Marilyn at the Chateau Marmont

Shawn Levy is the author of several books about the entertainment in the 1950s and ’60s, including Rat Pack Confidential, which became a bestseller on its release twenty years ago. Marilyn’s association with the Rat Pack was covered in this entertaining book, but Levy’s style is gossipy and speculative.

In his latest tome, The Castle On Sunset, Levy explores the history of one of Hollywood’s most fabled hotels, the Chateau Marmont. Levy isn’t the first author to tackle the subject; Raymond Sarlot and Fred E. Basten beat him to it with Life At the Marmont back in 1987.

Marilyn stayed there while filming Bus Stop in 1956, although her official residence was a rented house in Beverly Glen. She most likely used Paula Strasberg’s suite for convenience, not to mention her secret trysts with Arthur Miller, who was waiting out his divorce in Nevada. (Miller’s legal battle with the House Un-American Activities Committee was hotting up at the time, and rather disturbingly, the FBI tracked the couple to the hotel.)

Levy also mentions that journalist Brad Darrach interviewed Marilyn there for her Time magazine cover story. This may seem a little odd, as the article’s author was Ezra Goodman. However, Darrach was apparently part of a team which assembled the piece. He first shared his memories with Anthony Summers for Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe in 1984. Here’s the original account, as related by Summers…

“When Time magazine mounted its first cover story on Marilyn, during the shooting of Bus Stop, its researchers began uncovering a good deal about Marilyn’s parentage. This was a vulnerable area because of her various deceptions. As a result, one of Time‘s youngest reporters, Brad Darrach, was granted a personal interview, in bizarre circumstances.

Darrach collected Marilyn at Fox at 11:00 A.M., and drove her to her hotel, the Chateau Marmont. Marilyn, herself a fast driver, asked the reporter to drive slowly. She seemed to him to be afraid, not of his driving, but ‘generally frightened.’ Once in her suite Marilyn soon declared she was tired, and asked if they could do the interview in her bedroom.

So it was that Darrach ended up, he laughingly remembered, ‘spending ten hours in bed with Marilyn Monroe’. She lay down with her head at one end of the bed. He settled at the foot, and there they talked until long after dark.

‘She was Marilyn, and reasonably pretty,’ Darrach remembered. ‘And of course there were those extraordinary jutting breasts and jutting behind. I’ve never seen a behind like hers; it was really remarkable, it was a very subtly composed ass. Yet I never felt for a moment any sexual temptation. There was nothing about her skin that made me want to touch it. She looked strained and a little unhealthy, as though there was some nervous inner heat that dried the skin. But there was no sexual feeling emanating from her. I am sure that was something that she put on for the camera.'”

‘Norma Jeane Baker Of Troy’ Reviewed

Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, the new short play by Anne Carson, opens at The Shed in Hudson Yards, New York, tonight. However, with decidedly mixed reviews and reported walkouts at a preview over the weekend, the show is off to a rocky start. In his review for Bloomberg, James Tarmy admits it is “not for everyone.” (I’d be interested to hear what a Monroe fan thinks of it …)

“Neither [Ben] Whishaw nor [Renee] Fleming portrays the title character in this equally hypnotic and exasperating production. Or not exactly. When first seen, on a snowy New Year’s Eve in the early 1960s, their characters appear to be a rather anxious businessman (Mr. Whishaw) and the thoroughly professional stenographer (Ms. Fleming) he has recruited to help him work, after hours, on a special project.

That would be the very script of the show we’re watching, which is indeed about Norma Jeane Baker. If you don’t know that Norma Jeane was Monroe’s birth name, I wish you much luck in following this show. Because that’s only the first — and by far the simplest — of the identities attached to Monroe in Ms. Carson’s investigation of the illusion and substance of feminine beauty in a testosterone-fueled world of war.

Helen is Norma Jeane, while her ostensibly cuckolded husband, Menelaus is transformed into Arthur, King of Sparta and New York (referring to Monroe’s third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller).

Norma Jeane is further conflated with another abductee from Greek mythology, Persephone, especially as she was conjured by the 20th-century British poet Stevie Smith. All these variations on the theme of beautiful women held captive by men echo a phrase that is both spoken and sung throughout this production: ‘It’s a disaster to be a girl.’

