Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

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.

Documentary Rehashes Marilyn UFO Rumour

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962

Unacknowleged, a new documentary about UFOs written and directed by Michael Mazzola, rehashes a very old rumour: that the Kennedys ordered Marilyn’s death because she threatened to tell the secrets she knew about an alleged UFO incident at Roswell, New Mexico. You can view a clip here.

This 2011 article by Nick Redfern for the Mysterious Universe website sums up an outlandish, and (in my opinion) highly improbable conspiracy theory.

“By far the most controversial piece of unauthenticated documentation pertaining to UFOs concerns none other than the late Hollywood legend, Marilyn Monroe. It was during a press conference in 1995 that Milo Speriglio – an investigative author now deceased, who wrote three books on Monroe’s death: The Marilyn Conspiracy; Marilyn Monroe: Murder Cover-Up; and Crypt 33: The Saga of Marilyn Monroe – revealed the document to the world’s press.

Incredibly, according to the document, which surfaced via a California-based researcher of UFOs named Timothy Cooper, President John F. Kennedy had guardedly informed Monroe that he had secret knowledge of the controversial incident at Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947. As a result of Kennedy’s revelations to Monroe, the CIA took keen note of any and all developments as the story progressed. Or, at least, that is what we are led to believe, and what the document implies.

The bulk of the contents of the document are focused upon telephone conversations between Howard Rothberg, the former owner of a New York-based antique store, and Dorothy Kilgallen, the well-known celebrity gossip columnist of the 1950s and 1960s, who was herself the subject of a secret 167-page FBI file.

According to Speriglio: ‘[Rothberg] also dealt with a lot of photographers who used to film Marilyn. He got a lot of information about her from them, and he would feed it to Dorothy Kilgallen.’ Interestingly, Speriglio also revealed that the document was the subject of an investigation that was being undertaken by no less than ‘two federal agencies.’ To date, however, the names of those specific agencies have not been revealed.

When the document surfaced, Vicki Ecker, then the editor of UFO Magazine, said: ‘To put it succinctly, the document suggests that on the day she died, Monroe was going to hold her own press conference, where she was planning to spill the beans about, amongst other things, JFK’s secret knowledge of UFOs and dead aliens.’

Indeed, the document, ominously dated only two days before Monroe’s controversial death on August 5, 1962, tells the whole, remarkable story. Notably, at the top of the page it clearly states: ‘References: MOON DUST, Project’ (which was a genuine U.S. operation designed to capture, understand, and exploit overseas advanced technologies, such as Soviet spy-satellites.)

But, with all that said, where are things at today with respect to this most curious and extremely controversial document? Well, Tim Cooper left the UFO scene years ago, and has utterly washed his hands of the document – as well as many other questionable documents on crashed UFOs that he secured from Deep Throat-type sources in the 1990s.

And the CIA? The Agency officially denies having any files, at all, on the Hollywood hotty – despite the ironic fact that the very first document in the FBI’s ‘Monroe File’ was copied to the CIA! As for the players in the saga, they’re all gone to their graves.”

Raising the Dead: Marilyn, JFK and the Enquirer

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Last week, ES Updates reported on a Daily Mail story concerning a group of candid photos taken by Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull, showing Marilyn during test shots for The Misfits, and the rather spurious claim by Las Vegas croupier Tony Michaels, a former acquaintance of the late Ms Hull who purchased the photos at Julien’s Auctions last November, that Marilyn was carrying Yves Montand’s child.

As I explained last week, no pregnancy at this time has ever been noted, and there are numerous similar photos of Marilyn with a slightly prominent tummy over the years. Therefore, there is no reason to believe she was pregnant. At the time, I wondered whether this would qualify as the silliest Marilyn-related story of the year – but only days later, the US-based National Enquirer went one step further, claiming John F. Kennedy was the father, and that Marilyn had an abortion (presumably at his behest.)

