Paul Donnelley, author of Pocket Essentials: Marilyn Monroe (2000), has written a list of trivia for the UK’s Daily Star, in advance of what would be Marilyn’s 93rd birthday this Saturday, June 1st. Here are a few selections…
“Marilyn was born in Los Angeles as Norma Jeane Mortenson. She was not named for fellow blonde bombshell Jean Harlow despite numerous reports to that effect – when Marilyn was born, Harlow was only 15 and at least two years away from her film debut.”
“Marilyn’s half-sister, Berniece Miracle, will celebrate her 100th birthday on July 30. Her half-brother, Robert, died in 1933, aged 15.”
“Marilyn has a reputation for being promiscuous but she was choosy about who she bedded. Groucho Marx confessed he spent $8,000 wining and dining her, trying to get her into bed but was unsuccessful. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, tore up her contract because she wouldn’t sleep with him.”
“In 1953, the town of Monroe, New York changed its name for one day to Marilyn Monroe, New York in tribute to Marilyn.”
Fellow Travelers, Jack Canfora’s new play about Marilyn, Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Hollywood Blacklist, has opened at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY to glowing reviews – although Monroe fans may prefer to judge for themselves…
“While Monroe is not central to the moral issue at stake here, she is an integral part of the two men’s lives. She had a long affair and friendship with Kazan, and she fell in love with Miller even though he was married. The tabloids gorged on her short marriage to Joe DiMaggio, her surprising liaison with Miller, his ‘quickie’ divorce, and finally, their five-year marriage.
Today Monroe is an iconic touchstone of the era. We know her all-too-human story, her emotional wounds, her breathy voice, her luscious body. Ms. Hewitt in a blonde wig does a boffo job of portraying that Marilyn with warm earthiness, touching grace and surprising self-awareness.
Though some might cavil that her part is underwritten, she was not faced with the moral question of betrayal for art. Nor is she the Greek chorus here, for she does not comment on the action but rather lives in it. Her relationships with Kazan and Miller demonstrate how acts of great consequence do not occur singularly alone …
Indeed, Marilyn is necessary here, for she is the force who brought the former friends together in 1963, though they would never be great pals again.” – Lorraine Dusky, 27East
“Playing icon Marilyn Monroe in a movie or play is always a tall order, but Rachel Spencer Hewitt measured up to the task and took her performance to a high level. The sexy aspects that made Marilyn Monroe along with some shockingly blunt dialogue again kept the audience captured in the story.
Fellow Travelers is an important play because it deals with a dark time in our nation’s history. A time with congressional hearings on ‘Un-American Activities’, and blacklists and betrayals to friends, and in some cases, to the country. Fellow Travelers is a hit because it is a great script that comes to life with excellent acting and wonderful directing.” – T.J. Clemente, Hamptons Theater Review
“As Monroe, Rachel Spencer Hewitt holds back on the bombshell we know so well, instead showing us a troubled woman coming to terms with her public perception … While dialogue drags at times, the play offers illuminating glimpses of the creative genius of Miller and Kazan.” – Barbara Schuler, Newsday
“The cast is exemplary … Hewitt is a strong presence as Monroe, and later as Barbara Loden, Kazan’s second wife, who then portrays the Marilyn character, Maggie, in Miller’s After The Fall, directed by Kazan.” – Bridget LeRoy, Hampton Independent
“Among the top-notch cast is Rachel Spencer Hewitt strongly portraying Marilyn Monroe. Fans of the starlet will appreciate how Ms. Hewitt doesn’t necessarily copy Monroe’s famous public persona, but cleverly infuses her own take on the role.” – Melissa Giordano, Broadway World
“With the play’s punchy, often vulgar dialogue, Mr. Canfora wrings genuine conflict and emotion from his two talented and driven characters … But in a production with so many excellent performances, it is no small compliment to say that Rachel Spencer Hewitt, as Marilyn, makes the play her own. So iconic is Monroe — and so caricatured in popular culture — that there may be no more treacherous role for an actress to play. Just on sheer guts, one must tip his hat to Ms. Hewitt for trying.