Now why, you may well ask, is this a tale to be told by a man? Ms. Carson has said that she wrote this monologue with Mr. Whishaw in mind … His ability to cross the gender divide without coyness or caricature turns out to be an invaluable asset in Norma Jeane.

Mr. Whishaw and Ms. Fleming are, against the odds, marvelous. They somehow lend an emotional spontaneity to ritualistic words and gestures, while conjuring an affecting relationship … As might be expected, Ms. Fleming brings a luxuriant, caressing tone to the song fragments … And though it’s a man who narrates — and tries to make sense of — Norma Jeane’s story, it is fittingly a woman’s voice that supplies the aural oxygen in which it unfolds.

You don’t really you need to know your classics or even your Hollywood lore to grasp the thematic gist of Norma Jeane, which ponders the follies of war-making men and their abuses of women. Sometimes Ms. Carson’s conjunctions of figures past and present can seem too both obvious and too obscure. The show’s surprisingly predictable conclusion lacks the haunting resonance it aspires to.” – Ben Brantley, New York Times

“It is a play formed, we learn in the program, through Euripedes’ Helen, which recast the story of ‘legendarily the harlot of Troy and destroyer of two civilizations’ from her point of view, and her sorrow. In the program, #MeToo and that exhaustingly overused phrase ‘fake news’ are both invoked, as well as Carson’s intention to ‘let dark realities materialize dimly’ in particular sections of the play.

Well, Norma Jeane Baker of Troy can claim success on that score at least. The set, far too far away from the audience, feels like a retreating photograph. On it, you had two otherwise-wonderful performers, Whishaw and Fleming, playing within what first looks like the office of a gumshoe.

It’s New Year’s Eve, turning to New Year’s Day, 1963, with fireworks booming outside like bombs. Whishaw’s character has a mood board of sorts, and—it turns out—is not a detective, but a screenwriter working on a film project that is a meditation on both Marilyn Monroe (who died the previous year) and Helen of Troy.

The script drifts, utterly unmoored, between the two, their lives, ambitions, beliefs, and the men, dramas, and in Helen’s case war. Misogyny, ambition, and marriage pulse as themes.

As the play progresses, Whishaw, darting here and there, gradually changes into Monroe—via breast and buttock padding, make up and a wig—until finally putting on a dress that recalls the famous flowing white dress Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch. As Monroe, we hear of the actress’ private pain; there are pills, a champagne bottle that stubbornly refused to pop open (how symbolic that seemed on Saturday night), and then death.” – Tim Teenan, Daily Beast

“Ben Whishaw plays Marilyn/Norma Jeane, or rather he plays a young man in suit and tie (costumes by Sussie Juhlin-Wallen) who dictates a modern update of the Euripides play to a stenographer (Renee Fleming) on New Year’s Eve, 1963. The two of them sit at desks in a very film noir office (set by Alex Eales, the minimal lighting by Anthony Doran) before Whishaw begins to dress up like Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, complete with her signature white halter-top dress and ukulele. Ukulele? Maybe Whishaw’s drag persona borrows it from Sugar in Some Like It Hot, but then, inconsistency is Carson’s trademark.

Whishaw’s young man first mentions Marilyn in her preproduction days on Clash by Night where MGM is helping to wage the battle of Troy — even though RKO released Fritz Lang’s 1952 classic.

Whishaw often dictates that Marilyn ‘enter as Truman Capote’ before imitating that writer’s high-pitched voice. This Marilyn also has a young daughter, Hermione, which is also the name of Helen’s long-lost daughter. Marilyn’s Hermione lives in New York City, and occasionally Pearl Bailey makes an appearance there.

