Marilyn’s Letter to Lee Goes Unsold

Marilyn with hairdresser Agnes Flanagan by Eve Arnold, 1960 – sold for
$596.25 at RR Auctions this week

Surprisingly, Marilyn’s 1961 letter to Lee Strasberg failed to reach the $20,000 estimate at the RR Auctions Hollywood sale on Thursday, May 23. A Marilyn-owned black velvet belt, possibly worn in As Young As You Feel, sold for $7,837.50; while her copy of Something To Live By, a self-help book by Dorothea S. Kopplin, fetched $7,730. You can find out more about the winning Marilyn-related lots here; and the full list is over here.

Marilyn’s Letter to Lee On Auction

A letter from Marilyn to Lee Strasberg will be sold online during the Classic Hollywood sale at RR Auctions this Thursday, May 23. While Marilyn talks frankly about her emotional problems and disappointments in life, she also proposed an ambitious plan for her future career. Sadly, her goals would never be realised as she passed away just eight months after the letter was written. It is dated 19 December, 1961, and like other letters from her final years, it was typed (probably by a secretary), and was previously published in the 2010 book, Fragments. Coming from her estate (along with all her personal possessions, 75% was passed on to Lee after she died), it is the first time the letter has gone up for auction with an estimate of $20,000. Further details, including a full transcript, are also available here.

“This is an important personal letter and please don’t start to read it until you have the time to give it your careful thought. This letter concerns my future plans and therefore concerns yours as well since my future development as an artist is based on our working together. All this is an introduction; let me outline the recent events, my ideas and my suggestions.

As you know, for years I have been struggling to find some emotional security with little success, for many different reasons. Only in the last several months, as you detected, do I seem to have made a modest beginning. It is true that my treatment with Dr. Greenson has had its ups and downs, as you know. However, my overall progress is such that I have hopes of finally establishing a piece of ground for myself to stand on, instead of the quicksand I have always been in. But Dr. Greenson agrees with you, that for me to live decently and productively, I must work! And work means not merely performing professionally, but to study and truly devote myself. My work is the only trustworthy hope I have. And here, Lee, is where you come in. To me, work and Lee Strasberg are synonymous. I do not want to be presumptuous in expecting you to come out here for me alone. I have contacted Marlon on this subject and he seems to be quite interested, despite the fact that he is in the process of finishing a movie. I shall talk with him more thoroughly in a day or two.

Furthermore, and this must be kept confidential for the time being, my attorneys and I are planning to set up and [sic] independent production unit, in which we have envisaged an important position for you. This is still in the formative phase, but I am thinking of you in some consultative position or in whatever way you might see fit. I know you will want enough freedom to pursue your teaching and any other private interests you might want to follow.

Though I am committed to my analysis, as painful as it is, I cannot definitively decide, until I hear from you, because without working with you only half of me is functioning. Therefore, I must know under what condition you might consider coming out here and even settling here.

I know this might sound quite fantastic, but if you add up all the possible advantages it should be quite a rewarding venture. I mean not only for Marlon and me—but for others. This independent production unit will also be making pictures without me—this is even required for legal reasons. This will offer an opportunity for Susan if she should be interested and perhaps even for Johnny. And Paula would have a great many opportunities for coaching. As for you, Lee, I still have the dream of you some day directing me in a film! I know this is a big step to take, but I have the wish that you might realize out here some of the incomplete hopes that were perhaps not fulfilled for you, like Lincoln Center, etc.

So I don’t know how else to persuade you. I need you to study with and I am not alone in this. I want to do everything in my power to get you to come out—within reason—as long as it is to your advantage as well as mine. So, Lee, please think this over carefully; this is an awfully important time of my life and since you mentioned on the phone that you too felt things were unsettled, I have dared to hope. I have meetings set up with Marlon and also with my attorneys and will phone you if there are any important new developments. Otherwise, please get in touch with me.”

