When Warren (and Natalie) Met Marilyn

Warren Beatty with girlfriend Natalie Wood, circa 1962
Warren Beatty with girlfriend Natalie Wood, circa 1962

Hollywood legend Warren Beatty has given a rare interview to Vanity Fair‘s Sam Kashner, in which he revealed a brief encounter with Marilyn shortly before her death in 1962.

“Peter Lawford had invited him out to his house in Malibu for a night of tacos and poker, and Monroe was there. ‘I hadn’t seen anything that beautiful,’ Beatty recalls. She invited him to take a walk along the beach, which he did. ‘It was more soulful than romantic.’ Back in the house, he played the piano. (He’s a good pianist, by the way, enamored of jazz greats such as Erroll Garner.) Marilyn sat on the edge of the piano in something so clingy that Beatty could tell she wasn’t wearing underwear.

‘How old are you?’ she asked.

‘Twenty-five,’ he answered. ‘And how old are you?’ he asked cheekily.

‘Three. Six,’ she said, as if not wanting to bring the two numbers together. By then, the tacos had arrived, and no one really played poker that night. Warren noticed that Marilyn was already a bit tipsy from champagne, even before the sun had set.

The next day, the producer Walter Mirisch’s brother Harold called. ‘Did you hear?’ he asked. ‘Marilyn Monroe is dead.’ Warren was one of the last people to see Marilyn alive—a story that Beatty tells only reluctantly. He really is one of Hollywood’s most discreet people, in a town and an industry marinated in its own gossip.”

In his 1985 book, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Summers that he had contacted Beatty about the rumour of him meeting Marilyn at Lawford’s home just a few hours before she died. Beatty responded that this was true, but did not wish to speak further at that time.

By his own account, Lawford had invited Marilyn to his home that evening but she declined. It may be true that Beatty met Marilyn not long before she died, as she was a regular guest of Peter Lawford and his wife, Pat. However, it seems unlikely to have occurred on the night of her death.

In 1962, Beatty was dating actress Natalie Wood, whose biographer Suzanne Finstad gives a similar account of their meeting (including the conversation about age), but stated only that it occurred at some point over the summer, and most significantly, she added that Wood was also present.

UPDATE: An extract from the newly-published book, Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life, is featured in People magazine this week. Taken from a previously unseen essay by Wood herself, it includes her thoughts on Marilyn’s death, and may shed new light on Beatty’s story as well. (A former child actress, Natalie had a featured role in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, the 1947 film in which Marilyn made her screen debut.)

“‘I had known her and seen her days before her death,’ Wood writes. ‘Her beauty, charming wit, and joy of life seemed paradoxical to the tense loneliness which she faced in her life, and was to me, clearly apparent. I realized that her tragedy reminds us all how vulnerable we are, and I chose to try to be stronger.'”

And finally … ‘doyenne of dish’ Liz Smith has also questioned the timing of Beatty’s anecdote, in her latest column for New York Social Diary.

“Beatty places the meeting on the night before her death — or the night of, really. He says he received a call ‘in the morning’ from an agent, telling him Marilyn had died. But the facts say otherwise. MM actually refused an invite from Lawford the Saturday night she died.

It’s most likely that Warren, fiftysomething years on, just forgot the exact evening. It is a very tender and considerate memory, in any case. This gallantry is typical of Warren, whose exes almost always adored him, even as they became his exes.”

 

Marilyn and Bobby: The Not-So ‘New Item’

Jean Kennedy Smith
Jean Kennedy Smith

Among the items included in Julien’s November auction is a letter sent to Marilyn by Jean Kennedy Smith, apparently describing MM and her brother Bobby as ‘the new item’. This will already be familiar to many fans, as biographer Anthony Summers reprinted it in Goddess (1985.)

Martin Nolan, executive director at Julien’s, has cited the note as evidence that ‘there was in fact a relationship between Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.’ Several news outlets have followed his lead, including the Telegraph. However, other sources close to RFK do not believe they were romantically involved.

“Efforts to prove an affair between the two began in the 1960s. At the time Bobby Kennedy, who was married and had 11 children, was his brother’s Attorney General.

FBI Director J Edgar Hoover, as part of his titanic feud with Bobby Kennedy, tried and failed to catch the politician with the actress.

In his autobiography William Sullivan, Hoover’s Deputy Director at the FBI, wrote: ‘Hoover was desperately trying to catch Bobby Kennedy red-handed at anything he ever did. We used to watch him at parties.’

Eventually, Hoover concluded ‘the stories about Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were just stories.’

Much of the speculation about Monroe and the Kennedys in the following decades centred instead on her alleged relationship with President Kennedy.”

In an article for Immortal Marilyn, Marijane Gray remains sceptical.

