Marilyn, Ben Lyon and the Story of a New Name

Ahead of the Essentially Marilyn exhibition’s grand opening at the Paley Centre in Los Angeles tomorrow, Olivia B. Waxman uncovers the story behind this signed photo – taken during filming of The Seven Year Itch – showing Marilyn with Fox talent scout Ben Lyon, in an article for Time. The photo – to be sold at auction by Profiles in History in October – refutes some of the more outlandish rumours about how Marilyn got her name (I’m looking at you, Mickey Rooney.) It won’t be news to longstanding fans, however, as biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles first quoted Marilyn’s words to Lyon back in 1969.

“The above photograph — inscribed by Marilyn Monroe to Lyon: “Dear Ben, You found me, named me and believed in me when no one else did. My thanks and love forever. Marilyn’ … [is] Considered to be one of the most important photographs in Hollywood history because it debunks myths about how she got her iconic stage name, it could fetch more than $100,000, according to Profiles in History CEO Joseph Maddalena, who runs the auction house that specializes in Hollywood memorabilia. He said photos autographed by Monroe usually fetch between $20,000 and $30,000.

So how was the name Marilyn Monroe chosen?

It was a team effort, according to one account of how it happened by Monroe biographer Donald Spoto. At the time, Lyon thought there were too many possible pronunciations of “Dougherty,” the surname of her soon-to-be ex-husband. The 20-year-old model — who was born Norma Jeane Mortenson and later baptized Norma Jeane Baker — suggested Monroe, another surname on the mother’s side of the family, while Lyon came up with Marilyn because she reminded him of Marilyn Miller, the Ziegfeld Follies Broadway musical star who starred with him and W.C. Fields in Her Majesty, Love. (Miller and Lyon were also thought to have been romantically involved at one point ) It would be apt that the two performers would share the same name, in more ways than one. Spoto points out that not only were they similar on the surface — both blonde in appearance — but also because they both had complicated personal lives, including failed marriages.”

Marilyn at Julien’s: Icons & Idols ’17

‘Marilyn in Korea’ screen print by Russell Young

The annual ‘Icons & Idols’ sale, set for November 17 at Julien’s, includes a number of interesting Marilyn-related items. Chief among them is this black fur coat, with an interesting back story – and further evidence of Marilyn’s generosity.

Marilyn in her black fur coat, with Mickey Rooney at ‘The Emperor Waltz’ premiere, 1948

“A mid-1940s black colobus coat worn by Marilyn Monroe to the 1948 film premiere of The Emperor Waltz (Paramount, 1948). The coat has broad shoulders, a cordé collar, a satin lining, and a Jerrold’s Van Nuys, Calif. label. Although the black colobus is currently on the endangered species list, it was quite fashionable in the 1940s. Monroe wrote in a letter to Grace Goddard dated December 3, 1944, ‘I found out that its [sic] possible to buy a Gold Coast Monkey Coat. I shall write to you about it later.’ The coat was gifted from Monroe to Jacquita M. Rigoni (Warren), who was the great-niece to Anne Karger, mother of Monroe’s voice coach, Freddie Karger. Monroe had a close relationship with the family, and the coat has remained in their possession. Accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Jacqui Rigoni detailing the family’s relationship to Monroe and the history of the coat.

(The monkey species used to make this Marilyn Monroe monkey fur coat is on the Endangered Species list.)”

As the accompanying letter explains, Jacquita is the granddaughter of Effie ‘Conley’ Warren, who was Anne Karger’s sister. They had performed together in vaudeville as the Conley Sisters. Jacqui was a teenager when Marilyn dated her uncle, Fred Karger, for several months in 1948. Accepted as part of the family (long after the affair ended), Marilyn would often take Jacqui to her apartment and gave her clothes on numerous occasions. Fred and Marilyn also visited Jacqui’s parents, Jack and Rita Warren, at home. By the early 1950s, Marilyn was still regularly visiting Anne Karger with gifts including the monkey fur coat which she requested that Anne give to Jacqui. She also attended Jacqui’s wedding with Anne, while Fred brought his new wife, actress Jane Wyman.

A young Marilyn with Fred Karger

Two intriguing photos are included in this lot. One shows a young Marilyn sitting at the piano with Fred. Never before seen, it is the only known photo documenting one of her most intense relationships. The second shows Marilyn in 1961 with Anne and another lady, perhaps Effie Warren. A cropped version has been published before, but the whole version is extremely rare.

