Atlanta Celebrates the Jewish Marilyn

Bob Bahr explores Marilyn’s spiritual side in a cover story for the Atlanta Jewish Times (dated August 30.)

“Monroe once told Paula Strasberg, her drama coach at the time, that she felt a special kinship with her newfound faith. ‘I can identify with the Jews,’ she said. ‘Everybody’s out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.’

On the front door of the home where she died, she had affixed a mezuzah with its tiny parchment scroll of sacred Jewish writings. She still had the prayer book with her personal notes written in its pages, a gift from Miller that had once belonged to the Brooklyn synagogue where he had had his bar mitzvah. On her mantle she kept a bronze menorah, which played ‘Hatikvah,’ the national anthem of the State of Israel. It was a present from Miller’s Yiddish-speaking mother.

Rabbi Robert Goldburg had worked with her during her conversion and provided her with a number of Jewish historical and religious works to study. About three weeks after her death, he wrote of his impressions of her at the time.

‘She was aware of the great character that the Jewish people had produced. … She was impressed by the rationalism of Judaism — its ethical and prophetic ideals and its close family life.’

When she rebelled against the exploitation of the Hollywood studio system, broke her contract with 20th Century Fox and fled Hollywood in 1954 for a new life in New York, it was at the urging of Milton Greene, a popular Jewish photographer with whom she founded Marilyn Monroe Productions. For a while she lived with Greene and his wife and helped take care of their year-old son.

Even before the move she lived and worked in what was largely a Jewish world. In Hollywood her agent and publicist and an early drama coach and mentor were all Jewish. She owed her early success, in part, to personal relationships with the powerful Jewish studio executive Joseph Schenck and the important talent agent Johnny Hyde, who had originally emigrated from the Jewish Ukraine. Her three psychiatrists were Jewish as well as many of her doctors. One of her closest journalistic confidants was the newspaper columnist Sidney Skolsky.

But all that accelerated when she moved to New York and enrolled in Lee and Paula Strasberg’s Actors Studio … She quickly fell in with their circle of friends, who made up the theatrical and literary elite of Jewish New York. She volunteered to be the star attraction at a United Jewish Appeal dinner.

The poet Norman Rosten and his wife and children were close friends. She was a regular at a summer of brunches and picnics and cookouts with the Strasbergs in Ocean Beach on Fire Island. She frequently dug into what Paula Strasberg called her ‘Jewish icebox’ there, with its salamis from Zabar’s on New York’s Upper West Side and the honey cakes and fancy European pastries from some of the bakeries started in New York by refugees from Nazi persecution.

It was, in the words of one Monroe biographer, ‘a year of joy,’ made even more joyful by a newfound romance with [Arthur] Miller … Gloria Steinem, the Jewish American essayist and feminist, wrote a perceptive analysis about the relationship and Monroe’s decision just before their marriage to convert to Judaism.

‘Miller himself was not religious, but she wanted to be part of his family’s tradition.”‘I’ll cook noodles like your mother,” she told him on their wedding day. She was optimistic this marriage would work. On the back of a wedding photograph, she wrote “Hope, Hope, Hope.”‘

Her public commitment to Judaism in the mid-50s was just one of the signs that Jews were winning new acceptance in America after the end of World War II and of the changes that the war had brought.

Although she’s been gone these many years, she is not forgotten. Time has treated the memory of Monroe with kindness. Her estate, most of which she left to the Strasberg family, has consistently earned tens of millions of dollars over the more than 50 years since her death … As for that prayer book that Arthur Miller took from his Brooklyn synagogue and Monroe kept to her dying day, it sold at auction last year for $18,000.”

Thanks to Marco at Marilyn Remembered

Marilyn’s Gift to London’s Children

Marilyn by Willy Rizzo, 1962

London’s Anna Freud Centre for children suffering from mental health problems, a beneficiary of Marilyn’s final will (via Dr Marianne Kris), has been given a £5 million windfall by her estate, reports the Daily Express.

“The Anna Freud Centre in Hampstead, north-west London, has been supported by the Hollywood movie legend’s will since 1980.

Recently, however, the clinic, which helps distressed children with mental health problems, has benefited from a £5 million windfall.

The money was proceeds from Marilyn’s iconic image when the rights were sold by her estate to a commercial branding company for up to £30 million…

…She made her psychiatrist, Dr Marianne Kris, a beneficiary of her will provided she used the money to help children…When Dr Kris died in 1980 she bequeathed her Monroe rights to the clinic. Anna Freud and Dr Kris were family friends and the two worked together throughout their careers in psychoanalysis.”

Marilyn’s Will and Her Beneficiaries

Marilyn with poet Norman Rosten and his wife, Hedda, in 1955

NPR takes a look at Marilyn’s will. Made in 1961, it remains controversial, and it’s rumoured that she had wanted to change it in the weeks before her death.

“Monroe grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In her will, the actress set up a trust to care for her mother until she died; left money to her half-sister, who Monroe didn’t even know existed until she was 12; and made bequests to a poet friend and his wife (she loved poetry, and even wrote some herself) and to others she trusted.

According to Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling Monroe biography, the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.

‘They took Marilyn under their wings,’ he says. ‘They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.’

Monroe also left a bequest to her psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris.

‘She felt that [Kris] was very helpful and sympathetic,’ says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. ‘She found that [Kris] was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.’

After Kris died, her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Monroe would have approved.

‘That would have made her really happy,’ Churchwell says. ‘She did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.’

But Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe. When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate and eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a company that specializes in managing the estates of dead celebrities, to license Monroe products. That’s when the actress started making big money.

Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Strasberg sold what remained of the Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, for an estimated $20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal.”

