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 Letter to Lee On Auction

A letter from Marilyn to Lee Strasberg will be sold online during the Classic Hollywood sale at RR Auctions this Thursday, May 23. While Marilyn talks frankly about her emotional problems and disappointments in life, she also proposed an ambitious plan for her future career. Sadly, her goals would never be realised as she passed away just eight months after the letter was written. It is dated 19 December, 1961, and like other letters from her final years, it was typed (probably by a secretary), and was previously published in the 2010 book, Fragments. Coming from her estate (along with all her personal possessions, 75% was passed on to Lee after she died), it is the first time the letter has gone up for auction with an estimate of $20,000. Further details, including a full transcript, are also available here.

“This is an important personal letter and please don’t start to read it until you have the time to give it your careful thought. This letter concerns my future plans and therefore concerns yours as well since my future development as an artist is based on our working together. All this is an introduction; let me outline the recent events, my ideas and my suggestions.

As you know, for years I have been struggling to find some emotional security with little success, for many different reasons. Only in the last several months, as you detected, do I seem to have made a modest beginning. It is true that my treatment with Dr. Greenson has had its ups and downs, as you know. However, my overall progress is such that I have hopes of finally establishing a piece of ground for myself to stand on, instead of the quicksand I have always been in. But Dr. Greenson agrees with you, that for me to live decently and productively, I must work! And work means not merely performing professionally, but to study and truly devote myself. My work is the only trustworthy hope I have. And here, Lee, is where you come in. To me, work and Lee Strasberg are synonymous. I do not want to be presumptuous in expecting you to come out here for me alone. I have contacted Marlon on this subject and he seems to be quite interested, despite the fact that he is in the process of finishing a movie. I shall talk with him more thoroughly in a day or two.

Furthermore, and this must be kept confidential for the time being, my attorneys and I are planning to set up and [sic] independent production unit, in which we have envisaged an important position for you. This is still in the formative phase, but I am thinking of you in some consultative position or in whatever way you might see fit. I know you will want enough freedom to pursue your teaching and any other private interests you might want to follow.

Though I am committed to my analysis, as painful as it is, I cannot definitively decide, until I hear from you, because without working with you only half of me is functioning. Therefore, I must know under what condition you might consider coming out here and even settling here.

I know this might sound quite fantastic, but if you add up all the possible advantages it should be quite a rewarding venture. I mean not only for Marlon and me—but for others. This independent production unit will also be making pictures without me—this is even required for legal reasons. This will offer an opportunity for Susan if she should be interested and perhaps even for Johnny. And Paula would have a great many opportunities for coaching. As for you, Lee, I still have the dream of you some day directing me in a film! I know this is a big step to take, but I have the wish that you might realize out here some of the incomplete hopes that were perhaps not fulfilled for you, like Lincoln Center, etc.

So I don’t know how else to persuade you. I need you to study with and I am not alone in this. I want to do everything in my power to get you to come out—within reason—as long as it is to your advantage as well as mine. So, Lee, please think this over carefully; this is an awfully important time of my life and since you mentioned on the phone that you too felt things were unsettled, I have dared to hope. I have meetings set up with Marlon and also with my attorneys and will phone you if there are any important new developments. Otherwise, please get in touch with me.”

Also on offer, the 1952-53 editions of Who’s Who in Hollywood, autographed by a multitude of stars, are a treasure trove for movie buffs. Marilyn is listed in the category ‘Super Stars: The Younger Set.’ (EDIT: unsold)

The lamp seen in the restaurant scene from How To Marry a Millionaire (here, with Alex D’Arcy) was used as a prop in other Fox movies, including The Girl Can’t Help It, starring that other fifties blonde, Jayne Mansfield. (EDIT: Unsold)

Small piece of card signed ‘To Joe’, with affixed cutout photo of Marilyn (EDIT: Final price
$2,625.000 )
Photo of Marilyn, signed by Joe DiMaggio (EDIT: Final price
$2,756,25 )
Black velvet belt owned by Marilyn, possibly worn in As Young As You Feel (1951) EDIT: Final price
$7,837.50
Book owned by Marilyn, seen on her bookcase in this 1952 photo (EDIT: Final price
$7, 730.000 )

