Remembering Marilyn’s Radio Days

Marilyn at a patriotic event in 1952

Over at Reader’s Digest, Tony DiMarco recalls interviewing Marilyn at Twentieth Century Fox for an army radio show in 1952. DiMarco, and presenter Dave Ketchum, broadcast a weekly program for Camp Roberts, which aired on KPRL in Paso Robles, California. It will come as no surprise to those who know of Marilyn’s loyalty to her fans in the military, but the producers found her a delight to work with, and nothing like the ‘difficult’ star her studio warned them about.

“Not only was Marilyn on time, she was friendly, cooperative and a great interview. When it was over she asked if she could add something and, of course, we said yes. She ad-libbed a touching and heartwarming tribute to the servicemen and women, thanking them for listening and wishing 
them the very best of luck. She was beautiful, bright and charming. She was the Marilyn 
we’ll always remember.”

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

‘Goodnight Marilyn’ Returns

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Goodnight Marilyn, the internet radio show which explores unanswered questions about Marilyn’s death, has returned for a third season. In the opening episode, an expert panel including biographer Gary Vitacco-Robles and Immortal Marilyn staffers Leslie Kasperowicz and Marijane Gray joins regular host Nina Boski in a discussion of the District Attorney’s report following the re-opening of Marilyn’s case in 1982.

Alistair Cooke on Marilyn and Joe

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As reported by ES Updates earlier this year, Alistair Cooke at the Movies – an anthology of the eminent British journalist’s writings on Hollywood – is now available via Kindle as well as in print. The book includes two full pieces about Marilyn, and several other references. You can read Cooke’s obituary of Marilyn here.

Cooke’s first thoughts on Marilyn were broadcast on October 14, 1954, on his weekly BBC radio show, Letter From America, regarding her divorce from Joe DiMaggio.

“The Monroe-DiMaggio breakdown is easily dismissed as just another Hollywood marriage. It’s true enough that over twenty, thirty years Hollywood has developed certain mores and customs. And the world jumps to the conclusion that love and marriage in Hollywood constitute something like a religious heresy, a shameless cult mocking the true faith of marriage and children. I have no hesitation in saying that this is mostly moonshine and is brewed from a compound of ignorance and envy…

The gods and goddesses of the Greeks were not known much outside the Mediterranean, and were never seen in the flesh. But the mere announcement of Marilyn Monroe arriving on platform five would cause a riot anywhere in the world. She was mobbed on arriving in Tokyo last year more embarrassingly than she was on leaving San Francisco…

I don’t think there’s been so much talk, from the unlikeliest people, about a movie marriage since the Pickford-Fairbanks idyll as there has been the last fortnight about Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. I hope I can get across to you that this marriage, when it suddenly burst upon the world – an elopement naturally – nine months ago, was equally a poetic event … She was a poor girl, an orphan, brought up in an orphanage, and towards the end of the war she was a war-factory worker – a tousled, cheerful, lonely working girl, pretty as a kitten. It is not hard for millions of such girls to identify with her.

So who did Rosie the Riveter marry? She eloped with one of the two or three greatest baseball players there ever have been; nobody but the Yankee Clipper himself … he met Miss Monroe over a plate of spaghetti on a blind date. And they eloped. The perfect fulfilment of two ambitions: the average American boy’s dream of being a baseball hero, and the girl next door’s dream of Hollywood.

So they moved down to Hollywood, and to Joe ‘down’ is the word, not only from his beloved San Francisco, but from any sort of life that made sense to him. He was suddenly surrounded by voice coaches and dancing teachers, and press agents, and telephone calls for publicity stills, for magazine covers, for calendars, for interviews … And the object of all this concern was a wife who worked hard in a calling where you go to bed at nine and get up for work at five in the morning. It was all hopelessly bewildering, and one day Miss Monroe announces, right upstairs, over your puzzled head, that she is going to file for divorce…

I tell you this story in its social outline and leave you to write your own moral. But don’t ascribe it to Hollywood, whose divorce rate is hardly higher than that of Bradford or Kensington. Put it down in an age of television, aeroplanes, publicity and universal movies to the overwhelming conspiracy of fame against two ordinary and engaging young people who pay a rather high price for the only extraordinary thing about them – her prettiness, and his old knack of hitting a ball into the grandstand.”

