Letters to Marilyn at Bonham’s

A treasure trove of correspondence to Marilyn will be auctioned today at Bonham’s in New York, as part of TCM’s Dark Side of Hollywood sale.  Among the lots are an autographed napkin; notes to herself, jotted on the back of envelopes; letters from her mother Gladys, and members of Norma Jeane’s extended family, including Grace Goddard and Ana Lower; key figures in  Marilyn’s later life, such as Joe Schenck and Elia Kazan; and other lesser-known acquaintances. Here are some of the highlights:

Thanks to Caren and Hannah at Marilyn Remembered

Letters from Uncle Art and Aunt Allis, 1938-39

“San Jose, on ‘International Correspondence Schools’ letterhead and plain stationery. Norma Jeane was 12 years old when she received these letters from relatives of her guardian, Grace Goddard, and Grace’s aunt, Ana Lower. Though not related to her, they address themselves as Uncle Art and Aunt Allis, and in their separate letters to the child, they seem to know her well, calling her ‘Little Sweetheart’ and writing, ‘We all send love to our little girl.’ They often refer to their dog, Trinket, whom one may assume was adored by Norma Jeane, who had a soft spot for animals all her life. Despite the many difficulties Norma Jeane had to face as a foster child, it does seem that there were many caring people in her life, as Uncle Art writes, ‘I am sure you are happy because everyone there loves you, and wants you to be happy.'”

Family photo, 1946: with Berniece Miracle and daughter Mona Rae; Grace Goddard; Marilyn and Ana Lower; and Marilyn’s mother Gladys

Letters from Ana Lower, 1942-46

“In her first letter of 1942, Lower responds to 15-year-old Norma Jeane’s questions about her shyness: ‘Be your own sweet self and in time as you have more experience, you’ll be able to talk when you want to, and people will really pay attention to what you say because it will be something worthwhile.’ By 1946, Norma Jeane was obtaining a divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty (whom Lower adored) and was having financial difficulty. She had borrowed money from Lower, who was also allowing Norma Jeane’s mother, Gladys Baker, to live with her at the time. Her letter expresses disappointment in Norma Jeane’s decisions, quoting the Bible and giving advice. She also mentions that Gladys has been fired from her job at Griffith Park because she was ‘too melancholy to be around the patients.’ Lower gently but firmly warns Norma Jeane, ‘Well, precious, you may feel I am being severe, but it is not so meant. I love you dearly and you must not feel hurt because of this letter.'”

Letters from Ana Lower to Jim Dougherty, 1943-45

“Lower was extremely close to Dougherty, and in her letter, she expresses her concern about his joining up and what it means for Norma Jeane’s future. ‘Her welfare of course is uppermost in your thoughts. She is young and really needs to finish her education.’ Her love for the girl reveals itself often: ‘Norma is such a sweet dear girl. Everyone loves her.’ She also expresses gratitude for his caring ways: ‘I am grateful for your kindness to Norma and know she loves you as dearly as you do her.'”

Letter from Gladys Baker, 1945

“In 1945, Gladys went to Portland to attempt to live on her own with the help of her aunt, Dora. She had been living in institutions for 9 years, and the hope was that she would be able to care for herself. She writes of her transition: ‘I’ve only been here a few days [and] I am just getting acclimated to it. I’m taking it easy for a while.’ Gladys’ letter to Norma Jeane is surprisingly lucid and sweet. She is happy that Norma Jeane is married and hopes to meet her husband, James Dougherty (who was in the Merchant Marine at the time). She writes, ‘Seems only yesterday that you were just a wee tott [sic] & now you are married. I know you are very happy & perhaps some time soon I’ll see you.’ Norma Jeane was elated and eventually went to visit her with photographer Andre de Dienes. After leaving Portland, Gladys returned to Los Angeles and lived with Norma Jeane briefly but was ultimately forced to return to institutional life.”

