The Boy (and Man) Who Saw Marilyn at Chicago’s Midway Airport

The singer and actor Mandy Patinkin, perhaps best-known for his role as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, describes his first, and rather frightening encounter with the world of celebrity in The Guardian today.

“When I was four, we were at Midway airport in Chicago, and there was a large crowd of people surrounding a lady – everyone was screaming at her, lights were flashing. It was scary. I later learned she was Marilyn Monroe.”

Marilyn flew into Chicago Midway at least twice: in 1955, en route to Bement, Illinois, to celebrate Abraham Lincoln; and again in 1959, while promoting Some Like It Hot. And on both occasions, she drew a crowd, As Mandy was born in 1952, the former incident seems most likely to be the time he saw her. (Marilyn also visited Chicago in 1949, but that was before his time!)

In his 2012 book, When Hollywood Landed at Chicago’s Midway Airport, author Christopher Lynch recounted photographer Mike Rotunno’s version of events.

“Actually, Chicago was just a layover for Monroe. Her final destination would be the little town of Bement, Illinois, not far from Champaign and famous for being the site of one of the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates. The tiny town of Bement was having an art exhibition to celebrate its one-hundred-year anniversary, and a member of the National Arts Foundation had approached Monroe asking her to make an appearance at the exhibit. To the surprise of just about everyone there, she readily agreed, and with her hairdresser and personal photographer in tow, they had left that morning from New York.

Meanwhile, back at Chicago Midway Airport, after he was given just twenty minutes’ notice of her arrival, Mike Rotunno wrote, ‘As I rushed down the corridor, people would ask me, “Who’s coming in?” I yelled back, “Marilyn Monroe!” By the time I got to the gate a huge crowd had gathered … There was a slight drizzle as the [airplane] door opened and here was Marilyn with the umbrella in front of her. I shouted, “Marilyn, pull the umbrella back of you [sic] and let us see you.” She cheerfully obliged, and gave me several different poses.’

Since she had a two-hour layover before boarding a plane to fly to Champaign, the photographers suggested that Monroe go upstairs to the Cloud Room … According to Jim O’Hara, whose father was a beat cop at the airport, Rotunno got a good shot of Monroe’s posterior as she sashayed up the stairs – the picture was pinned outside the Metro News office later that week and no doubt sold briskly.

Once upstairs in the air-conditioned elegance of the Cloud Room, Marilyn was immediately recognised by a gaggle of sailors dining there. According to Rotunno, they started ‘yelling, whistling and screaming. They came to our table and got her autograph.’ Marilyn talked with the excited sailors, obliging them with her attention. Rotunno remembered that the assembled photographers ‘decided to make her a member of the famous “Pastafazula Club”, whose members are Italian news photographers or descendants. The scroll which was presented to Marilyn contained honorary members of the White House and of the movie industry.’ There is a photo of Rotunno standing to Marilyn’s right, camera in hand, as she signs the scroll, while the Chicago Tribune photographer Dan Tortorell stands to her left. Marilyn laughs while signing this document, as important as the Magna Carta to the photographers. Rotunno wrote that ‘Marilyn got a big kick out of the initiation and we sent her a copy. Marilyn was very photogenic and showed it.’

After waving to the photographers at Midway and flying on to her appointment downstate in Bement, Monroe’s flight out of Champaign was grounded due to bad weather. In order to catch their eleven o’clock flight out of Chicago, the governor’s office gave permission for Marilyn Monroe’s car to be escorted by two Illinois motorcycle troopers, wailing at top speed, all the way back to the airport at Chicago. At Midway, the governor’s men even held the plane for ten minutes so that Marilyn Monroe could board her flight back to LaGuardia.”

Manfred Kreiner’s Marilyn at Julien’s Legends

SOLD as part of set for $625

Following reports that the bathrobe worn by Marilyn in How to Marry a Millionaire will be auctioned at the annual Legends sale at Julien’s on June 13-14 (see here), the full listings are now available online here. I will review Marilyn’s personal and business correspondence in a future post, but today I’m looking through the archives of German photographer Manfred ‘Kreiner’ Linus.

UPDATE: I have now added the final bids for each item.

Marilyn opens the Time-Life building in New York, July 1957 (SOLD for $640)
This group of photos includes images from the Time-Life building (bottom, centre), and with Arthur at the Crystal Awards, where Marilyn received an award for The Prince and the Showgirl at New York’s French embassy in February 1959 (top left, and bottom right) SOLD for $1,280
Arriving in Chicago, March 1959 (SOLD as part of set for $625)
Meeting the press at Chicago’s Ambassador Hotel (SOLD for $3,840)
Arriving at the New York premiere of Some Like It Hot, March 1959
(SOLD as part of set for $625)
This group of photos includes an image of Marilyn attending the Hollywood reception for Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev in September 1959 (top right) SOLD for $320
This slide shows Manfred Kreiner with Marilyn during filming of The Misfits, 1960 (SOLD for $320)

Avedon’s Marilyn: Rare Nudes Emerge

An extremely rare (and very charming) series of semi-nude photos shot by Richard Avedon, featuring Marilyn with hairdresser Kenneth Battelle,  has surfaced on the website of the Edward Cella Gallery in Los Angeles.

This was probably shot during the same session that made the cover of Life magazine to promote Some Like It Hot in April 1959, although Marilyn had worked with Avedon the previous summer on the ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ sessions (published in Life in December 1958.) Avedon had been unhappy with some of the shots, so these nudes could have been among the rejects. However, Marilyn’s slightly bouffant hairstyle more closely resembles her look in March 1959, when Battelle accompanied Marilyn to the Some Like It Hot premiere in Chicago (see here.)

