Immortal Marilyn in August

Photo by Scott Fortner

Flowers were delivered to Marilyn’s crypt today by members of Immortal Marilyn (see above.) Over on the fansite, this month’s updates include Fraser’s review of Carl Rollyson‘s A Life of the Actress; my article about Marilyn’s hero, Abraham Lincoln; and a 1956 Movieland article, ‘Is Marilyn Monroe Too Pampered For Her Own Good?’

‘Great Lives’: Rollyson on Marilyn

Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, will give a lecture about MM, as part of the Chappell Great Lives series, at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on February 26 at 7.30 pm in Dodd Auditorium, George Washington Hall.

“A photograph of a dreamy-eyed Marilyn Monroe among a group of Hollywood starlets captures vividly the description of herself in My Story, the autobiography she collaborated on with screenwriter Ben Hecht.  The true dimensions of Monroe’s ambitions only began to be apparent when Norman Mailer wrote about her Napoleonic sensibility. She came to conquer her world in the same way as many of my other subjects—notably Dana Andrews and Sylvia Plath—did: through hard work, tenacity, talent, and the ability to see beyond their own cultural conditions. How did Marilyn Monroe and others like her overcome obstacles and setbacks? What is it that keeps a person going after so many rejections, and how does someone not only overcome self-doubt but became a star? Marilyn Monroe’s story contains the answers to these existential questions as well revealing both the promise and the peril awaiting those who aspire to greatness.”

American Isis: Marilyn and Sylvia

The American poet Sylvia Plath, who died fifty years ago today, once dreamed of Marilyn (see here). Her latest biographer, Carl Rollyson – whom has also written about MM – argues in his just-published book, American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath, that she was ‘the Marilyn Monroe of modern literature.’

He explained this comparison in a recent interview with Biographile:

“You begin your book by calling Sylvia Plath ‘the Marilyn Monroe of modern literature.’ Can you say more about that comparison, and how it shaped your writing?

It’s always struck me that Sylvia Plath was unusual for a woman of her generation in the range of her interests. She had such an interest in poetry, in prose, and in wanting to be a greater poet, but at the same time she saw no problem with also being a popular writer, for Ladies’ Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, and other kinds of magazines. When you look at her journals, she really wanted to have a wide range of appeal. That made me think of Marilyn Monroe, in part because Sylvia Plath dreamed about Marilyn Monroe, and I thought that for a writer of Plath’s age and seriousness, to dream about Monroe was really quite striking – and not only to dream about her, but to take Monroe seriously as someone who would give her advice, comfort her, appear as a kind of fairy godmother. When I read biographies of Plath, biographers would say that this was odd or strange, but because of my own work on Monroe I thought no, that’s exactly what Sylvia Plath is. This is a woman firing on all cylinders, who wants to be that kind of cynosure or center of attention, that marks her as a figure in the culture.

It’s a fascinating connection that you develop as the biography moves forward: Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with Arthur Miller, for instance, has several parallels to Plath’s with Ted Hughes.

Marilyn Monroe was always looking for, in some sense, a father figure, and Arthur Miller served that function, as well as being her lover and a man she respected for his writing. Well, look at Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes – in her poetry, and Hughes’s own poetry, in Birthday Letters, he emerges as a kind of replacement for Plath’s father, and also of course as a respected writer, someone with whom Plath could identify in that way.”

‘The Marilyn Monroe of Biography’

Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, reviews Lois Banner’s upcoming biography, Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, on BiblioBuffet.

‘With one word, [Banner] helps explains why I was so taken with the actress and so certain she was a genius. Banner calls Monroe a “clown,” a clown in the same sense that Chaplin was a clown. She studied with the best mimes and acting teachers in the business. “Marilyn Monroe” was her creation, her creation, but that fact was not generally recognized. Directors like Howard Hawks (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) thought she was their creation. And even directors like Henry Hathaway (Niagara), who understood otherwise, could never convince Darryl Zanuck, the head of 20th Century-Fox, to permit Marilyn to do the great dramatic roles, to cast her, for example, in Of Human Bondage, the film Hathaway wanted to direct.

Because Marilyn Monroe became a sex object, because sex came to define her image, the idea that she was clowning never seemed to occur to the men who made pictures. Milton Greene, one of the few men who did understand, and who helped Marilyn form her own production company, used to cheer her up by saying, “One day we will do a picture with Chaplin.” The trouble for Marilyn was that unlike Chaplin, she could never really jettison her costume save for appearing as a fish cannery worker in Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night and portraying her alter ego, Roslyn, in The Misfits, Arthur Miller’s botched tribute. She rejected Miller when he refused, in his art, to show her dark side, the demons that contributed to the dissolution of their marriage.