But the actress does much more than that, with a portrayal that captures both the iconic Marilyn and the tender and innocent woman she most likely hid from the world. In Fellow Travelers, we get a Marilyn on the cusp, both world-weary and yet still hopeful about her career and the possibility of love. After her divorce from Miller, she would never be quite the same.
While the play hardly absolves Kazan, there is at least the desire to understand him. And just when Miller’s saintly posturing grows tiresome, Mr. Canfora has both Kazan and Harry Cohn take pithy potshots at the playwright’s sanctimony.
But it’s Marilyn Monroe who, even in death at play’s end, gets the last word. Just as her image bedeviled millions of filmgoers (and continues to do so), so did she loom in the minds of Miller and Kazan; neither ever really got over her. Thanks to a great performance by Ms. Hewitt and the tender writing of Mr. Canfora, she ultimately dominates Fellow Travelers as well.” – Kurt Wenzel, East Hampton Star
In the wake of recent revelations about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood, Marilyn has often been mentioned in discussions about the ‘casting couch’. Unfortunately, much of this coverage has been inaccurate, depicting Marilyn as either a passive victim or somehow complicit.
A new article by Sean Braswell for OZY takes a different perspective, praising Marilyn as ‘Hollywood’s first big silence-breaker.’ Braswell cites the story of Marilyn turning down a pass from Columbia boss Harry Cohn, as well as her 1953 piece for Motion Picture magazine, ‘Wolves I Have Known.’
“In the years after her death, Monroe’s biographers, largely men, tended to ignore the star’s silence-breaking role, preferring to focus instead on the more salacious details of her personal life and the rumors that she slept her way to the top. Nor did Monroe, while she was alive, think of herself as a social reformer or a trailblazer for women’s rights. As the singer Ella Fitzgerald, a good friend of Monroe’s, once reflected about the screen legend: ‘She was an unusual woman — a little ahead of her times, and she didn’t know it.'”
Braswell also refers to authors Michelle Morgan and Sarah Churchwell, both of whom have done excellent work in recent years to address the sexist presumptions of earlier biographers. ‘Marilyn was really one of the first big stars to speak out about what we would now call sexual harassment,’ says Churchwell. ‘She was talking about a culture in which women were unsafe [and] her whole point was to say this happens over and over and over.’
Unfortunately, Braswell is on shakier ground when he uses ‘off the record’ quotes. For example, he quotes her saying in an interview before her death, ‘When I started modeling, [sex] was like part of the job … and if you didn’t go along, there were twenty-five girls who would.’ Braswell also states that Marilyn wrote ‘You know that when a producer calls an actress into his office to discuss a script, that isn’t all he has in mind. I’ve slept with producers. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t,’ in her 1954 memoir, My Story – but that line doesn’t appear in any version of the text.
In fact, both quotes are taken from an alleged conversation with writer Jaik Rosenstein, published in Anthony Summers’ 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. Summers claims that Marilyn had known Rosenstein for years, and she trusted him not to write about it at the time. Whether or not Rosenstein is a reliable source, it should be made clear that Marilyn did not say them for publication.
Actress Joan Collins has told the Daily Mailabout her early experiences in Hollywood, and how Marilyn warned her about sexual harassment. It’s not a new story, but in light of recent allegations, it makes for an interesting read. Interestingly, she recalled the meeting in her 1978 autobiography, Past Imperfect, but the ‘wolves’ story only appeared in Second Act, almost twenty years later. (Another star from Marilyn’s era, Rita Moreno, has also spoken out about how Fox executives preyed on young women.)
“Shortly after arriving in Hollywood aged 21, under contract to 20th Century Fox, I attended a party at Gene Kelly’s house. The star of An American In Paris and Singin’ In The Rain hosted a weekly gathering for an eclectic group of movie industry power-brokers, A-list actors and actresses, intellectuals and his friends. It was where I first met Marilyn Monroe.
At first I didn’t recognise the blonde sitting alone at the bar … Suddenly, it dawned on me that the woman in front of me was the legendary figure herself. We started chatting and after a couple of martinis, Marilyn poured out a cautionary tale of sexual harassment she and other actresses endured from ‘the wolves in this town’.