Interestingly, this was not the first time Marilyn stripped off for Avedon – she also posed topless for his ‘Photomatic’ series in 1957 (see here.) The playful nature of these images reflects Marilyn’s trust in Avedon – which was seemingly well-placed, considering how long it has taken for the shots to appear.

Thanks to Paul and Johann

Rare Colour Footage Shows Marilyn in Chicago

Major news outlets (who really ought to know better) frequently trumpet ‘rare, unpublished’ images of Marilyn which are usually nothing of the kind. With that in mind, what a lovely surprise to wake up this morning and find genuine unseen colour footage of Marilyn arriving at Chicago’s Midway Airport to begin her promotional tour for Some Like It Hot on March 17, 1959, posted to the Marilyn Monroe Video Archives account on Youtube.

Spend St. Valentine’s Day With Marilyn

Some Like It Hot is free to stream on Amazon Prime today (US only.) But while it may have the perfect blend of love and laughs for St. Valentine’s Day, it was inspired by a very different event, as Jack Matthews writes for Gold Derby.

“Let’s face it, Valentine’s Day, more than just about any other day with a title, is a mass marketing scheme playing lovers for suckers, a bonanza for Hallmark Cards and Whitman’s Samplers and one that probably creates as much heartbreak as romantic goodwill. I’m not the sentimental type, but I do have an enormous fondness for one movie in which Valentine’s Day plays a prominent role.

It’s not about mass marketing, but mass murder, and based in fact.

In the early scenes of Some Like it Hot, the 1959 Billy Wilder masterpiece that is consistently chosen by critics and film people as the best comedy ever made, a pair of itinerant Depression Era musicians witness the gangland execution of seven men in a Chicago garage and spend the rest of the movie on the run from the mob.

In real life, the massacre resulted from a territorial feud between the Italian mob led by Al Capone and the Irish gang of Bugs Moran. In the movie, the shooting is carried out by the gang of Spats Colombo (George Raft), who coincidentally encounters the two witnesses, now undercover and in drag in an all girls’ band at a beachside resort in California.

Some Like it Hot received six nominations, including two for Wilder’s script and direction and one for Jack Lemmon as the bass player who gets all too comfortable in high heels. Tony Curtis, equally hilarious as the band member smudging his lipstick on the saxophone, should have received one, as well.

In fact, If time could actually fly, it would go back to 1960 and right the wrongs done to both Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, who is wonderful as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, a singer hoping to marry well but falling instead for Curtis’ Cary Grant-impersonating phony billionaire.”

Happy Birthday, Mister Lemmon

Marilyn with Jack Lemmon (centre) and Tony Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot’

Jack Lemmon was born on this day in 1925. Today, Hannah Gatward has posted a selection of Lemmon’s best films on the BFI blog – and unsurprisingly, Some Like It Hot is right up there.

“The first of seven films with Billy Wilder, and Lemmon’s most iconic comedic performance. On the run after witnessing the St Valentine’s Day massacre, musicians Jerry (Lemmon) and his partner Joe (Tony Curtis) disguise themselves as women and escape in an all-girls band, befriending Marilyn Monroe’s magnificent Sugar Kane along the way. It’s timeless farcical fun, with every scene expertly executed. One of the film’s greatest joys is the way Lemmon immerses himself into his alter ego Daphne – his enthusiasm is infectious.”

Meanwhile, the ever-popular Some Like It Hot will be screened soon in two very different, yet fitting venues: firstly, at the Pickwick Theater in Chicago’s upscale Park Ridge district on February 13 (the movie’s storyline begins in Chicago); and secondly, at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, New Jersey on February 14 (Some Like It Hot also features the notorious St Valentine’s Day Massacre as a plot device.)

Marilyn in the Windy City

As Midway Airport turns 90, the Chicago Sun-Times has published this library photo of a windswept Marilyn landing there in March 1959 for a promotional jaunt including a press conference at the Ambassador East Hotel, and the roadshow premiere of Some Like It Hot.

Marilyn Flies High With United Airlines

This exuberant press shot of Marilyn arriving in Vancouver in July 1953 (en route to film scenes for River of No Return – more info herefeatures in a new display at the remodelled Global Services reception area for United Airlines’ elite customers at Los Angeles International Airport (L.A.X.), as Lewis Lazare reports for Chicago Business Insider. (She also flew from New York to Chicago with United Airlines when she visited Bement, Illinois to honour Abraham Lincoln in 1955.)

Photo by Eve Arnold, 1955

‘Some Like it Hot’ in Michigan

The Franke Center for the Arts in Marshall, Michigan is offering ‘a hot date with Marilyn’ at 7pm on April 9, when a fundraising screening of Some Like it Hot will be accompanied by costume contests, raffles and some intriguing prizes – including a luxury weekend break in Chicago, where the movie is partly set. Tickets cost $15, with more details available from the Daily Reporter.

The movie will be shown in two parts, with a 25-minute intermission, during which food and concessions will be available. Raffles, prizes, intermission treats and other entertainment will fill out the evening.

‘During one of the raffles, we’re going to give away a two-night stay at the Intercontinental – one of Chicago’s best hotels,’ [Patty] Williams said. ‘Because the movie begins in Chicago, we thought it would be a nice touch to offer a Chicago vacation – even though Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon decide that the town is too hot for them.'”