Georgie Currie’s Ode to ‘Norma Jean’

Norma Jean‘ is one of six tracks on Flowers For Your Worst Days, the debut EP from Australian folk singer Georgie Currie, released today, as Augustus Welby reports for the Beat website.

“The lyrics in ‘Norma Jean’ are cleverly layered. Initially it seems like a love letter to the woman Norma Jean, who you could interpret as Marilyn Monroe or a metaphor for a media-approved beautiful woman. But the second line of the chorus is a watershed moment, as Currie sings: ‘Norma Jean, she’s so much easier to love than me.’

‘I think I used the story of Marilyn Monroe as a bit more of a channel of how I was feeling at the time, which was not feeling like you ever really measure up compared to what you perceive to be all these beautiful people around you.'” 

Jazz DJ and Van Nuys Alumni Chuck Cecil Dies at 97

According to the Syncopated Times, the jazz radio DJ Chuck Cecil – who has died aged 97 – was a contemporary of Norma Jeane Baker. He was a student at Van Nuys High School, where his fellow alumni included Norma Jeane (who attended from September 1941 – February 1942, before moving on to University Senior High.) Marilyn’s future co-star, Jane Russell, and her first husband, Jim Dougherty, were also students. Five years older than Norma Jeane, they once appeared together in a school play.

Jim Dougherty and Norma Jeane

Moreover, the article states that Chuck Cecil attended Jim’s wedding to Norma Jeane in June 1942. Although he’s not usually mentioned among the guests at the intimate ceremony, it’s possible that Chuck may have joined them for their reception at the Florentine Gardens Restaurant. As Chuck was around the same age as Jim, he may have known the groom better than the bride.

On the cusp of stardom, Marilyn revisited her ‘alma mater’ (in reality, one of many) and was photographed chatting with students in 1951.

Remembering Marilyn in Hemet

In this week’s Valley Chronicle, Mark Lentine looks at Marilyn’s connection to the California town of Hemet. Although she was named Norma Jeane Mortensen at birth (after her mother Gladys’ estranged husband, Edward Mortensen) it is widely believed that her real father was C. Stanley Gifford. He and Gladys had a relationship while working at Consolidated Film Industries in Los Angeles.

Over the years, Marilyn made many attempts to contact Gifford, without success. Gifford had remarried and managed the Red Rock Dairy in Hemet. It is believed he did not want to upset his wife and children by letting Marilyn into his life.

Marilyn’s half-sister Berniece Miracle has claimed that they finally met in the year before Marilyn passed, and it has been reported that in 1965, a dying Gifford confessed to his pastor, Reverend Don Liden of the First Presbyterian Church, that he was indeed Marilyn’s father. Gifford was buried in the San Jacinto Valley Cemetery.

“Monroe was seen many times in the Hemet area, most times staying at the Soboba Hot Springs. She was seen making clandestine calls or stopping at bars (most frequently mentioned in the reminiscences of locals is Chappies Bar) and asking for a Charles Stanley Gifford.

‘My dad and mom were out at the Soboba Hot Springs for dinner, a very upscale dining spot in town. My dad started to get out of the car but was stopped by someone who looked familiar. The gentleman had gone to dad’s side of the car to let a woman out of the car. When the woman stepped out of the car, dad realised why the man had looked familiar; it was Joe DiMaggio, and he was holding the door open for his wife, Marilyn Monroe …’, said a smiling former Hemet mayor, Robert Lindquist.

I asked Lindquist if he believed that Gifford was indeed Monroe’s father. ‘Oh yes, it was quite well-known here in town. I delivered newspapers and was a child at the time, but I clearly remember Mr. Gifford very well; he was always very neat and had a small mustache; very debonair …'”

Letters to Marilyn at Bonham’s

A treasure trove of correspondence to Marilyn will be auctioned today at Bonham’s in New York, as part of TCM’s Dark Side of Hollywood sale.  Among the lots are an autographed napkin; notes to herself, jotted on the back of envelopes; letters from her mother Gladys, and members of Norma Jeane’s extended family, including Grace Goddard and Ana Lower; key figures in  Marilyn’s later life, such as Joe Schenck and Elia Kazan; and other lesser-known acquaintances. Here are some of the highlights:

