Jonas Mekas Remembers Arthur and Marilyn

Jonas Mekas is a pioneering indie filmmaker and critic, who first championed Marilyn in a 1961 review of The Misfits for the Village Voice. He also wrote an impassioned tribute after her death in 1962, which is reprinted in his book, Movie Journal: The Rise of New American Cinema, 1959-1971.

“Saturday night I sat in the lobby of the New Yorker Theater, while Marilyn was dying. I was defending her for the last time. Because what people do when they watch The Misfits is listen to those big lines and not see the beauty of MM herself. How can they do that, I thought, listen to those lines and not see the beauty of MM herself, the little bits of screen reality she creates — fragile, yes, but true and beautiful, more beautiful than any other reality around them? Even when she is pronouncing her lines, I watch her and I see on her face something else, not what the lines say, something of much more importance than the lines. The lines are empty, big, ugly; much of the movie itself is ugly. But the reality created by MM is beautiful, with a touch of sadness. She never learned enough actor’s ‘craft’ to cover her true feelings, true embarrassments, true beautiful self; she kept her ‘amateurishness’.”

Now Mekas has published another book, a ‘part diary, part scrapbook’, as CNN reports. It’s unclear if Marilyn is featured in A Dance With Fred Astaire, but an extract published on the Lithub website includes a 1954 interview with Miller.

Marilyn’s Prayer Book Heads to Auction

A Jewish daily prayer-book acquired by Marilyn at the time of her 1956 marriage to Arthur Miller will be auctioned at William Doyle Galleries of New York as part of their Rare Books, Autographs & Maps sale on Tuesday, November 7. The book, which numbers some 648 pages, is described as ‘quite worn’ and includes a few notations in pencil, apparently by Marilyn herself. It was originally sold at Christie’s in 1999. The estimated price this time around is $4,000-$6,000. For more information on Marilyn’s conversion, read this excellent article by Simone Esther.

Also featured in the auction is a postcard reproduction of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn, signed by the artist.

UPDATE:  The Warhol postcard sold for $1,250, but Marilyn’s prayer-book went unsold.

Marilyn and Arthur: Artists in Love

The Millers at the April In Paris Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, NYC, 1957

My review of Artists In Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, part of a 2016 documentary series for the Sky Arts satellite channel and presented by the British actress Samantha Morton (who played an MM impersonator in the 2009 film, Mister Lonely), is published today at Immortal Marilyn.

 

Marilyn’s Journey to Judaism

Marilyn with Arthur Miller and his parents shortly before their wedding in 1956

In a fascinating blog post, MM fan Simone Esther looks at Marilyn’s conversion to Judaism in 1956 in the context of a lifelong spiritual journey.

 “Norma Jeane’s interest in [Christian Science] drastically subsided when Aunt Ana tragically died of heart failure in 1948, but with her natural intellect and eager curiosity it did not take long for an interest in psychoanalysis and philosophy to develop; an interest which would stay with her until her death.

Perhaps this is one thing that Marilyn found attractive in the Jews that she came to be surrounded by in the 1950s – the tradition’s affirmation of critical thinking, rationalism and natural embrace of philosophical ideals (see The Haskalah).

Already Marilyn’s closest associates were Jews  – including photographer Milton Greene, his wife Amy, poet Norman Rosten and her former acting coach Natasha Lytess – and she held a deep admiration for Jewish physicist Albert Einstein; But it was when she moved to New York to become a ‘serious actress’ at The Actor’s Studio in 1955, that the Jewish home of Lee Strasberg and his wife Paula became her second dwelling. There, she became Paula’s third child and she took comfort in the strong family values instilled by the tradition, something she never had the pleasure of enjoying in her youth. Susan Strasberg once recounted how Marilyn had told her, ‘I can identify with the Jews. Everybody’s always out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.’

So when Marilyn became engaged to Arthur Miller, whom she had known since 1951, it seemed natural for her to approach him and inquire about  joining the faith of his forefathers; Arthur found the entire thing wholly unnecessary, but supported his bride’s decision nonetheless.

