Letters to Marilyn at Bonham’s

A treasure trove of correspondence to Marilyn will be auctioned today at Bonham’s in New York, as part of TCM’s Dark Side of Hollywood sale.  Among the lots are an autographed napkin; notes to herself, jotted on the back of envelopes; letters from her mother Gladys, and members of Norma Jeane’s extended family, including Grace Goddard and Ana Lower; key figures in  Marilyn’s later life, such as Joe Schenck and Elia Kazan; and other lesser-known acquaintances. Here are some of the highlights:

Thanks to Caren and Hannah at Marilyn Remembered

Letters from Uncle Art and Aunt Allis, 1938-39

“San Jose, on ‘International Correspondence Schools’ letterhead and plain stationery. Norma Jeane was 12 years old when she received these letters from relatives of her guardian, Grace Goddard, and Grace’s aunt, Ana Lower. Though not related to her, they address themselves as Uncle Art and Aunt Allis, and in their separate letters to the child, they seem to know her well, calling her ‘Little Sweetheart’ and writing, ‘We all send love to our little girl.’ They often refer to their dog, Trinket, whom one may assume was adored by Norma Jeane, who had a soft spot for animals all her life. Despite the many difficulties Norma Jeane had to face as a foster child, it does seem that there were many caring people in her life, as Uncle Art writes, ‘I am sure you are happy because everyone there loves you, and wants you to be happy.'”

Family photo, 1946: with Berniece Miracle and daughter Mona Rae; Grace Goddard; Marilyn and Ana Lower; and Marilyn’s mother Gladys

Letters from Ana Lower, 1942-46

“In her first letter of 1942, Lower responds to 15-year-old Norma Jeane’s questions about her shyness: ‘Be your own sweet self and in time as you have more experience, you’ll be able to talk when you want to, and people will really pay attention to what you say because it will be something worthwhile.’ By 1946, Norma Jeane was obtaining a divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty (whom Lower adored) and was having financial difficulty. She had borrowed money from Lower, who was also allowing Norma Jeane’s mother, Gladys Baker, to live with her at the time. Her letter expresses disappointment in Norma Jeane’s decisions, quoting the Bible and giving advice. She also mentions that Gladys has been fired from her job at Griffith Park because she was ‘too melancholy to be around the patients.’ Lower gently but firmly warns Norma Jeane, ‘Well, precious, you may feel I am being severe, but it is not so meant. I love you dearly and you must not feel hurt because of this letter.'”

Letters from Ana Lower to Jim Dougherty, 1943-45

“Lower was extremely close to Dougherty, and in her letter, she expresses her concern about his joining up and what it means for Norma Jeane’s future. ‘Her welfare of course is uppermost in your thoughts. She is young and really needs to finish her education.’ Her love for the girl reveals itself often: ‘Norma is such a sweet dear girl. Everyone loves her.’ She also expresses gratitude for his caring ways: ‘I am grateful for your kindness to Norma and know she loves you as dearly as you do her.'”

Letter from Gladys Baker, 1945

“In 1945, Gladys went to Portland to attempt to live on her own with the help of her aunt, Dora. She had been living in institutions for 9 years, and the hope was that she would be able to care for herself. She writes of her transition: ‘I’ve only been here a few days [and] I am just getting acclimated to it. I’m taking it easy for a while.’ Gladys’ letter to Norma Jeane is surprisingly lucid and sweet. She is happy that Norma Jeane is married and hopes to meet her husband, James Dougherty (who was in the Merchant Marine at the time). She writes, ‘Seems only yesterday that you were just a wee tott [sic] & now you are married. I know you are very happy & perhaps some time soon I’ll see you.’ Norma Jeane was elated and eventually went to visit her with photographer Andre de Dienes. After leaving Portland, Gladys returned to Los Angeles and lived with Norma Jeane briefly but was ultimately forced to return to institutional life.”