A number of original photos are also on sale…

Photos from the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents luncheon, 1951 (EDIT: Unsold)
As Cherie in ‘Bus Stop’, 1956 (EDIT: Final price $250.00)
Diptych photo by Eve Arnold, 1960 (EDIT: Final price
$722.50 )
On the same Eve Arnold shoot, with hairdresser Agnes Flanagan (EDIT: Final price
$596.25 )

New Vodcast Explores Marilyn’s Mental Health

American Icon: Where Healing Meets Life, a five-part ‘vodcast’ (video podcast) hosted by Monroe biographer and counsellor Gary Vitacco Robles and Nina Boski (who also presented the Goodnight Marilyn online radio show) will start this Wednesday, May 1st, at midday PST (or 8pm BST.) As part of Mental Health Awareness month, Nina and Gary will discuss how mental illness and addiction shaped Marilyn’s all-too-brief life.  To watch this series, follow the American Icon Facebook page here.

In a recent post for Marilyn Remembered, Gary shared his own perspective on the difficulties she faced:

“Marilyn Monroe was likely challenged with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), episodes of Major Depression and mixed episodes of depression and mania, placing her on the Bipolar Disorder Spectrum. She was also a survivor of childhood trauma & adverse childhood experiences who struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. During Marilyn’s era of limited treatment options, she was prescribed dangerous, addictive medications which led to misuse of prescribed drugs. These mental health disorders are now better understood and treatable with effective & safe interventions and mood stabilizing medications.

Marilyn’s mother, Gladys, was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and spent most of her life institutionalized. Marilyn’s maternal grandmother, Della, was diagnosed on the Bipolar Disorder Spectrum (then called Manic Depression Psychosis]. Marilyn’s maternal great-grandfather, Tilford, took like own life by hanging; suicide is usually the manifestation of a severe psychiatric illness. Her maternal uncle, Marion, took off one day and never returned to his family, possibly a manifestation of an undiagnosed genetically linked mental illness. Marilyn’s early childhood of complex trauma combined with an intergenerational genetic background of mental illness, increased her risk for mental illness & suicide. Many people who admire Marilyn relate to her history of childhood abuse & depression.

[Marilyn’s internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, confirmed her Bipolar Disorder diagnosis & her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, wrote at length about her symptoms of BPD which remain in his archive]”

Marilyn’s Letter to Greenson in the ‘Enquirer’

Thanks to A Passion for Marilyn

Marilyn’s 1961 letter to Dr Ralph Greenson, written while she was recuperating in New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital after a period of depression led to a brief and terrifying stay in the psychiatric ward at Payne Whitney, is the subject of an article in this week’s National Enquirer. Author Mark Bego, who has written biographies of Madonna and others, brought the letter to the magazine’s attention.

Unusually for the Enquirer, the story is fairly accurate, if sensationalised – and not, as they claim, a ‘blockbuster exclusive’. The letter was first published in its entirety by Donald Spoto in 1992, and is also featured in Fragments, the 2010 collection of Marilyn’s personal writings. (You can also read it on the Letters of Note blog.)

You can find the Enquirer article in the latest issue, dated January 28 (with Lisa Marie Presley on the cover.) However, as noted by All About Marilyn today, the same article also appears in the current issue of the National Examiner (with Betty White on the cover), although the Examiner is currently available in the US only.

Marilyn Auction News: Calendars, Letters and More

A letter written to Marilyn by Pat Newcomb, her publicist and close friend for the last two years of her life, is among the items on auction in the UK tomorrow (Saturday, September 22), as Fox News reports.

Henry Aldridge & Sons, based in Devizes, Wiltshire, is offering several lots from the estate of Monroe collector David Gainsborough Roberts, who died in 2016. Bidding opens at 10 am GMT, and bids can also be made online via The Salesroom or Invaluable (but you’ll need to register first.)