Marilyn never could do without male adulation, without the desire to prostitute herself—a desire Banner traces back to the sexual abuse Marilyn suffered as a child. She made herself available for the world to fondle. It dismayed Banner to discover that Marilyn really did like the catcalls and whistles of men in the street. She was, as the maligned Norman Mailer argued, many selves, a truly protean personality and artist we are just beginning to take the full measure of in Lois Banner’s brilliant biography.’

Audrey Flack’s Marilyn in Jersey City Exhibit

‘Marilyn: Golden Girl’ (1978)

One of my favourite artists depicting Marilyn, Audrey Flack, features in ‘Our Own Directions: Four Decades of Photo-Realism’, a new exhibition opening on September 18 at Mana Arts Center, Jersey City. Another of Flack’s paintings has graced the cover of Carl Rollyson’s Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress (1986.)

“Author Louis K. Meisel points out that  Audrey Flack was the lone female artist among the original group of Photorealists.  Despite the challenges of forging a career in a male-dominated art world, Flack is the only Photorealist whose work is included in collections of New York’s four major art museums: the Met, the MoMA, the Whitney and the Guggenheim. The Yale-educated artist abandoned her involvement with an elite group of Abstract Expressionists and moved firmly into realism in the ’50s.  Flack began making paintings based on newspaper and magazine stills of political figures and events, including Hitler and Kennedy’s Motorcade.  Her political subjects were followed by film stars such as Marilyn Monroe, and she also made still life paintings of desserts, cosmetics, jewelry and assorted mementos.  Flack is recognized as an important influence on contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons who acknowledges her influence on the ironic kitsch themes in his work.”

‘Marilyn Redux’

Carl Rollyson, author of one of the best studies of MM as an artist, Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress (1986), has written a fascinating article, ‘Marilyn Redux’, for BiblioBuffet.

In the article, Rollyson argues that the publication of Fragments and MM: Personal have greatly enhanced our understanding of Marilyn, and he also mentions that he is writing a new book in the light of these new findings.

“What broke Monroe’s concentration, I thought, was related to her traumatic childhood and to the factory-like process of motion picture making, the rigid schedule of Hollywood productions that she detested. In this regard, my conclusions were not much different from those of other biographers. What I failed to realize is that it was not her background or her working conditions that did her in. On the contrary, as Fragments and MM-Personal show, it was her acute self-consciousness, her Virginia Woolf-like obsession with watching herself and scrutinizing her relations with others. She did not keep diaries as faithfully as Woolf did, and she did not have Woolf’s literary gifts, but Monroe had a sensibility like Woolf’s that ultimately pursued itself to the point of extinction. In short, it was not the traumatic childhood, not the movies, not the failed marriages—not her even her disappointed hopes—that led to her demise, but rather her unrelenting focus on herself. (This self-consciousness appeared very early, at least as early as her first marriage, which is to say years before she became a star, or even had an acting career.)”

Rollyson goes on to analyse the long narrative in Fragments, where Norma Jeane/MM discussed her first love:

“So imagine the life of a young woman who did anticipate trouble, who could not help but observe herself, and who chose a profession in which she was on display all the time. Her self-consciousness could be paralyzing and was relieved only by moments of acting when she could embody another being. What a relief it would be to act unconsciously and ultimately, to be unconscious, no longer obliged to carry the burden of self, a burden already shouldered by Norma Jeane when she was still three years away from her first appearance in a motion picture. To carry that same burden as Marilyn Monroe was all the more deadly.”

Carl Rollyson Reviews ‘Fragments’

“As portrayed in her own words, Marilyn Monroe emerges as thoughtful and accomplished — not characteristics that most biographies emphasize. She had marvelous taste and could decorate a house or cook a meal with panache. Photographs in this book document her avid reading and her craving for the classics. Her diaries, letters and notes record responses to literature even as they reflect the misspellings and grammatical errors of an earnest but self-educated artist.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, reviews Fragments

‘Monkey Business’ in Huntsville, Texas

“The Political Science Junior Fellows will host its second annual Legends of Hollywood Film Festival at the Wynne Home Arts Center in Huntsville, Texas, on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 6. This year’s festival will feature two Marilyn Monroe films: Monkey Business and Some Like it Hot. The festival will feature international cuisine and a presentation by Dr. Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress.  Tickets are $20, and includes one movie, dinner, and Dr. Rollyson’s presentation. Monkey Business begins at 5:30.   Dinner will be served – along with Dr. Rollyson’s presentation – between 7-8 p.m. Some Like it Hot begins at 8:15. For more information, contact Mike Yawn at (936) 294-1456. Seating is limited.”

The Huntsville Item