Norma Jeane with husband Jim Dougherty, 1946

Letters from Ana Lower, 1946

“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane Dougherty was establishing residency in Las Vegas in order to divorce her first husband, James Dougherty, who was in the Merchant Marine at the time. She had begun a love affair with photographer Andre de Dienes, one that was much more serious than previously thought. In her letters, Ana Lower, who was the most loving adult figure in Norma Jeane’s life, remarks on the reactions she receives when she shows friends Norma Jeane’s photographs: ‘Everyone thinks your pictures are lovely, and I tell them not half so lovely as you really are.’ As she is traveling during the writing of these letters, Lower describes her experiences, most notably her visit with Norma Jeane’s amour, de Dienes. She found him both lovable and ‘temperamental, as most artists are.’ In her closing paragraph, she writes of Andre: ‘I kissed your sweetheart good-bye and I will love him, too–we joked about my being his mother-in-law. I do hope Jimmie [Norma Jeane’s soon-to-be ex-husband, whom Ana adored] is not too hurt by all this.'”

Letter from Grace Goddard, 1946

“Grace reveals that her aunt, Ana Lower, who was also a loving caregiver to Norma Jeane, is too easy on Dougherty: ‘I know what a softie [Aunt Ana] is toward any male, old or young, who makes a fuss over her. As for me, Doc [Grace’s husband], and all the rest of us, we look at situations through eyes of love for you, justice, and repayment for you being such an angel all your life. You deserve more than Jimmy is capable of giving you.’ In closing, she makes a veiled reference to Norma Jeane’s relationship with photographer Andre de Dienes and writes, ‘Of course no one but Doc and me know of your future plans. I am so in hopes you will let your heart rule you this time and not let anything keep you from taking the happiness that is being offered you.'”

Letters from Grace Goddard, 1946

“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane was residing in Las Vegas to obtain her divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty. During this time, she was ill, experienced financial difficulties, and was having problems with her car. Goddard’s letter is sympathetic: ‘I am heartsick over you,’ but firm when she scolds, ‘I do wish you had listened to Doc [Goddard’s husband] about your car.’ Additional difficulty arose when Dougherty refused to sign the divorce papers once Norma Jeane was in Las Vegas. Goddard gets a final jab at Dougherty in her closing remarks (even though she arranged their marriage) when she writes, ‘I never did think Jim would keep his promise to sign the papers.'”

Letter from Len Cormier, 1947

“Len Cormier was a young Navy pilot who dated Monroe (then Norma Jeane Dougherty) shortly after she divorced her first husband in 1946. They had at least 2 dates: one at Tommy Dorsey’s Casino Gardens in Santa Monica, and one where he took her flying (the only civilian he ever took up in a plane, he later recalled). In his letter from training camp, he writes, ‘I’ll have to admit that I don’t leave your picture out all the time, since nobody would get any work done if it were.’ He relays his experiences with flight operations and traveling, and ends his letter with a thoughtful message to his career-oriented friend: ‘I’ve still got my fingers crossed, hoping that all the breaks in the world come to you.'”

Holiday cards from Ana Lower, 1941-47

“Comprising a partial Autograph Letter Signed (‘Aunt Ana’), c.1947, to Marilyn Monroe, on plain stationery, discussing Christian Science. Together with 9 holiday cards, including a congratulatory wedding card celebrating her marriage to James Dougherty in which she writes, ‘To my dear / girl and boy / Love / Aunt Ana.'”

Letters from Howard Keel (‘Harry’), 1947-48

“Until these letters, little was known about film star Howard Keel’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe except that they had dated a few times. Keel had originally met Norma Jeane when she was 15 years old, as he relays in his letter: ‘I had quite a liking for you deep down inside but being a ripe old 22 or so I felt I was a little old for you.’ He is thrilled that they have reconnected and has a good laugh at seeing her crowned as ‘The Artichoke Queen’ in a publicity stunt. At some point between letters, the two got together, and Keel expresses his disappointment at not being able to see more of Monroe: ‘When I come home in June we’ll have to have some fun & find out what there is between us.’ Obviously, nothing came of the relationship, but Keel has sweet words about their reunion when he writes, ‘It was wonderful to find you the same sweet person I knew before.'”

Letter from Ana Lower to Berniece Miracle, 1948

“Lower refers to Marilyn (who is now no longer called Norma Jeane, even by her family), as she writes: ‘I am glad the clothes can be used. Marilyn will probably have more later.’ Marilyn often gave her clothes to Berniece when she was finished with them. Lower closes the letter with, ‘All is well with me and with Marilyn’s career.’ Ana Lower would die 4 days after this letter was written.”

