Liz Smith 1923-2017

Legendary New York gossip columnist Liz Smith, known as ‘doyenne of dish’, has died aged 94. I have posted a tribute here. As regular readers will know, she was one of the media’s most vocal champions of Marilyn – and you read can all of our Liz-related posts right here.

When Warren (and Natalie) Met Marilyn

Warren Beatty with girlfriend Natalie Wood, circa 1962
Warren Beatty with girlfriend Natalie Wood, circa 1962

Hollywood legend Warren Beatty has given a rare interview to Vanity Fair‘s Sam Kashner, in which he revealed a brief encounter with Marilyn shortly before her death in 1962.

“Peter Lawford had invited him out to his house in Malibu for a night of tacos and poker, and Monroe was there. ‘I hadn’t seen anything that beautiful,’ Beatty recalls. She invited him to take a walk along the beach, which he did. ‘It was more soulful than romantic.’ Back in the house, he played the piano. (He’s a good pianist, by the way, enamored of jazz greats such as Erroll Garner.) Marilyn sat on the edge of the piano in something so clingy that Beatty could tell she wasn’t wearing underwear.

‘How old are you?’ she asked.

‘Twenty-five,’ he answered. ‘And how old are you?’ he asked cheekily.

‘Three. Six,’ she said, as if not wanting to bring the two numbers together. By then, the tacos had arrived, and no one really played poker that night. Warren noticed that Marilyn was already a bit tipsy from champagne, even before the sun had set.

The next day, the producer Walter Mirisch’s brother Harold called. ‘Did you hear?’ he asked. ‘Marilyn Monroe is dead.’ Warren was one of the last people to see Marilyn alive—a story that Beatty tells only reluctantly. He really is one of Hollywood’s most discreet people, in a town and an industry marinated in its own gossip.”

In his 1985 book, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Summers that he had contacted Beatty about the rumour of him meeting Marilyn at Lawford’s home just a few hours before she died. Beatty responded that this was true, but did not wish to speak further at that time.

By his own account, Lawford had invited Marilyn to his home that evening but she declined. It may be true that Beatty met Marilyn not long before she died, as she was a regular guest of Peter Lawford and his wife, Pat. However, it seems unlikely to have occurred on the night of her death.

In 1962, Beatty was dating actress Natalie Wood, whose biographer Suzanne Finstad gives a similar account of their meeting (including the conversation about age), but stated only that it occurred at some point over the summer, and most significantly, she added that Wood was also present.

UPDATE: An extract from the newly-published book, Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life, is featured in People magazine this week. Taken from a previously unseen essay by Wood herself, it includes her thoughts on Marilyn’s death, and may shed new light on Beatty’s story as well. (A former child actress, Natalie had a featured role in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, the 1947 film in which Marilyn made her screen debut.)

“‘I had known her and seen her days before her death,’ Wood writes. ‘Her beauty, charming wit, and joy of life seemed paradoxical to the tense loneliness which she faced in her life, and was to me, clearly apparent. I realized that her tragedy reminds us all how vulnerable we are, and I chose to try to be stronger.'”

And finally … ‘doyenne of dish’ Liz Smith has also questioned the timing of Beatty’s anecdote, in her latest column for New York Social Diary.

“Beatty places the meeting on the night before her death — or the night of, really. He says he received a call ‘in the morning’ from an agent, telling him Marilyn had died. But the facts say otherwise. MM actually refused an invite from Lawford the Saturday night she died.

It’s most likely that Warren, fiftysomething years on, just forgot the exact evening. It is a very tender and considerate memory, in any case. This gallantry is typical of Warren, whose exes almost always adored him, even as they became his exes.”

 

Marilyn and the Ladies of the Press

Marilyn with columnist Kendis Rochlen, 1956
‘Is this a new Marilyn?’ With columnist Kendis Rochlen, 1956

In her lifetime, Marilyn was considered a ‘man’s woman’. However, even then she had several champions among the fairer sex, and since her death, female appreciation of her has only grown.

Kate Cameron, film critic for New York’s Daily News, often praised Marilyn’s acting and wrote this sensitive tribute after her passing.

“The Marilyn Monroe I knew was a blithe spirit of the screen. I never met her in the flesh and had no desire for a rapprochement other than her communication to me as an actress.

I was an enthusiastic viewer of the various characters she presented on the screen. I had a definite picture of her as a real person in my mind and didn’t want that image of her changed in any way, although I’m inclined to believe that I would have found her as enchanting off screen as she was on.”

