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.
“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.”
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.”
In an article for the New Yorker, no less, Robin Wright says, ‘I have something in common with Marilyn Monroe – and you might, too.’ That shared condition, she claims, is synaesthesia…
“Marilyn Monroe had a condition called synesthesia, a kind of sensory or cognitive fusion in which things seen, heard, smelled, felt, or tasted stimulate a totally unrelated sense—so that music can be heard or food tasted in colors, for instance. Monroe’s first husband, Jim Dougherty, told Norman Mailer about ‘evenings when all Norma Jean served were peas and carrots. She liked the colors. She has that displacement of the senses which others take drugs to find. So she is like a lover of rock who sees vibrations when he hears sounds,’ Mailer recounted, in his 1973 biography of Monroe.”
While Marilyn was never diagnosed with synaesthesia, there’s a good reason for that – it wasn’t an established concept during her lifetime, although Wright believes it has been described in literature for centuries, noting that many artists, musicians and writers exhibit aspects of synaesthesia.
Maureen Seaberg first suggested that Marilyn might have been a synaesthete in a 2012 article for Psychology Today – a hypothesis supported by Mona Rae Miracle. (It would be interesting if a psychologist could examine other incidents from Marilyn’s life from this perspective.)
“It didn’t disturb me that Mr. Mailer did not refer to Ms. Monroe’s displacement of the senses specifically as synesthesia — no one was using that word in 1973. I decided to follow up with her survivors and spent months seeking them until an email arrived from her niece, Mona Rae Miracle, who with her mother, Berniece Baker Miracle, wrote a well-received biography of her famous aunt herself, titled My Sister Marilyn.
‘Synaesthesia is a term Marilyn and I were unaware of; in the past, we simply spoke of the characteristic experiences with terms such as extraordinary sensitivity and/or extraordinary imagination … Marilyn and I both studied acting with Lee Strasberg, who gave students exercises which could bring us awareness of such abilities, and the means of using them to bring characters to life. As you know, the varied experiences can bring sadness or enjoyment … Marilyn’s awesome performance in Bus Stop (the one she was most proud of) grew out of the use of such techniques and quite wore her out.'”
Robert Mitchum was born 100 years ago, on August 6, 1917. During the early 1940s he worked at the Lockheed munitions plant with Jim Dougherty, and claimed to have met Dougherty’s pretty young wife, Norma Jeane, remembering her as ‘shy and sweet.’ (Dougherty has denied this early encounter between the two future stars occurred.)
One of Hollywood’s most celebrated tough guys, Bob starred with Marilyn in River of No Return (1954.) He and Marilyn remained friendly and worked well together, although neither got along with director Otto Preminger. Bob recalled that she didn’t take her ‘sex goddess’ image seriously, playing it as a kind of burlesque. He was later offered another chance to be her leading man in The Misfits, but was unimpressed by the script and the role went to Clark Gable instead.
Robert Mitchum died in 1997. River of No Return will be screened at this year’s New York Film Festival, as part of a major Mitchum retrospective. You can read more about the shoot here.
Bill Pursel, who befriended Marilyn during the early years of her career, has died aged 91, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“William Albert Lloyd Pursel was born July 24, 1925, in Marshalltown, Iowa. His family moved to Las Vegas in 1939. After graduating from Las Vegas High School, class of 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in The European Theatre during World War II. He became a sales manager for KLAS Radio and covered several atomic bomb explosions at the Nevada Test Site. He was a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant with The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company. He was president of The Life Underwriters Association of Nevada. He was active in The Las Vegas Jr. Chamber of Commerce, a founding member of The Sports Car Club of America in So Nevada, a charter member of Trinity United Methodist Church, and belonged to both the Masonic Lodge and the Elks Lodge. He served two-four year terms as a trustee at Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital (UMC).”
Bill’s memories of Marilyn – they dated on and off for several years – were unknown to to the public until he spoke with Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. They met in 1946, when 19 year-old Norma Jeane was staying with a family friend in Las Vegas while waiting her divorce from Jim Dougherty. Bill later visited her in Los Angeles, and was waiting at the house she shared with Ana Lower when she returned from a meeting at Twentieth Century Fox with a contract and a new name.
She was dropped by the studio a year later, but pursued her craft at the Actors Lab, even once asking college student Bill to enroll. They remained close after she began a romance with Fred Karger in 1948, and she later asked Bill to protect her from a ‘beach wolf’ – none other than actor Peter Lawford, who would play a significant role in her final days. Bill saw her as both dedicated and vulnerable in Hollywood, recalling a distressing phonecall during the Love Happy promotional tour of 1949. And then, just as their relationship seemed likely to turn serious, Marilyn called it off – leaving Bill with nothing but a couple of signed photos (now owned by collector Scott Fortner.)
