Norman Mailer, Marilyn and the FBI

Over at the MudRock website, JPat Brown looks back at the FBI’s abandoned attempt to ‘fact-check the factoids’ about Monroe and the Kennedys in Norman Mailer’s 1973 bestseller, Marilyn. Did the FBI think Mailer’s claims were too outrageous to be believed? Or were they content to let him smear Camelot? (Incidentally, longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover – who kept tabs on Marilyn, and led the official investigation into President Kennedy’s assassination – passed away a year before Mailer’s book was published.)

“FBI files released to Conor Skelding reveal that the Bureau was sufficiently alarmed about author Norman Mailer’s accusations about their role in Marilyn Monroe’s death, leading them to investigate if they had, in fact, wiretapped the actress phone.

The incident, near the end of Mailer’s sizable file, began in 1973, when the former agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, William Simon, received a call from Lloyd Shearer, the editor of Parade. Shearer had received an advance copy of Mailer’s upcoming book, which contained some fairly salacious gossip regarding the Bureau and the Blonde Bombshell.

Simon’s response was a pretty unequivocal ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

While it’s unclear how believable Shearer found Simon’s protestations of innocence, the Bureau apparently found the charges alarming enough to inquire if they did actually know what Shearer was talking about.

The Bureau’s attitude changed completely, however, when they actually got ahold of an advance copy.

Mailer had apparently taken some of the more lurid theories surrounding Monroe’s death and ran with them, positing a joint CIA-FBI murder plot as retaliation against the Kennedys for being mad at them for bungling the Bay of Pigs invasion.

The FBI, releasing the futility of fact-checking someone who was openly challenging the very concept of truth … and who would no doubt capitalize on the controversy, decided to just let the matter rest here.

What’s the takeaway here? If you’re going to lie about the FBI, make it big.”

Norman Mailer’s ‘Factoid’ Marilyn

The word ‘factoid’ is often used to describe a point of trivia, but that is not its true meaning – as David Marsh explains in his ‘Mind Your Language’ blog for The Guardian – with a little help from Marilyn…

‘A factoid is not a small fact. It’s a mistaken assumption repeated so often that it is believed to be true.

At least, that was the meaning ascribed to the word by Norman Mailer, who is widely credited with coining it, in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. Mailer said factoids were “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”.

You can also use factoid as an adjective, to mean “quasi-factual”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which adds that it is used to designate “writing (esp. journalism) which contains a mixture of fact and supposition or invention presented as accepted fact”. I like that “(esp. journalism)”.

A true factoid should sound credible, and be assumed to be true by a significant number of people (if you are the only person who believes it, it may simply be a delusion). The Washington Times defined a factoid as “something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact”.’

Martin Sharp 1942-2013

Martin Sharp

Martin Sharp, the Australian pop artist famed for his psychedelic portrait of Bob Dylan, first published on the cover of counter-cultural magazine Oz in 1967 and later an ubiquitous student poster, has died, reports the New York Times.

In 1973, Sharp painted Still Life: Marilyn, a surrealist work that channels both Andy Warhol and Vincent Van Gogh, as explained on the National Gallery of Australia website:

 “The painting that Sharp did with artist Tim Lewis, Still life: Marilyn 1973, pays homage to both Warhol and Marilyn Monroe. In the months that followed Monroe’s death in August 1962, Warhol made more than twenty silkscreen paintings of her, combining two of his consistent preoccupations: death and the cult of celebrity. Sharp initially made a collage of the still life by pasting Warhol’s image of Monroe from a Tate Gallery poster onto a print of the much-reproduced Sunflowers by Van Gogh.

‘This collage was only possible to me at the time because Marilyn’s green eyeshadow was the same green as the background of the sunflowers. There was also an echo of Marilyn’s life and Vincent’s. They were both great artists, they died at a similar age and one could describe Marilyn as a sunflower. I called the painting Still life, because though they had left this world they were still alive in their art and influence …2

Although the painting Still life: Marilyn was done later than the collage, the idea had come about while Sharp was living in London. Like many young Australian artists, he was drawn to the the swinging sixties in London where he lived from 1967 to 1969.”

Sunday Times Magazine Photo Exhibit

This cover shot features in a new exhibition of photographs featured in the Sunday Times magazine, celebrating its 50th anniversary at London’s Saatchi Gallery, from January 31-February 19. Admission free!

“The Marilyn Monroe cover, published on October 7, 1973 was a portrait by Bert Stern of Monroe taken six weeks before her death. This was selected from 2000 photographs which were shot over two days in June 1962, in the Bel-Air hotel, Los Angeles, which was allegedly sprayed with Channel No 5 perfume. For one shoot, Monroe was nude.”

 

What Norman Mailer Left Behind

This framed collage – including a badge from Norman Mailer‘s 1969 NYC mayoral bid, and a photo by Bert Stern, used in Mailer’s controversial book, Marilyn (1973) – is one of the author’s personal items being auctioned this spring, along with Mailer’s Brooklyn Heights apartment, following his death in 2007.

More details over at the New York Times

Time Magazine Archive

Time magazine now offers a vast online archive. You can search for Marilyn-related articles dating back to the 1950s, including two cover stories from 1956 and 1973.

To search the archive, click here

Thanks to Fav at ES

Elliott Murphy’s ‘Marilyn’

From the 1973 album, Aquashow, by singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy – video here

“I guess you’d say she had what it took
To make most of us take a second look
She stole our eyes but not our hearts
And all the time it tore her apart
Don’t you know she died for our sins
Marilyn Monroe died for us

What a body to make us dream
Our thoughts were dirty though she was clean
On screen we’d watch her tantalize
And with our own we would fantasize
Don’t you know she died for our sins
Marilyn Monroe died for us

Marilyn, Marilyn, I didn’t mean to do you in
Marilyn, Marilyn, now its too late to start again
Don’t you know she died for our sins
Marilyn Monroe died for us”