Remembering Charles Coburn

Charles Coburn celebrates his 83rd birthday with Marilyn and Jane Russell, 1953
Charles Coburn celebrates his 83rd birthday with Marilyn and Jane Russell, 1953

Charles Coburn – Marilyn’s venerable co-star in Monkey Business and Gentleman Prefer Blondes – is profiled today at Immortal Ephemera. The article mentions an interview Coburn gave to columnist Bob Thomas -published in December 1952, while Blondes was in production.

“In the early fifties Coburn supported Cary Grant from the same office as Marilyn Monroe in Monkey Business (1952). A year later Coburn found himself supporting Marilyn in the classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), also starring Jane Russell. ‘I can’t think of any more pleasant work than watching Miss Monroe and Miss Russell,’ Coburn told Bob Thomas late in 1952. ‘Each possesses sex appeal to a remarkable degree. That is a kind of animal magnetism which is rare in human beings.’ Then, showing his age, Coburn added, ‘Some of the great figures of the theatre had it—women like Anna Held and Lillian Russell.’ Coburn also appreciated their sense of humor and how down to earth each of the younger actresses were. ‘Neither of them has let fame go to her head; they are regular and don’t put on airs.'”

In 1957, Marilyn would impersonate Lillian Russell – one of the most famous actresses of the late 19th and early 20th century, when Coburn’s long career was just beginning – for her ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ photo shoot with Richard Avedon, published in Life magazine.

Marilyn as Lillian Russell, 1957
Marilyn as Lillian Russell, 1957

2014: A Year in Marilyn Headlines

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In January, Newsweek published a special issue, Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook. Photographer Larry Schiller claimed to own a scrapbook given to Sam Shaw by Marilyn, though expert readers noted the handwriting was dissimilar to her usual style.

Also this month, Unclaimed Baggage – a documentary about ‘the unclaimed trunk of MM‘ – was screened on European television, and George Jacobs, valet to Frank Sinatra, died aged 87.

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In February, Life published The Loves of Marilyn, another magazine special with text by J.I. Baker (author of a conspiracy novel, The Empty Glass.) Many fans were surprised to see the widely discredited Robert Slatzer listed among Marilyn’s alleged paramours. It has since been republished in hardback.

Also this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acquired an archive of 58,000 pictures by press photographer Nat Dallinger. His photos of Marilyn at the Let’s Make Love press conference were featured in the Hollywood Reporter. And archive footage of Marilyn was featured in Bob Dylan’s Chrysler ad, screened during America’s Superbowl.

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In March, Icon: the Life Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I, 1926-1956 was publishedMarilyn also graced the cover of Julien’s 90210 Spring Auction catalogue, and was the subject of another magazine special, part of the ‘Etoiles du Cinema‘ series in France.

Stanley Rubin, producer of River of No Return, died aged 96, and William Carroll, one of the first photographers to work with Marilyn, also passed away. Bob Thomas, the veteran Hollywood columnist who reported Joan Crawford’s verbal attack on Marilyn back in 1953, died aged 92.

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Playboy re-released its very first issue – with Marilyn as its cover girl and centrefold – in April, as part of an ongoing celebration of the magazine’s 60th anniversary. And a collection of Elia Kazan’s private correspondence – including a 1955 letter to his wife, Molly, regarding his prior relationship with Marilyn – was also published.

Also in April, Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney (Marilyn’s co-star in The Fireball) died aged 93. And Pharrell Williams released his hit single, ‘Marilyn Monroe’.

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In May, make-up artist Marie Irvine shared her memories of Marilyn with readers of the Daily Mail. AmfAR, the world’s leading charity for AIDS research, held a ‘Red Marilyn’-themed fundraising ball during the Cannes Film Festival.

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June 1st marked what would have been Marilyn’s 88th birthday. Also in June, actor Eli Wallach, Marilyn’s friend and co-star, died aged 98. An archive of ‘lost’ Milton Greene photos was auctioned in Poland, and a revised, updated edition of Carl Rollyson’s MM: A Life of the Actress was published.

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In July, Some Like it Hot was re-released in UK cinemas, winning a 5-star review in The Guardian. Sadly, several people with connections to Marilyn passed away in July, including psychic Kenny Kingston, journalist Robert Stein, and actors James Garner and Elaine Stritch. Meanwhile one of Marilyn’s old haunts – the Racquet Club in Palm Springs – was engulfed by fire.

August marked the 52nd anniversary of Marilyn’s death, with a live stream of the annual memorial service in Los Angeles. Also this month,  Lauren Bacall, Marilyn’s co-star in How to Marry a Millionaire, died aged 89; and Tom Tierney, ‘Marilyn’s paper doll artist’, also passed away.

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In September, Newsweek published a cover feature exposing the many inaccuracies in C. David Heymann’s posthumously-released Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love. And TV Guide released a special issue dedicated to Marilyn, part of their ‘American Icons’ series.

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Several rare photos of Marilyn were featured in Profiles in History’s Hollywood Auction 65 catalogue, while Britain’s Daily Express published a special supplement about Marilyn’s tragic death, as part of a ‘Historic Front Pages’ series.

Also this month, self-confessed ‘Marilyn Geek’ Melinda Mason launched a new exhibition at the Wellington County Museum in Ontario, Canada; and the chameleon-like actor John Malkovich posed as Marilyn for photographer Sandro Miller.

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In October,  A retrospective of photographer Nickolas Muray opened in Genoa, Italy. Carl Rollyson’s latest book, Marilyn Monroe Day by Day, was published.

A rather sensationalised documentary about Marilyn’s mysterious death – Marilyn: Missing Evidence – was broadcast in the UK. Her death was also the subject of a cover feature in the US magazine, Closer.

