Tag Archives: Lois Banner

TV Review: ‘Marilyn – Auction Of A Lifetime’

My review of the recent Channel 4 documentary, Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime, is posted today at Immortal Marilyn. At the time of writing, the programme is still available to watch online (UK only.) And if you’re looking for a more detailed view of the sale, it’s right here.

Marilyn Symposium in Melbourne, Australia

Marilyn at UCLA, 1952 (photo by Mel Traxel)
Marilyn at UCLA, 1952 (photo by Mel Traxel)

Following the ‘Exhibiting Culture: Marilyn‘ program at LaTrobe University which accompanied the Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon exhibit at MAMA Albury in Australia earlier this year, a Marilyn Monroe Symposium will be held at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne  on November 12, with biographer Lois Banner as keynote speaker.

This Symposium creates a further outcome for the research undertaken by ten La Trobe University academics in preparation for Exhibiting Culture: Marilyn. Our interdisciplinary approach to the topic of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic status is unique. The intention of this Symposium is to go beyond nostalgia and offer a genuinely contemporary perspective on performance, celebrity and artistic response, as well as to make Marilyn provocative for us in our times.

Program:

Session 1: Keynote Address
9.30-11.00am The Cube, ACMI
Speaker: Professor Lois Banner

Morning tea: 11.00 – 11.30 am

Session 2: Matters of Performance
11.30am-1.00pm The Cube, ACMI
Felicity Collins; Margaret Hickey; Nicole Jenkins; Sofia Ahlberg

Lunch: 1.00 – 2.00 pm

Session 3: Image, Identity, Icon
2.00-3.30pm, The Cube, ACMI
Speakers: Sue Gillett, Kristian Haggblom, Terrie Waddell, Kevin Brianton

Afternoon tea: 3.30 – 4.00 pm

Session 4: Property, Power, Profession
4.00-5.30pm The Cube, ACMI
Tansy Curtin; Francine Rochford; Edgar Burns

Thanks to Marisa

Marilyn: A Political Animal

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Marilyn had a lifelong affinity with the underdog and a passion for justice. Her hero was Abraham Lincoln. She was proud of her working-class origins, and defended husband Arthur Miller in his stand against red-baiting. She also supported the Civil Rights movement. In an article for Time, Lily Rothman interviews Marilyn’s biographer, Dr Lois Banner, on the subject of her ‘forgotten radical politics.’

“Those beliefs were a product of her time, Banner says: being born in 1926 meant that she was a child during the Great Depression … As a result of her own poverty and her close contact with people of other races, Monroe grew up with progressive views on race and what Banner calls a ‘populist vision of equality for all classes.’

Her background peeked through in her film roles, as she was often cast as a working girl … Even as Monroe stepped out in public in glamorous evening gowns, she favored blue jeans and flat shoes at home.

In 1956, when she married the playwright Arthur Miller, her working-class roots blossomed into full-on political fervor. In 1960, she became a founding member of the Hollywood branch of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy; that same year, as she kept a home in Roxbury, Conn., she was elected as an alternate delegate to the state’s Democratic caucus. She did not hide her pro-Castro views on Cuba or her support for the then-burgeoning civil rights movement.

Broadway was not affected by McCarthyism and anti-Communist investigations to the same extent as the movie business, but Miller was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee shortly before their marriage. Monroe was never called on, which Banner believes was because the anti-Communist Congressmen ‘thought she was just a dumb blonde.’ (In fact, some historians have theorized that Miller saw Monroe as a political shield.)

‘When you put it all together, [her political side] is pretty substantial. But in most of the biographies, including mine, it comes out as salt scattered on the biography, because one gets so fascinated by her psychological makeup,’ [Banner] says. ‘But the political involvements are no less real.'”

Julien’s Reveal Marilyn’s ‘Lost Archive’

Julien’s Auctions have announced details of their next auction, ‘Icons and Idols: Property from the Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe‘, set for December 6. Already the subject of many news articles, the auction items can be viewed here.

With Joe in Japan (photo cut in half)
With Joe in Japan (photo cut in half)
Visiting a Geisha house in Japan, 1954
Visiting a Geisha house in Japan, 1954

It is quite simply a treasure trove for biographers. Some of the items are from the collection of Lois Banner, author of MM Personal. However many have never been seen before, and are listed simply as being from ‘the lost archive of Marilyn Monroe’.

“Monroe…willed ‘The Lost Archives’ to her mentor, the legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg,” the Hollywood Reporter writes. “He gave it to a friend he trusted would take proper care. That friend’s family, which Julien said wants to remain anonymous, obviously met Strasberg’s expectations. Many of the letters look as pristine as the day their authors wrote them.”