Bill heard from Marilyn just once more, shortly after she began dating Joe DiMaggio. By then, Bill was happily married. He later recalled seeing her singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy on television, just months before her death in 1962. He felt no bitterness, and knowing her sensitive nature, he was saddened but not surprised by her tragic demise.
Mr Pursel died last Thursday, June 1st – on what would have been Marilyn’s 91st birthday. He is survived by his wife of more than sixty years, Mabel ‘Mac’ Salisbury Pursel; and his children, William ‘Bill’, Kristie, and Kim (‘Bill’) Toffelmire, her stepchildren and their children, and several nieces and nephews.
Michelle Morgan has written an emotional tribute to Bill Pursel:
“He has been a constant presence in my life since 2005, when I first contacted him during the writing of my Marilyn book. What started out as an interview, turned into a friendship between Bill, his beautiful wife Mac, his family and my own … My work has been deeply enriched because of Bill’s stories, and my life has been changed because of his friendship. He was a huge supporter of my career, and gave me lots of advice in recent years … Good night, Bill. Thank you for your wonderful friendship. You were one of the best friends I ever had.”
In the first of a new series, I’m looking at items from the upcoming auction at Julien’s relating to Marilyn’s family and her early life as Norma Jeane. This photo shows her mother Gladys as a child with brother Marion.
He would later accompany Gladys and her baby daughter on a trip to a Los Angeles beach. However, Marion disappeared sometime afterwards, and was never heard of again. Norma Jeane would live with his wife and children for a few months after Gladys was committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Between the ages of nine to twelve, Norma Jeane collected stamps. The fact that she kept hold of the album until she died suggests it brought back calmer memories of what was often an unsettled childhood.
Ana Lower was the aunt of Grace Goddard, who had become Norma Jeane’s legal guardian after Gladys fell ill. Norma Jeane lived with Ana, a devout Christian Scientist, for two years. By then Ana was in her fifties, but this photo shows her as a younger woman.
Marilyn considered Ana to be one of the most important influences in her life. This letter, written while Norma Jeane was visiting her half-sister for the first time, shows that the affection was mutual.
“My precious Girl,” Anawrote, “You are outward bound on a happy journey. May each moment of its joyous expectations be filled to the brim. New places, faces and experiences await you. You will meet them all with your usual sweetness and loving courtesy. When you see your sister you will truly both receive a blessing.”
These photos of Marilyn’s first husband, James Dougherty, were found behind the portrait of Ana. He is wearing his Merchant Marine’s uniform.
By the late 1940s, Gladys had been released from hospital, but her condition quickly deteriorated. She suffered from severe delusions, and disapproved of Norma Jeane’s ambition to act. However, there were still tender moments between mother and daughter, as this card from Gladys reveals.
“Dear One,” shewrote, “I am very grateful for all the kindness you’ve shown me and as a Loving Christian Scientist (my pencil broke) I hope our God will let me return some goodness to you with out doing myself any harm. For I know good is reflected in goodness, the same as Love is reflected in Love. As a Christian Scientist I remain very truly your Mother.”
As Marilyn’s fame grew, she tried her best to shield family members from unwanted publicity. Grace Goddard, who had retained guardianship of Gladys throughout her long illness, wrote an anxious letter to Marilyn in August 1953. Gladys had recently been admitted to a private rest-home, and Marilyn would pay for her mother’s care until she died.
“Such a burden for a delicate little girl like you to hear,” Gracewrote. Marilyn, then filming RiverofNoReturn in Canada, sent her money transfer for $600. Grace, who had cancer, passed away weeks later.
In an article for Boulder City Review, Tanya Vece traces Marilyn’s fleeting visit to the Nevada town in 1946.
“Before she was the blonde bombshell known as Marilyn Monroe, a dark-haired Norma Jeane Mortenson came through Boulder City with a man named Bill Pursel.
Mortenson was living on Third Street in Las Vegas in 1946 while seeking a quick Nevada divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty. Norma was on the brink of becoming a global icon as Fox Studios promised her a movie contract…
Boulder City played a small yet pivotal role when Norma Jeane came through to visit Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam because it was right around the time that she was starting to morph into Marilyn. In the book Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, author Michelle Morgan highlights what seemed to be Mortenson’s struggle to fit into the mold of what was expected from women at the time …
Most people stop here on their way to somewhere else — be it for sightseeing or to grab a bite to eat. While Mortenson was passing through our city she knew that she was on her way to somewhere else and as someone else.”
One of Marilyn’s first memories was visiting Santa Monica Pier with her mother, and she held an affection for the area throughout her life. Her friends the Lawfords lived nearby, and she would be photographed on the beach by George Barris just weeks before her death in 1962. As the Santa Monica Hippodrome (the Pier’s original name) celebrates its centenary, Julia Bennett Rylah investigates its history in an article for LAist.com.