Carson plays slow and loose with the Monroe legend, and in press materials, she connects her subject to the #MeToo movement. #WhatAgain? is more like it.” – Robert Hofler, The Wrap

“Carson’s interest in a multitude of genres and in mixing registers is on full display in Norma Jeane. Many of Whishaw’s lines, like “She’s just a bit of grit caught in the world’s need for transcendence,” are gorgeous and heightened, like poetry; the references tossed around range from Persephone to Pearl Bailey; the set is naturalistic, but the action happening on it is mythic and strange. We’re ostensibly watching two people write a play within a play about Marilyn Monroe, but they’re also investigating the Trojan War, and (in Fleming’s case) delivering operatic sung-monologues about rape and Greek tragedy, and (in Whishaw’s case) getting into full, Seven Year Itch Marilyn drag. It’s about gender and pain and war and mythmaking—all interesting, but wordy and not easy to follow. If my attention wandered off at any point, at least the Griffin’s beautiful raised stage and sleek all-black look gave me plenty to appreciate.” – Amanda Feinman, Bedford + Bowery

‘Finding Marilyn’: A Glimpse Inside the Strasberg Home

Scott Fortner of the Marilyn Monroe Collection blog has detailed his visit to the home of Anna Strasberg, widow of Actors Studio founder Lee Strasberg and heir to Marilyn’s estate, in a 3-part article, ‘Finding Marilyn Monroe.’ Among his many fascinating discoveries, Scott reveals that pictures of Marilyn still adorn the Strasberg family home;  Lee was unaware that he would be the main beneficiary in her will; and that Marilyn had admired her future husband, Arthur Miller, since the late 1940s. It’s essential reading for all fans of MM.

‘After The Fall’ in Buffalo

Arthur Miller’s controversial 1964 play, After The Fall, is being staged in the Manny Fried Playhouse through to April 6, as Anthony Chase reports for Buffalo News.

“Many people will have a vague awareness that this is the play in which Miller exorcises his feelings about his marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe. For Post-Industrial Productions, a newcomer on the Buffalo theater scene, taking on this notoriously challenging script, albeit in co-production with Subversive Theatre Collective, is a bold gesture.

The central character, a successful lawyer named Quentin, clearly stands in for the playwright.  He enters talking and seldom stops … In time you might begin to wish that he would quit his whining. And then again, the whining of Miller is endlessly intelligent and nuanced. My recommendation is to settle in and indulge in the luxury of such an overabundance of Arthur Miller.

[Darryl] Hart maintains Quentin’s likability, which is tempered by his cluelessness over why his contrasting wives ultimately come to the same negative assessment of him … Bethany Burrows doesn’t waste a single moment of the delicious role of wife Number Two, ‘Maggie.’ This is the unflattering portrait of Marilyn Monroe, who is both self-absorbed and lacking in self-esteem. Among the several plot threads, the Maggie plot is the most engaging and haunting.”

Ben Whishaw Prepares for ‘Norma Jeane Baker of Troy’

In an interview with The Times, Ben Whishaw reveals more about his intriguing role in Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, which opens at New York’s hottest new arts venue, The Shed, on April 6 through May 19.

“Whishaw, 38, is rehearsing a play called Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, in which he plays a man who likes to dress up as Marilyn Monroe. ‘We just got the costumes,’ he says. ‘I wear a dress that’s a replica of the one she wore in The Seven Year Itch — the white one where the wind comes up. They’ve also given me the bum, hips and breasts. I don’t think they’re as big as Marilyn’s, but they’re proportionate to my body. It’s a strange thing. I’m not playing Marilyn, I’m playing a man who’s infatuated with her. The play is set in the year she died and he’s in mourning for her. Apparently there was a spate of copycat suicides that year.’

To research the role, Whishaw has been reading a book called Fragments. ‘It’s bits of Marilyn’s diary, notes on hotel paper, poetry,’ he says. ‘She writes beautifully. Arthur Miller was here with her when they were doing the film The Prince and the Showgirl, and she opened his diary and read about how disappointed he was with her, how embarrassed he was being around his intellectual friends with her. Apparently this was devastating to Marilyn. All these men say how difficult she was. It makes you want to strangle them. But she really was amazing. She had a lot going on, a lot of sadness on her plate, poor darling. To be a star in that star system and those men.’

If she had been born 50 years later, does he think she would have been part of the #MeToo movement? ‘I’m sure she would have. I’ve been listening to interviews with her. She doesn’t seem afraid of anything.’

Fearless and vulnerable. It’s a contradiction that could possibly describe both of them. ‘Yes,’ he smiles.”

