Owlwood, once the home of movie mogul Joe Schenck, is up for sale again, as Taylor Boozan reports for Forbes. The Holmby Hills estate, described as ‘Los Angeles’ most coveted property’, comes with a price tag of $115 million. Owlwood was previously on the market in 2012 for $150 million (see here), and in 2018, it was reported that it was one of several Hollywood homes tied up in a Ponzi scheme.
It has become almost a cliché to link desirable properties to Marilyn, often with no factual basis – but Owlwood really was a part of her life, as while she may never have lived there, Marilyn often stayed in Schenck’s guest cottage, and later posed for photo shoots there with Milton Greene.
One can only imagine how this young starlet from a humble background (and with comparatively modest tastes) must have felt amid such opulent surroundings. After Schenck’s death in 1961, other famous occupants included Marilyn’s Some Like It Hot co-star, Tony Curtis, who sold it for $750,000 in 1974 to Sonny & Cher. And in 2017, rapper Jay-Z hosted a Grammy Awards after-party at Owlwood.
In my latest post for the Julien’s Legends auction, coming up on June 13-14, I’m taking a look at the fan mail, plus letters and greeting cards from friends and family, received (and kept) by Marilyn over the years. (You can read my previous posts, on the How to Marry a Millionaire bathrobe and the photos of Manfred Kreiner, here.)
UPDATE: I have now added the total bids to each item.
“An invoice from Southdown Kennel in Roxbury, Connecticut, for boarding and food for Hugo, the lovable basset hound owned by Marilyn and then husband Arthur Miller. The invoice is dated from November of 1958, and is addressed to Mrs. Arthur Miller. Dates specified for boarding of Hugo are July 4-10, July 28-August 5, August 22-24, and August 27-October 30. Also listed is ‘1 case beef’ at a cost of $11.50.” (SOLD for $512)
“A handwritten letter from a young child, undated, reading, ‘Dear Marilyn, How are you? Daddy and mommy saw you. I wish I could of. I am writing you to see if you rember (sic) me. First you saw me playing on the grass at Chaire’s house and then at Patty’s. I went to East Hampton and I got a new bike. It is beautiful.’ The letter is signed Emily Hedda Liss. The letterhead reads ‘Mrs. Joseph Liss, 445 East 68th Street, New York, New York,’ indicating Emily is likely the young daughter of television writer and editor Joseph Liss.” (UNSOLD)
“Two greeting cards sent to Marilyn from fans with get well wishes. One card’s handwritten inscription reads, ‘To a wonderful actress. My best wishes to you. Palma Urso, 1958.’ The other is simply signed, ‘Judy Bawber.’ (UNSOLD)
“A two-page handwritten letter from a fan by the name of Pete Monti, dated June 1, 1959, in which Monti expresses his love and admiration for Marilyn. Passages from the letter read, ‘…every year I send you a gift with my address on the present for you to answer, and tell me if you liked it, but you never answered it. I think the reason for that was because you never received the gifts,’ ‘…I have been a fan of yours since 1950, I even have every book that ever came out with your picture in it,’ ‘there is only one thing I would like you to do for me…is to win the Academy Award for best actress of the year, to show them in Hollywood that your (sic) a real good actress. Everybody tries to imitate you, but they can’t…there is only one Marilyn Monroe, and that’s you.’ The letter is signed, ‘Yours Truly, Pete Monti.’ A photo of Monti in formal attire, together with a female companion, is stapled to the letter. Included also is a typed response to this letter, dated June 19, 1959, reading, ‘Miss Monroe has asked me to thank you most kindly for your birthday remembrance and good wishes. She appreciates your thoughtfulness very much.’ The letter is signed ‘Yours sincerely, Secretary to Marilyn Monroe.’ The letter was likely prepared by May Reis, Monroe’s secretary for several years.” (UNSOLD)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Evelyn Moriarty. Moriarty was Monroe’s stand-in on three films: Let’s Make Love, The Misfits, and Something’s Got To Give.” (SOLD for $750)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Snyder was Monroe’s makeup artist from her very first screen-test in 1946 and also for most of her films and public appearances, and even photo shoots.” (SOLD for 5,760)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Augusta and Isidore Miller, the parents of Marilyn’s third husband Arthur Miller. The handwritten message from the Millers reads, ‘And Lots of Mazel + Brucha, Love Mom + Dad.’ In Yiddish this phrase means ‘happiness and blessing.'” (SOLD for $640)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from ‘Grace + Daddy,’ the latter being Ervin ‘Doc’ Goddard. Grace’s handwritten note in the card reads, ‘We couldn’t love you more if you were our real daughter.'” (SOLD for $768)
