It’s hard to imagine today that gossip columnists like Hedda Hopper once had the power to make and break careers, but in the age of the Hollywood blacklist, that’s exactly what she did. Hedda was never Marilyn’s closest ally in the press: that honour fell to Sidney Skolsky, and Hedda’s bitter rival, Louella Parsons.
However, it was Hedda who planted the (possibly apocryphal) story about an ailing Howard Hughes spotting Norma Jeane on a magazine cover back in 1946, and in 1952, she would champion MM as Hollywood’s finest ‘blowtorch blonde.’ She made no secret of her disapproval when Marilyn abandoned her studio contract and formed her own production company, and in 1960 she would expose Marilyn’s adulterous affair with Yves Montand.
Although more feared than liked, Hedda’s influence should not be underestimated. Originally published in 1963, her memoir, The Whole Truth and Nothing But, has now been reissued via Kindle, and for fans of Hollywood history, it’s a must-read.
Despite reports this summer that filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s long-mooted adaptation of Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel about Marilyn, would be produced for Netflix in 2017, it is “not a done deal,” as Dominik admits in a new interview for Collider. (Criticised by MM fans for its factual liberties, Blonde will be available via Kindle for the first time in English next March – so if you haven’t read it yet, judge for yourself.)
“When I spoke to you for Killing Them Softly, you were going to do Blonde next, but that was back in 2012. We’ve recently heard that Netflix was going to step in and finance that, so are you finally going to go into production on that film?
DOMINIK: I don’t know. I hope so, but it’s not, in any way, a done deal.
So, you don’t have a possible production date yet?
What is it about that film and that story that’s made you stick with it all this time, and still want to get it made?
DOMINIK: I think that Blonde will be one of the ten best movies ever made. That’s why I want to do it.
Why do you think that is?
DOMINIK: It’s a film about the human condition. It tells the story of how a childhood trauma shapes an adult who’s split between a public and a private self. It’s basically the story of every human being, but it’s using a certain sense of association that we have with something very familiar, just through media exposure. It takes all of those things and turns the meanings of them inside out, according to how she feels, which is basically how we live. It’s how we all operate in the world. It just seems to me to be very resonant. I think the project has got a lot of really exciting possibilities, in terms of what can be done, cinematically.
Are you still hoping to have Jessica Chastain play Marilyn Monroe, or will you have to recast the role once you finally get a firm start date?
DOMINIK: Well, it’s a chicken and the egg type of thing. But, I don’t think it’s going to be Jessica Chastain.”
Marilyn’s Places: Walking in the Footsteps of Marilyn Monroe, the definitive guide to Marilyn’s homes and haunts, is now available on Amazon Kindle for £3.48 (UK) or $5 (US.) It is a fully revised and expanded version of Michelle Morgan’s 1995 book, Marilyn’s Addresses, and is also available in paperback from Lulu.com under the alternate title of Marilyn’s Footsteps. Michelle is, of course, the author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed and Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, and Marilyn’s Places is essential for anyone who wants to visit these locations, or just to learn more about her life.
Two previously published works on Marilyn are being reissued under different titles. Originally a ‘bookazine‘, Jessica Bailey’s Marilyn Monroe: A Hollywood Legend is now available in paperback for £4.99 at Amazon. It is a fully illustrated, short biography. Meanwhile, a video-enhanced, ebook edition of Timothy Knight’s Marilyn Monroe: A Life in the Movies will be available on Kindle for £6.61 on December 1.
How to Marry a Millionaire was the first movie to be photographed entirely in Cinemascope, although biblical epic The Robe had an earlier premiere. All of Marilyn’s subsequent Fox movies were shot in Cinemascope.
Alistair Cooke was an English journalist based in America, best-known for his weekly broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Letter From America; and as the host of PBS Masterpiece Theatre. He was also a respected film critic from the 1930s onward, and a collection of his articles and reviews – first published in 2009 – has now been released as an ebook.
I’m delighted to announce that The Mmm Girl, my novel about the life of Marilyn Monroe, is finally back in print. This edition includes a new prologue and ten additional passages: including Marilyn’s diverse encounters with teenage fans and world leaders; intimate photo shoots, a rare stage appearance, and a trip to Mexico; and a closer look behind the scenes of her many movies, from early bit parts to timeless classics.
The Mmm Girl is now available from Amazon worldwide, in paperback (UK, £8.24; US, $12.50); and via Kindle (UK, £3.29; US, $4.93.) While I can’t provide signed copies, I’ll be happy to send a signed bookplate, free of charge, to anyone who wants it. You can contact me here.
You can preview the first four chapters on Amazon, or read further extracts and reviews, and view the book trailer, right here. And of course, after you’ve read the book (and hopefully enjoyed it), please consider writing a short customer review on Amazon or Goodreads.
