2015: A Year in Marilyn Headlines

10888615_10152588248917584_8987576087019859357_nIn January, Marilyn was named as the ‘new face’ of Max Factor cosmetics. Also this month, Joe Franklin (Marilyn’s first biographer) and Anita Ekberg, a fellow blonde bombshell of the fifties, both passed away.

In February, New York Fashion Week included a Fall 2015 collection from Max Mara, inspired by Marilyn’s 1960s style. A hologram of multiple Marilyns appeared in the Oscars opening ceremony. Also this month, Richard Meryman – the last person to interview Marilyn – passed away.

adf8341a9d7c6e436611f9b166316971In March, Marilyn was featured in a vintage-inspired ad campaign for Coca Cola. In book news, the long-awaited first volume of Holding A Good Thought For Marilyn, a two-part biography by Stacy Eubank, was published.

eubankMarilyn Forever, an opera by Gavin Bryars, had its US premiere. And Marilyn: The Strength Behind the Legendary Monroe, showcasing the collection of Ted Stampfer, opened in Liechtenstein.

In April, a viral hoax news story, claiming that a CIA agent had made a deathbed confession to Marilyn’s murder, was debunked. Plans for a monument to Marilyn in South Korea were announced. And in book news, Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe, edited by Marcelline Block, was published.

fan phenomIn May, Dr Cyril Wecht – one of the world’s most renowned forensic pathologists – gave an interview to Immortal Marilyn’s Marijane Gray, laying to rest some of the many myths about Marilyn’s death. Marilyn was the subject of two controversial TV shows: Autopsy – The Last Hours of Marilyn Monroe, a documentary; and The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, a mini-series based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography, starring Kelli Garner.

bfi monroe_season_posterOn June 1 – Marilyn’s 89th birthday – the British Film Institute launched a month-long retrospective of Marilyn’s movies, and a nationwide reissue of The Misfits. Menswear designer Dries Van Noten used iconic images of Marilyn in his Spring 2016 collection. A benefit performance of Bombshell (the Marilyn-inspired musical subject of TV’s Smash) spurred plans for a full Broadway run. And Marilyn Monroe: Missing Moments, a summer-long exhibit, opened at the Hollywood Museum.

jpegOn June 29, Julien’s Auctions held a Hollywood Legends sale dedicated to Marilyn, and her floral dress from Something’s Got to Give sold for over $300,000. Sadly, it was also reported that the ‘Dougherty House’ in North Hollywood, where Marilyn lived from 1944-45, has been demolished – despite protests from local residents. And George Winslow, the former child actor who appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, passed away.

hollywood-legends-catalogIn July, Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, a new book by Michelle Morgan, was published. Limited Runs launched the Red Velvet Collection, a US touring exhibition featuring Tom Kelley’s famous nude calendar shots of Marilyn, as well as rare photos by Gene Lester. In Los Angeles, the Andrew Weiss Gallery launched their own exhibition, Marilyn: The Making of a Legend, and published a catalogue, 17 Years.

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In August, the Marilyn Remembered fan club’s annual memorial service was held at Westwood Memorial Park, marking the 53rd anniversary of Marilyn’s death. It was reported that hip hop producer Timbaland would sample ‘Down Boy’, a ‘lost’ song recorded by Marilyn for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And the Daily Express published rare photos of a young Marilyn in Salinas.

In September, a large number of rare candid shots of Marilyn were auctioned by Profiles in History. A new exhibition, Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn, opened in New York. And Norman Farberow, the psychologist who contributed to the first official report on Marilyn’s death in 1962 , passed away.

wills marilyn in the flashIn October, Marilyn – in the Flash, David Wills’ stunning sequel to MM: Metamorphosis, was published. Members of Everlasting Star discovered rare photos of an early public appearance by Marilyn at the Hollywood Legion Stadium in 1947. October also marked Arthur Miller’s centenary, and the death of movie legend Maureen O’Hara.

