Finland is a country with great appreciation for Marilyn, as this new fiction anthology reveals. Edited by Salla Simukka and Marika Riikonen, Marilyn, Marilyn includes twelve short stories, imagining MM both in her own time and the present day, and exploring her enduring appeal. It comes recommended by film historian Antti Alanen, himself the author of a book about Marilyn. (And just in case you’re wondering, the cover image comes from an original publicity shot for Let’s Make Love.)
In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.
In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.
In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.
In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.
August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.
In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.
Limited Runs have produced a book based on their touring exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, featuring 21 images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Only 125 copies have been made, priced at $95. Hopefully it will be a high-quality product, but it still seems rather expensive for such a slim volume.
One of Marilyn’s best biographers and a friend of this blog, Michelle Morgan has recently published two new books via Lulu. The Marilyn Journal is the first in an anthology series, compiling newsletters of the UK Marilyn Lives Society, founded by Michelle in 1991. A Girl Called Pearl is a charming children’s novel – not about Marilyn as such, but it is set in the Los Angeles of her childhood, so it does have some interesting parallels, and would be a great Christmas gift for readers young and old (also available via Kindle.)
Also coming from the Netherlands in October is Marilyn and Audrey: The Battle, a children’s book by Hanneke Groenteman, about two girls studying MM and Audrey Hepburn for a school project – and as they dig into the stars’ lives the girls learn about friendship, love and jealousy.
A Niche For Marilyn, a 2004 novel by Galician film historian Miguel Anxo Fernandez, has been published in English for the first time by Small Stations Press. Here’s a synopsis:
“Frank Soutelo is a down-at-heel private detective, the son of Galician immigrants, based in Los Angeles, California. He doesn’t get much choice in his assignments and has to take pretty much what’s on offer, so when he gets hired and paid an advance of twenty-five thousand dollars, he’s understandably pleased, and his secretary even more so. The unusual thing, however, is what he’s been asked to do: to recover the body of the actress Marilyn Monroe, which has reputedly gone missing from her grave in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Big Frank, as he is known, is about to get drawn into a world that is unfamiliar to him: a world of necrophiliacs, zealous watchmen, uniformed chauffeurs and high-class mansions. The question is will he be able to extricate himself from this situation with his dignity and heart in one piece?”
It’s a short novel (142 pp), and not really about Marilyn herself so will only be of marginal interest to fans. Some may find the themes of body-snatching and necrophilia too morbid, so be warned. It is narrated by detective Frank Soutelo, who views Monroe compassionately albeit as something of a victim – both in life, and death.
Marilyn 1962, a novel (in French) by Sebastien Cauchon about Marilyn’s inner circle during her final months, has just been published in paperback and via Kindle. It is also the subject of an article in the latest issue of Elle magazine (French edition.) As yet there is no English translation for Marilyn 1962, but watch this space.
“Eunice, Whitey, Cherie, Ralph, Inez, Paula, Agnes, Evelyn, May and Ralph again as well as Larry and Pat.
Behind these twelve names: colleagues, friends or close friends around whom Marilyn Monroe lived her last months in Los Angeles in 1962. Her family. In reality nearly all of her employees. Amongst them, not one whose daily professional life was not tied to their privileged relationship with the actress. For a long time simply recurring names stumbled across in the pages of biographies or spotted at the end of film credits. Bit players in Marilyn’s world whose faces could be seen on her periphery in press photographs if you took the trouble to scan the background. A small, attentive, salaried group composing her ‘entourage’ as it is commonplace to define those whose lives revolve around celebrities.
A shadow army with a subtle and shifting social order composed of allies from the outset as well as new recruits, the strong-willed and the discreet, top professionals as well as no-hopers. An entourage at the heart of which co-existed latent conflicts, open hostilities, suspicion, dedication, plots and sometimes sincere camaraderie. What did it mean to them to rub shoulders with Hollywood’s greatest star?”
If you’re a chick lit fan, you may be interested in Lucy Holiday’s new novel, A Night In With Marilyn Monroe. Just published, it is currently available from Tesco stores – combined with the previous book in the series, A Night In With Audrey Hepburn – for just £3.85. A third novel, A Night In With Grace Kelly, will be published next year.
“The hilarious follow-up to A Night in With Audrey Hepburn from your favourite new author. Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Sophie Kinsella.
After dating the hottest man on the planet, Dillon O’Hara, Libby Lomax has come back down to earth with a bump. Now she’s throwing herself into a new relationship and is determined to be a better friend to best pal, Ollie, as he launches his new restaurant.
