All About Marilyn, an old-school fanclub relaunched on social media, has begun a weekly podcast on Soundcloud. You can catch the first episode – featuring an interview with Marilyn in Manhattan author Elizabeth Winder – here.
Over at The History Reader today, Marilyn in Manhattan author Elizabeth Winder writes about Marilyn’s friendship with Truman Capote, and how she inspired his 1958 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (Marilyn was one of several muses for his heroine, Holly Golightly; more details here.)
“Where Truman shrank from his backwoods pedigree, Marilyn wore hers like a badge. She was rightly proud of overcoming her obstacles- the foster homes, the orphanage, the abuse that began as a child and continued into her starlet years. And when Truman longed to be ‘terribly rich’ Marilyn ‘just wanted to be wonderful.’
She was wonderful, and Truman knew it. Between dancing and lunching and knocking back cocktails, he spent most of that summer glued to his typewriter clanging out a novella. The inspiration—a black frocked girl with a ‘soap and lemon cleanness,’ a curvy mouth, upturned nose and saucer eyes of green-flecked blue. Her tussled hair cut like a boy’s, dyed in ‘ragbag’ shades of light with ‘tawny streaks’ and ‘strands of albino-blond and yellow.’
She scamped around the city in sunglasses and slips, full of nerves and insomnia and a stamped-out past. She drank bourbon to fight off the ‘mean reds,’ she believed in self-improvement, she read horoscopes and Hemingway and William Somerset Maughn. She was Holly Golightly—Truman’s love letter to hope, New York City, and Marilyn Monroe.”
Elizabeth Winder, author of Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy – published today – has spoken to Immortal Marilyn about the different side of MM that she hopes her readers will discover.
“I wish they knew that Marilyn was funny– I don’t mean the witty media quips but that warm-hearted kind of funny that makes you smile and want to hug someone. I wish they knew that Marilyn actually read Ulysses and didn’t just pose with it. I wish they knew that as a starving model she spent her money on books instead of food. I could go on and on– that’s why I wrote Marilyn in Manhattan– I totally fell in love with her!”
“In an age where women’s hair skewed complex and baroque, Marilyn showed up to movie premieres looking fluffed-up and windblown, in platinum pompadours more tousled than James Dean’s. Friends begged her to brush out her bedhead, which she did rarely, and then only with a gold-plated hairbrush given to her by Frank Sinatra. She hated anything fussy or prissy, refused to wear jewelry, and stuck to a neutral palette — an invisible backdrop to her own pearly beauty. In the wasp-waisted, Dior-dominated ‘50s, Marilyn went back to basics: she went braless, skipped girdles, and commissioned custom-made, simple black slips from a beloved tailor in New York City. She found a template she liked and ordered copies by the dozen, in identical forms and varying fabrics, some matte, some faille, some velveteen, all in black.”
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.
“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.
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.