Photographed by Manfred Kreiner in 1959, while promoting 'Some Like it Hot' in Chicago
Photographed by Manfred Kreiner in 1959, while promoting ‘Some Like it Hot’ in Chicago
At an American Friends of Hebrew University dinner, 1959
At an American Friends of Hebrew University dinner, 1959

Among the 300 items on offer are photos by Andre de Dienes, Joe Jasgur, Milton Greene, and Manfred Kreiner; photos taken during filming of Let’s Make Love and The Misfits; a home movie from the set of The Misfits; photos taken during Marilyn’s trip to Japan and Korea in 1954, and at the American Friends of Hebrew University dinner in 1959; love letters from Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller; correspondence from Sam Shaw, Pat Newcomb, May Reis, actors Tom Neal and Delos Smith Jr., Cary Grant, Jane Russell, Sid Ross (the journalist brother of photographer Ben Ross), Lotte Goslar, Henry Rosenfeld, Cheryl Crawford, Amy Greene, James Haspiel, Dr. Margaret Hohenberg, Garson Kanin, Peter Leonardi, Norman Rosten, Jerry Wald, and many others; the black velvet dress she wore to a press conference at New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1956; a favourite overcoat; a photo of Ginger Rogers, signed ‘to Norma Jeane Baker’;  and assorted homeware.

Publicity shots for 'Let's Make Love'
Publicity shots for ‘Let’s Make Love’

Taraborrelli’s Marilyn Set for TV

taraborelli pb

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, celebrity author J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2009 biography, is being adapted into a mini series for the Lifetime Channel, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Lifetime is poised to find out if blondes really do have more fun…24 and The Kennedys‘ Stephen Kronish is on board to pen the mini, with Sherrybaby‘s Laurie Collyer attached to direct the Marilyn Monroe entry. The entry hails from Asylum Entertainment, the production company behind Lifetime’s June Carter Cash biopic Ring of Fire as well as Reelz Channel’s ratings hit The Kennedys.

Asylum’s Jonathan Koch and Steven Michaels will exec produce alongside Kronish and Keri Selig. Selig was attached to exec produce Reelz’s Kennedys follow-up, After Camelot, which, like Marilyn, was based on a book by Taraborrelli.

Taraborrelli’s book is considered the most definitive Monroe biography. Published in 2010 [actually, it was 2009], the title explored the actress/pin-up girl’s relationship with her mentally ill mother, her foster mother and her legal guardian as well as Monroe’s own mental illness and her relationships with her family and the Kennedys.”

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe is a sympathetic take on MM, and avoids conspiracy theories about her death. Director Laurie Collyer has enjoyed critical acclaim. However, Lifetime’s recent biopics (such as Liz and Dick, starring Lindsay Lohan) have been widely panned. And screenwriter Stephen Kronish’s prior depiction of Marilyn in The Kennedys was rather disappointing.

One of Taraborrelli’s more contentious allegations about Marilyn is that she suffered from schizophrenia, which has never been proved. Some authors have also raised doubts about Taraborrelli’s use of unnamed sources. In Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012), Lois Banner criticised the author for not using footnotes, arguing that this made it ‘impossible’ to check his sources and evaluate his conclusions.

Banner judged Taraborrelli’s allegation that Grace Goddard put Norma Jeane in the orphanage because she wasn’t getting along with Doc’s daughter, Nona, as ‘incorrect’, adding, ‘I can find no evidence that Nona lived with them in 1935. [Fred Lawrence] Guiles [in Legend] mentions a visit that summer.’

Banner also challenged Taraborrelli’s claim that Marilyn took liquor to Rockhaven Sanatorium to drink with her mother (Gladys Baker Eley, a residential patient from 1952-1967) as ‘inaccurate,’ adding that ‘Gladys considered drinking a sin, and Marilyn never visited her…Marilyn wasn’t present when Grace discussed placing Gladys at Rockhaven, and Gladys was taken to Norwalk State Mental Hospital before Grace took her to Rockhaven some months later.’

You can read my review of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe here.

 

De Kooning’s Marilyn at the Smithsonian

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Eight years before Andy Warhol, the Dutch-born American painter, Willem de Kooning was perhaps the first great artist to immortalise Marilyn. His 1954 expressionist work is featured in a new exhibition, Face Value: Portraiture In the Age of Abstraction, opening at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC tomorrow (April 15) through to next January, reports the Times Colonist.

During the summer of 1957, De Kooning was a neighbour of Marilyn and Arthur Miller in Amagansett, New York. “Totally abstract, Marilyn looks like a cross between a grinning child and a screaming fury, not like the soft and gentle Marilyn,” Lois Banner wrote in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012.) “Yet he captured part of her essence – childlike, but angry when crossed. The portrait was hung in the Museum of Modern Art, and it produced a stir. Arthur detested it, but Marilyn didn’t mind: she thought artists had the right to their own vision of the subject they painted. It led to the many pop art portraits of her.”

Lois Banner’s ‘Proto-Feminist’ Marilyn

banner mm

Dr Lois Banner, author of MM – Personal and Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, has written an article for Miss Millennia about re-interpreting Marilyn from a feminist perspective.

“It’s hard to apply the term ‘feminism’ to Marilyn, since the movement didn’t really exist during her lifetime.  In its modern incarnation, it can be dated to the publication of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique in 1963.  (Marilyn died in 1962). Yet I was surprised to find that Marilyn was always egalitarian…regarding Marilyn as a tough career woman, I call her a ‘proto-feminist.’  But the real tragedy of her life was that she had no ideology with which to understand her condition, no way of putting the oppression she experienced into a framework that would enable her to name it…Without a feminist point of view, she kept recycling old solutions that didn’t work–an overdependence on men, an addiction to drugs, and a continuation of presenting herself as a sex object to the point that she herself felt degraded by it.”

