In addition to their current exhibition, Divine Marilyn, Galerie Joseph in Paris will host a live adaptation of her 1954 memoir, My Story, from September 5-9. With the rather more poetic title of Confession Inachevée (‘Unfinished Confession’), the show will star actress Stéphanie Sphyras, and promises to be a cut above other Monroe-themed stage plays.
UPDATE: I have added the final bids to each item.
“An original clipping from a Mexican newspaper detailing Marilyn’s visit to the National Institute for the Protection of Children on March 1, 1962, and her donation of $1,000.00 to the institute. Also included is a document translating the article, reading in part, ‘The American actress Marilyn Monroe yesterday visited the National Institute for the Protection of Children where she greeted the president of that organization, Mrs. Eva Samano de Lopez Mateos, to whom she gave 12,500 pesos – one thousand dollars – for the needy children.'” (SOLD for $768)
“An unsigned carbon-copy of a letter, likely from May Reis, Marilyn Monroe’s secretary, to hairdresser Kenneth, dated July 16, 1958. The letter reads in part, ‘Thank you for sending on Miss Monroe’s chignon but I am sorry it has not turned out as she had ordered it so it is being returned to you under separate cover.'” (SOLD for $192)
“A one-page handwritten letter from press agent Patricia Newcomb to Marilyn, dated June 2, 1956. The letter reads in part, ‘Enclosed is a copy of your eye perscription (sic) which I got this morning from Lee Seigel. I am also sending you another bottle, in case you might be running short.’ Also, ‘I mailed your records and hair dryer today, so they should arrive by the end of the week.'” (SOLD for $1,125)
“A one-page typed letter to Marilyn from Nunnally Johnson, dated February 1, no year specified (but probably sent after their 1962 meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel, to discuss Something’s Got to Give.) The letter reads in part, ‘This is to put it on paper that I’ve rarely had a merrier evening. There’s no question about it, the only way to discuss business is over a bottle or two of champagne, with occasional reflections on sex to keep everything in balance. And if ever the occasion rises you may cite me as a bloke who also likes to sit and talk with you.’ The letter is hand-signed. A well-known screenwriter, Johnson worked on a number of projects related to Monroe, including We’re Not Married, and How to Marry a Millionaire.” (SOLD for $2,240)
“Two letters from the Actors’ Studio, dated January 10 and 12, 1961, regarding the Actors’ Studio Benefit scheduled for March 13, 1961. The January 10 letter announces, ‘Marilyn Monroe will be one of the stars who will draw the lucky tickets for our door prizes and for the Dance Contests.’ The letter is signed by Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford and Elia Kazan (facsimile signatures). The second letter, sent by the benefit’s coordinator, asks Marilyn if it would be possible to take a photo of her wearing a fur coat that will be raffled as a door prize. The letter further requests that Marilyn write to executives at United Artists asking them to reserve tables at the event.” (SOLD for $768)
“Three letters, all dated in January of 1961, referencing possible film projects for Marilyn’s consideration. The January 3 letter from George Chasin is on MCA letterhead and references Touch of Mink, written by Stanley Shapiro (later filmed with Doris Day.) The January 26 letter, also on MCA letterhead, references a screenplay entitled The Notorious Lady, and is signed by Marvin Birdt with a copy to Chasin (later filmed with Kim Novak as The Notorious Landlady.) The January 31 letter is on Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation letterhead and references A Lost Lady, and is signed by Frank McCarthy, Director of Public Relations at the studio. (Based on one of Marilyn’s favourite novels (according to her friend and masseur, Ralph Roberts), and previously filmed as Courageous with Barbara Stanwyck in 1934, but dissatisfied with the result, author Willa Cather had banned all movies based on her work.) In this same letter McCarthy writes, ‘Congratulations again on The Misfits and I hope it will achieve the great success it deserves.'” (SOLD for $512)
“A small notecard to Marilyn from producer Buddy Adler. The notecard reads, ‘Darling, It’s wonderful having you home again. Best wishes, Buddy Adler.’ Adler was the producer of Bus Stop, released in 1956. This card is likely in reference to Marilyn’s return to Hollywood in 1956 after having spent the entirety of 1955 in New York City.” (SOLD for $640)
“A two-page typed letter on Algonquin Hotel letterhead to Marilyn from photographer John Bryson, dated August 6, 1960, in reference to the August 15, 1960 issue of LIFE magazine, in which his photos of Marilyn on the set of Let’s Make Love were published. The letter reads in part, ‘I am very happy, however, to report that we close with a larger than full page of the picture of Arthur swabbing off your back after a hard day’s rehearsal. I think the little girl look in this is the best picture I ever took of you.’ The letter goes on to read, ‘Anyway, it is done and I hope you like it. If you do or do not I would like for you to remember that I think you are one of the best women I have ever known and if you ever need a friend for anything just call day or night. I do not say such things casually.'” (SOLD for $1,280)
