Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

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

Marilyn, JFK and a Literary Hoax

jfkmmOn Salon.com today, an extract from Melissa Katsoulis’ book, Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds, explores the Cusack Papers, which purportedly offered definitive proof of an affair between Marilyn and President John F. Kennedy.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Seymour Hersh studied the Cusack Papers while writing his 1997 book, The Dark Side of Camelot, only to discover they were fake.

“It was in the mid-1990s that Lex Cusack, the son of an attorney who had worked for the Catholic archdiocese of New York, came forward with his revelatory stash of papers. Those papers, which he claimed to have found among his late father’s belongings, revealed that Lex Senior had been none other than Kennedy’s secret legal advisor and the documents were, without a doubt, absolutely the most inflammatory things anyone with an interest in JFK (i.e., just about everyone) could hope to read. They detailed, both in the form of legal contracts and tear-stained love-letters from a certain ‘Happy Birthday’-singing film star, the full extent of the mess the thirty-fifth president had found himself in shortly before his murder in 1963. He was a bigamist. He had been having an affair with Marilyn Monroe and had paid her a large sum of money to keep quiet about his bigamy, their affair and – perhaps worst of all – his connections with the notorious mobster Sam Giancana and various other underworld figures. And he was afraid that J. Edgar Hoover was on to him and his game would very soon be up.

These three scandals had been the stuff of rumour and gossip ever since the mid-sixties but until Lex Cusack came forward with his father’s letters there had been no material proof of them whatsoever.

In 1985, Lex’s well known father Lawrence X. Cusack had died, leaving the big names in New York’s Catholic community bereft of one of their most trusted legal aides … In the immediate aftermath of his death, the Manhattan law firm of which he was a founding partner, Cusack & Stiles, instructed one of their clerks, who also happened to be his son Lex, to sort through the thousands of papers left behind in Lawrence’s office. Amongst these papers were, Lex would claim, the 300 or so which revealed the close advisory relationship, hitherto unknown to anyone, between Cusack and Kennedy. Cusack characterized his father as an all-knowing ‘Holmes’ figure to the troubled president, and this special partnership contained such damning evidence as a trust agreement committing Kennedy to paying for Monroe’s mother’s healthcare in return for Marilyn keeping quiet about all she knew of the president’s underworld connections and illegal marriage.

Even before Hersh lent his good name to the project, however, Cusack had sold several of the letters to private collectors … Letters such as the one in which Kennedy refers to ‘MM’, with her dangerous knowledge about his private life, needing to be sorted out even pointed to the popular conspiracy theory that Marilyn had been murdered by government agents trying to cover up a scandal. And another note, suggesting that just before her demise Marilyn was about to call a news conference and tell-all about the president who had broken her heart, only fueled the rumours further.

Sy Hersh, who had now used his access to Cusack’s papers to increase his book advance by several hundred thousand pounds, was as much of a Kennedy enthusiast as the next American … Hersh knew full well that hoaxers frequently turn out to have left a trail of mis-truths and self-aggrandizing lies, and eventually he had to admit he had been conned. In 1999 Lex was imprisoned for ten years for defrauding his buyers of a total of $7,000,000.”

RUMOUR: Did Sinatra Propose to Marilyn?

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This year marks the centenary of another man in Marilyn’s life: Frank Sinatra. The anniversary is being marked by a slew of publications, including Sinatra: The Chairman. Second in a biographical series by James Kaplan, this tome is 992 pages long, and has been previewed in the New York Daily News.

“During Sinatra’s dalliance with Monroe, there are conflicting reports as to who wanted it more. Kaplan sides with Milt Ebbins, a talent manager, who claimed, ‘There was no doubt that Frank was in love with Marilyn.’

‘Yeah, Frank wanted to marry the broad,’ Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s chief henchman, said. ‘He asked her and she said no.'”

However, Kaplan’s claim that Frank wanted to marry MM – ‘to save her from herself’ – is nothing new. J. Randy Taraborrelli previously suggested this in his 1997 book, Sinatra: The Man Behind the Myth. Kaplan also speculates that others believed the opposite – that it was Marilyn who pursued Frank – but the sources for this allegation are not named in the article.

In his 1992 biography of MM, Donald Spoto argues that Frank was ‘apparently the more smitten’ in their on-off romance. Milton Ebbins told Spoto that in 1961, Sinatra failed to show up for lunch with President Kennedy at Peter Lawford’s home, because Marilyn – who was briefly Sinatra’s house-guest in Los Angeles – had gone out without telling him.