Also on offer, the 1952-53 editions of Who’s Who in Hollywood, autographed by a multitude of stars, are a treasure trove for movie buffs. Marilyn is listed in the category ‘Super Stars: The Younger Set.’ (EDIT: unsold)

The lamp seen in the restaurant scene from How To Marry a Millionaire (here, with Alex D’Arcy) was used as a prop in other Fox movies, including The Girl Can’t Help It, starring that other fifties blonde, Jayne Mansfield. (EDIT: Unsold)

Small piece of card signed ‘To Joe’, with affixed cutout photo of Marilyn (EDIT: Final price
$2,625.000 )
Photo of Marilyn, signed by Joe DiMaggio (EDIT: Final price
$2,756,25 )
Black velvet belt owned by Marilyn, possibly worn in As Young As You Feel (1951) EDIT: Final price
$7,837.50
Book owned by Marilyn, seen on her bookcase in this 1952 photo (EDIT: Final price
$7, 730.000 )

A number of original photos are also on sale…

Photos from the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents luncheon, 1951 (EDIT: Unsold)
As Cherie in ‘Bus Stop’, 1956 (EDIT: Final price $250.00)
Diptych photo by Eve Arnold, 1960 (EDIT: Final price
$722.50 )
On the same Eve Arnold shoot, with hairdresser Agnes Flanagan (EDIT: Final price
$596.25 )

‘Finding Marilyn’: A Glimpse Inside the Strasberg Home

Scott Fortner of the Marilyn Monroe Collection blog has detailed his visit to the home of Anna Strasberg, widow of Actors Studio founder Lee Strasberg and heir to Marilyn’s estate, in a 3-part article, ‘Finding Marilyn Monroe.’ Among his many fascinating discoveries, Scott reveals that pictures of Marilyn still adorn the Strasberg family home;  Lee was unaware that he would be the main beneficiary in her will; and that Marilyn had admired her future husband, Arthur Miller, since the late 1940s. It’s essential reading for all fans of MM.

Miller on Marilyn, ‘After the Fall’, in ’66

The literary magazine Paris Review has posted a 1966 interview with Arthur Miller, where he talks about his relationship with Marilyn, and After the Fall.

“MILLER: I think Strasberg is a symptom, really. He’s a great force, and (in my unique opinion, evidently) a force that is not for the good in the theater. He makes actors secret people and he makes acting secret, and it’s the most communicative art known to man; I mean, that’s what the actor’s supposed to be doing … The problem is that the actor is now working out his private fate through his role, and the idea of communicating the meaning of the play is the last thing that occurs to him. In the Actors Studio, despite denials, the actor is told that the text is really the framework for his emotions … This is Method, as they are teaching it, which is, of course, a perversion of it, if you go back to the beginning. But there was always a tendency in that direction.

INTERVIEWER: What about Method acting in the movies?

MILLER: Well, in the movies, curiously enough, the Method works better. Because the camera can come right up to an actor’s nostrils and suck out of him a communicative gesture; a look in the eye, a wrinkle of his grin, and so on, which registers nothing on the stage.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the push toward personal success dominates American life now more than it used to?

MILLER: I think it’s far more powerful today than when I wrote Death of a Salesman. I think it’s closer to a madness today than it was then. Now there’s no perspective on it at all.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say that the girl in After the Fall is a symbol of that obsession?

MILLER: Yes, she is consumed by what she does, and instead of it being a means of release, it’s a jail. A prison which defines her, finally. She can’t break through. In other words, success, instead of giving freedom of choice, becomes a way of life.

Barbara Loden as Maggie in ‘After the Fall’, featured in LIFE (1964)

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel in the New York production that the girl allegedly based on Marilyn Monroe was out of proportion, entirely separate from Quentin?

MILLER: Yes, although I failed to foresee it myself. In the Italian production this never happened; it was always in proportion. I suppose, too, that by the time Zeffirelli did the play, the publicity shock had been absorbed, so that one could watch Quentin’s evolution without being distracted.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think happened in New York?

MILLER: Something I never thought could happen. The play was never judged as a play at all. Good or bad, I would never know what it was from what I read about it, only what it was supposed to have been.

INTERVIEWER: Because they all reacted as if it were simply a segment of your personal life?

MILLER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Could this question of timing have affected the reaction here to After the Fall?

MILLER: The ironic thing to me was that I heard cries of indignation from various people who had in the lifetime of Marilyn Monroe either exploited her unmercifully, in a way that would have subjected them to peonage laws, or mocked her viciously, or refused to take any of her pretensions seriously. So consequently, it was impossible to credit their sincerity.

