Joyce Carol Oates on ‘Fragments’

“Like all serious artists, Marilyn Monroe lived – lives – in her art. Fugitive pieces like those of Fragments will resonate most with those who know her extraordinary films. Here is a female artist for whom work was salvation, or might have been if circumstances had been slightly different; if, for instance, Monroe had remained in New York at the Actor’s Studio, and had not returned to Hollywood, in 1960, to make The Misfits. In an interview of 1959, as if in rueful acknowledgement of her impending fate, Monroe said, ‘I guess I am a fantasy’ – a luminous phantom in the lives of others.”

From the December issue of US Playboy – read in full here

Jill Clayburgh 1944-2010

Actress Jill Clayburgh has died aged 66. She starred in films such as Portnoy’s Complaint (1972), Gable and Lombard (1976), Semi-Tough (1977), An Unmarried Woman (1978), and La Luna (1979.)

She was known for playing strong, liberated women, and once told reporters, ‘There was practically nothing for women to do on the screen in the 1950s and 1960s. Sure, Marilyn Monroe was great, but she had to play a one-sided character, a vulnerable sex object. It was a real fantasy.’

In recent years, Clayburgh has appeared in television dramas including Nip/Tuck and Dirty Sexy Money (with Donald Sutherland.) She married playwright David Rabe (The Firm) in 1979, and they had three children.

Jill Clayburgh died of leukaemia after living with the disease for two decades. Her final film, Love and Other Drugs, opens in the US later this months and also features Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway.

Marilyn in Fragments

Ed Feingersh, 1955

“For at the heart of the Marilyn Monroe legend beats that most American of stories: a wholly engrossing, Great Gatsby–style quest for self-transformation that starts (and too often ends) with nothing. Fragments reveals previously unreleased images of the star, all cocked eyebrows and adamant hand gestures, fully engaged by art and conversation; her stalwart support of friend Ella Fitzgerald’s efforts to sing in white clubs; a voracious reader who favored such soothsayers as Steinbeck, Kerouac and Sherwood Anderson; and her scattered, sharply sensitive musings. The world’s most famous sex object was also, it seems, a shrewd and compassionate subject, if one bombarded by her impressions. “For life, it is rather a determination not to be overwhelmed,” she wrote in 1954. ‘For work, the truth can only be recalled, not invented.’

It was a difficult edict for a woman forever struggling to reinvent herself as a way to transcend a past strewn with abandonment and abuse. It was also one this book suggests she accepted as the price of authenticity with her characteristic cocktail of grace, forbearance and grief.

Now that I am roughly the oldest age Marilyn ever lived to be, I grasp what that postcard promised all along: An elusive admixture of hope and industry, will and willingness, to which she strove until her final days. An able, grownup-lady femininity that now, more than ever, is in too short supply.”

Lisa Rosman, LA Weekly

“The image of Marilyn Monroe as a lifelong reader is one I find deeply touching. Literature was not able to save her from a sad fate, but I have no doubt that it enriched her life, her thought, her feelings and gave her joy along the way. We cannot ask more of any art than that.

I’ve already seen, in lazy news items on this book, snarky comments exalting Marilyn and her reading habits above contemporary troubled sex objects the likes of Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton. But this is to entirely miss the point, which is, of course: You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Doubtless Marilyn contemporaries like Lawrence Olivier, who treated her contemptuously while filming The Prince and the Showgirl, would have scoffed at the notion she had any inner life at all. Yes, it seems likely Lindsay reads little more than Tweets on her smartphone, but we don’t know that for certain.”

Chauncey Mabe, Open Page

‘Why Do We Still Love Marilyn?’

This is the question posed by Lena Corner in today’s Independent, with a byline stating that ‘if she were alive today, the actress would be just another druggie starlet.’ (Needless to say, I strongly disagree…)

“Our enduring obsession with Monroe owes much to the fact that she was working in an older, gentler world in an era before the media made it its business to get its nose into everything. Unlike Lohan and other stars of today, who we get to see snorting coke, sporting alcohol-monitoring tags and wearing no knickers, we never witnessed anything like that with Monroe.

Recreating Monroe’s mix of wide-eyed innocence, overt sexiness and the frisson of danger and power that comes from being associated with the mafia and the Kennedys is nigh on impossible. Celebrities these days only seem interested in having access to Premier League footballers which isn’t nearly so interesting.”

Corner quotes film critic David Thomson:

“Monroe wasn’t a serious actress. There are stories that she wanted to play amazing parts and that Lee Strasberg (the method acting coach) thought she was a great actress. I don’t believe it. I don’t think she could really carry more than a line or two at a time.”

However, even Thomson – despite his low opinion of Monroe’s talent – has to concede that she is an enduring icon…

“Our obsession isn’t going to stop for a long time yet. These days we don’t believe in stars in the same sort of way. We are much too cynical. Celebrity has taken over from stardom and celebrities have a built in self-destruction factor which means they’re always going to implode or burn up. There is no one remotely close to Monroe and I don’t think there ever will be.”