Letters from Joe Schenck, 1948

“At the time of his letters to Marilyn, she had just signed a 6-month contract with Columbia Pictures, a major breakthrough in her career, which Schenck addresses: ‘I hope you will get your chance at Col and make good.’ Several months later, he writes, ‘Am very pleased to know you have a good part in a picture. Stick to your work and you will make good. Make your career your first consideration.’ Schenck either had a sense of humor or spelling problems, as he incorrectly spells Monroe’s name twice, writing both ‘Maryline’ and ‘Marrylene’ in his salutations!”

Marilyn as Dolly Madison, 1948

Letter from Gordon Provonsha, 1948

“Provonsha was a commercial artist who painted a portrait of Monroe for a Dolly Madison wine advertisement during her modeling days.”

Telegrams from Elia Kazan, 1951

“Kazan and Arthur Miller called Monroe ‘Miss Bauer’ based on a prank they played on Columbia boss Harry Cohn in which Monroe posed as a secretary by that name. Two of the Kazan telegrams allude to this pseudonym, with one signed ‘Bauer’ and the other signed simply ‘B.’ Though Monroe had affection for Kazan, she fell hard for Miller and the Kazan relationship fizzled out. From his messages, however, it appears that they were close: ‘Darling Just sit tight where you are and I’ll call for you about nine thirty.'”

Letters from Sid Ross, 1952

“Ross was a writer for Parade magazine whose brother, photographer Ben Ross, had photographed Monroe several times. Sid Ross fell head over heels in love with Monroe, who appears not to have returned his affection (or many of his letters, since his enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope for her convenience is still attached to his letter)! His letters are lyrical, poetic, and beautifully written, and he is clearly besotted: ‘The sheer joy of watching you–as you talk & sometimes crinkle up your brow … the sometimes pain in your voice and glance and gestures … the intensity that stirs not only you, but others.’ In April of 1952, Ross received a ‘Dear John’ letter from Monroe that he declared was ‘a blow. A terrific blow. It made me feel that the end of the world had come for me.’ He is clearly heartbroken and devastated. Interestingly, Ross closes one of his letters, ‘You may never be a “great” actress possibly but you’ll always be a so very beautiful girl…,’ a statement which may have been the very reason Monroe broke things off with Sid Ross.”

Correspondence Regarding Gladys Baker, 1935-52 

“Grace Goddard is clearly at the end of her rope, having spent the last 20 years trying to take care of Baker, and her exhaustion is palpable: ‘I have always loved her and her child, but I have a very bad heart condition brought on by a stroke caused by Gladys in Feb 1950. I have tried too many years to help her and I can no longer have her in my home.'”

UPDATE: Marilyn’s letter from Gladys sold for $2,750; and two letters from Ana (1942-46) sold for $2,500.

Miller on Marilyn, ‘After the Fall’, in ’66

The literary magazine Paris Review has posted a 1966 interview with Arthur Miller, where he talks about his relationship with Marilyn, and After the Fall.

“MILLER: I think Strasberg is a symptom, really. He’s a great force, and (in my unique opinion, evidently) a force that is not for the good in the theater. He makes actors secret people and he makes acting secret, and it’s the most communicative art known to man; I mean, that’s what the actor’s supposed to be doing … The problem is that the actor is now working out his private fate through his role, and the idea of communicating the meaning of the play is the last thing that occurs to him. In the Actors Studio, despite denials, the actor is told that the text is really the framework for his emotions … This is Method, as they are teaching it, which is, of course, a perversion of it, if you go back to the beginning. But there was always a tendency in that direction.

INTERVIEWER: What about Method acting in the movies?

MILLER: Well, in the movies, curiously enough, the Method works better. Because the camera can come right up to an actor’s nostrils and suck out of him a communicative gesture; a look in the eye, a wrinkle of his grin, and so on, which registers nothing on the stage.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the push toward personal success dominates American life now more than it used to?

MILLER: I think it’s far more powerful today than when I wrote Death of a Salesman. I think it’s closer to a madness today than it was then. Now there’s no perspective on it at all.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say that the girl in After the Fall is a symbol of that obsession?

MILLER: Yes, she is consumed by what she does, and instead of it being a means of release, it’s a jail. A prison which defines her, finally. She can’t break through. In other words, success, instead of giving freedom of choice, becomes a way of life.

Barbara Loden as Maggie in ‘After the Fall’, featured in LIFE (1964)

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel in the New York production that the girl allegedly based on Marilyn Monroe was out of proportion, entirely separate from Quentin?