Truth be told, Judaism played little role besides providing community in Marilyn’s life once her initial enthusiasm faded – she even later described herself as a ‘Jewish atheist’. Yet in the brief time of her observance, no matter how valid we consider her conversion to be, she provided a platform to other Jews-By-Choice and paved a path for many of her contemporaries to soon, perhaps more stringently, venture for themselves.”

Marilyn at Heritage Auctions in November

This rare and lovely photo, framed with an inscription from Marilyn to Arthur Miller, is featured in the Heritage Auctions Entertainment Signatures sale, set for November 11. Marilyn has written a heartfelt message in red wax pencil to her husband, ‘I know when I am not there for you – !!!‘, followed several ‘x’s or ‘m’s (this part is hard to decipher.) The photo was consigned from the estate of Marilyn’s lawyer, Aaron Frosch, and was likely passed on to him when the Millers’ marriage ended.

The auction also features a number of rare photos by Jean Howard, many never seen, from their 1954 portrait session (see above), plus stills from the set of How to Marry a Millionaire, and the famous shot of Marilyn dancing with Clark Gable at Romanoff’s.

Marilyn with director Jean Negulesco at the ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ premiere, 1953.

Among the Monroe-related documents on offer is this certificate from the Exhibitor Laurel Awards, citing The Seven Year Itch as the best film of 1955.

UPDATE: Marilyn’s signed photo sold for $8,125.

When Marilyn Came to Nyack

Writing for Nyack News & Views, Mike Hays tells the story of Marilyn and Arthur Miller’s visit to novelist Carson McCullers’ home on February 5, 1959. (What the article doesn’t mention, however, is that Marilyn and Carson had been friends since 1955, when they were both residents of Manhattan’s Gladstone Hotel. And although Arthur didn’t recall Marilyn having read any of Carson’s books, she did own a copy of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.)

“As a transplanted New Yorker and a famous author, McCullers had close friendships with the famous, including Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. She had always wanted to meet Isak Dinesen, the author of one of her favorite books, Out of Africa. McCullers met Dinesen at a dinner party following an arts awards in New York City.

Learning that Isak wanted to meet Marilyn Monroe, she asked Marilyn’s husband at the time, Arthur Miller, who was seated at a table nearby if the ‘Millers’ would come to lunch on February 5, 1959. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe picked up the 74-year old Dinesen and drove to Nyack. Monroe, 33, had just finished Some Like It Hot. She arrived dressed in a black sheath and fur stole. Isak wore a scarf wrapped around her head as a turban. The guests were fashionably late.

They dined on oysters, white grapes, champagne and a soufflé. They were all smokers including Monroe, although no ashtrays can be seen in the luncheon photos.

Marilyn told a story about once trying to make pasta. She was late, as usual, and the pasta was undercooked, so she tried to complete her attempt at cooking by heating the pasta with a hair dryer. Frail Dinesen told many stories and enjoyed talking to Ida Reeder, Carson’s housekeeper.

Towards the end of the afternoon, as the story goes, Carson put a record on the phonograph and invited Marilyn and Isak to dance with her on a marble table. They took a few steps in each other’s arms. Carson remembers that this was the ‘best’ and ‘most frivolous’ party she had ever given, and she expressed ‘pleasure and wonderment at the love, which her guests seemed to express for each other.’

It is improbable that the frail and ill Carson McCullers, her muscles shriveled, did much dancing and certainly not on a table. But she retold the story again and again over the rest of her life, perhaps telling the story the way she would have wanted it if she were not ill.

Others don’t remember the dancing although they do remember the lunch. Some time later, Miller said that Marilyn had never read anything by Carson, although she may have seen her play, A Member of the Wedding. He did sense a spontaneous sympathy between the women. Miller doesn’t remember the dancing, a story that seemed to have a life of its own in the media.”

‘After the Fall’ in Albuquerque

Arthur Miller’s controversial play, After the Fall, features a thinly-veiled portrait of his marriage to Marilyn (although he always denied this.) A new revival at the Aux Dog Theatre in Albuquerque, New Mexico, directed by James Candy and starring Sheridan K. Johnson, makes the allusion explicit – even putting Marilyn on the playbill, which is bound to attract the curious.

