Artists’ Birthday Tributes to Marilyn

Marilyn is the perfect muse, so it’s no surprise that artists would pay tribute on her 91st birthday. David Bromley, whose paintings of MM were exhibited in Los Angeles last summer, had some wise words to offer on age and immortality in this Bert Stern-inspired tribute.

Daniel Acosta profiled Marilyn’s subtle transformation from role to role, while Alejandro Mogollo looked to near-sighted Pola in How to Marry a Millionaire for inspiration.

Remembering James Spada

James Spada, author of the much-loved 1982 book, Monroe: A Life in Pictures, has passed away aged 67.

He was born in Staten Island, New York, in 1950 – the year in which a young Marilyn Monroe made her breakthrough in Hollywood. “When I first saw a photo of her in the newspaper,” James said, “I was totally enamored.” He would later write that his father, Joseph Spada, “always encouraged me in my love for Marilyn.”

Like many others, James vividly remembered hearing of her tragic death in 1962. “I was twelve – a kid with a scrapbook,” he told Immortal Marilyn in 2013, recalling that when a friend of his brother called to tell him the news, he turned on the radio and burst into tears. “After she died there wasn’t much interest in her in the press,” James recalled, “not like there is today.” In 1963 he founded the Marilyn Monroe Memorial Fan Club with fellow fan George Zeno. Over the next four years, the friends produced regular bulletins and yearbooks, mailing them to other admirers.

While in college, James edited EMK, a quarterly dedicated to Senator Edward Kennedy. In 1970, he worked as an intern in Kennedy’s Boston office. His debut book, Barbra: The First Decade, was published in 1974. The multi-talented Streisand was the quintessential star of her era, and James would become a leading authority on her remarkable career. This was followed by The Films of Robert Redford in 1978. And in 1979 came The Spada Report, based on hundreds of interviews with gay men, and documenting a social revolution in progress.

Twenty years after Marilyn died, James reunited with George Zeno for a lavish tribute. Monroe: A Life in Pictures combines more than 200 black-and-white photographs, including film stills, studio portraits and newspaper shots, with a mid-section of full-page, glossy colour images by Andre De Dienes, Cecil Beaton and others. At the time, many were unknown to the public. Douglas Kirkland’s gorgeous cover photo epitomises Marilyn’s unique blend of sex and innocence, and a life poised between beauty and sadness. Inside, Spada retold her fabled story through extended captions, enhancing each photograph with his impeccable research and sensitive commentary. Monroe: A Life in Pictures was a bestseller, spawning many imitations but seldom equalled. Its success enabled James to produce similar volumes on Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, Katharine Hepburn, and Jane Fonda.

In 1987, James published his first non-pictorial biography, Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess. This was followed by Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept All the Secrets (1991), and Bette Davis: More Than a Woman (1993.) He also wrote several coffee-table books about America’s political families, including Jackie: Her Life in Pictures (2000.)

In more recent years James completed a biographical novel about Edgar Allen Poe and three collections of his own erotic photography, as well as an anthology, The Romantic Male Nude. His final book, Barbra Streisand: In the Camera Eye, was published in 2014. Monroe: A Life in Pictures is now available on Kindle, and in 2016, a rather gossipy extract from his biography of Peter Lawford was reprinted in a one-off magazine special, Vanity Fair Icons: Marilyn Monroe. He also mentioned Marilyn frequently on his entertaining blog, James Spada’s Hollywood.

James was a popular speaker at the annual memorial services hosted by our sister club Marilyn Remembered in Los Angeles, including the fiftieth anniversary of her death in 2012. Many fans have spoken fondly of their personal encounters with this gentle, approachable man. Set apart by visual elegance and a genuine enthusiasm, Monroe: A Life in Pictures remains a classic of its kind. If you don’t have a copy it can still be found online or in used bookstores, earning a rightful place in every fan’s library, and all our hearts.

Marilyn: A Natural Beauty (And Then Some)

The question of whether or not Marilyn had plastic surgery has long been controversial. Over at Immortal Marilyn, Marijane Gray sets the record straight.

“The truth of it is that Marilyn had extremely minimal work done- so minimal that it’s undetectable in before and after photos, so minimal that when her chin implant was reabsorbed it didn’t alter her stunning face in any perceptible way. However, even if every single claim of plastic surgery were true, it does not diminish Marilyn’s remarkable beauty … Let us appreciate her for how she chose to look without picking apart what was natural and what may have been enhanced, and let us stop trying to assuage our own insecurities by feasting on the flaws, real or imagined, of other women.”

Elizabeth Winder on ‘Marilyn in Manhattan’

Elizabeth Winder, author of Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy – published today – has spoken to Immortal Marilyn about the different side of MM that she hopes her readers will discover.

