Bob Bahr explores Marilyn’s spiritual side in a cover story for the Atlanta Jewish Times (dated August 30.)
“Monroe once told Paula Strasberg, her drama coach at the time, that she felt a special kinship with her newfound faith. ‘I can identify with the Jews,’ she said. ‘Everybody’s out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.’
On the front door of the home where she died, she had affixed a mezuzah with its tiny parchment scroll of sacred Jewish writings. She still had the prayer book with her personal notes written in its pages, a gift from Miller that had once belonged to the Brooklyn synagogue where he had had his bar mitzvah. On her mantle she kept a bronze menorah, which played ‘Hatikvah,’ the national anthem of the State of Israel. It was a present from Miller’s Yiddish-speaking mother.
Rabbi Robert Goldburg had worked with her during her conversion and provided her with a number of Jewish historical and religious works to study. About three weeks after her death, he wrote of his impressions of her at the time.
‘She was aware of the great character that the Jewish people had produced. … She was impressed by the rationalism of Judaism — its ethical and prophetic ideals and its close family life.’
When she rebelled against the exploitation of the Hollywood studio system, broke her contract with 20th Century Fox and fled Hollywood in 1954 for a new life in New York, it was at the urging of Milton Greene, a popular Jewish photographer with whom she founded Marilyn Monroe Productions. For a while she lived with Greene and his wife and helped take care of their year-old son.
Even before the move she lived and worked in what was largely a Jewish world. In Hollywood her agent and publicist and an early drama coach and mentor were all Jewish. She owed her early success, in part, to personal relationships with the powerful Jewish studio executive Joseph Schenck and the important talent agent Johnny Hyde, who had originally emigrated from the Jewish Ukraine. Her three psychiatrists were Jewish as well as many of her doctors. One of her closest journalistic confidants was the newspaper columnist Sidney Skolsky.
But all that accelerated when she moved to New York and enrolled in Lee and Paula Strasberg’s Actors Studio … She quickly fell in with their circle of friends, who made up the theatrical and literary elite of Jewish New York. She volunteered to be the star attraction at a United Jewish Appeal dinner.
The poet Norman Rosten and his wife and children were close friends. She was a regular at a summer of brunches and picnics and cookouts with the Strasbergs in Ocean Beach on Fire Island. She frequently dug into what Paula Strasberg called her ‘Jewish icebox’ there, with its salamis from Zabar’s on New York’s Upper West Side and the honey cakes and fancy European pastries from some of the bakeries started in New York by refugees from Nazi persecution.
It was, in the words of one Monroe biographer, ‘a year of joy,’ made even more joyful by a newfound romance with [Arthur] Miller … Gloria Steinem, the Jewish American essayist and feminist, wrote a perceptive analysis about the relationship and Monroe’s decision just before their marriage to convert to Judaism.
‘Miller himself was not religious, but she wanted to be part of his family’s tradition.”‘I’ll cook noodles like your mother,” she told him on their wedding day. She was optimistic this marriage would work. On the back of a wedding photograph, she wrote “Hope, Hope, Hope.”‘
Her public commitment to Judaism in the mid-50s was just one of the signs that Jews were winning new acceptance in America after the end of World War II and of the changes that the war had brought.
Although she’s been gone these many years, she is not forgotten. Time has treated the memory of Monroe with kindness. Her estate, most of which she left to the Strasberg family, has consistently earned tens of millions of dollars over the more than 50 years since her death … As for that prayer book that Arthur Miller took from his Brooklyn synagogue and Monroe kept to her dying day, it sold at auction last year for $18,000.”
This week marks 63 years since Marilyn married Arthur Miller, and the newlyweds (as photographed by Jack Cardiff a few weeks later) Grace the cover of Le Nouveau Magazine Litteraire‘s summer double-issue (#19), as part of a feature on ‘Literary Couples and Crossed Destinies’, with a short profile inside by Philippe Labro. The magazine is now available from the Newsstand website for £7.78.
Frank Sinatra’s relationship with Marilyn is the subject of an article in the current issue of US magazine Closer Weekly (dated July 1st, with Betty White on the cover), and is now reprinted in the latest issue of the National Enquirer‘s UK edition (also dated July 1, with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts on the cover.)
Actor Gianni Russo claims to have had an affair with Marilyn in his forthcoming memoir, Hollywood Godfather, as Michael Kaplan reports for the New York Post. Born in 1943, he began his career running errands for mobster Frank Costello. He made his screen debut as Carlo Rizzi, the abusive husband of Connie Corleone (Talia Shire), who is murdered by her brother Michael (Al Pacino) in The Godfather (1972.) Offscreen, Russo has released an album and a wine range, and was once a Las Vegas restaurateur.
Russo’s alleged affair with Marilyn rests on a snapshot taken at Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge near Lake Tahoe a week before her death in 1962. He identifies himself as the young man at her left (with singer Buddy Greco at right), which may be true although his face is conveniently hidden from view. Moreover, the photo in itself is no proof of anything more than a brief acquaintance (at best.)
Russo claims that the affair began when he was sixteen and Marilyn thirty-three, which would date it back to 1959. He adds that their affair lasted for four years, but Marilyn died three years later. (I also highly doubt that Marilyn would have dated a teenager, when all her significant relationships were with older men.)
