When Marilyn Broke the Silence

In the wake of recent revelations about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood, Marilyn has often been mentioned in discussions about the ‘casting couch’. Unfortunately, much of this coverage has been inaccurate, depicting Marilyn as either a passive victim or somehow complicit.

A new article by Sean Braswell for OZY takes a different perspective, praising Marilyn as ‘Hollywood’s first big silence-breaker.’ Braswell cites the story of Marilyn turning down a pass from Columbia boss Harry Cohn, as well as her 1953 piece for Motion Picture magazine, ‘Wolves I Have Known.’

“In the years after her death, Monroe’s biographers, largely men, tended to ignore the star’s silence-breaking role, preferring to focus instead on the more salacious details of her personal life and the rumors that she slept her way to the top. Nor did Monroe, while she was alive, think of herself as a social reformer or a trailblazer for women’s rights. As the singer Ella Fitzgerald, a good friend of Monroe’s, once reflected about the screen legend: ‘She was an unusual woman — a little ahead of her times, and she didn’t know it.'”

Braswell also refers to authors Michelle Morgan and Sarah Churchwell, both of whom have done excellent work in recent years to address the sexist presumptions of earlier biographers. ‘Marilyn was really one of the first big stars to speak out about what we would now call sexual harassment,’ says Churchwell. ‘She was talking about a culture in which women were unsafe [and] her whole point was to say this happens over and over and over.’

Unfortunately, Braswell is on shakier ground when he uses ‘off the record’ quotes. For example, he quotes her saying in an interview before her death, ‘When I started modeling, [sex] was like part of the job … and if you didn’t go along, there were twenty-five girls who would.’ Braswell also states that Marilyn wrote ‘You know that when a producer calls an actress into his office to discuss a script, that isn’t all he has in mind. I’ve slept with producers. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t,’ in her 1954 memoir, My Story – but that line doesn’t appear in any version of the text.

In fact, both quotes are taken from an alleged conversation with writer Jaik Rosenstein, published in Anthony Summers’ 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.  Summers claims that Marilyn had known Rosenstein for years, and she trusted him not to write about it at the time. Whether or not Rosenstein is a reliable source, it should be made clear that Marilyn did not say them for publication.

Rare Photos of Young Marilyn at Heritage Auctions

Rare photographs showing a young Marilyn, taken from the private collection of Hollywood security guard Aviv Wardimon, will be on offer at the Entertainment Signatures sale at Heritage Auctions, ending on April 15, reports the Daily Mail. (Eagle-eyed fans will notice that the image shown above is very similar to the cover photo of Michelle Morgan’s MM: Private and Undisclosed, given by Marilyn to Bill Pursel.)

“The images show Marilyn posing alongside guard Aviv Wardimon and are believed to have been taken outside the 20th Century Fox studio some time in the late 1940s. Wardimon’s family discovered the images recently and said they had no idea their relative was friends with Monroe, who is shown embracing him in several shots. Wardimon, who later changed his last name to Blackman, emigrated to the US from Israel before working for a time as a security guard. His images are now expected to fetch $1,000 (£700) each at auction.

Margaret Barrett, Director of Entertainment Memorabilia, said: ‘We have a few lots of never before seen snapshots taken when she is between 21-22 years old. We dated it by her haircut, it is still long, down to her shoulders and a light brown that turns light strawberry blondish in certain lights.’

‘These have never been seen before, she’s standing outside on the back of 20th Century Fox, she’s with a man. It was a mystery to the man’s own family, they know he worked as a security guard at one of the studio lots and had come over from Israel with his wife and children.’

‘Marilyn is with him for most of the shots, they obviously had some sort of a friendship. She’s in three different outfits so it could be from three different days, she must have known him beyond being a passing acquaintance.’

‘There are three lots, I have a feeling he had a massive crush on her, saw her on the lot and had these early shots of her. When the family found them, they said, Oh my gosh, it’s Marilyn Monroe.’

Rare black and white signed photographs where Marilyn Monroe thanks her co-workers in similar notes – ‘It’s a pleasure to work with you’ – are estimated at $7,000 (£5,000) and $4,000 (£2,800.) Publicity shots including an unseen postcard where Marilyn and another female were hired as pin-ups for the 1947 National Postmasters Convention in Los Angeles.

