Marilyn and the Hollywood Wolves

Following recent allegations of sexual harassment and assault against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, I’ve been thinking of Marilyn’s own experiences among the Hollywood ‘wolves’. (Incidentally, Weinstein produced the 2011 biopic, My Week With Marilyn.)

‘I met them all,’ Marilyn stated in her 1954 memoir, My Story. ‘Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes – an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.’

My Story was written with Ben Hecht, who may be responsible for some of the more elaborate metaphors, but he insisted it was true to the spirit of what Marilyn told him. It remained unpublished until long after her death, perhaps because it was too controversial.

When British writer W J Weatherby asked her whether the stories about the casting couch were true, Marilyn responded: ‘They can be. You can’t sleep your way into being a star, though. It takes much, much more. But it helps. A lot of actresses get their first chance that way. Most of the men are such horrors, they deserve all they can get out of them!’

This conversation also remained private during her lifetime. Sadly, Marilyn has been retrospectively punished for her outspokenness, with tales of her supposed promiscuity circulating to this day. Even film critic Mick LaSalle, who once defended her against lurid allegations by Tony Curtis, wrote this week, ‘Ever hear of Marilyn Monroe? Of course you have. Well, she said no to very few people.’

Her relationship with agent Johnny Hyde is well-known, and some believe her friendship with movie mogul Joe Schenck was more than platonic. But the rumours of her being a glorified call-girl are utterly baseless. Several men who dated Marilyn remember her being so cautious that she wouldn’t kiss them goodnight.

Perhaps one of the most important stories relating to Marilyn and the Hollywood ‘wolves’ is her refusal to spend a weekend alone with Columbia boss Harry Cohn on his yacht while she was under contract to him in 1948. He was furious, and quickly fired her. The story is almost identical to some of the allegations being made today.

Among the many stories making the rounds lately comes from actress Gretchen Mol, who was rumoured to have been promoted by Weinstein in exchange for sexual favours. In fact, she has never been alone with him, and yet this false rumour has unjustly tarnished her reputation.

Her story reminded me a lot of Marilyn, who has been endlessly ‘slut-shamed’ simply for being honest and open about her sexuality. In January 1953, she approved a story for Motion Picture magazine which is illuminating about the harassment she experienced – I have posted it below, courtesy of the Everlasting Star boards (please click on the files below to enlarge.)

What strikes me as sad is that she almost seemed to accept it as an occupational hazard.  Let’s hope that the buck won’t stop with Mr Weinstein, and that real changes will be made. Sexual exploitation is not unique to Hollywood, and until people stop blaming the victims, predators will continue to thrive.

Further Reading

Marilyn Warned Joan Collins About the Casting Couch

‘Norma Jean and Marilyn’ Stars Speak Out On Abuse

Story of a High School Sweetheart

After writing a tribute to Marilyn for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle received this letter from a reader:

“Dear Mr. LaSalle:

Reading your August 3 article about Marilyn Monroe [‘The Power of Marilyn‘] put me in mind of a family story about her that supports your analysis of her special charm. The story is my father’s, and here it is in brief:
My father Paul Johnsen attended the same junior high school (Emerson Junior High) as Norma Jean Baker in Westwood. He saw her for the first time early in his eighth-grade year while serving as a hall monitor when (to quote him) ‘this angel came walking toward me.’ Without ever meeting her or sharing his passion with anyone, he adored her from a distance for most of that year, before finally breaking down and confessing to a friend shortly before summer vacation. He suspects his friend told Norma Jean that Paul was crazy about her because at the last social event of the year, she approached him in a friendly manner and introduced herself.
The result was that my father dated her during the summer between eighth and ninth grades. Since they were both too young to drive, he (a well-to-do kid living in Westwood) would pick her up in his family’s chauffeur-driven car at her modest West LA home. He took her ice skating and taught her to skate. He always knew that she had no real romantic interest in him, that she was more mature than he, and he never dared to try and kiss her. But he says that when she was with him, she gave him her full attention, making him feel like he was the only person in her orbit. She was, he has always claimed, not only the most beautiful girl he has ever seen but one of the nicest people he has met.
The friendship only lasted the summer; they did not attend the same high school, and my father lost track of her, sensitive to the fact that his feelings for her were not returned. However, he always kept a wallet-sized school photo she gave him and a short letter she wrote to him. A number of years later, while out with his fiancée (later his wife and my mother). he stopped abruptly in front of a newsstand featuring a blond cover girl and exclaimed, ‘That’s Norma Jean!’ Of course, her early death saddened him.
Based on my father’s account, your assessment that ‘Marilyn makes people watching her feel that, if she knew them, she would like them’ is very apt. Even before she became Marilyn, when she was barely more than a child, she apparently had the gift of making others feel appreciated.
Sincerely yours,
Susan (Johnsen) Nordlof”

Tribute to a Misfit

Film critic Mick LaSalle pays tribute to Marilyn in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Marilyn Monroe has been dead all my life, or at least all my conscious life. Yet even so, the idea still doesn’t sit right. ‘Marilyn Monroe is dead.’ That’s like saying life and joy and sex and fun are dead. How screwed up does the world have to be that it can’t even keep Marilyn Monroe alive?

