As much of the world faces lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, millions are turning to movies for solace. One of the most frequent suggestions is Some Like It Hot: in the last week alone, Vulture’s film critic Angelica Jade Bastien has sung its praises, while The Medium‘s May Alsaigh focused on Marilyn’s role as Sugar Kane among the most iconic female characters. Monroe fans may wish more attention was paid to her many other great performances; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is also a comic masterpiece, for example. However, few stars of Hollywood’s golden age enjoy such posthumous acclaim, and with its inclusive message (‘Nobody’s perfect!’), Some Like It Hot has a timeless appeal.
“The time has never been wrong for this delirious screwball romp but seldom has it been more right. When it airs on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EDT, we, as a nation, would do well to huddle around Wilder’s warm fire with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe.”
When perusing Marilyn’s personal correspondence and keepsakes, what always impresses me is that for all her self-doubt, there were so many people in her life whom she cherished, and they adored her in return. And this is evident in the lots going under the hammer in Property From The Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe at Julien’s Auctions on November 1. (You can read all my posts on the sale here.)
“A Bank of America check written entirely in Marilyn Monroe’s hand in blue ink dated January 1, 1952, made payable to N. Lytess in the amount of $100.00. ‘N. Lytess’ is Natasha Lytess, Monroe’s acting coach from 1948 until 1955.”
SOLD for $2,560
“A standard handwritten check entirely penned in black fountain pen ink by the star, dated ‘Dec 1 54,’ written out to ‘Mr. M. Chekhov’ [Michael Chekhov, her acting coach] for ‘$60’ and signed in the lower right corner ‘Marilyn Monroe,’ cancellation stamps and punch-outs evident on verso.”
SOLD for $3,520
“A watercolour painting rendered on construction paper by Marilyn herself depicting an abstract image of a cat in shades of black and gray, further inscribed by Monroe on the lower right side ‘a cat watching its own tail move’; included with a photocopied letter dated ‘March 5th, 1999’ reading in part ‘(this) painting / was found among Lotte Goslar’s personal files…Lotte and Marilyn were close / friends’ — Goslar being a German choreographer who worked in Hollywood and who had occasion to meet and work with Monroe.”
SOLD for $5,120
“A Paula Strasberg gifted and inscribed copy of Great Stars of the American Stage, with inscription reading ‘For Marilyn/With my love and admiration/ Paula S/ May 29-1956.’ Interestingly, this was the date of Marilyn Monroe’s completion of filming for Bus Stop.”
SOLD for $1,125
“A handwritten note from John Moore, one of Marilyn Monroe’s favorite designers [sent shortly after Marilyn’s hospitalisation for an ectopic pregnancy.] The August 12, 1957, note reads, ‘Dearest Marilyn, I knew you were ill in Europe and meant to send a cable – but – since I am a SLOB, I didn’t!!! I’m so happy you are well and I do hope your life will be filled with my Joy.’ Best love, John.”
SOLD for $100
The “A two-page telegram to Marilyn Monroe from Tony Award winning actor Sydney Chaplin [her friend since the late 1940s.] The July 11, 1958, telegram reads, ‘It sure was nice to hear your voice again/ In my book you are still the same wonderful person you always were/ Things have been slow in pictures for me/ I am sure a few words to Billy Wilder from you will help me get on the picture as one of George Raft’s mob men/ Please Marilyn do this for me as you know I will deliver as far as my talent is concerned/ If I get an interview with Mr. Wilder I’m sure he will use me as a personal favor to you/ Many will try to return by sixteenth/ Will cable again tonight definitely/ Love Sydney.'”
