Marilyn, Joe and ‘The Serial Fabulist’

newsweek sep 14

Last month I posted a less-than-stellar review of C. David Heymann’s posthumously published Joe & Marilyn: Legends in Love. The latest issue of Newsweek – due out on Friday – includes an extraordinary cover feature by David Cay Johnston about Heymann’s ‘career as a serial fabulist.’

Johnston challenges Heymann’s long-standing claim that Marilyn attacked Robert Kennedy with a knife on her last day alive:

“In both A Woman Named Jackie and RFK, Heymann recounts Marilyn Monroe’s last afternoon alive, August 3, 1962*. (Keep in mind that Heymann maintains that both JFK and Bobby Kennedy had affairs with Monroe.) In both of those books, Heymann wrote that just a few hours before Monroe killed herself, Bobby Kennedy and the actor Peter Lawford visited her home in L.A.’s tony Brentwood neighborhood. Heymann said that at one point Monroe pulled a knife and lunged at Kennedy, and that the two men wrested the weapon from her.

When he later told that tale in Joe & Marilyn, Heymann wrote that Monroe tossed a glass of champagne in Kennedy’s face.

In the back of that book, Heymann explained how the knife had turned into bubbly. ‘In an interview with the author, Peter Lawford originally claimed that Marilyn threatened RFK with a kitchen knife; he then revised the anecdote to indicate instead that she threw a glass of champagne at him.’

Unexplained is when Lawford changed this story. Lawford died on Christmas Eve 1984, long before any of the three books were published. Putting the best possible spin on things, that means Lawford revised his story before the first book was published. And if that’s the case, why did Heymann tell the knife story in the first two books?

The answer, according to Lawford’s widow, Patricia, is that Heymann made it all up. She told Newsweek Heymann could not have interviewed her husband on any of the occasions he cited because he was under her care around the clock. Asked if Heymann could have somehow gotten past her, she said Lawford was close to death and hardly able to make coherent statements, much less conduct a lengthy interview.

The Heymann archive at Stony Brook includes his handwritten notes of the purported interview with Lawford. The dying man’s supposed words flow smoothly, the way a writer’s do after polishing. Most people in interviews meander off-topic, digress and revise their stories as they draw on their memories, especially those who are sick and dying.

A handwriting expert said Heymann’s handwritten notes of the purported Lawford interview bore a striking resemblance to the writing in Heymann’s purported Hutton notebooks.”

* Marilyn’s last afternoon alive was on August 4th, not the 3rd.

Johnston also questions Heymann’s oft-repeated claim that Marilyn told Jacqueline Kennedy she wanted to marry her husband, John F. Kennedy:

“In Joe and Marilyn, Heymann drew heavily on the rich trove of books about the Yankee Clipper and the iconic blonde. He also cited interviews with writer George Plimpton; Salinger, the Kennedy White House press secretary; and [Jack] Newfield. All three men were dead by 2005. Plimpton, in a tape recording in Heymann’s own archive, declined to be interviewed. Salinger, in a letter also in the Heymann archive, said Heymann wrote ‘dramatic lies’ and refused to cooperate. We already know that Newfield wrote a column in the Post denouncing Heymann. Despite this, Heymann ‘quoted’ all three men in his book… long after they had been buried.

Among the many statements presented as fact in Joe and Marilyn that might have raised eyebrows at CBS was the one on Page 315. Heymann quoted the late actor and masseur Ralph Roberts as saying that Marilyn Monroe called the White House and ‘actually told the First Lady she wanted to marry the president,’ and that Jackie Kennedy, humoring the actress, said ‘she had no objection.’

Yet years earlier, in 1989’s A Woman Named Jackie, Heymann attributed that story to Lawford. Only in that version ‘Jackie wasn’t shaken by the call. Not outwardly. She agreed to step aside. She would divorce Jack and Marilyn could marry him, but she [Monroe] would have to move into the White House.'”

Johnston also probes some of Joe & Marilyn‘s other main sources:

[Emily] Bestler, Heymann’s longtime editor, insists that independent fact-checking established the reliability of Joe & Marilyn, but most of Chapter 3 is fabricated. It consists primarily of long quotes attributed to ‘Rose Fromm, a German Jewish refugee’ who Heymann said treated Marilyn Monroe as a therapist. Heymann writes that Fromm told him:

I have to stress that I work as a psychotherapist in Europe but not in the United States and I made that perfectly clear to Marilyn. My doctorate in clinical psychology had been awarded abroad and I had no interest in going through the process all over again.