INTERVIEWER: Was it the play, The Crucible itself, do you think, or was it perhaps that piece you did in the Nation—’A Modest Proposal’—that focused the Un-American Activities Committee on you?

MILLER: Well, I had made a lot of statements and I had signed a great many petitions. I’d been involved in organizations, you know, putting my name down for fifteen years before that. But I don’t think they ever would have bothered me if I hadn’t married Marilyn. Had they been interested, they would have called me earlier. And, in fact, I was told on good authority that the then chairman, Francis Walter, said that if Marilyn would take a photograph with him, shaking his hand, he would call off the whole thing. It’s as simple as that. Marilyn would get them on the front pages right away.”

On Marilyn, Acting and Mental Illness

Marilyn plays a mentally disturbed woman in ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ (1952)

In Actresses and Mental Illness, a new academic study, author Fiona Gregory focuses on stars like Vivien Leigh and Frances Farmer, whose psychological problems are as well-known as their dramatic talents. In her introduction to the book, she also mentions Marilyn.

“Marilyn Monroe stands as one of the best-known examples of an actress whose life was impacted by mental illness. Actors’ and directors’ accounts of working with Monroe make frequent reference to unprofessional behaviour (lateness, inability to learn lines, conflicts with colleagues), drug addiction and visits to psychiatrists. While rumours and coded reports of Monroe’s illness circulated during her lifetime, much of the detail of her particular problems and the treatments she pursued has emerged posthumously. Each further revelation – of a psychiatrist visited; a drug treatment tried; a suicide attempt hushed up – has added to the picture of ‘Marilyn Monroe’ as icon of suffering. It’s a picture suffused with irony – imagine, that one of the most beautiful and celebrated women in the world, with seemingly every personal and professional opportunity, should be made so uncomfortable in her own skin by the demons in her mind!

In the biographical record, Monroe’s suffering – taking as its form chronic self-doubt, an unstable sense of self, and a seeming inability to forge healthy relationships – is framed as fundamentally connected to her professional identity as a performing woman. Above all, Monroe is represented in terms of her inability to formulate a stable, coherent identity … In such narratives, the creation of an alternate identity becomes a strategy to mask an essential emptiness. The notion of actress as cypher, evacuated of meaning unless she is performing, recurs in fictional and biographical representations of the actress…

In 1955, Monroe recorded a dream in which her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, ‘cuts me open’ in an operating theatre, only to find ‘… there is absolutely nothing there – Strasberg is deeply disappointed but more even – academically amazed that he had made such a mistake. He thought there was going to be so much – more than he had ever dreamed possible in almost anyone but instead there was absolutely nothing…’

Here, Monroe becomes an eloquent commentator on the fears and insecurities of the performing woman, and on the questions of identity, ambition and meaning that circulate around her. This autobiographical artefact puts emptiness at the core of Monroe’s own psyche. The fact that it is Strasberg – the man who stood as her authority on acting – who has found her out suggests that it was in her own professional realm that Monroe desired to achieve significance but feared she would be found wanting. Monroe’s dream literalises the fear of the ‘nothing’: that the glittering surface will be revealed to mask an essential absence – a lack of talent, a lack of worthiness – that recurs in fictional and biographical representations of the actress and in actress’ own meditations on self.”

Patricia Bosworth Remembers Marilyn

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Patricia Bosworth has written acclaimed biographies of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda. A lifelong member of the Actors Studio, she also wrote ‘The Mentor and the Movie Star‘, a 2003 article about Marilyn and the Strasbergs for Vanity Fair, and appeared in the 2006 PBS documentary, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life.

In her new memoir, The Men In My Life: Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan, Bosworth recalls her acting days. In an extract published by Lithub, she describes an encounter with Marilyn.

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“I slid into the backseat, where I found Marilyn Monroe huddled in a corner dreamily puffing on a cigarette. Her bleached blond hair was tousled; she seemed to be wearing no makeup. I noticed there was dirt under her fingernails, but I couldn’t stop looking at her. We were about to pull away from the curb when a voice cried out, ‘Hey Lee, goin’ my way?’ and Harry Belafonte hopped in beside me. We drove uptown in silence.