In the letter, Pat advises Marilyn on how to field intrusive questions from the acerbic Hollywood columnist, Hedda Hopper. “If you want to return her call … I think it would be a good idea and you can avoid answering anything you don’t want,” Pat writes. “When she asks what you did over the holidays you just say ‘nothing special’ – that gives her nothing to print. You ‘saw a few friends, whom she doesn’t know anyway’ and just relaxed.'” Probably referring to the latest dance craze, Pat makes a further suggestion: “You can tell Hedda you hear she’s quite a ‘Twister’ and she’ll do a monologue which will completely take her away from anything about you.”

Pat also mentions that “Harrison Cannall’s office called to say that Joe [DiMaggio] was in town and could I confirm it. I said I didn’t know and didn’t discuss your personal life in any case.” Pat refers to related matters, such as the title of an upcoming Redbook article. The letter has an estimated price of £300-£500.

Another letter from Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson,  is dated June 30, 1962, billing her for services totalling $1,250, with an estimated price of £400-£600.

Two vintage movie posters are also available, plus a four-page 1955 calendar featuring a censored version of Marilyn’s famous nude photo by Tom Kelley and three other pin-up shots, complete with envelope (estimated at £600-£800.)

Marilyn Onstage in Milan

The Last Tapes of Marilyn Monroe, a new play starring Italian actress Marianna Esposito, was staged in Milan last Saturday. While Marilyn’s alleged stream-of-consciousness tapes for Dr Ralph Greenson have never materialised, and detective John Miner’s self-proclaimed transcription is also highly questionable, the play – written and directed by Guilio Federico Janni – has nonetheless been praised by diehard fans, including Gianandrea Colombo who posted his review on the Marilyn Monroe – Italia Facebook group.

Marianna Esposito as Marilyn

“A well-written and sincere monologue, which ‘undressed’ Marilyn from the clichés of stupidity and frivolousness. Among ‘educated’ quotations – from Shakespeare to Joyce – Marianna Esposito cried and smiled, retracing the last hours of Marilyn through the ‘relationship’ with her therapist. Being in the front row, I was able to enjoy the skill of this actress whose strong point is a mime and intense expressiveness, the ability to pass from languid glances to inconsolable crying, to stage the same effervescence of the glass of sparkling wine that her Marilyn sips during the show, telling of life, love and cinema. Marianna Esposito crosses the border between actor and spectator with firmness, direct looks and a physicality exhibited without hesitation. A minimal setting, soft lighting and the magic of a play written and certainly acted ‘from the heart’, elevates the soul of the woman behind the mask of the myth.”

Hugh Hefner 1926-2017

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, has died aged 91.

In 1953, he acquired Tom Kelley’s nude calendar shot of Marilyn for the magazine’s first issue, also putting her on the cover. (You can read the full story here.) ‘She was actually in my brother’s acting class in New York,’ he told CNN. ‘But the reality is that I never met her. I talked to her once on the phone, but I never met her. She was gone, sadly, before I came out here.’

In 1960, Playboy published another laudatory feature headlined ‘The Magnificent Marilyn.’ If Marilyn sometimes resented others profiteering from her nude calendar – for which she had earned a flat $50 back in 1949 – by 1962 she was considering posing for Playboy‘s Christmas issue (although some sources indicate she changed her mind.)

Lawrence Schiller’s poolside nudes, taken during filming of the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, were published by Playboy in 1964, two years after Marilyn’s death.

The women’s rights campaigner Gloria Steinem, who would later write a biography of Marilyn, went ‘undercover’ as a Bunny Girl in a Playboy club for a magazine assignment durging the 1960s, and found the experience degrading – an opinion echoed by feminists today, as the BBC reports. Cultural historian Camille Paglia takes a different view, citing Hefner as ‘one of the principal architects of the social revolution.’

Marilyn has made many posthumous appearances on Playboy covers through the years. The magazine has also revealed rare and unseen images, such as Jon Whitcomb’s 1958 painting of Marilyn (based on a photo by Carl Perutz), and illustrator Earl Moran’s photos of a young Marilyn.

Many distinguished authors have written about Marilyn for Playboy, including John Updike, Roger Ebert, and Joyce Carol Oates. More dubiously, the magazine also published detective John Miner’s contested transcripts of tapes allegedly made by Marilyn for her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson.

