John Steinbeck’s Fan Letter to Marilyn

A letter sent by author John Steinbeck to Marilyn in April 1955 (kept in her personal archive, and sold for $3,250 at Julien’s in 2016) has resurfaced on social media in recent days, and is the subject of an article by Karen Strike on the Flashbak photo blog today.

Steinbeck narrated O. Henry’s Full House, the anthology film in which Marilyn appeared in 1952. In March 1955, a month before Steinbeck wrote to Marilyn, she was a ‘celebrity usherette’ at the premiere of East of Eden, the big-screen adaptation of his novel, directed by Elia Kazan and starring James Dean. It was at the after-party where Marilyn’s romance with Arthur Miller began.

Steinbeck wrote to her on behalf of his nephew, Jon Atkinson, an ardent fan. Whether Marilyn granted his request for an autographed photo is unknown, but she clearly appreciated the letter enough to keep it until her dying day. Incidentally, three of Steinbeck’s books were part of her extensive personal library: The Short Reign of Pippin IV, Once There Was a War, and Tortilla Flat, set in Monterey where she had filmed Clash By Night in 1952. (Steinbeck was only one of many eminent figures who corresponded with Marilyn; to learn more, I recommend Lois Banner’s MM – Personal.)

“In my whole experience I have never known anyone to ask for an autograph for himself. It is always for a child or an ancient aunt, which gets very tiresome as you know better than I. It is therefore, with a certain nausea that I tell you that I have a nephew-in-law … he has a foot in the door of puberty, but that is only one of his problems. You are the other. …  I know that you are not made of ether, but he doesn’t. … Would you send him, in my care, a picture of yourself, perhaps in pensive, girlish mood, inscribed to him by name and indicating that you are aware of his existence. He is already your slave. This would make him mine. If you will do this, I will send you a guest key to the ladies’ entrance of Fort Knox.”

Smithsonian to Screen ‘Marilyn for Sale’

Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime, the documentary about the 2016 Julien’s sale (in which Marilyn’s ‘birthday dress sold for $4.8m) has been acquired by the Smithsonian Channel, and will be screened on December 23 at 9pm, as Daniele Alcinii reports for RealScreen. Originally produced by Oxford Film and Television and broadcast in the UK on Channel 4, the documentary has been renamed Marilyn Monroe For Sale. You can read my review here.

Marilyn’s Flying Visit to Luseland

The dress worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to President John F. Kennedy in 1962 – bought for $4.81 million by Jim Pattinson of Ripley’s Entertainment at Julien’s in November 2016, the highest amount ever paid for any dress at auction – was displayed for one day only in Pattison’s hometown of Luseland in Saskatchewan, Canada on Monday, reports CKOM.

David Gainsborough Roberts Has Died

David Gainsborough Roberts, owner of one of the world’s largest collections of Marilyn’s film costumes, memorabilia and personal effects, has died in Jersey aged 73 after a short illness, BBC News reports. A true admirer, he wore clothing emblazoned with Marilyn’s image to public events and shared his treasures with fellow enthusiasts in numerous exhibitions across the UK and beyond. In 2005, I visited a show at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire (the enchanting family home of Marilyn’s poet friend, Dame Edith Sitwell.) It was a very touching experience, and like many other fans, I will always be indebted to David for his generosity. In November 2016, his collection was sold for £1.5 million at Julien’s Auctions.

You can read a selection of posts about David here.

Fake News: Marilyn, Yves and a ‘Secret Pregnancy’

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A series of gorgeous colour photos taken by Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull, whose incredible archive of candid snapshots were auctioned at Julien’s in November 2016, were published in yesterday’s Daily Mail. The images show Marilyn arriving for test shots for The Misfits in New York in July 1960.

Unfortunately – and all too predictably – the pictures are accompanied by a salacious and frankly unbelievable story. Marilyn’s belly is rather prominent in the photos, and Tony Michaels – a Las Vegas casino croupier who befriended the late Frieda Hull, and purchased the images at auction – claims that Marilyn was secretly pregnant at the time, by her Let’s Make Love co-star Yves Montand.

That Marilyn and Yves had an affair is not in doubt, and of course they were both married to other people. However, a pregnancy at this time has never been mentioned, and Marilyn’s daily routine is extremely well-documented. To casual observers her protruding tummy may look like a baby bump, but seasoned fans have noticed many similar images of her over the years.

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Furthermore, Marilyn was a very private person and it would be out of character for her to have confided in a teenage fan. Frieda Hull never sought publicity and it seems all too convenient that such a story would emerge only after her death. It has also been debunked by Scott Fortner, who helped to catalogue the recent Julien’s sale in which these photos were featured, on his MM Collection blog; and by Immortal Marilyn.

Could this be an early frontrunner for the most ridiculous Marilyn headline of 2017? It is interesting to note that the Daily Mail was recently blacklisted by Wikipedia for ‘poor fact checking, sensationalism and flat-out fabrication.’

Marilyn’s Final Script Sold (Again) For $25,000

Marilyn in Something’s Got to Give (Photo edit by Laura)

Marilyn’s annotated script for her final, incomplete  movie, Something’s Got to Give, has been sold at the Nate D. Sanders Hollywood Memorabilia auction for $25,000. While reporters have poked fun at her minor spelling errors – such as ‘leeding him on’ – her comments are often perceptive. ‘Needs more jokes’, she remarked – an opinion shared by others during this troubled production.