Thanks to Caren and Hannah at Marilyn Remembered

Letters from Uncle Art and Aunt Allis, 1938-39

“San Jose, on ‘International Correspondence Schools’ letterhead and plain stationery. Norma Jeane was 12 years old when she received these letters from relatives of her guardian, Grace Goddard, and Grace’s aunt, Ana Lower. Though not related to her, they address themselves as Uncle Art and Aunt Allis, and in their separate letters to the child, they seem to know her well, calling her ‘Little Sweetheart’ and writing, ‘We all send love to our little girl.’ They often refer to their dog, Trinket, whom one may assume was adored by Norma Jeane, who had a soft spot for animals all her life. Despite the many difficulties Norma Jeane had to face as a foster child, it does seem that there were many caring people in her life, as Uncle Art writes, ‘I am sure you are happy because everyone there loves you, and wants you to be happy.'”

Family photo, 1946: with Berniece Miracle and daughter Mona Rae; Grace Goddard; Marilyn and Ana Lower; and Marilyn’s mother Gladys

Letters from Ana Lower, 1942-46

“In her first letter of 1942, Lower responds to 15-year-old Norma Jeane’s questions about her shyness: ‘Be your own sweet self and in time as you have more experience, you’ll be able to talk when you want to, and people will really pay attention to what you say because it will be something worthwhile.’ By 1946, Norma Jeane was obtaining a divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty (whom Lower adored) and was having financial difficulty. She had borrowed money from Lower, who was also allowing Norma Jeane’s mother, Gladys Baker, to live with her at the time. Her letter expresses disappointment in Norma Jeane’s decisions, quoting the Bible and giving advice. She also mentions that Gladys has been fired from her job at Griffith Park because she was ‘too melancholy to be around the patients.’ Lower gently but firmly warns Norma Jeane, ‘Well, precious, you may feel I am being severe, but it is not so meant. I love you dearly and you must not feel hurt because of this letter.'”

Letters from Ana Lower to Jim Dougherty, 1943-45

“Lower was extremely close to Dougherty, and in her letter, she expresses her concern about his joining up and what it means for Norma Jeane’s future. ‘Her welfare of course is uppermost in your thoughts. She is young and really needs to finish her education.’ Her love for the girl reveals itself often: ‘Norma is such a sweet dear girl. Everyone loves her.’ She also expresses gratitude for his caring ways: ‘I am grateful for your kindness to Norma and know she loves you as dearly as you do her.'”

Letter from Gladys Baker, 1945

“In 1945, Gladys went to Portland to attempt to live on her own with the help of her aunt, Dora. She had been living in institutions for 9 years, and the hope was that she would be able to care for herself. She writes of her transition: ‘I’ve only been here a few days [and] I am just getting acclimated to it. I’m taking it easy for a while.’ Gladys’ letter to Norma Jeane is surprisingly lucid and sweet. She is happy that Norma Jeane is married and hopes to meet her husband, James Dougherty (who was in the Merchant Marine at the time). She writes, ‘Seems only yesterday that you were just a wee tott [sic] & now you are married. I know you are very happy & perhaps some time soon I’ll see you.’ Norma Jeane was elated and eventually went to visit her with photographer Andre de Dienes. After leaving Portland, Gladys returned to Los Angeles and lived with Norma Jeane briefly but was ultimately forced to return to institutional life.”

Norma Jeane with husband Jim Dougherty, 1946

Letters from Ana Lower, 1946

“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane Dougherty was establishing residency in Las Vegas in order to divorce her first husband, James Dougherty, who was in the Merchant Marine at the time. She had begun a love affair with photographer Andre de Dienes, one that was much more serious than previously thought. In her letters, Ana Lower, who was the most loving adult figure in Norma Jeane’s life, remarks on the reactions she receives when she shows friends Norma Jeane’s photographs: ‘Everyone thinks your pictures are lovely, and I tell them not half so lovely as you really are.’ As she is traveling during the writing of these letters, Lower describes her experiences, most notably her visit with Norma Jeane’s amour, de Dienes. She found him both lovable and ‘temperamental, as most artists are.’ In her closing paragraph, she writes of Andre: ‘I kissed your sweetheart good-bye and I will love him, too–we joked about my being his mother-in-law. I do hope Jimmie [Norma Jeane’s soon-to-be ex-husband, whom Ana adored] is not too hurt by all this.'”