Norma Jeane with husband Jim Dougherty, 1946

Letters from Ana Lower, 1946

“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane Dougherty was establishing residency in Las Vegas in order to divorce her first husband, James Dougherty, who was in the Merchant Marine at the time. She had begun a love affair with photographer Andre de Dienes, one that was much more serious than previously thought. In her letters, Ana Lower, who was the most loving adult figure in Norma Jeane’s life, remarks on the reactions she receives when she shows friends Norma Jeane’s photographs: ‘Everyone thinks your pictures are lovely, and I tell them not half so lovely as you really are.’ As she is traveling during the writing of these letters, Lower describes her experiences, most notably her visit with Norma Jeane’s amour, de Dienes. She found him both lovable and ‘temperamental, as most artists are.’ In her closing paragraph, she writes of Andre: ‘I kissed your sweetheart good-bye and I will love him, too–we joked about my being his mother-in-law. I do hope Jimmie [Norma Jeane’s soon-to-be ex-husband, whom Ana adored] is not too hurt by all this.'”

Letter from Grace Goddard, 1946

“Grace reveals that her aunt, Ana Lower, who was also a loving caregiver to Norma Jeane, is too easy on Dougherty: ‘I know what a softie [Aunt Ana] is toward any male, old or young, who makes a fuss over her. As for me, Doc [Grace’s husband], and all the rest of us, we look at situations through eyes of love for you, justice, and repayment for you being such an angel all your life. You deserve more than Jimmy is capable of giving you.’ In closing, she makes a veiled reference to Norma Jeane’s relationship with photographer Andre de Dienes and writes, ‘Of course no one but Doc and me know of your future plans. I am so in hopes you will let your heart rule you this time and not let anything keep you from taking the happiness that is being offered you.'”

Letters from Grace Goddard, 1946

“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane was residing in Las Vegas to obtain her divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty. During this time, she was ill, experienced financial difficulties, and was having problems with her car. Goddard’s letter is sympathetic: ‘I am heartsick over you,’ but firm when she scolds, ‘I do wish you had listened to Doc [Goddard’s husband] about your car.’ Additional difficulty arose when Dougherty refused to sign the divorce papers once Norma Jeane was in Las Vegas. Goddard gets a final jab at Dougherty in her closing remarks (even though she arranged their marriage) when she writes, ‘I never did think Jim would keep his promise to sign the papers.'”

Letter from Len Cormier, 1947

“Len Cormier was a young Navy pilot who dated Monroe (then Norma Jeane Dougherty) shortly after she divorced her first husband in 1946. They had at least 2 dates: one at Tommy Dorsey’s Casino Gardens in Santa Monica, and one where he took her flying (the only civilian he ever took up in a plane, he later recalled). In his letter from training camp, he writes, ‘I’ll have to admit that I don’t leave your picture out all the time, since nobody would get any work done if it were.’ He relays his experiences with flight operations and traveling, and ends his letter with a thoughtful message to his career-oriented friend: ‘I’ve still got my fingers crossed, hoping that all the breaks in the world come to you.'”

Holiday cards from Ana Lower, 1941-47

“Comprising a partial Autograph Letter Signed (‘Aunt Ana’), c.1947, to Marilyn Monroe, on plain stationery, discussing Christian Science. Together with 9 holiday cards, including a congratulatory wedding card celebrating her marriage to James Dougherty in which she writes, ‘To my dear / girl and boy / Love / Aunt Ana.'”

Letters from Howard Keel (‘Harry’), 1947-48

“Until these letters, little was known about film star Howard Keel’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe except that they had dated a few times. Keel had originally met Norma Jeane when she was 15 years old, as he relays in his letter: ‘I had quite a liking for you deep down inside but being a ripe old 22 or so I felt I was a little old for you.’ He is thrilled that they have reconnected and has a good laugh at seeing her crowned as ‘The Artichoke Queen’ in a publicity stunt. At some point between letters, the two got together, and Keel expresses his disappointment at not being able to see more of Monroe: ‘When I come home in June we’ll have to have some fun & find out what there is between us.’ Obviously, nothing came of the relationship, but Keel has sweet words about their reunion when he writes, ‘It was wonderful to find you the same sweet person I knew before.'”