If this script looks familiar, that’s because it sold at Julien’s only a month ago for $10,240. Other items from the event have also been spotted on auction sites like EBay, confirming that Marilyn’s personal property is becoming a magnet for investors. A disused grave marker from her crypt, also sold in November, attracted no bids this time around.

“Monroe’s handwritten pencil notes begin with her character’s (Ellen Wagstaff Arden) introduction in the script on page 12 and carry through to the end on page 149, even including notes on the verso of the last page and back cover, such as a note reading, ‘Joke writers Mel Brooks / Herb Gardner / Need spice / raisins / Need some funny lines.’ There are notes in Monroe’s hand on approximately 42 pages in the script, ranging from simple dialogue corrections and changes to in-depth sense memory notes when doing a scene that required a deeper emotional connection and understanding. Regarding her character’s introduction, as she interacts with naval personnel who saved her after being marooned on an island for five years, Monroe writes, ‘1 – Gayity [sic] 2 – Excitement 3 – Then Dazed.’ In one scene, Monroe references Arthur Miller’s children to better help her relate to her character’s children, ‘Bobby M. / and early Janie / except their [sic] mine.’ Throughout the script, Monroe writes succinct dialogue and character notes: ‘Stunned / Dazed – sky high with adventure’, ‘dead pan/I really don’t know’, ‘anticipating the joys’, ‘Trying to think or remember’, ‘start to wonder what’s from now on’, ‘I don’t know he knows’, ‘easy/very intimate/very real’, ‘[L]et me get into something more comfortable / leading him on -‘. Included is a small card with call times and scenes to be shot, and a small scrap of paper with a note in Monroe’s hand wondering why they are shooting out of sequence, as well as notes about using Miss vs. Mrs.”

This copy of the script is dated March 29, 1962. Another version, including revisions dated April 23 and 27, and with eighteen pages annotated by Marilyn, went unsold, after being purchased at Julien’s last month for $12,800.

“Some of the highlights include notes Monroe made for Scene 168, in which she interacts with her children in the movie, who don’t recognize her as they were too young when she became stranded on an island for five years and presumed dead. These hand-annotated typewritten pages were inserted into the script for this particular scene – one of the few that Monroe completed before her untimely death. Within these pages, Monroe writes a series of notes regarding her preparation: ‘Real thought’, ‘Mental Relaxation’, ‘Look for the light’, ‘Place the pain/feeling where it is not in the brow’, as well as specific sense memories to help find the emotional truth with her character’s feelings toward her on-screen children, ‘Substitute children – B & J if necessary’, perhaps referring to Arthur Miller’s children Bobby and Jane. There are also some notes from Monroe regarding her work with a Swedish dialect coach. Peppered throughout the script are further dialogue notes, changes and line strikes. Interestingly, the script also includes notes in an unknown hand giving blunt, critical assessments and insights of the script’s scene descriptions, direction and dialogue. These notes start on the script’s first page, ‘Note for Marilyn/He has to woo her not the way it is / new blue pages’ and continue in blue pen, ‘Dull’, ‘Naggy, ‘Make it funny!’ and ‘Smugly’. Interestingly, Monroe reacts to some of these notes, either changing dialogue and scene direction or, in some cases, striking the note itself if she doesn’t agree with it.”

And in other news, a Frank Powolny portrait of Marilyn – signed by the lady herself to ‘Jimmie’ – was sold at R.R. Auctions for $24,959 this week, as part of the Tom Gregory Collection.

Marilyn at Julien’s: The Lois Weber Collection

Lois Smith, publicist to Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and others, died in 2012, aged 84. “In a tough business known for steel-sharp elbows,” her New York Times obituary read, “Ms. Smith stood out for being nurturing. She was at the birth of Marilyn Monroe’s kittens...”

Born Lois Eileen Wollenweber of Brooklyn in 1928, she began working for publicist Ted Saucier in the 1950s. His most famous client was the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he and Lois recruited celebrities who had come there to escape Hollywood’s crumbling studio system. One of them was Marilyn, who lived there for several months after moving to New York in 1955.

Lois later married journalist Gene Smith, and formed Pickwick Public Relations with Pat Newcomb – Marilyn’s publicist at the time of her death – in 1969. A number of items in the current Julien’s sale, ending today, come from her estate (under the name of Lois Weber.)

This photo was taken by Hans Knopf on February 22, 1956, when Marilyn was walking to Cecil Beaton’s studio for their famous session. Lois, who accompanied her that morning, is generally cropped out of the picture.

Two other photos taken by Knopf that day show Marilyn and Lois getting into a taxi cab en route to lunch at the Ambassador Hotel with society columnist Elsa Maxwell.

Interestingly, some copies of the candid photos taken by Frieda Hull and other members of the ‘Monroe Six’ were also in Lois’ possession. The young fans gave each other copies of their photos, so perhaps they shared a few with her as well.

A 32-page transcript of Marilyn’s 1960 interview with George Belmont, submitted by Lois to Look magazine, is also on offer. Perhaps the most significant items from her estate, however, are the many beautiful photos, negatives and colour transparencies from the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. Marilyn exercised a strict  approval process over all images, and relegated these to a ‘Kill’ folder.