In November, Marilyn’s blue gabardine suit from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was sold at Bonham’s for $425,000. Congressman Tony Cardenas introduced a bill to rename a Van Nuys post office after Marilyn. Cartier unveiled a new ad, featuring a diamond-themed homage to Marilyn. And the Writers’ Guild of America voted Some Like it Hot as the second funniest screenplay of all time.

And finally … in December, Marilyn-related items from the collection of Dame Joan Collins were sold at Julien’s Auctions, and Ferragamo launched a capsule collection featuring a Marilyn-inspired shoe. Over in Toronto, the TIFF Cinematheque launched a season of movies starring Marilyn and her greatest Hollywood rival, Elizabeth Taylor.

‘Before Marilyn’ in Sunday’s Mirror

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A selection of photos from Michelle Morgan and Astrid Franse’s new book, Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, is published on The Mirror‘s website today. (In an earlier version of this post, I said that it would also be in Sunday’s print edition. Rather confusingly, it was published in the People instead. Apologies to anyone who was caught out – and if it’s any consolation, so was I!)

FYI: the photos in this post were taken by Richard Whiteman in 1946. The intriguing story behind the mystery shoot is revealed in Before Marilyn – you can read my review here.

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Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years

The long-awaited new book by Michelle Morgan and Astrid Franse, Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, will be published in the UK on July 6. It is also the subject of a six-page article in today’s Mail on Sunday, with Norma Jeane gracing the cover of its supplement magazine. The Mail Bookshop is also offering a pre-order of Before Marilyn at a reduced price of £18.75. A US edition will follow in November, but if you simply can’t wait that long, the UK version of Before Marilyn can also be pre-ordered via The Book Depository.

“Twenty years ago, Astrid and Ben Franse, owners of a Fifties memorabilia store, were in a vintage shop in Los Angeles when the shopkeeper came over with a box, telling them: ‘It’s press clippings and pictures of Marilyn Monroe. I only got a quick look. It was take it or leave it.’ 

The couple bought the box and took it home to the Netherlands, where it was stored under a desk and promptly forgotten – until 2012 when a dealer telephoned from the U.S. about a client who was a big Marilyn fan. 

Ben remembered the box and went to check what it contained. He was stunned. It was the archive of Blue Book, the modelling agency that launched Marilyn’s career. 

There were negatives, letters, telegrams, photos and worksheets.

Using this treasure trove of unseen images, Astrid and Marilyn expert Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private And Undisclosed, have been able to tell the little-known story of Marilyn before she was famous…

Emmeline Snively appraised the girl in front of her in the office of her model agency.

She was ‘in a simple white dress and armed with her portfolio, which offered no more than a few snaps. You wouldn’t necessarily wear a white dress on a modelling job, and it was as clean and white and ironed and shining as she was.’

It was August 2, 1945 and this was the first meeting between Norma Jeane Dougherty – later known as Marilyn Monroe – and the mentor who launched her career.

Many in modelling believed Blue Book was essentially an escort agency, providing girls for lonely businessmen staying at the hotel to take to dinner.

‘The LAPD kept a close watch,’ said a source who knew the agency at the time.

Snively admitted: ‘Many of my girls whose husbands were overseas dated on several nights of the week. But not Norma Jeane. She was interested only in legitimate assignments.’

The reception walls were covered in glossy photos of clients past and present, as was Snively’s office. There was a statue of the ancient Eygptian princess Nefertiti on her desk – ‘the most beautiful woman of her era,’ Snively believed.

The boss spoke in an English accent, though she was American. And she was picky about who she took on.

Snively later recalled, ‘She had a white dress which looked terrific on her, although models usually shy away from white. It accentuated her bust and called attention to her figure. It was extremely tight across the front.’

The only other things she seemed to own were a bathing suit and a blue suit ‘that didn’t do a thing for her’, according to Snively.

‘She had a girl next door look. All right, you never saw a girl next door who looked like Marilyn but that’s how she looked the day she came in. For me that’s how she always looked.’