Letter from Grace Goddard, 1946

“Grace reveals that her aunt, Ana Lower, who was also a loving caregiver to Norma Jeane, is too easy on Dougherty: ‘I know what a softie [Aunt Ana] is toward any male, old or young, who makes a fuss over her. As for me, Doc [Grace’s husband], and all the rest of us, we look at situations through eyes of love for you, justice, and repayment for you being such an angel all your life. You deserve more than Jimmy is capable of giving you.’ In closing, she makes a veiled reference to Norma Jeane’s relationship with photographer Andre de Dienes and writes, ‘Of course no one but Doc and me know of your future plans. I am so in hopes you will let your heart rule you this time and not let anything keep you from taking the happiness that is being offered you.'”

Letters from Grace Goddard, 1946

“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane was residing in Las Vegas to obtain her divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty. During this time, she was ill, experienced financial difficulties, and was having problems with her car. Goddard’s letter is sympathetic: ‘I am heartsick over you,’ but firm when she scolds, ‘I do wish you had listened to Doc [Goddard’s husband] about your car.’ Additional difficulty arose when Dougherty refused to sign the divorce papers once Norma Jeane was in Las Vegas. Goddard gets a final jab at Dougherty in her closing remarks (even though she arranged their marriage) when she writes, ‘I never did think Jim would keep his promise to sign the papers.'”

Letter from Len Cormier, 1947

“Len Cormier was a young Navy pilot who dated Monroe (then Norma Jeane Dougherty) shortly after she divorced her first husband in 1946. They had at least 2 dates: one at Tommy Dorsey’s Casino Gardens in Santa Monica, and one where he took her flying (the only civilian he ever took up in a plane, he later recalled). In his letter from training camp, he writes, ‘I’ll have to admit that I don’t leave your picture out all the time, since nobody would get any work done if it were.’ He relays his experiences with flight operations and traveling, and ends his letter with a thoughtful message to his career-oriented friend: ‘I’ve still got my fingers crossed, hoping that all the breaks in the world come to you.'”

Holiday cards from Ana Lower, 1941-47

“Comprising a partial Autograph Letter Signed (‘Aunt Ana’), c.1947, to Marilyn Monroe, on plain stationery, discussing Christian Science. Together with 9 holiday cards, including a congratulatory wedding card celebrating her marriage to James Dougherty in which she writes, ‘To my dear / girl and boy / Love / Aunt Ana.'”

Letters from Howard Keel (‘Harry’), 1947-48

“Until these letters, little was known about film star Howard Keel’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe except that they had dated a few times. Keel had originally met Norma Jeane when she was 15 years old, as he relays in his letter: ‘I had quite a liking for you deep down inside but being a ripe old 22 or so I felt I was a little old for you.’ He is thrilled that they have reconnected and has a good laugh at seeing her crowned as ‘The Artichoke Queen’ in a publicity stunt. At some point between letters, the two got together, and Keel expresses his disappointment at not being able to see more of Monroe: ‘When I come home in June we’ll have to have some fun & find out what there is between us.’ Obviously, nothing came of the relationship, but Keel has sweet words about their reunion when he writes, ‘It was wonderful to find you the same sweet person I knew before.'”

Letter from Ana Lower to Berniece Miracle, 1948

“Lower refers to Marilyn (who is now no longer called Norma Jeane, even by her family), as she writes: ‘I am glad the clothes can be used. Marilyn will probably have more later.’ Marilyn often gave her clothes to Berniece when she was finished with them. Lower closes the letter with, ‘All is well with me and with Marilyn’s career.’ Ana Lower would die 4 days after this letter was written.”

