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

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?