When Marilyn Met Marlene

Founded in 1969, Andy Warhol’s Interview was the magazine to be seen in for nearly forty years. Although it ceased publication last year, Interview still has an online presence and earlier this week, a snippet from the past was discovered.

“As a notable admirer of Marilyn Monroe’s, Andy Warhol was sure to get some of the juiciest gossip in his celebrity circle. While he was still Editor-in-Chief of Interview, alongside Paul Morissey and Fred Hughes, he buried a drama bomb of information in the ‘Small Talk’ section of the June 1973 issue involving Marlene Dietrich and M.M herself. However, not one of the contributing editors took credit for the gossip; they instead chose to keep the source anonymous … According to the ‘Small Talk’ column, Dietrich attended a screening of one of Monroe’s earlier films and talked through every one of her scenes, mumbling: ‘So this is what they want now. This is what they call sexy.'”

Marlene Dietrich by Eve Arnold, 1952

Eve Arnold, who photographed Marlene at work in a recording studio for Esquire magazine in 1952, recalled that when she later met Marilyn, the subject of Dietrich came up:
“Marilyn asked – with that mixture of naïveté and self-promotion that was uniquely hers – ‘If you could do that well with Marlene, can you imagine what you could do with me?'”

Mariene Dietrich by Milton Greene, 1952

Another photographer who worked with Dietrich was Milton Greene, who later became Marilyn’s business partner. In 1955, he invited Marlene to a New York press conference to announce the formation of their new company, Marilyn Monroe Productions.

Like all stars (Marilyn included), Dietrich was naturally competitive. But although she may have briefly ‘thrown shade’ in Marilyn’s direction – to use a term that didn’t exist back then – there’s no sign of any rancour between them in these photographs.

In 1957, Marilyn was offered the lead role in a remake of The Blue Angel, which had made Marlene a global star many years before. That never came to pass, but a year later, Marilyn would recreate the character in her ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ photo session with Richard Avedon, although out of respect for Dietrich, she later asked the photographer to withdraw the images and they were not made public until long after Marilyn died.

Marilyn poses as Marlene for photographer Richard Avedon, 1958

Marilyn would take a leaf out of Marlene’s playbook again in 1962, asking costumer Jean Louis to recreate the beaded ‘nude’ dress he had made for Dietrich to wear during nightclub performances. Monroe’s version became immortalised that May, when she sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden.

Whatever Marlene’s initial thoughts on Marilyn may have been, she would remember her admiringly, writing in her 1987 memoir: “Marilyn Monroe was an authentic sex symbol, because not only was she ‘sexy’ by nature but she also liked being one – and she showed it.”

Diahann Carroll 1935-2019

Diahann Carroll by Milton Greene, 1962

Diahann Carroll, the pioneering African-American singer and actress, has died aged 84 after a long battle with cancer. She was born in the Bronx, and studied at the LaGuardia High School for Music and Arts before modelling for Ebony magazine at fifteen. She later attended New York University, majoring in sociology.

At eighteen, she got her big break as a contestant on TV’s Chance of a Lifetime, where her performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Why Was I Born’ began a four-week victory lap. She then worked as a nightclub singer, making her film debut opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones (1954.) She later appeared in Paris Blues (1961), a jazz film produced by photographer Sam Shaw. Originally offered to Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe, the lead roles were played by Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward.

In 1962, Diahann was part of the all-star line-up performing at Madison Square Garden in a birthday tribute to President John F. Kennedy. She met Marilyn backstage, and also sang for guests at the gala’s after-party. (In 2016, Diahann would host an opening party for Some Like It Hot, an exhibition featuring Milton Greene’s photos of Marilyn.)

“‘It was a very exciting night. Everybody in the world was there,’ Diahann remembered. ‘Marilyn was hysterical, but very good. It was good to watch her at work. I think we all enjoyed it.’ As for Kennedy, ‘he was extremely pleasant,’ she said. ‘He was a very entitled human being, but you had to forgive him for that.’

Diahann Carroll was previously interviewed by J. Randy Taraborrelli for his 2009 book, The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, telling him of her first encounter with MM in 1960, while singing at the Mocambo Club in Los Angeles.

Diahann was then pregnant with her daughter Suzanne, and knew of Marilyn’s struggle to have children. “I took her hand and put it on my stomach and said, ‘You pat right there, sweetheart, and say a prayer and a wish, and I hope with all my heart that your dream comes true.’ She looked at me with tears in her eye, and said, ‘Oh, I do, too. I do, too.’”

