Pop Art Before Warhol: McHale, Hamilton and Marilyn

We’ve already heard about Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry (see here), but as Craig Williams reports for Glasgow Live, local art pioneer John McHale was inspired by Marilyn – while his London-based colleague Richard Hamilton featured her iconic pose from The Seven Year Itch in an early installation, as shown above – long before Andy Warhol made her his muse.

“The Maryhill area of Glasgow can lay claim to a few things of note … But few would ever imagine that it could hold claim to a title many might believe is held by New York – that of being the birthplace of Pop Art. It wasn’t Warhol who could be considered as the true ‘forefather’ of Pop Art, nor indeed did he coin the ubiquitous term we all know today thanks (in the most part) to his work. That belongs to the almost forgotten Scottish artist, art theorist, sociologist and future studies searcher John McHale – a man born and bred in Maryhill.

McHale coined the term ‘Pop Art’ back in 1954 to describe the aesthetic expressed in art in response to the commercialization of Western culture … Yet it was to be the groundbreaking and hugely popular This Is Tomorrow exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1956 that would light the Pop Art touchpaper. The exhibition – which McHale played a central part in – was described by esteemed art critic Reyner Banham as being the ‘first Pop Art manifestation to be seen in any art gallery in the world’. McHale, alongside Richard Hamilton and John Voelcker, presented images from popular culture from magazines, film publicity posters and comics as part of the exhibition.

And as part of the exhibition, McHale was able to provide plenty of the material, having returned from a scholarship at Yale University with a black metal trunk full to the brim with magazine clippings … Yet it wasn’t until 1962 when Pop Art was effectively ‘rubber-stamped’ in the America psyche via the “Symposium on Pop Art” at the Museum of Modern Art in  New York – the same year that a certain Andy Warhol held his first ever solo exhibition in the city … Warhol’s exhibit featured some of his most well-known works, including ‘Marilyn Diptych’ … which repeated Marilyn Monroe’s image to evoke her ubiquitous presence in the media – it’s very possible that Warhol was inspired to produce the work by none other than Maryhill’s own McHale.

That’s because, in a collection of writings concerning popular imagery and fine art called ‘The Expendable Icon’ published in Architectural Design magazine in 1959, McHale referenced Marilyn Monroe in a section entitled ‘The Girl With The Most’. Monroe, who McHale regarded as ‘doubly interesting’ featured among many popular ‘ikons’ he identified alongside Elvis Presley – another of Warhol’s subjects. McHale wrote that the film star was ‘held up as an example of someone not only defined by personal iconography, but whose image is saturated in the media to such an extent that she serves as a model for universal imitation’.

1962 would see McHale emigrate to live in the US for definite … John McHale (Jr.) notes the difference between his father’s work and that of Warhol. Where Warhol was focused on being a celebrity artist, McHale’s agenda was to extend the boundaries of art to the masses according to his son … Incredibly, his father was also asked to explain his Pop Art ideas by Time magazine and be featured on the cover, but ‘regrettably refused for personal family reasons … From my discussions with my father it was apparent that he originally conceived of Pop Art as being more than just some glib advertising and reflection of popular culture … This may not seem radical in the present century, but half a century ago these were fighting words and cutting edge concepts. Pop Art was about opening up aesthetic possibilities and making art freely available to all …'”

Marilyn and Arthur’s Crossed Destinies

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.

Thanks to Eric Patry and Fraser Penney

Marilyn at the Chateau Marmont

Shawn Levy is the author of several books about the entertainment in the 1950s and ’60s, including Rat Pack Confidential, which became a bestseller on its release twenty years ago. Marilyn’s association with the Rat Pack was covered in this entertaining book, but Levy’s style is gossipy and speculative.

In his latest tome, The Castle On Sunset, Levy explores the history of one of Hollywood’s most fabled hotels, the Chateau Marmont. Levy isn’t the first author to tackle the subject; Raymond Sarlot and Fred E. Basten beat him to it with Life At the Marmont back in 1987.

Marilyn stayed there while filming Bus Stop in 1956, although her official residence was a rented house in Beverly Glen. She most likely used Paula Strasberg’s suite for convenience, not to mention her secret trysts with Arthur Miller, who was waiting out his divorce in Nevada. (Miller’s legal battle with the House Un-American Activities Committee was hotting up at the time, and rather disturbingly, the FBI tracked the couple to the hotel.)

