The Character Assassination of Marilyn

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

In an article for The Independent, Andy Martin explores the subject of public humiliation, citing Marilyn’s ‘dumb blonde’ stereotyping as a prime example of character assassination. He also looks at her marriages and battles with directors, although I would argue that it is her continuing misrepresentation in the media – and in particular, false and degrading conspiracy theories – that is most damaging to her legacy today.

“Consider the case of Marilyn Monroe. Unequivocally one of the icons of the 20th century …The ‘Stradivarius of sex’ as Norman Mailer described her. But therein lies the rub. Did she necessarily want to be some kind of instrument? Does anyone? … Anything is possible, but more likely she was the victim of humiliation.

There is a case for saying that Joe DiMaggio, her baseball player husband, was humiliated on account of the shoot when she is standing on a subway grate and her dress is being blown up in the air and she is trying to hold it down … She is exposed. But it is DiMaggio – coming from a working-class Italian-American family – who feels humiliated …

She was certainly no airhead, no kind of ‘bimbo.’ You would think that, all in all, the Monroe-Miller combination ought to have been workable. But it wasn’t … He wanted an All-American Girl to symbolically get him off the hook of the McCarthy black list … Maybe Monroe could save him. But she needed him to save her. And instead of that he humiliated her … Laurence Olivier was another of her humiliators (an ugly word, I know, but then it is ugly) …

She almost certainly committed suicide. Overdosed on barbiturates. Or, rather like Amy Winehouse, abdicated life … No one can coincide (at least, not for very long) with their own myth. But everyone else wanted her to be nothing but the thing she was supposed to be. She strove to be something else, quite what she never knew, or was never allowed to know. She was asked to get back in her box. But she didn’t want to. So she ended up in a box anyway. No living being wants to be reduced to a thing, like a frying pan. Not even a Stradivarius.”

Rare Photos of Young Marilyn at Heritage Auctions

Rare photographs showing a young Marilyn, taken from the private collection of Hollywood security guard Aviv Wardimon, will be on offer at the Entertainment Signatures sale at Heritage Auctions, ending on April 15, reports the Daily Mail. (Eagle-eyed fans will notice that the image shown above is very similar to the cover photo of Michelle Morgan’s MM: Private and Undisclosed, given by Marilyn to Bill Pursel.)

“The images show Marilyn posing alongside guard Aviv Wardimon and are believed to have been taken outside the 20th Century Fox studio some time in the late 1940s. Wardimon’s family discovered the images recently and said they had no idea their relative was friends with Monroe, who is shown embracing him in several shots. Wardimon, who later changed his last name to Blackman, emigrated to the US from Israel before working for a time as a security guard. His images are now expected to fetch $1,000 (£700) each at auction.

Margaret Barrett, Director of Entertainment Memorabilia, said: ‘We have a few lots of never before seen snapshots taken when she is between 21-22 years old. We dated it by her haircut, it is still long, down to her shoulders and a light brown that turns light strawberry blondish in certain lights.’

‘These have never been seen before, she’s standing outside on the back of 20th Century Fox, she’s with a man. It was a mystery to the man’s own family, they know he worked as a security guard at one of the studio lots and had come over from Israel with his wife and children.’

‘Marilyn is with him for most of the shots, they obviously had some sort of a friendship. She’s in three different outfits so it could be from three different days, she must have known him beyond being a passing acquaintance.’

‘There are three lots, I have a feeling he had a massive crush on her, saw her on the lot and had these early shots of her. When the family found them, they said, Oh my gosh, it’s Marilyn Monroe.’

Rare black and white signed photographs where Marilyn Monroe thanks her co-workers in similar notes – ‘It’s a pleasure to work with you’ – are estimated at $7,000 (£5,000) and $4,000 (£2,800.) Publicity shots including an unseen postcard where Marilyn and another female were hired as pin-ups for the 1947 National Postmasters Convention in Los Angeles.

A signed menu from Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s honeymoon in Hawaii in 1954 is estimated to go for $2,000 (£1,400). In her note, she penned ‘The food was wonderful’ before writing her name ‘Marilyn Monroe DiMaggio’. Although her marriage to the New York Yankee’s star nicknamed Joltin’ Joe would end within a year, the menu preserves a precious moment of the couple’s life.

Margaret said: ‘This is when she flew from LA to Hawaii, she was only there for a night and went to a Trader Vic’s restaurant, which was very 50s. She signed the menu with something cute, then Joe signed the next page and Joe’s friend who went on the honeymoon with them. Marilyn was obviously signing it for the waiter or owner, if it was just a fan she wouldn’t have commented on the food.’

Never before seen photographs from Marilyn Monroe’s visit to Korea, shortly after her honeymoon with soldiers and close-ups of her in a spaghetti-strapped dress on stage, are estimated at $2,000 (£1,400).”

UPDATE: Auction results here

Marilyn in New York, and an Historic Injustice

Canadian-American musician Meghan Remy aka U.S. Girls is about to release her sixth studio album. In an interview for The Ringer, Meghan takes Lindsay Zoladz on a sightseeing tour of New York, including the subway grate on Lexington and 52nd Street where Marilyn shot an iconic movie scene, while her marriage fell apart.

