‘I Met Marilyn’: Interviews With Neil Sean

Neil Sean is a British entertainment and royalty pundit for broadcast media in the UK And USA. He is also the author of three books: How to Live Like a Celebrity For Free (2012); Live at the London Palladium (2014); and The Downing Street Cats (2016.)

Co-authored with Michael Dias, he has now published I Met Marilyn, a collection of interviews with stars who knew and worked with MM. These include Mickey Rooney, Bette Davis, Celeste Holm, Jane Russell, Lauren Bacall, Johnnie Ray, Ethel Merman, Jack Cardiff, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, George Cukor and Cyd Charisse; and other celebrity acquaintances, such as Jerry Lewis, Eartha Kitt, Andy Williams, Sandra Howard, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, James Garner, Rock Hudson, Charlton Heston, Ricci Martin (Dean’s son), Buddy Greco, and Frank Sinatra Jr.

Mr Sean clearly has lengthy experience in the show-business world, with some interviews dating back to the late 1970s (and of course, most of his interviewees are now deceased.) His media profile has garnered coverage for I Met Marilyn in Scotland’s Weekly News and Sunday Post. He explains that the transcripts were made from his own notes and tape recordings. Unfortunately, the book is filled with run-on sentences, and punctuation so erratic that it’s often hard to distinguish between his own observations, and quotations from others. There are no pictures of Marilyn inside, but the interviews are accompanied by photos of Sean with various stars.

As with Boze Hadleigh’s recent book, Marilyn Forever, the tone is often speculative and gossipy. Many of the interviewees seem to believe that Marilyn’s alleged affairs with President Kennedy and his brother Robert were common knowledge in Hollywood, and yet there is little direct evidence.

Jack Lemmon, who was a neighbour of Peter Lawford, claims to have seen Marilyn “frolicking” with Bobby in Lawford’s pool. This story has been told by his son Chris, who was a small child at the time. I have never before seen it attributed to his father, and this apparent indiscretion seems uncharacteristic of the gentlemanly Lemmon. There is also a question of plausibility: could he really have identified them from over the fence?

To his credit, Mr Sean shows some scepticism towards the more outlandish claims of Mickey Rooney, for example. Singer Eddie Fisher recalls that while married to Elizabeth Taylor, he performed a double-bill at The Sands in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra. Fisher told Mr Sean that Marilyn flirted with him all evening, but photos from the event show her gazing at Sinatra.

Whereas Boze Hadleigh depicted Marilyn as ahead of her time in embracing the gay community, Neil Sean portrays her as being unable to understand why closeted actors like Rock Hudson weren’t attracted to her. Both authors seem to be imposing their own views upon the past, but the fact remains that whatever her personal inclinations, Marilyn was never discriminatory. She had several gay friends, and defended her Misfits co-star Montgomery Clift against homophobic bigotry during a private interview with W.J. Weatherby (published posthumously in his 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn.)

Perhaps the most insightful comments come from other women. “I was so upset [by Marilyn’s death] because she could have reached out, but the thing is she always wanted you happy first – she was selfless in that way,” singer Eartha Kitt told Sean. “I remember receiving one of her old fur coats to wear at a premiere because she heard me saying I did not have one. What a kind gesture, and to someone just starting out in the business.”

Cyd Charisse, who co-starred with Marilyn in the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, also gives a sympathetic account. However,    the interview includes several quotes attributed to Marilyn by Lawrence Schiller in his 2012 book, Marilyn & Me. (Cyd Charisse died in 2008.)

I Met Marilyn is certainly an interesting read, but should probably be digested with a large dose of salt. Marilyn was essentially a loner, and didn’t have many close friends in Hollywood – and besides, stars are as susceptible to wild rumours as everyone else, especially when asked to provide a fresh perspective on an actress who died over fifty years ago.

“I think it all goes so quickly so it’s better to live in the moment,” Lauren Bacall told Mr Sean. “And when people ask me about what, say, Marilyn Monroe was like, it’s not like we were the best of friends or anything. I mean, we made a movie together which was very successful, but it was a long time ago…”

I Met Marilyn is available now in paperback and via Kindle.

Marilyn’s Vanity Fair: A Tale of Many Covers

Marilyn makes the cover of Vanity Fair‘s August issue (French edition only.) If the photo looks familiar, that’s because it was previously used on Vanity Fair‘s US edition, back in October 2008.

And by comparison with Bert Stern’s original photo, you can tell that poor Marilyn has fallen victim to the digital airbrush!

Some fans have suggested that another, more flattering Stern photo could have been used…

The magazine includes an article about Lawrence Schiller’s photos of Marilyn, filming the poolside scene in Something’s Got to Give. As some readers may recall, an extract from Schiller’s book, Marilyn & Me, was published in the US edition of Vanity Fair in June 2012. The French article, however, is written by MM superfan Sebastien Cauchon.

Which begs the question – why wasn’t a Schiller photo used on the cover? Many fans were asking the same question in 2012, when an Andre de Dienes photo was used on the US cover of Vanity Fair, and not Schiller.

The answer, according to Sebastien Cauchon, is that Schiller’s poolside nudes don’t include a full-face, colour shot of Marilyn making eye contact with the camera. Marilyn & Me‘s original cover (later rejected) showed a pensive, full-face shot of MM in a fur hat, on the set of Something’s Got to Give – but not a nude. Presumably Vanity Fair‘s editors felt that a cheerful beach shot from De Dienes – though taken 13 years previously – was more in keeping with the summery, au naturel theme.

And as Sebastien Cauchon explained to members of Immortal Marilyn’s Facebook group this weekend, his article differs from the 2012 extract because its main subject is the proposed Playboy cover shoot Marilyn was considering at the time of her death (though according to Schiller, she was having second thoughts about the project.)

