Bill Pursel 1925-2017

Bill Pursel, who befriended Marilyn during the early years of her career, has died aged 91, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“William Albert Lloyd Pursel was born July 24, 1925, in Marshalltown, Iowa. His family moved to Las Vegas in 1939. After graduating from Las Vegas High School, class of 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in The European Theatre during World War II. He became a sales manager for KLAS Radio and covered several atomic bomb explosions at the Nevada Test Site. He was a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant with The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company. He was president of The Life Underwriters Association of Nevada. He was active in The Las Vegas Jr. Chamber of Commerce, a founding member of The Sports Car Club of America in So Nevada, a charter member of Trinity United Methodist Church, and belonged to both the Masonic Lodge and the Elks Lodge. He served two-four year terms as a trustee at Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital (UMC).”

Snapshots given to Bill Pursel by Marilyn in 1947

Bill’s memories of Marilyn – they dated on and off for several years – were unknown to to the public until he spoke with Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. They met in 1946, when 19 year-old Norma Jeane was staying with a family friend in Las Vegas while waiting her divorce from Jim Dougherty. Bill later visited her in Los Angeles, and was waiting at the house she shared with Ana Lower when she returned from a meeting at Twentieth Century Fox with a contract and a new name.

She was dropped by the studio a year later, but pursued her craft at the Actors Lab, even once asking college student Bill to enroll. They remained close after she began a romance with Fred Karger in 1948, and she later asked Bill to protect her from a ‘beach wolf’ – none other than actor Peter Lawford, who would play a significant role in her final days. Bill saw her as both dedicated and vulnerable in Hollywood, recalling a distressing phonecall during the Love Happy promotional tour of 1949. And then, just as their relationship seemed likely to turn serious, Marilyn called it off – leaving Bill with nothing but a couple of signed photos (now owned by collector Scott Fortner.)

Marilyn’s parting gift to Bill

Bill heard from Marilyn just once more, shortly after she began dating Joe DiMaggio. By then, Bill was happily married. He later recalled seeing her singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy on television, just months before her death in 1962. He felt no bitterness, and knowing her sensitive nature, he was saddened but not surprised by her tragic demise.

Mr Pursel died last Thursday, June 1st – on what would have been Marilyn’s 91st birthday. He is survived by his wife of more than sixty years, Mabel ‘Mac’ Salisbury Pursel; and his children, William ‘Bill’, Kristie, and Kim (‘Bill’) Toffelmire, her stepchildren and their children, and several nieces and nephews.

Michelle Morgan has written an emotional tribute to Bill Pursel:

“He has been a constant presence in my life since 2005, when I first contacted him during the writing of my Marilyn book. What started out as an interview, turned into a friendship between Bill, his beautiful wife Mac, his family and my own … My work has been deeply enriched because of Bill’s stories, and my life has been changed because of his friendship. He was a huge supporter of my career, and gave me lots of advice in recent years … Good night, Bill. Thank you for your wonderful friendship. You were one of the best friends I ever had.”

You can pay your respects to Bill here.

Marilyn’s ‘Love Happy’ Mink for Sale

Marilyn with Groucho Marx in 'Love Happy'
Marilyn with Groucho Marx in ‘Love Happy’

The mink stole worn by Marilyn for her walk-on part in the final Marx Brothers movie, Love Happy (1949), is up for bids at Nate D. Sanders Auctions this Thursday, September 29,  with a starting price of $20,000. The sewn-on Western Costume Co. label includes her name in bold type. (A first issue of Playboy is also on offer at Thursday’s auction.)

UPDATE: Marilyn’s mink stole went unsold.

Marilyn: An Icon in the Making

 

Exhibition curator Bianca Acimovic
Exhibition curator Bianca Acimovic

Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon – the touring exhibit focusing on the imagery that made MM go global – is due to open at MAMA Albury in Australia on February 12, with a late addition of rare photos depicting a young Marilyn, taken by Art Meyers in Chicago during the Love Happy promotional tour of 1949, and provided by a local businessman, Colin Glassborow, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

albury rare pics

“Mr Glassborow, 71, says he was bequeathed 12 photographs of the star by his American friend Art Meyers, a freelance photographer who was hired to follow Monroe around Chicago’s Wrigley Stadium in 1949.

Later that day Meyers also photographed the then 23-year-old starlet sitting with the actor Roddy McDowall at Chicago’s infamous Ricketts’ nightclub.

Mr Glassborow, who owns Albury Building Supplies, said he met Meyers when he visited the Playboy building in Chicago in 1974. They became friends after Meyers offered to show him and his brother around Chicago, and over the years holidayed together. Meyers also visited him in Albury in 1995.

