55 Years Ago: A Poem for Marilyn

Photo by Bert Stern, 1962

On Friday, August 3, 1962, Marilyn called her close friend Norman Rosten and talked about her plans to visit New York that fall, urging him joyfully, ‘Let’s start to live before we get old.’ By Sunday, the world was mourning her death. Norman wrote this poem while Marilyn was still alive, but she never had a chance to read it.

“We who spread the rainbow under glass
And weigh the most elusive sky and air,
Of that clan I come to track your heart –
But I’m baffled by those loose strands of hair.

You stand, finger at your lips, lost
In a long-abandoned heaven. No one within,
The angels gone, and all the harps undone.
What legend draws you there? O hurry down!

Surely your home’s with us, and not the gods.
Below your sealed window as you watch,
A river barge goes by, someone waves,
You laugh and throw a kiss for him to catch.

You’re not to be rescued wholly in this world.
It must be so. As many are saved,
That many drown. I see you clinging
To rooms, to phones, forgotten to be loved.”

Marilyn and Arthur’s ‘Tragically Beautiful’ Wedding

Today marks the 61st anniversary of Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller, on June 29, 1956. Over at History Buff, Mary Miller (no relation, I assume) looks back on a ‘tragically beautiful’ wedding, quoting a diary entry from Marilyn herself.

“I am so concerned about protecting Arthur I love him—and he is the only person—human being I have ever known that I could love not only as a man to which I am attracted to practically out of my senses about—but he [is] the only person … that I trust as much as myself—because when I do trust my- self (about certain things) I do fully.”

Parreno’s Marilyn in Melbourne

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Multimedia artist Philippe Parreno’s 2012 video installation, Marilyn – based on her own writings as collected in the 2010 book, Fragments, and originally exhibited in Switzerland –  is featured in a new retrospective of his work in film, Philippe Parreno: Thenabouts, on display at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne until March 13, as Christopher Allen reports for The Australian.

“The most successful and memorable work in the exhibition was devoted to Marilyn Monroe, a figure who for half a century has been a kind of cultural palimpsest: the original actress, talented, intelligent, tragic, is overlaid with ­Warhol’s adoption of her as emblematic of the way that the modern mass media turns celebrities into two-dimensional patterns akin to brands or logos.

Parreno has recreated the hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria that Monroe occupied in New York in 1955. The camera pans around the room while the actress’s voice describes its design and furnishings: wall coverings, sofas, desks, coffee-table, ornaments. And then the camera switches to a close shot of a fountain pen writing on hotel stationery: we seem to be watching Monroe’s own pen forming her own words in her own handwriting.

But the voice is disembodied and we do not see the hand holding the pen, for all is done through computerised robotic movements. The speech is synthesised from recordings of the star’s voice, and the handwriting robot has been programmed to reproduce samples of her script. As both voice and handwriting routines are repeated, we realise that something mechanical is going on, and this is confirmed as gradually the camera takes a longer view, progressively revealing parts of the illusion.

First we see bits of scaffolding, then gradually we are shown the mechanism holding and moving the pen. And then the camera pans out to reveal that the whole room had really been a set built in a studio. Marilyn Monroe, as it turned out, had not only been reduced to a brand in her own day, but could now be synthetically reproduced, mechanically cloned as it were; a reflection, perhaps, on the further reduction of the actor, in the mass media world, to a consumer product.

The ending was interesting from another point of view too, because it was almost cliched in its use of the trope of illusion revealed. But it was also significant in being one of the few clear endings in a body of films mostly with little sense of starting or finishing.

Watching Parreno’s lengthy and not always gripping body of work, I couldn’t help reflecting that Aristotle was on to something with his conception of plot as the basic structuring device for stories.

At least the Marilyn Monroe film conformed perfectly to his definition of an ending: an action that implies something before it but nothing after it.”