Letter from Ana Lower to Berniece Miracle, 1948

“Lower refers to Marilyn (who is now no longer called Norma Jeane, even by her family), as she writes: ‘I am glad the clothes can be used. Marilyn will probably have more later.’ Marilyn often gave her clothes to Berniece when she was finished with them. Lower closes the letter with, ‘All is well with me and with Marilyn’s career.’ Ana Lower would die 4 days after this letter was written.”

Letters from Joe Schenck, 1948

“At the time of his letters to Marilyn, she had just signed a 6-month contract with Columbia Pictures, a major breakthrough in her career, which Schenck addresses: ‘I hope you will get your chance at Col and make good.’ Several months later, he writes, ‘Am very pleased to know you have a good part in a picture. Stick to your work and you will make good. Make your career your first consideration.’ Schenck either had a sense of humor or spelling problems, as he incorrectly spells Monroe’s name twice, writing both ‘Maryline’ and ‘Marrylene’ in his salutations!”

Marilyn as Dolly Madison, 1948

Letter from Gordon Provonsha, 1948

“Provonsha was a commercial artist who painted a portrait of Monroe for a Dolly Madison wine advertisement during her modeling days.”

Telegrams from Elia Kazan, 1951

“Kazan and Arthur Miller called Monroe ‘Miss Bauer’ based on a prank they played on Columbia boss Harry Cohn in which Monroe posed as a secretary by that name. Two of the Kazan telegrams allude to this pseudonym, with one signed ‘Bauer’ and the other signed simply ‘B.’ Though Monroe had affection for Kazan, she fell hard for Miller and the Kazan relationship fizzled out. From his messages, however, it appears that they were close: ‘Darling Just sit tight where you are and I’ll call for you about nine thirty.'”

Letters from Sid Ross, 1952

“Ross was a writer for Parade magazine whose brother, photographer Ben Ross, had photographed Monroe several times. Sid Ross fell head over heels in love with Monroe, who appears not to have returned his affection (or many of his letters, since his enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope for her convenience is still attached to his letter)! His letters are lyrical, poetic, and beautifully written, and he is clearly besotted: ‘The sheer joy of watching you–as you talk & sometimes crinkle up your brow … the sometimes pain in your voice and glance and gestures … the intensity that stirs not only you, but others.’ In April of 1952, Ross received a ‘Dear John’ letter from Monroe that he declared was ‘a blow. A terrific blow. It made me feel that the end of the world had come for me.’ He is clearly heartbroken and devastated. Interestingly, Ross closes one of his letters, ‘You may never be a “great” actress possibly but you’ll always be a so very beautiful girl…,’ a statement which may have been the very reason Monroe broke things off with Sid Ross.”

Correspondence Regarding Gladys Baker, 1935-52 

“Grace Goddard is clearly at the end of her rope, having spent the last 20 years trying to take care of Baker, and her exhaustion is palpable: ‘I have always loved her and her child, but I have a very bad heart condition brought on by a stroke caused by Gladys in Feb 1950. I have tried too many years to help her and I can no longer have her in my home.'”

UPDATE: Marilyn’s letter from Gladys sold for $2,750; and two letters from Ana (1942-46) sold for $2,500.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Childhood and Family

Norma Jeane as a young model, photographed by Andre de Dienes
Norma Jeane as a young model, photographed by Andre de Dienes

In the first of a new series, I’m looking at items from the upcoming auction at Julien’s relating to Marilyn’s family and her early life as Norma Jeane. This photo shows her mother Gladys as a child with brother Marion.