Heymann wrote that Fromm moved to Los Angeles for six months in 1952, when she treated Monroe, whom she met through two Hollywood journalists she describes as friends, James Bacon of The Associated Press and Sidney Skolsky, then a syndicated Hollywood columnist.

Fromm was born in Sztetl, Poland, not Germany. She arrived in America at age 17, according to her 2007 autobiography. She graduated from the Dante School in Chicago in 1931 and the University of Illinois medical school in 1938, facts supported by photographs and her medical licensing records. Nowhere in her autobiography did Dr. Fromm mention Marilyn Monroe, James Bacon or Sidney Skolsky.

In Joe and Marilyn, Heymann cites Joe DiMaggio Jr., the slugger’s only son, as a source on more than 50 of the book’s 393 pages. Joe Jr. died in 1999, long before Heymann started work on the book, and he routinely turned reporters away. Public records contradict many of the quotes attributed to him in the book – Heymann wrote that he left Yale for San Francisco, almost immediately married a woman he barely knew, quickly divorced her and joined the Marines. In fact, records and interviews with his friends show, he moved to Los Angeles, joined the Marines before Monroe died (he was photographed in uniform at her funeral) and nine months after her death married a 17-year-old San Diego woman in Southern California.  George Milman, a Beverly Hills lawyer who was Joe Jr.’s roommate back then, and Tom Law, a contractor who worked with him, said Joe Jr. was circumspect about his father and devoted to his stepmother.

Heymann also wrote that Joe Jr.’s mother, Dorothy Arnold, took her son and Milman on overnight trips to Mexico where, panty-less, she would do handstands in an apparent effort to channel Monroe’s sexual allure. Milman, chuckling, said he recalls a few trips to Baja, but not the rest of that tale.”

Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love

Heymann Legends

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.

Coming Soon: Reading With Marilyn

Bob Beerman, 1953
Bob Beerman, 1953

The literary world’s interest in Marilyn shows no sign of abating, with several major books due to be published in the coming months.

1) Michelle Vogel’s Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life is now available via Kindle. Print copies can be ordered from McFarland Publishing, and will soon be stocked by Amazon and other bookstores. It is ‘essentially a filmography interlaced with a complex biographical account of Marilyn Monroe’s life and loves throughout her career.’

godbersen the blonde

2) Novelist Anna Godbersen is the author of the bestselling The Luxe and Bright Young Things series for teenagers. Her first adult novel, The Blonde, will be published on May 13. It reimagines Marilyn’s relationships with the Kennedy brothers, and while it’s sure to cause a stir, some may feel this work of fiction takes too many liberties with the facts. Here’s a synopsis:

“In Anna Godbersen’s imaginative novel, set at the height of the Cold War, a young, unknown Norma Jean meets a man in Los Angeles—a Soviet agent? A Russian spy?—who transforms her into Marilyn the star. And when she reaches the pinnacle of success, he comes back for his repayment. He shows her a photo of her estranged father and promises to reunite them in exchange for information: Find out something about presidential candidate John F. Kennedy that no one else knows. At first, Marilyn is bored by the prospect of, once again, using a man’s attraction to get what she needs. But when she meets the magnetic Jack Kennedy, she realizes that this isn’t going to be a simple game. What started with the earnest desire to meet her father has grave consequences for her, for the bright young Kennedy, and for the entire nation. The Blonde is a vivid tableau of American celebrity, sex, love, violence, power, and paranoia.”

margolis buskin murder

3) Jay Margolis, author of MM: A Case for Murder (2011), has penned a new book on the subject with Richard Buskin, author of Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of MM (2001.) The Murder of Marilyn Monroe: Case Closed is currently slated for release in June (US) and August (UK.)

“Implicating Bobby Kennedy in the commission of Marilyn’s murder, this is the first book to name the LAPD officers who accompanied the US Attorney General to her home, provide details about how the Kennedys used bribes to silence one of the ambulance drivers, and specify how the subsequent cover-up was aided by a noted pathologist’s outrageous lies. This blockbuster volume blows the lid off the world’s most notorious and talked-about celebrity death, and in the process exposes not only the truth about an iconic star’s tragic final hours, but also how a legendary American politician used powerful resources to protect what many still perceive as his untarnished reputation.”

Rollyson 2nd ed

4) Meanwhile, Carl Rollyson’s Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated is set for US release in June, coming to the UK in August. As the first edition of Rollyson’s biography, published in 1987, was highly acclaimed and remains a fan favourite.