Levy also mentions that journalist Brad Darrach interviewed Marilyn there for her Time magazine cover story. This may seem a little odd, as the article’s author was Ezra Goodman. However, Darrach was apparently part of a team which assembled the piece. He first shared his memories with Anthony Summers for Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe in 1984. Here’s the original account, as related by Summers…

“When Time magazine mounted its first cover story on Marilyn, during the shooting of Bus Stop, its researchers began uncovering a good deal about Marilyn’s parentage. This was a vulnerable area because of her various deceptions. As a result, one of Time‘s youngest reporters, Brad Darrach, was granted a personal interview, in bizarre circumstances.

Darrach collected Marilyn at Fox at 11:00 A.M., and drove her to her hotel, the Chateau Marmont. Marilyn, herself a fast driver, asked the reporter to drive slowly. She seemed to him to be afraid, not of his driving, but ‘generally frightened.’ Once in her suite Marilyn soon declared she was tired, and asked if they could do the interview in her bedroom.

So it was that Darrach ended up, he laughingly remembered, ‘spending ten hours in bed with Marilyn Monroe’. She lay down with her head at one end of the bed. He settled at the foot, and there they talked until long after dark.

‘She was Marilyn, and reasonably pretty,’ Darrach remembered. ‘And of course there were those extraordinary jutting breasts and jutting behind. I’ve never seen a behind like hers; it was really remarkable, it was a very subtly composed ass. Yet I never felt for a moment any sexual temptation. There was nothing about her skin that made me want to touch it. She looked strained and a little unhealthy, as though there was some nervous inner heat that dried the skin. But there was no sexual feeling emanating from her. I am sure that was something that she put on for the camera.'”

Marilyn’s Little Black Dress, and the ‘Master of Chiffon’

This elegant black shift dress with a chiffon midriff launched a fashion craze when Marilyn wore it at London’s Savoy Hotel, quipping that while the dress was not her idea, her midriff was. Writing for the Hollywood Reporter, Vince Boucher notes that the couturier – the subject of a new exhibition at Drexel University in Philadelphia – was James Galanos, who went on to dress First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s.

“Hollywood is represented in a brown-tweed suit from the fifties from Rosalind Russell with a portrait collar and empire-effect belt with trapunto stitching and in a violet jacketed gown similar to one that Diana Ross wore to the Academy Awards. And in a group of black dresses, there is a 1993 mini with a sheer midriff, a motif the designer returned to again and again, all the way back to a black sheath with chiffon inset worn by Marilyn Monroe at her 1956 press conference for The Prince and the Showgirl, as shown in the exhibition catalog.”

In the late 1940s, Galanos was hired as a sketch assistant by Columbia Pictures’ costumier, Jean Louis (who would also design for Marilyn.) By the 1950s, Galanos was designing collections for Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, and Neiman Marcus in New York. He later settle in Los Angeles, and was known as the ‘master of chiffon.’

Marilyn’s wool crepe cocktail dress was purchased at Bergdof Goodman department store in Manhattan, and was sold at Christie’s in 1999. It was also featured in ‘A Short History of the Little Black Dress’, an article posted on the Real Simple website in 2011.

Avedon, the Greenes and Marilyn

Amy and Joshua Greene with Paula Strasberg and Marilyn during filming of ‘Bus Stop’, 1956

Amy Greene is one of many luminaries interviewed by authors Norma Stevens and Steven M.L. Aronson for Avedon: Something Personal, in which she reveals the ties between Milton and Avedon, and later, Marilyn.

“One night in 1950, the photographer Milton Greene was having one of his Friday night open-houses in his penthouse studio, in the old Grand Central Palace building on Lexington Avenue. The room was packed with art directors, admen, models, photographers, actors, and dancers. Dick [Avedon] introduced himself to a fragile-looking blonde with almond-shaped eyes who was standing alone against the wall of the loggia – a wallflower. He broke the ice with, ‘How do you know Milton?’ She said, ‘I was married to him,’ and she filled Dick in: They were high-school sweethearts who had tied the knot in 1942 when she, Evelyn Franklin, was eighteen.

Dick said he was instantly taken by Evie’s feyness and elusiveness … He invited her to dinner that night at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal. From there the relationship took off like a choo-choo train, and the couple got hitched at the end of January 1951.

