With a major new biography of Richard Avedon, Something Personal, due to be published later this month, the New Yorker‘s Hilton Als looks back at Nothing Personal, the photographer’s 1964 collaboration with author James Baldwin. An exhibit of material from the book will go on display at the Pace/McGill Gallery, NYC, on November 17.
“As an artist, Avedon told the truth about lies, and why we need them or metaphors to survive, and how people fit into their self-mythologizing like body bags, and die in them if they’re not careful. Look at his portrait of Marilyn Monroe in Nothing Personal, perhaps one of the most difficult pictures in the book. In an interview, Dick said Monroe had given a performance as Marilyn Monroe earlier in the shoot, laughing and giggling and dancing. But then the shoot was over, and where was she? Who was she? Nothing Personal is riddled with these questions of identity—what makes a self?—a question that gave a certain thirteen-year-old ideas about the questions he might ask in this world: Who are we? To each other? And why?”
This photo of a radiant Marilyn opening the Sidewalk Superintendents Club at the Rockefeller Center in New York on July 2, 1957, is featured in a new book, Moment by Moment, as Liz Ronk reports for Time. Photographer John Loengard worked for Life magazine, and it would be interesting to know if he captured any other images of Marilyn that day.
Interior designer Carleton Varney was consulted by Marilyn and Arthur Miller in 1957, after they bought an 18th century farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut. The property was in need of renovation, and according to Architectural Digest, the couple ‘added sliding glass doors to its rear façade and created a one-room studio where the playwright could work.’
Varney writes about Marilyn’s personal style in an article for Palm Beach Daily News. Her preference for simplicity is in marked contrast to her glamorous public image.
“I met Marilyn only once in my life, when she was married to Arthur Miller, the playwright. At that time, she divided her time between Connecticut and her New York City apartment on 57th Street.
Marilyn was not, shall we say, energetically enthusiastic about the ways and styles of interior design. Her tastes were simple. She expressed her personal style as more ‘cottage’ than ‘High Hollywood’ — a simple white clapboard house, say, or a California stucco-clad ranch home. A white picket fence was more Marilyn, I believe, than any fancy grill-work iron gate on a Beverly Hills mansion. I think her design preferences reflected her pre-Hollywood roots as Norma Jean Baker.
I have always said that taste develops in one’s earliest days, probably from the very first room one can recall … Like Marilyn, most of us have a comfort zone that makes us happy and content. And if the look of high glamour does not fit you, don’t go that way! Stick to a style of decorating that suits you and reflects the adventures you have enjoyed in life.”
Newsday have dug into their archives for an account of Marilyn’s belated arrival in New York on July 2nd, 1957, from her summer home in Amagansett, to launch the construction of a new Time-Life building.
Arthur Miller wrote about the event in his autobiography, Timebends, recalling his astonishment at Marilyn’s star power – who else could keep a Rockefeller waiting? In the book, he described her dress as yellow, but his memory may be faulty. The article describes it as pink and white, matching its appearance in colour photos taken that summer by Sam Shaw.
Another interesting point, for me, is that the article names Warren Fisher as Marilyn’s manager that day. According to Stacy Eubank, author of Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn, Fisher (or ‘Fischer’) was a press agent who also assisted Marilyn a few weeks later, when she suffered a miscarriage. In her memoir, Marilyn & Me, Susan Strasberg describes Fisher as ‘a secret friend she often met on Fridays for drinks at the St Regis Hotel.’
“Marilyn Monroe, a girl accustomed to standing out in a crowd, yesterday stood one up. And this crowd included a Rockefeller, who finally couldn’t stand it any longer. He waited for almost two hours and then left before Miss Monroe finally arrived.
The occasion was a ceremony at the site of the $70,000,000, 47-story Time & Life building now being built at 50th St. and Sixth Ave. Marilyn, a girl who sets off explosions wherever she walks, was supposed to set one off at the excavation by lighting a giant firecracker. The blast was planned to mark the reactivation of the old Rockefeller Center Sidewalk Superintendent’s Club.
The blow-up was scheduled for 11:30 AM. Laurance S. Rockefeller, a member of the board of directors of Rockefeller Center, was there in plenty of time. And so was Roy Larsen of Time Inc. But no Marilyn. When she did arrive, after a helicopter flight into the city from her vacation retreat in Amagansett, the blonde actress was more than two hours late.
About 500 ogling fans and 50 newsmen and photographers, climbed over each other for the most advantageous positions to photograph and to admire Miss Monroe’s charms. She smiled and two hours of sweat and swears were forgotten in an instance. The crowd loved it.
But Rockefeller, one of the late John D’s grandson, and Larsen were no longer around. After sweltering in the hot sun for almost two hours, they had announced politely at 1:15 PM that they wouldn’t wait any more.
The official left in charge, G. S. Eyssell, who later was overhead making a few irritated-sounding remarks to Miss Monroe’s manager, Warren Fisher, gave the actress a ‘warm welcome’ when her limousine rolled up to the scene. And the big blast finally went off.