“A handwritten letter to Marilyn and then husband Arthur Miller from Marilyn’s half-sister Berniece Miracle, postmarked April 28, 1960. The letter reads in part, ‘My! How I would love to hear from you and all about what you are doing. I see where Arthur has written a movie, The Misfits. When will the filming start? Hope it’s a big success.'” (SOLD for $1,875)
“A grouping of correspondence to Marilyn from Anne Karger, including three telegrams wishing Marilyn a happy birthday. One telegram is dated June 2, 1957. Interestingly, the other two telegrams are both from 1961, one is dated May 31, and the other is dated June 1. Also included is an undated holiday card with greetings for Christmas and the new year. Anne was the mother of Fred Karger, whom Marilyn fell deeply in love with near the start of her film career. It is widely reported that she had wanted to marry Karger. While the relationship ultimately didn’t last, Marilyn remained very close with his mother. Anne was one of a very few guests from Marilyn’s inner circle who was invited to her funeral.” (SOLD for $1,152)
“A grouping of correspondence to Marilyn from John Moore, including a Western Union telegram dated May 31, 1961, which reads, ‘Wish you were here to celebrate it. Love you.’ This message is likely in reference to Marilyn’s birthday, which was on June 1, the day after the telegram is dated. Also included, an undated, hand-signed Christmas card, and a note that likely accompanied a bouquet of flowers with a message that reads, ‘Will you be my Valentine? John Moore.’ Moore was a fashion designer, interior decorator and close friend of Marilyn’s. He worked for Talmack, and designed many of Marilyn’s clothes; including the gown she wore during the private wedding ceremony in which she married Arthur Miller. He also assisted Marilyn in redecorating the apartment she and Miller shared on East 57th Street in New York City.” (SOLD for $384)
“A one-page handwritten letter to Marilyn from poet and friend Norman Rosten, apparently while he was vacationing in the Arctic Circle. The letter reads in part, ‘This bar of chocolate and paperclip were both bought in this Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle! Who says the world isn’t round? It’s too round!’ The actual chocolate bar wrapper is affixed to the letter using the aforementioned paperclip. Also included is the original envelope, postmarked January 27, 1959, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Miller at 444 East 57th Street, New York, NY.” (SOLD for $640)
“An undated, handwritten note from Joseph M. Schenck to Marilyn, reading simply, ‘Dear Marilyn, I am with you. I know you are right. Joe Schenck.’ Schenck was co-founder of 20th Century Pictures in 1933. When his studio merged with Fox Film Corporation in 1935, Schenck was named chairman. He was an important figure in Marilyn’s early career.” (SOLD for $625)
A treasure trove of correspondence to Marilyn will be auctioned today at Bonham’s in New York, as part of TCM’s Dark Side of Hollywood sale. Among the lots are an autographed napkin; notes to herself, jotted on the back of envelopes; letters from her mother Gladys, and members of Norma Jeane’s extended family, including Grace Goddard and Ana Lower; key figures in Marilyn’s later life, such as Joe Schenck and Elia Kazan; and other lesser-known acquaintances. Here are some of the highlights:
“San Jose, on ‘International Correspondence Schools’ letterhead and plain stationery. Norma Jeane was 12 years old when she received these letters from relatives of her guardian, Grace Goddard, and Grace’s aunt, Ana Lower. Though not related to her, they address themselves as Uncle Art and Aunt Allis, and in their separate letters to the child, they seem to know her well, calling her ‘Little Sweetheart’ and writing, ‘We all send love to our little girl.’ They often refer to their dog, Trinket, whom one may assume was adored by Norma Jeane, who had a soft spot for animals all her life. Despite the many difficulties Norma Jeane had to face as a foster child, it does seem that there were many caring people in her life, as Uncle Art writes, ‘I am sure you are happy because everyone there loves you, and wants you to be happy.'”