Marilyn visits Anne Karger (left), 1961

Another item which sheds new light on Marilyn’s life is a letter from ‘Uncle Art’, a relative of her legal guardian, Grace Goddard. Sent to the teenage Norma Jeane, ‘So glad you are making satisfactory progress in school. I advise that you be particularly diligent in the cultural subjects … sad is the fate of the young woman who has not the ambition to so model and mold her language and conduct as to have [illegible] herself to the point where she can mingle with cultured people inconspicuously.‘ The letter is written on International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania stationery, undated and signed ‘Devotedly Yours, Uncle Art.’ One wonders if this high-minded gentleman might have inspired Marilyn in her lifelong quest for self-improvement.

This photo (available in negative) was taken by Joseph Jasgur on the Fox studio back lot during the early days of Marilyn’s acting career, in 1947.

A signed check for $500, made out to The Christian Community, is dated October 11, 1954 – just six days after Marilyn announced her separation from husband Joe DiMaggio. And this photo of Marilyn, taken by Manfred Kreiner on her arrival in Chicago to promote Some Like It Hot in March 1959, is inscribed in red pen by Marilyn herself with the words ‘Kill kill’ – indicating that the photo should not be published.

The auction also includes photos attributed to Bruno Bernard, and some items that appeared in previously last year’s dedicated auction at Julien’s (including Marilyn’s copy of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s script, and her typed skincare regime from the Ernst Laszlo Institute.) And finally, she is featured alongside various other celebrities – including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Carol Channing, and future president Donald Trump – in an Al Hirschfield caricature from 1988.

Mickey Rooney 1920-2014

Mickey Rooney in 1957

Actor Mickey Rooney has died aged 93. Born Joseph Yule Jr in Brooklyn, his parents were vaudeville players, and their son joined them onstage at fourteen months old. By the age of six, he had moved to Hollywood with his mother, Nell, and began appearing in silent comedy shorts for Hal Roach’s Our Gang series.

He then played Mickey McGuire in 78 eponymous shorts. His mother suggested ‘Mickey Looney’ as a stage name, though he later changed it to ‘Rooney’. He would later claim that Walt Disney named Mickey Mouse after him (although this has been disputed.)

With the coming of sound, Mickey graduated to bit-parts, signing with MGM in 1934. One of his first assignments was to play Clark Gable’s character as a boy in Manhattan Melodrama. The film is remembered today mainly because the gangster John Dillinger had just seen it when police shot him dead outside Chicago’s Biograph Theatre that July.

In 1935, Rooney played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He then won a supporting role as bootblack Dick Tipton in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), and played Jean Harlow’s kid brother in RiffRaff.

Rooney’s big break came in 1937, when he was selected to play Andy Hardy, teenage son of a small-town judge, in A Family Affair. Thirteen more Andy Hardy films would follow. He proved himself an actor in Boys Town (1938), opposite Spencer Tracy. In 1939, he played the title role in Huckleberry Finn. He then starred in Young Tom Edison (1940) and A Yank at Eton (1942.)

Another of MGM’s child stars, Judy Garland, formed an enduring song-and-dance team with Rooney. They starred in several films together, including Babes in Arms (1939) and Babes on Broadway (1941.)

Mickey with Judy Garland

‘Judy and I were so close we could’ve come from the same womb,’ he recalled in 1992. ‘We weren’t like brothers or sisters but there was no love affair there; there was more than a love affair. It’s very, very difficult to explain the depths of our love for each other.’

In 1942, he was briefly married to Ava Gardner, first of his eight wives. Offscreen, Mickey was far removed from the wholesome Andy Hardy – Ava divorced him after discovering his rampant infidelity.

After starring alongside another child actress, Elizabeth Taylor, in her breakout movie, National Velvet, Rooney joined the war effort in 1944, and enlisted in the US Army. Unfortunately, his film career slumped after his return to Hollywood, but he kept on working, onstage and in television.

Marilyn and Mickey at the Emperor Waltz premiere, 1948

In 1948, Mickey attended the premiere of Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz with a little-known starlet, Marilyn Monroe. It was customary in those days for studios to send their young actors on public ‘dates’.

Monroe would play a small role in The Fireball (1950), a rollerball drama starring Rooney. In his 1991 biography, Life Is Too Short, Mickey claimed to have given the former Norma Jeane her stage name at the time, but she had already been using it for four Marilyn with James Brown and Rooney in ‘The Fireball’ (1950)He also alleged that she had offered him sexual favours in return for the part. This seems unlikely, as she was then under the wing of one of Hollywood’s most powerful agents, Johnny Hyde. In old age, Rooney discussed MM on numerous TV chat shows.