I replied that I was well used to ‘wolves’ after a few years in the British film industry. I decided it definitely wasn’t something I’d put up with. I told Marilyn I was well prepared to deal with men patting my bottom, leering down my cleavage and whatever else.
She shook her head. ‘There’s nothing like the power of the studio bosses here, honey. If they don’t get what they want, they’ll drop you. It’s happened to lots of gals. ‘Specially watch out for Zanuck. If he doesn’t get what he wants, honey, he’ll drop your contract.’ It was a timely warning, because days later, Darryl Zanuck, vice-president of production at 20th Century Fox, pounced.
Hollywood studio bosses considered it their due to b*** all the good-looking women who came their way and were notorious for it. Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures, for example, had no qualms about firing any starlet who rejected him. He was totally amoral.
Another role I coveted was that of Cleopatra. The head of 20th Century Fox at the time, Buddy Adler, and the chairman of the board — [Spyros Skouras], a Greek gentleman old enough to be my grandfather — bombarded me with propositions and promises that the role was mine if I would be ‘nice’ to them. It was a euphemism prevalent in Hollywood. I couldn’t and I wouldn’t — the very thought of these old men was utterly repugnant. So, I dodged and I dived, and hid from them around the lot and made excuses while undergoing endless screen tests for the role of Egypt’s Queen.
At one point, Mr Adler told me at a party that I would have ‘the pick of the scripts’ after Cleopatra and he would set me up in an apartment he would pay for as long as he could come to visit me three or four times a week. Running out of excuses, I blurted out: ‘Mr Adler, I came here with my agent, Jay Kanter. Why don’t we discuss the deal with him?’
‘Honey, you have quite a sense of humour,’ he spluttered.
‘And a sense of humour is all you’ll ever get from me,’ I murmured as I left. In due course, Elizabeth Taylor got the role.
But it wasn’t just studio bosses and producers who were predatory. Many actors I worked with considered it their divine right to have sex with their leading lady … Anyone naive enough to believe the era of the casting couch had been consigned to history will have been shocked by the Weinstein scandal and the predatory institutional sexism of Hollywood power brokers it has revealed.
But it’s not just the film industry that’s been complicit in sanctioning this appalling behaviour, and it’s not just actresses subjected to it. It may occur in any business dominated by powerful, ruthless and misogynistic men, and it’s women (sometimes men) in subservient positions who are unfortunate enough to have to deal with them.”
Following recent allegations of sexual harassment and assault against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, I’ve been thinking of Marilyn’s own experiences among the Hollywood ‘wolves’. (Incidentally, Weinstein produced the 2011 biopic, My Week With Marilyn.)
‘I met them all,’ Marilyn stated in her 1954 memoir, My Story. ‘Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes – an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.’
My Story was written with Ben Hecht, who may be responsible for some of the more elaborate metaphors, but he insisted it was true to the spirit of what Marilyn told him. It remained unpublished until long after her death, perhaps because it was too controversial.
When British writer W J Weatherby asked her whether the stories about the casting couch were true, Marilyn responded: ‘They can be. You can’t sleep your way into being a star, though. It takes much, much more. But it helps. A lot of actresses get their first chance that way. Most of the men are such horrors, they deserve all they can get out of them!’
This conversation also remained private during her lifetime. Sadly, Marilyn has been retrospectively punished for her outspokenness, with tales of her supposed promiscuity circulating to this day. Even film critic Mick LaSalle, who once defended her against lurid allegations by Tony Curtis, wrote this week, ‘Ever hear of Marilyn Monroe? Of course you have. Well, she said no to very few people.’
Her relationship with agent Johnny Hyde is well-known, and some believe her friendship with movie mogul Joe Schenck was more than platonic. But the rumours of her being a glorified call-girl are utterly baseless. Several men who dated Marilyn remember her being so cautious that she wouldn’t kiss them goodnight.
Perhaps one of the most important stories relating to Marilyn and the Hollywood ‘wolves’ is her refusal to spend a weekend alone with Columbia boss Harry Cohn on his yacht while she was under contract to him in 1948. He was furious, and quickly fired her. The story is almost identical to some of the allegations being made today.