A signed menu from Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s honeymoon in Hawaii in 1954 is estimated to go for $2,000 (£1,400). In her note, she penned ‘The food was wonderful’ before writing her name ‘Marilyn Monroe DiMaggio’. Although her marriage to the New York Yankee’s star nicknamed Joltin’ Joe would end within a year, the menu preserves a precious moment of the couple’s life.

Margaret said: ‘This is when she flew from LA to Hawaii, she was only there for a night and went to a Trader Vic’s restaurant, which was very 50s. She signed the menu with something cute, then Joe signed the next page and Joe’s friend who went on the honeymoon with them. Marilyn was obviously signing it for the waiter or owner, if it was just a fan she wouldn’t have commented on the food.’

Never before seen photographs from Marilyn Monroe’s visit to Korea, shortly after her honeymoon with soldiers and close-ups of her in a spaghetti-strapped dress on stage, are estimated at $2,000 (£1,400).”

UPDATE: Auction results here

That Girl Marilyn: An Unlikely Feminist?

Michelle Morgan, author of several acclaimed books about Marilyn, has revealed that her next release will be the intriguingly titled The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist, due for publication by Running Press in May 2018.

“With an in-depth look at the two most empowering years in the life of Marilyn Monroe, The Girl details how The Seven Year Itch created an icon and sent the star on an adventure of self-discovery and transformation from a controlled wife and contract player into a businesswoman and unlikely feminist whose power is still felt today.

When Marilyn Monroe stepped over a subway grating as The Girl in The Seven Year Itch and let a gust of wind catch the skirt of her pleated white dress, an icon was born. Before that, the actress was mainly known for a nude calendar and one-dimensional, albeit memorable, characters on the screen. Though she again played a ‘dumb blonde’ in this film and was making headlines by revealing her enviable anatomy, the star was now every bit in control of her image, and ready for a personal revolution.

Emboldened by her winning fight to land the role of The Girl, the making of The Seven Year Itch and the eighteen months that followed was the period of greatest confidence, liberation, and career success that Marilyn Monroe lived in her tumultuous life. It was a time in which, among other things, she:

     – Ended her failing marriage to Joe DiMaggio and later began a relationship with Arthur Miller;

– Legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, divorcing herself from the troubled past of Norma Jeane;

– Started her own production company;

– Studied in private lessons with Lee and Paula Strasberg of the Actors Studio and became a part of the acting revolution of the day.

The ripple Marilyn’s personal revolution had on Hollywood and in trailblazing the way for women that followed will both surprise and inspire readers to see Marilyn Monroe — and perhaps themselves — in an entirely new light.”

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.

Yours Retro: Marilyn in the UK

Yours Retro is a great read for lovers of all things vintage, and after several prior appearances, Marilyn finally graces the cover of the latest issue, available now in UK newsagents and via Newsstand. ‘When Marilyn Met Larry ‘, a four-page article by biographer Michelle Morgan, focuses on Marilyn’s time in England filming The Prince and the Showgirl, and there are also pieces of related interest about Cyd Charisse, Picturegoer magazine, and Hollywood censorship. If you collect magazines featuring MM, this is a must-have. (Yours Retro has recently been launched in Australia; however, it is several issues behind, so the UK version is your best bet.)

Michelle Morgan Talks Marilyn (And More)

My interview with Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, Marilyn’s Addresses and Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, is spread over six pages in Issue 11 of Art Decades magazine, now available from Amazon and priced at £9.60 (UK) or $13 (USA.) Michelle has also written biographies of Madonna, Carole Lombard and Thelma Todd.

“I think the biggest myth about Marilyn is that she was a dumb blonde. She absolutely was not! Here is a woman who rebelled against the studio system; who set up her own film company and went to acting school when she was already at the top of her profession. She had a very intelligent head on her shoulders and I think that when people say she was a dumb blonde, it is revealing more about them than her. Yes, many times Marilyn played a dumb character on screen, but why should that mean she was that way in life?”

2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

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In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

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In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

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Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

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In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

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In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

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June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

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In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

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August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

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In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

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In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

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In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

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Publishing News: Marilyn’s Lost Photos, and More

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Limited Runs have produced a book based on their touring exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, featuring 21 images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Only 125 copies have been made, priced at $95. Hopefully it will be a high-quality product, but it still seems rather expensive for such a slim volume.