Letters from Joe Schenck, 1948

“At the time of his letters to Marilyn, she had just signed a 6-month contract with Columbia Pictures, a major breakthrough in her career, which Schenck addresses: ‘I hope you will get your chance at Col and make good.’ Several months later, he writes, ‘Am very pleased to know you have a good part in a picture. Stick to your work and you will make good. Make your career your first consideration.’ Schenck either had a sense of humor or spelling problems, as he incorrectly spells Monroe’s name twice, writing both ‘Maryline’ and ‘Marrylene’ in his salutations!”

Marilyn as Dolly Madison, 1948

Letter from Gordon Provonsha, 1948

“Provonsha was a commercial artist who painted a portrait of Monroe for a Dolly Madison wine advertisement during her modeling days.”

Telegrams from Elia Kazan, 1951

“Kazan and Arthur Miller called Monroe ‘Miss Bauer’ based on a prank they played on Columbia boss Harry Cohn in which Monroe posed as a secretary by that name. Two of the Kazan telegrams allude to this pseudonym, with one signed ‘Bauer’ and the other signed simply ‘B.’ Though Monroe had affection for Kazan, she fell hard for Miller and the Kazan relationship fizzled out. From his messages, however, it appears that they were close: ‘Darling Just sit tight where you are and I’ll call for you about nine thirty.'”

Letters from Sid Ross, 1952

“Ross was a writer for Parade magazine whose brother, photographer Ben Ross, had photographed Monroe several times. Sid Ross fell head over heels in love with Monroe, who appears not to have returned his affection (or many of his letters, since his enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope for her convenience is still attached to his letter)! His letters are lyrical, poetic, and beautifully written, and he is clearly besotted: ‘The sheer joy of watching you–as you talk & sometimes crinkle up your brow … the sometimes pain in your voice and glance and gestures … the intensity that stirs not only you, but others.’ In April of 1952, Ross received a ‘Dear John’ letter from Monroe that he declared was ‘a blow. A terrific blow. It made me feel that the end of the world had come for me.’ He is clearly heartbroken and devastated. Interestingly, Ross closes one of his letters, ‘You may never be a “great” actress possibly but you’ll always be a so very beautiful girl…,’ a statement which may have been the very reason Monroe broke things off with Sid Ross.”

Correspondence Regarding Gladys Baker, 1935-52 

“Grace Goddard is clearly at the end of her rope, having spent the last 20 years trying to take care of Baker, and her exhaustion is palpable: ‘I have always loved her and her child, but I have a very bad heart condition brought on by a stroke caused by Gladys in Feb 1950. I have tried too many years to help her and I can no longer have her in my home.'”

UPDATE: Marilyn’s letter from Gladys sold for $2,750; and two letters from Ana (1942-46) sold for $2,500.

Richard C. Miller’s Norma Jeane Portfolio

A vintage carbro print of Richard C. Miller’s ‘wedding portrait’ of 19 year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty – which made the cover of True Romances magazine in 1946 – is up for sale at Santa Monica Auctions on October 7 with an estimated price of $60,000-$80,000, as LA Weekly reportsThe young model wore her own wedding dress for the shoot, and borrowed a bridal prayer book from Miller’s wife Margaret.

The prayer book is included in the lot, as well as a signed model release form, a linen clamshell box containing twelve more prints, and a photo of the newly blonde Norma Jeane and ‘Dick’ at work on a later beach session. Miller’s remarkable colour images capture the transformation from Norma Jeane to Marilyn, although ironically, her own first marriage would end in divorce just months after the ‘wedding portrait’ was published. Miller met Marilyn again in 1959, on the set of Some Like It Hot. You can read my tribute to him here.

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 Statue Proposed in Van Nuys

Norma Jeane Dougherty photographed by David Conover, who discovered her in Van Nuys, 1945

The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council has proposed that a statue of hometown girl Marilyn be installed at Van Nuys City Hall, as Olga Grigoryants reports for Los Angeles’ Daily News. If these plans come to pass, it would be a fitting tribute to create a likeness of the young Marilyn, perhaps from her early modelling days.

“The news comes four years after Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Panorama City, proposed a bill to name the Van Nuys Post Office after the Hollywood icon, who attended Van Nuys High School — as Norma Jeane Baker — for a short time in the early 1940s.

The plan was first proposed by the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council in 2012. Its president, George Thomas, said the actress had personal ties to the community … She attended Van Nuys High, which was near her house. She lived there with her aunt [Ana Lower] after years in foster homes.