Minding Marilyn is a short novel by Dianne DeWilliams, published via Amazon Kindle in November 2013. It is written from the perspective of Marveen, a widow who is moving from New York to a retirement home in California, to spend more time with her two grand-daughters. When she shows them a photograph of herself as a beautiful young woman in a nightclub, alongside Marilyn Monroe, they demand to know more.
Back in 1952, Marveen was hired as a maid to Monroe, then on the brink of stardom. While in reality there was no ‘Marveen’, Marilyn did employ a maid, Lena Pepitone, who later published a ghost-written memoir. Although Marilyn Monroe Confidential offered some insight into the star’s daily life, it was highly sensationalised. Her Los Angeles housekeeper, Eunice Murray, wrote a more creditable book, Marilyn’s Last Months – but she is more often remembered as the woman who discovered Marilyn’s dead body.
Hazel Washington, Marilyn’s studio maid, was also said to have written a manuscript about her memories of Marilyn, but it was never published; while her cook, Hattie Stevenson, was planning to move from New York to Monroe’s Los Angeles home before the actress died. Another maid, Florence Thomas, attended her funeral.
Like Marveen, these lesser-known figures in Marilyn’s life were African-American. As well as a re-imagining of Marilyn’s private world, Minding Marilyn explores what it was like to be a black woman in the USA during the 1950s and ‘60s, when endemic racism was being challenged by the growing Civil Rights movement.
Marveen’s story is told alternately through letters written to her mother during her years with Marilyn, and a contemporary narrative detailing her efforts to commit her memories to print. DeWilliams has clearly done her research; and while her tale is fictional, the factual background is mostly accurate.
DeWilliams also inputs minor details about Marilyn’s life – for example, her love of Judy Garland’s song, ‘Who Cares?’ These simple touches help to create a rounded and sympathetic picture of Monroe’s personality.
It is well-known that Marilyn was ahead of her time in her progressive attitude towards racial equality. In 1954, she helped the legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, to secure a residency at the Mocambo Club by promising to attend her show every night. She was also friendly with actress Dorothy Dandridge (dubbed ‘the black Monroe’), who features prominently in Minding Marilyn.
DeWilliams also includes another screen goddess, Ava Gardner, in the storyline. In reality, Marilyn and Ava didn’t know each other well. But they both came from modest backgrounds, and both were close to Frank Sinatra. Ava’s wild, earthy character makes an exciting contrast to the ambitious, but fragile Marilyn.
Gardner, the daughter of a North Carolina sharecropper, grew up among black people. Despite the colour bar that existed in Hollywood, she mixed freely with all races. Her maid, Mearene Jordan, was also her best friend. Living With Miss G, Jordan’s personal account of their many adventures spanning almost fifty years, was published in 2012, and provides a real-life parallel to Minding Marilyn.
While being a maid might be seen as a ‘subservient’ position, Marilyn was both thoughtful and generous towards those who worked for her, at home and on film sets. DeWilliams makes an interesting point that black audiences related more to Marilyn than other white stars, because she was ‘no stranger to pain’ – whether through suffering the impact of childhood trauma, or experiencing the pressures of fame. This observation about her cross-cultural appeal is echoed in W.J. Weatherby’s 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn.
Sadly, Monroe seldom experienced the loving support of a group of female friends depicted by DeWilliams in Minding Marilyn. Although she was not particularly religious, in one scene she is welcomed into a Pentecostal church. DeWilliams seems to be suggesting that these are alternate paths which might have led Marilyn towards a lasting happiness that eluded her in reality.
DeWilliams evokes the deep shock felt by Marilyn and those around her when, in 1961, she was committed to a psychiatric ward against her will. Famously, her devoted ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, came to her rescue. But DeWilliams implies that in times of crisis, the ‘little people’ who served Marilyn were just as valuable to her as the major players.
Minding Marilyn imagines a different response to Marilyn’s tragic death, in which the voice of Marveen is finally heard, setting the record straight. As a piece of writing, Minding Marilyn is not perfect – the paragraphs can be short and choppy, the sentences a little breathless – but the warm-heartedness of DeWilliams’ tale more than compensates for these minor shortcomings.
Although fictional, Minding Marilyn offers something that many of the biographies published over the years cannot – a sweet, charming tribute from a fan, and a testament to the sincere affection in which she is held by so many of us.
Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe became a bestseller after its release in 1985, and has remained in print ever since. This full-scale biography – with a special emphasis on Marilyn’s alleged links to the Kennedys – was written by investigative journalist Anthony Summers.
While generally popular, Goddess tends to divide fans – particularly because both Robert Slatzer and Jeanne Carmen feature heavily, and their association with Marilyn has been widely disputed. Secondly, its inclusion of an autopsy photo was also controversial.
Nonetheless, Goddess is well worth reading, whether or not you agree with its conclusions – for its exhaustive research, and to understand how it has shaped our perceptions of Marilyn. It is now available in ebook from UK online bookstores, including Amazon.