‘I Met Marilyn’: Interviews With Neil Sean

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Neil Sean is a British entertainment and royalty pundit for broadcast media in the UK And USA. He is also the author of three books: How to Live Like a Celebrity For Free (2012); Live at the London Palladium (2014); and The Downing Street Cats (2016.)

Co-authored with Michael Dias, he has now published I Met Marilyn, a collection of interviews with stars who knew and worked with MM. These include Mickey Rooney, Bette Davis, Celeste Holm, Jane Russell, Lauren Bacall, Johnnie Ray, Ethel Merman, Jack Cardiff, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, George Cukor and Cyd Charisse; and other celebrity acquaintances, such as Jerry Lewis, Eartha Kitt, Andy Williams, Sandra Howard, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, James Garner, Rock Hudson, Charlton Heston, Ricci Martin (Dean’s son), Buddy Greco, and Frank Sinatra Jr.

Mr Sean clearly has lengthy experience in the show-business world, with some interviews dating back to the late 1970s (and of course, most of his interviewees are now deceased.) His media profile has garnered coverage for I Met Marilyn in Scotland’s Weekly News and Sunday Post. He explains that the transcripts were made from his own notes and tape recordings. Unfortunately, the book is filled with run-on sentences, and punctuation so erratic that it’s often hard to distinguish between his own observations, and quotations from others. There are no pictures of Marilyn inside, but the interviews are accompanied by photos of Sean with various stars.

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As with Boze Hadleigh’s recent book, Marilyn Forever, the tone is often speculative and gossipy. Many of the interviewees seem to believe that Marilyn’s alleged affairs with President Kennedy and his brother Robert were common knowledge in Hollywood, and yet there is little direct evidence.

Jack Lemmon, who was a neighbour of Peter Lawford, claims to have seen Marilyn “frolicking” with Bobby in Lawford’s pool. This story has been told by his son Chris, who was a small child at the time. I have never before seen it attributed to his father, and this apparent indiscretion seems uncharacteristic of the gentlemanly Lemmon. There is also a question of plausibility: could he really have identified them from over the fence?

To his credit, Mr Sean shows some scepticism towards the more outlandish claims of Mickey Rooney, for example. Singer Eddie Fisher recalls that while married to Elizabeth Taylor, he performed a double-bill at The Sands in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra. Fisher told Mr Sean that Marilyn flirted with him all evening, but photos from the event show her gazing at Sinatra.

Whereas Boze Hadleigh depicted Marilyn as ahead of her time in embracing the gay community, Neil Sean portrays her as being unable to understand why closeted actors like Rock Hudson weren’t attracted to her. Both authors seem to be imposing their own views upon the past, but the fact remains that whatever her personal inclinations, Marilyn was never discriminatory. She had several gay friends, and defended her Misfits co-star Montgomery Clift against homophobic bigotry during a private interview with W.J. Weatherby (published posthumously in his 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn.)

Perhaps the most insightful comments come from other women. “I was so upset [by Marilyn’s death] because she could have reached out, but the thing is she always wanted you happy first – she was selfless in that way,” singer Eartha Kitt told Sean. “I remember receiving one of her old fur coats to wear at a premiere because she heard me saying I did not have one. What a kind gesture, and to someone just starting out in the business.”

Cyd Charisse, who co-starred with Marilyn in the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, also gives a sympathetic account. However,    the interview includes several quotes attributed to Marilyn by Lawrence Schiller in his 2012 book, Marilyn & Me. (Cyd Charisse died in 2008.)

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I Met Marilyn is certainly an interesting read, but should probably be digested with a large dose of salt. Marilyn was essentially a loner, and didn’t have many close friends in Hollywood – and besides, stars are as susceptible to wild rumours as everyone else, especially when asked to provide a fresh perspective on an actress who died over fifty years ago.

“I think it all goes so quickly so it’s better to live in the moment,” Lauren Bacall told Mr Sean. “And when people ask me about what, say, Marilyn Monroe was like, it’s not like we were the best of friends or anything. I mean, we made a movie together which was very successful, but it was a long time ago…”

I Met Marilyn is available now in paperback and via Kindle.

Celebrating Marilyn at Stonewall

Quote from 'Conversations With Marilyn' by WJ Weatherby
Quote from ‘Conversations With Marilyn’ by WJ Weatherby

‘Marilyn Monroe: Kissing an Icon’, a new exhibition focusing on her enduring popularity within the LGBT community, is now on display until August 7 at the Stonewall National Museum & Archives in Fort Lauderdale, as Johnny Diaz reports for SouthFlorida.com.

“Curated by Charles L. Ross, the free exhibit features fan memorabilia from the private collection of Wilton Manors resident Ed Witkowski.

‘When Marilyn Monroe died in 1962 I was 14 years old,’ Witkowski said. ‘Marilyn Monroe was a woman who had ultimate sex appeal. I really did not know what sex appeal was at that age, but I felt it as a young teenage boy coming-of-age.’

According to the exhibit, Monroe was ahead of her time on LGBT issues, and many gay men related to her struggles with insecurity and finding acceptance.

‘I really think it’s because she was vulnerable and talked about her life. She talked about how she struggled and that made her different. Gay people felt different and misunderstood,’ said Ross, chief curator at Stonewall. He remembers, as a teenager in Pennsylvania, when news of her death broke over the radio.

The exhibit marks a departure for the gallery, which has generally focused on people who are LGBT.

