Tag Archives: Norman Mailer

Alice Denham Remembers Marilyn

Alice Denham, who died last year aged 89, was armed with a master’s degree in literature when she came to New York in 1953, hoping to be a writer and supporting herself by nude modelling. Within three years, she was a Playboy centrefold – the magazine also published her short story, ‘The Deal’, in the same issue. Like other independent women of her era, however, Alice’s promising career stalled while her male peers triumphed.

Forty years later she published a sensational memoir, Sleeping With Bad Boys: A Juicy Tell-All of Literary New York. In it, she wrote of her encounters with James Dean, Marlon Brando, Sam Spiegel, Norman Mailer and Hugh Hefner, among others. She also spoke admiringly of Marilyn, and described a brief sighting of her at the El Morocco nightclub in Manhattan.

Marilyn at El Morocco, 1954

“We table-hopped and Harry introduced me to Cary Grant and Esther Williams, Jack Benny, and both Gabors. Out on the floor again, I danced past Marilyn Monroe in a plain black short gown with spaghetti straps. Marilyn looked incredibly beautiful and bored, as she danced with a fat short producer, then returned to her table where there were three other short fat producers in tux. Marilyn was far more gorgeous than her photos.”

Jack Kerouac, Marilyn and ‘Marylou’

kerouacWe can now add beat novelist Jack Kerouac to the list of male authors hopelessly infatuated by Marilyn, as described by Dave Krajicek in an article for Salon. Kerouac never met Marilyn, though she owned a copy of his classic 1957 novel, On the Road.

Kerouac made a rather crass remark about Marilyn’s passing, saying she was “f—– to death.” He also nurtured a rescue fantasy towards MM, and made similarly puerile remarks about the tragic deaths of Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard.

“Sir, I would have given [MM] love,” he told his friend Lucien Carr. “By telling her that she was an Angel of Light and that Clifford Odets and Lee Strasberg and all the others were the Angels of Darkness and to stay away from them and come with me to a quiet valley in the Yuma desert, to grow old together like ‘an old stone man and an old stone woman’…to tell her she really, is really, Marylou.”

Here is an extract from Krajicek’s article:

“‘Marylou’ refers to another character in On the Road, a ‘beautiful little chick’ based on Luanne Henderson, Neal Cassady’s real-life adolescent bride. Kerouac wrote, ‘Marylou was a pretty blonde…But, outside of being a sweet little girl, she was awfully dumb and capable of doing horrible things.’ It seems absurd that Kerouac conflated or equated Monroe, one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, with Cassady’s child-wife, who was fifteen when they married. But it’s also a telling detail that Kerouac imagined – saw himself as – Monroe’s protector, her superhero.

Kerouac’s misogyny already has inspired a cottage industry of commentary. One contemporary writer calls the Beats ‘immature dicks.’ Another suggests it is unrealistic to consider Kerouac (or any writer) outside the context of his or her times.

So Kerouac was ‘of his time,’ to use a tired phrase. And some use the same excuse for the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1962, the inaugural edition of Ms. Magazine was still a decade away. But Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was in the publishing pipeline that year, and the English-language edition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex had been available since 1953.

Kerouac’s Monroe letter must be regarded as exceptionally repulsive. And the passage of time adds context that makes its content even more significant. Marilyn Monroe has advanced in stature from a sex symbol to a cultural icon to an influential proto-feminist figure. She has transcended mere sexuality—for those able to see beyond her exterior.”

Krajicek’s outraged response is, perhaps, another kind of rescue fantasy. Contrary to myth, Marilyn was a strong woman, who didn’t need a man to save her. She doesn’t need one now, either – despite all the mud that has been slung her way, the ‘angel of light’ will never be forgotten.

But Krajicek is right to condemn Kerouac’s creeping misogyny. Norman Mailer, who wrote a ‘factoid biography’ of Marilyn, was also fixated by her sexuality – but at least Mailer credited her with some strength and intelligence, too.