‘It wasn’t worry for her safety,’ Ebbins recalled, ‘he was just that jealous of her whereabouts! To hell with the president’s lunch!’

Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958
Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958

In Sinatra: The Chairman, Kaplan repeats the long-held assertion that the romance ended after Marilyn grew closer to her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. This led to a rift between Joe and Frank, ending a long friendship. However, Marilyn told reporters that there was ‘no spark to be rekindled’ with DiMaggio.

After Marilyn died, Frank was furious that Joe did not invite him to the funeral. Kaplan reiterates the long-held rumour that Sinatra – along with the Lawfords, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Mitzi Gaynor – were turned away from the ceremony. However, contemporary news reports did not mention this at all.

So did Sinatra propose to Marilyn? Based on all available evidence, I think not. Although Frank may have entertained thoughts of marriage, I don’t believe Marilyn was ready to commit herself. And after his failed marriage to another Hollywood beauty – Ava Gardner – I suspect he wasn’t about to risk more heartache.

Perhaps the last word should go to legendary columnist Liz Smith, who knew Sinatra well:

“I would take issue with some of Kaplan’s observations about Ava Gardner and particularly Marilyn Monroe — believe me, if Sinatra really proposed to MM and she refused him, it wasn’t because she was ‘saving’ herself for re-marriage to Joe DiMaggio. But in the face of the rest of this compelling book, that’s real nit-picking.”

Marilyn, JFK and the Mythmakers

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Over at Buzzfeed today, Immortal Marilyn’s Marijane Gray debunks some of the rumours about Marilyn and President John F. Kennedy.

“Because of Robert Slatzer, who kept selling ever more lurid tales to the tabloids, the myth of the actress and the President has snowballed out of control and has been repeated so often that the general public just accepts it as fact even though it’s fabricated.

The image of Marilyn that is projected through this tabloid lens is not that Marilyn that her fans know and admire. She is portrayed as a a needy, clingy, pathetic, vindictive woman who was utterly delusional….and that’s not who she was at all…

Look for proof. Learn who in Marilyn’s life was a credible source and who was not. Don’t repeat something as if it’s true because you maybe sort of heard it somewhere one time. Get comfortable with the idea that something you were certain was true just might not be.”

Marilyn Conspiracy Hoax Goes Viral

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Marilyn by Andre de Dienes

Occasionally, a rumour is spread about Marilyn that is so idiotic, it surprises even me. Most shocking of all is when large numbers of people believe these rumours. Usually, it’s something ridiculous – but when the subject is Marilyn’s death,  the joke becomes a little stale.

In ‘The Seven Year Snitch’, myth-busting website Snopes.com reports on a fake story posted by spoof news site World Daily News Report on March 25. Headlined ‘Retired CIA Agent Confesses on Deathbed: I Killed Marilyn Monroe’, the article purports to reveal that a 78 year-old man, Normand Hodges, claimed to have conducted 37 assassinations on behalf of the American government during his 41-year tenure at the Central Intelligence Agency. One of his victims, it is said, was Marilyn Monroe – whom Hodges described as a security threat, due to her affairs with both President John F. Kennedy and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

In fact, Marilyn never met Castro, and her supposed ‘affair’ with Kennedy, while now taken for granted by many, has been wildly exaggerated.

Furthermore, a photo of a dying man which accompanies the article – identified as Hodges – was actually of another man, Michael Tyrell, and was originally used to illustrate an article published in The Guardian on November 9, 2013, about the controversial UK practice of chaining sick prisoners to their beds.

It’s at this point that this parody becomes rather less amusing. Is it fair that a highly disturbing picture of a dying man should be appropriated in this way?

However, the satirical piece was then reblogged by a minor celebrity, Bam Margera – best known for his appearances in the MTV series, Jackass, which ended in 2002. It’s unclear whether Margera was duped by the story himself, but he made no reference to it being a prank – adding his own, ill-informed opinion that Marilyn Monroe was ‘easy’ and a ‘train wreck’.

Satire works best when it uncovers hidden truths. This story, however, merely reiterates decades of half-baked fantasies circulated about Marilyn. Not only has her tragic death been exploited for a sick, dirty joke – but the suffering of another, entirely unconnected individual has been dragged into it.