“The night that iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe was taken—you know the one: stilettos on a subway grate, billowing white dress—Monroe and her husband Joe DiMaggio got into a screaming match. The fight was partially about the photo itself: While shooting The Seven Year Itch, the studio had savvily leaked Monroe’s whereabouts to the press, and by the time Billy Wilder was ready to roll camera on what would become the most notorious scene in the movie, several thousand onlookers had shown up to watch. (They were almost all men, but I hardly need to tell you that.) DiMaggio was there, and he wasn’t too keen on what he took to be his wife’s public exhibitionism. When she showed up to set the next morning, Monroe’s hairdresser applied foundation to hide fresh bruises. She filed for divorce from DiMaggio before The Seven Year Itch wrapped.

‘We’re constantly presented with this smiling Marilyn,’ says Meg Remy, the singer and eccentric creative mastermind behind the band U.S. Girls. ‘But for some reason, when you have all the information, it just feels so heavy.’

I should mention that Remy is speaking into a headset, as she drives a rented, 15-seat van deftly through the streets of Manhattan. In anticipation of the release of U.S. Girls’ new album In a Poem Unlimited—the most ambitious and, as it happens, best album of Remy’s decade-long career—her label suggested a listening party for fans and members of the press. Remy asked around enough to learn what a listening party was, and, ever the DIY-minded eccentric, then decided it just wasn’t her style. What she came up with instead was this: a van tour of ‘sites of injustices in New York City,’ written and narrated by Remy herself, while we listen to the new album in the background.”

Avedon, the Greenes and Marilyn

Amy and Joshua Greene with Paula Strasberg and Marilyn during filming of ‘Bus Stop’, 1956

Amy Greene is one of many luminaries interviewed by authors Norma Stevens and Steven M.L. Aronson for Avedon: Something Personal, in which she reveals the ties between Milton and Avedon, and later, Marilyn.

“One night in 1950, the photographer Milton Greene was having one of his Friday night open-houses in his penthouse studio, in the old Grand Central Palace building on Lexington Avenue. The room was packed with art directors, admen, models, photographers, actors, and dancers. Dick [Avedon] introduced himself to a fragile-looking blonde with almond-shaped eyes who was standing alone against the wall of the loggia – a wallflower. He broke the ice with, ‘How do you know Milton?’ She said, ‘I was married to him,’ and she filled Dick in: They were high-school sweethearts who had tied the knot in 1942 when she, Evelyn Franklin, was eighteen.

Dick said he was instantly taken by Evie’s feyness and elusiveness … He invited her to dinner that night at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal. From there the relationship took off like a choo-choo train, and the couple got hitched at the end of January 1951.

Avedon with his wife Evelyn in 1955

Milton Greene had meanwhile taken up with a cute Cuban-born model whom Dick had ‘discovered’, Edilia Franco (Conover, the modeling agency he sent her to, changed her first name to Amy and her last name to – in a nod to Dick – Richards.) In the spring of 1952, the year before he married Amy, Milton invited Dick and Evie to Sunday lunch in the country. ‘I wasn’t feeling so hot,’ Amy recalls. ‘I told Milton I wasn’t up to coming down. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I went through this shit for seven years with Evelyn, and I’m not going to put up with it from you. So get the hell up, put something decent on, and make an effort!’ He told me that one of the reasons he divorced Evelyn was she would stay in bed for days on end.

‘When Dick was in Hollywood for three months in 1956 consulting with Paramount on Funny Face, Milton was there producing Bus Stop with Marilyn, and Evelyn and I met for lunch,’ Amy recalls. ‘She and Dick were renting Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio’s old ‘honeymoon house’ on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills, and she complained that the tour buses would drive by several times a day and the guide would make a big thing over the megaphone about the master bedroom – she said it was sexually inhibiting. The minute Evie discovered that I detested Milton’s mother as much as she did, she started giggling, and we became sort of friends. I remember her grousing that all Dick ever did was work. So I guess there wasn’t much reason for her to get out of bed.’

The former DiMaggio home on North Palm Drive, occupied by the Avedons in 1956

Five years into his marriage to Evie, a movie inspired by Dick’s [first] marriage … lit up screens across the country. ‘Funny Face, by the way, wasn’t really about me. They just used my early fashion escapades as a pretext to make a glamorous musical extravaganza …’ (Avedon)

Amazingly, Dick’s boyhood idol, Fred Astaire, now an old boy of 57, played the 25 year-old lead, named Dick; Audrey Hepburn played Doe, renamed Jo … The day Fred Astaire made his leap into death, some thirty years after Funny Face, Dick appeared in the doorway to [Norma Stevens’] office with tears running down his cheeks. ‘I didn’t cry when Marilyn died, I didn’t cry when [Alexey] Brodovitch (Avedon’s art director at Harper’s Bazaar) died, he told [Stevens.}”

Marilyn’s Birthday Dress in San Francisco

A lookalike poses with Marilyn’s dress

After last month’s tour of Canada, Marilyn’s ‘birthday dress’ is now on display at  Ripley’s in San Francisco throughout August, reports the SF Examiner. While the Kennedy connections may be foremost in some minds, the Fisherman’s Wharf location is more redolent of Marilyn’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio, a humble fisherman’s son who grew up in the city, and bought a restaurant on the Wharf after finding fame in baseball.