Since his death was announced earlier today, Twitter users and even some news websites have mistakenly posted a photo of Marilyn with Sir Laurence Olivier, confusing him with Hefner, as Mashable reports (a final absurdity that all three would probably have found hilarious.)

In 1992, Hefner reportedly purchased the crypt next to Marilyn’s in Westwood Memorial Park for $75,000. If he is buried there, it will either pave the way for extra security measures, or make Marilyn’s final resting place even more of a spectacle.

What Marilyn’s Housekeeper Did Next

Rightly or wrongly, Marilyn’s housekeeper Eunice Murray is perceived as being one of the most controversial figures in the mystery of her final days. In a fascinating article for HuffPost, Joel Brokaw recalls the events following Marilyn’s death in 1962, when his mother Florence suffered a nervous breakdown, and a new nanny was hired. (You can read more about Marilyn’s friendship with Joel’s father, the legendary Hollywood agent Norman Brokaw, here.)

“It was the fall of 1962 and I was aware enough of current events to know that Eunice Murray was not a run of the mill domestic worker that my father Norman Brokaw employed to take care of my brothers and me during one of my mother’s involuntary vacations at the mental hospital. Mrs. Murray was indeed in the news and for all the reasons you’d never want to make you famous.

First impressions do matter. There was something that didn’t quite add up about her. To a nine-year-old, she seemed nice enough. But warm and openhearted she definitively was not. She was caring, responsible and totally stalwart, but with more in common to an English butler, tinged with a cold and slightly standoffish manner.

It had been only a matter of a few weeks if not days before Mrs. Murray showed up in her late model Dodge Dart to our Laurel Canyon home that she had became part of one of those infamous, iconic moments of history. Early one morning before dawn, she noticed the light on behind her employer’s locked bedroom door. Inside was the most famous woman in the world at that time, lying naked on the bed and quite dead, clutching a telephone in her hand. It was Marilyn Monroe.

For the rest of her days, Mrs. Murray was ensnared in all sorts of conspiracy theories. What a perfect storm between the mysterious suicide of the most iconic film actress in history and intrigue with the Kennedy family! Had she given Marilyn an overdose in the form barbiturate-laced enema as some have theorized? Did she have the inside scoop about the affairs with President Kennedy and his brother Robert? Had Robert been at the home that evening? Could he have killed her with a lethal injection because a leak about the alleged affair could have destroyed JFK’s reelection campaign? Were the pill bottles on the bed stand planted there? Everyone believed that Mrs. Murray had to know the truth, but why wasn’t she telling anybody? She was an easy target of suspicion in the category of ‘the butler did it.’

I can only guess how my father came to hire Mrs. Murray to be our nanny. True, my father had a personal connection to Marilyn. He took the then up and coming starlet around to studio auditions in the late 1940s and early 1950s when she was the paramour of his uncle Johnny Hyde, a powerful movie agent. He told us at that time that he was somewhat embarrassed about driving her around in the old jalopy he had. So, he removed the old fashioned running boards on the side of the car to make it look more presentable.

My best guess was that Mrs. Murray had been a referral from a professional. Perhaps my mother was also a patient of Marilyn’s psychiatrist Dr. [Ralph] Greenson. Dr. Greenson was known to place Mrs. Murray as a housekeeper/companion to his patients. Timing is everything. Mrs. Murray was available and could use a new gig (and perhaps a place to hide out). She did have an apartment in Santa Monica. Her next-door neighbor was Stan Laurel of the golden age of film comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Mrs. Murray said that I could come with her to meet him, an invitation I regretfully did not accept.

Both as it related to parenting and mental illness in America of the early 1960s, there was not a lot of sensitivity or higher consciousness for that matter. If the answer wasn’t in Dr. Benjamin Spock’s ubiquitous book on child-rearing or if you didn’t have a strong and active grandparent in the home, you were on your own. Doctors did make house calls though, and the milkman delivered. The options for emotionally sick people like Marilyn Monroe and my mother were crude and often barbaric compared to today’s treatments. Mother’s little helpers like Milltown was my mother’s go-to. The shock treatments she got as the next step up when the medicines didn’t give relief were highly disturbing for a child like me to think about.