SOLD for $256
“A one-page typed letter on Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation letterhead to Marilyn Monroe from studio executive Ben Lyon. The April 15, 1960, letter reads, ‘Dear Marilyn, It was very sweet of you to send Jack Daniels over to me. I met him sometime back. He is a smooth character. Somehow he hit me on the back of my head about midnight and I was a sight for sore eyeballs for a couple of days. This time I am going to watch him. The offer from you and Whitey [Snyder] is the best I have had in a h— of a while. Being here is a privilege they tell me. Sometimes I wonder.’ The letter is signed ‘Sincerely, Ben.’ Monroe has acknowledged that Lyon was responsible for helping her select the name ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and for giving her her first break.”
SOLD for $256
“A three-page handwritten letter to Marilyn Monroe from poet and friend Norman Rosten, written while Rosten was in court for jury duty. The May 2, 1960, letter reads in part, ‘This is just to tell you my reaction to the house in the country. Everything looks wonderful – the work on the inside of the house but especially the outside, I meant the new trees. They are not out in full leaf yet but will be soon, and then they will be stunning. I love the single tree in the back, it’s placed exactly right.’ Rosten goes on to say that Arthur [Miller] was a good host, and ‘he did everything except bake a cake’ and ‘I assume he does that for you.’ Included is a separate piece of paper with a previously affixed newspaper clipping of the story of a man hitting ‘the only tree within 1,000 miles.’ Handwritten by Rosten on the paper is this: ‘So you think you have had tree troubles in Roxbury!’ Included is the original envelope addressed to Monroe at the Beverly Hills Hotel in California.”
SOLD for $512
“A telegram from Rupert Allan to Marilyn Monroe, dated February 10, 1961. The telegram reads, ‘I don’t want to be a sockeyed salmon/ Please get me out of this too dam [sic] cold Trukee [sic] River soon/ I’m with you always and I want to get on those meadows again with you/ Much much love Glitter Bitter/Rupert.'” [On the day of this telegram, Marilyn had just been released from the Payne Whitney Clinic, and was admitted to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for a 3-week stay.]
SOLD for $320
“A single page of beige paper, two-hole punch marks on top margin, dated March 26, 1962, typed text to Monroe from a secretary, the star’s green ballpoint ink responses reading in full ‘ask Hedda Rosten / good / keep it going until I / tell you’ (in reference to paying for Dr. Ralph Greenson‘s New York Times subscription).”
SOLD for $1,280
“A one-page typed letter to Marilyn Monroe from Frederick Vanderbilt Field, dated July 31, 1962, in which Field thanks Monroe for allowing him and his wife Nieves to stay in Monroe’s New York apartment. The letter reads in part, ‘It is quite impossible to thank you enough for your wonderful hospitality to us during our recent visit to New York. The apartment was the key to the success of the whole expedition. It is an extraordinarily attractive place, which is not altogether surprising considering who owns it. But beyond that your instructions to Hedda [Rosten] and Hattie [Stephenson] went far beyond the call of hospitality.’ The letter closes, ‘Nieves asks me to send you her love and to remind you that we both hope you will soon come down for another visit. She also wants you to know that we hope you are winning your battles in Hollywood. We kind of figure that being who and what you are you will come out on top.’ The letter is signed ‘Fred’ in his own hand. Monroe visited the Fields in February that same year during her travel to Mexico. The couple served as tour guides as Monroe shopped for furnishings for her new home in Brentwood, California. Frederick Field was widely believed to be a member of the communist party, and the FBI monitored Monroe during her trip. Sadly, Monroe would pass away just days after this letter was written.”
Amateur footage from the set of The Seven Year Itch has resurfaced, as Helene Stapinski reports for the New York Times. Shot by Jules Schulback, a furrier and home movie enthusiast, in September 1954, the missing reel – in pristine condition, and lasting for three minutes and seventeen seconds in total – was found by his granddaughter Bonnie Siegler and her husband Jeff Scher almost sixty years later.
“The film starts with a spliced-in intertitle that reads ‘World Premiere,’ Mr. Schulback’s little inside joke.
