Norman Brokaw 1927-2016

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Norman Brokaw, former head of the William Morris Agency, died on October 29, aged 89. His uncle, Johnny Hyde, co-founded the legendary Hollywood talent hub, and gave the teenager his first job in the mailroom in 1943.

By 1949, Hyde was infatuated with Marilyn Monroe, who at 23 was barely a year older than his nephew. During their two-year relationship, Hyde secured her important roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, and a long-term contract at Twentieth Century Fox.

A copy of Marilyn’s original William Morris Agency contract, recently sold at Julien’s Auctions for $7,680, included a covering letter signed by Norman Brokaw. In an article for Huffington Post, Brokaw’s son Joel recalled, “There were lots of wonderful memories he shared with me about his family, his uncle Johnny Hyde and Marilyn Monroe (including the time that he got screamed at when he was about to sit on their sofa and crush the plaster model of her new chin.)” If true, this story may add some credence to the longstanding rumour that Marilyn underwent minor cosmetic surgery at this time.

When Hyde died of a heart attack in December 1950, Marilyn was bereft. According to J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, Brokaw accompanied Marilyn to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, but his uncle passed away before their arrival. (However, there are several competing versions of this story.)

Marilyn with Johnny Hyde (1950)
Marilyn with Johnny Hyde (1950)

Marilyn’s next serious romance, with baseball hero Joe DiMaggio, began in 1952. According to Taraborrelli, the couple first met two years earlier, when Brokaw arranged for her to play a walk-on part in Lights, Camera, Action, an NBC variety show. (If this was the case, the footage may not have survived as it is not documented elsewhere. But Marilyn did film a TV commercial during the same period, so she wasn’t entirely unaccustomed  to the small screen.) After filming, she and Brokaw dined at the famous Brown Derby restaurant, where I Love Lucy star William Frawley asked if he could introduce her to his pal, Joe DiMaggio.

As they left the restaurant, Norman and Marilyn approached the ‘bashful’ sportsman. At the time, she was one of the few Americans who had never heard of DiMaggio. The next morning, Brokaw said, Joe called him and asked for Marilyn’s phone number – although whether he had the courage to follow through is unknown.

After a much-publicised courtship, Joe and Marilyn tied the knot in 1954. Taraborrelli writes that early on in their brief, tempestuous marriage, a worried Joe called Brokaw, and they met for drinks at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. When Joe explained that he wanted Marilyn to stop making films, Norman replied, “She’s not going to give up her career any more than you would have before you were ready to do it.” (Joe later sought advice from other Hollywood friends, including Sidney Skolsky, and would remain close to Marilyn long after their divorce.)

Marilyn dines with husband Joe DiMaggio (1954)
Marilyn dines with husband Joe DiMaggio (1954)

By then, Brokaw was building up the Morris Agency’s new TV division. He persuaded stars like Barbara Stanwyck to try the new medium, and negotiated a pioneering deal for Kim Novak, granting her a share in the profits of her films. In 1965, he secured a lead role for Bill Cosby in I Spy, making him the first black actor to achieve star status on a major television network.

During the 1970s, Brokaw added high-profile names in sport and politics to the agency’s roster. His career continued into the new century, and he was also a philanthropist, serving on the board of directors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (formerly Cedars of Lebanon), and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Norman Brokaw died at his home in Beverly Hills. He is survived by his wife, Marguerite Longley, six children and four grandchildren.

RUMOUR: Did Sinatra Propose to Marilyn?

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This year marks the centenary of another man in Marilyn’s life: Frank Sinatra. The anniversary is being marked by a slew of publications, including Sinatra: The Chairman. Second in a biographical series by James Kaplan, this tome is 992 pages long, and has been previewed in the New York Daily News.

“During Sinatra’s dalliance with Monroe, there are conflicting reports as to who wanted it more. Kaplan sides with Milt Ebbins, a talent manager, who claimed, ‘There was no doubt that Frank was in love with Marilyn.’

‘Yeah, Frank wanted to marry the broad,’ Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s chief henchman, said. ‘He asked her and she said no.'”

However, Kaplan’s claim that Frank wanted to marry MM – ‘to save her from herself’ – is nothing new. J. Randy Taraborrelli previously suggested this in his 1997 book, Sinatra: The Man Behind the Myth. Kaplan also speculates that others believed the opposite – that it was Marilyn who pursued Frank – but the sources for this allegation are not named in the article.

In his 1992 biography of MM, Donald Spoto argues that Frank was ‘apparently the more smitten’ in their on-off romance. Milton Ebbins told Spoto that in 1961, Sinatra failed to show up for lunch with President Kennedy at Peter Lawford’s home, because Marilyn – who was briefly Sinatra’s house-guest in Los Angeles – had gone out without telling him.

