Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love

Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love is the final book by celebrity biographer C. David Heymann, whose previous subjects included Elizabeth Taylor and the Kennedy family.

Born in Manhattan in 1945, Heymann was a literary scholar whose first books, about Ezra Pound and Robert and Amy Lowell, were published in the 1970s. “I learned from this,” he told the New York Observer in 1999, “never write a book about a poet if you want to sell books.”

In 1983, Poor Little Rich Girl – his biography of heiress Barbara Hutton – was withdrawn by its publisher because of factual errors, as Heymann’s New York Times obituary explains:

 “That December the book’s original publisher, Random House, recalled and destroyed 58,000 copies of the book because of factual errors. Chief among them was Mr. Heymann’s assertion that Edward A. Kantor, a Beverly Hills doctor, had prescribed excessive drugs for Ms. Hutton in 1943.

Dr. Kantor, who became Ms. Hutton’s physician in the late 1960s, graduated from medical school in 1954. In 1943, as the news media reported after the error came to light, he would have been 14.

Mr. Heymann, who did not dispute this and other errors ascribed to the book, attributed them to researchers he had engaged to conduct interviews on his behalf.

After the book was withdrawn, Mr. Heymann later said, he attempted suicide. He moved to Israel for a time; there, he told interviewers afterward, he worked for Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.

On Thursday, Mr. Heymann’s wife said that while he had sometimes spoken to her of having worked for Mossad, she could not confirm that assertion.

In 1984 Mr. Heymann’s biography of Ms. Hutton was republished, in what was described as a revised and corrected version, by Lyle Stuart, an independent publishing house known for renegade titles.

The flap over Mr. Heymann’s Hutton book put his earlier work under scrutiny. After that book was withdrawn, news organizations reported on a charge by the Pound scholar Hugh Kenner that had received comparatively little attention at the time:

In 1977, writing in the magazine The Alternative: An American Spectator (a forerunner of The American Spectator), Mr. Kenner accused Mr. Heymann of having taken an interview with Pound by an Italian interviewer, published in Venice, and presented it in his book as if it he had conducted it himself.

Mr. Heymann denied the accusation, calling it retribution for a negative review he had written of one of Mr. Kenner’s books.”

Heymann went on to write A Woman Named Jackie, a bestselling biography of Jacqueline Kennedy; and Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor (1995), both of which were made into TV movies.

He first became known to MM fans in 1999, when RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy was published. In this book, he claimed that Peter Lawford told him that he and Kennedy had visited Marilyn on the day she died, and that she had threatened Kennedy with a knife.

This interview is often cited by those authors who believe Marilyn was murdered by order of the Kennedys, though others doubt that Kennedy visited Marilyn that day (he was photographed on a friend’s ranch near San Francisco with his family on the same weekend.)

The controversy surrounding Heymann deepened in 2009, with the publication of Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story. Many Kennedy scholars disputed his claim of an affair between Robert Kennedy and his brother’s wife. “It’s a new low, and you just wonder how far people are willing to go,” Laurence Leamer, author of three books about the Kennedys, told the New York Daily News.

Heymann died in May 2012. Joe and Marilyn was originally due to be published in April 2013, but the release date was repeatedly pushed back. It has now been published, and was heralded by a rather scurrilous article in the New York Post:

“In one of the book’s more outrageous claims, DiMaggio spent $10,000 on a life-size sex doll made in Monroe’s image. One year after Monroe filed for divorce, he showed it to a stewardess he was seeing.

‘She’s Marilyn the Magnificent,’ DiMaggio said. ‘She can do anything Marilyn can do, except talk.'”

Joe and Marilyn contains numerous factual errors. For example, Heymann claims that Ana Lower took Norma Jeane to visit her mother in a mental hospital. In fact, it was Grace Goddard; Ana did not meet Gladys until much later. Heymann also writes that Marlon Brando sent Marilyn a fake signed photo of Einstein as a joke. In fact, the prankster was Eli Wallach. He later claims that John Huston first directed Marilyn in Ladies of the Chorus (actually, it was The Asphalt Jungle.)

Among the book’s more bizarre claims are that Marilyn smoked dope with Arthur Miller; that Miller’s young son was a cross-dresser; that she ran naked through the Mapes hotel and casino; and had sex in public with Jose Bolanos.

Heymann claimed to have interviewed many people close to Joe and Marilyn, including press agent Rupert Allan; make-up artist Alan ‘Whitey’ Snyder; George Solotaire’s son, Robert; Dom DiMaggio; Joe DiMaggio junior; Marilyn’s mime teacher, Lotte Goslar; and her masseur, Ralph Roberts.