“‘It is no secret that Quentin is Miller and Maggie is Monroe,’ says Cady, ‘even though Miller himself insisted it was no more biographical than anything else he wrote. The presence of the character Maggie is so clearly the ultimate female sex symbol and icon that was Marilyn Monroe, his ex-wife. She had died two years before the play opened in 1964.’

In the play, Quentin is courting Holga, a German woman still struggling with her experiences during World War II. He questions his own ability to truly connect with the women in his life as he tries to decide the future of their relationship. The scenes with Holga take place in the present. However, the memories of his mother, father, brother, clients, partners and friends reassert themselves in his mind where most of the play occurs. They recede and re-emerge as Quentin proceeds from one thought/memory to another in a stream-of-consciousness. The most prominent memory is of his second wife, Maggie, and the dissolution of their marriage. Quentin understands that after the fall from Eden, no one is innocent and, finally, all we are left with are questions – and memories that haunt us forever.

The play implies a search for understanding of ‘responsibility’ toward Monroe, of her inability to cope, and of his failure to help her. ‘But more than that’, says Cady, ‘he must deal with the ultimate question – Can anyone ever help anyone, anywhere—anymore?'”

Marilyn and Arthur at NYFF

The newlywed Millers dancing in1956

Arthur Miller: Writer, a new documentary helmed by his daughter, the author and filmmaker Rebecca Miller, will have its premiere as part of this year’s New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, Deadline reports. (The festival runs from September 28 – October 15, and as previously reported here, Marilyn’s 1954 Western, River of No Return, will also be screened as part of a Robert Mitchum centennial retrospective.)

“Rebecca Miller’s film is a portrait of her father, his times and insights, built around impromptu interviews shot over many years in the family home. This celebration of the great American playwright is quite different from what the public has ever seen. It is a close consideration of a singular life shadowed by the tragedies of the Red Scare and the death of Marilyn Monroe; a bracing look at success and failure in the public eye; an honest accounting of human frailty; a tribute to one artist by another. Arthur Miller: Writer invites you to see how one of America’s sharpest social commentators formed his ideologies, how his life reflected his work, and, even in some small part, shaped the culture of our country in the twentieth century. An HBO Documentary Films release.”

Martin Landau 1928-2017

Actor Martin Landau has died aged 89. He was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1928, and worked as a political cartoonist at the New York Daily News before joining the Actors Studio (alongside Steve McQueen) in  1955. His audition piece was a scene from Clifford Odets’ Clash by Night, which had been filmed with a young Marilyn Monroe three years earlier. He became a close friend of fellow student James Dean, and reportedly dated Marilyn for a few months before her 1956 marriage to Arthur Miller.

Landau made his theatrical debut in a touring production of Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night, starring Edward G. Robinson, in 1957. Marilyn had attended the Broadway premiere in 1956 (before Landau was cast.) Marilyn was offered the lead in the 1959 movie adaptation, but Kim Novak was eventually cast alongside Marilyn’s sister-in-law, Joan Copeland. Landau did not reprise his role, having been spotted by Alfred Hitchcock during a West Coast performance. His first major film was Hitchcock’s classic thriller, North by Northwest.

He went on to appear in Cleopatra and The Greatest Story Ever Told, finally achieving stardom in TV’s Mission Impossible. An established character actor, he also worked as a drama coach and became an executive director of the Actors Studio. After winning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), Landau was nominated again for Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), and at last won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994.)

He continued acting and teaching into his eighties, playing elderly billionaire  J. Howard Marshall in a 2013 biopic of Anna Nicole Smith, the tragic model and reality TV star whose bombshell image  was heavily influenced by Marilyn’s. Landau’s last major film was The Red Maple Leaf (2016), with two more currently awaiting release.

Martin Landau died at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centre in Westwood, Los Angeles on July 15, after being hospitalised and suffering from complications. He is survived by his former wife and Mission Impossible co-star, Barbara Bain, and their two daughters.

You can read more about his memories of Marilyn here.