“Through extensive interviews with many of Monroe’s colleagues, close friends, and other biographers, and a careful rethinking of the literature written about her, Rollyson is able to describe her use of Method acting and her studies with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg, head of the Actors’ Studio in New York. The author also analyzes several of Monroe’s own drawings, diary notes, and letters that have recently become available. With over thirty black and white photographs (some published for the first time), a new foreword, and a new afterword, this volume brings Rollyson’s 1986 book up to date. “

Fan Phenomena

5) Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe, edited by Marcelline Block, is part of a series on fandom, and is also headed for an early summer release. You may spot some familiar names in there!

” Marilyn Monroe was an actress, singer, and sex symbol whose influence far outlasted her short life. Contributors to Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe situate the platinum blonde starlet’s omnipresent cultural relevance  within the zeitgeist of current popular culture and explore the influence she has had on numerous elements of it…The essays here explore representations of Monroe in visual culture by looking at the ways she is reimagined in visual art while also considering how her posthumous appearance and image are appropriated in current advertisements. With an inside look at the universe of Marilyn Monroe impersonators and look-alike contests for both males and females, the book also explores numerous homages to Monroe in music…The definitive guide to one of the most famous women who ever lived, the book will be essential reading for any scholar of twentieth-century American popular culture.”

6) As I mentioned yesterday, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ Icon: The life, Times and Films of MM, Volume II (1957-1962) will also be published this summer.

Heymann Legends

7) C. David Heymann’s Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love was originally due to be published in 2013, but was postponed (perhaps because the author passed away in 2012.) It is now set for release in July. High hopes are riding on a definitive account of Marilyn’s most enduring relationship. However, as previously noted here, many of Heymann’s celebrity biographies have proved controversial.

According to the blurb, Joe and Marilyn is  ‘based on extensive archival research and personal interviews with family and friends….Sixteen pages of striking photos accompany this unforgettable and quintessentially American story.’

8) As previously mentioned on this blog, Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times will be published in September.

“Jacqueline Rose’s heroines could not appear more different from each other: revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg; German-Jewish painter Charlotte Salomon, persecuted by family tragedy and Nazism; film icon and consummate performer Marilyn Monroe.

Yet historically these women have a shared story to tell, as they blaze a trail across some of the most dramatic events of the last century – revolution, totalitarianism, the American dream. Enraged by injustice, they are each in touch with what is most painful about being human, bound together by their willingness to bring the unspeakable to light.”

9) The recent Life magazine special, The Loves of Marilyn, will be published in hardback in September. Although lavishly illustrated, the text is rather gossipy and speculative.

rollyson day by day

10) And finally, a second, fully illustrated book by Carl Rollyson – Marilyn Monroe Day By Day: A Timeline of Places, People and Events – is slated for US release in October, reaching the UK in December.

“Carl Rollyson provides a documentary approach to the life and legend of this singular personality. With details of her childhood, her young adult years, her ascent to superstardom, and the hour by hour moments leading to her tragic early death, this volume supplements—and, in some cases, corrects—the accounts of previous biographies. In addition to restoring what is left out in other narratives about Marilyn’s life, this book also illuminates the gaps and discrepancies that still exist in our knowledge of her. Drawing on excerpts from her diaries, journals, letters, and even checks and receipts—as well as reports of others—Rollyson recreates the day-to-day world of a woman who still fascinates us more than fifty years after her death.”

Warner American Icon

Looking forward to next year, Marilyn’s Blue Book Years: Marilyn Monroe in Unseen Pictures and Letters, by Michelle Morgan (author of MM: Private and Undisclosed) and Astrid Franse, will be published by The History Press in 2015. And Elle Andra-Warner’s American Icon: The Legacy and Death of Marilyn Monroe, originally slated for release this year, has been postponed until next spring.

American Icon: The Legacy and Death of Marilyn Monroe is a blockbuster book that delves deep into her life and death, and separates it from the myth, rumors and Hollywood chatter. Was Monroe’s death a suicide or were dark sinister forces at work? Based on strong research, interviews, investigations, news clippings and files, American Icon takes the reader along on a unique journey that looks at Marilyn from a fresh perspective, neither sensationalizing nor sugar-coating the truth. Her life ran the gamut from happy, bored, funny, loving and loved to shocking and scandalous. She did whatever she had to do to reach her childhood dream goal to be a famous movie star. American Icon: The Legacy and Death of Marilyn Monroe delivers a fast-paced, fact-filled page turner of a book about one of the great cultural legends of the 20th century.”