And then there is Marilyn Monroe, in a white terry robe, coming down the stoop of a white-shuttered building at 164 East 61st Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. It was the earlier scene — before the subway grate footage — that Mr. Schulback had shot. Cameramen and press photographers are gathered outside as the actress smiles and waves.
Cut to Ms. Monroe in a second-floor window wearing a slip and blow-drying her hair. Mr. Ewell walks down the street and into the building. The film cuts inexplicably to 30 seconds of what must be a Shriners parade in Manhattan, then jumps to another intertitle, which reads ‘Our Baby.’
And suddenly, there is Ms. Monroe again, this time on the subway grate in that famously fluttering white dress, holding a matching white clutch in her right hand and a red-and-white-striped scarf in her left.
Mr. Schulback was incredibly close, filming right behind Mr. Wilder’s shoulder, stopping to wind his hand-held camera every 25 seconds. Now and then, a silhouette of the director’s arm intrudes into Mr. Schulback’s crystal-clear shot. At one point Mr. Wilder, in a fedora, passes across the frame. Ms. Monroe gets into position and yawns, while the cinematographer sets up the camera. Through a gap in the film crew, Mr. Schulback captures just her face, looking off to the left, serious and unsmiling.
Then Mr. Ewell is there, chatting with Ms. Monroe, who pushes him into position. The dress flutters again, Ms. Monroe holds it down, bending slightly, smiling and talking to Mr. Ewell, but it flutters up some more and she laughs, her head thrown back. It blows up again, but she doesn’t push it down this time, and it flies up over her head, clearly revealing two pairs of underwear that, because of the bright lights, do not protect Ms. Monroe’s modesty quite as much as she might have liked.
Then, as suddenly as she appeared, Marilyn is gone, and the film reverts to home-movie mode: Edith Schulback walking on the grass at a family outing in the country. It’s like being shaken from some crazy dream, back to reality.”
Elsewhere in the Times, Alexandra S. Levine retraced Marilyn’s steps in today’s New York.
“We started outside 164 East 61st Street, the townhouse shown in the film.
The house is still standing, and this week, it appeared to be the only one on the block still adorned with Christmas decorations.
(It’s also now directly across from Trump Plaza, which was certainly not part of the movie’s quaint side-street landscape.)
We then walked to Lexington to visit Gino, a restaurant where Ms. Monroe would often eat with her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, and later with her third, Arthur Miller.
We regret to inform you that the eatery is long gone. It’s now Sprinkles, a cupcake shop, and the outside of the building has an A.T.M. that dispenses cupcakes. (How far we’ve come in 63 years!)
We headed south, to 52nd Street, the site of the celebrated subway grate.
There was no Marilyn Monroe plaque or street sign to be seen; the block is designated Lew Rudin Way. And the Trans-Lux Theater, which stood behind Ms. Monroe as she filmed the scene, is no longer there.
So we stopped above what we imagined was the same grate, now in front of the bistro Le Relais de Venise l’Entrecôte, to see if it might elicit an out-of-body experience.
The long, narrow subway grate was sandwiched on one end by a garbage can, and on the other by a large, thirsty-looking potted plant.
When we stood over the grate, we didn’t feel the swoosh of the subway swiftly blowing at our heels. When we looked down, all we could see was our own reflection in some murky water. And we certainly didn’t look like we were having an exceptional hair day.
What we’d suggest, to better recreate that unforgettable New York (but made in Hollywood) moment, is to ask a friend to come along with a giant fan and an iPhone. Ask that kind soul to turn on the fan, encourage passers-by to cheer your name, and let the photo shoot begin.”
As so many outlandish conspiracy theories have arisen in the 53 years after Marilyn’s death, it is instructive to look back at how the tragic event was covered in the days after the news broke. Firstly, an extract from Time magazine’s obituary, which focused on the ill-fated production of Something’s Got to Give, claiming that only a few minutes of usable footage were shot. This myth persisted until 1990, when Marilyn’s impressive, if unfinished work was shown in public for the first time. (Headlined ‘The Only Blonde in World’, Time‘s obit inspired a painting of the same name by British pop artist, Pauline Boty.)