Columnist Liz Smith has held the title of ‘grand dame of dish’ ever since she first glimpsed Marilyn at the 1961 premiere of The Misfits. At 93, Liz is still on top, and found time to remember Marilyn’s birthday this week.

“Had she lived, the white hot of that fame would have inevitably passed by. But in a cooler climate, she might well have found all she desired. We would not talk of her as we do now, as an almost mythological figure, a repository of endless fantasy and speculation. She would speak for herself. And her work, which mattered to her more than people realized, would speak as well.”

Film scholar Lucy Bolton, who took part in a panel discussion at the BFI last year as part of their MM retrospective, took a closer look at Marilyn’s writings in a recent article for BBC Culture.

“The fragments which she wrote on bits of paper reveal a woman constantly striving to ground herself, help herself, and keep on top of her demons. They also show Monroe’s determination and strong will: whether it is in the planning of dinner parties or the preparation of a performance, Monroe was meticulous and dedicated to doing her best.”

Ashley Davies offers a personal take on ‘Why I Love MM’ in a heartfelt – and often funny – piece for Standard Issue.

“In public, she dealt with some of the undermining shit thrown at her with class. During one press conference, a female reporter asked her: ‘You’re wearing a high-necked dress. Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’

Her response, delivered with total sweetness, a pinch of faux surprise and not a hint of sarcasm: ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.'”

And finally, Sophie Atkinson argues that Marilyn is more relevant than ever ‘because she predicted the struggles of modern fame’, over at Bustle.com.

“When it comes to being a star, too much publicity will always be difficult for celebrities to shoulder., and the emergence of social media gives a new urgency to these issues of press intrusion that have existed for decades. Now celebrities don’t just field encounters with the journalists, and with fans, on the street, but in the privacy of their own homes as soon as they log onto Twitter. Monroe was right when she quoted Goethe: the highest form of acting or music requires that a person doesn’t just exist as a public figure, but has private reserves they can draw from.”

RUMOUR: Did Sinatra Propose to Marilyn?

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This year marks the centenary of another man in Marilyn’s life: Frank Sinatra. The anniversary is being marked by a slew of publications, including Sinatra: The Chairman. Second in a biographical series by James Kaplan, this tome is 992 pages long, and has been previewed in the New York Daily News.

“During Sinatra’s dalliance with Monroe, there are conflicting reports as to who wanted it more. Kaplan sides with Milt Ebbins, a talent manager, who claimed, ‘There was no doubt that Frank was in love with Marilyn.’

‘Yeah, Frank wanted to marry the broad,’ Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s chief henchman, said. ‘He asked her and she said no.'”

However, Kaplan’s claim that Frank wanted to marry MM – ‘to save her from herself’ – is nothing new. J. Randy Taraborrelli previously suggested this in his 1997 book, Sinatra: The Man Behind the Myth. Kaplan also speculates that others believed the opposite – that it was Marilyn who pursued Frank – but the sources for this allegation are not named in the article.

In his 1992 biography of MM, Donald Spoto argues that Frank was ‘apparently the more smitten’ in their on-off romance. Milton Ebbins told Spoto that in 1961, Sinatra failed to show up for lunch with President Kennedy at Peter Lawford’s home, because Marilyn – who was briefly Sinatra’s house-guest in Los Angeles – had gone out without telling him.

‘It wasn’t worry for her safety,’ Ebbins recalled, ‘he was just that jealous of her whereabouts! To hell with the president’s lunch!’

Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958
Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958

In Sinatra: The Chairman, Kaplan repeats the long-held assertion that the romance ended after Marilyn grew closer to her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. This led to a rift between Joe and Frank, ending a long friendship. However, Marilyn told reporters that there was ‘no spark to be rekindled’ with DiMaggio.

After Marilyn died, Frank was furious that Joe did not invite him to the funeral. Kaplan reiterates the long-held rumour that Sinatra – along with the Lawfords, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Mitzi Gaynor – were turned away from the ceremony. However, contemporary news reports did not mention this at all.

So did Sinatra propose to Marilyn? Based on all available evidence, I think not. Although Frank may have entertained thoughts of marriage, I don’t believe Marilyn was ready to commit herself. And after his failed marriage to another Hollywood beauty – Ava Gardner – I suspect he wasn’t about to risk more heartache.