Marilyn’s Final Script Sold (Again) For $25,000

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Marilyn’s annotated script for her final, incomplete  movie, Something’s Got to Give, has been sold at the Nate D. Sanders Hollywood Memorabilia auction for $25,000. While reporters have poked fun at her minor spelling errors – such as ‘leeding him on’ – her comments are often perceptive. ‘Needs more jokes’, she remarked – an opinion shared by others during this troubled production.

If this script looks familiar, that’s because it sold at Julien’s only a month ago for $10,240. Other items from the event have also been spotted on auction sites like EBay, confirming that Marilyn’s personal property is becoming a magnet for investors. A disused grave marker from her crypt, also sold in November, attracted no bids this time around.

“Monroe’s handwritten pencil notes begin with her character’s (Ellen Wagstaff Arden) introduction in the script on page 12 and carry through to the end on page 149, even including notes on the verso of the last page and back cover, such as a note reading, ‘Joke writers Mel Brooks / Herb Gardner / Need spice / raisins / Need some funny lines.’ There are notes in Monroe’s hand on approximately 42 pages in the script, ranging from simple dialogue corrections and changes to in-depth sense memory notes when doing a scene that required a deeper emotional connection and understanding. Regarding her character’s introduction, as she interacts with naval personnel who saved her after being marooned on an island for five years, Monroe writes, ‘1 – Gayity [sic] 2 – Excitement 3 – Then Dazed.’ In one scene, Monroe references Arthur Miller’s children to better help her relate to her character’s children, ‘Bobby M. / and early Janie / except their [sic] mine.’ Throughout the script, Monroe writes succinct dialogue and character notes: ‘Stunned / Dazed – sky high with adventure’, ‘dead pan/I really don’t know’, ‘anticipating the joys’, ‘Trying to think or remember’, ‘start to wonder what’s from now on’, ‘I don’t know he knows’, ‘easy/very intimate/very real’, ‘[L]et me get into something more comfortable / leading him on -‘. Included is a small card with call times and scenes to be shot, and a small scrap of paper with a note in Monroe’s hand wondering why they are shooting out of sequence, as well as notes about using Miss vs. Mrs.”

This copy of the script is dated March 29, 1962. Another version, including revisions dated April 23 and 27, and with eighteen pages annotated by Marilyn, went unsold, after being purchased at Julien’s last month for $12,800.

“Some of the highlights include notes Monroe made for Scene 168, in which she interacts with her children in the movie, who don’t recognize her as they were too young when she became stranded on an island for five years and presumed dead. These hand-annotated typewritten pages were inserted into the script for this particular scene – one of the few that Monroe completed before her untimely death. Within these pages, Monroe writes a series of notes regarding her preparation: ‘Real thought’, ‘Mental Relaxation’, ‘Look for the light’, ‘Place the pain/feeling where it is not in the brow’, as well as specific sense memories to help find the emotional truth with her character’s feelings toward her on-screen children, ‘Substitute children – B & J if necessary’, perhaps referring to Arthur Miller’s children Bobby and Jane. There are also some notes from Monroe regarding her work with a Swedish dialect coach. Peppered throughout the script are further dialogue notes, changes and line strikes. Interestingly, the script also includes notes in an unknown hand giving blunt, critical assessments and insights of the script’s scene descriptions, direction and dialogue. These notes start on the script’s first page, ‘Note for Marilyn/He has to woo her not the way it is / new blue pages’ and continue in blue pen, ‘Dull’, ‘Naggy, ‘Make it funny!’ and ‘Smugly’. Interestingly, Monroe reacts to some of these notes, either changing dialogue and scene direction or, in some cases, striking the note itself if she doesn’t agree with it.”