‘There are 12 altogether,’ Mr Glassborow said of the black and white photos, prints of which he started selling online via his website marilynmonroe-photos.com to help Meyers financially before the photographer died, at the age of 90, in 2010. He loaned eight images to the museum, six of which will go on display from Friday.

‘He was a freelance photographer at the time and he happened to be there … they were having a pro celebrity match with old legends and Hollywood celebrities,’ Mr Glassborow said of the Wrigley Stadium event Meyers photographed.

‘He was asked if he would take photographs at the old Ricketts’ nightclub … Al Capone used to visit there apparently.’

‘She was there with Roddy McDowall,’ he said of Monroe. ‘She’d only been in bit parts in three small movies, but the next year she got more with it and in a couple of years she was a household name, she quickly took off.’

‘A lot of people are in awe of the photograph,’ he says of the image of Monroe with McDowall, which he has had colourised and blown up, and displays in a gold frame in his secretary’s office.”

When Miss Mizzou Met Marilyn

miss mizzou

In a new book, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics, J.B. Winter explores how, back in 1952, a rising star called Marilyn Monroe was rumoured to have inspired cartoonist Milton Caniff to create Miss Mizzou, a trench-coated blonde bombshell, featured in his popular Steve Canyon adventure series about an Air Force pilot. She became a cult figure, and was even the subject of a lookalike contest, reports CAFNR News.

‘For some time I had been mulling over a girl character who would be what a Marilyn Monroe type might be like if she had not hit the jackpot in Hollywood,’ Caniff once said in an interview. ‘Every college town has girls who live and work on the edge of the campus and who are very much a part of the life of the school,’ Caniff is quoted as saying in a letter to the Missouri Alumnus magazine in 1954.” – Columbia Missourian

According to Wikipedia, the Marilyn connection was confirmed in the May 1953 issue of Pageant magazine, although it was actually actress Bek Nelson-Gordon (nee Stiner) who provided Caniff with a visual model. Another character, Madame Lynx, was based on Madame Egelichi, the spy played by Ilona Massey in the 1949 Marx Brothers swansong, Love Happy, which also featured MM – and Massey also posed for Caniff. ‘Pipper the Piper’, who appeared just once, was modelled on John F. Kennedy.

A cartoonist himself, Winter – who lives in Columbia, Missouri – talked about Miss Mizzou and her local connections in an interview with Move, student magazine of the University of Missouri (or ‘Mizzou’.)

“Winter said he seeks to prove that the Miss Mizzou character was not simply a ‘one-line footnote in local history.’ Though his nonfiction book originally arose from pure curiosity, his research, which included sifting through plenty of microfilm, soon became much bigger.

‘I found out about Miss Mizzou in 2007,’ Winter says. ‘There was a blog post on a comic historian’s website. He just posted a picture or two, not a lot of context. So, I was just like, What is this character? I thought it was just a character who appeared and that was it. I had no idea that there was all this campus interest. That continually surprised me.’

Dirk Burhans, a fellow cartoonist and creator of the Epiffany Jones comic strip, helped Winter with his book by reading early versions and making comments and suggestions. Burhans said he is also familiar with the importance of Caniff in the comic world.

‘Caniff was such a big deal,’ Burhans says. ‘Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon were the archetypal adventure strip that others used as their model. His artwork was characterized by simple lines and strong, confident use of light and shadow.’

Oddly enough, Caniff was not even a Columbia native; he lived mostly in New York City. Caniff only spent 24 hours in Columbia, to give a speech entitled ‘Comic Strips Are Serious Business.’

Those hours must have been serious business for Caniff, because three years later, Miss Mizzou made her seductive grand entrance, dressed only in a golden trench coat.

‘It’s such a strange story,’ Winter says. ‘Caniff only came here for 24 hours and for it to just be such a big thing, it’s just strange.’

The Marilyn Monroe-influenced Miss Mizzou immediately gained popularity. Winter cites numerous reasons for her fame, especially the inspiration behind her character and alumni interest.

‘Initially I think it might have been Marilyn Monroe, the fact that Marilyn Monroe was becoming popular the same time Miss Mizzou was,’ Winter says. ‘When Caniff made that character, I don’t think he realized how big Marilyn Monroe was going to be.

‘You also have alumni interest. Specifically, you have a journalism school. They were interested because they were newspaper people, so they were interested in a newspaper strip.’

Burhans also says Miss Mizzou gained popularity because she wasn’t like any other female comic character.