“Most occasions where this letter is quoted conveniently leave out the first few sentences because they certainly cast doubt on any romantic relationship. Here’s what the note says in full:

‘Dear Marilyn, Mother asked me to write you and thank you for your sweet note to Daddy-he really enjoyed it and you were very cute to send it. Understand that you and Bobby are the new item! We all think you should come with him when he comes back East! Thanks again for the note-Love, Jean Smith.’

The excised portions certainly put a completely different perspective on it, which explains why they’re excised…..it takes away from a possible scandal. The patriarch of the Kennedy clan, Joe Kennedy, had suffered a stroke and had to undergo months of physical therapy. More than likely, Marilyn had heard about his health issues from her close friend Pat Lawford and sent a get well note, as she was known to be very compassionate to anyone who was ailing. Although we don’t know the date Jean’s note was written, it could have been any time from February to June 1962. This is the time period that people severely lacking in credibility and the authors who believed them reported that there were affairs going on with one or both Kennedy brothers. However, no one can explain why the alleged mistress was being invited to family events (that the wives of both men would have attended), was writing cheerful notes to their father and being thanked for it by their mother and sister.  The reference to Marilyn and Bobby being an ‘item’ more than likely refers to them amusing dinner party guests by doing the twist at [their] first meeting back in February. However, these things tend to get overlooked because they don’t support the myths, which in turn doesn’t bring in high book sales or sky rocketing auction bids.”

Russell Young: Wild at Heart

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Russell Young is another British artist inspired by MM. His ‘Marilyn Crying’, coated in diamond dust, has become quite popular in recent years. It has inevitably been compared to Warhol, though personally I like the tenderness of Young’s image.

“One thing that is clear from the Wild at Heart series is his indebtedness to Andy Warhol through his print process and subject matters. The likeness is almost uncomfortably apparent, lacking the ‘here and now’ and intimacy that Warhol shared with his subjects during his Factory days. Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych was completed during the weeks after Monroe’s death and addresses her celebrity status, portrayal by the media and early death. Young’s glitzy prints salute old school Hollywood glamour and appear to sugar-coat as opposed to challenge representations of iconic Hollywood figures.” – Nastassja Smart, The Upcoming

What Marilyn Crying arguably lacks in originality, however, it may gain in context. The image – based on a photo by George Silk – was previously used for Anthony Summers’ 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of MM. It was taken during a press conference in October 1954, when Marilyn announced her separation from Joe DiMaggio. Disturbingly, the image reveals a bruise on Marilyn’s forehead, perhaps the result of spousal abuse.

George Silk, 1954
George Silk, 1954

summers

‘Marilyn Crying’ is currently on display at Young’s latest exhibition, Wild at Heart (perhaps riffing on the title of David Lynch’s cult movie), at the cheekily-named Imitate Modern in London’s West End.

Russell Young with photographer David Bailey, and Marilyn
Russell Young with photographer David Bailey, and Marilyn

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One photo taken at the exhibition appears to show Young’s image juxtaposed with a press picture taken several months before, when Marilyn entertained US troops in Korea. It was one of the high-points of her career, but some felt it also marked the dawn of her marriage’s end.

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‘Goddess’ on Kindle

Summers Goddess Reissue

Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe became a bestseller after its release in 1985, and has remained in print ever since. This full-scale biography – with a special emphasis on Marilyn’s alleged links to the Kennedys – was written by investigative journalist Anthony Summers.

While generally popular, Goddess tends to divide fans – particularly because both Robert Slatzer and Jeanne Carmen feature heavily, and their association with Marilyn has been widely disputed. Secondly, its inclusion of an autopsy photo was also controversial.

Nonetheless, Goddess is well worth reading, whether or not you agree with its conclusions – for its exhaustive research, and to understand how it has shaped our perceptions of Marilyn. It is now available in ebook from UK online bookstores, including Amazon.

Surfer Girl: Marilyn in Malibu

Marilyn at a surfer party, circa 1947
Marilyn at a surfer party,1947

Writing for the Malibu Times, Colin Newton explores the history of Cypress Sea Cove, a hangout for surfers since the 1940s:

“The story of Cypress Sea Cove begins in the 1940s with its original owner George “Cap” Watkins, a Bunyon-esque character who would eventually turn the place into his own private Shangri-La.

Between the palm trees, hammocks were strung up, and five-gallon plastic jugs were filled with rum drinks. Guests as varied as then-California Governor—and later Supreme Court Justice— Earl Warren and blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe showed up, as well as pioneer surfers and many of Watkins’ lifeguard friends.”

George 'Cap' Watkins presents Tommy Zahn with a paddle-boarding trophy.
George ‘Cap’ Watkins presents Tommy Zahn with a paddle-boarding trophy.

The article states that Marilyn was then the girlfriend of lifeguard Tommy Zahn. This would place her visits around 1946-7, during her first year as a Hollywood actress.