Many moons ago, I would buy the Enquirer for a cheap laugh, fully aware that most of their stories were probably untrue. In this age of viral news, however, the damage done by unfounded gossip cannot be so easily dismissed.

The front cover image depicting Marilyn with Kennedy appears to be a digital manipulation. There is only one verified image showing them together, after his birthday gala in May 1962. There is no evidence of the pair having met before late 1961 or early ’62, and Frieda Hull’s photos of Marilyn were taken in July 1960.

Could it be possible that the Enquirer‘s editors decided that Montand was not quite famous enough for their readership, and reverted to the more familiar rumours about Marilyn and the former president instead? Their rather crude red circling of Marilyn’s tummy shows how innocuous her alleged ‘baby bump’ really was.

Whatever the truth of Marilyn’s relationship with John F. Kennedy, this story is plainly absurd. While both ‘victims’ are long dead, their reputations are still being sullied today. What makes this all the more sad, for those who care, is the knowledge that Marilyn desperately wanted children but, after several miscarriages and failed operations to relieve her chronic endometriosis, would never have a baby of her own.

David Thomson on Marilyn, JFK and THAT Dress

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Film critic David Thomson is not Marilyn’s biggest fan. “Monroe wasn’t a serious actress,” he once wrote. “I don’t think she could really carry more than a line or two at a time.” Nonetheless, he seems drawn to her image, having penned a snarky introduction to Marilyn Monroe: A Life in Pictures (2007.) In anticipation of the November 16 auction at Julien’s, Thomson has written another gossipy article for The Guardian about the Jean Louis dress worn by Marilyn as she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. (You can see a gallery of fans posing with the dress over at Immortal Marilyn.)

“You can say that only demonstrates her victimhood and makes her wishing more wistful. But then you have to see the plain delight with which she did these preposterous things, these moments, as if she could not resist or do without the comfort that came with the gasps and the whistles at Madison Square Garden when she came into the platinum light, shrugged off her wrap and stood there, with her massed blonde waves jutting off to one side, like the control on tower an aircraft carrier, in a dress that could have been painted on her. And she did not seem like the hesitant neurotic of fame and constant lateness when she broke into the birthday song. Just take a look. She seems happy, and an actress is hired to give us some sort of good feeling. This is maybe her greatest moment – the most reckless – and she knows it, even if the summer of 1962 is her hell.”

UPDATE: The ‘Happy Birthday’ dress was sold at Julien’s for $4.8 million on November 16, 2016, making it the most lucrative dress in auction history. The buyer is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, who plan to showcase the dress in future exhibitions. Read a full report from Scott Fortner on his MM Collection Blog.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Happy Birthday Mr President

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The ‘nude’ beaded dress worn by Marilyn as she sang ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962 will be auctioned at Julien’s next month, with bids starting at $1 million. There are also several other items on offer from the historic gala, including Marilyn’s own ticket and program.

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Legendary costume designer Bob Mackie began his career as a sketch artist for Jean Louis, and his drawings of Marilyn’s dress are also up for sale. At the time of his first attempt, Mackie didn’t know who the dress was for (although he was already working with Jean Louis on Marilyn’s costumes for Something’s Got to Give.)

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Five colour photos from the collection of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull, and an eight-minute film comprised of clips from the night’s entertainment, take us back to the events of 1962.

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Illustrator LeRoy Neiman captured Marilyn’s unforgettable performance in art.

E1D9E973-EEE9-4F5F-A0D4-B3E6DAAAE45D-9504-000005C0FA06B634_tmpProducer Clive David kept a commemorative tile signed by various stars in attendance, including Marilyn, Ella Fitzgerald, Jack Benny and Maria Callas. It would be Marilyn’s last major public appearance, triggering over fifty years of rampant speculation.

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UPDATE: The ‘Happy Birthday’ dress was sold at Julien’s for $4.8 million on November 16, 2016, making it the most lucrative dress in auction history. The buyer is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, who plan to showcase the dress in future exhibitions. Read a full report from Scott Fortner on his MM Collection Blog.

