Over at Book Riot today, Jeffrey Davies suggests six great reads about Marilyn. Among them are several titles I’ve reviewed in depth, including Lois Banner’s MM – Personal, Michelle Morgan’s The Girl, Charles Casillo’s Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon, and Marilyn’s own Fragments; plus old favourites like Gloria Steinem’s Marilyn: Norma Jeane, and Marilyn’s 1954 memoir, My Story.
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
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.
Newsweek has republished two stories dealing with past anniversaries of Marilyn’s death. The first, from 1982, was originally entitled ‘Keeping the Monroe Memories Aglow‘ and focuses on collectors and fans, some of whom are still active today. ‘The 24-Year Itch‘ dates from 1986, and features contributions from feminist author Gloria Steinem, and Margaret Parton, one of the last journalists to speak at length with Marilyn.
“Monroe has mostly attracted male biographers. Probably few of them found it remarkable that an intelligent woman would talk like a breathless teenager or play a string of bimbos. Looking at Monroe’s life through the eyes of a contemporary feminist, Steinem now sees Norma Jeane Baker (the real name behind all the imagery) as a girl who never grew up. She was an early bloomer who spent her childhood shunted from one foster home to the next. She remained trapped inside the voluptuous Marilyn, forever seeking the love and approval she had missed as a kid. ‘She was just so vulnerable and unprotected,’ Steinem says.
The effect of social and sexual convention in shaping a tinseltown goddess’s behavior and attitudes is worth remembering. Steinem reminds us that in Monroe’s day a woman so spectacularly sexy was seen by other women primarily as a threat (that, of course, could never happen among the sisterhood today). When Margaret Parton, one of the few women journalists to cover Marilyn during her life, did a profile for the Ladies’ Home Journal, it was killed for being too favorable. Years later, when Ms. magazine ran a cover story on Monroe called ‘The Woman Who Died Too Soon,’ it became one of the magazine’s best-selling issues … In a feminist age, it is easier for women to respond with sympathy to the way Monroe was treated.”
George Barris, one of the last photographers to work with Marilyn, has died aged 94, Mike Barnes writes for the Hollywood Reporter. His photos of Marilyn revisiting her childhood haunt of Santa Monica Beach, wearing a Mexican-style sweater over her bathing costume, are among the most natural and poignant images from her final days.
“George Barris, the photojournalist … died Friday at his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., his daughter Caroline told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 94.
Barris and Monroe became friends after they met on the set of The Seven Year Itch (1955).
‘When I first saw her, I thought she was the most beautiful, fantastic person I’d ever met,’ Barris told the Los Angeles Daily News in 2012. ‘She completely knocked me off my feet.’
Barris photographed the actress on a windswept beach in Santa Monica on July 13, 1962, about three weeks before she was found dead of a drug overdose at age 36. He moved to France after her death and remained there for two decades.
A native of New York City, Barris enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the office of public relations during World War II. He was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal photographer for the welcoming Victory Parade in New York on June 19, 1945.
While on assignment for Cosmopolitan, Barris photographed Elizabeth Taylor while she filmed Cleopatra (1963) in Rome, and during his career he also shot such stars as Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Sophia Loren and Walt Disney. His daughter also said that he photographed Chubby Checker for the singer’s ‘The Twist’ record cover.”
A more detailed biography, including a full account of his work with Marilyn, is available on the Cursum Perficio website.
He first met and photographed Marilyn in 1954 in New York where she was on location for the film The Seven Year Itch , where they became friends.
He was one of the last photographers to take Marilyn in pictures, between June 29 and July 1, 1962:
- Friday 29 and Saturday 30, June, at Walter ‘Tim’ Leimert’s house, located 1506 Blue Jay Way, North Hollywood Hills
- Sunday 1st, July, last day of the session, last pictures. It took place at the Santa Monica beach, near the Lawfords’ house.
- Those pictures were to be published in Cosmopolitan magazine.
- Some of those pictures were published in 1973 in Norman Mailer’s biography, and most of them in the book he wrote with Gloria Steinem in 1986 (Marilyn: Norma Jeane).
- In 1995, he published Marilyn : Her Life in Her Own Words, whose text is composed of notes jotted after the picture sessions. Those notes should have produced an autobiography they had planned to write together.
After returning to California with his family, Mr Barris became a respected member of the Monroe fan community, as Leslie Kasperowicz reports for Immortal Marilyn.
“George Barris attended many Marilyn memorials and events and was one of the most accessible of Marilyn’s photographers to fans from around the world. He spoke frequently at the Memorial service held at Westwood and signed books and photos for fans at public and private events. Immortal Marilyn was honoured to have him present at several of our own events.
George leaves behind his daughter Caroline, who was also a frequent presence at Marilyn events, another daughter Stephanie, his wife Carla, and legions of Marilyn Monroe fans who have spent nearly 55 years appreciating his work and his willingness to lend us his ear and tell us his stories of that summer of 1962.”