‘It wasn’t worry for her safety,’ Ebbins recalled, ‘he was just that jealous of her whereabouts! To hell with the president’s lunch!’

Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958
Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958

In Sinatra: The Chairman, Kaplan repeats the long-held assertion that the romance ended after Marilyn grew closer to her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. This led to a rift between Joe and Frank, ending a long friendship. However, Marilyn told reporters that there was ‘no spark to be rekindled’ with DiMaggio.

After Marilyn died, Frank was furious that Joe did not invite him to the funeral. Kaplan reiterates the long-held rumour that Sinatra – along with the Lawfords, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Mitzi Gaynor – were turned away from the ceremony. However, contemporary news reports did not mention this at all.

So did Sinatra propose to Marilyn? Based on all available evidence, I think not. Although Frank may have entertained thoughts of marriage, I don’t believe Marilyn was ready to commit herself. And after his failed marriage to another Hollywood beauty – Ava Gardner – I suspect he wasn’t about to risk more heartache.

Perhaps the last word should go to legendary columnist Liz Smith, who knew Sinatra well:

“I would take issue with some of Kaplan’s observations about Ava Gardner and particularly Marilyn Monroe — believe me, if Sinatra really proposed to MM and she refused him, it wasn’t because she was ‘saving’ herself for re-marriage to Joe DiMaggio. But in the face of the rest of this compelling book, that’s real nit-picking.”

‘Secret Life of Marilyn’ Trailer Unveiled

11037307_10153162863785259_5329757299694033020_ncropEntertainment Weekly has posted a trailer for the upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, on their website today. To be aired on the US cable channel, Lifetime, on May 30-31, the drama is based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2009 biography.

While the scenes between Kelli Garner (as Marilyn) and Susan Sarandon (as her mother, Gladys) look interesting, it seems to exaggerate their closeness. And while Marilyn certainly battled depression, to equate her experiences with Gladys’s far more severe mental illness (she was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, and spent much of her adult life in psychiatric hospitals) is rather misleading.

Emily Watson to Play Grace in ‘Secret Life’

Emily Watson in 'Gosford Park' (2001)
Emily Watson in ‘Gosford Park’ (2001)

British actress Emily Watson will play Grace Goddard (nee McKee) – who became Marilyn’s legal guardian after her mother’s breakdown – in Lifetime’s upcoming miniseries, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2009 biography, reports Deadline.

Watson, who is 47, began her career on the London stage. She shot to fame in Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996), and went on to star in Hilary and Jackie (1998), Angela’s Ashes (1999), Gosford Park (2001), Miss Potter (2006), War Horse (2011), The Book Thief and Belle (2013.)

Grace McKee Goddard
Grace McKee Goddard

This latest news of A-list casting will boost the hopes of fans hoping for a high-quality biopic. Although Taraborrelli’s biography has been disputed by some, his focus on the women who raised Marilyn seems to be highlighted in this production. And Watson actually bears a striking resemblance to Grace.

With Kelli Garner confirmed as Marilyn, and Susan Sarandon as Gladys, one question remains – who will play Marilyn’s beloved ‘aunt’, Ana Lower?

Susan Sarandon Cast as Gladys in ‘Secret Life’

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Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon will play Gladys Baker, Marilyn’s ill-fated mother, in Lifetime’s upcoming adaptation of J. Randy Taraborrelli’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, according to the Hollywood Reporter. It is set to be filmed in Ontario and Los Angeles, reported GlobalNews.ca earlier this week.

Taraborrelli focused heavily on Marilyn’s relationship with Gladys, although some of his claims have been disputed (more details here.) Gladys was previously played by Sheree North (in the 1980 TV movie, Marilyn: An Untold Story) and Patricia Richardson (in Blonde, the 2001 mini-series based on an eponymous novel by Joyce Carol Oates.) As Gladys was only 24 when Marilyn was born, I would hope that Sarandon – now 68 – will be playing her in later life.

Finally, there are two major errors in Secret Life‘s synopsis: firstly, Gladys’s mother did not commit suicide; and secondly, Marilyn’s first marriage did not end because she was frigid. She divorced her husband because he disapproved of her career.

“Sarandon will portray the blonde bombshell’s mentally ill mother, Gladys Mortenson. The character is described as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, who is the product of a mother who committed suicide as a result of her own mental illness, and a father who died of syphilitic insanity. Frequently delusional, sometimes violent, Gladys sexually adventurous in her youth but taught her daughter that sex should be avoided at all costs. Deeply devoted to Christian Science, she urges Marilyn to reject her reliance on drugs and that her salvation will be achieved by returning to the tenets of the faith. (The role of Monroe has not yet been cast.)

24 and The Kennedys‘ Stephen Kronish is on board to pen the mini, with Sherrybaby‘s Laurie Collyer attached to direct the Marilyn Monroe entry.