Perhaps the last word should go to legendary columnist Liz Smith, who knew Sinatra well:

“I would take issue with some of Kaplan’s observations about Ava Gardner and particularly Marilyn Monroe — believe me, if Sinatra really proposed to MM and she refused him, it wasn’t because she was ‘saving’ herself for re-marriage to Joe DiMaggio. But in the face of the rest of this compelling book, that’s real nit-picking.”

‘Oscar-Worthy’ Marilyn as Sugar

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“Hey, Garbo never won, either. Monroe was never even nominated.” – Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

With awards season underway, Entertainment Weekly has named the 51 Greatest Performances Overlooked by Oscar – with Marilyn’s unforgettable turn as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot ranked fifth. (She did, however, win a Golden Globe for her role.)

“This film picked up several nominations for the men involved in making it, but there was no love for its lead actress that year—or any year. Maybe she was already too big a movie star. Maybe that blinded the Academy to a performance that was arguably the strongest ever from one of the 20th century’s most iconic stars. Monroe never got quite enough respect when she was alive, but there’s a reason she endures as a legend. Her ukulele-strumming Sugar Kane Kowalczyk almost tempts Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon out of the feminine disguises they’ve donned to hide from the mob. Sugar captures the allure and effervescence of a sex symbol while showcasing the warmth and soulfulness of the woman beneath. How much of that is thanks to the actress herself, and how much is her acting? That’s why it’s a great performance—almost as good as Norma Jean’s portrayal of Marilyn Monroe herself.” —Anthony Breznican

The Guardian‘s Paul Howlett also nominates Some Like it Hot among 10 Films that Kids Will Love – and So Will You…

“It must be said that Curtis looks quite the part as Josephine, Lemmon less so as Daphne; though putting both in close proximity to 50s sex goddess Marilyn Monroe as the vulnerable singer Sugar Kane is a comic gift that keeps giving, with the lovestruck Joe and Jerry permanently on the verge of being discovered, permanently on the verge of revealing their true selves, as it were, to Sugar.

In the hands of director Billy Wilder, this is actually a sophisticated sex comedy with uncomfortable hints of voyeurism, but much of that will sail straight over younger heads, leaving plenty of innocent, laugh-out-loud gender-swap farce…’Nobody’s perfect’ is Osgood’s legendary last line, but this fizzy, scintillating film is pretty close to it.”

2014: A Year in Marilyn Headlines

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In January, Newsweek published a special issue, Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook. Photographer Larry Schiller claimed to own a scrapbook given to Sam Shaw by Marilyn, though expert readers noted the handwriting was dissimilar to her usual style.

Also this month, Unclaimed Baggage – a documentary about ‘the unclaimed trunk of MM‘ – was screened on European television, and George Jacobs, valet to Frank Sinatra, died aged 87.

life may 9 2014

In February, Life published The Loves of Marilyn, another magazine special with text by J.I. Baker (author of a conspiracy novel, The Empty Glass.) Many fans were surprised to see the widely discredited Robert Slatzer listed among Marilyn’s alleged paramours. It has since been republished in hardback.

Also this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acquired an archive of 58,000 pictures by press photographer Nat Dallinger. His photos of Marilyn at the Let’s Make Love press conference were featured in the Hollywood Reporter. And archive footage of Marilyn was featured in Bob Dylan’s Chrysler ad, screened during America’s Superbowl.

Icon V1 GVR

In March, Icon: the Life Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I, 1926-1956 was publishedMarilyn also graced the cover of Julien’s 90210 Spring Auction catalogue, and was the subject of another magazine special, part of the ‘Etoiles du Cinema‘ series in France.

Stanley Rubin, producer of River of No Return, died aged 96, and William Carroll, one of the first photographers to work with Marilyn, also passed away. Bob Thomas, the veteran Hollywood columnist who reported Joan Crawford’s verbal attack on Marilyn back in 1953, died aged 92.

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Playboy re-released its very first issue – with Marilyn as its cover girl and centrefold – in April, as part of an ongoing celebration of the magazine’s 60th anniversary. And a collection of Elia Kazan’s private correspondence – including a 1955 letter to his wife, Molly, regarding his prior relationship with Marilyn – was also published.

Also in April, Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney (Marilyn’s co-star in The Fireball) died aged 93. And Pharrell Williams released his hit single, ‘Marilyn Monroe’.

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In May, make-up artist Marie Irvine shared her memories of Marilyn with readers of the Daily Mail. AmfAR, the world’s leading charity for AIDS research, held a ‘Red Marilyn’-themed fundraising ball during the Cannes Film Festival.