“A Western Union telegram from Mary Leatherbee of LIFE magazine dated June 26, 1958, regarding photos of Marilyn taken by Richard Avedon in which she recreated images of famous actresses for a spread entitled ‘Fabled Enchantresses.'” (SOLD for $640)
“A one-page typed letter to Marilyn from Emmeline Snively, dated July 31, 1958. Snively was the owner and manager of the Bluebook Modeling Agency. Marilyn, still Norma Jean at the time, signed with the agency in 1945, and Snively is believed to have assisted her in transforming into Marilyn Monroe. The letter reads in part, ‘We have been following your steady progress over the years, and our students at Blue Book Models regard your success and constant development as an inspiration.’ Included with this letter is a torn portion of the original mailing envelope with Snively’s typed mailing address. Pencil scribbles are visible on the envelope fragment, possibly written in Marilyn’s own hand. It is interesting to note that Snively attempted to stay in contact with Marilyn throughout the star’s career. In fact, she was one of a very few guests from Marilyn’s inner circle who was invited to her funeral.” (SOLD for $640)
“Six documents referencing an agreement, and the dissolution thereof, between Marilyn Monroe and Ben Hecht regarding his authoring her life story. Included is a facsimile copy of the originally signed agreement between Monroe and Hecht, dated March 16, 1954, in which the terms of the agreement are exceedingly clear. Three unsigned carbon copies of this same agreement are included. Also included is a facsimile copy of a two-page letter sent to Hecht by Marilyn’s attorney Lloyd Wright, Jr., in which he demands that Hecht ‘surrender to us on behalf of our client, Miss Marilyn Monroe, all, and I repeat all, copies of any material concerning Miss Marilyn Monroe written by Mr. Ben Hecht, pursuant to his contract of March 16, 1954 with Marilyn Monroe, or otherwise.’ Marilyn partnered with Hecht to write her life story, stating specifically that the article could be published only in the Ladies’ Home Journal magazine.” (SOLD for $640)
“A two-page typed memo from Robert H. Montgomery, Jr. to John F. Wharton regarding ‘Proposed settlement of dispute between Milton H. Greene and Marilyn Monroe. The document clarifies that Monroe will pay Greene $50,000.00 for his stock in Marilyn Monroe Productions, Inc. in five equal annual installments, and also that she will sell to Greene her stock in Milton Greene Studios.’ The document further states, ‘all agreements existing between them are cancelled and of no further force and effect.’ A second two-page original document outlines the distribution of furniture and equipment, including paintings, rugs, a vacuum cleaner, a lamp, a chair and a sofa, typewriters, and other items.” (SOLD for $1,000)
Born in 1893 to Belarusian Jewish immigrants, Ben Hecht became a noted Chicago reporter and novelist before scoring his first Broadway hit with The Front Page (1928.) He later became one of Hollywood’s greatest (and most prolific) screenwriters. This month, two new biographies of Hecht will be published.
The first, Adina Hoffman’s Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures, is part of a ‘Jewish Lives’ series from Yale University Press. In it, Hoffman explains how Hecht came to be the ghostwriter for Marilyn’s 1954 memoir, My Story. (Julian Gorbach’s The Notorious Ben Hecht will be published at the end of March.)
Although Hecht was not an observant Jew, he became involved with the Zionist group Irgun during World War II. After the war ended, he openly supported the Jewish insurgency in Palestine, and in a 1947 open letter, he praised underground violence against the British.
A year later, the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association announced a ban on all films connected to Hecht. Filmmakers became reluctant to work with Hecht and thus jeopardize the lucrative UK market, and he was forced to take salary cuts and adopt pseudonyms until the boycott was lifted in 1952.
According to Hecht, Darryl F. Zanuck was “the only studio head who would hire me and use my name … [and he] got into a peck of trouble doing it.” As Adina Hoffman reveals in her book, Hecht worked with two longtime collaborators, writer Charles Lederer and director Howard Hawks, on a 1952 screwball comedy starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe. Originally titled Darling, I Am Growing Younger, it was later renamed Monkey Business.
In early 1954, Hecht spent five days in a San Francisco hotel interviewing Marilyn, whom he called ‘La Belle Bumps and Tears’. (His secretary Nanette Barber fondly recalled the sessions in a 2012 interview, posted here.) To Ken McCormick, the Doubleday editor who commissioned the project, he described the experience as “the longest series of log jams I’ve ever run into.” Hecht had back taxes to pay, and needed the money.