“She had always been late for everything, but her truancy was never heedlessness. Beset by self-doubt and hints of illness, she would stay alone, missing appointments, keeping whole casts waiting in vain. In the past year, her tardiness was measured in weeks instead of hours … She seemed euphonic and cheerful, even while 20th Century-Fox was filing suit against her in hopes of salvaging $750,000 damages from the wreckage of Something’s Got to Give.”
The New York Times noted the gulf between Marilyn’s ‘golden girl’ image and her sad demise, echoing the shock felt by many fans:
“The life of Marilyn Monroe, the golden girl of the movies, ended as it began, in misery and tragedy.
Her death at the age of 36 closed an incredibly glamorous career and capped a series of somber events that began with her birth as an unwanted, illegitimate baby and went on and on, illuminated during the last dozen years by the lightning of fame.
Her public life was in dazzling contrast to her private life.
No sex symbol of the era other than Brigitte Bardot could match her popularity. Toward the end, she also convinced critics and the public that she could act.
During the years of her greatest success, she saw two of her marriages end in divorce. She suffered at least two miscarriages and was never able to have a child. Her emotional insecurity deepened; her many illnesses came upon her more frequently.
In her last interview, published in the Aug. 3 issue of Life magazine, she told Richard Meryman, an associate editor: ‘I was never used to being happy, so that wasn’t something I ever took for granted.’
Considering her background, this was a statement of exquisite restraint.”
Writing for The National, Lincoln Kerstein – co-founder of the New York Ballet – praised Marilyn’s comedic gifts and unabashed sexuality:
“Marilyn Monroe was supposed to be the Sex Goddess, but somehow no one, including, or indeed first of all, herself, ever believed it. Rather, she was a comedienne impersonating the American idea of the Sex Goddess … When people paid their forty millions to see Monroe, it was for an aesthetic performance, not a simple provocation. And she, perhaps even consciously, exemplified a philosophy which had come to her pragmatically, and which a lot of American women don’t like very much—a philosophy at once hedonistic, full of uncommon common sense, and, even to some intellectuals, deeply disturbing. Her performances indicated that while sex is certainly fun, and often funny, it is only one of many games … Marilyn Monroe’s life was not a waste. She gave delight. She was a criterion of the comic in a rather sad world. Her films will continue to give delight, and it is blasphemy to say she had no use. Her example, our waste of her, has the use of a redemption in artists yet untrained and unborn.”
The Los Angeles Times gave a detailed report about Marilyn’s final days, and the still-disputed circumstances of her death, under the headline ‘Marilyn Monroe Dies; Pills Blamed’…
“Two motion pictures executives were bidding for her services at the time of her death. One of them was reportedly J. Lee Thompson, director of the film The Guns of Navarone, who planned to meet with her Tuesday.
Producer Sam Spiegel also wanted her to star in a picture for him, it was reported.
Miss Monroe had received an offer of $55,00 a week to star in a night club appearance in Las Vegas recently, but she turned it down.
Further evidence that her career was on the upswing was indicated by a typewritten message on a table in her home.
It was from a representation of Anita Loos, creator of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and said:
‘Dear Miss Monroe: On behalf of Anita Loos, now in Europe, we would like to know if you would be interested star role new musical based on French play Gogo. Book by Anita Loos, lyrics by Gladys Shelley and enchanting music by Claude Leville. Can send you script and music if you express interest. (signed) Natalia Danesi Murray.'”
Finally, The Guardian‘s W.J. Weatherby published a personal tribute to Marilyn (click to enlarge.) He would later write a book about their friendship, Conversations With Marilyn.
Writing for the New York Times, David W. Dunlap reveals how a harmless photo taken at Marilyn’s wedding to Joe DiMaggio in San Francisco, back in January 1954, cost the newspaper’s picture editor, John Randolph, his job.