Among the many stories making the rounds lately comes from actress Gretchen Mol, who was rumoured to have been promoted by Weinstein in exchange for sexual favours. In fact, she has never been alone with him, and yet this false rumour has unjustly tarnished her reputation.
Her story reminded me a lot of Marilyn, who has been endlessly ‘slut-shamed’ simply for being honest and open about her sexuality. In January 1953, she approved a story for Motion Picture magazine which is illuminating about the harassment she experienced – I have posted it below, courtesy of the Everlasting Star boards (please click on the files below to enlarge.)
What strikes me as sad is that she almost seemed to accept it as an occupational hazard. Let’s hope that the buck won’t stop with Mr Weinstein, and that real changes will be made. Sexual exploitation is not unique to Hollywood, and until people stop blaming the victims, predators will continue to thrive.
The Hook, Arthur Miller’s long-buried screenplay about troubled dockers on the New York waterfront – a district still known as Red Hook – is finally being staged at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton (of all places) after more than sixty years on the shelf, Matt Trueman writes in today’s Guardian.
“This is the script – ‘a play for the screen,’ he called it – that indirectly triggers Miller’s summons to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). It sowed the seeds of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his professional split from director Elia Kazan. Without The Hook, he probably wouldn’t have written The Crucible or A View from the Bridge, nor would Kazan have made On the Waterfront. It might be the most influential film never made.
Don’t think staging it is an exercise in theatrical history, though. Sixty-six years on, The Hook is unnervingly prescient. Its focus is the exploited workforce and union corruption in New York’s docks. ‘It talks about the living wage, zero-hours contracts and industrial communities on the brink of enormous change,’ says director James Dacre, adamant that he wouldn’t programme it otherwise. ‘Why here? Why now?'”
This play is of special interest to Marilyn fans, because Miller originally pitched it as a movie to Columbia’s Harry Cohn in 1951, during his first visit to Hollywood with director Elia Kazan. Marilyn, who was then dating Kazan, even accompanied them to a meeting with Cohn, disguised as a secretary.
As noted in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends, Marilyn’s attendance was intended as revenge on the tyrannical Cohn, who had fired her in 1948 after she rejected his sexual advances. Cohn, furious at his humiliation, dismissed The Hook as communist propaganda.
In 1954, Kazan would direct an Oscar-winning film with a very similar theme for Columbia: On the Waterfront. By then, Kazan had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and named several colleagues as communists, in what many (including Miller) saw as a self-serving bid to save his own career.
In his own testimony before HUAC in 1956, Miller admitted to having attended a few communist meetings many years before, but refused on principle to name others. Marilyn stood by her husband, and he was acquitted in 1958.
The ‘ice-cool blonde’ immortalised in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) discussed her long career with Liz Smith this week. Perhaps inevitably, the conversation turned to another screen goddess of the fifties – Marilyn Monroe…
“I ask this ultimate survivor – the blonde who got away – why she did survive, and Marilyn Monroe didn’t?
‘I think it’s family, roots. Marilyn didn’t have that. Even if there are troubles in your family, at least it’s there. It gives your life a deeper substance, especially if you are working in a business that is so much about the insubstantial. You need something to fall back on. You need to know you are more than the face or the body or the career. Without that stability, you are lost.’
Kim Novak may never make another movie, but she will be forever remembered as the star who never got lost.”
In a longer Novak profile for Qlast year, Smith explored the parallels between Kim and Marilyn in greater detail. Kim was under contract to Columbia, and touted by boss Harry Cohn as a rival to Monroe. Ironically, Marilyn had signed to Columbia years earlier but was dropped (allegedly after refusing Cohn’s advances.)
Additionally, Kim’s birth name was actually Marilyn, but she decided to change it because of Monroe. Not much is known about their association, but Kim was also a guest at the Lawford beach house in 1962 where Marilyn met Bobby Kennedy.
Like many other young actresses, Novak was deeply affected by Monroe’s untimely death:
“A year later, in 1963, Novak was handed a copy of the magazine Eros, in which some of Bert Stern’s famous nudes of Monroe appeared. Kim was horrified when she saw that Stern had released shots which Monroe herself had edited and crossed out. She burst into angry tears. To her, this was an act of cruelty and betrayal.”