However, many of the quotes attributed to them seem paraphrased from previously published material. And most of these people were known for their discretion, which makes much of what is said therein hard to believe.

In the case of Lotte Goslar, there is no evidence that she was a longterm confidante of Marilyn’s. Doris Lilly, author of the 1951 novel, How to Marry a Millionaire, is also named as a close friend, without corroborating evidence. Other alleged sources, such as psychiatrist Rose Fromm and journalist Kurt Lamprecht, also seem to have appeared from nowhere.

While Heymann acknowledges that Robert Slatzer’s story of a secret marriage to Marilyn has been debunked, he nonetheless asserts that Slatzer’s story of a clash with Joe DiMaggio is true. He also claims to have interviewed Jeanne Carmen, Marilyn’s self-styled ‘best friend’, whose stories have also been widely discredited.

As Margalit Fox noted in her New York Times obituary: “Though some critics admired Mr. Heymann’s biographies for their comprehensiveness, others were far more caustic. Their concerns included his use of single rather than multiple sources in reconstructing historical events, and his reliance on hearsay accounts by people not directly involved in incidents he was describing.”

With all this in mind, I cannot recommend Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love as a reliable biography. It is so utterly riddled with mistakes, exaggerations and distortions that it soon becomes impossible to tell whether any of it is real. I suspect that what little grains of truth this book may contain are largely thanks to the earlier work of other, more rigorous authors.

Christopher Andersen On Jack, Jackie and Marilyn

The New York Daily News has published excerpts from Christopher Andersen‘s forthcoming book, Those Precious Few Days: The Final Year of Jack With Jackie – including the allegation that President John F. Kennedy‘s affair with Marilyn ‘seemed to bother [Jackie Kennedy] the most’.

While I understand that the (alleged) Monroe-Kennedy affair was sensitive because Marilyn was so famous, I find it harder to accept that his wife was less worried about a brief fling (in his view, at least) than his long-term relationships with mistresses including Judith Campbell and Mary Meyer.

Also, the fact that Andersen uses Jeanne Carmen as a source makes his claim less credible to me. Carmen styled herself as Marilyn’s best friend, but there is no evidence that they were anything more than distant acquaintances (if, indeed, they met at all.)

The infamous ‘first lady’ quote attributed to Marilyn by Carmen should not be taken at face value. And while Peter Lawford knew both Marilyn and the Kennedys very well, his own recollections seemed to change as time went by.

Jackie spoke sympathetically of Marilyn after death, in public and private. In later years she would edit two books featuring Marilyn. In a recent article, historian Carl Anthony suggests that the MM-JFK affair has been greatly exaggerated – which, given their mutual celebrity, is hardly surprising.

Obviously, I can’t judge this book as a whole from these excerpts – and for the record, I do think there was an affair. There’s no question that Kennedy was a compulsive philanderer. However, I think the subject needs some perspective – and that this story has created a stir on the anniversary of Marilyn’s death may tell us more about the media culture we live in today than it does about what happened then.

Here is the extract:

“‘She didn’t like Jack’s fooling around. She was damn mad about it,’ said Jack’s close friend, George Smathers. ‘But she was willing to look the other way as long as he was careful.’

Jackie conceded to Dr. Frank Finnerty, to whom she confided the most intimate details of her marriage, that her husband was so promiscuous and his extramarital conquests so numerous there was no way either she or he could possibly identify them all. But more than any of JFK’s other lovers, Marilyn Monroe ‘seemed to bother her the most’ — in large part because Marilyn was a loose cannon who could go public at any time, causing a scandal that would obliterate her husband’s reputation, destroy her marriage and hold her up to public ridicule.

And she was right to fear Marilyn Monroe. The actress had always grappled with severe psychiatric and emotional problems, made worse by alcohol and prescription drug abuse. At thirty-six, she realized her sex symbol days were numbered and began to see a new role for herself: as the second wife of the president. Confiding the most intimate details of the affair to her friend Jeanne Carmen, Marilyn was convinced JFK was about to leave Jackie for her. ‘Can’t you just see me,’ she asked Carmen, ‘as first lady?’

Peter Lawford claimed that Monroe called the White House and told Jackie of the affair, of Jack’s alleged promises to her. ‘Marilyn, you’ll marry Jack, that’s great,’ Jackie reportedly responded in that breathy voice that sounded not unlike Monroe’s. ‘And you’ll move into the White House and you’ll assume the responsibilities of first lady, and I’ll move out and you’ll have all the problems.'”