“I wish they knew that Marilyn was funny– I don’t mean the witty media quips but that warm-hearted kind of funny that makes you smile and want to hug someone. I wish they knew that Marilyn actually read Ulysses and didn’t just pose with it. I wish they knew that as a starving model she spent her money on books instead of food. I could go on and on– that’s why I wrote Marilyn in Manhattan– I totally fell in love with her!”

Fake News: Marilyn, Yves and a ‘Secret Pregnancy’

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A series of gorgeous colour photos taken by Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull, whose incredible archive of candid snapshots were auctioned at Julien’s in November 2016, were published in yesterday’s Daily Mail. The images show Marilyn arriving for test shots for The Misfits in New York in July 1960.

Unfortunately – and all too predictably – the pictures are accompanied by a salacious and frankly unbelievable story. Marilyn’s belly is rather prominent in the photos, and Tony Michaels – a Las Vegas casino croupier who befriended the late Frieda Hull, and purchased the images at auction – claims that Marilyn was secretly pregnant at the time, by her Let’s Make Love co-star Yves Montand.

That Marilyn and Yves had an affair is not in doubt, and of course they were both married to other people. However, a pregnancy at this time has never been mentioned, and Marilyn’s daily routine is extremely well-documented. To casual observers her protruding tummy may look like a baby bump, but seasoned fans have noticed many similar images of her over the years.

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Furthermore, Marilyn was a very private person and it would be out of character for her to have confided in a teenage fan. Frieda Hull never sought publicity and it seems all too convenient that such a story would emerge only after her death. It has also been debunked by Scott Fortner, who helped to catalogue the recent Julien’s sale in which these photos were featured, on his MM Collection blog; and by Immortal Marilyn.

Could this be an early frontrunner for the most ridiculous Marilyn headline of 2017? It is interesting to note that the Daily Mail was recently blacklisted by Wikipedia for ‘poor fact checking, sensationalism and flat-out fabrication.’

‘The Seven Year Itch’: The Girl, a Dress and a Mystery

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That iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch – and the dress worn by Marilyn as she stood over the subway grate – is constantly being referenced in popular culture. One recent example is this magazine ad for the Marilyn-themed Sexy Hair brand.

On Immortal Marilyn this week, Marijane Gray unravels the mystery of what happened to that dress, designed by Marilyn’s regular costumer, Travilla.

“The white pleated halter dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch is always described in superlatives: most iconic, most recognized, most recreated, most expensive. It can also be called the most mysterious: how many copies of the dress were there? Is there another one in existence, hidden away all these years? Did Marilyn herself own a copy of the dress, and if so, where did it end up? And perhaps most intriguing: was a copy of the dress really stolen back in 1993?”

Also this week, Keena Al-Wahaidi reviews the movie that started it all for The Medium, the student magazine for the University of Toronto. (Incidentally, the campus is based at Mississauga, which is also home to a skyscraper complex whose curvaceous design has earned the nickname The Marilyn Monroe Towers.)

“The most notable aspect of The Girl is her obliviousness towards her own allure …. The most dubious fixture of this film is the lack of identity in Monroe’s character. The reason for her ambiguity is because she’s nameless … However, Monroe’s lack of identity contributes to the mystery of the film’s plot. Regardless of the immorality of the situation, we find ourselves rooting for Richard and The Girl. Despite the futility of their relationship, or perhaps owing to it, their fling is undeniably enthralling.”

David Thomson on Marilyn, JFK and THAT Dress

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Film critic David Thomson is not Marilyn’s biggest fan. “Monroe wasn’t a serious actress,” he once wrote. “I don’t think she could really carry more than a line or two at a time.” Nonetheless, he seems drawn to her image, having penned a snarky introduction to Marilyn Monroe: A Life in Pictures (2007.) In anticipation of the November 16 auction at Julien’s, Thomson has written another gossipy article for The Guardian about the Jean Louis dress worn by Marilyn as she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. (You can see a gallery of fans posing with the dress over at Immortal Marilyn.)

“You can say that only demonstrates her victimhood and makes her wishing more wistful. But then you have to see the plain delight with which she did these preposterous things, these moments, as if she could not resist or do without the comfort that came with the gasps and the whistles at Madison Square Garden when she came into the platinum light, shrugged off her wrap and stood there, with her massed blonde waves jutting off to one side, like the control on tower an aircraft carrier, in a dress that could have been painted on her. And she did not seem like the hesitant neurotic of fame and constant lateness when she broke into the birthday song. Just take a look. She seems happy, and an actress is hired to give us some sort of good feeling. This is maybe her greatest moment – the most reckless – and she knows it, even if the summer of 1962 is her hell.”

UPDATE: The ‘Happy Birthday’ dress was sold at Julien’s for $4.8 million on November 16, 2016, making it the most lucrative dress in auction history. The buyer is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, who plan to showcase the dress in future exhibitions. Read a full report from Scott Fortner on his MM Collection Blog.