“In fact, Jack, you don’t deserve her—never did, never will,” Krajicek concludes: and it’s hard to disagree.

Mariah Carey Inspired by Marilyn

mariah out

Singer Mariah Carey has spoken about her long-standing admiration of Marilyn in a revealing interview with Out magazine.

“Her first, and most enduring influence was Marilyn Monroe, and you don’t need to spend long in her company to see that the identification runs deep. When I note the dazzling butterfly ring on her finger, she extends her hand theatrically, like a caricature of Monroe’s Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. ‘This is Van Cleef and it’s missing a diamond, and it is shocking,’ she says, faux dramatically, before riffing, ‘shock and awe, shock and awe—I’m very upset now, Aaron, I gotta tell you.’ She pretends to fling her ring across the room, before anticipating how this might read in print: ‘It’s missing a diamond, She tosses it on a couch.‘ Another bubble of laughter. ‘There, I did it, so now you can say I did it.’

Carey traces her obsession with Marilyn Monroe back to her childhood, when she received a copy of Norman Mailer’s hefty biography of the actress as a Christmas gift. ‘I couldn’t have been more than 10,’ she says. ‘I was a reader as a child, believe it or not.’

‘Why should I not believe it?’

‘It doesn’t go with the ditzy image, I guess. I have too many highlights!’ She breaks into laughter, and I ask if that image—of the ditz—frustrates her. ‘No,’ she replies. ‘I flirt with it, and I play with it. If it pisses people off, whatever.’

‘Marilyn Monroe was pretty smart,’ I point out.

‘Marilyn was reading Nietzsche on the set of Something’s Got to Give,’ she responds. ‘Marilyn Monroe Productions was the first female-owned production company in Hollywood. She paved the way for women in Hollywood, and every single woman owes something to her for that, whether they agree with her image or not.’ [Actually, Marilyn was preceded by a few other women, including Rita Hayworth – but she still qualifies as an early pioneer.]

It’s tempting to hazard that some of Carey’s struggles, in her personal life and within the entertainment industry, parallel her idol. With both women their public persona served as a disguise for a much more thorough grasp of their circumstances than either is given credit far. Like Monroe, Carey has also experienced the ways in which the entertainment industry tries to control women…Her explanation for wanting to purchase Marilyn Monroe’s baby grand piano at auction in 1999 is instructive. ‘It was her only piece of the childhood she’d never had,’ she says. ‘It was very important for her to find something to cling to.'”

Writing Marilyn: Carl Rollyson

Rollyson 2nd ed

Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated, the upcoming new edition of Carl Rollyson‘s 1986 biography, now has a book trailer. You can see it here.

Rollyson has also spoken about the process of writing about Marilyn in an interview with the How Did You Write That? blog.

“HDYWT:  How did you come up with the idea for Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress?

Carl: While Norman Mailer’s biography of Monroe has been much maligned, it is, in fact, an important work not only about Monroe but about the genre of biography …Mailer used one word to describe Monroe that no other biographer had used. He called her ambition ‘Napoleonic.’  That was very astute.  The more I read about her, the more I could see his point.  She really did want to conquer the world and, in many ways, she has succeeded…I spent the summer of 1980 reading the literature about Monroe. I realized that even the most important books about her, including Mailer’s, missed the most important part of her biography. She had this terrific desire to be an actress.  Did she, in fact, become an actress, or just a star?

HDYWT:  How did you get started on the project?

Carl: I was fortunate that I knew Bruce Minnix, director of the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. Bruce had told me long before I ever dreamed of writing about Monroe that he knew two of her friends. So I called on Bruce, who put me in touch with Ralph Roberts, Marilyn’s masseur and confidant, and Steffi Sidney, the daughter of Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, who helped Monroe invent some of the more dramatic stories about her life. They, in turned, connected me with others, like Rupert Allan, Marilyn’s most important publicist. Just as important were my contacts with Maurice Zolotow and Fred Lawrence Guiles, two of Marilyn’s early and most important biographers. They were wonderful to me, sharing their insights, and providing me with still others to interview. Guiles let me visit him in the hospital while he was recovering from a heart attack, and later he sent me a recording of his interview with Lee Strasberg, Marilyn’s most important acting teacher.