Gretchen Mol: Starting Out With Marilyn

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Gretchen Mol, who starred in The Notorious Bettie Page and TV’s Boardwalk Empire, has talked about her early days as an aspiring actress in an interview with  Backstage.

“I remember when I took my résumé into William Morris Agency and they kind of snickered at my special skills section. Like, ‘We gotta get rid of this.’ The one that did get me my first summer stock job was I had ‘Marilyn Monroe impersonation,’ and a director said, ‘Can you sing your song as Marilyn Monroe?’ It was ‘Unusual Way,’ from Nine. I did it. I really did not have the impersonation down that well. [Laughs.] I didn’t expect to be called out on it! I remember when I walked out he said, ‘You aren’t afraid and that’s gonna really help you in this business.’ Along the way, you need people to believe in you or see something in you and then tell you, so you feel you’re on the right track. Those kinds of moments are so important when you’re starting out. And I remember that so well, walking out thinking, Whether I get that job or not, I feel like it couldn’t have gone better.”

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Gretchen was also (albeit inaccurately) compared to Marilyn after playing a woman involved with John F. Kennedy in An American Affair (2009.)

“Her first, semi-nude scene in An American Affair is reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic photo shoot with Bert Stern in 1962, taken shortly before her death, a year before this story begins. Monroe was also alleged to have been a lover of John F. Kennedy, and even played a similarly-named character, Claudia Caswell, in All About Eve (1950.)

Blonde, free-spirited and sexy, with a messy love life – it would be easy to assume that Catherine Caswell is a version of Monroe herself. However, the resemblance is only skin-deep. Monroe’s dalliance with Kennedy has long been the subject of gossip, but the truth of the matter is still uncertain.

After further investigation into Kennedy’s many extra-marital affairs, it becomes clear that Catherine Caswell is more closely modelled on another of his mistresses, Mary Pinchot Meyer …. Meyer was smart, liberal and probably one of the few women whom Kennedy treated as an intellectual equal. They met at least thirty times, and their relationship is generally considered to be one of the most significant in Kennedy’s fast-paced life.”

Publicist Shares Tales of Marilyn

Marilyn arrives in London, 1956
Marilyn arrives in London, 1956

Charles Foster, a former Hollywood publicist, has just published his memoir, CBC reports. Mr Foster claims to have accompanied Marilyn to England in 1956, for the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl. I must confess to not having heard of him before, but as Marilyn’s own publicist, Arthur P. Jacobs, also came to England with her, perhaps Mr Foster was working for him in some capacity.

From Old Hollywood to New Brunswick: Memories of a Wonderful Life includes a chapter entitled ‘Smuggling Marilyn Into London’.  This is rather curious, as Marilyn actually arrived in London amid a blaze of publicity, and immediately embarked on a series of press conferences.

Foster’s memories of Marilyn are frankly, a little hard to believe, and seem remarkably similar to My Week With Marilyn author Colin Clark (whose lively account has also been disputed. )They include plenty of star temperament, not to mention some minor nudity with just a dash of Chanel No. 5. But Foster goes one better than Clark with the allegation that he introduced Marilyn to John F. Kennedy.

The proof is in the pudding as they say, so if you’ve read Mr Foster’s book, don’t hesitate to comment!

San Francisco Remembers Marilyn

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Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1960

The San Francisco Chronicle has reposted their front page from August 18, 1962, in which news of Coroner Theodore Curphey’s report on Marilyn’s recent death shared space with a story about President John F. Kennedy, who was visiting California as work on the San Luis Reservoir commenced. (Click on the photo below to enlarge.)

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“In Hollywood, gloom still hung over the film industry two weeks after Monroe’s death.

‘Monroe’s will was filed for probate yesterday in New York,’ the story read. ‘The actress, reported by many … to be virtually broke, left an estate estimated to be more than a half-million dollars.’