MILLER: Yes, although I failed to foresee it myself. In the Italian production this never happened; it was always in proportion. I suppose, too, that by the time Zeffirelli did the play, the publicity shock had been absorbed, so that one could watch Quentin’s evolution without being distracted.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think happened in New York?

MILLER: Something I never thought could happen. The play was never judged as a play at all. Good or bad, I would never know what it was from what I read about it, only what it was supposed to have been.

INTERVIEWER: Because they all reacted as if it were simply a segment of your personal life?

MILLER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Could this question of timing have affected the reaction here to After the Fall?

MILLER: The ironic thing to me was that I heard cries of indignation from various people who had in the lifetime of Marilyn Monroe either exploited her unmercifully, in a way that would have subjected them to peonage laws, or mocked her viciously, or refused to take any of her pretensions seriously. So consequently, it was impossible to credit their sincerity.

INTERVIEWER: Was it the play, The Crucible itself, do you think, or was it perhaps that piece you did in the Nation—’A Modest Proposal’—that focused the Un-American Activities Committee on you?

MILLER: Well, I had made a lot of statements and I had signed a great many petitions. I’d been involved in organizations, you know, putting my name down for fifteen years before that. But I don’t think they ever would have bothered me if I hadn’t married Marilyn. Had they been interested, they would have called me earlier. And, in fact, I was told on good authority that the then chairman, Francis Walter, said that if Marilyn would take a photograph with him, shaking his hand, he would call off the whole thing. It’s as simple as that. Marilyn would get them on the front pages right away.”

Marilyn and Joe at the Tides Motel

Gary Vitacco-Robles, author of Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, has posted the first installment of an in-depth, 2-part article about Marilyn’s March 1961 holiday with ex-husband Joe DiMaggio in Florida – focusing on the complex love story behind their stay at the Tides Motel – on his Tampa Bay Author blog today.

“When DiMaggio and Marilyn reconnected during the Christmas holidays of 1960, following her separation from playwright Arthur Miller, Marilyn felt validated by DiMaggio’s insightful comment that, after progressing in therapy, he realized he would have divorced a man like himself, had he been in her shoes.

DiMaggio deeply loved Marilyn, and  her attraction to him remained strong. ‘Marilyn knew where she stood with him,’ publicist Lois Weber Smith said. ‘He was always there, she could call on him, lean on him, depend on him, be certain of him. It was a marvelous feeling of comfort for her.’

In late march, Marilyn and DiMaggio escaped the hectic pace of their public and professional lives and the cold of New York and together traveled to Tampa Bay’s Suncoast … The couple registered in separate guest rooms across from each other in the main building of the exclusive Tides Resort & Bath Club on the Gulf of Mexico … Eventually, the resort’s management relocated the famous couple to the rooftop for more private sunbathing … In the evenings, the couple dined intimately at the Wine House Restaurant, later the Wine Cellar, on Gulf Boulevard, located next to the Zebra Lounge.”

64 Years Ago: Heartbreak on the Subway Grate

September 15 marks the 64th anniversary of the filming of Marilyn’s most famous movie scene, standing over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch with her skirt blowing up in the breeze. In an article for Mama Mia, Polly Taylor looks at the personal heartache behind one of Hollywood’s most iconic moments.

“The scene was filmed in public to generate publicity for the movie, and DiMaggio was among the crowd. Director Billy Wilder described the ‘look of death’ on DiMaggio’s face as Monroe’s skirt flew up and onlookers cheered, as reported by The Telegraph.

George S. Zimbel, one of many photographers on set, recalled DiMaggio becoming irate and storming off, riled up by the uproarious press and onlookers who were gathered to watch the scene … Just a month later, in October 1954, Monroe divorced DiMaggio on the grounds of ‘mental cruelty’.”

Marilyn Steps Off the Casting Couch

Photo by Milton Greene, 1953

In the wake of last year’s scandal regarding sexual exploitation in Hollywood, several ill-informed commentators have claimed Marilyn as a historic symbol of the casting couch. In an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News, author Michelle Morgan explains how her new book – The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist – sets the record straight. (You can read my review of The Girl here.)

“‘She had said that she never fell for it,’ Morgan told Fox News. ‘She had walked out of various interviews and situations that she deemed inappropriate … She was doing a series of interviews in 1954. At that time, she really wanted to write her autobiography but … In the end, she decided not to go through with it because it had been leaked out to the British press.’