Who benefits from all this? Certainly not the unsuspecting fans misled and distressed by the story. All that has transpired is that a rather lame parody has got far more attention than it deserves, and a washed-up TV star has jumped on the bandwagon.

How long will it be, I wonder, until some unscrupulous author adds this latest ‘theory’ to the history books?

Fact-Checking Marilyn’s Past Lovers

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In another great Buzzfeed article, Immortal Marilyn’s Marijane Gray examines some of the sketchier rumours about MM’s private life.

Did Marilyn Start the Sexual Revolution?

Bert Stern, 1962
Bert Stern, 1962

A rather provocative article, headlined ‘Marilyn Monroe Started Sexual Revolution’, has appeared at The Inqisitr. It’s an interesting proposal, but unfortunately the content is somewhat ill-informed.

Firstly, none of the quotes attributed to Marilyn can be substantiated. They are all quotes which have only appeared online in recent years. None of them can be traced back to an interview or reputable biography.

Here’s a better example, from her last interview in 1962:

“I think that sexuality is only attractive when it’s natural and spontaneous. This is where a lot of them miss the boat. And then something I’d just like to spout off on. We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift. Art, real art, comes from it, everything.”

Secondly, Marilyn’s much-vaunted ‘affair’ with John F. Kennedy has been wildly exaggerated. The best evidence suggests that it was at most a weekend fling. And her last phonecall was not to JFK.

In private, Marilyn was perhaps more sexually liberated than most women were generally in her lifetime. But among other Hollywood stars, she wasn’t especially promiscuous.

Where she was arguably more radical is in how she expressed her sexuality in public life. The Inquisitr rightly states the revelation of her nude calendar, and Marilyn’s refusal to disown it, as a turning point in her career.

She was America’s greatest post-war sex symbol, which is all the more remarkable since she came to prominence in an era when women’s sexual freedoms were being curtailed.

In her first true star vehicle, Niagara, Marilyn played a ‘femme fatale’ with fierce, threatening sexuality. However, her bosses at Twentieth Century Fox subsequently placed her in comedic, ‘dumb blonde’ roles, in an attempt to neutralise her allure.

Despite being forced to play a stereotype, Marilyn managed to poke fun at her image, presenting sex in a way seldom seen before. Unlike the vamps who preceded her, Marilyn’s sexuality seemed both natural and joyous.

‘Marilyn: Missing Evidence’ on Channel 5

UK television’s Channel 5 will broadcast a new, hour-long documentary – Marilyn Monroe: Missing Evidence – tonight at 8 pm. It is produced by Dan Chambers, the channel’s former Director of Programmes, and David McNab, who has an extensive track record in innovative, CGI-led factual TV. Director Renny Bartlett is best known for his work on the Animal Planet series, I Shouldn’t Be Alive.

The synopsis seems to indicate a theory akin to Donald Wolfe’s in his controversial book, The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, while the claim of recordings made inside Marilyn’s home suggests either detective John Miner’s widely-disputed ‘transcripts’ of tapes made by Marilyn for psychoanalyst Dr Greenson (still not found), or Private Investigator Fred Otash’s unconfirmed allegations of wire-tapping.

At this stage, it’s very unlikely that any new or conclusive evidence will emerge. I remain sceptical, but will give you my verdict after I’ve seen the documentary.

“Investigating the evidence that supports some of the world’s most notorious conspiracy theories. Though she officially committed suicide, some people have long claimed that the FBI, the Mafia and even the Kennedy family may have been involved in Marilyn Monroe’s death. This programme looks at some of these claims, and also reveals the contents of tape recordings made inside Monroe’s house on the fateful day of August 5, 1962, which suggest her psychiatrist may have been responsible for her death, working under pressure from eminent individuals in high places.” Radio Times

UPDATE: You can read Andrea Pryke’s review over at her blog, The Monroe Report.

Myth-Busting: Marilyn and JFK

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Over at Buzzfeed today, there’s a helpful visual guide to some of the more persistent myths (including auction hoaxes and faked photos) about Marilyn’s alleged romance with President John F. Kennedy, and her performance of ‘Happy Birthday’ at Madison Square Garden in 1962.

“The so-called relationship between Marilyn and JFK has taken on a life of it’s own and has spawned a cottage industry of books, newspaper articles, rumours and conjecture. Contrary to what Google or Pinterest will tell you, there are only three photographs of Marilyn and JFK in the same room together. Any other photo purporting to be them is a FAKE.