“In her first letter of 1942, Lower responds to 15-year-old Norma Jeane’s questions about her shyness: ‘Be your own sweet self and in time as you have more experience, you’ll be able to talk when you want to, and people will really pay attention to what you say because it will be something worthwhile.’ By 1946, Norma Jeane was obtaining a divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty (whom Lower adored) and was having financial difficulty. She had borrowed money from Lower, who was also allowing Norma Jeane’s mother, Gladys Baker, to live with her at the time. Her letter expresses disappointment in Norma Jeane’s decisions, quoting the Bible and giving advice. She also mentions that Gladys has been fired from her job at Griffith Park because she was ‘too melancholy to be around the patients.’ Lower gently but firmly warns Norma Jeane, ‘Well, precious, you may feel I am being severe, but it is not so meant. I love you dearly and you must not feel hurt because of this letter.'”
“Lower was extremely close to Dougherty, and in her letter, she expresses her concern about his joining up and what it means for Norma Jeane’s future. ‘Her welfare of course is uppermost in your thoughts. She is young and really needs to finish her education.’ Her love for the girl reveals itself often: ‘Norma is such a sweet dear girl. Everyone loves her.’ She also expresses gratitude for his caring ways: ‘I am grateful for your kindness to Norma and know she loves you as dearly as you do her.'”
“In 1945, Gladys went to Portland to attempt to live on her own with the help of her aunt, Dora. She had been living in institutions for 9 years, and the hope was that she would be able to care for herself. She writes of her transition: ‘I’ve only been here a few days [and] I am just getting acclimated to it. I’m taking it easy for a while.’ Gladys’ letter to Norma Jeane is surprisingly lucid and sweet. She is happy that Norma Jeane is married and hopes to meet her husband, James Dougherty (who was in the Merchant Marine at the time). She writes, ‘Seems only yesterday that you were just a wee tott [sic] & now you are married. I know you are very happy & perhaps some time soon I’ll see you.’ Norma Jeane was elated and eventually went to visit her with photographer Andre de Dienes. After leaving Portland, Gladys returned to Los Angeles and lived with Norma Jeane briefly but was ultimately forced to return to institutional life.”
“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane Dougherty was establishing residency in Las Vegas in order to divorce her first husband, James Dougherty, who was in the Merchant Marine at the time. She had begun a love affair with photographer Andre de Dienes, one that was much more serious than previously thought. In her letters, Ana Lower, who was the most loving adult figure in Norma Jeane’s life, remarks on the reactions she receives when she shows friends Norma Jeane’s photographs: ‘Everyone thinks your pictures are lovely, and I tell them not half so lovely as you really are.’ As she is traveling during the writing of these letters, Lower describes her experiences, most notably her visit with Norma Jeane’s amour, de Dienes. She found him both lovable and ‘temperamental, as most artists are.’ In her closing paragraph, she writes of Andre: ‘I kissed your sweetheart good-bye and I will love him, too–we joked about my being his mother-in-law. I do hope Jimmie [Norma Jeane’s soon-to-be ex-husband, whom Ana adored] is not too hurt by all this.'”