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And in other news, a Frank Powolny portrait of Marilyn – signed by the lady herself to ‘Jimmie’ – was sold at R.R. Auctions for $24,959 this week, as part of the Tom Gregory Collection.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Notes On Acting

Marilyn on the set for 'Let's Make Love' (Frieda Hull Collection)
Marilyn on the set of ‘Let’s Make Love’ (1960)

Among the many revelations to be found in the new Julien’s catalogue are a series of notes made by Marilyn on her work at the Actors Studio, where she once played Blanche DuBois in a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A black board notebook with red spine containing lined notebook paper with notes in Monroe’s hand. A very large letter ‘M’ is drawn inside the front and back covers. There are multiple notes written in another hand on the first page of the book, but the next page contains notes in Monroe’s hand in pencil with ideas for a ‘Street Car Scene’ reading in part, ‘begin with ? (1st grade happening Mexican boy accuses me of hurting him – having to stay after school it was nite [sic] outside – have place – concern because of Stan K. accusations plus – getting dress for Mitch trying to look nice especially since what Stan K. has said.’ The note also suggests she hum ‘Whispering while you hover near me,’ which is a song standard found in her notebook of standards in the following lot, only the lyric is ‘Whispering while you cuddle near me.’ The front and back of the last page of the book contain notes from acting class, including ‘during exercise – lee said let the body hang’; ‘2 exercises at one time/ cold & Touch/ one might not be enough for what’s needed’; and ‘sense of oneself/ first thing a child (human being) is aware of (making a circle) touching ones foot knowing himself is separate from the rest of the world,’ among others.”

Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)
Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)

Marilyn also studied the role of Lorna Moon in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, writing her lines twice to memorise them.

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Also on offer is an undated note which reads in part, “keeping all of the changes of pantomime & grimaces etc inside, then it forces the eyes – it all comes through the eyes”; and “Constantly practicing that letting go/ in which you don’t do in life which isn’t necessary or something/ feeling how it feels and practicing that/your spirit speaks.”

‘Marilyn: Character Not Image’

Marilyn at the 'East of Eden' premiere in 1955 - photo and manipulation for Arthur Fellig, aka 'Weegee'
Marilyn at the ‘East of Eden’ premiere in 1955 – photo and manipulation for Arthur Fellig, aka ‘Weegee’

Marilyn: Character Not Image, a new exhibition curated by none other than the multi-talented actress, comedienne and host of TV’s The View, Whoopi Goldberg – a woman who has consistently defied stereotyping throughout her long career – will open at Jersey City’s Mana Contemporary on September 25, through to October 22.

weegee_10327_1993_8+2“This show presents a different side to the legendary actress: behind the glamour was a vulnerable, sensitive, and ambitious young woman who spent time writing poems and diary entries to self-analyze, understand, and reassure herself. In these writings, she craves love and friendship, and battles with ongoing pain, heartbreak, and disappointment. She attempts to understand the world on her terms, tries to accept her insecurities and fears, and to become a better artist.

Milton Greene was a personal friend who constructed many famous images of Marilyn the star, but he also took many intimate photographs of Marilyn the person. The images here demonstrate her sweetness, humor, and impatience: with husband Arthur Miller, talking to animals, receiving directions for a photoshoot, taking a summer dip. The images by Weegee reveal a sly complicity between subject and photographer: his dark-room distorted imagery pokes fun at the unreal and absurd facets of the Hollywood industry, of which Marilyn was keenly aware.

Also on view is the dress she wore during the unforgettable 1962 performance singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, perhaps the most significant moment of her career, the crystallization of the persona she was continually creating since she dreamed of becoming an actress as a little girl. The dress and the drawings are on loan from Julien’s Auctions’ forthcoming November events.

‘The image of Marilyn Monroe the icon endures and strengthens as time goes by, but her personal life remains a mystery,’ says Whoopi Goldberg. ‘With this exhibition I wanted to show a glimpse of the woman behind the icon using, before now, never-before-seen images, some of her personal writings, and some pieces of her artwork.'”

Thanks to Edgar Freire

Australia’s Marilyn Moment

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Following two major exhibitions in Bendigo and Albury, it can be said that 2016 (so far) has been Australia’s Year of Marilyn. Journalist Inga Walton has also made a significant contribution with ‘A Moment With Marilyn’, her detailed and insightful four-part series for Trouble magazine, which you can read here.