Contrary to rumour Jackie Kennedy didn’t decide to stay away because of Marilyn’s presence. She didn’t care for these big political fundraisers and had always planned to be participating in a horse show elsewhere.

Rumour has it that Marilyn was drunk and her actions while performing were wildly out of control. Not true. It is also good to remember that this was a political fundraiser for the Democratic party. It wasn’t exactly an intimate dinner. Marilyn was one of many people performing at the fundraiser and she didn’t even close the night.

Marilyn Monroe is probably the most iconic movie actress in the world. She is also the most maligned. Not a month goes by without a lurid story being splashed across the tabloids and the internet. And everyone knows if it’s on the internet it must be true right? Wrong. With a little research (something biographers seem to be lacking) you can uncover the truth.”

When Miss Mizzou Met Marilyn

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In a new book, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics, J.B. Winter explores how, back in 1952, a rising star called Marilyn Monroe was rumoured to have inspired cartoonist Milton Caniff to create Miss Mizzou, a trench-coated blonde bombshell, featured in his popular Steve Canyon adventure series about an Air Force pilot. She became a cult figure, and was even the subject of a lookalike contest, reports CAFNR News.

‘For some time I had been mulling over a girl character who would be what a Marilyn Monroe type might be like if she had not hit the jackpot in Hollywood,’ Caniff once said in an interview. ‘Every college town has girls who live and work on the edge of the campus and who are very much a part of the life of the school,’ Caniff is quoted as saying in a letter to the Missouri Alumnus magazine in 1954.” – Columbia Missourian

According to Wikipedia, the Marilyn connection was confirmed in the May 1953 issue of Pageant magazine, although it was actually actress Bek Nelson-Gordon (nee Stiner) who provided Caniff with a visual model. Another character, Madame Lynx, was based on Madame Egelichi, the spy played by Ilona Massey in the 1949 Marx Brothers swansong, Love Happy, which also featured MM – and Massey also posed for Caniff. ‘Pipper the Piper’, who appeared just once, was modelled on John F. Kennedy.

A cartoonist himself, Winter – who lives in Columbia, Missouri – talked about Miss Mizzou and her local connections in an interview with Move, student magazine of the University of Missouri (or ‘Mizzou’.)

“Winter said he seeks to prove that the Miss Mizzou character was not simply a ‘one-line footnote in local history.’ Though his nonfiction book originally arose from pure curiosity, his research, which included sifting through plenty of microfilm, soon became much bigger.

‘I found out about Miss Mizzou in 2007,’ Winter says. ‘There was a blog post on a comic historian’s website. He just posted a picture or two, not a lot of context. So, I was just like, What is this character? I thought it was just a character who appeared and that was it. I had no idea that there was all this campus interest. That continually surprised me.’

Dirk Burhans, a fellow cartoonist and creator of the Epiffany Jones comic strip, helped Winter with his book by reading early versions and making comments and suggestions. Burhans said he is also familiar with the importance of Caniff in the comic world.

‘Caniff was such a big deal,’ Burhans says. ‘Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon were the archetypal adventure strip that others used as their model. His artwork was characterized by simple lines and strong, confident use of light and shadow.’

Oddly enough, Caniff was not even a Columbia native; he lived mostly in New York City. Caniff only spent 24 hours in Columbia, to give a speech entitled ‘Comic Strips Are Serious Business.’

Those hours must have been serious business for Caniff, because three years later, Miss Mizzou made her seductive grand entrance, dressed only in a golden trench coat.

‘It’s such a strange story,’ Winter says. ‘Caniff only came here for 24 hours and for it to just be such a big thing, it’s just strange.’

The Marilyn Monroe-influenced Miss Mizzou immediately gained popularity. Winter cites numerous reasons for her fame, especially the inspiration behind her character and alumni interest.

‘Initially I think it might have been Marilyn Monroe, the fact that Marilyn Monroe was becoming popular the same time Miss Mizzou was,’ Winter says. ‘When Caniff made that character, I don’t think he realized how big Marilyn Monroe was going to be.

‘You also have alumni interest. Specifically, you have a journalism school. They were interested because they were newspaper people, so they were interested in a newspaper strip.’

Burhans also says Miss Mizzou gained popularity because she wasn’t like any other female comic character.

‘Caniff’s strips cycled through a number of sexy femme fatale characters who had the thick eyelashes and pouty lips. Miss Mizzou does not seem to be one of these, but rather was an ally of Steve Canyon’s,’ Burhans says.”