Despite good intentions, Libby is hugely distracted when a newly reformed Dillon arrives back on the scene, more irresistible than ever. And when another unwelcome guest turns up on her battered sofa in the form of Marilyn Monroe, Libby would willingly bite her own arm off for a return to normality.”
In a forthcoming anthology, Dark City Lights: New York Stories, author and artist Jonathan Santlofer has contributed a short story, ‘The Garmento and the Movie Star’, imagining a twelve year-old boy’s bittersweet encounter with Marilyn.
One summer, the boy was working as an errand boy for his father, who owned a company on Seventh Avenue – at the heart of New York’s garment district – where top designers made and sold their cocktail dresses. In Santlofer’s story, Marilyn visits the shop one day:
“Her expression changed often but in slow motion: happy to sad to mad to determined or lost. A couple of times she turned to me and asked my opinion about a dress and I always said she looked beautiful.
‘Really?’ she’d say, as if no one had ever said that to her before and I’d bob my head up and down like a puppy and say ‘Really‘, and she’d throw me a smile like a bunch of wild flowers tossed into the air.
A couple of times she called my father over and cupped his ear and whispered like a child would, and when I think about it now that’s exactly how she seemed: childlike.
At one point she sagged onto the couch beside me in a half-unzipped dress and sipped champagne and asked me more questions – if I liked school, if I had siblings, if I liked to read (I could not come up with a single title, not even one of my Hardy Boys books or Classic Comics), so I turned it around and asked her, ‘What’s your favorite movie you ever made?’ and she thought for a while before saying ‘Bus Stop, because…Cherie was a…real girl, you know, sad but…trying to be happy’, her pale face inches from mine, and I said, ‘Oh you were great in that’, though I hadn’t seen it and again she said ‘Really?‘ as if my opinion mattered, and I said, ‘Yes!’ and she smiled and asked me if I got along with my sister and I said ‘sort of’, and I asked her if she had any kids and she blinked and pulled back as if slapped and her eyes welled up with tears and in a quivering whisper said ‘I…have not been…lucky,’ and my father cut in and said ‘Kids? Who needs kids? Brats, all of ’em!’ and swatted me a little too hard on the thigh and forced a laugh, then quickly fetched a new dress. Marilyn dashed behind the screen looking as though she might shatter to pieces but emerged in less than a minute in a white satin dress with a tight bodice and the same less trim along the bottom, all smiles and absolutely radiant, the movie star, Marilyn Monroe.”
“Film Forum is having a ‘Femmes Noir’ festival, all the great films. The other night Joyce Carol Oates her husband Charlie Gross, Megan Abbott and NY Times humorist, Joyce Wadler and I, all went to see Niagara. I had never seen it on the big screen, always thought it was a sloppy B movie only worth seeing for the luscious 25-year-old Marilyn, but it’s better than that. Joseph Cotten plays the tortured husband well and Jean Peters is really pretty and the color is fantastically lurid. It’s true one misses Marilyn when she’s not on the screen but she’s kind of acting in her own film anyway. The first scene of Marilyn/Rose in bed and obviously nude, is a showstopper, and that face, dewy and open despite the heavy makeup, was made for the screen.”
The literary world’s interest in Marilyn shows no sign of abating, with several major books due to be published in the coming months.
1) Michelle Vogel’s Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Lifeis now available via Kindle. Print copies can be ordered from McFarland Publishing, and will soon be stocked by Amazon and other bookstores. It is ‘essentially a filmography interlaced with a complex biographical account of Marilyn Monroe’s life and loves throughout her career.’
2) Novelist Anna Godbersen is the author of the bestselling The Luxe and Bright Young Things series for teenagers. Her first adult novel, The Blonde, will be published on May 13. It reimagines Marilyn’s relationships with the Kennedy brothers, and while it’s sure to cause a stir, some may feel this work of fiction takes too many liberties with the facts. Here’s a synopsis:
“In Anna Godbersen’s imaginative novel, set at the height of the Cold War, a young, unknown Norma Jean meets a man in Los Angeles—a Soviet agent? A Russian spy?—who transforms her into Marilyn the star. And when she reaches the pinnacle of success, he comes back for his repayment. He shows her a photo of her estranged father and promises to reunite them in exchange for information: Find out something about presidential candidate John F. Kennedy that no one else knows. At first, Marilyn is bored by the prospect of, once again, using a man’s attraction to get what she needs. But when she meets the magnetic Jack Kennedy, she realizes that this isn’t going to be a simple game. What started with the earnest desire to meet her father has grave consequences for her, for the bright young Kennedy, and for the entire nation. The Blonde is a vivid tableau of American celebrity, sex, love, violence, power, and paranoia.”