Conversations With Arthur Miller

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The centennial of Arthur Miller’s birth falls this Saturday, October 17. Perhaps more revered in Britain than the US, the playwright will be honoured this week with two dedicated programmes on BBC Radio 4: The Life and Times of Arthur Miller, a play focusing on his early years; and Attention Must Be Paid, a documentary presented by his biographer, Christopher Bigsby.

Additionally, Conversations With Miller – originally published in 2002 – is being reissued. Here’s the blurb:

“Published to mark the centenary of Arthur Miller’s birth, this new edition of Conversations of Miller features a new Foreword by Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of the National Theatre, and an Afterword by publisher Nick Hern, in which both reflect on their own conversations with America’s greatest playwright.

New York Times drama critic Mel Gussow first met Arthur Miller in 1963 during rehearsals of After the Fall, the play inspired by Miller’s marriage to Marilyn Monroe. They then met regularly over the following forty years.

Conversations with Miller records what was discussed at more than a dozen of these meetings. In the book, the author of Death of a Salesman, A View from the Bridge and The Crucible is astonishingly candid about everything from the personal to the political: his successes and disappointments in theatre, his role as an advocate of human rights, his staunch resistance to the United States Congressional witch hunts of the 1950s. He also speaks forthrightly about his relationship with Monroe.

Personal, wise and often very funny, the result is a revealing self-portrait of one of the giants of twentieth-century literature, who was both a ‘regular guy’ and a fiercely original writer and thinker.”

Debunking the Marilyn Myths

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One of the brightest new lights in the Marilyn blogosphere is April VeVea, who scrutinises vintage news coverage and more recent biographies to reveal the truth behind the many myths surrounding even the most accepted accounts of events in Marilyn’s life (and of course, her death) on her personal website, ‘Unravelling the Slander of Marilyn Monroe.’ April is also a valued contributor to the internet radio show, Goodnight Marilyn. In her latest blog post, she takes a closer look at Marilyn’s relationship with Joe DiMaggio, from their fateful first meeting to the rumoured reconciliation just before Marilyn died.

On the Radio: ‘Goodnight Marilyn’

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Goodnight Marilyn is a new, weekly internet radio show, hosted by Nina Boski and focusing on Marilyn’s glittering career and untimely death (with a feature film also planned.) Recent guests include biographer Gary Vitacco-Robles, Marilyn Remembered’s Greg Schreiner (who owns one of the world’s largest MM collections, and also organises the annual memorial service in Los Angeles), and Immortal Marilyn’s president, Mary Sims.

Sugar, Sax and Spats in Scotland

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This summer’s re-release of Some Like it Hot continues to delight audiences across the UK, and especially in Scotland, Antonia Quirke reports for the New Statesman.

“A review of the week’s films on The Culture Studio (weekdays, 2.05pm) included, joyously, Billy Wilder’s 1959 Some Like It Hot – not, as is so often the case with re-releases, shoved at the end of the chat, but given substantial time (they even played a clip). There’s such pleasure for the listener in hearing something you know being chewed over properly. But try telling most radio producers that.

The presenter Ricky Ross and critics Siobhan Synnot and Eddie Harrison chatted delightedly about the train scenes, in which the girl band of candy-floss blondes, led by a 32-year-old Marilyn Monroe, travels from Chicago to Miami to play at a hotel along with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, done up as music conservatoire escapees. Speeding from the freezing city to the magical land of palm trees and yachts, it feels like the masquerade ball in The Comedy of Errors.

‘It all feels like a Shakespeare comedy,’ said Ross, banging the table as his guests hooted in assent. This is a Shakespearean utopia, a world where you’re forever bumping into funny people, and maximal things happen. Cold and heat, musicians and killers: a witty way to divide up the world. All the ‘good’ people are natural musicians. The rest are arid, uptight gangsters who use toothpicks and worry unsexily about getting booze stains on their spats.”

Marilyn, Brando: Rare Radio Interview

A rare radio interview from 1955, at the premiere of The Rose Tattoo, has surfaced on Youtube. MM, Marlon Brando, and Sid Caesar discuss method acting, with Marilyn’s segment beginning ten minutes in. She is charmingly shy, but it’s here that we learn more about her work at the Actor’s Studio.