‘A short while later, in Los Angeles, Coroner Theodore Curphey officially ruled that Miss Monroe’s sleeping pill death Aug. 4 or 5 was a probable suicide.’

Whether the glamour icon killed herself was never proved beyond a doubt, but her impact on pop culture remains unquestionable.”

54 Years Ago: Diahann Carroll Remembers Marilyn

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Marilyn looks on as Diahann Carroll sings for the president, 1962

Although Marilyn’s performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962 – fifty-four years ago today – has become legend, she wasn’t the only star that evening. Diahann Carroll, who sang at the gala’s after-party in the home of campaigner Mac Krim, recalled the occasion in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, reports the Huffington Post.

‘It was a very exciting night. Everybody in the world was there,’ Diahann remembered. ‘Marilyn was hysterical, but very good. It was good to watch her at work. I think we all enjoyed it.’ As for Kennedy, ‘he was extremely pleasant,’ she said. ‘He was a very entitled human being, but you had to forgive him for that.’

Diahann Caroll was previously interviewed by J. Randy Taraborrelli for his 2009 book, The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, telling him of her first encounter with MM in 1960, while singing at the Mocambo Club in Los Angeles. Diahann was then pregnant with her daughter Suzanne, and knew of Marilyn’s struggle to have children. “I took her hand and put it on my stomach and said, ‘You pat right there, sweetheart, and say a prayer and a wish, and I hope with all my heart that your dream comes true.’ She looked at me with tears in her eye, and said, ‘Oh, I do, too. I do, too.'”

They met again in Mac Krim’s apartment in 1962. ‘It’s certainly her beauty I remember most,’ she told Taraborrelli. ‘As I sang, I distinctly remember being somewhat distracted by her gaze. Her tragic beauty, so vulnerable … so lost.’

L.A. Artists on Death, JFK … and Marilyn

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In Los Angeles, artists are exploring the death of John F. Kennedy and the women in his life, reports VICE. Perhaps inevitably, Marilyn is a featured subject, although in truth her connection to JFK may be more mythical than real – and after all, she died more than a year before him.

“Painter Rosson Crow’s first foray into filmmaking, for example, is Madame Psychosis Holds a Séance, now on view at LA’s Honor Fraser Gallery through December 19 … Starring Kelly Lynch as a slightly worse-for-the-wear 60s-era singer whose fragile, careworn platinum blonde, red-lipsticked beauty deliberately evokes latter-day Marilyn Monroe, the film shows the existential meltdown of Madame Psychosis upon hearing the news of the death through TV and newspaper. She moves with an awkward, dream-logic elegance through the stages of grief, chain-smoking at Ouija boards, the phonecalls to prove he loved her in real life not only her imagination, the gorgeous, taunting mountain of roses delivered to his widow rather than her own lonely bungalow, that bury her in a nightmare, the creeping in of self-doubt, the descent into madness.”

Meanwhile, cult performance artist Karen Finley has referenced Marilyn in her new show, Love Field (named after the Dallas airport where Kennedy touched down on the day of his murder.) Finley was inspired by Bert Stern’s 1962 photos of Marilyn in a black wig. The images have since been interpreted as a cheeky impersonation of the first lady, Jackie Kennedy – however, there is no evidence that Marilyn intended it as such.

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“Visual, performance, and literary icon of punk-wave feminism Karen Finley was also in LA around the anniversary of the assassination, for both the opening of her painting and drawing show Love Field at Coagula Curatorial, as well as the coinciding inauguration of the Broad Museum’s performance art programs with her seminal work, The Jackie Look … In the Love Field show, Finley brings together paintings and drawings from diverse but interrelated series examining the public rituals Jackie was forced to endure during what ought to have been a time of private grieving … and always, somewhere, the equally haunting phantom of Marilyn Monroe.”

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962
Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962