3) Jay Margolis, author of MM: A Case for Murder (2011), has penned a new book on the subject with Richard Buskin, author of Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of MM (2001.) The Murder of Marilyn Monroe: Case Closedis currently slated for release in June (US) and August (UK.)
“Implicating Bobby Kennedy in the commission of Marilyn’s murder, this is the first book to name the LAPD officers who accompanied the US Attorney General to her home, provide details about how the Kennedys used bribes to silence one of the ambulance drivers, and specify how the subsequent cover-up was aided by a noted pathologist’s outrageous lies. This blockbuster volume blows the lid off the world’s most notorious and talked-about celebrity death, and in the process exposes not only the truth about an iconic star’s tragic final hours, but also how a legendary American politician used powerful resources to protect what many still perceive as his untarnished reputation.”
“Through extensive interviews with many of Monroe’s colleagues, close friends, and other biographers, and a careful rethinking of the literature written about her, Rollyson is able to describe her use of Method acting and her studies with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg, head of the Actors’ Studio in New York. The author also analyzes several of Monroe’s own drawings, diary notes, and letters that have recently become available. With over thirty black and white photographs (some published for the first time), a new foreword, and a new afterword, this volume brings Rollyson’s 1986 book up to date. “
5) Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe, edited by Marcelline Block, is part of a series on fandom, and is also headed for an early summer release. You may spot some familiar names in there!
” Marilyn Monroe was an actress, singer, and sex symbol whose influence far outlasted her short life. Contributors to Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe situate the platinum blonde starlet’s omnipresent cultural relevance within the zeitgeist of current popular culture and explore the influence she has had on numerous elements of it…The essays here explore representations of Monroe in visual culture by looking at the ways she is reimagined in visual art while also considering how her posthumous appearance and image are appropriated in current advertisements. With an inside look at the universe of Marilyn Monroe impersonators and look-alike contests for both males and females, the book also explores numerous homages to Monroe in music…The definitive guide to one of the most famous women who ever lived, the book will be essential reading for any scholar of twentieth-century American popular culture.”
7) C. David Heymann’s Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Lovewas originally due to be published in 2013, but was postponed (perhaps because the author passed away in 2012.) It is now set for release in July. High hopes are riding on a definitive account of Marilyn’s most enduring relationship. However, as previously noted here, many of Heymann’s celebrity biographies have proved controversial.
According to the blurb, Joe and Marilyn is ‘based on extensive archival research and personal interviews with family and friends….Sixteen pages of striking photos accompany this unforgettable and quintessentially American story.’
8) As previously mentioned on this blog, Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times will be published in September.
“Jacqueline Rose’s heroines could not appear more different from each other: revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg; German-Jewish painter Charlotte Salomon, persecuted by family tragedy and Nazism; film icon and consummate performer Marilyn Monroe.
Yet historically these women have a shared story to tell, as they blaze a trail across some of the most dramatic events of the last century – revolution, totalitarianism, the American dream. Enraged by injustice, they are each in touch with what is most painful about being human, bound together by their willingness to bring the unspeakable to light.”
9) The recent Life magazine special, The Loves of Marilyn, will be published in hardback in September. Although lavishly illustrated, the text is rather gossipy and speculative.
“Carl Rollyson provides a documentary approach to the life and legend of this singular personality. With details of her childhood, her young adult years, her ascent to superstardom, and the hour by hour moments leading to her tragic early death, this volume supplements—and, in some cases, corrects—the accounts of previous biographies. In addition to restoring what is left out in other narratives about Marilyn’s life, this book also illuminates the gaps and discrepancies that still exist in our knowledge of her. Drawing on excerpts from her diaries, journals, letters, and even checks and receipts—as well as reports of others—Rollyson recreates the day-to-day world of a woman who still fascinates us more than fifty years after her death.”
“American Icon: The Legacy and Death of Marilyn Monroe is a blockbuster book that delves deep into her life and death, and separates it from the myth, rumors and Hollywood chatter. Was Monroe’s death a suicide or were dark sinister forces at work? Based on strong research, interviews, investigations, news clippings and files, American Icon takes the reader along on a unique journey that looks at Marilyn from a fresh perspective, neither sensationalizing nor sugar-coating the truth. Her life ran the gamut from happy, bored, funny, loving and loved to shocking and scandalous. She did whatever she had to do to reach her childhood dream goal to be a famous movie star. American Icon: The Legacy and Death of Marilyn Monroe delivers a fast-paced, fact-filled page turner of a book about one of the great cultural legends of the 20th century.”