I knew Marilyn was aware I was looking at her. She was used to being looked at, and she wasn’t self-conscious. She had a mysterious indefinable quality that made her a star and separated her from everyone else. At the moment she appeared to be floating in another world as she puffed delicately on her cigarette and blew the smoke softly out of her mouth. The newspapers were full of stories about her—how she’d left Hollywood and come to New York to be a ‘serious actress,’ how Lee was coaching her at his apartment and letting her observe sessions at the Studio.”

Elsewhere, Bosworth confirms that Tennessee Williams had wanted Marilyn to star in Baby Doll (but Gore Vidal thought she was too old.) Bosworth knew many key figures in Marilyn’s life, including Elia Kazan, Lee and Susan Strasberg – who found her father’s ‘obsession’ with Marilyn disturbing.

As Bosworth admits, Marilyn was part of Lee’s inner circle from which she felt excluded. She was also intimidated by Marilyn’s fame, which nonetheless kept the Actors Studio in the headlines. Lee Strasberg often seemed cold and domineering, but Bosworth considered him ‘a great teacher.’

Bosworth, unlike Marilyn, was born into a life of privilege, and forged a stage career as well as starring alongside Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story. However, her impeccable connections couldn’t save her from family tragedy (her brother and father both committed suicide), and an abusive marriage.

The 1950s, as Bosworth observes, was a staid, even repressive decade – but the creativity and rebellion of the 60s was already fermenting. She talks about the impact of the anti-communist witch-hunts, both on the artistic community and her own family, and the rampant sexism she constantly endured.

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Elizabeth Winder will focus on Marilyn’s New York period directly in her forthcoming book, Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy, but Patricia Bosworth’s account comes from her own experience. For anyone interested in learning more about the bohemian world that women like Bosworth – and Marilyn – helped to define, The Men In My Life is essential reading.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Notes On Acting

Marilyn on the set for 'Let's Make Love' (Frieda Hull Collection)
Marilyn on the set of ‘Let’s Make Love’ (1960)

Among the many revelations to be found in the new Julien’s catalogue are a series of notes made by Marilyn on her work at the Actors Studio, where she once played Blanche DuBois in a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A black board notebook with red spine containing lined notebook paper with notes in Monroe’s hand. A very large letter ‘M’ is drawn inside the front and back covers. There are multiple notes written in another hand on the first page of the book, but the next page contains notes in Monroe’s hand in pencil with ideas for a ‘Street Car Scene’ reading in part, ‘begin with ? (1st grade happening Mexican boy accuses me of hurting him – having to stay after school it was nite [sic] outside – have place – concern because of Stan K. accusations plus – getting dress for Mitch trying to look nice especially since what Stan K. has said.’ The note also suggests she hum ‘Whispering while you hover near me,’ which is a song standard found in her notebook of standards in the following lot, only the lyric is ‘Whispering while you cuddle near me.’ The front and back of the last page of the book contain notes from acting class, including ‘during exercise – lee said let the body hang’; ‘2 exercises at one time/ cold & Touch/ one might not be enough for what’s needed’; and ‘sense of oneself/ first thing a child (human being) is aware of (making a circle) touching ones foot knowing himself is separate from the rest of the world,’ among others.”

Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)
Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)

Marilyn also studied the role of Lorna Moon in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, writing her lines twice to memorise them.

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Also on offer is an undated note which reads in part, “keeping all of the changes of pantomime & grimaces etc inside, then it forces the eyes – it all comes through the eyes”; and “Constantly practicing that letting go/ in which you don’t do in life which isn’t necessary or something/ feeling how it feels and practicing that/your spirit speaks.”

Marilyn at Julien’s in November

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The full catalogue for the upcoming Marilyn-only event at Julien’s Auctions is now online. Among the 1,015 items on offer are movie costumes from the collection of David Gainsborough Roberts; rare candid photos formerly owned by Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull; and personal property from the Lee Strasberg estate.

Some items were previously sold at Christie’s in 1999, while various  writings, drawings and correspondence have been published in books like Fragments, MM Personal and GirlWaiting. However, there is still a great deal of unseen material, yielding fresh insight into Marilyn’s life and times.