“There is something of the universal fable in Monroe’s story, in the way tales are re-cast, with a different setting, for a new generation. There is also an unmistakable touch of the heroic about her, given where she came from and where she went. ‘We take her seriously as an artist and person, a liberated woman before it became fashionable, who won an honoured place and lost her life,’ Norman Rosten attests. ‘A woman of obscure beginnings who studied and struggled against great odds to create a life of dignity and respect. She confronted a world of caste and prejudice; she broke into the clear for herself and others.’

There are myriad reasons for Monroe’s inextricable hold over generations of audiences. Her unique and intoxicating combination of beauty, talent, sensuality, impulsiveness, and emotional turmoil continues to beguile and haunt. Monroe’s life was plagued by frailty, isolation, and self-doubt. She suffered from the thwarted ambition and unfulfilled promise that afflicts so many of us- and yet she demonstrated great resilience. We have come to empathise with Monroe’s faults, feel compassion for the many challenging aspects of her life, and applaud her candour. Sometimes it seems as though the desperate pathos of her tragic demise might threaten to overwhelm the pleasure her work continues to bring. It is as though Monroe anticipated this paradox when she mused,

Life- I am both of your directions,
Somehow remaining hanging downward,
The most, but strong as a cobweb in the wind-
I exist more with the cold glistening frost.
But my beaded rays have the colours I’ve seen in paintings
Ah life, they have cheated you…”

Margaret Atwood’s ‘Marilyn Monroe-Bot’

rare13One of the world’s leading authors, Margaret Atwood, has referenced Marilyn in her latest sci-fi novel, The Heart Goes Last. “Elvis really put it out there,” she told Toronto Metro. “I was also a Marilyn fan. It’s my little homage to the Elvises and the Marilyns.”

Atwood, who is Canadian, begins the chapter entitled ‘Black Suit’ with a reference to MM’s sultry performance in Niagara. In another chapter, ‘Dressups’, a character transforms into a Marilyn-style robot. (A ‘Monroebot’ previously featured in a 2001 episode of the animated series, Futurama.)

Here’s a sneak preview of The Heart Goes Last, which first appeared as an online serial…

“Black flatters me, thinks Charmaine, checking herself in the powder room mirror. Aurora had known where to take her shopping, and though black has never been her colour, Charmaine’s not negative about the results. The black suit, the black hat, the blond hair – it’s like a white chocolate truffle with dark chocolate truffles all around it; or like, who was that? Marilyn Monroe in Niagara, in the scene right before she gets strangled, with the white scarf she never should have worn, because women in danger of being strangled should avoid any fashion accessories that tie around the neck. They’ve shown that movie a bunch of times on Positron TV and Charmaine watched it every time. Sex in the movies used to be so much more sexy than it became after you could actually have sex in the movies. It was languorous and melting, with sighing and surrender and half-closed eyes. Not just a lot of bouncy athletics.

Of course, she thinks, Marilyn’s mouth was fuller than her own, and you could use very thick red lipstick back then. Does she herself have that innocence, that surprised look? Oh! Goodness me! Big doll eyes. Not that Marilyn’s innocence was much in evidence in Niagara. But it was, later.”

Jack Kerouac, Marilyn and ‘Marylou’

kerouacWe can now add beat novelist Jack Kerouac to the list of male authors hopelessly infatuated by Marilyn, as described by Dave Krajicek in an article for Salon. Kerouac never met Marilyn, though she owned a copy of his classic 1957 novel, On the Road.

Kerouac made a rather crass remark about Marilyn’s passing, saying she was “f—– to death.” He also nurtured a rescue fantasy towards MM, and made similarly puerile remarks about the tragic deaths of Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard.

“Sir, I would have given [MM] love,” he told his friend Lucien Carr. “By telling her that she was an Angel of Light and that Clifford Odets and Lee Strasberg and all the others were the Angels of Darkness and to stay away from them and come with me to a quiet valley in the Yuma desert, to grow old together like ‘an old stone man and an old stone woman’…to tell her she really, is really, Marylou.”