Minding Marilyn is a short novel by Dianne DeWilliams, published via Amazon Kindle in November 2013. It is written from the perspective of Marveen, a widow who is moving from New York to a retirement home in California, to spend more time with her two grand-daughters. When she shows them a photograph of herself as a beautiful young woman in a nightclub, alongside Marilyn Monroe, they demand to know more.
Back in 1952, Marveen was hired as a maid to Monroe, then on the brink of stardom. While in reality there was no ‘Marveen’, Marilyn did employ a maid, Lena Pepitone, who later published a ghost-written memoir. Although Marilyn Monroe Confidential offered some insight into the star’s daily life, it was highly sensationalised. Her Los Angeles housekeeper, Eunice Murray, wrote a more creditable book, Marilyn’s Last Months – but she is more often remembered as the woman who discovered Marilyn’s dead body.
Hazel Washington, Marilyn’s studio maid, was also said to have written a manuscript about her memories of Marilyn, but it was never published; while her cook, Hattie Stevenson, was planning to move from New York to Monroe’s Los Angeles home before the actress died. Another maid, Florence Thomas, attended her funeral.
Like Marveen, these lesser-known figures in Marilyn’s life were African-American. As well as a re-imagining of Marilyn’s private world, Minding Marilyn explores what it was like to be a black woman in the USA during the 1950s and ‘60s, when endemic racism was being challenged by the growing Civil Rights movement.
Marveen’s story is told alternately through letters written to her mother during her years with Marilyn, and a contemporary narrative detailing her efforts to commit her memories to print. DeWilliams has clearly done her research; and while her tale is fictional, the factual background is mostly accurate.
DeWilliams also inputs minor details about Marilyn’s life – for example, her love of Judy Garland’s song, ‘Who Cares?’ These simple touches help to create a rounded and sympathetic picture of Monroe’s personality.
It is well-known that Marilyn was ahead of her time in her progressive attitude towards racial equality. In 1954, she helped the legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, to secure a residency at the Mocambo Club by promising to attend her show every night. She was also friendly with actress Dorothy Dandridge (dubbed ‘the black Monroe’), who features prominently in Minding Marilyn.
DeWilliams also includes another screen goddess, Ava Gardner, in the storyline. In reality, Marilyn and Ava didn’t know each other well. But they both came from modest backgrounds, and both were close to Frank Sinatra. Ava’s wild, earthy character makes an exciting contrast to the ambitious, but fragile Marilyn.
Gardner, the daughter of a North Carolina sharecropper, grew up among black people. Despite the colour bar that existed in Hollywood, she mixed freely with all races. Her maid, Mearene Jordan, was also her best friend. Living With Miss G, Jordan’s personal account of their many adventures spanning almost fifty years, was published in 2012, and provides a real-life parallel to Minding Marilyn.
While being a maid might be seen as a ‘subservient’ position, Marilyn was both thoughtful and generous towards those who worked for her, at home and on film sets. DeWilliams makes an interesting point that black audiences related more to Marilyn than other white stars, because she was ‘no stranger to pain’ – whether through suffering the impact of childhood trauma, or experiencing the pressures of fame. This observation about her cross-cultural appeal is echoed in W.J. Weatherby’s 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn.
Sadly, Monroe seldom experienced the loving support of a group of female friends depicted by DeWilliams in Minding Marilyn. Although she was not particularly religious, in one scene she is welcomed into a Pentecostal church. DeWilliams seems to be suggesting that these are alternate paths which might have led Marilyn towards a lasting happiness that eluded her in reality.
DeWilliams evokes the deep shock felt by Marilyn and those around her when, in 1961, she was committed to a psychiatric ward against her will. Famously, her devoted ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, came to her rescue. But DeWilliams implies that in times of crisis, the ‘little people’ who served Marilyn were just as valuable to her as the major players.
Minding Marilyn imagines a different response to Marilyn’s tragic death, in which the voice of Marveen is finally heard, setting the record straight. As a piece of writing, Minding Marilyn is not perfect – the paragraphs can be short and choppy, the sentences a little breathless – but the warm-heartedness of DeWilliams’ tale more than compensates for these minor shortcomings.
Although fictional, Minding Marilyn offers something that many of the biographies published over the years cannot – a sweet, charming tribute from a fan, and a testament to the sincere affection in which she is held by so many of us.