Marilyn, Joe and ‘The Serial Fabulist’

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

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.

Joe DiMaggio and Son

Long after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe remained close to her stepson, Joe Jr, speaking to him on the telephone hours before she died.

Sadly Joe Jr had a difficult life and could never escape his father’s shadow although Joe Sr tried to support him as best he could. Joe Jr died, ravaged by years of alcohol abuse, just six months after ‘the Great DiMaggio’.

“Joe’s happiest days may have been those that he spent with Marilyn Monroe. One early fall day, just as we all had returned from our summer vacations, Joe told of his stepmother Marilyn making his breakfast and serving it to him.

Usually, when teenagers recount their vacation adventures, gross exaggeration is the rule. But we knew Joe’s story about Monroe was true. How envious we were!”

Joe Guzzardi, Baseball Past and Present

I have often thought that if Marilyn had lived longer, she might have been able to help Joe Jr. His father was a distant, reserved man, as Marilyn knew all too well. Joe Jr’s mother was DiMaggio’s first wife, former showgirl Dorothy Arnold.

Marilyn, who came from a broken home herself, never tried to replace Dorothy but was sensitive to her stepson’s emotional needs. Next to DiMaggio, Joe Jr was perhaps more hurt by Marilyn’s untimely death than anyone else.