RUMOUR: Did Sinatra Propose to Marilyn?

sinatra mm

This year marks the centenary of another man in Marilyn’s life: Frank Sinatra. The anniversary is being marked by a slew of publications, including Sinatra: The Chairman. Second in a biographical series by James Kaplan, this tome is 992 pages long, and has been previewed in the New York Daily News.

“During Sinatra’s dalliance with Monroe, there are conflicting reports as to who wanted it more. Kaplan sides with Milt Ebbins, a talent manager, who claimed, ‘There was no doubt that Frank was in love with Marilyn.’

‘Yeah, Frank wanted to marry the broad,’ Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s chief henchman, said. ‘He asked her and she said no.'”

However, Kaplan’s claim that Frank wanted to marry MM – ‘to save her from herself’ – is nothing new. J. Randy Taraborrelli previously suggested this in his 1997 book, Sinatra: The Man Behind the Myth. Kaplan also speculates that others believed the opposite – that it was Marilyn who pursued Frank – but the sources for this allegation are not named in the article.

In his 1992 biography of MM, Donald Spoto argues that Frank was ‘apparently the more smitten’ in their on-off romance. Milton Ebbins told Spoto that in 1961, Sinatra failed to show up for lunch with President Kennedy at Peter Lawford’s home, because Marilyn – who was briefly Sinatra’s house-guest in Los Angeles – had gone out without telling him.

‘It wasn’t worry for her safety,’ Ebbins recalled, ‘he was just that jealous of her whereabouts! To hell with the president’s lunch!’

Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958
Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958

In Sinatra: The Chairman, Kaplan repeats the long-held assertion that the romance ended after Marilyn grew closer to her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. This led to a rift between Joe and Frank, ending a long friendship. However, Marilyn told reporters that there was ‘no spark to be rekindled’ with DiMaggio.

After Marilyn died, Frank was furious that Joe did not invite him to the funeral. Kaplan reiterates the long-held rumour that Sinatra – along with the Lawfords, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Mitzi Gaynor – were turned away from the ceremony. However, contemporary news reports did not mention this at all.

So did Sinatra propose to Marilyn? Based on all available evidence, I think not. Although Frank may have entertained thoughts of marriage, I don’t believe Marilyn was ready to commit herself. And after his failed marriage to another Hollywood beauty – Ava Gardner – I suspect he wasn’t about to risk more heartache.

Perhaps the last word should go to legendary columnist Liz Smith, who knew Sinatra well:

“I would take issue with some of Kaplan’s observations about Ava Gardner and particularly Marilyn Monroe — believe me, if Sinatra really proposed to MM and she refused him, it wasn’t because she was ‘saving’ herself for re-marriage to Joe DiMaggio. But in the face of the rest of this compelling book, that’s real nit-picking.”

‘Minding Marilyn’ by Dianne DeWilliams

Minding Marilyn is a short novel by Dianne DeWilliams, published via Amazon Kindle in November 2013. It is written from the perspective of Marveen, a widow who is moving from New York to a retirement home in California, to spend more time with her two grand-daughters. When she shows them a photograph of herself as a beautiful young woman in a nightclub, alongside Marilyn Monroe, they demand to know more.

Back in 1952, Marveen was hired as a maid to Monroe, then on the brink of stardom. While in reality there was no ‘Marveen’, Marilyn did employ a maid, Lena Pepitone, who later published a ghost-written memoir. Although Marilyn Monroe Confidential offered some insight into the star’s daily life, it was highly sensationalised. Her Los Angeles housekeeper, Eunice Murray, wrote a more creditable book, Marilyn’s Last Months – but she is more often remembered as the woman who discovered Marilyn’s dead body.

Hazel Washington, Marilyn’s studio maid, was also said to have written a manuscript about her memories of Marilyn, but it was never published; while her cook, Hattie Stevenson, was planning to move from New York to Monroe’s Los Angeles home before the actress died. Another maid, Florence Thomas, attended her funeral.

Like Marveen, these lesser-known figures in Marilyn’s life were African-American. As well as a re-imagining of Marilyn’s private world, Minding Marilyn explores what it was like to be a black woman in the USA during the 1950s and ‘60s, when endemic racism was being challenged by the growing Civil Rights movement.

Marveen’s story is told alternately through letters written to her mother during her years with Marilyn, and a contemporary narrative detailing her efforts to commit her memories to print. DeWilliams has clearly done her research; and while her tale is fictional, the factual background is mostly accurate.

DeWilliams also inputs minor details about Marilyn’s life – for example, her love of Judy Garland’s song, ‘Who Cares?’ These simple touches help to create a rounded and sympathetic picture of Monroe’s personality.

It is well-known that Marilyn was ahead of her time in her progressive attitude towards racial equality. In 1954, she helped the legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, to secure a residency at the Mocambo Club by promising to attend her show every night. She was also friendly with actress Dorothy Dandridge (dubbed ‘the black Monroe’), who features prominently in Minding Marilyn.

Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge

DeWilliams also includes another screen goddess, Ava Gardner, in the storyline. In reality, Marilyn and Ava didn’t know each other well. But they both came from modest backgrounds, and both were close to Frank Sinatra. Ava’s wild, earthy character makes an exciting contrast to the ambitious, but fragile Marilyn.

Gardner, the daughter of a North Carolina sharecropper, grew up among black people. Despite the colour bar that existed in Hollywood, she mixed freely with all races. Her maid, Mearene Jordan, was also her best friend. Living With Miss G, Jordan’s personal account of their many adventures spanning almost fifty years, was published in 2012, and provides a real-life parallel to Minding Marilyn.

While being a maid might be seen as a ‘subservient’ position, Marilyn was both thoughtful and generous towards those who worked for her, at home and on film sets. DeWilliams makes an interesting point that black audiences related more to Marilyn than other white stars, because she was ‘no stranger to pain’ – whether through suffering the impact of childhood trauma, or experiencing the pressures of fame. This observation about her cross-cultural appeal is echoed in W.J. Weatherby’s 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn.

Sadly, Monroe seldom experienced the loving support of a group of female friends depicted by DeWilliams in Minding Marilyn. Although she was not particularly religious, in one scene she is welcomed into a Pentecostal church. DeWilliams seems to be suggesting that these are alternate paths which might have led Marilyn towards a lasting happiness that eluded her in reality.

DeWilliams evokes the deep shock felt by Marilyn and those around her when, in 1961, she was committed to a psychiatric ward against her will. Famously, her devoted ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, came to her rescue. But DeWilliams implies that in times of crisis, the ‘little people’ who served Marilyn were just as valuable to her as the major players.

Minding Marilyn imagines a different response to Marilyn’s tragic death, in which the voice of Marveen is finally heard, setting the record straight. As a piece of writing, Minding Marilyn is not perfect – the paragraphs can be short and choppy, the sentences a little breathless – but the warm-heartedness of DeWilliams’ tale more than compensates for these minor shortcomings.

Although fictional, Minding Marilyn offers something that many of the biographies published over the years cannot – a sweet, charming tribute from a fan, and a testament to the sincere affection in which she is held by so many of us.

Reviewed by Tara Hanks, author of The Mmm Girl

Also available on Amazon.com

Book trailer for Minding Marilyn

Facebook page for Minding Marilyn

Read more about Marilyn’s employees

 

Marilyn, Ava and Peter Evans

Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations is one of the hottest books of 2013. Author Peter Evans – who died last year – collaborated with the star on a planned memoir in 1989. Unfortunately, Ava abandoned the project – possibly at the behest of her ex-husband, Frank Sinatra.

A revised autobiography, written with a different author, was published after Ava’s death in 1990. But many thought it too sanitised, and so Evans finally decided to revisit his time with Ava.

The book includes an interesting quote from Ava; about stars, image and truth, with reference to Marilyn:

“I know a lot of men fantasise about me; that’s how Hollywood gossip becomes Hollywood history. Someday someone is going to say, ‘All the lies ever told about Ava Gardner,’ and the truth about me, just like poor, maligned Marilyn, will disappear like names on old tombstones. I know I’m not defending a spotless reputation. Hell, it’s too late for that. Scratching one name off my dance card won’t mean a row of beans in the final tally. It’s just that I like to keep the books straight while I’m still around and sufficiently sober and compos mentis to do it.”

Evans also knew Marilyn, and spoke with her in 1961, shortly after her divorce from Arthur Miller. He wrote about that conversation in a 2010 article for the Daily Mail.

Ava was a feisty character, and in many ways, quite different to Marilyn. But their lives also had striking parallels, which I explored in an article for my own website last year. You can read it here.

Birthday Tributes in the Blogosphere

Over the next few posts I’m going to focus on the best fan tributes for Marilyn’s birthday. But firstly, here are a few selections from the blogosphere.

We’re all used to reading Marilyn’s own words online – though sadly, some of them are internet fakes – but Flavorwire has compiled a rather good list, 30 of Marilyn Monroe’s Smartest and Most Insightful Quotes.

Nearly all of these are genuine, in my opinion – meaning, they can be traced back to reputable biographies and interviews with MM herself. The only one I’m not sure about is the second one, regarding James Joyce’s Ulysses, which comes from the disputed Miner transcripts. (However, we do at least have Eve Arnold’s 1955 photo as evidence that Marilyn read the book – and, indeed, she later performed Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy as an exercise for her dramatic coach, Lee Strasberg.) 

“Here is [James] Joyce writing what a woman thinks to herself. Can he, does he really know her innermost thoughts? But after I read the whole book, I could better understand that Joyce is an artist who could penetrate the souls of people, male or female. It really doesn’t matter that Joyce doesn’t have… or never felt a menstrual cramp. To me Leopold Bloom is a central character. He is the despised Irish Jew, married to an Irish Catholic woman. It is through them Joyce develops much of what he wants to say.”