“Gay Talese told the unhappy story (with a happy ending) in ‘The Kingdom and the Power, his 1969 account of our inner workings. It concerned the picture editor John Randolph and the marriage on Jan. 14, 1954, of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio.
‘Randolph routinely picked one picture from out of the pile [of wire-service photos], marked it for a two-column cut and put it aside to be submitted later to the bullpen, which passes on all photographs before they are sent up to the engraving department. The picture showed Marilyn Monroe with her head back and her mouth slightly open, and DiMaggio with his lips puckered and his eyes closed. There seemed nothing particularly vulgar or exceptional about the picture — at least Randolph did not think so, nor did Theodore Bernstein and the other bullpen editors who later passed on it.’
The next morning, John Randolph was no less surprised than dozens of other Timesmen to hear that the picture in the Times had caused a “great flap” in the publisher’s office, and that Randolph was no longer the Times’s picture editor. Randolph at first could not believe it. He could not believe, nor could other Timesmen, that Miss Monroe’s open-mouth French kiss would so offend the sensitivities of Arthur Hays Sulzberger, or Iphigene Sulzberger, or whoever may have registered an objection in the publisher’s office.
‘Neither embittered nor angered, Randolph accepted the embarrassed assurance of the managing editor, Turner Catledge, that his pay would not be cut as he was moved over to the national copy desk.
‘Two years later came the happy ending: The “Wood, Field and Stream” columnist — whose beat was the great outdoors — was leaving The Times. Catledge offered the job to Randolph, who turned out to be the ideal writer for the assignment.'”
Butterfly in the Typewriteris Cory McLauchlin‘s new biography of John Kennedy Toole, the New Orleans-based novelist whose comic masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces, was unpublished until long after his suicide in 1969, aged 31.
Fans of the author may not have known that he – like many of Louisiana’s young men – was a passionate admirer of Marilyn Monroe. In 1955, he wrote to New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, praising his favourable review of The Seven Year Itch.
An enthusiastic comic book artist during his college years, Toole later created The Hullabaloo, a three-part series partly inspired by Marilyn’s performance in Bus Stop. ‘He depicts a voluptuous Monroe leaning in ecstasy against a bus stop post,’ McLauchlin writes. ‘Two students observe her and whisper, “I don’t know who she is, but she’s been here for two days.” The next week the same frame was republished with the caption, “What? She still here?” Two weeks later, the image appears with the caption, ‘”NOoooo!” The homely ladies appear threatened by the beauty that simply will not leave.’
Toole was shocked by the news of Marilyn’s death in 1962, which he learned while teaching English as part of his military service in Puerto Rico. Toole commented, ‘Her life and death are both very sobering and even frightening. In my own way I loved Marilyn Monroe very much. Isn’t it a shame she never knew this…’
Toole, who lived with his mother, experienced great difficulties in forming relationships with women. He was devastated by the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, and his depressive tendencies were certainly aggravated by repeated rejections from publishers.
A Confederacy of Dunceswas finally published in 1980, and a year later, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (an honour that Marilyn’s third husband, Arthur Miller, had previously been awarded for his 1949 play, Death of a Salesman.)
In her blog at the Jewish Daily Forward, Elisa Strauss responds to a recent New York Times piece, ‘The Marilyn Obsession’ by Austin Considine, on the current boom in nostalgia and ABG’s plans to capitalise on Marilyn’s image.
Interestingly, Strauss also shares with us a poignant anecdote about Monroe’s 1957 trip to Washington with husband Arthur Miller.
Stating that ‘sexy wins over tragedy’, Strauss suggests that Marilyn is being remembered in a superficial way, and that the lessons of her tragic life have still not been learned.