‘Caniff’s strips cycled through a number of sexy femme fatale characters who had the thick eyelashes and pouty lips. Miss Mizzou does not seem to be one of these, but rather was an ally of Steve Canyon’s,’ Burhans says.”

Behind the Scenes of ‘Love Happy’

dvd-lovehappy-grouchomarx-650

Love Happy (1949) was the final, and least popular Marx Brothers film. Today it is chiefly remembered for a short scene pairing Groucho and a young Marilyn. Writing for Pop Matters, Jose Solis takes another look at this comic curiosity.

“It seems as if the film created a rift in the siblings’ relationship, as Groucho would pretty much go on to disown this film from existing within the canon of official Marx Brothers’ movies, going as far as to completely ignore it in his autobiography. It seems as if the only cause of pride he found in the film was his ‘accidental’ discovery of an actress who would go on to become one of Hollywood’s brightest icons: Marilyn Monroe, who would be dead little over a decade after the film was made.

Love Happy is by no means a bad film—it has some of the funniest scenes in the Marx Brothers’ filmography. When watching the movie, however, its problematic production history is obvious. For example, there are no scenes featuring all three brothers together, despite director David Miller’s sly hints teasing the audience into believing this will occur at some point. (Miller would go on to direct camp classic Sudden Fear starring Joan Crawford). There is an epic scene towards the end that seems to promise us of the explosive encounter to come, which then never materializes.

By the time they made the film, the Brothers weren’t even performing together as an act. Perhaps Love Happy is nothing but a reminder of the power money has over artists. Perhaps it’s an interesting reminder of how Hollywood has time and time again made people who weren’t on the best terms work together to create something. Or, perhaps, it should simply be remembered or thought of, as the movie where Marilyn first took the world’s breath away, at least for a few seconds. (Her ‘official’ debut would come the following year in All About Eve).”

Korea Photos, and More, at Heritage Auctions

Heritage Auctions are holding an Entertainment & Music Memorabilia sale on August 10th, including several very desirable Marilyn-related items. Among the lots, two sets of rare Korea photos have attracted the attention of the Daily Mail:

“A set of 13 black and white photographs, taken by an official army photographer, capture touching behind the scenes moments from the tour.

Monroe, who was aged 28 at the time, is seen in combat boots and black trousers and a flight jacket chatting to soldiers and signing autographs in the 8ins by 10ins prints.

Several images show her on stage wowing crowds in a sparkling cocktail dress while in others she is wearing her famed houndstooth dress from her film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

A set of four colour slides depict Monroe mingling and laughing with troops and signing autographs.

A 90-second clip of unseen footage from the visit shot by a young soldier shows her arriving in an army helicopter, meeting troops then leaving in the helicopter.

The images were bought by a collector in the 1990s direct from the photographer and have never been published.

Margaret Barrett, director of entertainment at Heritage Auctions, said: ‘These photos came from a collector who bought them about 18 years ago for very little money.

‘It isn’t known who shot the photos but we think it would have been an official Army photographer because they are professional images.

‘There were thousands of soldiers there all with their cameras but these photos show Marilyn behind the scenes posing for the camera and signing things for VIPs.

‘It was the only trip she did to see troops and in fact she only ever visited England after that trip – she wasn’t a world traveller.

‘These photos are really nice and have never been seen before. The photographer was with Marilyn at all the events she went to while in Korea.’

‘There are not too many quality photos of this trip, especially ones such as these which capture the behind the scenes moments.'”

Also on offer is the ‘possibly worn’ silver evening gown from Love Happy; some offscreen clothing; letters from Jean Negulesco and William Inge, and one from Marilyn to Inez Melson; two books owned by MM; and scripts for Don’t Bother to Knock, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire and Let’s Make Love.

 And finally, this rather sweet photo was taken on the set of Love Nest in 1951.

Gemini Child: The Spiritual Marilyn

Dr Lois Banner, whose MM biography will be published in July, has written a birthday tribute to Marilyn for the Huffington Post.

“A deeply spiritual individual and a believer in astrology, she considered her sign — Gemini, identified with ‘the twins’ — to be an indicator of who she was. Geminis supposedly have shape-shifting personalities that swing between opposites: happiness and sadness; kindness and narcissism, shyness and ebullience.

Such swings were standard for Marilyn, who could be so shy that she would stammer in confusion; so bold that she could swear like a trooper; so mesmeric that she drew everyone’s attention; so ordinary that she drew no attention. She could be withdrawn or ebullient, downcast or laughing, with an ability to make hilarious puns or tell jokes. She could be a seductress to men or a buddy, playing pranks as one of the boys.