The future movie icon was discovered at the Van Nuys Airport, where she worked on the assembly line at Radioplane Co., which manufactured drones for the U.S. Army during World War II.”

Norma Jeane’s House Brick for Sale in LA

The Andrew Weiss Gallery has hosted several Marilyn-themed photo and art exhibitions in the past. Tomorrow at 10 am, a rather unusual assortment of items related to MM and other stars will go under the hammer at their Hollywood Legends and Music auction, including a brick retrieved by KTLA reporter Christina Pasucci from the former Dougherty home where Norma Jeane lived from 1944-45 at Hermitage Street (later Avenue), during its controversial demolition in 2015. Also on offer is a wooden clapperboard from the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a brush, comb and hand-mirror set, supposedly containing Marilyn’s blonde hairs; plus a hotel switchboard memo found inside one of her books, notifying her that Joe DiMaggio had called.

UPDATE: According to the auction website, the clapperboard sold for $4,750; the house-brick for $2,300; the brush set for $19,500; and the DiMaggio memo for $500 (although these figures are listed as ‘unverified’.)

The Man Who Discovered Marilyn

David Conover visits Marilyn on the ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ set, 1953

Many people – mostly men – have credited themselves with ‘discovering’ Marilyn. Among them, photographer David Conover – who found the teenage Norma Jeane working at the Radioplane munitions plant in 1945, and guided her through the first steps of her modelling career – is one of a select few who can rightfully claim to have played an essential role in her path to fame, as Carl Rollyson (author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress) commented yesterday.

Norma Jeane photographed by David Conover,, 1945

“I’ve always thought that Conover was the key figure in the transformation of Norma Jeane into Marilyn. I think he was the first professional photographer, professional anything, to tell her she had a future as a model and actress. I think he unlocked something in her that had been waiting to be released. I know from my own experience that it takes only one person to say with authority that you are something special. No matter what happens afterwards, no matter how hard it gets, that one person has liberated a spirit that cannot be suppressed.”

Twin Peaks: From Norma Jeane, to Laura Palmer

If you’re a fan of cult TV series Twin Peaks, you’ll already know that director David Lynch and writer Mark Frost created it after shelving an earlier collaboration based on Anthony Summers’ Goddess.) There are striking parallels between the main female protagonist, Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee), and Marilyn, which go beyond their mysterious deaths.

In last year’s Twin Peaks revival, Marilyn’s Bus Stop co-star Don Murray played a key role. Actors Russ Tamblyn and Miguel Ferrer also had real-life links to Marilyn. I was also reminded of her sensual performance in Niagara during a scene where beautiful FBI agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) is filmed walking away from the camera, while ditzy casino hostess Candie (Amy Shiels) resembled Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, even wearing a pink tutu with matching gloves and diamonds, not unlike Marilyn’s costume in the ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number….

But maybe that’s all just wishful thinking on my part. Going back to the original series, Zach Gayne explores the similarities between Marilyn and Laura in ‘Twin Peaks and the Point of No Return‘, an essay for Screen Anarchy.

“Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Marilyn Monroe and the abandoned project that first united David Lynch and Mark Frost – the two were apparently interested in co-adapting Anthony Summers’ expose, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. While this is absolute conjecture, I can’t help but wonder if the two minds, who’d bonded over their interest in detailing the story of a fallen goddess – adored by all, but understood by few, who’s shadow ultimately overcame her angel – felt that the exploring Monroe when she was still Norma Jeane wouldn’t be the more effective way to detail the all-too-common American tragedy of a bright young woman succumbing to purveyors of darkness.

Laura Palmer is nothing if not a high-school Marilyn Monroe – a magnetic soul who draws no shortage of desire from, not only the hottest boy in school, but many of the town’s adults, like the local psychedelic psychologist or the wealthy hotel tycoon. One might say she brought out the best or worst in people, depending on their innermost natures. Laura, a supreme beacon of light, in addition to attracting love of the purest kind also attracted fire, and for her sins of merely existing, from a young age she was met with dark temptations as old as the ghostwood forest, like so many generations of distressed damsels and lads before and after her.”