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June 1st marked what would have been Marilyn’s 88th birthday. Also in June, actor Eli Wallach, Marilyn’s friend and co-star, died aged 98. An archive of ‘lost’ Milton Greene photos was auctioned in Poland, and a revised, updated edition of Carl Rollyson’s MM: A Life of the Actress was published.

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In July, Some Like it Hot was re-released in UK cinemas, winning a 5-star review in The Guardian. Sadly, several people with connections to Marilyn passed away in July, including psychic Kenny Kingston, journalist Robert Stein, and actors James Garner and Elaine Stritch. Meanwhile one of Marilyn’s old haunts – the Racquet Club in Palm Springs – was engulfed by fire.

August marked the 52nd anniversary of Marilyn’s death, with a live stream of the annual memorial service in Los Angeles. Also this month,  Lauren Bacall, Marilyn’s co-star in How to Marry a Millionaire, died aged 89; and Tom Tierney, ‘Marilyn’s paper doll artist’, also passed away.

newsweek sep 14

In September, Newsweek published a cover feature exposing the many inaccuracies in C. David Heymann’s posthumously-released Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love. And TV Guide released a special issue dedicated to Marilyn, part of their ‘American Icons’ series.

tv guide special

Several rare photos of Marilyn were featured in Profiles in History’s Hollywood Auction 65 catalogue, while Britain’s Daily Express published a special supplement about Marilyn’s tragic death, as part of a ‘Historic Front Pages’ series.

Also this month, self-confessed ‘Marilyn Geek’ Melinda Mason launched a new exhibition at the Wellington County Museum in Ontario, Canada; and the chameleon-like actor John Malkovich posed as Marilyn for photographer Sandro Miller.

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In October,  A retrospective of photographer Nickolas Muray opened in Genoa, Italy. Carl Rollyson’s latest book, Marilyn Monroe Day by Day, was published.

A rather sensationalised documentary about Marilyn’s mysterious death – Marilyn: Missing Evidence – was broadcast in the UK. Her death was also the subject of a cover feature in the US magazine, Closer.

Also this month, Kelli Garner was cast as Marilyn in Lifetime’s upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of MM.

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In November, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ Icon: The Life, Times and Films of MM – Volume II, 1956-1962 and Beyond was published, earning a rave review from columnist Liz Smith. Fansite Immortal Marilyn published a series of myth-busting articles at Buzzfeed. And Anna Strasberg, current owner of Marilyn’s estate, lost a lawsuit against Profiles in History, regarding a so-called ‘letter of despair‘ from Marilyn to Lee Strasberg.

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In December, items from ‘the lost archive of Marilyn Monroe‘ sold for high prices at Julien’s Auctions. Marilyn graced the cover of Esquire‘s Colombian edition, and a new CD boxset, Diamonds, was released. Finally, photographer Phil Stern died aged 95.

Liz Smith on ‘Icon Volume 2’

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Columnist Liz Smith gives the just-released second volume of Gary Vitacco-Robles’ epic biography, Icon, a rave review in her latest post for New York Social Diary.

“This massive book covers the years 1956 to ’62 and beyond — into Monroe’s mythology, deification and after-death debasement.

As with the first volume, this works reminds me so much of the sane and excellent 1968 Fred Lawrence Guiles bio, Norma Jean. This, along with Maurice Zolotow’s colorfully brilliant 1960 book, Marilyn Monroe, are starting points for all things MM.

Vitacco-Robles presents his many facts without sensation or much agenda. Nothing is hidden, but what is revealed is not made to seem extraordinarily lurid. Monroe had deep-seated emotional problems, issues with prescription drugs and she liked her champagne a bit too much. Get in line, Hollywood and much of the rest of the world!

The book covers so much of Monroe’s life and in such detail it would be pointless to zero in on any particular chapter/era. Suffice to say the author uses only the best, most reliable sources. I would note, however, that his chapters on the controversial filming of Some Like It Hot and the examination of her death are especially interesting.

The Icon volumes are invaluable for anybody who wants to know about Monroe in a real sense — what her name and fame was during her lifetime. Now, 52 years after her death, she is written up and idolized as if she was still with us. But the image has been turned into something quite different.