“Grace reveals that her aunt, Ana Lower, who was also a loving caregiver to Norma Jeane, is too easy on Dougherty: ‘I know what a softie [Aunt Ana] is toward any male, old or young, who makes a fuss over her. As for me, Doc [Grace’s husband], and all the rest of us, we look at situations through eyes of love for you, justice, and repayment for you being such an angel all your life. You deserve more than Jimmy is capable of giving you.’ In closing, she makes a veiled reference to Norma Jeane’s relationship with photographer Andre de Dienes and writes, ‘Of course no one but Doc and me know of your future plans. I am so in hopes you will let your heart rule you this time and not let anything keep you from taking the happiness that is being offered you.'”
“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane was residing in Las Vegas to obtain her divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty. During this time, she was ill, experienced financial difficulties, and was having problems with her car. Goddard’s letter is sympathetic: ‘I am heartsick over you,’ but firm when she scolds, ‘I do wish you had listened to Doc [Goddard’s husband] about your car.’ Additional difficulty arose when Dougherty refused to sign the divorce papers once Norma Jeane was in Las Vegas. Goddard gets a final jab at Dougherty in her closing remarks (even though she arranged their marriage) when she writes, ‘I never did think Jim would keep his promise to sign the papers.'”
“Len Cormier was a young Navy pilot who dated Monroe (then Norma Jeane Dougherty) shortly after she divorced her first husband in 1946. They had at least 2 dates: one at Tommy Dorsey’s Casino Gardens in Santa Monica, and one where he took her flying (the only civilian he ever took up in a plane, he later recalled). In his letter from training camp, he writes, ‘I’ll have to admit that I don’t leave your picture out all the time, since nobody would get any work done if it were.’ He relays his experiences with flight operations and traveling, and ends his letter with a thoughtful message to his career-oriented friend: ‘I’ve still got my fingers crossed, hoping that all the breaks in the world come to you.'”
“Comprising a partial Autograph Letter Signed (‘Aunt Ana’), c.1947, to Marilyn Monroe, on plain stationery, discussing Christian Science. Together with 9 holiday cards, including a congratulatory wedding card celebrating her marriage to James Dougherty in which she writes, ‘To my dear / girl and boy / Love / Aunt Ana.'”
“Until these letters, little was known about film star Howard Keel’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe except that they had dated a few times. Keel had originally met Norma Jeane when she was 15 years old, as he relays in his letter: ‘I had quite a liking for you deep down inside but being a ripe old 22 or so I felt I was a little old for you.’ He is thrilled that they have reconnected and has a good laugh at seeing her crowned as ‘The Artichoke Queen’ in a publicity stunt. At some point between letters, the two got together, and Keel expresses his disappointment at not being able to see more of Monroe: ‘When I come home in June we’ll have to have some fun & find out what there is between us.’ Obviously, nothing came of the relationship, but Keel has sweet words about their reunion when he writes, ‘It was wonderful to find you the same sweet person I knew before.'”
“Lower refers to Marilyn (who is now no longer called Norma Jeane, even by her family), as she writes: ‘I am glad the clothes can be used. Marilyn will probably have more later.’ Marilyn often gave her clothes to Berniece when she was finished with them. Lower closes the letter with, ‘All is well with me and with Marilyn’s career.’ Ana Lower would die 4 days after this letter was written.”
“At the time of his letters to Marilyn, she had just signed a 6-month contract with Columbia Pictures, a major breakthrough in her career, which Schenck addresses: ‘I hope you will get your chance at Col and make good.’ Several months later, he writes, ‘Am very pleased to know you have a good part in a picture. Stick to your work and you will make good. Make your career your first consideration.’ Schenck either had a sense of humor or spelling problems, as he incorrectly spells Monroe’s name twice, writing both ‘Maryline’ and ‘Marrylene’ in his salutations!”
“Kazan and Arthur Miller called Monroe ‘Miss Bauer’ based on a prank they played on Columbia boss Harry Cohn in which Monroe posed as a secretary by that name. Two of the Kazan telegrams allude to this pseudonym, with one signed ‘Bauer’ and the other signed simply ‘B.’ Though Monroe had affection for Kazan, she fell hard for Miller and the Kazan relationship fizzled out. From his messages, however, it appears that they were close: ‘Darling Just sit tight where you are and I’ll call for you about nine thirty.'”