One crucial aspect of her appeal, intrinsic to that combination of physical beauty and spirit that she was, is this: Marilyn makes people watching her feel that, if she knew them, she would like them. But no, it’s more than that. She makes them feel that she would see them and their true worth, their true virtue. It’s not just men who feel this. Women feel it, too, and like her. So do children.

But the times in which she lived didn’t help at all. What a wretched irony that perhaps the most desirable woman to breathe air, at least since the invention of photography, came to prominence in the one decade most likely to suffocate her, the 1950s. The ’20s, the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’60s – anything would have been better than the ’50s, with its thuggishness and prurience, its puritanism and giddy lewdness.

Even worse is the toll that the era’s guilty lust and judgment took on her. Go to YouTube, and watch Marilyn’s press conferences. Watch her eyes – as sensitive as a snail’s feelers – as they gauge, millisecond by millisecond, every hint of hostility and condescension, every tonal implication that she was some kind of idiot.

Yet if only she could have held on a few years longer. Politics, culture and social and sexual morality were about to move in her direction, to tell her, ‘Hey, kid, you’re not the one who’s crazy.’ And the aging that she dreaded? She had nothing to fear. Already in her last photos you can see what Marilyn was going to look like at 45, 50, 55. … She would have been lovely and so wise for having survived the wars.

No, in a better world, Marilyn Monroe would not be dead 50 years ago. She would be 86 years old, perhaps only now putting her affairs in order, and looking back on a life of triumph. That’s the life we keep wanting to give her, every time we see her onscreen. It’s the life that she deserved.”

Rose Loomis and the ‘Evil Beauties of Cinema’

Film critic Mick LaSalle names Marilyn’s smouldering performance in Niagara among his ‘Evil Beauties of Cinema’, but with a caveat:

“Not Evil Even When She’s Being Evil: Marilyn Monroe in ‘Niagara.’ As Francois Truffaut said when he reviewed this film, Marilyn had no business playing evil characters. It’s just not who she was on screen.”

Well, I have to disagree with Truffaut on this. Monroe’s Rose is deliciously wicked, and the fact that we love her even when she’s bad is what makes Niagara so chilling!

Colin Clark’s Bedtime Stories

After seeing My Week With Marilyn, Mick LaSalle – film critic at the San Francisco Chronicle – read Colin Clark’s book, which gave him pause for thought:

“Here’s the problem:

In the account of the missing week, he and Marilyn have this wonderful interlude where she is kissing him and hanging out and sneaking off to spend time with him. In the book, unlike the movie, she even is willing to have sex with him, but he declines. They go skinny dipping, sleep in the same bed and really become close.

Fine.

But in the DIARY section, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN HIS ATTITUDE TOWARD MARILYN AFTER THE MISSING WEEK. Here he is, her big defender, who adores her, who could even have been her lover, had he chosen to do so, and yet at the end of the week, he is, in his PERSONAL DIARY, emotionless and even vaguely disdainful on the subject of Marilyn Monroe.

It’s also weird to write an account of something — AND LEAVE OUT THE BEST PART — and then go back five years later and, as an afterthought, get around to writing about your intimate friendship with a cinematic legend.

The thing that DOESN’T support his account is the issue of sex. One of the things that I liked so much about the film — and that made me initially believe in its veracity — is that MM and Colin never have sex and that it seems she never intends to have sex with him. Men writing accounts of Marilyn usually can’t resist LYING about their exploits with her. The fact that Clark didn’t made me believe him.

But as I alluded to in the above, in the book Marilyn more or less asks Colin if they’re going to have sex. They’re together in the bedroom, and she assumes it’s going to happen. But COLIN says no, you’re married, we mustn’t, you need your rest, etc. I have a much easier time believing in the vanity of an aging memoirist than in the moral restraint of a 23-year-old being offered a night of bliss with the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Most Alluring Women in Cinema

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle includes Marilyn in his list of cinema’s most alluring women:

“There are two kinds of men in the world. Men who admit that Marilyn Monroe is one of the most desirable women of the 20th century and men who know it but deny it. I denied it for years. I give up.”

Why Marilyn Captivates Us

Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, film critic Mick LaSalle considers MM’s enduring appeal. He writes about her quite often, and I always find his commentary interesting.

“I think her biggest problem was that her career happened in the 1950s. (As a child, she idolized Jean Harlow and would have been quite at home in the early 1930s.) Alas, the musical and sex comedy genres brought out the 1950s’ worst qualities – their mix of the prurient and the puritanical, the leering and the sanctimonious, the salacious and the judgmental. It was an era that celebrated the woman as child – either oblivious to sexuality (Audrey Hepburn) or oblivious to the consequences of it (Monroe). After spending half her career being simultaneously worshipped and degraded, no wonder Marilyn wanted to be taken seriously most of all.”