They met again in Mac Krim’s apartment in 1962. ‘It’s certainly her beauty I remember most,’ she told Taraborrelli. ‘As I sang, I distinctly remember being somewhat distracted by her gaze. Her tragic beauty, so vulnerable … so lost.’”

ES Updates
Marilyn watches Diahann performing at the JFK gala after-party in 1962

In 1969, Diahann won a Golden Globe for her role as a widowed nurse in Julia, a television sitcom which ran for three seasons. Back on the big screen, she would earn an Oscar nomination for the romantic comedy Claudine (1974), playing a struggling single mother.

Her later TV roles included the glamorous Dominique Devereaux on TV’s Dynasty and its spin-off, The Colbys. She joined an all-black cast in the acclaimed Eve’s Bayou (1997), and recreated Gloria Swanson’s role as fading star Norma Desmond in a Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s stage musical based on Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

Her four husbands included singer Vic Damone, and she was also romantically linked to Sidney Poitier and David Frost. She was a founding member of the Celebrity Action Council, a volunteer group serving vulnerable women in Los Angeles.

With Joshua Greene at the Some Like It Hot exhibit in West Hollywood, 2016

Leo Robin: The Man Who Made Music For Marilyn

Lyricist Leo Robin, who co-wrote two songs that would bookend Marilyn’s career, is profiled in Variety today.

“The centerpiece of Scott Ora’s cluttered San Fernando Valley apartment is the 1939 Oscar his step-grandfather, the late lyricist Leo Robin, was presented for co-writing ‘Thanks for the Memory.’ Sung by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross in the film The Big Broadcast of 1938, the trophy sits proudly on the piano where Robin worked on some of his biggest hits.

Over the course of 20 years, from 1934 (when the best original song category was introduced and he was nominated for ‘Love in Bloom’) through 1954, Robin, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame who died in 1984 at the age of 84, earned 10 Oscar nominations (two in 1949 alone). 

By 1949, a Hollywood success, Robin returned to Broadway with Jule Styne to create the score for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a vehicle for Carol Channing and later a movie starring Marilyn Monroe, whose [secretary], ironically enough, was Leo’s third wife Cherie Redmond, Ora’s maternal grandmother.  The song became an enduring pop culture staple when Madonna borrowed its imagery for her ‘Material Girl’ video, while Monroe did the same for ‘Thanks for the Memory,’ when she tacked it on to her steamy birthday salute to President John F. Kennedy at New York’s Madison Square Garden.”

Leo Robin married his third wife, long-time assistant Cherie Redmond, in 1979. (Cherie had worked as Marilyn’s Los Angeles secretary from January 1962 until her death eight months later.)

Happy Birthday, First Minister

Val McDermid may be one of the world’s most popular crime writers, but nobody would mistake her for Marilyn – until last week, when she sang ‘Happy Birthday, First Minister’ to Scottish premier Nicola Sturgeon at a literary festival in Harrogate this week, as reported in the Mail On Sunday.

Novelist Val McDermid (right) with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, 2016

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Bob Mackie Documentary Announced

The spectacular career of Bob Mackie, designer to the stars, will be explored in a new documentary, as Bronwyn Cosgrave writes in the Hollywood Reporter.

“Slated for a December 2020 release, the as-yet-untitled doc will examine the Burbank-based designer’s 50-year career, commencing from his start in 1961 at Paramount Pictures working as a sketch artist for Edith Head before moving on to assist Columbia’s costume designer Jean Louis. For Louis, Mackie innovated the nude-illusion sartorial concept by creating an illustration that proved to be the blueprint of the form-fitting, rhinestone-studded sheer gown in which Marilyn Monroe generated a sensation performing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in May 1962.”

Marilyn, Drew, JFK Jr. and a Notorious Cover Story

Over at Esquire, Kate Storey reports on George, the political magazine launched by John F. Kennedy Jr. in the 1990s. While some were shocked by the 1996 cover featuring actress Drew Barrymore as Marilyn, the original idea – to have ex-girlfriend Madonna pose as John’s mother, Jackie Kennedy – was even more daring, and a step too far even for the pop superstar. So why was John so willing to send up his own family myths? As the article reveals, it seems that Junior was ahead of his time in exposing fake news…

“With Madonna out, the September cover took a decidedly different turn—instead of referencing his mom, Kennedy chose to nod at another well-known woman in his dad’s life: Marilyn Monroe.