Younger fans confuse what they see celebrated by today’s self-exploitative stardom and tell-all mentality. They don’t realize it has nothing to do with the system within which Marilyn both cooperated and battled. Pat Newcomb, Marilyn’s last press rep, once said, ‘Marilyn never told everything to anybody.’ Although Marilyn would be delighted by her enduring fame, she would be appalled by the invasions of her privacy — because so many of those invasions are total fiction.”

Marilyn and Milton at El Morocco

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Liz Smith includes a rare photo of Marilyn and Milton Greene (provided by Jimmy Mitchell) in her latest entry for New York Social Diary. It was September 9, 1954, and Marilyn was filming scenes for The Seven Year Itch in New York. After a press party at the St Regis Hotel, Marilyn dined with Milton at the El Morocco Club. Little did Hollywood know, but the actress and photographer were plotting an alliance which would change her career forever.

Elaine Stritch 1925-2014

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American actress Elaine Stritch, whose remarkable career spanned eight decades, has died aged 89, a sad event commemorated by her longtime friend, columnist Liz Smith, in today’s Boston Herald. Stritch made her Broadway debut in 1944, and went on to appear in plays by Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Stephen Sondheim and Edward Albee.

Stritch relocated to London in the 1970s, starring alongside Donald Sinden in the ITV sitcom, Two’s Company. After returning to the US, she made two films with Woody Allen, and a series of acclaimed one-woman shows on Broadway. She recently played Alec Baldwin’s mother in TV’s 30 Rock. In 2013, she returned to her home state of Michigan, where she died yesterday.

Elaine with Liz Smith in 1956
Elaine with Liz Smith in 1956

One of Elaine’s breakout roles was as Grace, a ‘sassy diner manageress’, in the original Broadway production of William Inge’s Bus Stop (1955.) She can be seen briefly with Kim Stanley here.

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that she also knew Marilyn at this time. In a 1995 interview with New York Magazine, Stritch shared her memories of Monroe:

 

Thanks to Christy Cauley

Backstory: Marilyn on Madison, 1962

Writing for the Worcester Telegram today, Liz Smith explores the backstory behind a fan photo taken as Marilyn left John F. Kennedy’s birthday gala at Madison Square Garden. There’s just one problem – the photo isn’t included! I’ve found a file photo which seems similar, but will update this post if the real one is identified.

“Sometimes people write in ‘correcting’ us with nothing more than their opinion. And then there are people who have a story to tell. Such as Stephen William Stern. He took a fabulous shot of Marilyn Monroe, the night she sang for President Kennedy. Here is Stephen’s tale:

‘I always knew where she lived and I was always a Marilyn fan ever since I saw Love Nest in 1951. I thought she was fabulous and I felt she was the most interesting of the stars at the time.

‘All these autograph collectors always knew who was in town and where they were staying. Some people would tell me things and some wouldn’t, but I always read the gossip columns, so I was aware of this event where she was supposed to sing for the president’s birthday.

‘I went to 444 E. 57th, her building. The sun was still up when Marilyn came back from rehearsals for the show. She was dressed in slacks and a blouse, if I remember correctly. I waited there for what seemed a long time for her to change and come back out.

Marilyn leaves her apartment building for Madison Square Garden. (Screencap from footage by James Haspiel)
Earlier the same day, Marilyn was spotted outside her apartment building.(Screencap from footage by James Haspiel)

‘There were several people then that were trying to get photographs and autographs. When she came out and made it through the lobby, it was a mad scramble for us to get a picture on her way to the limo. Some people succeeded, I guess. But she was in a hurry and as soon as she got into the limousine, they just took off!

‘Some of my friends and I jumped into a cab and made it to 50th Street between 8th and 9th where there was this big metal door on the side of the old Madison Square Garden. We made our way inside only to have the police notice us, so we flew up the stairs.

‘I looked down to the stage and realized that we had missed Marilyn. She must have just gone off because there’s the president on the stage and I had no interest in the president. I was there for one reason and that was to see Marilyn!

‘We all got up then and went down the regular stairs to the main level where I saw her in the lobby in the distance. I think she was talking to Milton Berle. I hesitated to take a picture because I didn’t want to call attention to myself, so we went out to 49th Street.

‘She came out and got into the limousine and they started moving. It was a busy Saturday night in New York and around 8th Avenue, the limousine stopped. I ran up to the window. Marilyn seemed to be trying to open the window. She wanted her picture taken, but the chauffeur had locked the window. I said to myself, There she is! And she was looking fabulous, so I angled the camera and took the shot.'”