Costello had asked Russo to spy on Marilyn when she began her affair with John F. Kennedy, he contends (in fact, she may not have met the future president until much later.) He also believes that Marilyn was a gangster’s moll for many years, and it was the Mob who moved her to New York during her 1955 dispute with Twentieth Century Fox. This is untrue, as Marilyn arranged the move with photographer Milton Greene.
Predictably, Russo also claims to know the truth about how Marilyn died. Mobster Sam Giancana had arranged to film her in flagrante with President Kennedy and his brother Robert during her last visit to Cal-Neva, Russo says. However, there is no conclusive evidence that Giancana was there that weekend, and the Kennedys were both elsewhere. Marilyn was invited by Sinatra himself.
Finally, Russo says that Marilyn was murdered by injection administered by a mob-connected M.D., probably on the orders of Bobby Kennedy. For more information on the Mafia and Marilyn’s death, I can highly recommend Donald McGovern’s Murder Orthodoxies.
In an article for Forest Hills Connection, Ann Kessler looks back at Marilyn’s week-long stay in the Washington suburb while husband Arthur Miller was on trial for contempt of Congress in May 1957.
“Monroe wanted to support her husband by coming to DC, but didn’t want to stay at a hotel where she would be constantly mobbed by the press and fans. For that same reason she couldn’t actually attend any of the court sessions.
Miller contacted his lawyer, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., a widely respected civil rights attorney and co-founder of the Americans for Democratic Action, to ask his suggestions for housing in DC. Joe Rauh invited Miller and Marilyn to stay on the sofa bed in the den of his house at 3625 Appleton Street NW. The next day Rauh’s son Carl, a junior at Wilson High School, drove to Union Station to pick up a woman ‘wearing a dark wig, a head scarf, and sunglasses.’ That was Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe spent the next week at Rauh’s house with Olie Rauh, Joe’s wife. She bicycled around the neighborhood (wearing sunglasses and pedal pushers), sat at the Rauhs’ backyard pool, read books and followed the trial as closely as she could from afar. The neighbors had no idea that Monroe was still present, having assumed she had only briefly visited the Rauhs. In reality, Monroe and Miller had left the Rauh home and then returned for their extended stay.
On the last day of her week’s visit someone tipped an Evening Star reporter to Monroe’s presence and the lawn was soon full of representatives of the press. Monroe held a brief news conference. When asked what she thought of Washington, she said, ‘I love your city. I think it’s the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been here before.’ Soon after, Monroe and her husband, as scheduled, left for Union Station to catch a train to New York.”
Unlike her celebrity peers, Marilyn preferred to live modestly. Nonetheless, you may recall that a Los Angeles home she shared with Joe DiMaggio was recently put on the market (see here) – and it has now been joined by two luxury estates with connections to Marilyn. As reported in Architectural Digest, Frank Sinatra’s former Los Angeles home is on sale for $12.5 million. (It was last put up for sale in 2012, as reported here.)
Marilyn stayed in Sinatra’s guesthouse (shown at top) in 1961. They were having an on-off relationship, and Frank was abroad on tour. She later spent a few months renting an apartment in the Doheny Drive complex he owned, as a neighbour to his secretary, Gloria Lovell.
“Old Blue Eyes himself lived in the sprawling home in the 1950s and 60s and frequently hosted his famous friends … the home seems preordained to shelter celebrities from the Hollywood hullabaloo, as it rests at the end of a near mile-long driveway atop a private promontory that overlooks the vast 1,325-acre Chatsworth Reservoir nature preserve.
Constructed in 1949 by William Pereira, Byrdview is only one of four homes the famed architect designed. Sitting on seven acres, the midcentury-modern house comprises three structures: the main house, a guest house (with its own pool), and a cabana … Outdoors, beyond the pool, there’s a parking space for 100 cars and enough agricultural-zoned acreage that, should the new owners like their wines, a vineyard could be built.”
Secondly, the Rancho Mirage estate of Bing Crosby (near Palm Springs), where Marilyn and John F. Kennedy were among the weekend guests during the March 1962 Democratic Convention, is on sale for $5 million ( although the property has been available for some time, as reported here.) This is the only verified occasion when Marilyn and the president spent a night at the same address, and rather predictably, it’s being promoted as ‘the tryst house’, according to Bloomberg. (Incidentally, Sinatra had hoped to host Kennedy and was reportedly furious that he chose Crosby, a Republican, instead!)
“The 6,700-square-foot estate, spread across more than an acre, was built for the crooner and his second wife, Kathryn, in 1957. The single-story home, with a 1,400-square-foot master suite along with four other en-suite bedrooms, has been on and off the market since 2010, when it was first listed for $3.4 million. It’s also been available for rent through Airbnb for $3,400 a night.”
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:
“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.'”
“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.'”
“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.'”
“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.”
“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.'”
“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.'”
“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.'”
“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.'”
“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.'”
“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.'”
“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.”
“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!”
“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.'”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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?
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.”
‘When you’re with someone who’s that celebrated, it distorts a lot of reality,’ Arthur Miller said of his marriage to Marilyn. Rebecca Miller’s documentary about her father, Arthur Miller: Writer, will have its UK premiere on Sky Atlantic tomorrow (Sunday, October 21) at 9 pm, as reported in The Times.