Writing in the Vancouver Sun, Shelley Fralic argues that, contrary to received wisdom, Marilyn was a woman of substance…

“Have we really developed a celebrity culture so thin on the ground that it no longer requires its icons to have real talent, but instead slavishly worships and rewards those who bring nothing more to the table than bouts of bad behaviour or a bodacious booty?

But, hey, what about Marilyn Monroe, you say?

Didn’t we worship her as nothing more than the original blond bombshell?

Well, if you have to ask, then you’ve never seen Monroe’s achingly intimate and vulnerable performance in The Misfits.

Kim Kardashian does nothing, and for that she is famous.

We have surely gone insane.”

‘Strictly For Kicks’ at Bonham’s

Rare photographs of Marilyn Monroe in a 1948 stage show, Strictly For Kicks, will be sold in a Bonham’s and Butterfield auction of entertainment memorabilia, to be held in Los Angeles next month. Marilyn wore the same floral bikini and platform sandals in her first movie, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1947)

In 1948, Marilyn signed a 6-month contract with Columbia. However, she had previously worked at Twentieth Century Fox, and in March she appeared in a studio talent showcase at the Fox Studio Club Little Theater. An outside arena was built instead of using the stage on the lot, as studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck would be attending.

Marilyn appeared in two brief scenes, and the script included directions such as ‘Miss Monroe butts onto the stage…’

Marilyn appears to be wearing a costume from Ladies of the Chorus, which she filmed at Columbia in April.

In other pictures from the event Marilyn wears a light-coloured dress, which could be the same gown which she would wear in Love Happy (1949.)

Other items on offer at Bonhams’ include contractual papers for Bus Stop; a signed photo; personally-owned scripts for Let’s Make Love and Something’s Got to Give; a handwritten note by Marilyn, reminding herself to call poet Carl Sandburg; a mortgage agreement signed by Monroe and third husband Arthur Miller; a receipt for a gas payment, dated to Marilyn’s last birthday; and some airline tickets.

More details at Jezebel

Thanks to Megan at Everlasting Star


‘Maf the Dog’ at Bridport Literary Festival

“Movie icon Marilyn Monroe had a life that could only happen in Hollywood and had it all played out in the tabloids. As part of the Bridport Literary Festival, Andrew O’Hagan will be talking about Marilyn’s story, but with a twist. In November 1960 Frank Sinatra gave her a dog called Maf, and Maf the dog became a star in his own right. Marilyn died in 1962 and Maf was by her side throughout the last two years of her life. Andrew O’Hagan chronicles the time shared by the star and her devoted pooch, bringing a unique look at a life you might think you know. The talk takes place at Bridport Arts Centre on Saturday, November 6th at 4pm and tickets cost £8. Following the talk, there will be a screening introduced by O’Hagan of The Misfits – a film directed by John Huston and a script by Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller, which won great critical acclaim and proved to be the last film Marilyn made.”

View From Publishing

Read my review of Andrew O’Hagan’s delightful comic novel, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

Naomi Watts: A ‘Fragile’ Blonde

“I’m not especially comfortable playing damsels in distress,” the Australian actress Naomi Watts tells Nancy Mills of The Scotsman. “I like to play women who appear to be that but, at the last minute, show they’re anything but.”

This could be a description of Marilyn Monroe, who Watts is set to play in Andrew Dominik’s big-screen adaptation of Blonde (a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, based on Monroe’s life.)

Blonde has not yet begun production, but is already causing quite a stir in Hollywood. It is due out in 2012, which also marks the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death.

“Everyone thinks, ‘Ooh, Marilyn Monroe,”‘ Watts says, “but it’s not a glossy picture. It’s quite dark, but a great story.”

The two actresses would seem to have little in common, apart from their hair colour, but Watts sees more to it. “I get her fragility, definitely,” she says.

“I feel like I’m a fairly fragile person,” Watts admits. “It’s pretty easy for me to get upset or emotional, but not tough or angry. Having said that, I think I’ve survived certain situations that have made me tougher and made me pull through. Even this whole thing about being an actor – that took a long time. I don’t feel like I had thick skin, but the fact that I stayed there knocking away at it must make me resilient.”

“I am interested in dark things,” she adds. “I’m not afraid of them. We all have a dark side. It’s a matter of whether you want to embrace it or not. I’m willing to explore it, but it’s not going to eat me up.”

Marilyn and Saul Bellow

The novelist Saul Bellow wrote after dinner with Marilyn Monroe:

“I have yet to see anything in Marilyn that isn’t genuine. Surrounded by thousands she conducts herself like a philosopher.”

Later, he reflected:

“She was connected with a very powerful current but she couldn’t disconnect herself from it. She had a kind of curious incandescence under the skin…”

From Saul Bellow: Letters, out now in hardback