Also this month, Kelli Garner was cast as Marilyn in Lifetime’s upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of MM.

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In November, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ Icon: The Life, Times and Films of MM – Volume II, 1956-1962 and Beyond was published, earning a rave review from columnist Liz Smith. Fansite Immortal Marilyn published a series of myth-busting articles at Buzzfeed. And Anna Strasberg, current owner of Marilyn’s estate, lost a lawsuit against Profiles in History, regarding a so-called ‘letter of despair‘ from Marilyn to Lee Strasberg.

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In December, items from ‘the lost archive of Marilyn Monroe‘ sold for high prices at Julien’s Auctions. Marilyn graced the cover of Esquire‘s Colombian edition, and a new CD boxset, Diamonds, was released. Finally, photographer Phil Stern died aged 95.

Happy Birthday Marilyn!

Marilyn photographed at home in New York by Robert Kelley, 1958. (In the background you can see a formal portrait, recently shot by Carl Perutz. A painting based on Perutz’s photo was later acquired by Marilyn’s ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio.)

Marilyn Monroe was born on this day, 88 years ago…

“I like celebrating birthdays. I enjoy knowing that I’m alive. And you can underline alive.” – Marilyn to reporter Bob Thomas, 1962

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Bob Thomas at centre, outside Marilyn's home after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio is announced, October 6, 1954
Bob Thomas at centre, outside Marilyn’s home after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio is announced, October 6, 1954

The veteran Hollywood columnist, Bob Thomas, has died aged 92, reports the Los Angeles Times. Son of a film publicist, he began reporting for the Associated Press in 1944. He married in 1947, and had three daughters.

Thomas covered scandals like Charlie Chaplin’s paternity lawsuit, and witnessed the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. He was AP’s reporter for an incredible 66 Oscar ceremonies; published biographies of Harry Cohn, Howard Hughes and Marlon Brando; and was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1988. He retired in 2010.

Bob Thomas also chronicled Marilyn’s career, almost from beginning to end. In 1950, he praised her breakthrough role in The Asphalt Jungle, becoming one of the first writers to compare her appeal to Jean Harlow’s:

Scan by Lasse K for Everlasting Star
Scan by Lasse K for Everlasting Star

“I think cheesecake helps call attention to you. Then you can follow through and prove yourself,” Marilyn told Thomas in 1951, explaining her beginnings as a pin-up model, and her wish to become a respected actress.

In February 1953, Bob Thomas was involved in one of the great controversies of Marilyn’s career. She caused quite a stir by attending the Photoplay Awards in a diaphanous gold lame gown. A few days later, Joan Crawford was interviewed, and claimed that Thomas asked her off-record, ‘Didn’t you think that dress Marilyn Monroe wore at the awards dinner was disgusting?’

Marilyn at the Photoplay Awards, 1953
Marilyn at the Photoplay Awards, 1953

Crawford replied, ‘It was like a burlesque show. Someone should make her see the light; she should be told that the public likes provocative feminine personalities; but it also likes to know that underneath it all the actresses are ladies.’ On March 3, Thomas published Crawford’s comments in his syndicated column. Although initially upset by Crawford’s remarks, the incident ultimately worked in Marilyn’s favour, with friends and fans rallying to her defence. Crawford, meanwhile, was acutely embarrassed.

In October 1954, Thomas wrote an article for Movie Time magazine, headlined ‘Home Run!’ about Marilyn’s nine-month marriage to Joe DiMaggio. Soon after its publication, however, the couple separated – and Bob Thomas was at the scene of a press conference outside Marilyn’s home, where she appeared shaky and tearful. (Click on the image to enlarge)

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After moving to New York in 1955, Marilyn became friendly with the novelist Truman Capote. In a discussion about the press, she described Bob Thomas as ‘a gentleman’ (quoted in Capote’s essay, ‘A Beautiful Child’.)

During her marriage to Arthur Miller, Marilyn lived in New York and Connecticut. Bob Thomas was one of the reporters she kept in touch with throughout those years. ‘I’m almost well again,’ she told him after suffering a miscarriage in 1957. ‘I don’t have all my energy back but it’s returning bit by bit.’

Marilyn was photographed with Bob at a press conference for Let’s Make Love in 1960 (unfortunately, my copy is watermarked.) By 1962, she was single again and back in her hometown of L.A. Thomas reported on the troubled production of Something’s Got to Give, interviewing Marilyn on the same day she filmed her iconic pool scene.

On August 5th, 1962, Thomas was one of the first to report Marilyn’s tragic death. ‘Somehow the pieces seemed to fit into place,’ he reflected. ‘It looked inevitable in retrospect…She had reached the end of her rope. She had run out of all that anxious gaiety with which she held on to life…But she left behind more than a string of glamor-filled, over-produced movies. She gave Hollywood color and excitement in an era when the town was losing its grip on the world’s fancy. No star of Hollywood’s golden era shone more brightly. Her brilliance was such that you overlooked the tragic aspects…’

'Something's Got to Give', 1962
‘Something’s Got to Give’, 1962

Exactly 30 years later, Thomas examined the continuing fascination of Marilyn. ‘Like her contemporaries Elvis Presley and James Dean,’ he wrote, ‘and Rudolph Valentino in an earlier generation, Marilyn Monroe’s image in 1992 seems more vivid and intriguing than in her lifetime.’

“She was a great interview, just terrific. And funny,” he told the Los Angeles Daily News in 1997. “You’d ask her, ‘What did you have on when you posed for the calendar?’ And she’d say, ‘The radio.’ Or, ‘Chanel No. 5.’ … But in those days, there wasn’t any star that wasn’t available for an interview.”