‘This is so different because there are so many people who had an interest in Marilyn Monroe and still have an interest in Marilyn Monroe,’ Ross said. ‘It won’t be just for the LGBT community. Straight men and women would go too.'”

True or False: Did Marilyn Have Affairs With Women?

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Over at Immortal Marilyn today, Leslie Kasperowicz asks if there is any truth to the rumours that Marilyn had affairs with women (such as her dramatic coach, Natasha Lytess), and why the facts still matter.

“There is zero evidence to support Marilyn having sexual relationships with women. Marilyn herself stated clearly that she was not a lesbian … Is it possible Marilyn at some point had a sexual encounter with a woman?  Sure.  Is there any real evidence of it?  No.

We aren’t refuting these tales because we care whether or not Marilyn had sexual relationships with women.  Marilyn herself was known to be open-minded about sexual orientation … It’s not a question of whether or not Marilyn’s fans care who she slept with.  It’s a question of the truth, and of debunking the lies and rumors that surround Marilyn.

And the truth is that there is no evidence to show that any of the claims of affairs with women are true.”

Marilyn, Natasha and a Rehashed Rumour

Marilyn and Natasha during filming of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'
Marilyn and Natasha during filming of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’

A rather misleading article by David Gardner appears in today’s Mail, claiming that Marilyn had a ‘lesbian affair’ with her dramatic coach, Natasha Lytess. This rumour is nothing new – but while there is some evidence to suggest that Natasha was infatuated with her pupil, there is no proof that Marilyn reciprocated.

Gardner cites Ted Jordan, author of Norma Jean: My Secret Life With Marilyn Monroe (also known as Norma Jean: A Hollywood Love Story, published in 1989), as hearing Marilyn remark about her supposed affair with Natasha, ‘Sex is something you do with people you like. What could be wrong with a natural act?’

However, Jordan has been widely discredited as a fantasist. There is no proof of his alleged association with Monroe. Even his ex-wife, Lilli St Cyr, said his stories about Marilyn were fabricated.

In acting class with Natasha, 1949 (photo by J.R. Eyerman)
In acting class with Natasha, 1949 (photo by J.R. Eyerman)

A more reliable source is Marilyn herself, who addressed the subject in her 1954 memoir, My Story (co-written with Ben Hecht.)

“Sex is a baffling thing when it doesn’t happen. I used to wake up in the morning, when I was married, and wonder if the whole world was crazy, whooping about sex all the time. It was like hearing all the time that stove polish was the greatest invention on earth.

Then it dawned on me that people – other women – were different from me. They could feel things I couldn’t. And when I started reading books I ran into the words ‘frigid,’ ‘rejected’ and ‘lesbian.’ I wondered if I was all three of these things.

A man who had kissed me once had said it was very possible that I was a lesbian because apparently I had no response to males – meaning him. I didn’t contradict him because I didn’t know what I was. There were times even when I didn’t feel human and times when all I could think of was dying. There was also the sinister fact that a well-made woman had always thrilled me to look at.

Now, having fallen in love, I knew what I was. It wasn’t a lesbian. The world and its excitement over sex didn’t seem crazy. In fact, it didn’t seem crazy enough.”

Marilyn and Natasha, circa 1953
Marilyn and Natasha, circa 1953

Marilyn first met Natasha when she was briefly signed to Columbia in 1948. Lytess became her dramatic coach for six years. Marilyn grew close to Natasha, and would often stay at her home. This is not unusual – Marilyn also often stayed at the home of her friends the Kargers, who lived nearby. (An apartment in the same building, on Harper Avenue in West Hollywood, was recently up for sale.)

Over time, others close to Marilyn – especially Joe DiMaggio – came to feel that Natasha was too fixated and controlling of Marilyn. Such was Monroe’s deference to Lytess, directors tried to have her thrown off the set. Nonetheless, Lytess commanded a high salary thanks to her association with the rising star. Marilyn was exceedingly generous with money, which Natasha also benefited from.

By 1954, it seemed Marilyn agreed with Natasha’s critics. After leaving Hollywood for New York, she broke off all contact with her former teacher. When she returned in 1956, Marilyn had a new acting coach – Paula Strasberg. Lytess lost her job at Fox and never saw Monroe again.

Perhaps understandably, Lytess was extremely bitter. She wrote a memoir, My Years With Marilyn, which has never been published in its entirety, but has been widely quoted by Monroe’s biographer. Natasha died of cancer in 1964.

While Marilyn may have experimented sexually on occasion, and was supportive of her gay friends, the rumours are pure conjecture. The quotes from Natasha cited in the Mail seem to be drawn from a 1961 interview, unseen until it was picked up by the soft-porn magazine, Penthouse, in 1991.

What is most noticeable about this interview – and the Mail article – is that while it may suggest that Natasha was strongly attracted to Marilyn, it gives no indication that she shared these feelings.

Lytess also gave an interview on French television in 1962. It can be seen on Youtube, and has been translated on the Everlasting Star forum (members only.)

Donald Spoto described their relationship best in Marilyn Monroe: The Biography (1992.)

“Dependent on Natasha though she seemed to be, Marilyn had an independence and a strength as well, an ingrained ambition that overcame countless disappointments, lonelinesses and setbacks. The sad truth is that Natasha Lytess was more profoundly dependent on Marilyn and Marilyn’s need of her, and therein may lie the reason why she endured six years of emotional crisis. Even as she was doomed to frustration, Natasha loved so deeply she could not bring herself to the action that would have freed her – separation from Marilyn.”