“Ripley’s bought the one-of-a-kind dress designed by Jean Louis from a private collector last year, earning a Guinness World Record for the most expensive dress sold at auction. For the last 17 years, the gown was ‘kept well, but away from the public,’ Meyer said.

The dress, along with the gala’s poster, advertisement and a ticket, will be on display at San Francisco’s Ripley’s at Fisherman Wharf every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for the next month.

After that, Ripley’s will tour the collection around its 32 locations in 10 countries. The dress will be traveling incognito with at least two guards and in a case designed specifically for it.”

Villa Nova Owner Dies

Charlotte Dale, former owner of the Villa Nova restaurant on the Sunset Strip, has died aged 93, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“Born on June 24, 1924, in Duluth, Minn., Charlotte Dale’s family moved to Beverly Hills in the 1930s. Graduating from UCLA in 1946, Dale worked for a time at the William Morris Talent Agency and was a personal assistant to ‘F Troop’ star Forrest Tucker..

In 1948 she married Allen Dale, who had changed his name from Carlo Alfredo Di-Lisio when he came from Italy to Hollywood in the 1920s, finding work as an actor and stuntman. He opened the Villa Nova Trattoria on Hollywood and Vine in 1933 with financial backers Charlie Chaplin and Vincente Minnelli.

According to Alison Martino’s Vintage Los Angeles website, that’s where the couple met. After marrying, they ran the restaurant together, which moved several times before settling on the Sunset Strip in 1944. The site is now the location of the Rainbow Bar and Grill, a rock star hangout. The site has an interesting article about Dale’s visit to the Rainbow when she was 90.

Villa Nova was frequented by Hollywood’s elite on the Sunset Strip. Legend has it, it’s where Marilyn Monroe had her first date with Joe DiMaggio and Minnelli proposed to Judy Garland.”

Bill Pursel 1925-2017

Bill Pursel, who befriended Marilyn during the early years of her career, has died aged 91, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“William Albert Lloyd Pursel was born July 24, 1925, in Marshalltown, Iowa. His family moved to Las Vegas in 1939. After graduating from Las Vegas High School, class of 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in The European Theatre during World War II. He became a sales manager for KLAS Radio and covered several atomic bomb explosions at the Nevada Test Site. He was a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant with The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company. He was president of The Life Underwriters Association of Nevada. He was active in The Las Vegas Jr. Chamber of Commerce, a founding member of The Sports Car Club of America in So Nevada, a charter member of Trinity United Methodist Church, and belonged to both the Masonic Lodge and the Elks Lodge. He served two-four year terms as a trustee at Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital (UMC).”

Snapshots given to Bill Pursel by Marilyn in 1947

Bill’s memories of Marilyn – they dated on and off for several years – were unknown to to the public until he spoke with Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. They met in 1946, when 19 year-old Norma Jeane was staying with a family friend in Las Vegas while waiting her divorce from Jim Dougherty. Bill later visited her in Los Angeles, and was waiting at the house she shared with Ana Lower when she returned from a meeting at Twentieth Century Fox with a contract and a new name.

She was dropped by the studio a year later, but pursued her craft at the Actors Lab, even once asking college student Bill to enroll. They remained close after she began a romance with Fred Karger in 1948, and she later asked Bill to protect her from a ‘beach wolf’ – none other than actor Peter Lawford, who would play a significant role in her final days. Bill saw her as both dedicated and vulnerable in Hollywood, recalling a distressing phonecall during the Love Happy promotional tour of 1949. And then, just as their relationship seemed likely to turn serious, Marilyn called it off – leaving Bill with nothing but a couple of signed photos (now owned by collector Scott Fortner.)

Marilyn’s parting gift to Bill

Bill heard from Marilyn just once more, shortly after she began dating Joe DiMaggio. By then, Bill was happily married. He later recalled seeing her singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy on television, just months before her death in 1962. He felt no bitterness, and knowing her sensitive nature, he was saddened but not surprised by her tragic demise.

Mr Pursel died last Thursday, June 1st – on what would have been Marilyn’s 91st birthday. He is survived by his wife of more than sixty years, Mabel ‘Mac’ Salisbury Pursel; and his children, William ‘Bill’, Kristie, and Kim (‘Bill’) Toffelmire, her stepchildren and their children, and several nieces and nephews.

Michelle Morgan has written an emotional tribute to Bill Pursel:

“He has been a constant presence in my life since 2005, when I first contacted him during the writing of my Marilyn book. What started out as an interview, turned into a friendship between Bill, his beautiful wife Mac, his family and my own … My work has been deeply enriched because of Bill’s stories, and my life has been changed because of his friendship. He was a huge supporter of my career, and gave me lots of advice in recent years … Good night, Bill. Thank you for your wonderful friendship. You were one of the best friends I ever had.”

You can pay your respects to Bill here.