“It was June 12, 1916 when the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome opened its doors. Charles Looff was a carousel carver who had previously worked on the first two carousels at Coney Island. Jim Harris, Santa Monica Pier historian and author of Santa Monica Pier: A Century on the Last Great Pleasure Pier, tells LAist that Looff had expanded beyond carousels and into building whole amusement parks across the country. The Santa Monica Looff Pleasure Pier, now simply the Santa Monica Pier, would be Looff’s last park before he died in 1918.
‘When the Santa Monica Municipal Pier was built—the long part that goes over the ocean—the citizens of the northern part of the Santa Monica wanted an amusement park built next to it. And so, seeing the opportunity and realizing that the Red Cars stopped right at this location and that there was an electric tram running up and down the beach, Looff thought it would be an excellent location.’
Only three months after the carousel opened, Looff added a fourth row of horses to accommodate additional riders at the popular attraction. Back then, it cost five cents for a ride. Today, it’s $2 for adults and $1 for children.
The Looff family sold the amusement pier and the Hipppdrome to a group of local relators in 1924, and the Security First National Bank took the over both in 1939. In 1943, Walter Newcomb leased the pier and the Hippodrome, hiring the Gordon family to manage it in 1955. The Gordon family took ownership in 1956…
In the 60s, the building had a very famous visitor, though many who encountered her were probably oblivious. ‘Towards the end of her life, Marilyn Monroe was living in Brentwood and hung out at the Santa Monica Beach a lot,’ Harris says, noting that many of the iconic photos George Barris took of the actress were shot here.
‘She would come to the Hippodrome to find solace. She’d sit on a bench and watch the horses go round and round. Being sensitive to who she was, she would come in disguise wearing a scarf and overcoat and sunglasses. One day, the gentleman who was operating the carousel walked up to her and said something along the lines of, Why do you come here every day? You’re young and you should get a job. She then revealed [her identity] and said, I do have a job, I’m Marilyn Monroe.‘”
Alan Young, who played Wilbur Post on Mister Ed – the classic 1960s TV sitcom about a talking horse – has died aged 96 at the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills, California, reports The Guardian.
Born in Northumberland to Scottish parents in 1919, Young emigrated to Canada as a child. During his high school years he hosted a CBC radio show. He married in 1940 and had two children, before moving to New York in 1944, where he began hosting The Alan Young Show on NBC Radio.
In December 1946, the now-divorced Young met a young Marilyn Monroe when she promoted his show in highland dress on a Rose Bowl float in Los Angeles. They later went on two dates, as he recalled in a 2012 interview with Scotland’s Daily Record.
He was also interviewed by Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. He remembered taking her to the Brown Derby club after the parade; but as neither of them liked alcohol, they decided to go elsewhere and sip cocoa instead. “She seemed like a frightened rabbit at first,” he said, “and I didn’t realise she had been raised without parents. I really liked her.”
On their first date, Young picked her up from the house where she was living with family friend Ana Lower. He remembered that Ana seemed ‘suspicious’ of his intentions. Norma Jeane (as she still called herself then) explained that Ana was a devout Christian Scientist – a faith she and Alan also shared.
Their second date ended in disaster, as Alan tried to kiss Norma Jeane as she was turning her head away, and ended up kissing her ear instead. “I was so embarrassed about it that I never phoned her again,” he admitted.
He made his screen debut in Margie (1946), at Marilyn’s home studio of Twentieth Century Fox, and later appeared alongside Clifton Webb in Mr Belvedere Goes to College (1949.) He married Virginia McCurdy in 1948, and they had two children. In 1950, The Alan Young Show moved to television.
By the early 1950s, Marilyn was also a major star. “I was working at the studio when a blonde girl rushed up and yelled ‘Alan!'” he told Michelle Morgan. “She kissed me and asked about my parents and asked me to give her a call. After she had gone the make-up man asked how long I’d known Marilyn Monroe and I answered, ‘About two minutes!’ That was the last time I ever saw her.”
In 1955, Young would star opposite Jane Russell in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a sequel to Monroe’s 1953 smash hit, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. After Marilyn declined to reprise her role, Jeanne Crain took her place as Lorelei Lee. He later starred in the classic sci-fi movie, The Time Machine (1960.)
Young’s most famous role, in TV’s Mister Ed, began in 1961 and ran for five years. Afterwards, he continued making guest appearances in numerous television shows, movies and as a voice actor for cartoons and video games.
After nearly fifty years together, Young and McCurdy were divorced in 1995. He married Mary Chipman shortly afterwards, but they divorced two years later. He returned to the stage in a 2001 revival of Show Boat, and his final credit was in 2015, as the voice of Scrooge McDuck in a series of Mickey Mouse shorts.