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One of Marilyn’s best biographers and a friend of this blog, Michelle Morgan has recently published two new books via Lulu. The Marilyn Journal is the first in an anthology series, compiling newsletters of the UK Marilyn Lives Society, founded by Michelle in 1991. A Girl Called Pearl is a charming children’s novel – not about Marilyn as such, but it is set in the Los Angeles of her childhood, so it does have some interesting parallels, and would be a great Christmas gift for readers young and old (also available via Kindle.)

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Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, an 82-page catalogue (in French) accompanying the current exhibition at Aix-en-Provence, is available from Amazon UK for £8.44.

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Photo by Fraser Penney

In the November 19 issue of Scotland’s Weekly News (with Donny Osmond on the cover), Craig Campbell picks his Top 10 MM movies. Click the photo above to read the article in full.

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Finally, Marilyn’s love of Chanel No. 5 is featured in an article about favourite perfumes in Issue 3 of UK nostalgia mag Yours Retro.

‘Marilyn!’ Musical Preview in Glendale

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As I have often observed on this blog, plays about Marilyn are becoming a staple of fringe drama. Few have managed to rise from obscurity, but MARILYN! – a new musical previewing for one night only at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California on July 29 – has impressive credentials, as Broadway World reports.

“The one-evening-only July 29 event, celebrates the life Marilyn Monroe with a short documentary film featuring Monroe’s former boyfriend Bill Pursel, Monroe’s Bus Stop co-star Don Murray, Monroe author, Michelle Morgan, President of ‘Marilyn Remembered’ Greg Schreiner, and Actors Studio classmate, James Karen, among other key figures.

Audience members will be treated to an exclusive collection of Monroe’s artifacts from Schreiner’s personal collection at a pre-show reception. But the highlight of the evening is the world premiere of the full length musical MARILYN!, which chronicles the star’s childhood and tumultuous path to stardom with stirring and emotional songs …

Prospect House Entertainment is also pleased to announce a collaboration with Hollygrove, formerly Los Angeles Orphan Home, where Marilyn Monroe stayed as a child. Hollygrove will receive a percentage of the event’s proceeds in perpetuity. MARILYN! additionally holds the distinction of being produced with the blessing of the Marilyn Monroe Estate.

MARILYN! Is set in the present day – Michelle is a young journalist from England researching Marilyn Monroe to commemorate the actress’ 90th birthday. She visits Charlie Page, one of Marilyn’s drivers, who is now living a life of solitude. Two stories emerge as Charlie bonds with Michelle he recalls Marilyn Monroe’s phenomenal life in flashback and reveals the real reason behind his living as a recluse for over forty years…

MARILYN! stars Kelley Jakle (Universal’s Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, Spring Awakening in Concert) as ‘Marilyn Monroe’; Kelley Dorney (PBS Concert Special: A Tale of Two Cities) as ‘Norma Jeane’; Samantha Stewart (CBS’ Days of Our Lives) as ‘Michelle Morgan’; and Marvin Gay as ‘Charlie Paige’.”

When Marilyn Came to Boulder City

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In an article for Boulder City Review, Tanya Vece traces Marilyn’s fleeting visit to the Nevada town in 1946.

“Before she was the blonde bombshell known as Marilyn Monroe, a dark-haired Norma Jeane Mortenson came through Boulder City with a man named Bill Pursel.

Bill Pursel
Bill Pursel

Mortenson was living on Third Street in Las Vegas in 1946 while seeking a quick Nevada divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty. Norma was on the brink of becoming a global icon as Fox Studios promised her a movie contract…

Photo of Marilyn, given to Bill Pursel in 1947
Photo of Marilyn, given to Bill Pursel in 1947

Boulder City played a small yet pivotal role when Norma Jeane came through to visit Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam because it was right around the time that she was starting to morph into Marilyn. In the book Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, author Michelle Morgan highlights what seemed to be Mortenson’s struggle to fit into the mold of what was expected from women at the time …

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Most people stop here on their way to somewhere else — be it for sightseeing or to grab a bite to eat. While Mortenson was passing through our city she knew that she was on her way to somewhere else and as someone else.”