Marilyn at Julien’s: Trinkets and Keepsakes

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Among Marilyn’s possessions were many items of sentimental value.  She kept this ballerina paperweight in her New York apartment next to a framed photo of 1920s Broadway star Marilyn Miller, who inspired her own stage name. In a strange twist of fate, she would also become ‘Marilyn Miller’ after her third marriage. She later gave the paperweight to her friend and masseur, Ralph Roberts, calling it “the other Marilyn.”

49D0AD3E-208B-4C7D-8A6E-BF4B8C120722-17167-00000949DDBC3B1D_tmpThis silver-tone St Christopher pendant was a gift from Natasha Lytess, Marilyn’s drama coach from 1948-54. (St Christopher is the patron saint of travellers.) Marilyn cut ties with Lytess after discovering she was writing a book about their friendship. She later gave the pendant to Ralph Roberts, telling him, “I’ve outgrown Natasha.

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This gold and silver-tone Gemini pendant reflects Marilyn’s close identification with her astrological sign, symbolised by twin faces. “I’m so many people,” she told journalist W.J. Weatherby. “Sometimes I wish I was just me.

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Marilyn was exceedingly generous to her friends, as the story behind this bracelet reveals.

“A rhinestone bracelet owned by Marilyn Monroe and gifted to Vanessa Reis, the sister-in-law to May Reis, Monroe’s personal assistant and secretary. In a letter to the consigner dated November 28, 1994, Ralph Roberts writes, ‘Reference Marilyn robe and bracelet. As best I recall, late one Saturday afternoon Marilyn and I were in the dining area of the Miller 9th floor suite at the Mapes Hotel. She had just changed into a robe, sitting on one of the chairs and I was massaging her back and shoulders. She showed me a bracelet she’d brought to Reno with thought of possibly wearing it as a [undecipherable comment] for Roslyn [Monroe’s character in The Misfits]. Upon discussing it, she and Paula [Paula Strasberg was Monroe’s acting coach and friend] had decided somehow it wouldn’t be appropriate. Just then May Reis entered with Vanessa Reis (the widow of Irving Reis, May’s greatly loved brother and film director). Vanessa had come up from LA for a long weekend visit – there’d been some talk of our going out to some of the casinos to do a bit of gambling. Vanessa told Marilyn how lovely she looked in that robe. Marilyn thanked her + impulsively held out the bracelet, Take this + wear it as a good luck charm. I was wearing it during dance rehearsals for Let’s Make Love, smashed into a prop, so a stone is loosened. I wish I could go with you, but Raffe is getting some Misfits knots out. And I should go over that scene coming up Monday. They left. Marilyn asked me to remind her to have the robe cleaned to give to Vanessa. Whitey, Agnes, May – all of us – knew from experience we couldn’t compliment Marilyn on any personal items or had to be very careful. She’d be compulsive about giving it, or getting a copy – to you.’ Accompanied by a copy of the letter.”

Jack Dempsey, a former world heavyweight champion boxer, wrote to Joe DiMaggio’s New York Yankees teammate, Jerry Coleman, in 1954. “Have been reading a lot about Marilyn, Joe and yourself, here in the east,” Dempsey remarked. “Best of luck to you and your family, and send Marilyn’s autograph along.

47506260-4B71-4779-B8DB-0A5CDFC4355B-17167-000009531D6A9016_tmpThis small pine-cone Christmas tree, held together with wire and dusted in glitter, was given to Marilyn as a surprise by Joe DiMaggio one year when she had no plans, or decorations. Christmas can be a lonely time, and Joe made sure to bring some cheer.

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This vintage Hallmark card was sent to Marilyn one Christmas by her favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald.

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Author Truman Capote sent Marilyn a personally inscribed 1959 album of himself reading ‘A Christmas Memory‘ (an excerpt from his famous novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)

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Marilyn owned a leather-bound, monogrammed copy of Esquire magazine’s July 1953 issue, featuring an article about herself titled “The ‘Altogether’ Girl.”

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Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Korea to entertain American troops was one of her happiest memories. This photo shows her with the band and is accompanied by a letter from George Sweers of the St Petersburg Times, sent after their chance reunion when Marilyn took a short break in Florida in 1961.