At first, he said, Marilyn was “100% clinging and co-operative”; but after her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, “the picture changed.” At DiMaggio’s behest, Marilyn’s lawyer demanded far tighter control. When the marriage collapsed months later, a devastated Marilyn refused to mention the divorce in the book.
Calling the situation “critical,” McCormick proposed “shift[ing] this all over into the third person and do[ing] a Ben Hecht biography of Marilyn Monroe … It seems to us that this would give you an elegant chance to write one hell of a book about Hollywood.” According to Hoffman, Hecht preferred to remain anonymous. Meanwhile, his shady agent Jacques Chambrun secretly sold the manuscript to a British tabloid. It was then serialised with neither Hecht’s nor Marilyn’s permission, landing the writer in legal trouble.
The book, My Story, wouldn’t be published until 1974, when both writer and subject were deceased. It was only in 2000 that Hecht was acknowledged publicly as the author. In a recent essay for Affidavit, Audrey Wollen wrote, “Hecht’s version of Monroe’s life set a cultural precedent for every future biography.” You can read more about its backstory here.
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.
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.
Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose flamboyant lifestyle and many husbands made headlines for nearly eighty years, has died of a heart attack at her home in Bel Air, aged 99.
The second of three daughters, Sári Gábor was born in Budapest on February 6, 1917 (although she later claimed the year was 1928.) She made her theatrical debut in a Viennese operetta at seventeen, and was crowned ‘Miss Hungary’ two years later. Her first marriage, at twenty, was to politician Burhan Asaf Belge.
In 1942 she married the American hotelier, Conrad Hilton. During their five-year marriage she gave birth to a daughter, Francesca, and co-wrote an autobiographical novel, Every Man For Himself. In 1949 she rejected the lead role in a film adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and married the British actor, George Sanders.
In 1950, Sanders was cast as the acerbic theatre critic Addison DeWitt in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic Broadway satire, All About Eve. Among his illustrious co-stars was Marilyn Monroe, as a beautiful young starlet who accompanies DeWitt to a party hosted by ageing star Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis.)
In her 1954 memoir, My Story, Marilyn remembered being seated next to Sanders during lunch at the studio, when a waiter called him to the telephone. On his return, a pale, nervous Sanders quickly paid for his meal and left. That afternoon, his stand-in asked Marilyn to keep her distance.
“I turned red at being insulted like this but I suddenly realised what had happened,” she wrote. “Mr Sanders’ wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor, obviously had a spy on the set, and this spy had flashed the news to her that he was sitting at a table with me, and Miss Gabor had telephoned him immediately and given him a full list of instructions.”
But Zsa Zsa’s jealousy was soon reignited at a Hollywood party. “George went straight over to say hello to Marilyn, but Zsa Zsa got no farther than the door,” photographer Anthony Beauchamp recalled in his autobiography, Focus on Fame. “She too had spotted Miss Monroe, and she turned on me like an infuriated Persian kitten. In a voice that echoed across the room, and with the well-known Gabor intonations, she exploded in indignation: ‘How can you ‘ave this woman in your ‘ouse, I will not stay in the room wis her!’ Nor did she. Zsa Zsa when she gets going is quite powerful – in lungs, accent and gesture.”
“Poor Marilyn was sitting quietly in a corner, making trouble for no one except perhaps for half a dozen men and their wives,” Beauchamp added wryly. “Zsa Zsa swept into a bedroom closely followed by her mother where they sat it out until George was ready to go home.”
Zsa Zsa made her movie debut in the 1952 musical, Lovely To Look At. Her next film, We’re Not Married!, was an anthology about a justice of the peace who accidentally marries several couples on Christmas Eve, two days before his license becomes valid. Marilyn starred as a beauty queen in one episode, and Zsa Zsa played the gold-digging bride of Louis Calhern in another. (Back in 1950, Marilyn had played Calhern’s mistress in The Asphalt Jungle.)
In November 1952, Look magazine further exposed what Marilyn called “the one-sided Gabor feud” by publishing ‘What’s Wrong With American Men?’, an article penned by Zsa Zsa, with marginal notes by Marilyn highlighting their very different attitudes towards the opposite sex (click on the photos below to enlarge.)
Zsa Zsa went on to play roles in Moulin Rouge, The Story of Three Loves and Lilli. After she divorced Sanders in 1954, he went on to marry her sister, Eva. Nonetheless, Zsa Zsa would often describe him as the love of her life.
In the late 1950s, she starred in two cult B-films (The Girl in the Kremlin and Queen of Outer Space), as well as taking in a cameo role in Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Touch of Evil. She continued working in the theatre and was regularly seen on television.