“Ross was a writer for Parade magazine whose brother, photographer Ben Ross, had photographed Monroe several times. Sid Ross fell head over heels in love with Monroe, who appears not to have returned his affection (or many of his letters, since his enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope for her convenience is still attached to his letter)! His letters are lyrical, poetic, and beautifully written, and he is clearly besotted: ‘The sheer joy of watching you–as you talk & sometimes crinkle up your brow … the sometimes pain in your voice and glance and gestures … the intensity that stirs not only you, but others.’ In April of 1952, Ross received a ‘Dear John’ letter from Monroe that he declared was ‘a blow. A terrific blow. It made me feel that the end of the world had come for me.’ He is clearly heartbroken and devastated. Interestingly, Ross closes one of his letters, ‘You may never be a “great” actress possibly but you’ll always be a so very beautiful girl…,’ a statement which may have been the very reason Monroe broke things off with Sid Ross.”
“Grace Goddard is clearly at the end of her rope, having spent the last 20 years trying to take care of Baker, and her exhaustion is palpable: ‘I have always loved her and her child, but I have a very bad heart condition brought on by a stroke caused by Gladys in Feb 1950. I have tried too many years to help her and I can no longer have her in my home.'”
UPDATE: Marilyn’s letter from Gladys sold for $2,750; and two letters from Ana (1942-46) sold for $2,500.
Mercer Vine, the brokerage firm whose listings included the Holmby Hills estate where Fox mogul Joe Schenck once lived, and Marilyn’s last home in Brentwood, has closed after its financier, Robert H. Shapiro, was recently implicated in a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, as Peter Kiefer writes for the Hollywood Reporter. (Schenck befriended Marilyn in the late 1940s, and she sometimes stayed in his guest cottage. Milton Greene also photographed her in Schenck’s mansion, known today as Owlwood. The article gives no further details on Marilyn’s home at Fifth Helena Drive, which was sold for $7.25 million in 2017.)
“Two years. That’s all it took for luxury brokerage firm Mercer Vine to establish itself as a major player in L.A.’s cutthroat luxury real estate market. Eight-figure listings. Pedigreed listings like Marilyn Monroe’s former home in Brentwood.
Just months after it launched in 2016, Mercer Vine grabbed headlines for representing Shapiro in the $90 million purchase of the Owlwood Estate, a 12,200-square-foot property at 141 South Carolwood Drive, which once was owned by Tony Curtis and later by Sonny and Cher. At the time, it was the second priciest residential sale in L.A. history behind the Playboy Mansion. What was even more astounding was when Shapiro and Mercer Vine relisted Owlwood a mere nine months later for $180 million without having done a single lick of work on the estate.”
This 1956 photo of Marilyn hugging a copy of the ancient Greek statue, ‘The Discus Thrower’, at Joe Schenck’s Beverly Hills home can be seen in the sumptuous new Milton Greene book, The Essential Marilyn Monroe. It also appears in The Women, a pop-up exhibition at the new Assouline bookstore in the Royal Poinciana Plaza, organised by gallery owner James Danziger and on display from January 12-16, reports the Palm Beach Daily News.
Following recent allegations of sexual harassment and assault against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, I’ve been thinking of Marilyn’s own experiences among the Hollywood ‘wolves’. (Incidentally, Weinstein produced the 2011 biopic, My Week With Marilyn.)
‘I met them all,’ Marilyn stated in her 1954 memoir, My Story. ‘Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes – an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.’
My Story was written with Ben Hecht, who may be responsible for some of the more elaborate metaphors, but he insisted it was true to the spirit of what Marilyn told him. It remained unpublished until long after her death, perhaps because it was too controversial.
When British writer W J Weatherby asked her whether the stories about the casting couch were true, Marilyn responded: ‘They can be. You can’t sleep your way into being a star, though. It takes much, much more. But it helps. A lot of actresses get their first chance that way. Most of the men are such horrors, they deserve all they can get out of them!’