Here’s Lifetime’s official description of the mini: ‘Marilyn is both the personification of sex, whose first marriage ironically collapses because of her frigidity, and a fragile artist who seeks the approval and protection of men.  But after tumultuous marriages with Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, she realizes she has the strength to stand on her own. She becomes the face and voice of an era, yet wants most of all to be someone’s mother and someone’s little girl. She’s the Marilyn you haven’t seen before, the artist who, by masking the truth with an image, gives her greatest performance.'”

Taraborrelli’s Marilyn Set for TV

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The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, celebrity author J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2009 biography, is being adapted into a mini series for the Lifetime Channel, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Lifetime is poised to find out if blondes really do have more fun…24 and The Kennedys‘ Stephen Kronish is on board to pen the mini, with Sherrybaby‘s Laurie Collyer attached to direct the Marilyn Monroe entry. The entry hails from Asylum Entertainment, the production company behind Lifetime’s June Carter Cash biopic Ring of Fire as well as Reelz Channel’s ratings hit The Kennedys.

Asylum’s Jonathan Koch and Steven Michaels will exec produce alongside Kronish and Keri Selig. Selig was attached to exec produce Reelz’s Kennedys follow-up, After Camelot, which, like Marilyn, was based on a book by Taraborrelli.

Taraborrelli’s book is considered the most definitive Monroe biography. Published in 2010 [actually, it was 2009], the title explored the actress/pin-up girl’s relationship with her mentally ill mother, her foster mother and her legal guardian as well as Monroe’s own mental illness and her relationships with her family and the Kennedys.”

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe is a sympathetic take on MM, and avoids conspiracy theories about her death. Director Laurie Collyer has enjoyed critical acclaim. However, Lifetime’s recent biopics (such as Liz and Dick, starring Lindsay Lohan) have been widely panned. And screenwriter Stephen Kronish’s prior depiction of Marilyn in The Kennedys was rather disappointing.

One of Taraborrelli’s more contentious allegations about Marilyn is that she suffered from schizophrenia, which has never been proved. Some authors have also raised doubts about Taraborrelli’s use of unnamed sources. In Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012), Lois Banner criticised the author for not using footnotes, arguing that this made it ‘impossible’ to check his sources and evaluate his conclusions.

Banner judged Taraborrelli’s allegation that Grace Goddard put Norma Jeane in the orphanage because she wasn’t getting along with Doc’s daughter, Nona, as ‘incorrect’, adding, ‘I can find no evidence that Nona lived with them in 1935. [Fred Lawrence] Guiles [in Legend] mentions a visit that summer.’

Banner also challenged Taraborrelli’s claim that Marilyn took liquor to Rockhaven Sanatorium to drink with her mother (Gladys Baker Eley, a residential patient from 1952-1967) as ‘inaccurate,’ adding that ‘Gladys considered drinking a sin, and Marilyn never visited her…Marilyn wasn’t present when Grace discussed placing Gladys at Rockhaven, and Gladys was taken to Norwalk State Mental Hospital before Grace took her to Rockhaven some months later.’

You can read my review of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe here.

 

Marilyn’s English Adventure

Writing for London’s Time Out magazine, Wally Hammond investigates the true story behind Marilyn’s visit to England in 1956.

 “Marilyn’s transcendent, radiant quality is inimitable. And it would be fair to say that Williams’s performance in ‘My Week with Marilyn’ copies but does not capture it. This is despite the efforts of director Simon Curtis and his lighting, hair and make-up team to stress 31-year-old Williams’s physical similarity to Monroe. What Williams does do well, however, is suggest some of the complexities in her personality.

‘Marilyn was a very curious little person,’ Olivier told Michael Parkinson in 1969, ‘a divided personality… She wouldn’t know how humiliating she could be.’

Olivier didn’t know how humiliating he could be  either. Nor did his wife Vivien Leigh, whose presence on set crushed the insecure Monroe. Reports testify to the umbrage Monroe took to the ‘coldness’ of the Pinewood film crew. You could even read Rattigan’s script of ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ as an essay on patronage, in its secondary, condescending, sense.”

An additional article – first published by BBC News in April 2010, includes local people’s memories of Marilyn’s stay at Parkside House in Surrey.

The widow of Marilyn’s chauffeur is interviewed, and her comments cast some doubt on Clark’s version of events in My Week With Marilyn. An attempt to trace Mabel Whittington – named as Marilyn’s English housekeeper in Randy J. Taraborrelli’s sources, also leads nowhere.

However, Nigel Hammett remembers meeting Marilyn at Parkside House, while Patrick O’Shea recalls that the tennis shoes which Marilyn wore while cycling were purchased at his parents’ shop.