Tag Archives: Maurice Zolotow

Revisiting Zolotow’s Marilyn

An original review of Maurice Zolotow’s 1961 biography of Marilyn – the first detailed study of her life – is republished today in The Guardian, with critic Richard West proving that highbrow condescension is nothing new. (The above dedication was penned by  Zolotow for teenage superfan James Haspiel, with Marilyn adding her two cents below.)

“The British intelligentsia are suckers for the Cinderella myth. Show them a pin-up girl turned movie star and they will rush to recognise her as a ‘natural actress,’ ‘a born comedienne,’ or ‘artlessly touching.’ One can think of at least three beautiful women, with no acting capabilities whatsoever, who have been acclaimed as actresses by the serious British critics. The same critics had very probably jeered at these same girls when they were merely ‘sex symbols.'”

Naked Truths: Drake, Rushdie and Marilyn

10373848_1451182991791300_5610828183029719260_nThe award-winning novelist, Salman Rushdie, has praised the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake in a video for Pitchfork, noting an allusion to one of Marilyn’s most famous quotes in ‘What’s My Name‘, Drake’s 2010 duet with pop star Rihanna.

“He also complements Drake on a subtle Marilyn Monroe reference in the What’s My Name line ‘Okay, away we go/Only thing we have on is the radio’. As he explains, ‘She [Monroe] posed in the nude and she was asked if she had nothing on, and she said ‘I have the radio on’.”

As Stacy Eubank reveals in her excellent book, Holding a Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, Marilyn’s remark was first reported by gossip columnist Erskine Johnson in August 1952, while she was filming Niagara on location in Canada. Marilyn’s candid humour won over the public, though her detractors questioned whether the quote was really her own.

In 1955, Roy Craft – Marilyn’s publicist at Twentieth Century-Fox – dispelled the rumour, telling the Saturday Evening Post‘s Pete Martin, “To give it a light touch, when she was asked, ‘Didn’t you have anything on at all when you were posing for that picture?’ we were supposed to have told her to say, ‘I had the radio on.’ I’m sorry to disagree with the majority, but she made up those cracks herself.”

Photographer Tom Kelley – who shot the nude calendar in 1949 – told Maurice Zolotow in 1955, “It wasn’t the radio. It was a phonograph. I had Artie Shaw’s record of ‘Begin the Beguine’ playing. I find ‘Begin the Beguine’ helps to create vibrations.’

In a 1956 interview with Milton Shulman, Marilyn herself explained, “It was a large press conference, and some very fierce woman journalist – I think she was Canadian – stood up and said: ‘do you mean to tell us you didn’t have anything on when you posed for that nude picture?’ Suddenly, an old nightclub joke popped into my head. ‘Oh, no,’ I said. ‘I had the radio on.’ I just changed the words around a bit, but I thought everybody knew it.”

New in Books: ‘All the Best Lines’, and More

Photo by Fraser Penney
Photo by Fraser Penney

All the Best Lines, George Tiffin’s collection of movie-related quotes, anecdotes, is out now in paperback with a gorgeous cover photo of Marilyn on the set of There’s No Business Like Show Business (the hardback features Grace Kelly and Cary Grant on the cover instead.) A chapter entitled ‘I Just Want to Be Wonderful’ is dedicated to MM. All the Best Lines is available from The Works and other bookshops.

In August, I posted about a new Italian book focusing on Marilyn’s cinematic legacy, Marilyn Monroe Inganni. Fraser Penney – IM staffer and friend – has shared a preview with ES Updates.

Maurice Zolotow’s seminal 1961 biography has been released in Spanish, with an extensive photo section. Let’s hope it will be reissued in English as well, as it’s essential reading for any true fan.

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Another old favourite, Michael Conway and Mark Ricci’s The Films of Marilyn Monroe, was also reissued in Italy recently. Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about the history of Marilyn’s home studio, Peter Lev’s Twentieth Century-Fox: The Zanuck-Skouras Years is out now in paperback. And a new retrospective of Eve Arnold’s long career features Marilyn on the cover.

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Writing Marilyn: Carl Rollyson

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Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated, the upcoming new edition of Carl Rollyson‘s 1986 biography, now has a book trailer. You can see it here.

Rollyson has also spoken about the process of writing about Marilyn in an interview with the How Did You Write That? blog.

“HDYWT:  How did you come up with the idea for Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress?

Carl: While Norman Mailer’s biography of Monroe has been much maligned, it is, in fact, an important work not only about Monroe but about the genre of biography …Mailer used one word to describe Monroe that no other biographer had used. He called her ambition ‘Napoleonic.’  That was very astute.  The more I read about her, the more I could see his point.  She really did want to conquer the world and, in many ways, she has succeeded…I spent the summer of 1980 reading the literature about Monroe. I realized that even the most important books about her, including Mailer’s, missed the most important part of her biography. She had this terrific desire to be an actress.  Did she, in fact, become an actress, or just a star?

HDYWT:  How did you get started on the project?

Carl: I was fortunate that I knew Bruce Minnix, director of the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. Bruce had told me long before I ever dreamed of writing about Monroe that he knew two of her friends. So I called on Bruce, who put me in touch with Ralph Roberts, Marilyn’s masseur and confidant, and Steffi Sidney, the daughter of Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, who helped Monroe invent some of the more dramatic stories about her life. They, in turned, connected me with others, like Rupert Allan, Marilyn’s most important publicist. Just as important were my contacts with Maurice Zolotow and Fred Lawrence Guiles, two of Marilyn’s early and most important biographers. They were wonderful to me, sharing their insights, and providing me with still others to interview. Guiles let me visit him in the hospital while he was recovering from a heart attack, and later he sent me a recording of his interview with Lee Strasberg, Marilyn’s most important acting teacher.