In the mid-1950s, Monroe spoke out about being harassed by an executive whom she did not name. ‘She was very intelligent about that, to keep his name out of the article. But she certainly did speak about it.’

‘She was never going to let herself be victimized. She spoke about it and as a result, inspired other people to speak out … She was one of the only actresses in Hollywood at that time who was speaking out about that.’

Morgan added: ‘I think based on the things she said herself and the outspoken way she approached Hollywood, I personally don’t believe she was ever a victim of the casting couch. I think she was able to walk away.'”

The Character Assassination of Marilyn

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

In an article for The Independent, Andy Martin explores the subject of public humiliation, citing Marilyn’s ‘dumb blonde’ stereotyping as a prime example of character assassination. He also looks at her marriages and battles with directors, although I would argue that it is her continuing misrepresentation in the media – and in particular, false and degrading conspiracy theories – that is most damaging to her legacy today.

“Consider the case of Marilyn Monroe. Unequivocally one of the icons of the 20th century …The ‘Stradivarius of sex’ as Norman Mailer described her. But therein lies the rub. Did she necessarily want to be some kind of instrument? Does anyone? … Anything is possible, but more likely she was the victim of humiliation.

There is a case for saying that Joe DiMaggio, her baseball player husband, was humiliated on account of the shoot when she is standing on a subway grate and her dress is being blown up in the air and she is trying to hold it down … She is exposed. But it is DiMaggio – coming from a working-class Italian-American family – who feels humiliated …

She was certainly no airhead, no kind of ‘bimbo.’ You would think that, all in all, the Monroe-Miller combination ought to have been workable. But it wasn’t … He wanted an All-American Girl to symbolically get him off the hook of the McCarthy black list … Maybe Monroe could save him. But she needed him to save her. And instead of that he humiliated her … Laurence Olivier was another of her humiliators (an ugly word, I know, but then it is ugly) …

She almost certainly committed suicide. Overdosed on barbiturates. Or, rather like Amy Winehouse, abdicated life … No one can coincide (at least, not for very long) with their own myth. But everyone else wanted her to be nothing but the thing she was supposed to be. She strove to be something else, quite what she never knew, or was never allowed to know. She was asked to get back in her box. But she didn’t want to. So she ended up in a box anyway. No living being wants to be reduced to a thing, like a frying pan. Not even a Stradivarius.”

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.”

Carl Rollyson on ‘Arthur Miller: Writer’

Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, has set out his thoughts on Arthur Miller: Writer, the new documentary made by Miller’s daughter Rebecca, now on HBO in the US.

“It is a remarkable revelation of the man, but it is also a very limited view. How could it not be? It is his daughter’s film , and she could not, for example, bring herself to interview him about his institutionalized Down’s syndrome son. The film is really a memoir, and not a biography.

But I am going to concentrate on the treatment of Marilyn Monroe. For the most part, she is treated as rather pitiful, with Miller spending his time propping her up. He wrote very little while married to her but does not mention the countless hours locked away in a room trying to write. More importantly, he gives a very distorted view of what happened during the shooting of The Misfits. He says she doubted she could perform in a serious role. This is a staggering lie, or an example of self-delusion. Monroe was upset about the script and was shut out from the Miller-Huston deliberations about how to fix it. She wasn’t happy that her husband was treating her as a myth, not a real person. If he was going to give her lines that she actually had spoken, then he was obligated to give the full context in which such lines were spoken.

The most telling moment occurs earlier when Miller mentions Elia Kazan as telling him what a great play Death of a Salesman was. Kazan may have been the first one to say so to Miller. Miller trusted Kazan’s judgment and his sincerity. But when it comes to The Misfits, Miller does not mention the letter [Elia] Kazan sent him detailing the faults with the character of Roslyn that Monroe had to play. And those faults were exactly the ones Monroe had identified.

Another telling moment in the film is when Tony Kushner analyzes After the Fall and says Miller was afraid of Monroe. Just so, she had a much more capacious sensibility than he did, and he did not know how to respond to her. The same is true with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. When she died, Hughes said, ‘It was her or me.’ In both cases, these men simply could not come up to the level of their wives, and afterwards suggested that was because the wives were doomed. And that is the impression Miller conveys in his daughter’s film.”