Zahn was signed to Fox at around the same time – mainly because studio chief Darryl F Zanuck‘s daughter, Darrylin, had taken a shine to him. It was while working as a contract player that Tommy met the 20 year-old Marilyn.

Anthony Summers interviewed Tommy Zahn for his 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.

“‘[MM] was in prime condition,’ says Tommy Zahn, ‘tremendously fit. I used to take her surfing up at Malibu…She was really good in the water, very robust, so healthy, a really fine attitude towards life.'”

This echoes other recollections of a young, sporty Marilyn. In later years, however, she was less confident in water.

Zahn recalled that Marilyn was the most hard-working of all the young actors. They often worked together on dance, which they both found challenging.

After talking to Zahn, Summers formed an interesting theory as to why Marilyn was dropped by the studio in 1947, which may also partly explain why – even after she became a star – Zanuck was never a strong supporter of MM.

“Tommy Zahn, Marilyn’s lifeguard boyfriend, thinks he knows what happened, not least because he was fired at the same time. Zahn believes that he was only hired in the first place because Zanuck wished to groom him for marriage to one of his daughters. Zahn’s dalliance with Marilyn was noted and disapproved from on high, and both were fired. Zahn shipped out to Honolulu. Marilyn was adrift, professionally and emotionally.”

By the time Tommy Zahn died in 1991, he was a sporting hero, with a distinguished career behind him. You can read a recollection of his life by Craig Lockwood at EatonSurf.com. A biography of Zahn – including a chapter entitled ‘Hollywood & Marilyn’ – is downloadable from the Legendary Surfers website.

 

Fred Otash: The Marilyn Tapes

Yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter contained allegations – not new, but still sensational – regarding the notorious ‘private eye’ Fred Otash’s alleged tapes of Marilyn and John F. Kennedy.

“Now unveiled for the first time to The Hollywood Reporter by the detective’s daughter, Colleen, and her business partner Manfred Westphal (a veteran publicist with APA, whose parents were Otash’s neighbors), the records fill 11 overflowing boxes that for two decades have been hidden inside a storage unit in the San Fernando Valley.”

In his 1985 book, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, biographer Anthony Summers claimed that Otash began surveillance on her in 1961. And crime novelist James Ellroy is currently adapting his novella, Shakedown, for an HBO series about Otash’s exploits in 1950s Los Angeles.

Otash wrote a manuscript, Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys, before his death in 1992. It has never been published.

Stephen Galloway, author of the article, doesn’t mention whether he actually listened to the tapes, or read Otash’s notes on the case. Without confirmation that the recordings exist – and hard evidence that they are, indeed, of Marilyn – I remain unconvinced.

I also think that her personal life should remain private – but as we all know, sex sells.

Here is an excerpt from yesterday’s article:

“TAPING MARILYN MONROE

‘Marilyn wanted a mini-phone listening device,’ Otash claims in the notes, adding that he spied on her even while she was paying him to install recording equipment so that she could tape her own phone calls. ‘You could hide it in your bra. The microphone was a wristwatch. You could also put a suction cup on the phone. Later on, she wanted a sophisticated system put in her house. We wired up her phone because it started looking stupid with a suction cup.’

Otash listened in on Marilyn having sex with Kennedy when he was watching Lawford’s house in Malibu, allegedly while working for Howard Hughes, who was seeking general information with which to discredit the Democrats. ‘When the original Lawford house was wired, Monroe was not part of the plan,’ Otash says in the files. ‘It was to find out what the Democrats were up to on behalf of Howard Hughes and Nixon. Monroe became a by-product.’

The files include notes that he left for Colleen, in which he says he was conducting surveillance of Marilyn Monroe on the day she died.

‘I listened to Marilyn Monroe die,’ he claims in the notes, without elaborating, adding that he had taped an angry confrontation among Bobby Kennedy, Lawford and Monroe just hours before her death: ‘She said she was passed around like a piece of meat. It was a violent argument about their relationship and the commitment and promises he made to her. She was really screaming and they were trying to quiet her down. She’s in the bedroom and Bobby gets the pillow and he muffles her on the bed to keep the neighbors from hearing. She finally quieted down and then he was looking to get out of there.’

Otash only learned that Monroe had died when Lawford called him in the early hours of the following day and asked him to remove any incriminating evidence from her house. There is no record of what was removed, and the alleged tapes have since disappeared.

Shortly before Otash’s death in 1992 at the age of 70, he told Vanity Fair: ‘I would have kept it quiet all my life. But all of a sudden, I’m looking at FBI files and CIA files with quotes from my investigators telling them about the work they did on my behalf. It’s stupid to sit here and deny that these things are true…'”

Marilyn’s Will and Her Beneficiaries

Marilyn with poet Norman Rosten and his wife, Hedda, in 1955

NPR takes a look at Marilyn’s will. Made in 1961, it remains controversial, and it’s rumoured that she had wanted to change it in the weeks before her death.