Marilyn with James Brown and Rooney in ‘The Fireball’ (1950)

Actor James Brown, who also appeared in The Fireball,  told John Gilmore, author of Inside Marilyn Monroe (2007), ‘She seemed nervous when we talked about Mickey Rooney, she said, “he’s really terrible, isn’t he?” She thought he would have been a nice person from all the movies she’d seen him, like when he was a kid…She said he’d whispered dirty things and she was frightened of him…’

By 1952, Marilyn was a huge star. Her first date with Joe DiMaggio at the Villa Nova Restaurant was interrupted by Mickey, who regaled the baseball legend with sycophantic banter. DiMaggio listened politely before returning to his lovely companion.

At the ‘My Marilyn’ party, August 1952

An illustration of how their fortunes had reversed is the appearance of Mickey at public events showcasing Marilyn, including a drumming stint in bandleader Ray Anthony’s launch party for a new hit song, ‘My Marilyn’, in August 1952. They would both participate in an all-star charity football game that September.

Rooney’s later film roles included The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Bold and the Brave (1956), for which he received an Oscar nomination; Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963.) But his comedic performance as Japanese landlord Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) led to accusations of racist stereotyping.

He appeared in many TV series, including The Twilight Zone, Rawhide, The Golden Girls, Full House, The SimpsonsE.R., and The Muppets. He scored a late movie hit in The Black Stallion (1979), and provided the voice of Tod, the fox, in Disney’s The Fox and the Hound (1981.) He played a handicapped man in the 1981 TV movie, Bill.

Among Rooney’s stage successes were Sugar Babies, with Ann Miller, The Wizard of Oz with Eartha Kitt, and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. In 2006, he starred alongside Ben Stiller in the big-screen hit, Night at the Museum.

At the time of his death, Rooney was said to be filming an adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with two other projects in pre-production. In 2011, he accused a stepson of elder abuse. He separated from his wife of 37 years, Jan Chamberlin, in 2013.

Mickey Rooney died at his Hollywood home, surrounded by family. Rooney is survived by 8 children, 2 stepchildren, 19 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

He was one of the last remaining stars of the silent era, and was once described by Sir Laurence Olivier as the greatest film actor America has ever produced.

‘The Fireball’ in Finland

Finnish critic Antti Alanen has reviewed The Fireball, a 1950 Mickey Rooney film featuring a brief appearance by MM.

‘Not a masterpiece like The Lusty Men, but there is something of the same gritty sense of reality in The Fireball. The documentary sequences from the roller derbies and Johnny’s ride down Temple Street are exciting.

Not an important Marilyn Monroe movie, but there is a Monroe connection in the orphanage in which the movie starts. “I don’t even know if Casar is my real name”, Johnny tells the tv reporter. “I’m just a kid left on the doorstep of somebody’s home.”

From IMDb I learn that The Fireball was constantly seen on U.S. tv in the 1950s. In Finland it hasn’t been seen since the premiere 62 years ago.’

Marilyn, Mickey and Tinkerbell

Marilyn with Mickey Rooney at the ‘Emperor Waltz’ premiere, 1948

Jim Korkis writes on Mouse Planet of a tall story spun by Mickey Rooney, claiming it was he who inspired Mickey Mouse. In fact, Walt Disney’s wife suggested the name.

Of course, Uncle Walt was not averse to stretching the truth for publicity purposes either.  It was he who started the rumour that Tinkerbell – the mischievous fairy in Peter Pan – was based on Marilyn Monroe, when the real model was a little-known starlet, Margaret Kerry.

Mickey Rooney, who starred in one of Marilyn’s early films, The Fireball (1950), has also claimed that he suggested Monroe’s name. This is incorrect – Norma Jeane took the name in 1946, after a discussion with talent scout Ben Lyon.

Marilyn had known Mickey since about 1948, when she accompanied him to the premiere of Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz. It was a studio custom to set up actors on ‘dates’ for publicity purposes.

Rooney was dining at the Villa Nova restaurant in early 1952 when Marilyn had her first date with Joe DiMaggio, and even interrupted the couple to ask for Joe’s autograph.

The tables were turned when Rooney was invited to a party in Marilyn’s honour that summer, and, along with Sammy Davis Jr and others, joined Ray Anthony’s band to play ‘My Marilyn’.

‘The Fireball’ at Warner Archive

Marilyn as Polly in ‘The Fireball’

The Fireball, a Roller Derby movie from 1950, starring Mickey Rooney and Pat O’Brien, and featuring a young Marilyn in a small role, is now available to view via Warner Archive‘s on-demand service.

“I had plotted to watch every Marilyn Monroe film known to man. And I’ve seen a lot. The good, the bad and the downright ugly…Marilyn Monroe is a sophisticated party gal who is in with the ritzy crowd but is titillated by the danger and excitement that comes with watching Roller Derby (it’s like a fancy gal watching a boxing match in a pre-code!).”

Full review at Out of the Past

Preview Marilyn’s scenes on Youtube