Norma Jeane’s looks, enthusiasm and naivity won over the agency owner. She signed her up and set about training her in grooming, presentation and coordination. There was ‘good solid work on my part to analyse and develop her best points (no pun intended)’.

She determined that Norma Jeane could do two types of modelling. She couldn’t enter beauty contests – a useful way of raising a model’s profile – because she was married, which disqualified her.

Nor could she do catwalk modelling. As Snively observed: ‘She did have a pleasant personality; an all-American girl personality – cute, wholesome and respectable.

‘There was no sultry sexiness about her. That came much later, although I did realise immediately that Marilyn would never do as a fashion model. Most fashion models are tall, sophisticated-looking and slim-chested. Marilyn was none of these.’

And there was another problem – her walk. Her famous ‘wiggle walk’ went against everything a catwalk model was ever trained to do.

It has been claimed that she used to cut part of the heel from one shoe, causing her bottom to rock from side to side. Another suggestion was she had suffered from an illness as a child, resulting in a slight limp. Snively had a different theory.

‘She’s double-jointed in the knees, so she can’t relax and that is why her hips seem to sway.

‘She couldn’t stand with a relaxed knee like most models, because her knees would lock in a stiff-legged position. Her walk is a result of that locking action… This she turned into an asset.’

While Norma Jeane was eager to soak up any advice about her smile, she was less happy with what Snively suggested for her hair: bleach and straightening. There was no way the young model could afford the upkeep of such a style, and she had no wish to be made into a glamour girl.

‘She was a believer in naturalness,’ wrote Snively. ‘Any suggestions about lightening her hair or even styling it met with defeat.’

‘Look darling,’ Snively told her. ‘If you intend to go places in this business, you’ve got to bleach and straighten your hair; your face is a little too round and a hair job will lengthen it. Don’t worry about money, I’ll keep you working.’

She was hired for a shampoo ad on the understanding that she would sort out her hair. When the photographer offered to pay for the process, Norma Jeane finally agreed to go to the Frank and Joseph salon in Hollywood.

Snively loved it. ‘It was bleached to take it out of the obscurity of dishwater blonde,’ she wrote.

‘Marilyn emerged a truly golden girl… She went into her bathing-suit stage, and the demand for her was terrific.

‘She averaged $150 a week, and men began talking to her about going into motion pictures.’

It was the beginning of Norma Jeane’s transformation into Marilyn Monroe and from modelling to movies. Around this time Marilyn was walking down the street one day when a man pulled his Cadillac up next to her. He rolled down the window and told the young woman that she was so beautiful she should be in movies.

The man said he worked for the Goldwyn Studio and she should come for an audition.

Unfortunately, his studio turned out to be a rented suite, where the ‘executive’ persuaded her to pose in a variety of inappropriate positions, while reading a script.

‘All the poses were reclining, although the words I was reading didn’t seem to call for that position,’ Marilyn recalled.

‘Naive as I was, I soon figured this wasn’t the way to get a job in the movies. I manoeuvred toward the door and made a hasty exit.’

But magazine covers led to items in gossip columns which in turn led to a screen test at Twentieth Century Fox.

Snively later recalled a chat with Marilyn, now married to baseball star Joe DiMaggio, the actress confessed that she felt inadequate in her career.

‘She didn’t feel she was a qualified actress [but] how could she? She’d signed her first contract before she had her first acting lesson.

‘God, I wanted to cry for her then. This can be the loneliest town in the world and it’s even lonelier for you if you’re on top of the heap.’

By summer 1962 Marilyn was not in regular contact with Snively. But, having been fired from her last film, Something’s Got To Give, after missing numerous days through illness and through travelling to New York to sing for President Kennedy, she did a shoot for Blue Book, posing for amateur photographers. These photos have never come to light.

Then, on August 5, the actress was found dead, victim of an overdose. She was just 36.

Snively reflected on her untimely death. ‘We should have known that a person who works that hard and puts everything else aside for a career, is looking for love – not just a job.’”