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This endearing note accompanied a gift from Marilyn to Paula Strasberg, who replaced Natasha Lytess as her acting coach in 1956: “Dear Paula, I’m glad you were born because you are needed. Your warmth is both astonishing and welcomed. Love & Happy Birthday, Marilyn.”

In April 1955, novelist John Steinbeck wrote a letter to Marilyn, asking her to sign a photo for his young nephew.

“In my whole experience I have never known anyone to ask for an autograph for himself. It is always for a child or an ancient aunt, which gets very tiresome as you know better than I. It is therefore, with a certain nausea that I tell you that I have a nephew-in-law … he has a foot in the door of puberty, but that is only one of his problems. You are the other. … I know that you are not made of ether, but he doesn’t. … Would you send him, in my care, a picture of yourself, perhaps in pensive, girlish mood, inscribed to him by name and indicating that you are aware of his existence. He is already your slave. This would make him mine. If you will do this, I will send you a guest key to the ladies’ entrance of Fort Knox.”

Television host Edward K. Murrow sent Marilyn a Columbia Records album, featuring excerpts from speeches by Sir Winston Churchill, in November 1955. She had been a guest on Murrow’s CBS show, Person to Person, a few months previously.

 

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Marilyn’s custom-bound edition of Arthur Miller’s Collected Plays included a personal dedication. Miller had drafted a fuller tribute, but it was nixed – possibly because his first divorce was not final when it was published.

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“This book is being written out of the courage, the widened view of life, the awareness of love and beauty, given to me by my love, my wife-to-be, my Marilyn. I bless her for this gift, and I write it so that she may have from me the only unique thing I know how to make. I bless her, I owe her the discovery of my soul.”

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Costume designer Donfeld sent Marilyn this handmade birthday card one year, together with a small note that read, “M – I hope this finds you well and happy – My thoughts are with you now – Love, Feld.”

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This engraved cigarette case was given by Marilyn to Joe DiMaggio during their post-honeymoon trip to Japan in 1954.

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This souvenir brochure for the small town of Bement, Illinois was signed by Marilyn when she made a surprise appearance in 1955, during a festival marking the centennial of an historic visit by her idol, Abraham Lincoln.

Comedian Ernie Kovacs sent this rather cheeky letter to Marilyn in 1961. He would die in a tragic car crash in January 1962, aged 43, followed by Marilyn in August.

“The letter, addressed to ‘Marilyneleh’, invites Monroe to a get together at his home on June 15, giving the dress code as ‘… slacks or if you want to be chic, just spray yourself with aluminum paint or something.’ He continues, ‘I’ll try to find someone more mature than Carl Sandburg for you. … if Frank is in town, will be asking him. … don’t be a miserable shit and say you can’t come. … Look as ugly as possible cause the neighbors talk if attractive women come into my study.’ He signs the letter in black pen ‘Ernie’ and adds a note at the bottom: ‘If you don’t have any aluminum paint, you could back into a mud pack and come as an adobe hut. … we’ll make it a costume party. … Kovacs.'”

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Always gracious to her fans, Marilyn gave child actress Linda Bennett a magazine clipping with the inscription, “I saw you in The Seven Little Foys. Great – Marilyn Monroe.” She also signed this photograph, “Dear Linda, I wish you luck with your acting. Love and kisses, Marilyn Monroe Miller.”

Marilyn: Story of a Stutterer

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Marilyn at home in 1962

Theologian Gerald McDermott has written an article about Marilyn’s stutter for the multi-faith website Patheos, suggesting that the iconic breathy voice she used in her movies helped her to control it.

“If stuttering was a recurring pattern in this troubled actress’s life, how was she able to perform?  How did she become such a famous movie star that people are now surprised to hear that she was a stutterer?  The answer is not crystal clear, but there are strong clues.

We know that for many of her years in Hollywood Marilyn had an acting coach named Natasha Lytess, who taught the young actress to breathe and move her lips before she actually spoke.  A focus on breathing helps many stutterers.  But Natasha also instructed Marilyn to enunciate every syllable, especially final consonants.