For today only, Gloria Steinem’s Marilyn: Norma Jeane is available at a reduced price of £1.29 as a Kindle Daily Deal on Amazon UK.
Marilyn: Norma Jeane, the bestselling 1988 collaboration between feminist author Gloria Steinem and photographer George Barris, has been reissued for Kindle and other ebook formats by Open Road Publishing.
While I don’t know how many photos are featured in this edition, and Steinem’s take on Marilyn’s life has proved somewhat controversial, it remains one of the most influential texts about her and is well worth a look.
Writing for Ms magazine (founded by Gloria Steinem in 1972), Karina Eileraas considers Marilyn’s impact on women in 2012.
“Monroe’s imprint on my identity and sexuality is traumatic, liberating and breathtaking, all at once. The ubiquity of her image saturated my world, leaving in its wake a puzzling, kaleidoscopic mosaic of fantasies, myths and archetypes about female sexuality, desire and power. ‘Marilyn Monroe’ alternately played siren and dominatrix, intoxicating me with the power and pleasure of an ingenue, yet disciplining my desires with the seemingly flawless, sexy and exuberant styles of femininity that she seemed not only to model but to exhort for young girls and women keen to break free from the domestic ideals of wife and mother that dominated the cultural zeitgeist of 1950s America.
By ‘putting on’ female archetypes with exuberant curiosity and wonder, Monroe explored not only their hold on the collective unconscious but also their enabling role within cultural narratives of violence. While she delighted audiences with performances of female sexuality as a potent, creative force, Monroe simultaneously negotiated sexual agency and self-knowledge in the wake of sexual violation.
In her lifetime, most Hollywood audiences and insiders were unwilling to see Monroe as a savvy ‘reader’ of culture able to dissect the stereotypes she was enlisted to portray. Although she was the most exposed female figure in celluloid history, few encouraged her to display or cultivate her spirit of critical inquiry vis-a-vis celebrity culture. Her reflections on the gendered mechanisms and personal costs of fame were routinely veiled, hidden.
So what does it mean to remember? On the 50th anniversary of her death, I would like to change the public conversation about Marilyn Monroe and imagine a space for Norma Jeane in the collective memory.”
Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Britt Peterson looks at how feminist perspectives on Marilyn have developed over the years, from viewing her as a victim of men (Joan Mellen, Gloria Steinem), to hailing the power of her sexuality (Sarah Churchwell, Lois Banner, Jacqueline Rose.)
“Over the 1970s and 1980s, the new lens of feminist theory complicated but didn’t at first do much to improve this perception, critics treating Monroe as at best a victim and at worst a collaborator in her own destruction and the objectification of other women.
But soon the critical viewpoint on Monroe began to catch up to some of those complexities. In the 1980s and 1990s, as the academic mainstream became more welcoming to pop-culture scholarship, critics started paying more attention to the postmodern aspects of Monroe, the ways in which she represented a truly fragmented subject. Decades removed from Monroe-as-person, perhaps without even the connecting experience of having seen her movies while she was still living, these critics began to focus on the accumulation of imagery surrounding her, while also lamenting the lost human at the heart of it.
Around the same time, the very aspects of Monroe’s biography that had proved so alienating to second-wave feminists—her frank, often exhibitionist sexuality; the fact that she slept with producers and photographers early on in her career to get work—began to seem more of a piece with a third-wave, sexually empowered story about her.
The paradox of Banner’s book is that it’s a portrait of a third-wave feminist written for traditionally second-wave goals. Banner says that she has been laughed at by male colleagues who see Monroe as ‘a dumb blonde, a stupid woman, who only engaged in a kind of raunchy sex.’ Her book is meant as a corrective, a defense of Monroe as an intelligent, warm-hearted artist…Like the British critic Jacqueline Rose, who wrote a long paean to Monroe in the London Review of Books this April, Banner highlights Monroe’s radical leftist leanings, her racial sensitivities, her interest in psychoanalysis, and other ways in which she prefigured various social and political movements of the 1960s. She doesn’t gloss over the uglier aspects of Monroe’s character…
Banner’s version is more complete, more sensitive, more entrenched in archival data than any before, and yet the ‘real Marilyn’ remains elusive, as she always will. ‘I can be anything they want me to be,’ she told a friend. ‘There are a lot of cards in my deck, so to speak.'”
Ms. Magazine, co-founded by the American feminist author, Gloria Steinem, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Marilyn graced their cover in August 1972, ten years after her death. Steinem’s essay, ‘The Woman Who Died Too Soon’, would later form the basis of a full-length book, Marilyn: Norma Jeane. (Her introduction was entitled ‘The Woman Who Will Not Die’.)
In conjunction with Ms., Stanford University invite you to write a 150-word essay on how one of their covers inspired you. More details here