A ‘Likely’ Pair: Marilyn and Carl Sandburg

Photo by Arnold Newman, 1962

In an article for Vintage News, Barbara Stepko takes a closer look at Marilyn’s touching friendship with the Chicago poet and Lincoln’s biographer, Carl Sandburg. (She also notes that Sandburg was not the only intellectual charmed by Marilyn: after meeting her at a party in 1960, Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov described her as “gloriously pretty, all bosom and rose.”)

Photos by Len Steckler, 1961

“When she and Sandburg first met is a matter of some debate. Some believe it was in 1958, during the filming of Some Like It Hot. Others say it was two years later, when an 82-year-old Sandburg, working in Hollywood at the time, was temporarily given the actress’s dressing room to use as an office.

Monroe introduced herself and the two immediately hit it off. The two would meet up again at the New York apartment of photographer Len Steckler in December 1961, then a month later at the home of Hollywood producer Henry Weinstein, with photographer Arnold Newman and others in attendance. A Look Magazine tribute to Monroe which Sandburg had written after her death was accompanied by photos from both photographers.

What Monroe found in Sandburg was someone who could see beyond her glamorous image and like her for herself. Sandburg, for his part, was impressed with the actress’s down-to-earth personality, citing ‘a vitality, a readiness for humor.’ He also appreciated that Monroe, like himself, had come up the hard way.

Monroe was eager to pick Sandburg’s brain, the two of them discussing a wide range of topics. Although the actress was a bit out of her depth when it came to science and economics, she was well-versed when it came to current events and, naturally, Hollywood. (At one point, both of them would sing the praises of Charlie Chaplin.)”

‘Love, Marilyn’: USA Reviews

A selection of US reviews for Love, Marilyn, which was screened on HBO on Monday.

“There’s a certain genius to the concept behind Liz Garbus’ documentary…the film itself is kind of a mess, albeit a mess you can’t stop watching because, after all, it’s Marilyn.

The brilliance of the concept, which is not unlike the approach that Todd Haynes took on the life of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, has to do with Monroe the performer. Pop a camera in her face, and she became a different entity.

The written material itself is fascinating, of course. There may not be any bombshell revelations here, but we get more of a sense of her trying to be authentic as she writes poetry, lists her goals in life and work, and records information about lesser-known Italian Renaissance painters she is studying. It’s not coincidental that the writing becomes more worked-over the deeper she gets into psychoanalysis and dependence on prescription medication, reflecting her growing struggle to know what being authentic really meant.

Garbus was painted into a corner on this project from the beginning: You simply can’t do anything on Marilyn Monroe, even readings of recently unearthed writing, without slamming into the mythology. But having all these actors trying to be Monroe is at times very confusing and even, at times, silly. At those moments, we’re not reminded of the often fragile co-existence of the movie star and the yearning product of many foster homes in the same body but, rather, of the transparency of having other people speak her words.

Of course, the idea behind Love, Marilyn is to reinforce the obvious, that Marilyn Monroe cannot speak for herself. Fortunately, her written words are not entirely drowned out by the artificiality of the film’s concept. The words are hers, and that counts for something.” – David Wiegand, Houston Chronicle

“I confess:  Whenever I want a pick me up or a reason to smile I’ll reach not for a bottle of gin but a Blu-ray of Marilyn Monroe singing.  ..With her exaggerated diction, delicious double takes, deftly disarming sweetness and that smile, that brilliant lovely, life embracing happy smile, that construct ‘Marilyn Monroe’ which she dreamed up and created as surely as Charlie Chaplin created the Little Tramp has become an enduring archetype.

Love, Marilyn doesn’t try to demystify Monroe much less ‘explain’ her but lets her own voice be the dominant teller of her story.  It’s a remarkable, enchanting and, yes, sad movie.” Stephen Schaefer, Boston Herald

“Watching Love, Marilyn, Liz Garbus’ pointed, poetic and occasionally overwrought documentary about the life of Marilyn Monroe, I kept thinking about The Great Gatsby, another tragedy in two acts recently resurrected for our viewing pleasure.

Yet for all the hope pinned on internal illumination, the first thing Love, Marilyn does is remind us how beautiful Monroe really was. Her face has been so thoroughly replaced in popular culture by commercialized replications that the real thing is a surprising thrill to behold.

For fans, there is not much new information here; it’s all in the presentation. Garbus is clearly entranced with her subject, presenting Monroe as both a strong-willed pioneer and a confused victim.” Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

“Directed by Liz Garbus, whose previous films include the critical hit Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011), Love, Marilyn is a diverting, at times incisive, yet flawed biography that tries to accomplish two almost contradictory goals: to outline the contours of the Monroe myth and capture some truth about Monroe as a unique individual.