This exaggerated diction might have helped distract Marilyn, as stutterers are sometimes helpfully distracted, from her problem with starting words.  But at the same time the staccato style can produce a stopping and starting that makes it more likely the speaker will block on words starting with difficult consonants or vowels.

We also know that in the 1950s ‘breathy breathing’ was a popular therapy among speech therapists.  Charles Van Riper, for example, taught stutterers to slow down speech and prolong their words, and to use gentle breathing.

Wherever she learned it, this method worked for Marilyn most of the time.  She made many movies, and her stutter was never readily apparent once the movies got to the screen.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  Her breathy speech became famous, and in fact is known today among speech therapists as a technique called the ‘Marilyn Monroe voice.'”

Marilyn and Henry Hathaway

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Director Henry Hathaway, who guided Marilyn through her star-making performance in Niagara, was a movie veteran, perhaps best-known for his action pictures. Although seen as gruff and domineering by some, he proved to be one of Marilyn’s most supportive directors.

Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Hollywood Director, published later this month, is a new biography by Harold N. Pomainville, and promises to be of interest to MM fans (although rather expensive, in my opinion.) He describes how Hathaway dealt with Marilyn’s interfering coach, Natasha Lytess; and how he persuaded Marilyn to sing along to the record in the ‘Kiss’ scene.

Pomeraine also reveals that Zanuck thwarted Hathaway’s plan to cast Marilyn in Of Human Bondage, and that Hathaway advised her to hire Charles Feldman as her new agent as a defence against the hostile studio head. And it was Hathaway who offered Marilyn the chance to star in a Jean Harlow biopic. She rejected it, partly because she was then in dispute with screenwriter Ben Hecht over a shelved autobiography (published after her death as My Story); but perhaps also because the pressures of Harlow’s life mirrored her own.

“Though Hathaway worked with Marilyn only once,” Pomeraine writes, “he became one of her prime defenders. At a time when the Fox hierarchy, including [Darryl] Zanuck, screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, and director Howard Hawks, regarded Monroe as little more than a passing novelty, Hathaway saw her as a rare and sensitive talent: ‘Marilyn was witty and bright, but timid. She was afraid of people.'”

Marilyn, Natasha and a Rehashed Rumour

Marilyn and Natasha during filming of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'
Marilyn and Natasha during filming of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’

A rather misleading article by David Gardner appears in today’s Mail, claiming that Marilyn had a ‘lesbian affair’ with her dramatic coach, Natasha Lytess. This rumour is nothing new – but while there is some evidence to suggest that Natasha was infatuated with her pupil, there is no proof that Marilyn reciprocated.

Gardner cites Ted Jordan, author of Norma Jean: My Secret Life With Marilyn Monroe (also known as Norma Jean: A Hollywood Love Story, published in 1989), as hearing Marilyn remark about her supposed affair with Natasha, ‘Sex is something you do with people you like. What could be wrong with a natural act?’

However, Jordan has been widely discredited as a fantasist. There is no proof of his alleged association with Monroe. Even his ex-wife, Lilli St Cyr, said his stories about Marilyn were fabricated.

In acting class with Natasha, 1949 (photo by J.R. Eyerman)
In acting class with Natasha, 1949 (photo by J.R. Eyerman)

A more reliable source is Marilyn herself, who addressed the subject in her 1954 memoir, My Story (co-written with Ben Hecht.)

“Sex is a baffling thing when it doesn’t happen. I used to wake up in the morning, when I was married, and wonder if the whole world was crazy, whooping about sex all the time. It was like hearing all the time that stove polish was the greatest invention on earth.

Then it dawned on me that people – other women – were different from me. They could feel things I couldn’t. And when I started reading books I ran into the words ‘frigid,’ ‘rejected’ and ‘lesbian.’ I wondered if I was all three of these things.

A man who had kissed me once had said it was very possible that I was a lesbian because apparently I had no response to males – meaning him. I didn’t contradict him because I didn’t know what I was. There were times even when I didn’t feel human and times when all I could think of was dying. There was also the sinister fact that a well-made woman had always thrilled me to look at.

Now, having fallen in love, I knew what I was. It wasn’t a lesbian. The world and its excitement over sex didn’t seem crazy. In fact, it didn’t seem crazy enough.”