In advance of the auction in Beverly Hills on November 17 the Happy Birthday dress will be on display for one week only from tomorrow at the Museum of Style Icons at Newbridge Silverware in County Kildare, Ireland.

ES Updates will be covering all aspects of the sale, including a series of detailed posts about what’s on offer. You can also read an article about it on Immortal Marilyn now, while Scott Fortner will be interviewing Anna Strasberg at his MM Collection blog on November 1.

China’s Glimpse of Marilyn

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Ahead of the November sale at Julien’s, some of Marilyn’s personal property was showcased for Chinese collectors in Beijing on Tuesday, Louise Watts reports for ABC News.

“Around 800 items to be auctioned come from the estate of Lee Strasberg, the famed American acting coach who became a father figure to Monroe. The money will go to his widow, Anna. Other items come from the collection of David Gainsborough-Roberts, a major collector of Monroe’s costumes.

The hundreds of items include dresses and outfits, the negligee she wore in the movie Niagara and the green and black-sequined leotard she picked out herself from a studio wardrobe to wear in Bus Stop. There is a tube of her ‘non-smear’ Revlon lipstick in Bachelor’s Carnation shade, the shoes she wore to marry playwright Arthur Miller, and the pair of costume earrings that she wore to the premiere of The Seven Year Itch.

Then there are the personal notes, crayon drawings and watercolors.

Lee Strasberg’s son, David, said that he, his mother and brother found many of the items in suitcases and closets about six years ago during a clean-out, including one trunk he’d been throwing his football cleats on for years that turned out to contain some of Monroe’s personal writings.

Some items up for auction have never been seen by the public before. They include a first-edition hand-bound 1957 volume of her third husband Miller’s plays dedicated to Monroe, and a letter from a member of the Kennedy family.

Among the quirkier items are a receipt for a bottle of champagne, her 1947 contract with Twentieth Century Fox and a recipe for stuffing jotted down on a slip of paper with an insurance company’s letterhead. Her final checkbook shows her payments to the window cleaner, her maid and the New York Telephone Co. She paid $200 to herself marked as ‘cash for trips.’

‘Marilyn kept everything. She was a hoarder,’ said [Martin] Nolan. ‘She bought a pound of butter, she bought a bottle of tonic water she kept the receipt. It’s incredible. We have a pair of strap sandals that she wore when she was Norma Jean, probably 1943, 1945. And all the money she made and how famous she became and she kept those.’

Although Western movies were banned in China during Monroe’s heyday, her pop culture image and aspects of her life are well-known among many Chinese.

Darren Julien, founder and CEO of Julien Auction’s, said about 40 percent of their client base are Chinese collectors interested in Western pop culture, and particularly Monroe.

‘A lot of people relate to her because she had actually a very difficult life in a lot of ways. She never had a lot of money, but she captured the hearts of so many people around the world,’ said Julien.”

famous-photographer-portraits-behind-photographs-tim-mantoani-3Meanwhile, photographer Douglas Kirkland has spoken to Shanghai Daily about Meeting Monroe, a series of classic images by himself and Milton Greene, currently on display at Shanghai Tower.

“There was a very unique quality about Marilyn. She was a sex symbol but there was a sweetness about her that was very compelling. There is no one like her. It was not only her beauty, but her vulnerability that made her special. It was often said Marilyn was great with still photographers — and she was. She didn’t see stills as being a waste of time. She enjoyed the still camera, perhaps more than motion.”

Julien’s Adds Strasberg Estate to November Auction

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If the recently-announced November sale of David Gainsborough-Roberts‘ Marilyn collection wasn’t spectacular enough, here comes news that Lee Strasberg’s Monroe archive will also be included. A limited edition, box-set catalogue is also on sale for $250. The list isn’t yet online, but collector Scott Fortner gives us a sneak preview on his blog today. Many items were previously featured in the books Fragments and MM – Personal, and have never been up for sale until now. “I’ve always thought that the 1999 Christie’s auction, ‘The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe’, would most certainly be the most important auction ever when it came to Marilyn,” Scott writes. “However, Julien’s Auctions is moving into this same category…”