In a nice if at times overbearing gimmick, Garbus approaches her subject by having actors read from a recently discovered cache of journals, letters, and poems written in Monroe’s childlike scrawl.

What’s interesting about Monroe is how she lives on as a myth, in both senses of the word. In one sense, myths sustain the culture. Like the Horatio Alger story, the Monroe myth has become one of those narratives every community needs as a guidepost to its collective identity, its purpose and direction.

The star carefully, actively cultivated her status as a sex symbol, becoming in effect the first modern self-manufactured celebrity commodity. That was also her undoing: The sole purpose of a commodity is to be used up.” – Tirdad Derakshani, Philly.com

 

Hollywood Progressives: Marilyn and Carl Sandburg

Photo by Len Steckler, 1961

Hollywood Progressive takes a look at Carl Sandburg’s love of silent movies, and his friendship with Marilyn, with whom he shared a love of Lincoln, Chaplin and poetry:

‘He found her to be down-to-earth and genuine. He said that “she came up the hard way,” and since his path to fame had also been difficult, he probably admired her “rags-to-riches” saga. He thought she “was a good talker.”

Although “’there were realms of science, politics and economics in which she wasn’t at home, . . . she spoke well on the national scene, the Hollywood scene, and on people who are good to know and people who ain’t.”

He added that they “agreed, on a number of things—that Charlie Chaplin is beyond imitation, for instance”—and she “never talked about her husbands.” He also found in her “a vitality, a readiness for humor,” which was a characteristic Sandburg always appreciated in others, including Abraham Lincoln. In his Look magazine tribute, he expressed great regret over her death, “I wish I could have been with her that day. . . . I believe I could have persuaded her not to take her life.”’

Also included is a fragment from Sandburg’s last major poem, Timesweep, completed in 1963, a year after Marilyn’s death. Sandburg died, aged 89, just four years later.

“Makers and givers may be moon shaken,
may be star lost,
Knowing themselves as sea-deep seekers,
both seeking and sought,
Knowing love is a ring and the ring endless,
Seeing love as a wheel and the wheel endless.”

Anatomy of a Sex Symbol

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

Over at Joan’s Digest today, an article by Sheila O’Malley about Marilyn’s sexuality – the image, the reality, and how other women relate to her.

I have a lot of time for O’Malley, who has made many interesting posts about Marilyn – especially her acting – on her own website, The Sheila Variations. And I also think the subject of Marilyn’s sexuality is fascinating.

Unfortunately, the article got off to a bad start for me by quoting John Miner’s disputed transcript of tapes supposedly made for her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson (in which Monroe claimed not to have had an orgasm until her 30s.)

These tapes have never surfaced, and while I wouldn’t discount them entirely, there is something a little ‘off’ about the text. (Melinda Mason wrote in depth about this in her article, ‘Songs Marilyn Never Sang.’)

There is also an anecdote from Orson Welles about Marilyn’s supposed promiscuity which I’m not entirely sure of (Welles had his own peccadilloes, and thus was hardly a disinterested witness), as well as a quote by photographer Lazlo Willinger which is mistakenly attributed to Ernest Cunningham, who wrote a book about Monroe a few years ago, but never actually met her.

Nonetheless, O’Malley is right to note the disparity between Monroe’s ‘Sex Goddess’ image and her turbulent private life, and ‘The Anatomy of Marilyn Monroe’ is a thoughtful piece, especially towards the end:

“When working on a film, Monroe kept directors and crews waiting for hours while she holed up in her dressing room, staring at herself in the mirror.  What was she looking for?  Marilyn Monroe was second to none in crafting and perfecting her persona.  Every element of her ‘look’, her hair, her makeup, her clothes, she engineered with a specificity and a cold eye towards what ‘worked’.  John Strasberg, son of Lee Strasberg, Monroe’s acting mentor, made the insightful observation: ‘It was clear that she was aware that she had created a female character in the tradition of the sad sack tramps of Chaplin and Keaton.’ It is not always easy to step into your fantasy of yourself, to take on the persona you have created.  Monroe’s looks were so startlingly beautiful and sexy, that on days when she felt low or panicked, it took an act of sheer will to step into that ‘sad sack tramp’ comedienne she had courageously created for herself.  The exterior was what was valued in Monroe.  Staring at herself in the mirror for hours, while keeping entire crews waiting, was not vanity. It took time to get the interior and the exterior in alignment.

Marilyn Monroe’s movie magic was in her ability to take her emotional interior and make it palpably visible to audiences.  In so doing, her actual interior was ignored, for years.  Staring at herself in the mirror was an act of searching, perhaps, an act of anxious exploration.  What is it that they see in me?  And can I see it in myself?  Can I actually feel, in myself, what it is that others see in me?  But where to even begin?’