Marilyn and Natasha, circa 1953
Marilyn and Natasha, circa 1953

Marilyn first met Natasha when she was briefly signed to Columbia in 1948. Lytess became her dramatic coach for six years. Marilyn grew close to Natasha, and would often stay at her home. This is not unusual – Marilyn also often stayed at the home of her friends the Kargers, who lived nearby. (An apartment in the same building, on Harper Avenue in West Hollywood, was recently up for sale.)

Over time, others close to Marilyn – especially Joe DiMaggio – came to feel that Natasha was too fixated and controlling of Marilyn. Such was Monroe’s deference to Lytess, directors tried to have her thrown off the set. Nonetheless, Lytess commanded a high salary thanks to her association with the rising star. Marilyn was exceedingly generous with money, which Natasha also benefited from.

By 1954, it seemed Marilyn agreed with Natasha’s critics. After leaving Hollywood for New York, she broke off all contact with her former teacher. When she returned in 1956, Marilyn had a new acting coach – Paula Strasberg. Lytess lost her job at Fox and never saw Monroe again.

Perhaps understandably, Lytess was extremely bitter. She wrote a memoir, My Years With Marilyn, which has never been published in its entirety, but has been widely quoted by Monroe’s biographer. Natasha died of cancer in 1964.

While Marilyn may have experimented sexually on occasion, and was supportive of her gay friends, the rumours are pure conjecture. The quotes from Natasha cited in the Mail seem to be drawn from a 1961 interview, unseen until it was picked up by the soft-porn magazine, Penthouse, in 1991.

What is most noticeable about this interview – and the Mail article – is that while it may suggest that Natasha was strongly attracted to Marilyn, it gives no indication that she shared these feelings.

Lytess also gave an interview on French television in 1962. It can be seen on Youtube, and has been translated on the Everlasting Star forum (members only.)

Donald Spoto described their relationship best in Marilyn Monroe: The Biography (1992.)

“Dependent on Natasha though she seemed to be, Marilyn had an independence and a strength as well, an ingrained ambition that overcame countless disappointments, lonelinesses and setbacks. The sad truth is that Natasha Lytess was more profoundly dependent on Marilyn and Marilyn’s need of her, and therein may lie the reason why she endured six years of emotional crisis. Even as she was doomed to frustration, Natasha loved so deeply she could not bring herself to the action that would have freed her – separation from Marilyn.”

A Matter of Diction: Bette and Marilyn

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‘All About Eve’ (1950)

At first glance, it’s hard to imagine two stars more different than Marilyn and Bette Davis, although they briefly appeared together in All About Eve. Many on the set found Davis intimidating, and few escaped her catty remarks.

However, as Bette later told a biographer, “I felt a certain envy for what I assumed was Marilyn’s more-than-obvious popularity. Here was a girl who did not know what it was like to be lonely. Then I noticed how shy she was, and I think now that she was as lonely as I was. Lonelier. It was something I felt, a deep well of loneliness she was trying to fill.”

In her latest column for the Chicago Tribune, Liz Smith finds another similarity between MM and Davis – both actresses were, at different points in their careers, known for their ‘mannered’ speech.

'The Letter' (1940)
‘The Letter’ (1940)

“Last weekend I watched two films, one a classic, the other not so much — though it has a cult following. I do mean William Wyler’s The Letter, starring Bette Davis as a woman who murders her lover and River of No Return starring Marilyn Monroe as a tough saloon singer fighting turbulent rapids, Indians and Robert Mitchum. Quality wise there’s no comparison, although River, directed by Otto Preminger, is a great looking movie, with excellent use of early Cinemascope. It’s an entertaining potboiler. The Letter, based on Somerset Maugham’s novel, is one for the ages.

And while you might imagine Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe were as unalike as two actors could be, they shared one quality — an odd manner of speaking. Davis’ clipped tones became famous instantly, and as she grew older, the static quality of her delivery increased, rendering many of her performances artificial. It took a strong director and an inspiring script to wrench Davis out of her habits.