The trip represented a vacation for Marilyn from her summer vacation in Amagansett. Her husband playwright Arthur Miller, stayed home to water the grass. Marilyn had arrived in New York in a nasty old helicopter that had made her airsick.
Lovely as a picture in a low-cut pink-and-white summer dress, the blond smiled and said, ‘Hi.’
Despite the brevity of her greeting, it was perfectly clear why gentlemen prefer blondes. She added that ‘it was a windy trip.'”
One of Marilyn’s favourite New York hangouts was the Plaza Hotel, where in February 1956, she held a press conference with Sir Laurence Olivier – and, much to his amazement, chaos erupted when the strap on his co-star’s dress broke!
John F. Doscher, a bartender (or ‘mixologist’) at the Plaza during the fifties, remembers Marilyn and other stars in his new book, The Back of the House, reports Hernando Today.
“Take for instance his va-va-va voom encounter with Marilyn Monroe. The starlet stayed at the hotel numerous times.
Doscher said he was awestruck by the entourage of photographers, hair stylists and makeup artists accompanying Miss Monroe each time she came in.
‘They were from Life, Look and Photoplay magazines, all there for photo opps, he said, early paparazzis, you know?’
One day Monroe was having a late breakfast in what was the Edwardian Room and sitting by the window overlooking Central Park South. A few tables away with her back to Monroe sat Plaza-regular New York newspaper columnist, Dorothy Kilgallen.
Working the bar that day in the Edwardian, Doscher mentioned to Kilgallen that Monroe was sitting by the window. Kilgallen, he said, ‘Let out a “harrumph” and said, ‘Yes. I saw her. She looks like an unmade bed.’
‘Apparently, there was some animosity there,’ Doscher observed. ‘I mean, Marilyn Monroe has been described many ways in her lifetime, but never the description Kilgallen offered.'”
Dorothy Kilgallen was a syndicated newspaper columnist. In 1952, she reported that journalist Robert Slatzer was a rival to Joe DiMaggio for Marilyn’s affections. (Slatzer has since become a notorious figure in Monroe history, and biographer Donald Spoto considers him a fraud.)
After Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released in 1953, a sceptical Kilgallen wrote to Darryl F. Zanuck, asking him to confirm that Marilyn’s singing was her own voice, which he did.
Needless to say, none of this endeared her to Marilyn, and in his essay, A Beautiful Child, Truman Capote wrote that MM had described Kilgallen as a drunk who hated her.
Kilgallen lived near the summer house where Marilyn and Arthur Miller stayed in 1957. In 1960, she was photographed with Marilyn at a press conference for Let’s Make Love.
Just days before Marilyn died, Kilgallen alluded to the star’s affair with a prominent man in her column. In the following weeks, she tried to investigate the circumstances behind Monroe’s death – particularly her alleged links to the Kennedy brothers.
In 1965, 53 year-old Kilgallen was found dead in her New York apartment, having overdosed on alcohol and barbiturates, and also having possibly suffered a heart attack.
However, some conspiracy theorists think Kilgallen was murdered, because of her critical comments about the US government.
With the death of Bert Stern, and the upcoming Milton Greene auction, some of Marilyn’s most eminent photographers have been making headlines recently.
Profiles in History have just published a catalogue for their 56th Hollywood Auction, set for July 29th, and it includes rare, unseen photos by Richard Avedon (outtakes from a 1957 session, and contact sheets with Arthur Miller) and a number of candid photos taken at Amagansett that summer (attributed to Sam Shaw by the auctioneers, though his estate has not confirmed this.)
What I find most interesting about the Avedon photos is that they show that his more famous portrait of Marilyn alone, looking dejected, was actually one in a series of poses – similar to Philippe Halsman’s ‘mixed emotions’ concept.
Marilyn spent a mostly joyous summer at Amagansett, New York, with Arthur Miller in 1957. Among her companions were poet Norman Rosten, and Arthur’s children, Jane and Bobby. She was pregnant, but sadly lost the child in August.
These informal snaps are sweet, sexy – and were probably taken at around the same time as the picture below (not on auction), which has long been a mystery among Monroe fans.
Finally, you may have noticed that a topless photo of Marilyn is among these candid snaps – sure to attract the attention of tabloid journalists! You can see the uncensored version here.
Veteran off-Broadway producer Paul Libin shared his theatrical memories with the New York Timesrecently, including an anecdote about the day he met Arthur Miller – with his then-wife, Marilyn Monroe.
“Arthur Miller, more than anyone else, kept emerging in the table talk, almost Zelig-like. For starters, seeing a 1950 production of Miller’s Death of a Salesman back home in Chicago convinced a 19-year-old Paul Libin to pursue an acting career. This was not an ambition destined for fulfillment. He came to New York and, in 1953, auditioned for a part in Wish You Were Here, a Joshua Logan musical comedy. He did fine with his spoken lines.