Marilyn’s Misfits and the ‘Big Bang’

Marilyn and the making of The Misfits are among the many historical touchstones featured in Big Bang, David Bowman’s posthumously published novel of mid-century America, as John Williams reports for the New York Times. (According to Publisher’s Weekly, Bowman – who died in 2012 – also delved into the origins of The Misfits in 1956, when Arthur Miller and Saul Bellow were waiting out their divorces in Nevada. Events which followed the movie – such as Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy in 1962, and Miller’s depiction of her in the 1964 play, After the Fall – are also mentioned.)

“The novel’s central nervous system is formed around American politics — it ends as well as begins with Kennedy’s death, and spends considerable time on the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Watergate. But J.F.K., Jacqueline Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, Richard Nixon and Ngo Dinh Diem are joined in this story by — among others — Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Dr. Benjamin Spock and his wife, Jane, George Plimpton, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, the literary critic Leslie Fiedler, J. D. Salinger, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Elizabeth Taylor, Raymond Chandler, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Frank Sinatra and Maria Callas.

The events recounted in Big Bang include, but are far from limited to: Mailer stabbing his wife, Burroughs shooting his wife, Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, Khrushchev at Disneyland, the director John Huston making The Misfits, Fidel Castro’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Nixon playing the piano on The Jack Paar Show, the release of the Ford Edsel, Montgomery Clift nearly dying in a car wreck after leaving a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills and, for about the blink of an eye, a young George W. Bush in the car with his mother, Barbara, after she has suffered a miscarriage.”

Jonas Mekas 1922-2019

The Lithuanian-born filmmaker, poet and artist, Jonas Mekas, has died aged 97. During World War II, he was imprisoned for eight months in a German labour camp while trying to flee his home country. In late 1949 he emigrated to the US with his brother, settling in Williamsburg, New York.

Mekas interviewed fellow Brooklynite Arthur Miller in 1954, and in 1958, he began writing a ‘Movie Journal’ column for the Village Voice. He would review The Misfits in 1961, praising Marilyn’s performance highly. He later wrote a rapturous tribute to Marilyn after her death.

In 1964, Mekas launched a campaign against movie censorship. His innovative art films inspired Andy Warhol to make movies. Throughout 2007, Jonas released a film each day on his website. He would continue his ‘online diary’ until his death.

Photographer Horace Ward Has Died

Fleet Street photographer Horace Ward, who captured Marilyn and many other celebrities on film, has died. Ward photographed Marilyn at London Airport on November 20, 1956, during a final press conference before she and husband Arthur Miller departed for New York. Sir Laurence Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh, were also present. The atmosphere was far more muted that day than when Marilyn had arrived to film The Prince and the Showgirl four months previously, perhaps because of her fractured relationship with the British press (not to mention Olivier.) “What I do remember vividly, the coldness that night standing on the tarmac,” he wrote later. “I was frozen to the ground – just glad the flashbulbs went off.”

Horace was interviewed by author Michelle Morgan for the 2012 edition of her definitive biography, Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed.  He recalled: “I remember a crowded press conference in the old tin-hut terminal with dreadful drab green curtains they had up as a backcloth, which everyone moaned about. There were hardly any fans about; it was mostly airport staff and a few police.”

In his bio for EPhotoZine, Horace noted that he began taking photographs in 1949. Self-taught, his first newspaper picture was published that year. After serving in the army, he worked in the photographic department of a national airline. By the early 1960s, he had moved to Fleet Street, with up to five pictures published each day. As well as Marilyn, he captured other blonde bombshells including singer Kathy Kirby, plus actresses Brigitte Bardot, Jayne Mansfield and Vera Day (who had earlier dyed her hair red to play Marilyn’s friend Betty in The Prince and the Showgirl.)

He was commissioned to photograph the legendary dance troupe, The Tiller Girls, for London’s Evening Standard in 1960. The British Music Hall Society has featured his photographs of Adam Faith, Alma Cogan, Anthony Newley, Kathy Kirby (a glamorous blonde singer whose looks were compared to Marilyn’s), Charlie Drake, Bernard Bresslaw, and Cliff Richard on their website.  He also photographed Vera Day (who played  on The Prince and the Showgirl) many visiting entertainers, including Pat Boone and Connie Francis.

Among his most famous subjects were Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, and Marilyn’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes co-star, Jane Russell. Horace later became chief glamour photographer for a leading magazine. Further examples of his work can be found on the personal website of the Belgian actress Bettine Le Beau, who died in 2015. In later years he preferred to photograph steam trains (his father had worked for the Great Western Railway.)