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He would later accompany Gladys and her baby daughter on a trip to a Los Angeles beach. However, Marion disappeared sometime afterwards, and was never heard of again. Norma Jeane would live with his wife and children for a few months after Gladys was committed to a psychiatric hospital.

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Between the ages of nine to twelve, Norma Jeane collected stamps. The fact that she kept hold of the album until she died suggests it brought back calmer memories of what was often an unsettled childhood.

Ana Lower was the aunt of Grace Goddard, who had become Norma Jeane’s legal guardian after Gladys fell ill. Norma Jeane lived with Ana, a devout Christian Scientist, for two years. By then Ana was in her fifties, but this photo shows her as a younger woman.

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Marilyn considered Ana to be one of the most important influences in her life. This letter, written while Norma Jeane was visiting her half-sister for the first time, shows that the affection was mutual.

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My precious Girl,” Ana wrote, “You are outward bound on a happy journey. May each moment of its joyous expectations be filled to the brim. New places, faces and experiences await you. You will meet them all with your usual sweetness and loving courtesy. When you see your sister you will truly both receive a blessing.”

These photos of Marilyn’s first husband, James Dougherty, were found behind the portrait of Ana. He is wearing his Merchant Marine’s uniform.

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By the late 1940s, Gladys had been released from hospital, but her condition quickly deteriorated.  She suffered from severe delusions, and disapproved of Norma Jeane’s ambition to act. However, there were still tender moments between mother and daughter, as this card from Gladys reveals.

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“Dear One,” she wrote, “I am very grateful for all the kindness you’ve shown me and as a Loving Christian Scientist (my pencil broke) I hope our God will let me return some goodness to you with out doing myself any harm. For I know good is reflected in goodness, the same as Love is reflected in Love. As a Christian Scientist I remain very truly your Mother.”

As Marilyn’s fame grew, she tried her best to shield family members from unwanted publicity. Grace Goddard, who had retained guardianship of Gladys throughout her long illness, wrote an anxious letter to Marilyn in August 1953. Gladys had recently been admitted to a private rest-home, and Marilyn would pay for her mother’s care until she died.

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Such a burden for a delicate little girl like you to hear,” Grace wrote. Marilyn, then filming River of No Return in Canada, sent her money transfer for $600. Grace, who had cancer, passed away weeks later.

Alan Young 1919-2016

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Alan Young, who played Wilbur Post on Mister Ed – the classic 1960s TV sitcom about a talking horse – has died aged 96 at the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills, California, reports The Guardian.

Born in Northumberland to Scottish parents in 1919, Young emigrated to Canada as a child. During his high school years he hosted a CBC radio show. He married in 1940 and had two children, before moving to New York in 1944, where he began hosting The Alan Young Show on NBC Radio.

In December 1946, the now-divorced Young met a young Marilyn Monroe when she promoted his show in highland dress on a Rose Bowl float in Los Angeles. They later went on two dates, as he recalled in a 2012 interview with Scotland’s Daily Record.

Alan Young (left) with Marilyn in 1946
Alan Young (left) with Marilyn in 1946

He was also interviewed by Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. He remembered taking her to the Brown Derby club after the parade; but as neither of them liked alcohol, they decided to go elsewhere and sip cocoa instead. “She seemed like a frightened rabbit at first,” he said, “and I didn’t realise she had been raised without parents. I really liked her.”

On their first date, Young picked her up from the house where she was living with family friend Ana Lower. He remembered that Ana seemed ‘suspicious’ of his intentions. Norma Jeane (as she still called herself then) explained that Ana was a devout Christian Scientist – a faith she and Alan also shared.

Their second date ended in disaster, as Alan tried to kiss Norma Jeane as she was turning her head away, and ended up kissing her ear instead. “I was so embarrassed about it that I never phoned her again,” he admitted.

He made his screen debut in Margie (1946), at Marilyn’s home studio of Twentieth Century Fox, and later appeared alongside Clifton Webb in Mr Belvedere Goes to College (1949.) He married Virginia McCurdy in 1948, and they had two children. In 1950, The Alan Young Show moved to television.

