De Kooning’s Marilyn at the Smithsonian

kooning mm

Eight years before Andy Warhol, the Dutch-born American painter, Willem de Kooning was perhaps the first great artist to immortalise Marilyn. His 1954 expressionist work is featured in a new exhibition, Face Value: Portraiture In the Age of Abstraction, opening at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC tomorrow (April 15) through to next January, reports the Times Colonist.

During the summer of 1957, De Kooning was a neighbour of Marilyn and Arthur Miller in Amagansett, New York. “Totally abstract, Marilyn looks like a cross between a grinning child and a screaming fury, not like the soft and gentle Marilyn,” Lois Banner wrote in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012.) “Yet he captured part of her essence – childlike, but angry when crossed. The portrait was hung in the Museum of Modern Art, and it produced a stir. Arthur detested it, but Marilyn didn’t mind: she thought artists had the right to their own vision of the subject they painted. It led to the many pop art portraits of her.”

Marilyn (and Dorothy) at the Plaza

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 Housereports 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.'”

Marilyn with Dorothy Kilgallen, 1960

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.

 

Profiles in History: Avedon Outtakes + Mystery Candids


With the death of Bert Stern, and the upcoming Milton Greene auction, some of Marilyn’s most eminent photographers have been making headlines recently.

With Arthur Miller

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.

Amagansett, 1957
With the Miller children, and the Rostens

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.

Mystery photo, attributed to Sam Shaw (not in auction)

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.

Marilyn on Long Island

Newsday looks backs on Marilyn’s many trips to Long Island, from iconic photo shoots with Andre De Dienes, Eve Arnold and Sam Shaw, to private getaways with husband Arthur Miller.

“After Monroe became involved with the married Miller in 1955, the two would rendezvous at locales including playwright and poet Norman Rosten’s summer cottage in Port Jefferson, and at her acting teacher Lee Strasberg’s place on Fire Island. But her most lasting presence here came in the summer of 1957, after she was the new Mrs. Miller and the couple had rented Jeffrey Potter’s Stony Hill Farm in Amagansett. They stayed in what Jeffrey’s son, Job, later explained was ‘the caretaker’s house,’ called Hill House.

‘Marilyn was outside in a polo shirt and shorts,’ Newsday reported that long-ago summer, ‘and there was very little that was typical about her. She did something for the polo shirt and shorts.’

Monroe ‘was lovely, feminine and sweet,’ Job Potter once recalled of that summer when he was 6. ‘I sold her some Girl Scout cookies,’ as a way to visit her. ‘My sister had some left over.’

But her time on the East End also saw sadness. At 11 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1957, Monroe was rushed to Doctors Hospital in Manhattan with symptoms of a miscarriage; it turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy. ‘The baby was unsavable,’ a hospital spokesman said. Marilyn’s physician, Dr. Hilliard Dubrow, reported that the 31-year-old had been ‘five or six weeks pregnant.’

After a week’s recovery, she returned by limousine to Amagansett on Aug. 10. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning husband had written something for her: A heartfelt sign on the front door reading, ‘Welcome home, Marilyn.'”

Marilyn: A Complicated Legacy

Marilyn at Amagansett, 1957 – photo by Sam Shaw

Over at the Huffington Post, Jill Lynne – who once spent a night at the Amagansett beachhouse where Marilyn and Arthur Miller stayed during the summer of 1957 – reveals her mixed feelings towards the icon:

“I didn’t want to allure men — or anyone — by my curvaceous torso, ample ‘girls,’ tiny waist, large baby blues or naturally platinum blonde hair. I wanted to be appreciated for who I was, what I knew, what I might contribute, my intellect, my spirituality and my God-granted talents — my visual art, my writing and my serious aspirations to make the world a better place.

Marilyn made it tough for women like me. It was an ongoing struggle — especially with men — to be taken seriously. I would attempt to engage in deep vis-à-vis, eye-contact conversation, only to notice meandering eyes no longer fixed on mine but having drop-down to boob-level.”

I have cross-posted my comment on the article here:

“Marilyn’s legacy to women is certainly complex. However, there was a strong side to her that is being missed here. During the repressive 1950s, MM luxuriated in her sexuality; she was outspoken about her experience of child abuse, at a time when the subject was still taboo; she was one of Hollywood’s first women to head her own production company; she stood up for her beliefs, whether political freedom (see Arthur Miller) or racial equality (see Ella Fitzgerald); she never relied on a man to make her living; and, despite little formal education, she pursued a lifelong quest for self-improvement.”