Avedon with his wife Evelyn in 1955

Milton Greene had meanwhile taken up with a cute Cuban-born model whom Dick had ‘discovered’, Edilia Franco (Conover, the modeling agency he sent her to, changed her first name to Amy and her last name to – in a nod to Dick – Richards.) In the spring of 1952, the year before he married Amy, Milton invited Dick and Evie to Sunday lunch in the country. ‘I wasn’t feeling so hot,’ Amy recalls. ‘I told Milton I wasn’t up to coming down. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I went through this shit for seven years with Evelyn, and I’m not going to put up with it from you. So get the hell up, put something decent on, and make an effort!’ He told me that one of the reasons he divorced Evelyn was she would stay in bed for days on end.

‘When Dick was in Hollywood for three months in 1956 consulting with Paramount on Funny Face, Milton was there producing Bus Stop with Marilyn, and Evelyn and I met for lunch,’ Amy recalls. ‘She and Dick were renting Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio’s old ‘honeymoon house’ on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills, and she complained that the tour buses would drive by several times a day and the guide would make a big thing over the megaphone about the master bedroom – she said it was sexually inhibiting. The minute Evie discovered that I detested Milton’s mother as much as she did, she started giggling, and we became sort of friends. I remember her grousing that all Dick ever did was work. So I guess there wasn’t much reason for her to get out of bed.’

The former DiMaggio home on North Palm Drive, occupied by the Avedons in 1956

Five years into his marriage to Evie, a movie inspired by Dick’s [first] marriage … lit up screens across the country. ‘Funny Face, by the way, wasn’t really about me. They just used my early fashion escapades as a pretext to make a glamorous musical extravaganza …’ (Avedon)

Amazingly, Dick’s boyhood idol, Fred Astaire, now an old boy of 57, played the 25 year-old lead, named Dick; Audrey Hepburn played Doe, renamed Jo … The day Fred Astaire made his leap into death, some thirty years after Funny Face, Dick appeared in the doorway to [Norma Stevens’] office with tears running down his cheeks. ‘I didn’t cry when Marilyn died, I didn’t cry when [Alexey] Brodovitch (Avedon’s art director at Harper’s Bazaar) died, he told [Stevens.}”

Marilyn ‘Pops Up’ to Palm Beach

This 1956 photo of Marilyn hugging a copy of the ancient Greek statue, ‘The Discus Thrower’, at Joe Schenck’s Beverly Hills home can be seen in the sumptuous new Milton Greene book, The Essential Marilyn Monroe. It also appears in The Women, a pop-up exhibition at the new Assouline bookstore in the Royal Poinciana Plaza, organised by gallery owner James Danziger and on display from January 12-16, reports the Palm Beach Daily News.

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.”

Marilyn in the Saturday Evening Post

Marilyn graces the cover of The Golden Age of Hollywood, a  new one-off special from the Saturday Evening Post. It costs $12.99 and can be ordered directly here. (Unfortunately I don’t yet know if it ships outside the US, but I’ll update you if I find out.)

Marilyn has a long history with the Post, as one of her most revealing interviews with Pete Martin, ‘The New Marilyn Monroe’, was serialised over three weeks in 1956, and later published in book form with the playful title, Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe?

On Marilyn’s birthday this year, the Post paid tribute with a blog about the sex symbols who preceded her – including Lillian Russell, Theda Bara and Clara Bow, all of whom she impersonated in her extraordinary ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ shoot with Richard Avedon. But she turned down the chance to play showgirl Evelyn Nesbit in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (the role went to Joan Collins.) And of Mae West, she told W.J. Weatherby, ‘I learned a few tricks from her – that impression of laughing at, or mocking, her own sexuality.’ Jean Harlow, perhaps Marilyn’s greatest influence, is a surprising omission.

You can read Marilyn’s Post interview here.

Joe Hyams 1926-2017

Legendary Hollywood publicist Joe Hyams (not to be confused with the reporter of the same name) has died aged 90, according to the L.A. Times. Born in New York, he served in the Marines during World War II. After a stint in journalism, he was hired as a unit publicist for From Here to Eternity and On the Waterfront. In 1956 he worked on Bus Stop, Marilyn’s acclaimed comeback following a year-long absence from the screen. Four years later, he was appointed national advertising and publicity director at Warner Brothers. He would remain at the studio for over forty years, overseeing major films like My Fair Lady, Bonnie and Clyde, Woodstock, The Exorcist, Blazing Saddles, A Star Is BornChariots of Fire, JFK and Eyes Wide Shut. Hyams also collaborated with actor-director Clint Eastwood on numerous films, including Every Which Way But Loose, Unforgiven and Hyams’ final project, the Oscar-winning Mystic River (2004.)