Sometime later in the summer of 1963, my mother returned home. By that time, Mrs. Murray had had enough of my brothers and me. What drove her over the edge was driving us a dozen or more times a month to night games at Dodger Stadium, waiting hours at a nearby friend’s house, ear glued to Vin Scully’s voice to know when to fish us up. My father wisely bought us the season tickets to give us a healthy escape from our messed up childhoods. Mrs. Murray did little to hide her burn out, becoming progressively grouchier. The last straw was one night when the game went into extra innings and didn’t pick us up until 1 a.m. My brother David recalls that although most cars didn’t have air conditioning back then, the air in Mrs. Murray’s car that night was cold as ice. So, as soon as Florence Brokaw was stable enough and showed capacity to more or less manage her responsibilities, Mrs. Murray quit and she and her Dart turned around in the driveway and disappeared forever out of my life.”

Brooklyn Poet Reads Letter From Marilyn

As all true fans will know, Marilyn loved to read – and was a gifted writer herself. Norman Rosten, the ‘Bard of Brooklyn’, was one of her closest friends. On her Sunset Gun blog, Kim Morgan transcribes Marilyn’s eloquent letter to her psychoanalyst, Dr. Ralph Greenson, written during a 1961 hospital stay – and relates how another Brooklyn poet, John Ashbery, came to read it, over half a century later.

John Ashbery, photographed by David Shankbone in 2010

“While in New York this February, I carried this letter in my bag, wandering around the snowy city, almost afraid I’d lose it if I left it in my hotel room. It’s a sad letter, and I was clinging to it, for my own reasons beyond research. A friend gave me a copy of the *real* letter … he found the papers years ago while working on a Monroe documentary about the making (and unmaking) of Something’s Got to Give. I was doing research for a current project and this letter was essential. The third day in the city, it was my honor to visit the poet John Ashbery at his apartment in Chelsea. He noticed me pulling out the six-paged typed papers from a magazine I was giving him — I said — ‘This was written by Marilyn Monroe.’ He wanted to read it. I handed it to him and, to my delight, he read it aloud, beautifully, commenting on how lovely the first paragraph was. He joked, ‘Watch out. I might steal some of this!’ He scanned through M.M.’s raw, powerful and frequently witty words, reading passages he liked. The moment was tremendously moving, listening and watching John read (‘Was it Milton who asked, The happy ones were never born?’) and I asked if he would sign the letter. I felt the occasion needed to be marked — John Ashbery reading original writing by Marilyn Monroe. Two titans. He happily laughed and signed the letter. I thought that would make Marilyn happy.”

Marilyn, John Huston and ‘Freud’

This letter from Marilyn Monroe to John Huston, in which she rejects a part in the director’s planned film on Sigmund Freud (from the Margaret Herrick Library of AMPAS), was posted today by James Grissom on the Follies of God Facebook page. The letter was also discussed recently on the Stars and Letters blog.

Marilyn was advised against this project by her controversial psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, who had just begun treating her and would do so until her death, less than 2 years later. He was in contact with Anna Freud, who objected to the film being made. Marilyn had seen her as a patient a couple of times, and would leave part of her estate to the Anna Freud Children’s Clinic in London.

Monroe wrote to Huston on November 5, 1960 – shortly after they completed The Misfits. Although I strongly believe she had the capacity for more serious work, I think this role would have been traumatic for her personally. It certainly was for Montgomery Clift, as he clashed with Huston many times during filming.

Montgomery Clift and Suzannah York in John Huston’s Freud: The Secret Passion (1962)

Suzannah York replaced Marilyn as ‘Cecily’, a character loosely based on Freud’s patient, Anna O., opposite Clift in Freud: The Secret Passion (released four months after Marilyn’s death, in December 1962.)

Transcript:

“November 5, 1960
 
Dear John,
 
I have it on good authority that the Freud family does not approve of anyone making a picture of the life of Freud– so I wouldn’t want to be a part of it, first because of his great contribution to humanity and secondly, my personal regard for his work. Thank you for offering me the part of ‘Annie O’ and I wish you the best in this and all other endeavors.
 
Yours
Marilyn”