Her sixth marriage was to Barbie doll designer Jack Ryan, and her eighth (to a Mexican actor) was annulled after just one day. In 1986, she joined the ranks of royalty by marrying Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, a German-American entrepreneur who had paid Princess Marie Auguste of Anhalt to adopt him six years earlier.
In 1989, Zsa Zsa was arrested for slapping a Beverly Hills policeman after he stopped her in her car for a traffic violation. She later recreated the incident in one of her last films, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991.)
“Marilyn was a very dull girl,” Zsa Zsa told Playboy (as quoted in The Unabridged Marilyn, 1987.) “She thought that if a man who takes her out for dinner doesn’t sleep with her that night – something’s wrong with her.” She went on to claim that she and Sanders had once counted four men visiting Marilyn’s hotel room in one evening during filming of All About Eve, a tale that is probably apocryphal. “That’s a terrible thing to say about somebody whom the whole country admires,” she admitted.
By 2011, Zsa Zsa had mellowed considerably. “In the beginning I didn’t like her because she was flirting with my husband,” she said, while opening a trunk owned by Marilyn during a fan contest at Planet Hollywood. “We had lunch and we talked it over, and she was very nice and she never flirted with him again.”
Zsa Zsa’s final years were marred by ill-health, and legal and financial problems. When her estranged daughter Francesca died in 2015, Zsa Zsa was too frail to hear the news. She is survived by her last husband, with whom she lived for thirty years.
In honour of International Women’s Day, Flavorwire’s Emily Temple placed Donald Spoto’s Marilyn Monroe: The Biography 23rd on her list of 50 Great Books About 50 Inspiring Women. (While Spoto’s book is a good choice, I would nominate Michelle Morgan’s Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed as the best biography of Marilyn written by a woman.)
Over at Papermag, Michael Musto shares his choices for The 10 Best Celebrity Memoirs, including Marilyn’s own My Story. “Far from a giddy bombshell, Monroe was a keenly perceptive observer of the human condition,” Musto comments. “In this unfinished book — released years after her death — the sex symbol talks about her unhappy childhood and her adult stardom, revealing a mind full of illumination and curves. Who knew she was an intellectual, in her own way?”
Musto’s list also includes two other books in which Marilyn features prominently: Susan Strasberg’s Bittersweet, and Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up With Eileen Heckart, a tribute to Marilyn’s Bus Stop co-star penned by her son, Luke Yankee.
Marilyn Monroe’s native city, Los Angeles, was once part of Mexico, and her final home in the city was built, and decorated, in the style of an authentic villa. In 1962, a few months before her death, Marilyn visited Mexico and fell in love with its art and culture instantly.
The Spanish have always had a soft spot for Marilyn. Artist and writer Frederic Cabanas has published several books about his muse, including Marilyn in Spain.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that some of the best, non-English books on MM have come from Spanish-speaking countries. In the last year, My Story has been published in Spanish; and two intriguing titles, Vintage ’62: Marilyn y Otros Monstruos, and Por el Cielo, Norma Jeane: El deseo concedido de Marilyn Monroe.
Por Cielo, Norma Jeane loosely translates as Norma Jeane in Heaven. Francisco Catena Fernandez describes his novel as a meditation on life after death, and a love story.
Vintage ’62 is an anthology of short stories by various authors, and its subtitle translates as Marilyn and Other Monsters. Its remit encompasses not just MM, but a selection of famous people who died in 1962, including Charles Laughton and Isak Dinesen, who both knew Monroe.
The stories featured include ‘Marilyn and the Invasion of the Body-Snatchers‘, by Mario Escobar; and ‘River of No Return‘, by Rafael Marin.
The New Yorker takes a look back at the exploits of literary agent Jacques Chambrun, whose unscrupulous behaviour derailed My Story, Marilyn’s 1954 memoir (as told to Ben Hecht.)
“When Ben Hecht ghost-wrote Marilyn Monroe’s memoir, Chambrun sold a scandalous passage to a London tabloid for a thousand pounds with neither Monroe nor Hecht’s permission; Monroe was so unnerved by the article that she rescinded her support for the book and Hecht had to return his five-thousand-dollar advance to Doubleday. (‘My Story’ was eventually published, twenty years later, but Hecht was not credited until the book’s third printing.)”
Two new French-language books on Marilyn: the illustrated encyclopaedia, Marilyn Monroe de A á Z, from Tana Editions, and the paperback edition of William Reymond‘s 2008 investigation into her death, Marilyn: Le Dernier Secret.
Lois Banner’s MM – Personal and Marilyn’s own My Story are now also available in French translation.
Thanks to Club Passion Marilyn