Marilyn and the Therapists

Marilyn by Cecil Beaton, 1956

A very insightful post at Tales From the Reading Room on Marilyn and psychoanalysis:

“It wasn’t until I realised that Marilyn Monroe is considered (among other things) as one of the great failures of psychotherapy that I started to look into her life. Like most people, I knew the general outline of her life: fame, films, love affairs and early death. My PhD supervisor had been keen on her and papered the walls of her bathroom with pictures. If we wanted to use it, her students uttered the code phrase ‘I’m just going to visit Marilyn’. So I’d seen pretty much all of the pictures. But when I began to read her story, it felt like a novel gone wrong, written by someone who couldn’t resist putting too much over-the-top plot in it. And the thought that one of her last, and most influential, therapists was implicated in her death seems extraordinary.”

‘Selling the Dead’

A business article about dead celebrities and merchandising at the Daily Telegraph includes a long section on Marilyn’s estate, and the recent break with CMG:

“By testing its rights of publicity claims in court, CMG took a huge gamble – and lost. Sam Shaw’s and Milton Greene’s families seem genuinely saddened at the estate’s reversal of fortune, which they believe was avoidable. ‘If we had all worked as a team there would have been no litigation,’ claims Joshua Greene, who has not been recompensed for the millions of dollars owing to him in unpaid licensing fees. He stresses that with no agents involved, he enjoys very different, relaxed working relationships with the families of such stars as Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, John Wayne and Richard Burton.

Although allegations that the Monroe estate is bankrupt have been denied by Strasberg’s lawyers, legal documents indicate that they have spent between $14-17 million in legal fees, although Greene puts it at nearer $20 million. Greene believes the sale of Monroe’s licensing rights to Authentic Brands Group (ABG), which also represents Bob Marley, has not only saved the estate from financial disaster but also her image may go more upmarket. New 2012 products and campaigns involve Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Gerard Darel and Smash, an NBC TV series about a fictional Marilyn-themed Broadway musical.

One mystery remains: what will happen to the 25 per cent of Monroe’s estate inherited by her Manhattan psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris? When she died in 1980, Vienna-born Kris, a close friend of Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna, left her share of the estate to London’s Anna Freud Centre for children with emotional needs. In 1990 Anna Strasberg went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to acquire that quarter of Monroe’s legacy. Insiders claim the centre recently experienced a shortfall

in its funding, and statements filed at Companies House record that ‘the centre’s share of royalty income… was allocated to uphold and protect the [estate’s] Rights of Publicity. This licensing income is… expected to reduce significantly in the next several years so the centre is committed to diversifying its source of income to replace these revenue incomes.’ The centre declined to discuss the case or provide a formal statement, suggesting a determination to keep details of current legal negotiations, possibly with Strasberg and ABG, under wraps.”

Mad Men: ‘Dr Faye Miller’ and Marilyn

It’s 1964 and Marilyn Monroe has been dead for two years, but on Madison Avenue her memory is still very much alive. A new character, Dr Faye Miller, is introduced in the latest episode of Mad Men, ‘Every Wall Glares Like a Glass Ceiling’ (Season 4:4.)

Reviewing the episode for the Vanity Fair blog, James Wolcott wrote:

“Don and Roger field short hops from their Lucky Strikes client (regarding new restrictions on cigarette advertising), interrupted by questions over the Pond’s Cold Cream focus group being held in Joan’s office, much to Joan’s chagrin, which she manages to express without a single facial move, entirely through inflection and the No drama eloquence of her wrists.

The focus group is led by Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), the blonde psychologist and motivational researcher who appears to be intended as a younger, dishier model of the impeccable Dr. Joyce Brothers, TV’s original princess of pop psychology. Yet I may be doing Dr. Brothers an injustice, because during the 60s her braininess was supposedly driving quite a classy chassis. ‘She looks like Loretta Young, walks like Marilyn Monroe, and talks like Dr. Freud,’ purred a publicity handout at the time. Actually, I seem to recall Dr. Brothers looking and walking more like June Allyson and talking more like a sensible sedative, but perhaps when she presented herself in a roomful of male execs back then, she exuded the porcelain sex-pow that Dr. Faye Miller projects.”

‘Faye Miller’ was one of the many pseudonyms used by Marilyn when she checked into hotels and airports incognito. Miller was, of course, the surname of her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller.

Marilyn used the name in February 1961, just after her divorce from Miller, when she entered the Payne-Whitney Psychiatric Hospital. When Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr Marianne Kris, persuaded her that she needed treatment, Marilyn was unaware that it was a secure unit.

Marilyn’s stay lasted just four days, and it seems her disguise didn’t work as she later told friends of being stared at constantly by patients and staff.

Her experience was traumatic and she blamed Dr Kris, though curiously the analyst was not removed from Monroe’s 1961 will. Weeks before her death in 1962, Marilyn approached her lawyer, Milton Rudin, about changing the will but he did not act in time.

It was Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn’s second husband, who came to her rescue and had her transferred to Columbia Presbyterian, a general hospital where she recuperated in private.

Actress Cara Buono remained tight-lipped about the significance of her character’s name, suggesting to Entertainment Weekly that the MM reference may be explained later:

“Your character’s name, ‘Faye Miller,’ was also the pseduonym Marilyn Monroe used when she checked into a mental facility. What’s the significance there?

‘Well, all that information is revealed bit by bit…we’ll find out if that has any meaning. I wondered how this [interview] would be because we can only talk about the two episodes I’ve been in that already aired. But, yeah…Matt Weiner is such an amazing storyteller and I think everything is deliberate, or not. You find out what everything means — if not in this season, then in another season. Sometimes you’ll have to go back to season 1 or season 2 and think, ‘oh I remember that, that’s what this person meant…’ There’s much more to be revealed, I think.'”