Geeks of Doom posted this thoughtful tribute:

“While she didn’t have the cocksure winking swagger of a Mae West, or the sharp natural beauty of an Ava Gardner, she somehow fell somewhere in the middle of both of those ladies…In a strange way, she is old Hollywood and still remains fresh in new Hollywood.”

And finally, Kim Morgan reposts her wonderful Playboy tribute from last year over at her Sunset Gun blog.

“Because through it all, no matter what was happening in her life, Marilyn gave us that gift: pleasure. Pleasure in happiness and pleasure in pain and the pleasure of looking at her. And great artist that she was, looking at her provoked whatever you desired to interpret from her. Her beauty was transcendent. For that, we should do as Dylan instructs: ‘Bow down to her on Sunday, salute her when her birthday comes.'”

The Unquotable Megan Fox

 

Actress Megan Fox has been making headlines this week after a baffling interview with writer Stephen Marche, for Esquire magazine, in which he bizarrely likened her to an ‘Aztec warrior’. The piece has since been widely lampooned across the blogosphere.

Elsewhere in the article, Megan (yet again) explained why she decided to remove her Marilyn Monroe tattoo. At this point, she brought poor Lindsay Lohan (who has already suffered enough bad press to last many lifetimes) into the discussion, and everything went pear-shaped.

“She holds out her right arm to show me her tattoo of Marilyn Monroe. All that remains of Marilyn is a few drops of black against skin that is the color the moon possesses in the thin air of northern winters. She decided to get it removed, and after a single treatment the sex symbol of another age is barely recognizable. ‘I feel like I willed it be gone,’ Fox says. ‘They told me it was going to take six sessions and it’s nearly gone in one.’

The reason is that Marilyn Monroe lost control. ‘I started reading about her and realized that her life was incredibly difficult. It’s like when you visualize something for your future. I didn’t want to visualize something so negative.’

But she was a great actress, a great icon, a figure of power.

‘She wasn’t powerful at the time. She was sort of like Lindsay. She was an actress who wasn’t reliable, who almost wasn’t insurable…. She had all the potential in the world, and it was squandered,’ she says, curled defensively on the sofa. ‘I’m not interested in following in those footsteps.’

Then who?

‘Ava Gardner. She had power. She was a broad. She got what she wanted and said what she needed.’

Ava Gardner did have control, over herself and others. But even as Fox says the name, a self-aware smile plays over those ultrasymmetrical lips. Self-awareness is her most attractive feature.

It’s not like Ava Gardner ended that well, either.”

Megan responded to the article on her Facebook page:

“I attempted to draw parallels between Lindsay and Marilyn in order to illustrate my point that while Marilyn may be an icon now, sadly she was not respected and taken seriously while she was still living.

Both women were gifted actresses, whose natural talent was lost amongst the chaos and incessant media scrutiny surrounding their lifestyles and their difficulties adhering to studio schedules etc.

I intended for this to be a factual comparison of two women with similar experiences in Hollywood. Unfortunately it turned into me offering up what is really much more of an uneducated opinion.”

However, in contrast to Megan’s comments, MM was Hollywood’s most bankable star for much of her career. Her personal problems were not widely known until after her death.

Nonetheless, the comparison has been seized upon by the media, eager for any dirt on the troubled Lindsay. Another writer, Stephen Rodrick, made the Monroe comparison last week in an article about Lohan, reports the Huffington Post:

“‘There’s talent in there,’ Rodrick, who describes Lohan as ‘fragile’ and a ‘tornado’,explains to the NYT. ‘She has that undefinable It quality. You can see it at certain moments in the film. The frustrating/tragic thing, and Lindsay would be the first to admit it, is getting that talent out of her over the past few years has been nearly impossible. That’s why I called the piece The Misfits, after Marilyn Monroe’s last film, one that [Paul] Schrader and the crew were constantly talking about on set. You can’t argue that Lindsay has the talent or resume of Monroe, but there is that same feeling of talent slipping away, perhaps permanently.'”

Here’s a final word from Monroe fan Ashlee Davis:

“It bothers me to no end that these celebrities have to drag Marilyn’s character down with their loose comparisons and constant ‘channeling’ of her image. Marilyn wasn’t cheap, but her image is often sold that way, and it’s not because of her own doing – it’s because of the cheap mockery. These users take no care to respect Marilyn as a person while poorly mimicking her or even just talking about her in order to seem relevant. Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Lady Gaga, Courtney Stodden – all of these women drag Marilyn’s memory through the mud when they reduce her to a visual icon, re-post fake quotes to millions of fans, and paint her as nothing more than a tragic victim of Hollywood. Any comparisons drawn between Marilyn and any of these people should be left at the fact that they are using her for visual inspiration and failing to recreate any of her natural beauty or class.”