HDYWT:  How do you organize your research?

Carl: The breakthrough moment came when Susan Strasberg read part of an early draft. I had interviewed her about her memories of Monroe and Actors Studio, and we got along very well — in part, I think, because she could see I was going to write about Marilyn as an actress in a way no one else had done before. I sent her an early draft of the book, and she said: ‘When you tell the story of her life and her acting you establish your voice. But then there is also this other stuff that sounds like a treatise. Who are you trying to impress — your colleagues?’ That’s when I threw out about two thirds of the book and rewrote it as a narrative. As soon as I had my story, the organization of research fell into place.”

‘Blondes’: A Diamond Musical

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Writing for the Worcester Telegram, the redoubtable Liz Smith makes her case for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as ‘the perfect movie musical’:

“For Monroe onscreen, it solidified her burgeoning stardom in the role of a lifetime, the role indeed she was born to play. But it was seen as lightweight, transitory entertainment. Only one writer, Monroe’s first serious biographer, Maurice Zolotow, assessed the film’s impact correctly: ‘Twenty years from now, the critics of the art-film quarterlies will discover that Blondes was one of the excellent works of its time, for it was completely true to its genre. It crystallized a viewpoint, a style … it will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art and studied by scholars.’ History has sided with Zolotow.

Blondes remains Monroe’s most totally entertaining film — one that is free of the poignant, semi-autobiographical bits that leaked into her later work. It is also the great Jane Russell’s best. And a revelation in terms of director Howard Hawks, not known for his deft hand at musicals.”

Acting, Imagination and Marilyn

 Douglas Eby focuses on Michelle Williams’ recent portrayal of Marilyn in an article for PsychCentral:

“Michelle Williams devoted some ten months to researching Marilyn Monroe for her acclaimed performance in ‘My Week With Marilyn.’

Producer Harvey Weinstein said he was impressed at the level of Williams’ preparation, how she could quote passages from Maurice Zolotow’s biography on Monroe.

‘Michelle researches a role like no one I’ve ever encountered,’ Weinstein wrote in an email. ‘She watched and studied the movies and photos; she read every book, every biography.… She could describe how Marilyn wiggled and winked while quoting some of her best lines, [like] when she teased that she was nude by saying, “I have nothing on but the radio.’” …

Williams probably also read: My Story, the autobiography by Marilyn Monroe.

She commented in an interview, ‘So I lived with her, and I never stopped trying to find more information. Even on set, on the 10-minute breaks, I would be back poring through photos or with my earphones in watching a movie. I was obsessed. I was on the trail of something. There were clues, and I had to solve a mystery.’

From my Inner Actor post Michelle Williams on Interpreting Marilyn Monroe.”

‘One of the many elements of My Week With Marilyn that I appreciated was the depiction of the emotional challenges Monroe suffered from the onslaught of fame and media attention.’ Eby explores this theme further in another article, ‘Actor’s Privacy and The Dark Side of Fame‘, with reference to ‘Through Your Own Grievous Fault’, an essay by Ayn Rand written shortly after Marilyn died.

 

Zolotow’s Marilyn: An Unquiet Spirit

“Marilyn Monroe’s great achievement has been the making of herself and the imposition of her will and her dream upon a whole world. Joseph Conrad wrote that when we are born we fall into a dream. Norma Jeane Mortenson, called Norma Jean Baker, fell into the most extravagant of dreams. She made it come true. She made it come true by making herself. She made herself beautiful. She made herself an artist. She triumphed in that arena where the loveliest women in the world contend fiercely for the prizes.

In one sense, then, her life is completed, because her spirit is formed and has achieved itself. No matter what unpredictable events may lie in her future, they cannot change what she is and what she has become. And there will be many surprises and alterations in her life ahead; there will be, in Hart Crane’s phrase, ‘new thresholds, new anatomies’.

In her heart is a questing fever that will give her no peace, that drives her on ‘to strive, to seek, to find,’ and then to strive and seek again. Her soul was always be restless, unquiet.”

This is the final extract from Maurice Zolotow’s 1960 book, Marilyn Monroe: An Uncensored Biography, first printed in the Los Angeles Daily Mirror on December. It covers the filming of Let’s Make Love, and a postscript details her much-publicised affair with co-star Yves Montand.

Zolotow’s biography, considered a definitive early work on Monroe, was reissued in 1990 with a further chapter on The Misfits, and an intriguing prologue where Zolotow describes his first meeting with the actress, at a Hollywood party in 1952, when she was still on the cusp of stardom. They would meet again ten years later, at the Actor’s Studio in New York, after Zolotow’s book was published.

At Home With the Greenes

With business partner Milton Greene, 1955

These latest extracts from Zolotow’s 1960 biography, first published in the Los Angeles Daily Mirror, recounts Marilyn’s split from husband Joe DiMaggio, and her decision to leave Hollywood; her business partnership with photographer Milton Greene and her personal relationship with his wife, Amy (Marilyn stayed at their Connecticut home in the winter of 1954-55, before moving to New York.)

At home with the Greenes, during a TV interview with Ed Murrow