“Horace was a brilliant photographer and a wonderful friend,” Michelle Morgan wrote today. “I knew Horace for fourteen years and he was always so kind, funny and supportive. I’ll always remember him with great warmth and affection.” You can read her tribute here.

Marilyn’s Misfits in ‘Yours Retro’

Marilyn is featured again in the latest issue of UK nostalgia magazine Yours Retro, with ‘The Curse of The Misfits’, a two-page article by Hannah Last, included with other pieces about Elvis Presley and his mother, the greatest Hollywood musicals, and cover girl Natalie Wood. (My only criticism of the article is that it repeats the unfounded allegation that Arthur Miller became involved with his third wife, Inge Morath, on the Misfits set. In fact, their relationship began with a chance reunion in New York in 1961.)

Thanks to Fraser Penney 

Miller on Marilyn, ‘After the Fall’, in ’66

The literary magazine Paris Review has posted a 1966 interview with Arthur Miller, where he talks about his relationship with Marilyn, and After the Fall.

“MILLER: I think Strasberg is a symptom, really. He’s a great force, and (in my unique opinion, evidently) a force that is not for the good in the theater. He makes actors secret people and he makes acting secret, and it’s the most communicative art known to man; I mean, that’s what the actor’s supposed to be doing … The problem is that the actor is now working out his private fate through his role, and the idea of communicating the meaning of the play is the last thing that occurs to him. In the Actors Studio, despite denials, the actor is told that the text is really the framework for his emotions … This is Method, as they are teaching it, which is, of course, a perversion of it, if you go back to the beginning. But there was always a tendency in that direction.

INTERVIEWER: What about Method acting in the movies?

MILLER: Well, in the movies, curiously enough, the Method works better. Because the camera can come right up to an actor’s nostrils and suck out of him a communicative gesture; a look in the eye, a wrinkle of his grin, and so on, which registers nothing on the stage.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the push toward personal success dominates American life now more than it used to?

MILLER: I think it’s far more powerful today than when I wrote Death of a Salesman. I think it’s closer to a madness today than it was then. Now there’s no perspective on it at all.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say that the girl in After the Fall is a symbol of that obsession?

MILLER: Yes, she is consumed by what she does, and instead of it being a means of release, it’s a jail. A prison which defines her, finally. She can’t break through. In other words, success, instead of giving freedom of choice, becomes a way of life.

Barbara Loden as Maggie in ‘After the Fall’, featured in LIFE (1964)

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel in the New York production that the girl allegedly based on Marilyn Monroe was out of proportion, entirely separate from Quentin?

MILLER: Yes, although I failed to foresee it myself. In the Italian production this never happened; it was always in proportion. I suppose, too, that by the time Zeffirelli did the play, the publicity shock had been absorbed, so that one could watch Quentin’s evolution without being distracted.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think happened in New York?

MILLER: Something I never thought could happen. The play was never judged as a play at all. Good or bad, I would never know what it was from what I read about it, only what it was supposed to have been.

INTERVIEWER: Because they all reacted as if it were simply a segment of your personal life?

MILLER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Could this question of timing have affected the reaction here to After the Fall?

MILLER: The ironic thing to me was that I heard cries of indignation from various people who had in the lifetime of Marilyn Monroe either exploited her unmercifully, in a way that would have subjected them to peonage laws, or mocked her viciously, or refused to take any of her pretensions seriously. So consequently, it was impossible to credit their sincerity.

INTERVIEWER: Was it the play, The Crucible itself, do you think, or was it perhaps that piece you did in the Nation—’A Modest Proposal’—that focused the Un-American Activities Committee on you?

MILLER: Well, I had made a lot of statements and I had signed a great many petitions. I’d been involved in organizations, you know, putting my name down for fifteen years before that. But I don’t think they ever would have bothered me if I hadn’t married Marilyn. Had they been interested, they would have called me earlier. And, in fact, I was told on good authority that the then chairman, Francis Walter, said that if Marilyn would take a photograph with him, shaking his hand, he would call off the whole thing. It’s as simple as that. Marilyn would get them on the front pages right away.”