HDYWT:  How do you organize your research?

Carl: The breakthrough moment came when Susan Strasberg read part of an early draft. I had interviewed her about her memories of Monroe and Actors Studio, and we got along very well — in part, I think, because she could see I was going to write about Marilyn as an actress in a way no one else had done before. I sent her an early draft of the book, and she said: ‘When you tell the story of her life and her acting you establish your voice. But then there is also this other stuff that sounds like a treatise. Who are you trying to impress — your colleagues?’ That’s when I threw out about two thirds of the book and rewrote it as a narrative. As soon as I had my story, the organization of research fell into place.”

Inner Marilyn at the Jung Center

The Jung Center in Houston, Texas is a non-profit educational institute, named after Carl Jung and dedicated to the arts, psychology and spirituality. A new exhibition, ‘The Inner Marilyn‘, has just opened and will be on display until June 2.

The items featured are from the collection of Marie Taylor Bosarge, who produced and starred in the 2011 musical, Babydoll Reflects, and is president of the Music Doing Good foundation.

Associated events include ‘The Wounded Feminine’, a lecture and workshop led by psychoanalyst Sharon Martin, and a musical celebration of Marilyn’s life. This compassionate, humane approach sounds very promising.

However, I do have a few concerns – firstly, a chair said to be from Marilyn’s home comes with a letter of authentication by Robert Slatzer, who many consider a fraud (see here.) The chair may well be Marilyn’s, but I think a second opinion is needed.

Also, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, the Jung Center’s Jerry Ruhl seems to imply that Marilyn may have had up to 13 abortions. This is an uncorroborated rumour propagated by Norman Mailer in his ‘factoid’ biography, Marilyn (1973.) In fact, Marilyn suffered from endometriosis which made her unable to carry pregnancies to term.

“There is no proof of it through medical records and stuff like that though, because abortions were illegal and so no records would have been kept,” Danamo notes on the long-standing MM Pages website. “However, to have that many ‘back-alley’ abortions would have surely messed Marilyn up gynecologically, but her autopsy report doesn’t report any abnormalities of this nature.”

Norman Mailer’s ‘Factoid’ Marilyn

The word ‘factoid’ is often used to describe a point of trivia, but that is not its true meaning – as David Marsh explains in his ‘Mind Your Language’ blog for The Guardian – with a little help from Marilyn…

‘A factoid is not a small fact. It’s a mistaken assumption repeated so often that it is believed to be true.

At least, that was the meaning ascribed to the word by Norman Mailer, who is widely credited with coining it, in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. Mailer said factoids were “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”.

You can also use factoid as an adjective, to mean “quasi-factual”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which adds that it is used to designate “writing (esp. journalism) which contains a mixture of fact and supposition or invention presented as accepted fact”. I like that “(esp. journalism)”.

A true factoid should sound credible, and be assumed to be true by a significant number of people (if you are the only person who believes it, it may simply be a delusion). The Washington Times defined a factoid as “something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact”.’

Elizabeth Avedon Interviews Schiller

Lawrence Schiller spoke to curator Elizabeth Avedon recently:

“In 1972, when I did the Marilyn book with Norman Mailer’s text and twenty-four photographers, I discovered that photographers were just mechanics with Marilyn. You put her in front of the camera; she knew exactly what she was doing. When Dick Avedon photographed her, he did those intimate portraits of her, but then he did her vamping all the other women of the world; you know Marilyn knew how to pose. I think she was different people to different photographers. She reinvented herself depending upon who was shooting her. Take Milton Greene’s pictures of her in the black. That’s him recreating the Marlene Dietrich pictures that he did, that’s Marilyn Monroe taking it a step further. Yes, you could play music; yes, you could fill her up with Dom Pérignon; and yes, photographers had to know lighting; but you got to tell Marilyn Monroe what to do? No way!

