller and Kazan

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Richard A. Schwartz, a Professor Emeritus at Florida International University and author of several books about the Cold War era, has published a new play, Collaborators: Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Beginning with the accidental death of a journalist on the eve of Marilyn’s 1956 wedding to Arthur, the action then looks back to their first meeting five years earlier, when he unsuccessfully pitched a movie to studio head Harry Cohn. Marilyn was casually dating Arthur’s friend and creative partner, Elia Kazan, at the time.

However, it was Arthur she fell for – it has often been rumoured that he continued corresponding with her after returning to his wife and children in New York. Using a split stage, Schwartz imagines what Arthur might have written to her, comparing his inner turmoil with her heady rise to fame (and ongoing association with Kazan.)

The other main strand of the drama is the very different responses of Miller and Kazan to the red-baiting era. Although it’s clear that both had long since left their youthful dabblings with communism far behind and posed no threat to national security, Kazan chose to inform on fellow travellers in the theatre, thereby saving his Hollywood career, while Miller – supported by Marilyn – refused to ‘name names’, and was ultimately vindicated as a liberal hero. Unsurprisingly, their alliance came under strain, and they didn’t work together again until after Marilyn’s death, on the controversial After the Fall.

The Millers’ marriage is portrayed in two scenes: the beginning is represented by Marilyn’s alleged discovery of unflattering comments in Arthur’s journal, during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl; while the end is marked by another heated argument during production of The Misfits. But that omits a long period of relative stability in Marilyn’s otherwise turbulent life. Perhaps Schwartz could have added a further scene to reveal Marilyn’s vulnerability, and show how painful experiences, like her multiple miscarriages, may have caused her depression.

As it is, Schwartz’s portrayal of a self-destructive Marilyn seems to echo Maggie, the suicidal star in Miller’s After the Fall. He is on safer ground with his male protagonists, and the trial scenes are compelling – perhaps because those events are a matter of public record, rather than private conjecture – and with careful revisions to his characterisation of Marilyn, Collaborators could be a genuinely provocative play.

For those interested in learning more about this topic, Barbara Leaming covered it in detail in her 2000 biography of Marilyn, and Ron Briley’s The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan will be published next month.

 

Marilyn: a Russian Perspective

Marilyn in 'The Misfits', photographed by Inge Morath (1960)
Marilyn in ‘The Misfits’, photographed by Inge Morath (1960)

Marilyn was an admirer of Russian culture: she studied Stanislavsky’s teachings on acting, and campaigned (sadly without success) to star as Grushenka in a movie adaptation of Dostoevsky’s classic novel, The Brothers Karamazov. At the height of America’s anti-Communist fervour, she observed, ‘They’re for the people, aren’t they?’ She briefly considered visiting Russia in 1956, and was later introduced to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev at a Hollywood luncheon.

However, when the Russian press unjustly accused her of ruining Arthur Miller’s career, she shot back: “Listen! I know Arthur Miller better than the Russians do and I’ve learned more from Arthur Miller than the Russians have. I’ve learned from Arthur Miller that he does not believe in a communistic state. The Russians can talk all they want about my ‘climb to the stars,’ his ‘broken life,’ and what I’ve done to somebody. But I know the man. They’re talking about an idea. They can have their ideas. I had the man.” (Redbook, 1962.)

In some quarters, however, it appears that these prejudices still exist. In a recent article entitled ‘Candle in the wind: America, Russia, and Marilyn Monroe’s Free Fall’ for the RBTH website, novelist Viktor Yerofeyev recalls meeting Miller with his third wife Inge Morath during the 1990s, and ruminates on Miller’s prior marriage to Marilyn.

“I looked at Inge and realized that it was for this woman with an intelligent look that Miller had refused to be the skyscraper roof for Monroe, after which the star flew downward. Although in her flight, possibly, she remained the most popular actress in America.

America, at first glance, is not about actresses, singers or writers. It is about the absolute success of an individual, who was nothing and then became everything (as our revolutionary song goes).

And it is not important whether this person had a poor or rich childhood, whether he lived in an orphanage or he quietly went to school. Because this, from the national audience’s view, is routine, but what is important is that the chosen one reached the sky and turned into the Himalayas.