The article includes Hugh Hefner’s letter to Schiller and fellow photographer Bill Woodfield, explaining the concept of the mooted cover – click on the photo below to read in full.

The photo shoot went ahead with model Sheralee Connors taking Marilyn’s place, and was featured in Playboy‘s 1962 Christmas issue.

Photo by Fraser Penney

Pop Art Marilyn in Paris

Marilyn by Mr Brainwash, 2008

Pop art images of Marilyn by Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, Mel Ramos, Russell Young and Mr Brainwash – as well as photos by Lawrence Schiller – feature in ‘Les Marilyn’, an exhibition at the Galerie Tagliatella in Paris, on display until July 27.

‘My Favourite Marilyn’: Photographers’ Stories

This shot of Marilyn with director Joshua Logan, on location filming for Bus Stop in 1956, is the personal favourite of photographer Zinn Arthur. In another preview of the Newsweek special – Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook – Douglas Kirkland, Elliott Erwitt and Lawrence Schiller share their own selections, while Joshua Greene picks one of his father’s shining moments. Read more here.

 

A Sneak Peek at Newsweek

The much-vaunted Newsweek special, Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook, is now on sale across the US, although some deliveries may have been delayed due to poor weather.

It isn’t yet available elsewhere, but I would advise fans to be patient rather than paying vast prices on Ebay. The magazine will be on sale until March 14, and speaking as a UK resident, I’ve found it’s normal for American magazines to arrive up to a month after publication. (And as I’ve mentioned before, previous Newsweek specials have been sold at WH Smith.)

Over on the Marilyn Monroe Collection Blog today, Scott Fortner gives us a preview – including several pages dedicated to Marilyn’s personal property, now owned by himself, and others by Greg Schreiner.

As to the rest of the magazine, Scott tells us that it ‘includes an introduction written by Joshua Greene, and has many photos of Marilyn along with comments from photographers Douglas Kirkland, Lawrence Schiller and Elliott Erwitt. Other information on Marilyn is also included in glossy, full color spreads.’

Despite the rather distasteful rumour-mongering about Marilyn’s relationship with Sam Shaw that has dominated media coverage of this issue, I remain confident it will be a must-have for fans.

Newsweek Special: Marilyn’s Lost Scrapbook

A Newsweek special issue, Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook, is due to be published in the US next Tuesday, January 14th. The 98pp magazine showcases a scrapbook made by Marilyn herself for her friend, Sam Shaw, featuring his photos of the star with her handwritten, often witty captions.

Shaw gave the scrapbook to another of Marilyn’s photographers, Lawrence Schiller, in 1973, and some of the photos were featured in Norman Mailer’s Marilyn, published the same year. Schiller claims that Shaw confessed to having had an affair with Marilyn, though neither Shaw or Monroe ever said this publicly.

The scrapbook was profiled today on ABC News’ Good Morning America, and the magazine is sure to become a collector’s item. No news of other releases yet, but copies are already being sold on Ebay. (If you’re in the UK, keep your eyes peeled over the coming weeks – Newsweek‘s special editions are often sold at WHS Smith.)

Schiller Exhibit in Berlin

Lawrence Schiller‘s ‘A Splash of Marilyn’ exhibition – featuring photos from Marilyn’s last, unfinished movie, Something’s Got to Give – is coming to Berlin’s Galerie Mellili Mancinet on October 4th, through to November 9th.

Marilyn in Playboy (Again)

While I’ve said here before that I’m not Hugh Hefner’s greatest fan, we do share a liking for a certain iconic blonde. In recent years, it has become something of a tradition for Marilyn to feature in Playboy‘s Christmas issue.

‘The Nude Marilyn’ graces the December issue, due out on November 20th in the US and elsewhere thereafter. A selection of (mostly familiar) nudes and semi-nudes from Earl Moran, Tom Kelley, Lawrence Schiller and Bert Stern are included, as well as tributes by the late novelist John Updike, film critic Roger Ebert and blogger Kim Morgan (aka Sunset Gun.)

You can check out the photos on Playboy‘s website, while the article can now be viewed in its entirety at Everlasting Star (thanks to Megan.)

‘Mad About Marilyn’ in September

My review of Lawrence Schiller’s Marilyn & Me: A Memoir in Words and Photographs has been published in Issue 25 of the Mad About Marilyn fanzine, which also includes an in-depth profile of photographer Earl Thiesen and ‘I Dress for Men’, an article penned by Marilyn herself in 1953.

You can read my review in full here. For more details on Mad About Marilyn, contact emmadowning@blueyonder.co.uk

Reel Life: Marilyn Monroe

The Reelz Channel in the US has just announced a new documentary, Reel Life: Marilyn Monroe, to premiere on Friday, August 3rd.

“Hosted by television personality Dayna Devon, Reel Life: Marilyn Monroe explores the continued and unrelenting popularity of the woman who wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously as an actress. We’ll talk to the stars of the hit television series Smash, Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty, whose characters are vying to be the lead in a Broadway musical based on Monroe’s life as well as Oscar-nominee Michelle Williams, who played Monroe in My Week With Marilyn about Monroe’s enduring legacy.

Fellow Hollywood icons George Hamilton and Mitzi Gaynor – Monroe’s co-star in There’s No Business Like Show Business – reveal the personal side of the woman they knew. Reel Life: Marilyn Monroe also takes a look at Monroe’s rise to sex symbol, including candid interviews with Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who discusses how Monroe’s nude photos helped launch his empire and catapult Monroe to superstar status. Also featured are interviews with photographers Lawrence Schiller and George Barris who share their personal stories of working with Monroe, including the story behind her last ever photo shoot.”