Drew Barrymore was posed in a nude-colored cocktail dress and platinum wig, with a mole perfectly placed on her left cheek. The idea came from George’s executive editor, Elizabeth Mitchell, who suggested it as a fiftieth-birthday tribute to President Bill Clinton. The reference: In May 1962, in front of fifteen thousand people during a Democratic-party fundraiser at Madison Square Garden, Monroe had famously serenaded Kennedy’s father ten days before his forty-fifth birthday with a breathy, seductive ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President.’ The subtext to the song, of course, is that the president and the actress were rumored to have had an affair.

That photograph might seem a strange choice for a man who adored his mother—even stranger than asking Madonna to impersonate her—but the thing was, according to Mitchell, Kennedy never believed anything had happened between his dad and Monroe. ‘He just thought it was sort of tweaking the expectations of the public,’ she says all these years later.”

Another aspect to this story is that Drew Barrymore is a lifelong Marilyn fan. As a teenage starlet, she was photographed in her bedroom, surrounded by Monroe posters. In a 2010 interview, Drew named Marilyn among her fantasy dinner guests; and in 2014, she filmed an introduction to Bus Stop with TCM host Robert Osborne.

Madonna as Marilyn, 1993

And while Madonna’s fascination with Monroe is well-known, she had already pipped George to the post by singing ‘Happy Inauguration Mr. President’ on TV’s Saturday Night Live in 1993, marking Clinton’s electoral victory.

Marilyn-Signed Card Sells for $1,875

A piece of cardstock inscribed “To Joe/Love & Kisses/Marilyn Monroe” in blue ballpoint pen was sold for $1,875 yesterday during the Entertainment & Music Memorabilia sale at Heritage Auctions. (There is no indication, however, that the card was inscribed to ex-husband Joe DiMaggio – and the wording suggests a casual acquaintance or fan.)

Photos of Marilyn by Andre de Dienes, a Some Like It Hot publicity shot with a clipped signature from Tony Curtis, and a Hugh Hefner-signed 1997 edition of Playboy magazine (with Marilyn on the cover) were also sold; and two individual photos of Marilyn and President John F. Kennedy, taken by Yale Joel at Madison Square Garden in 1962, fetched a total $1,062.50.

Marilyn’s Misfits and the ‘Big Bang’

Marilyn and the making of The Misfits are among the many historical touchstones featured in Big Bang, David Bowman’s posthumously published novel of mid-century America, as John Williams reports for the New York Times. (According to Publisher’s Weekly, Bowman – who died in 2012 – also delved into the origins of The Misfits in 1956, when Arthur Miller and Saul Bellow were waiting out their divorces in Nevada. Events which followed the movie – such as Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy in 1962, and Miller’s depiction of her in the 1964 play, After the Fall – are also mentioned.)

“The novel’s central nervous system is formed around American politics — it ends as well as begins with Kennedy’s death, and spends considerable time on the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Watergate. But J.F.K., Jacqueline Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, Richard Nixon and Ngo Dinh Diem are joined in this story by — among others — Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Dr. Benjamin Spock and his wife, Jane, George Plimpton, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, the literary critic Leslie Fiedler, J. D. Salinger, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Elizabeth Taylor, Raymond Chandler, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Frank Sinatra and Maria Callas.

The events recounted in Big Bang include, but are far from limited to: Mailer stabbing his wife, Burroughs shooting his wife, Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, Khrushchev at Disneyland, the director John Huston making The Misfits, Fidel Castro’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Nixon playing the piano on The Jack Paar Show, the release of the Ford Edsel, Montgomery Clift nearly dying in a car wreck after leaving a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills and, for about the blink of an eye, a young George W. Bush in the car with his mother, Barbara, after she has suffered a miscarriage.”

‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ at 56

This rare photo was taken by a fan after Marilyn sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, 56 years ago today.  Marilyn looks far younger than her thirty-five years, and the dress worn by her loyal publicist Pat Newcomb can be seen close behind. Over at Getty Images, Bill Ray – the LIFE magazine photographer who covered the event – shares memories of that legendary evening.

“A quick scan of the program for ‘New York’s Birthday Salute to President Kennedy’ on May 19, 1962, reveals a veritable who’s who of Old Hollywood: Jack Benny, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Danny Kaye. And there, nestled between Peter Lawford and Jimmy Durante, an unmissable entry: Marilyn Monroe. No explanation. No footnote.

‘You could have heard a pin drop,’ recalls Bill Ray … who made the now-iconic image of the actress from behind. ‘I think people were stunned when she finished.’

Due to the disparate lighting conditions — Monroe in a bright spotlight, Kennedy in total darkness — Ray’s dream of getting the two in the same picture didn’t come to fruition. ‘If I’d been luckier, there would have been a tiny bit of light that would have spilled onto Kennedy, who was over her shoulder between the podium and her head.'”