Here is an extract from Krajicek’s article:

“‘Marylou’ refers to another character in On the Road, a ‘beautiful little chick’ based on Luanne Henderson, Neal Cassady’s real-life adolescent bride. Kerouac wrote, ‘Marylou was a pretty blonde…But, outside of being a sweet little girl, she was awfully dumb and capable of doing horrible things.’ It seems absurd that Kerouac conflated or equated Monroe, one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, with Cassady’s child-wife, who was fifteen when they married. But it’s also a telling detail that Kerouac imagined – saw himself as – Monroe’s protector, her superhero.

Kerouac’s misogyny already has inspired a cottage industry of commentary. One contemporary writer calls the Beats ‘immature dicks.’ Another suggests it is unrealistic to consider Kerouac (or any writer) outside the context of his or her times.

So Kerouac was ‘of his time,’ to use a tired phrase. And some use the same excuse for the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1962, the inaugural edition of Ms. Magazine was still a decade away. But Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was in the publishing pipeline that year, and the English-language edition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex had been available since 1953.

Kerouac’s Monroe letter must be regarded as exceptionally repulsive. And the passage of time adds context that makes its content even more significant. Marilyn Monroe has advanced in stature from a sex symbol to a cultural icon to an influential proto-feminist figure. She has transcended mere sexuality—for those able to see beyond her exterior.”

Krajicek’s outraged response is, perhaps, another kind of rescue fantasy. Contrary to myth, Marilyn was a strong woman, who didn’t need a man to save her. She doesn’t need one now, either – despite all the mud that has been slung her way, the ‘angel of light’ will never be forgotten.

But Krajicek is right to condemn Kerouac’s creeping misogyny. Norman Mailer, who wrote a ‘factoid biography’ of Marilyn, was also fixated by her sexuality – but at least Mailer credited her with some strength and intelligence, too.

“In fact, Jack, you don’t deserve her—never did, never will,” Krajicek concludes: and it’s hard to disagree.

Brooklyn Poet Reads Letter From Marilyn

Marilyn leaving hospital, 1961.
Marilyn leaving hospital, 1961.

As all true fans will know, Marilyn loved to read – and was a gifted writer herself. Norman Rosten, the ‘Bard of Brooklyn’, was one of her closest friends. On her Sunset Gun blog, Kim Morgan transcribes Marilyn’s eloquent letter to her psychoanalyst, Dr. Ralph Greenson, written during a 1961 hospital stay – and relates how another Brooklyn poet, John Ashbery, came to read it, over half a century later.

John Ashbery, photographed by David Shankbone in 2010
John Ashbery, photographed by David Shankbone in 2010

“While in New York this February, I carried this letter in my bag, wandering around the snowy city, almost afraid I’d lose it if I left it in my hotel room. It’s a sad letter, and I was clinging to it, for my own reasons beyond research. A friend gave me a copy of the *real* letter … he found the papers years ago while working on a Monroe documentary about the making (and unmaking) of Something’s Got to Give. I was doing research for a current project and this letter was essential. The third day in the city, it was my honor to visit the poet John Ashbery at his apartment in Chelsea. He noticed me pulling out the six-paged typed papers from a magazine I was giving him — I said — ‘This was written by Marilyn Monroe.’ He wanted to read it. I handed it to him and, to my delight, he read it aloud, beautifully, commenting on how lovely the first paragraph was. He joked, ‘Watch out. I might steal some of this!’ He scanned through M.M.’s raw, powerful and frequently witty words, reading passages he liked. The moment was tremendously moving, listening and watching John read (‘Was it Milton who asked, The happy ones were never born?’) and I asked if he would sign the letter. I felt the occasion needed to be marked — John Ashbery reading original writing by Marilyn Monroe. Two titans. He happily laughed and signed the letter. I thought that would make Marilyn happy.”