‘The Unclaimed Trunk of Marilyn Monroe’

Princess Tenko is ‘a Japanese pop singer turned magician specialising in grand illusions’ (according to her Wikipedia page.) A new documentary, Unclaimed Baggage, focuses on a Louis Vuitton trunk she bought at auction, which supposedly belonged to Marilyn.

The story is that the trunk was sent by the Vanderbilts, whom Marilyn met on her trip to Mexico in 1962. Born into one of America’s richest families, Fred Vanderbilt-Field was an expatriate who had embraced communism. (Ironically, there are few more potent symbols of capitalism than a Louis Vuitton trunk.)

The Vanderbilts stayed at Marilyn’s New York apartment in the spring of 1962, while she was filming Something’s Got to Give in Hollywood. After they left, Marilyn received a reprimand from the owners of her apartment building – probably because of her guests’ left-wing affiliations.

Until Princess Tenko’s purchase in 2005, it’s said that the trunk languished in a New York warehouse. After performing at President Kennedy’s birthday gala in May, Marilyn returned to Los Angeles where she died in August. If the trunk was a gift, it’s possible that she never had the chance to accept it.

Personally, I’m not convinced that this trunk really belonged to Marilyn. However, the emotional response of people to items connected with MM intrigues me, and the vast sums of money some are willing to pay – whether or not they are genuine. Maybe that is the real point of this documentary, which features appearances by Greg Schreiner (president of Marilyn Remembered), and authors Lois Banner and John Gilmore, among others.

Unclaimed Baggage will be shown on French television next week (France 1, 16th January at 21.35.) You can read more about it (and view trailers) over at Messy Nessy Chic.

Marilyn and the Geishas

This giant image of Marilyn, in her iconic ‘skirt-blowing’ pose from The Seven Year Itch – alongside a traditional Geisha – in a Japanese rice field is part of an annual ‘Tanbo Art’ display, reports EuroNews.

During her 1954 visit to Japan with then-husband, Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn was photographed with a group of Geishas.

After Marilyn’s death, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland said,  ‘She was a geisha. She was born to give pleasure, spent her whole life doing it, and knew no other way.’

And one of Monroe’s most recent biographers, Lois Banner, has referred to Cecil Beaton‘s 1956 diptych – which Marilyn kept, framed, on her piano – as ‘the geisha photograph.’

Variety Reviews ‘Love, Marilyn’

Variety has reviewed Love, Marilyn, giving us a fuller picture of the cast and materials. (David Strathairn as Arthur Miller is surely inspired casting!)

“With: F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Banks, Adrien Brody, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Hope Davis, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Ben Foster, Paul Giamatti, Jack Huston, Stephen Lang, Lindsay Lohan, Janet McTeer, Jeremy Piven, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Marisa Tomei, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Lois Banner, George Barris, Patricia Bosworth, Sarah Churchwell, Amy Greene, Molly Haskell, Jay Kanter, Richard Meryman, Thomas Schatz, Donald Spoto.

Two unearthed boxes of diary entries, letters and whatnot (some of which were published in 2010 as Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe) provide the novelty and appeal to what would otherwise be a standard life-overview. The erstwhile Norma Jean Baker’s awful childhood, her stormy marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, the paralyzing effects of her insecurities on film shoots, her problematic alliance with the Actors Studio, her pill consumption, et al., all constitute familiar terrain that makes Love, Marilyn seem redundant at times.

The first-person testimonies are more interesting, from archival clips of Susan Strasberg, John Huston, Joshua Logan, Jane Russell, Laurence Olivier and others to excerpts from memoirs and other writings by one of her many shrinks (read by F. Murray Abraham), Miller (David Strathairn), and analysts Gloria Steinem (Hope Davis) and Norman Mailer (Ben Foster), among others. Particularly flavorful are Oliver Platt and Paul Giamatti as Billy Wilder and George Cukor, respectively, both recalling their exasperation working with the hypersensitive box office sensation. There are also present-tense interviews with biographers, critics, Actors Studio contemporary Ellen Burstyn, and close non-celebrity friend Amy Greene (who shares some salty thoughts on Marilyn’s husbands).

While there’s no question Garbus has recruited first-rate talent to pay homage here, some of the most impressive names prove heavy-handed or simply miscast in attempting to channel the love goddess’s fragile spirit; moreover, having them act against green-screened archival materials has a tacky, pop-up televisual feel. Probably most effective in their straightforward readings are Jennifer Ehle, who gets a fair amount of screentime, and (perhaps surprisingly) Lindsay Lohan, who does not.

Limiting clips from predictable movie highlights, and skipping over several well-known titles entirely, the pic tries to emphasize lesser-known materials, including numerous candid photos, behind-the-scenes footage, and one uncomfortable live appearance on TV’s Person to Person.”