In such a system happiness is only a substitute for powerful success and in this system Monroe and Miller were like twins. And they appeared equal on the cover of a popular magazine that announced their union to the whole country.

Why equal? Because Miller’s high-altitude flight was stronger than Death of a Salesman, which held up a mirror to America. And Monroe’s high-altitude flight was stronger than all of her roles and all of her money. Two high-flying planes.

However, America is actually a country with a double cultural circulatory system. While the larger circle of cultural circulation is destined for the mass public, which creates the broth of national success, the smaller circle is the one in which I found myself in Connecticut, and where a lot opposes the larger circle … Properly speaking, where the Millers live, happiness … is valued more than success and talent is more important than money…

The participants were snobs but as I have just said, they were the cream of the crop. And in this circle Monroe and Miller were opposites. She was no one and he was everything. But she was burning with desire to be included in this world.”

Marilyn: A Political Animal

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Marilyn had a lifelong affinity with the underdog and a passion for justice. Her hero was Abraham Lincoln. She was proud of her working-class origins, and defended husband Arthur Miller in his stand against red-baiting. She also supported the Civil Rights movement. In an article for Time, Lily Rothman interviews Marilyn’s biographer, Dr Lois Banner, on the subject of her ‘forgotten radical politics.’

“Those beliefs were a product of her time, Banner says: being born in 1926 meant that she was a child during the Great Depression … As a result of her own poverty and her close contact with people of other races, Monroe grew up with progressive views on race and what Banner calls a ‘populist vision of equality for all classes.’

Her background peeked through in her film roles, as she was often cast as a working girl … Even as Monroe stepped out in public in glamorous evening gowns, she favored blue jeans and flat shoes at home.

In 1956, when she married the playwright Arthur Miller, her working-class roots blossomed into full-on political fervor. In 1960, she became a founding member of the Hollywood branch of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy; that same year, as she kept a home in Roxbury, Conn., she was elected as an alternate delegate to the state’s Democratic caucus. She did not hide her pro-Castro views on Cuba or her support for the then-burgeoning civil rights movement.

Broadway was not affected by McCarthyism and anti-Communist investigations to the same extent as the movie business, but Miller was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee shortly before their marriage. Monroe was never called on, which Banner believes was because the anti-Communist Congressmen ‘thought she was just a dumb blonde.’ (In fact, some historians have theorized that Miller saw Monroe as a political shield.)

‘When you put it all together, [her political side] is pretty substantial. But in most of the biographies, including mine, it comes out as salt scattered on the biography, because one gets so fascinated by her psychological makeup,’ [Banner] says. ‘But the political involvements are no less real.'”

When Nikita Met Marilyn…

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Time magazine profiles Cold War Roadshow, an upcoming documentary about Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s historic visit to the US in 1959, on its website today – including footage of an evasive Marilyn being interviewed by reporters after a luncheon in Khrushchev’s honour at Twentieth Century-Fox.

Marilyn’s reluctance to comment may have been as a result of her husband Arthur Miller’s persecution by the rabidly anti-Communist House Un-American Activities Committee. Miller had been acquitted just a year before.

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In 2010, it was announced that a dramatisation of Khrushchev’s trip would be produced for HBO, but this has yet to materialise. Cold War Roadshow will be broadcast on PBS in the US on November 18: a DVD is also available.

Marilyn Un-Redacted

Marilyn with Jean Pierre Piquet, manager of the Hilton Continental, during her trip to Mexico in 1962

Writing for the Associated Press, Anthony McCartney reports that previously redacted FBI files relating to Marilyn have been released in full by the FBI after a request was made under the Freedom of Information Act.

The new information refers mostly to the FBI’s monitoring of Marilyn’s allegedly left-wing colleagues in her production company, her Jewish wedding to Arthur Miller, and her friendship with Fred Vanderbilt Field, the expatriate communist whom she met on a trip to Mexico.

“For all the focus on Monroe’s closeness to suspected communists, the bureau never found any proof she was a member of the party.

‘Subject’s views are very positively and concisely leftist; however, if she is being actively used by the Communist Party, it is not general knowledge among those working with the movement in Los Angeles,’ a July 1962 entry in Monroe’s file states.”