“Monroe’s allure is as powerful as it is ineffable, so much so that even I start to view her sad beginning and even sadder end as something otherworldly rather than gritty and tragic. Her fate easily becomes elevated above cause and effect, and she morphs into a saint of her own circumstances. Or, in short, an icon.
But the problem with this iconic lens on Monroe is that it conveniently blurs the very destructive pressure she felt as the preeminent sex symbol. A relative of mine hosted Monroe in Washington D.C. when she came to the city with then-husband Arthur Miller during his House Unamerican Activities Committee hearing.
Monroe spent a few weeks sleeping on a blue velvet couch in their study, and, as described by my relative, was incredibly insecure about nearly everything. She dreaded leaving the house unless physically immaculate, and she once decided to stay home at the last minute when she realized that there was a hairline chip in her nail polish. In intellectual matters, Monroe deferred to Miller on everything. My relative said Monroe spent the majority of her time reading, mostly self-help books.
Considering all the gains women have made politically, economically and socially since her heyday, this Monroe revival seems anachronistic. Monroe was the ultimate creation of male fantasy, the archetype of the blond bombshell – all bosom, golden curls and kittenish purrs – a fantasy women have since worked hard to deconstruct and redefine. And while the boundaries of what is considered attractive in Hollywood are still fairly narrow, they have still been expanded enough to include a far more diverse bunch than ever before.
Well, I’d like to ask the PR maven what he thinks about glamorizing and marketing the ‘Monroe style’ that she herself found quite destructive. Am I the only one who, when swiping a Marilyn gloss across my lips or stepping into some Marilyn high heels, would think about the ways in which the use of such objects was ultimately an oppressive act for her? That remaining desirable was not effortless for her, but rather all-consuming to the point of obsession?”
While I support Strauss’s feminist perspective, I would also argue that our focus on glamour is not entirely misguided. Marilyn’s unashamed pride in her own sexuality has inspired many women.
Though it may seem that Marilyn fever is everywhere now, in truth it never really went away. Monroe has fascinated us for over sixty years now and probably will for decades, even centuries to come.
Her beauty, intelligence, and yes, her tragedy are all part of the legend and we cannot, and should not, ever try to separate them. Like any woman, Marilyn deserves to be appreciated for all that she was.
The New York Timesreports this week on ABG’s plans to broaden Marilyn’s appeal after acquiring licensing rights from her estate earlier this year. “This summer, the group consolidated those rights with several photographic portfolios, including Bruno Bernard’s, along with rights to products like a Marilyn Monroe line of Nova Wines, lingerie by Dreamwear and merchandise by the skateboard company Alien Workshop.”
‘Roland Emmerich, whose Shakespeare-subverting drama Anonymous will hit theaters October 28, is planning another trip down history lane, but this time not as far back and not any time soon. The director is planning to make Happy Birthday Mr. President – “The title will tell you everything” – but says digital technology is not yet where it needs to be for him to make it the way he wants, i.e. with digitally manipulated and aged actors. Does this mean Marilyn Monroe will actually be the one singing the famous song to John F. Kennedy on his birthday? We’ll have to wait and see; “I think we have to wait another five years,” says Emmerich. For now, we can watch the real deal, or enjoy Michelle Williams channeling Monroe.’
Of course, I’m just speculating here and Emmerich’s movie plans may have nothing to do with Marilyn, or the ‘reanimation’ rumours. But the title seems to imply that they might, not to mention the need to wait (for improved technology?)
Given that the Monroe-Kennedy association is so contentious, I can only hope that any film on the subject would be done with respect for the truth.
“The ghost of Marilyn Monroe dances provocatively all around my neighborhood…Monroe lived in New York off and on until just before her death in 1962. Here she was free from what she saw as the slavery of the Hollywood studio, but she was never Juliet. On the balcony or over the subway, Marilyn Monroe remains fixed in time as The Girl.”
A great article by Pat Ryan in today’s New York Times revisits Marilyn’s favourite haunts in her adopted home city.