By the early 1950s, Marilyn was also a major star. “I was working at the studio when a blonde girl rushed up and yelled ‘Alan!'” he told Michelle Morgan. “She kissed me and asked about my parents and asked me to give her a call. After she had gone the make-up man asked how long I’d known Marilyn Monroe and I answered, ‘About two minutes!’ That was the last time I ever saw her.”

In 1955, Young would star opposite Jane Russell in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a sequel to  Monroe’s 1953 smash hit, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. After Marilyn declined to reprise her role, Jeanne Crain took her place as Lorelei Lee. He later starred in the classic sci-fi movie, The Time Machine (1960.)

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Young’s most famous role, in TV’s Mister Ed, began in 1961 and ran for five years. Afterwards, he continued making guest appearances in numerous television shows, movies and as a voice actor for cartoons and video games.

After nearly fifty years together, Young and McCurdy were divorced in 1995. He married Mary Chipman shortly afterwards, but they divorced two years later. He returned to the stage in a 2001 revival of Show Boat, and his final credit was in 2015, as the voice of Scrooge McDuck in a series of Mickey Mouse shorts.

‘Marilyn Forever’: The Critics’ Verdict

marilyn2-417mdThe Long Beach premiere of Gavin Bryars’ opera, Marilyn Forever, has attracted a lot of media coverage. Poet Marilyn Bowering, who wrote the libretto, spoke to the Hollywood Reporter:

“Back in the late-1980s, Bowering was approached by a TV producer, who also happened to be named Marilyn, about collaborating on an unspecified project. Nothing ever came of it until the producer finally said, ‘My name’s Marilyn. Your name’s Marilyn. What about Marilyn Monroe?’ Out of that partnership came Anyone Can See I Love You, a series of Monroe’s interior monologues dramatized for BBC Radio and later reworked as a collection of poems.

Apart from being blessed with acting talent and ethereal beauty, Monroe had an intangible quality that made an indelible mark on the popular psyche. Bowering thinks it may have to do with a period in her adolescence spent living with her aunt Ana Lower, who introduced Monroe to the Church of Christian Science, where she remained a follower for eight years.

‘That teaching, which kind of puts you in charge of how you see the world and the world is made of love, had a real influence on her and made her this unusual person who didn’t seem to feel guilt about her sexuality,’ says Bowering. ‘It fed into this kind of idealism about love. There was an absolute kind of love, which would never be achievable and would turn out disastrously in real life, but there’s a sense she was always searching for these kind of ideals.’

Drawing on his early days as a jazz bassist, Bryars (who will sit in on bass for the March 21 performance) incorporates mid-century jazz melodies in his opera, sometimes referencing pop songs of the era. ‘Marilyn was a product of popular film and music,’ says Bryars about creating what director Andreas Mitisek calls ‘a meta-world reflecting on her life, career and relationships.’

‘My initial take is that’s really interesting,’ says Bowering about director Mitisek’s novel approach. ‘I think the whole process has just reminded me of the essential aspects of it, the bits. That’s poetry basically, the things that deal with human emotions. That is really what matters. And a lot of the other stuff, in any art form but particularly mine, can fall away and it doesn’t matter. But these things, which really are about how people feel, are all that matters.'”

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Writing for the Long Beach Press Telegram, Timothy Mangan described the production in detail:

“The production and direction is by the company’s artistic director, Andreas Mitisek, and he took the liberty of dividing the lead role, Monroe, in two. Thus, we get a Marilyn in her bedroom, drinking, taking pills, recalling her life on one side of the stage, and a ‘public’ Marilyn, re-enacting those memories on the other. A single male role, Rehearsal Director, transforms into her several lovers (including Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, though they are never named). A male duo, the Tritones, serves as chorus, commenting (sparingly) on the action.