AS for Miss Monroe, shortly after she began working in films, she met a dramatic coach named Natasha Lytess who convinced the insecure Monroe that her diction was ‘sloppy’ and she needed to enunciate more clearly. Well, Monroe, whose diction was just fine actually, did enunciate. Boy, did she en-nu-ci-ate. She came down so hard on her Ds and Ts she all but bit them off. Even she was not entirely comfortable with this, and when given a good script, her speech would relax, no matter what Miss Lytess said. River of No Return was not a script Monroe liked. The result was a performance that varies wildly. It’s fun to see her as a smart-talking, back-talking woman. And when she unbends her diction, she’s earthy and effective — refreshingly strong. But in other scenes, she comes off like a gorgeous Martian, who is just learning our language. It’s a pity, because despite Monroe’s objections, River was a change of pace, and all contract actors did westerns. They just did. (The chief pleasure of ‘RONR’ is the sight of Monroe in her physical prime, athletically running around in skin-tight blue jeans!)

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‘River of No Return’

But unlike Bette, Marilyn’s vocal impairment didn’t last. (Even in The Seven Year Itch, she is merrily relaxed.) After Monroe abandoned Hollywood and her 20th Century Fox contract, she went into the Actors Studio. Lee Strasberg convinced her, first of all, that she was nothing, had accomplished nothing. Only he (and wife Paula) could help her. That she was the biggest female star in the world at that point didn’t impress the Strasbergs. At least that’s what they said. Presto! Out with Natasha — who didn’t go quietly — and in with Paula, who became even more hated on Monroe sets than Lytess. (Natasha at least lectured Marilyn on discipline. The Strasbergs told her only the ‘art’ mattered, and she should take as long as she liked.)

There was little change in the essentials of Marilyn’s acting, except the disappearance of her excruciating diction, although every so often it would pop up on a word or two. Lytess must have used hypnosis on her!”

Marilyn’s Harper Avenue Years

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‘Marilyn Monroe lived in this apartment – now it’s your turn!’ promises a new classified ad posted on Craigslist, offering an apartment in a ‘Romanesque villa’ for rent at $3,500 per month. The address is 1309 North Harper Avenue.

Writing for the L.A. Curbed website, Pauline O’Connor notes that during her starlet years, Marilyn often stayed at the home of her dramatic coach, Natasha Lytess, on North Harper Avenue, West Hollywood. She also spent a great deal of time with the Karger family, who were Natasha’s neighbours.

Randall Riese and Neal Hitchens’ 1987 book, The Unabridged Marilyn, cited 1309 as Natasha’s address – the same apartment now on Craigslist. Adam Victor, author of The Marilyn Encyclopedia (1999), listed the same address.

However, while the location is undoubtedly of historic interest, the reality is complicated. For clarity’s sake, it should be noted that while Marilyn was a frequent guest, and at times an informal resident, she never ‘officially’ became a tenant.

In the 2004 book, Hometown Girl, Eric Woodard states that Marilyn first stayed with Natasha at a Harper Avenue address in 1948, around the time of her short-lived relationship with Fred Karger. She remained close to his mother, Anne, and sister Mary after the affair ended.

Then in 1950, Natasha moved to a smaller apartment on Harper Avenue. Marilyn stayed with her again following Johnny Hyde’s death in December that year.

Photo by Eric Woodard

Remembering Tommy Rettig

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Writing for the Times-Ledger, the The Greater Astoria Historical Society takes a fresh look at the career of child actor and native of Queens, New York, Tommy Rettig.

“Thomas Noel Rettig was born Dec. 10, 1941, and grew up in Jackson Heights. His father, Elias, was an aircraft parts inspector for Lockheed and his mother, Rosemary, a housewife. He began his acting career at 5 when he was discovered by an acting coach who lived in the same apartment building. Before beating out nearly 500 other boys for the leading role in Lassie in 1954, Rettig already had a lengthy acting résumé.

After touring with Rogers and Hammerstein in Annie Get Your Gun, Rettig also appeared in the films The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, a fantasy film written by Dr. Seuss, and the Western River of No Return, where he acted alongside Monroe and Mitchum.