This conversation also remained private during her lifetime. Sadly, Marilyn has been retrospectively punished for her outspokenness, with tales of her supposed promiscuity circulating to this day. Even film critic Mick LaSalle, who once defended her against lurid allegations by Tony Curtis, wrote this week, ‘Ever hear of Marilyn Monroe? Of course you have. Well, she said no to very few people.’
Her relationship with agent Johnny Hyde is well-known, and some believe her friendship with movie mogul Joe Schenck was more than platonic. But the rumours of her being a glorified call-girl are utterly baseless. Several men who dated Marilyn remember her being so cautious that she wouldn’t kiss them goodnight.
Perhaps one of the most important stories relating to Marilyn and the Hollywood ‘wolves’ is her refusal to spend a weekend alone with Columbia boss Harry Cohn on his yacht while she was under contract to him in 1948. He was furious, and quickly fired her. The story is almost identical to some of the allegations being made today.
Among the many stories making the rounds lately comes from actress Gretchen Mol, who was rumoured to have been promoted by Weinstein in exchange for sexual favours. In fact, she has never been alone with him, and yet this false rumour has unjustly tarnished her reputation.
Her story reminded me a lot of Marilyn, who has been endlessly ‘slut-shamed’ simply for being honest and open about her sexuality. In January 1953, she approved a story for Motion Picture magazine which is illuminating about the harassment she experienced – I have posted it below, courtesy of the Everlasting Star boards (please click on the files below to enlarge.)
What strikes me as sad is that she almost seemed to accept it as an occupational hazard. Let’s hope that the buck won’t stop with Mr Weinstein, and that real changes will be made. Sexual exploitation is not unique to Hollywood, and until people stop blaming the victims, predators will continue to thrive.
The former home of movie mogul Joe Schenck is rumoured to be up for sale – for $150 million, reports The Real Estalker. During the late 1940s, a young Marilyn often stayed in the guesthouse. (She always maintained that their friendship was platonic.)
“The sprawling Holmby Hills spread, set between Sunset Boulevard and the famously clannish Los Angeles Country Club, has over the years been owned by a long list of high profile people…
We can’t be sure the figures are accurate, but the Los Angeles County Tax Man show the house has 9 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms and a two-minute video made when Owlwood was for sale in the late 1990s and early 2000s states the multi-winged mansion encompasses 22 rooms including a baronial, 1,500 square foot living room with solid oak paneling and marble-faced fireplace…
Each of the three separate but adjacent parcels that make up Owlwood at one time had a substantial mansion on it. Two of them were torn down. The last mansion standing on the hoity-toity Holmby Hills homestead is a 12,000-plus square foot Italian Renaissance-style pile (vintage photo above) designed by accomplished architect Robert Farquhar and built in 1936 for Florence Quinn, the ex-wife of department store magnate and real estate mogul Arthur Letts Jr.
The property was later owned by hotelier Joseph Drown—he of the recently re-vamped Hotel Bel-Air—and Tinseltown mover and shaker Joseph Schenck—founder of 20th Century Fox.”
As a starlet, Marilyn Monroe visited Schenck’s home frequently, and according to columnist Sheilah Graham, she became known as one of his ‘gin rummy girls’. Schenck even allowed her the use of his guest cottage.
Gross asserts that Marilyn and Schenck had a mutually beneficial affair, as other biographers have done previously. However, Marilyn and Schenck both denied it, as did friends of MM. One thing is for certain – Schenck liked Marilyn and was an early champion in her career. She last visited him in hospital in 1960, a year before he died.
Schenck sold his Carolwood home to Tony Curtis in the late 1950s. Curtis, who starred alongside Marilyn in Some Like it Hot, has claimed an affair with her dating back to the 1940s. His stories have been widely disputed, and this later residence may explain some of the details he gave about the guest cottage.
Subsequent occupants of the Carolwood estate have included Sonny and Cher. Though Marilyn frequented many such grand properties in her lifetime, her own addresses were comparatively modest.