Mitisek added live video, as well as some documentary footage, to the mix, all projected on scrims draped across the stage, creating an effective dream world. The division of Monroe worked well enough, but may not have been necessary. The part doesn’t always seem clearly split between the public and private character.

At any rate, soprano Danielle Marcelle Bond played the more private Monroe in a recognizable way, sensuous, nervous, making love to the camera. She sang sumptuously, expressively. Jamie Chamberlin gave the public Monroe a nice star-struck vulnerability, in shimmering tones, comfortable with the jazz. Lee Gregory sang the male parts with a fresh eloquence. Robert Norman and Adrian Rosales were the capable Tritones.”

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Mark Swed reviewed Marilyn Forever for the Los Angeles Times:

“Live video projected large did help make each Marilyn more present, but the video also amplified the contrast between standard-issue upbeat and downbeat doppelgäangers. Watching the 80-minute performance, I kept thinking that the operatic Marilyn was given exactly the kind of typecasting that the real Monroe was trying to escape.

But Bryars’ score is her exit route…Bryars’ eloquent score has an overriding melancholic quality with an effortless flow between onstage jazz and the more symphonic style of the pit band. Vocal lines are all flowing melody, mostly unresolved. Period-style pop songs in the style that Marilyn might have sung emerge in and out of the general musical material, as though moods of Marilyn, although Bowering’s pop lyrics miss the Tin Pan Alley zing by a mile.

The maudlin Marilyn here dims the light of the bright Marilyn. The true Marilyn was both, and her allure wasn’t, as it feels with this text and this staging, mimickry. With the help of Bryars’ bluesy wonder, very good singing throughout and Bill Linwood’s expert conducting, Marilyn struggles to come alive. Just as she did so sadly, yet so wondrously, in real life.”

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Writing for L.A. Weekly, Christian Hertzog was more critical:

“Marilyn Forever sounds like the title of a campy revue at the Cavern Club, but Long Beach Opera’s production at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro is a morose meditation on stardom, sex and self-destruction.

Unfortunately, this U.S. premiere never comes together. Is it the fault of Marilyn Bowering’s vague libretto, a jumble of half-factual, half-imagined episodes from Monroe’s life? Could it be 80 nonstop minutes of Gavin Bryars’ brooding, amorphous music? Is it director Andreas Mitisek’s unclear telling of the story, or his bizarre decision to split the role of Marilyn between two singers?

Bowering’s libretto is a memory play. Monroe lies dying on her bed, incidents from her life oozing through the barbiturate fog — a late arrival at a studio, an inability to sing (or act?), a boudoir scene with a man (possibly Arthur Miller), a mysterious booty call.

Is the libretto too ambiguous for its own good, or does it have latent possibilities for creative staging? Hard to tell here, as Mitisek’s design and direction either disregarded the libretto’s instructions or did a poor job rendering them comprehensible.

Mitisek divides the single role of Marilyn into two separate parts: overdose-suicide Marilyn (portrayed by Danielle Marcelle Bond) and past-memories Marilyn (Jamie Chamberlin). This drains the lead part of its bipolar showmanship. The role should spotlight a singer’s acting skills as she bounces back and forth from woozy, dying Marilyn to sex symbol or troubled wife.

The libretto uses familiar iconography: Monroe as an insecure woman whose radiant sexuality blinded men to her other traits. Bryars gives Marilyn’s part no compelling melodies, and the musical differentiation between her dying and lively personas is too subtle. To do justice to this character requires a singer with a dazzling, oversized voice and a magnetic stage presence.

Chamberlin possessed a firm, focused voice, but there was no brilliance to it. Her acting didn’t exaggerate enough the feminine qualities of Marilyn, winding up a mere simulacrum of Marilyn’s potency instead.

Bond’s voice had a bit more oomph, and she sold us on the pathetic, fading Marilyn, but it’s unclear if she could shift dramatically and vocally into the powerful movie star, if she were to one day inhabit the full role.”