‘And then,’ Mr. Libin said, ‘I had to sing. I heard Josh Logan say: Next! And that was it.’
Four years later, he decided that producing was for him, and he aimed high. His first play was The Crucible. Arthur Miller again.
‘What a producer is, at least in my mind, is putting the parts together and making it work with what you have,’ Mr. Libin said. But first you need those parts. For The Crucible, he did not even have a theater. He had to build one. But where?
On his way to the dentist one day, he passed the old Martinique Hotel, at Broadway and 32nd Street.
‘I saw a sign that said a ballroom was available,’ he recalled. ‘I talked to the manager of the hotel, a Mr. Foreman. A really tough character. Used to carry a snub-nosed .38.’ He explained his idea, and Mr. Foreman was unenthusiastic. Nonetheless, Mr. Libin phoned Miller’s agent and said, ‘We have the theater.’
‘Actually, we didn’t have anything,’ he said at lunch, his voice turning almost conspiratorial. ‘That’s what a producer has to do: be very positive about circumstances.’
Miller wanted to see for himself if the ballroom could be converted into a theater. He showed up at the Martinique with his wife. You may have heard of her: Marilyn Monroe.
In walked the hotel manager, who somehow failed to notice Monroe. He focused his attention on Miller and Mr. Libin.
‘I said, I’d like you to meet his wife,’ Mr. Libin said. ‘When the guy turned, I thought he was going to melt right there. He could hardly speak.’ By the time the young producer made it back by subway to the Upper West Side, where he worked, Mr. Foreman had left a message for him: ‘When are we going to sit down and make the deal?'”
In her blog at the Jewish Daily Forward, Elisa Strauss responds to a recent New York Times piece, ‘The Marilyn Obsession’ by Austin Considine, on the current boom in nostalgia and ABG’s plans to capitalise on Marilyn’s image.
Interestingly, Strauss also shares with us a poignant anecdote about Monroe’s 1957 trip to Washington with husband Arthur Miller.
Stating that ‘sexy wins over tragedy’, Strauss suggests that Marilyn is being remembered in a superficial way, and that the lessons of her tragic life have still not been learned.
“Monroe’s allure is as powerful as it is ineffable, so much so that even I start to view her sad beginning and even sadder end as something otherworldly rather than gritty and tragic. Her fate easily becomes elevated above cause and effect, and she morphs into a saint of her own circumstances. Or, in short, an icon.
But the problem with this iconic lens on Monroe is that it conveniently blurs the very destructive pressure she felt as the preeminent sex symbol. A relative of mine hosted Monroe in Washington D.C. when she came to the city with then-husband Arthur Miller during his House Unamerican Activities Committee hearing.
Monroe spent a few weeks sleeping on a blue velvet couch in their study, and, as described by my relative, was incredibly insecure about nearly everything. She dreaded leaving the house unless physically immaculate, and she once decided to stay home at the last minute when she realized that there was a hairline chip in her nail polish. In intellectual matters, Monroe deferred to Miller on everything. My relative said Monroe spent the majority of her time reading, mostly self-help books.
Considering all the gains women have made politically, economically and socially since her heyday, this Monroe revival seems anachronistic. Monroe was the ultimate creation of male fantasy, the archetype of the blond bombshell – all bosom, golden curls and kittenish purrs – a fantasy women have since worked hard to deconstruct and redefine. And while the boundaries of what is considered attractive in Hollywood are still fairly narrow, they have still been expanded enough to include a far more diverse bunch than ever before.
Well, I’d like to ask the PR maven what he thinks about glamorizing and marketing the ‘Monroe style’ that she herself found quite destructive. Am I the only one who, when swiping a Marilyn gloss across my lips or stepping into some Marilyn high heels, would think about the ways in which the use of such objects was ultimately an oppressive act for her? That remaining desirable was not effortless for her, but rather all-consuming to the point of obsession?”
While I support Strauss’s feminist perspective, I would also argue that our focus on glamour is not entirely misguided. Marilyn’s unashamed pride in her own sexuality has inspired many women.
Though it may seem that Marilyn fever is everywhere now, in truth it never really went away. Monroe has fascinated us for over sixty years now and probably will for decades, even centuries to come.
Her beauty, intelligence, and yes, her tragedy are all part of the legend and we cannot, and should not, ever try to separate them. Like any woman, Marilyn deserves to be appreciated for all that she was.
My reviews of Cindy De La Hoz’s Marilyn Monroe: The Personal Archiveand MM – Personalby Lois Banner are featured in the latest issue of the Mad About Marilyn fanzine, which also includes a vintage article, ‘…and the Lord Taketh Away’, from Modern Screen in 1957; a piece on Marilyn’s 1955 visit to USS Bennington; and a profile of photographer Douglas Kirkland.
If you would like to join the Mad About Marilyn Fan Club, please email Emma: firstname.lastname@example.org
“For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s — she did Marilyn Monroe – a genius invention that she created like an author creates a character. Then there was the inevitable drop … she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.”