Marilyn was right there, right in your face. You could really feel the pores on her skin. Some people when you photograph them, their skin becomes for lack of a better word, dead; there’s a flatness to it. There was never a flatness to Marilyn Monroe’s skin. It was alive. She was constantly alive. She could look anyway she wanted. She certainly had professional makeup people, but I saw her doing her own makeup many times.

I think there are probably some unedited Marilyn somewhere. As an example in the new book, there are at least thirty images that came from the shooting for Look Magazine. I’m not exaggerating, until last year I had never looked at that shooting since the day the film was sent into Look magazine and Marilyn approved the contact sheets. They went into the Look Library, I owned the copyright. Look ran one picture of mine, some with Bob Vose, some with Guy Villet and John Bryson, who was a God to me. I just never looked at it. Now I look at it and I come up with this image, the first picture I ever shot of her. This picture was never published; it’s on the cover of the Talese book. It comes from a contact sheet she killed all except the one frame…Over fifty-two years I never looked at this contact sheet.

In those days, if you sold a picture for a cover for a thousand dollars, that was a lot of money; so a spread for Life Magazinefor six or seven thousand dollars, that’s a lot of money. The American Society of Magazine Photographers day rate was $100. a day in those days, so when we did like $80,000. worth of sales off basically one days shooting, next to David Douglas Duncan’s pictures of Picasso, probably the highest amount generated from one days worth of shooting. If you have exclusivity, you’re able to control the market.

I never even looked at the Marilyn pictures as anything artistic. I remember the thing that really blew me away, I had this image I took of Buster Keaton and one day I walked into Sammy Davis, Jr.’s home and there it was framed on the wall in his den. I just looked at it on the wall like a piece of art. It was the first time I ever realized that my pictures were something more than just that.”

Norman Mailer and The Girl Upstairs

This New York author’s infatuation with Marilyn is the stuff of legend, but according to a new documentary, Norman Mailer: The American, the feeling wasn’t mutual:

“Mailer tells a revealing story about how he almost met Marilyn Monroe, the subject of his fawning, conspiracy-mongering 1973 book, ‘Marilyn.’ In that coffee-table tome, Mailer takes some nasty swipes at fellow Brooklyn-Jewish boy Arthur Miller (who wrote ‘Death of a Salesman’ in the same apartment building where Mailer, in the upper floors, was writing ‘The Naked and the Dead.’)

Miller invited Mailer and Adele (Morales, his then-wife) to his Connecticut home at a time when the playwright and the movie star were married. Mailer showed up with every intention of stealing Monroe away, only to be told that she was out of town. Dirty trick.

Mailer found out later that Monroe, afraid of meeting him, had been hiding upstairs the whole time. At least that’s his version. Sounds like everybody involved dodged a bullet.” Bloomberg

 

Mailer’s Marilyn Reissued

Norman Mailer’s 1973 book, Marilyn, will be reissued by Virgin Books as a paperback and e-book on July 19, reports The Bookseller. Serial rights have also been sold, though it’s not clear whether this new edition will be illustrated.

Mailer’s Marilyn is currently available via Kindle for £3.18 (see cover image above.) And Taschen’s deluxe 2011 book, Marilyn Monroe, with text by Mailer and photos by Bert Stern, is also being republished – albeit in a more affordable trade format – this July.

‘Blondes’ in Boston

The new, digitally-restored print of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will be screened at Arts Emerson in Boston on May 4-6, as part of their ‘Gotta Dance: The American Film Musical 1929-1953.’

“Never again in her career will Monroe look so sexually perfect, no never. Her physical coordination is never more vigorous and athletically quick; she dances with all the grace she is ever going to need, all the grace and all the pizzazz — she is a musical comedy star with panache! … She must be the first embodiment of Camp, for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a perfect film in the way early Connery-James Bond films were perfect…The first film which enables us to speak of her as a great comedian.” – Norman Mailer