Marilyn’s Jewish prayer book or ‘Siddur’, given to her by Paula Strasberg when she converted to Judaism and married Arthur Miller in 1956, was resold yesterday for $8,750 at J. Greenstein & Co. in Cedarhurst, NY, reports Antiques and the Arts. Originally auctioned at Christie’s in 1999, it was resold for $26,000 at Greenstein’s in November 2018 (see here), before going under the hammer again at a lower price just a year later.
Interestingly, the book was published in 1926, the year of Norma Jeane’s birth; and was first gifted to one Kenneth Wasserman on August 4th, 1934 – Monroe would pass away exactly 28 years later. It seems to have passed through several owners, including a Marilyn Cooper-Smith, nee Miller (1931-2014) who like her famous near-namesake, also received it upon her marriage.
The brass-plated menorah given to Marilyn by Arthur Miller’s parents as a wedding present following her conversion to Judaism in 1956 (see here) was sold at Kestenbaum & Co. Auctioneers in New York yesterday for $90,018, just under the $100-150K estimate.
The menorah candelabra given to Marilyn by Arthur Miller’s parents Isidore and Augusta for their wedding in 1956 will be auctioned at Kestenbaum & Co. in New York next Thursday, November 7, with a guide price of $100,000 – $150,000, CNN reports. Marilyn converted to Judaism shortly before marrying Arthur, and the menorah was still in her possession when she died in 1962, almost two years after their separation.
Originally sold at Christie’s in 1999, the menorah symbolises a lamp carried by Moses during his forty years in the wilderness, as described in the Old Testament. Marilyn’s menorah is brass-plated, with a wind-up mechanism which plays the Israeli national anthem. It was featured in a 2015 exhibition at New York’s Jewish Museum. Another Judaic artefact owned by Marilyn, her siddur prayer book, was sold for $26, 000 at auction in 2018.
UPDATE: Marilyn’s menorah has been sold for $90,018.
Bob Bahr explores Marilyn’s spiritual side in a cover story for the Atlanta Jewish Times (dated August 30.)
“Monroe once told Paula Strasberg, her drama coach at the time, that she felt a special kinship with her newfound faith. ‘I can identify with the Jews,’ she said. ‘Everybody’s out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.’
On the front door of the home where she died, she had affixed a mezuzah with its tiny parchment scroll of sacred Jewish writings. She still had the prayer book with her personal notes written in its pages, a gift from Miller that had once belonged to the Brooklyn synagogue where he had had his bar mitzvah. On her mantle she kept a bronze menorah, which played ‘Hatikvah,’ the national anthem of the State of Israel. It was a present from Miller’s Yiddish-speaking mother.
Rabbi Robert Goldburg had worked with her during her conversion and provided her with a number of Jewish historical and religious works to study. About three weeks after her death, he wrote of his impressions of her at the time.
‘She was aware of the great character that the Jewish people had produced. … She was impressed by the rationalism of Judaism — its ethical and prophetic ideals and its close family life.’
When she rebelled against the exploitation of the Hollywood studio system, broke her contract with 20th Century Fox and fled Hollywood in 1954 for a new life in New York, it was at the urging of Milton Greene, a popular Jewish photographer with whom she founded Marilyn Monroe Productions. For a while she lived with Greene and his wife and helped take care of their year-old son.
Even before the move she lived and worked in what was largely a Jewish world. In Hollywood her agent and publicist and an early drama coach and mentor were all Jewish. She owed her early success, in part, to personal relationships with the powerful Jewish studio executive Joseph Schenck and the important talent agent Johnny Hyde, who had originally emigrated from the Jewish Ukraine. Her three psychiatrists were Jewish as well as many of her doctors. One of her closest journalistic confidants was the newspaper columnist Sidney Skolsky.
But all that accelerated when she moved to New York and enrolled in Lee and Paula Strasberg’s Actors Studio … She quickly fell in with their circle of friends, who made up the theatrical and literary elite of Jewish New York. She volunteered to be the star attraction at a United Jewish Appeal dinner.
The poet Norman Rosten and his wife and children were close friends. She was a regular at a summer of brunches and picnics and cookouts with the Strasbergs in Ocean Beach on Fire Island. She frequently dug into what Paula Strasberg called her ‘Jewish icebox’ there, with its salamis from Zabar’s on New York’s Upper West Side and the honey cakes and fancy European pastries from some of the bakeries started in New York by refugees from Nazi persecution.
It was, in the words of one Monroe biographer, ‘a year of joy,’ made even more joyful by a newfound romance with [Arthur] Miller … Gloria Steinem, the Jewish American essayist and feminist, wrote a perceptive analysis about the relationship and Monroe’s decision just before their marriage to convert to Judaism.
‘Miller himself was not religious, but she wanted to be part of his family’s tradition.”‘I’ll cook noodles like your mother,” she told him on their wedding day. She was optimistic this marriage would work. On the back of a wedding photograph, she wrote “Hope, Hope, Hope.”‘
Her public commitment to Judaism in the mid-50s was just one of the signs that Jews were winning new acceptance in America after the end of World War II and of the changes that the war had brought.
Although she’s been gone these many years, she is not forgotten. Time has treated the memory of Monroe with kindness. Her estate, most of which she left to the Strasberg family, has consistently earned tens of millions of dollars over the more than 50 years since her death … As for that prayer book that Arthur Miller took from his Brooklyn synagogue and Monroe kept to her dying day, it sold at auction last year for $18,000.”