Rettig endured stiff competition in the casting of wholesome Midwestern farm boy Jeff Miller in Lassie. Appearing in the leading role for the first four seasons of the program, the child actor bonded so closely off screen with his canine co-star that the dog began to disobey his trainer so the two could then only interact on screen.

He soon discovered, however, that dreams of stardom were replaced by grueling, long hours on the set and a rapidly disappearing childhood. The star complained bitterly of his treatment in the industry, and it is reported that he did not receive any residual payments for his performance in the series. After four seasons as everyone’s boy next door, the boy from Queens wanted to come home and was released from his contract.

Acting work, however, soon began to dry up as Rettig struggled to transition from Lassie to the increasingly in demand Rebel without a Cause roles for young men in the late 1950s.”

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Tommy was 12 years old when he appeared in River of No Return (1953) opposite Marilyn and Robert Mitchum. He initially avoided MM because his priest had told him she was a ‘scarlet woman’. But she soon won him over, even taking him along on a fishing trip with Joe DiMaggio.

Unfortunately, Monroe’s dramatic coach, Natasha Lytess, frightened Tommy by telling him that if he didn’t take acting lessons, his talent would dry up by the time he was 14. Director Otto Preminger had Lytess removed from the set, though she later returned after Marilyn intervened.

Tommy also became Marilyn’s ‘youngest ever date’ when she escorted him to a screening of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T, a fantasy based on a story by Dr Seuss in which Tommy also starred.

Rettig’s later life did not always run smoothly, as the Times-Ledger explains:

“Finding it difficult to support his wife and two young sons, he left Hollywood for a farm in rural California. Here his litany of scrapes with the law began, chalking up arrests for growing marijuana and cocaine possession.

Only after hitting rock bottom did the former child celebrity begin to turn his life around. Going on the road as a motivational speaker, Rettig built a new career based upon newly discovered computer skills he developed building databases for his mailing lists.

Starting in the early 1980s, the star of Lassie shone once again as a computer programmer and author. He was one of the earliest employees of software company Ashton-Tate, and later founded software consulting firm Tom Rettig Associates.

In 1991, Rettig revisited his roots with a guest appearance in the series The New Lassie along with former co-star Jon Provost. Rettig’s new beginning was sadly cut short when he died of a heart attack in 1996 at age 54.

His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean near his home in Marina Del Rey, with Lassie, a descendant of his TV sidekick, there to say goodbye.

In his later years, looking back on the elusive, fleeting nature of his childhood dreams, Rettig confided, ‘I wanted to be a real kid and see what the real world was like. I wanted to be one of those people I portrayed.'”

Marilyn’s Directors: Fritz Lang

Peter Bogdanovich’s essay in Marilyn in his 2004 collection, Who the Hell’s in it?, features extracts from interviews with some of her directors, including Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks and George Cukor.

First up, Fritz Lang remembers the nude calendar story which broke during filming of Clash by Night:

“I didn’t mind – what a woman does with herself is nobody’s business – but the thing was, with her shyness, she was scared as hell to come to the studio – she was always late. I don’t know why she couldn’t remember her lines, but I can very well understand all the directors who worked with her getting angry, because she was certainly responsible for slowing down the work. But she was very responsive.”

However, Lang was irritated by the constant interference of Marilyn’s acting coach, Natasha Lytess:

“One very bad thing: she asked me if I would mind if her female coach was there during shooting in the studio. I said, ‘No, under one condition – that you don’t let her coach you.’ Because when an actress has learned her lines and thinks she has caught the feeling of the part, got under the skin of the character, it’s very hard to change it.”

 

Marilyn in Training

One of six previously unpublished photos uploaded by Life today, from Marilyn’s early sessions with J.R. Eyerman. The pictures show a young starlet learning her craft, as an actress, singer and dancer. Two of her mentors, musician Phil Moore and dramatic coach Natasha Lytess, are also present.

Immortal Marilyn in April

Among this month’s updates at Immortal Marilyn are Claire Stevenson’s fascinating profile of James Haspiel, the teenage fan who became a friend to Marilyn and took many candid photos of her; a feature on Natasha Lytess from club president Mary Sims; another vintage magazine article from Tony; and Fraser’s review of Lois Banner’s MM – Personal.