She was proud of her mercurial self, as difficult as it could be to handle. A reporter once asked her: ‘Did you know that you were born under the same sign as Rosalind Russell and Judy Garland?’ Showing her considerable intelligence, Marilyn replied: ‘I know nothing of these people. I was born under the same sign as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Queen Victoria and Walt Whitman.'”

Banner also relates a little-known anecdote about a birthday gift Marilyn once received from dress manufacturer Henry Rosenfeld.

“In 1955 Henry Rosenfeld, a manufacturer of women’s dresses in New York and a wealthy friend and occasional lover, gave her a 200-carat diamond bracelet for her birthday, with the note, ‘I want you to be happy above everything else in the world.’ (Marilyn owned mostly costume jewelry; the real diamonds must have thrilled her.) Marilyn and Henry, who met by accident in New York in 1949, when she went on a tour to promote Love Happy, were very close throughout the rest of her life; before Marilyn married Arthur Miller, he was jealous of Henry.”

Love Happy: ‘A Times Square Fantasia’

‘I don’t have the evidence to prove it,’ writes Stuart Mitchner in Princeton Town Topics, ‘but I’d bet that the majority of first-run movies made between 1920 and 1950 are set in New York City and that of those, more than half open with a shot of Times Square at night.’

He goes on to mention Harpo Marx’s spectacular flight ‘across the floodlit playground of animated neon above Times Square’ in Love Happy (1949), the final Marx Brothers movie in which a young Marilyn also appeared:

‘Love Happy opened at the Criterion Theatre on Times Square the first week in April 1950. Among several things the “horrible movie” (Groucho’s comment) has going for it is Marilyn Monroe, who pays a brief, breathtaking, off-the-shoulder-evening-gowned visit to Groucho’s nearsighted private eye Sam Grunion (“Men follow me” is how she explains her predicament).’

Alleged Blue Movie Resurfaces

Another alleged sex tape has resurfaced, to be auctioned by Spanish collector Mikel Barsa. This tape is nothing new – it was released as a DVD a few years ago, rather cheekily entitled The Bluest Marilyn Monroe.

Speaking to NPR, Los Angeles-based collector Scott Fortner confirmed what most informed fans believe – that the girl in the clip was not Marilyn:

“That’s not Marilyn. The chin is not the same, the lips are not the same, the teeth are not the same. Marilyn was a tiny little thing. And I know that for a fact. I own her clothing…In the Marilyn community, people have debated this for years and years and for the most part it’s widely believed that this is not her.”

However, Barsa insists that the woman is indeed the young, pre-stardom Monroe:

“People with romantic notions have denied that it’s Marilyn Monroe, and have invented stories…This film shows the real Marilyn Monroe — it was only later that the studios discovered her and transformed her.”

Barsa first made the film public in 1997, and at the time CMG – then MM’s licensing company – threatened to sue. While it is true that Marilyn’s appearance subtly changed over the years, in my opinion her jaw was never as square as that of the unidentified girl in the clip.

For comparison, here’s a photo by J.R. Eyerman of a noticeably slimmer Marilyn in one of her early movies, Love Happy (1949.)

Another stag film attributed to MM, The Apple-Knockers and the Coke, was correctly identified as starring Playboy model and MM lookalike Arline Hunter by collector (and friend of Marilyn) James Haspiel as long ago as the 1970s.

While Marilyn did pose topless or even nude on occasion, no sex film has ever been attributed to her. And yet rumours continue to circulate, and titillate a scandal-hungry public.

Mr Barsa plans to auction the film in Buenos Aires on August 7, days after the 49th anniversary of Marilyn’s. Coincidence, or marketing opportunity? You decide…

UPDATE: An excellent blog post from Scott Fortner points out the main differences between the girl in the film and the young Marilyn.

Marilyn Monroe Porno? The Widow’s Peak Speaks

Top 10 Classic Hollywood Actors

Marilyn comes in 3rd, after Orson Welles and Humphrey Bogart, on this list from Screen Junkies. Along with Bette Davis, she is the only woman on the list – and she appeared in All About Eve alongside Davis, as well as Cary Grant (Monkey Business), Groucho Marx (Love Happy), and her idol, Clark Gable, in The Misfits – the last film either completed.

‘There were many early Hollywood sex symbols, but Marilyn Monroe brought sexy to a whole new level. Her most famous movies were “Niagara’ (1953), “Some Like it Hot” (1959) and “Seven Year Itch” (1955).’