“Monroe grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In her will, the actress set up a trust to care for her mother until she died; left money to her half-sister, who Monroe didn’t even know existed until she was 12; and made bequests to a poet friend and his wife (she loved poetry, and even wrote some herself) and to others she trusted.

According to Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling Monroe biography, the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.

‘They took Marilyn under their wings,’ he says. ‘They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.’

Monroe also left a bequest to her psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris.

‘She felt that [Kris] was very helpful and sympathetic,’ says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. ‘She found that [Kris] was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.’

After Kris died, her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Monroe would have approved.

‘That would have made her really happy,’ Churchwell says. ‘She did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.’

But Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe. When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate and eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a company that specializes in managing the estates of dead celebrities, to license Monroe products. That’s when the actress started making big money.

Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Strasberg sold what remained of the Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, for an estimated $20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal.”

‘Goddess’ Re-Reviewed

Having reviewed Marilyn’s Men by Jane Ellen Wayne recently, blogger xoxoxoe (aka Elizabeth Periale) takes an in-depth look at Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, the controversial biography by Anthony Summers, over at Cannonball Read IV. Read her review in full here. And to check out her other MM-related articles, click here.

“Marilyn’s life is usually presented as an inexorable, inevitable, and pathetic progression towards her death. Death is waiting for us all, but we wouldn’t be able to function if we didn’t have hopes and dreams for our present and future. For all of her talk about death, Marilyn did, too…Summers gets a little too sidetracked in Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe with the Kennedys and their amorous and political complications. Poor Marilyn gets lost in the middle of the book in the Kennedy glare. The last few chapters present a Rashomon-like account of her final hours. It’s well-researched, but full of so many conflicting statements by people who claimed to be ‘on the scene’ that it is depressing and dizzying to read.”

Meanwhile over at Videogum, we learn that Goddess was once mooted to be adapted for the big screen with David Lynch as director…

“David Lynch, who had experienced previous success with the acclaimed The Elephant Man (1980) and Blue Velvet (1986), was hired by a Warner Bros. executive to direct a film about the life of Marilyn Monroe, based on the best-selling book Goddess. Lynch recalls being ‘sort of interested. I loved the idea of this woman in trouble, but I didn’t know if I liked it being a real story.’ Lynch’s agent, Tony Krantz suggested the director work with his friend and writer Mark Frost. He worked on the Goddess screenplay with Lynch. Even though this project was dropped by Warner Brothers, Lynch and Frost became good friends…”

Marilyn, Shirley and ‘The Apartment’

The photo above shows Marilyn attending a preview of The Apartment with Yves Montand in June 1960.

There has been some debate over what dress Marilyn wore that night. To me, it looks a little like the grey halter-dress that she had also worn at a press conference that year, and would wear again in Reno that summer.

Eve Arnold, 1960

However, Shirley MacLaine, star of The Apartment, told guests at the LA Film Fest Q & A last week:

“I’ll tell you a story: I came out of the first screening of The Apartment, and it was at some little screening room here in town. I left before the lights went up, and I walked out of the door and there, up against kind of a bar because they were serving food and drinks, was a woman — a blonde swathed in a white mink coat. I walked over to her just to talk, and she said [whispering], ‘You were so wonderful! Just brilliant!’ She opened up the coat and she had nothing on. Marilyn.”

I find it a little odd that Shirley has not mentioned this detail on her website:

“I remember Marilyn Monroe was at the screening. She had no makeup on and was wrapped up in a mink coat. In her low whispery voice she said… ‘The picture is a wonderful examination of the corporate world.’ My mouth flew open! She got it!”

Also, the fur coat in the photograph is dark, not white. However, Montand – Marilyn’s co-star in Let’s Make Love, with whom she had an affair – told biographer Anthony Summers that MM had once entered his hotel room wearing nothing but a fur coat. And so, whether true or false, the rumour is not unprecedented.

Shirley’s co-star in The Apartment was Marilyn’s friend, Jack Lemmon (her co-star in 1959’s Some Like it Hot.) Both movies were directed by Billy Wilder, with whom Marilyn had fallen out. However, Marilyn was seen embracing Billy at the screening of  The Apartment, so it seems that they must have made up their differences.

While Marilyn has often been criticised for her ‘difficult’ behaviour on film sets, Shirley also found Wilder hard to please. ‘He was un-empathetic,’ she recalled. ‘We looked at a scene in front of everyone, and he stood up in front of everybody and said, “I tried.”‘

Marilyn considered several roles that were ultimately played by Shirley MacLaine: in Some Came Running, Wilder’s Irma La Douce and What a Way to Go! Also, both actresses were friendly with Rat Packers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.