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)
After going unsold twice in the last year (as reported here), Marilyn’s Jewish prayer book has finally surpassed all expectations by selling for $26,000 at New York auctioneers J. Greenstein & Co. Widespread media coverage probably helped, as it became a viral story in the last month. At the 1999 Christie’s auction Marilyn’s ‘Siddur’ for $4,025, and this time around it was estimated to sell for $7,000 – $12,000 with a starting price of $4,600. The book, which contains annotations in pencil (though it is not confirmed that Marilyn made them – it could have been her Rabbi, Robert E. Goldburg) would probably be worth around $100 without the Monroe connection.
A Jewish prayer book or ‘Siddur’ acquired and personally annotated by Marilyn during her 1956 conversion will be auctioned at J. Greenstein & Co in Cedarhurst, New York on November 12, with an estimated price of $5,000 – $8,000, as Anthea Gerrie reports for the Jewish Chronicle. (Originally purchased at Christie’s in 1999, it went unsold at another New York auction last November.)
“The Siddur, being sold on behalf of an Israel-based American who bought it directly from the star’s estate in 1999, bears the imprint of the Avenue N Jewish Center in Brooklyn.
This was the shul of playwright Arthur Miller, Monroe’s third husband, and Jonathan Greenstein, New York’s prime auctioneer of Judaica, says a current member of the congregation has ambitions to return it to the synagogue: ‘He will be bidding on it himself, as he says it is known that Marilyn and Arthur Miller attended services there.’
It was not where the star studied for her conversion. Her mentor was Connecticut-based Rabbi Robert Goldburg, who married the couple in 1956 and later presided over Seders they attended.
History suggests she was driven to convert not only by her love for Miller, but rejection of the Christian fundamentalism practised by her foster parents … But despite keeping her Siddur close, playing the Hatikvah from time to time on her menorah and maintaining a mezuzah on her doorpost, Monroe did not get a Jewish burial.”
In an article for the Jewish Press, Saul Jay Singer explores the Judaism of Marilyn and Arthur Miller, including their 1959 appearance at an American Friends of the Hebrew University dinner at Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.
“Invited along with her husband to address a United Jewish Appeal (UJA) conference in Miami, Monroe wrote a speech about why she believed that Jewish institutions, especially Israel, deserve broad public support, but she ultimately declined to deliver the address when the UJA rescinded its invitation to Miller after his House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC ) indictment. She did, however, later attend a dinner held on September 27, 1959 in Philadelphia by a chapter of the American Friends of the Hebrew University where Miller was awarded an honorary degree to commemorate his ‘distinguished achievement in the Dramatic Arts.’
Shown here is a unique and rare item from my collection, a program from that historic event on which Monroe has signed and inscribed ‘To Stevie – Happy Bar Mitzvah! Marilyn Monroe.'”
A Jewish daily prayer-book acquired by Marilyn at the time of her 1956 marriage to Arthur Miller will be auctioned at William Doyle Galleries of New York as part of their Rare Books, Autographs & Maps sale on Tuesday, November 7. The book, which numbers some 648 pages, is described as ‘quite worn’ and includes a few notations in pencil, apparently by Marilyn herself. It was originally sold at Christie’s in 1999. The estimated price this time around is $4,000-$6,000. For more information on Marilyn’s conversion, read this excellent article by Simone Esther.
In a fascinating blog post, MM fan Simone Esther looks at Marilyn’s conversion to Judaism in 1956 in the context of a lifelong spiritual journey.
“Norma Jeane’s interest in [Christian Science] drastically subsided when Aunt Ana tragically died of heart failure in 1948, but with her natural intellect and eager curiosity it did not take long for an interest in psychoanalysis and philosophy to develop; an interest which would stay with her until her death.
Perhaps this is one thing that Marilyn found attractive in the Jews that she came to be surrounded by in the 1950s – the tradition’s affirmation of critical thinking, rationalism and natural embrace of philosophical ideals (see The Haskalah).
Already Marilyn’s closest associates were Jews – including photographer Milton Greene, his wife Amy, poet Norman Rosten and her former acting coach Natasha Lytess – and she held a deep admiration for Jewish physicist Albert Einstein; But it was when she moved to New York to become a ‘serious actress’ at The Actor’s Studio in 1955, that the Jewish home of Lee Strasberg and his wife Paula became her second dwelling. There, she became Paula’s third child and she took comfort in the strong family values instilled by the tradition, something she never had the pleasure of enjoying in her youth. Susan Strasberg once recounted how Marilyn had told her, ‘I can identify with the Jews. Everybody’s always out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.’
So when Marilyn became engaged to Arthur Miller, whom she had known since 1951, it seemed natural for her to approach him and inquire about joining the faith of his forefathers; Arthur found the entire thing wholly unnecessary, but supported his bride’s decision nonetheless.
Truth be told, Judaism played little role besides providing community in Marilyn’s life once her initial enthusiasm faded – she even later described herself as a ‘Jewish atheist’. Yet in the brief time of her observance, no matter how valid we consider her conversion to be, she provided a platform to other Jews-By-Choice and paved a path for many of her contemporaries to soon, perhaps more stringently, venture for themselves.”