During the summer of 1955 – Marilyn’s first year in New York – she spent many weekends at the Strasbergs’ holiday home on the resort of Fire Island, and also visited with the Rostens. In a 2013 article for the Long Island Press, Spencer Rumsey reported that Marilyn said of Fire Island, ‘What a lovely place this is—it’s got water all around it.’ (If true, this may be one of those deceptively simple ‘Monroeisms’ – Marilyn clearly knew what an island was, having lived on Catalina Island in 1943!)
Today, publisher Alan Chartock recalls his boyhood encounters with Marilyn on Fire Island in the Legislative Gazette. (Photos found on the Pines History website.)
“Of course, the Fire Island of today is hardly the beach I grew up in when the ‘daddy boat’ that came in around six o’clock returned all the working stiffs to their families. I earned some pin money by ‘wagoning’ — I would meet the boat and take people to their homes for anywhere between a quarter and a buck. I was small but I had some very prestigious clients, the most recognizable of whom was Marilyn Monroe who visited quite frequently. As it turns out, she came to visit the Strasberg family. Susan and Lee were among the most famous of that group. That was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, most of the very famous literati and thespians moved on to other places like the Hamptons and, years later, to the Berkshires where I now live.”
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.”
In my latest post for the Julien’s Legends auction, coming up on June 13-14, I’m taking a look at the fan mail, plus letters and greeting cards from friends and family, received (and kept) by Marilyn over the years. (You can read my previous posts, on the How to Marry a Millionaire bathrobe and the photos of Manfred Kreiner, here.)
UPDATE: I have now added the total bids to each item.
“An invoice from Southdown Kennel in Roxbury, Connecticut, for boarding and food for Hugo, the lovable basset hound owned by Marilyn and then husband Arthur Miller. The invoice is dated from November of 1958, and is addressed to Mrs. Arthur Miller. Dates specified for boarding of Hugo are July 4-10, July 28-August 5, August 22-24, and August 27-October 30. Also listed is ‘1 case beef’ at a cost of $11.50.” (SOLD for $512)
“A handwritten letter from a young child, undated, reading, ‘Dear Marilyn, How are you? Daddy and mommy saw you. I wish I could of. I am writing you to see if you rember (sic) me. First you saw me playing on the grass at Chaire’s house and then at Patty’s. I went to East Hampton and I got a new bike. It is beautiful.’ The letter is signed Emily Hedda Liss. The letterhead reads ‘Mrs. Joseph Liss, 445 East 68th Street, New York, New York,’ indicating Emily is likely the young daughter of television writer and editor Joseph Liss.” (UNSOLD)
“Two greeting cards sent to Marilyn from fans with get well wishes. One card’s handwritten inscription reads, ‘To a wonderful actress. My best wishes to you. Palma Urso, 1958.’ The other is simply signed, ‘Judy Bawber.’ (UNSOLD)
“A two-page handwritten letter from a fan by the name of Pete Monti, dated June 1, 1959, in which Monti expresses his love and admiration for Marilyn. Passages from the letter read, ‘…every year I send you a gift with my address on the present for you to answer, and tell me if you liked it, but you never answered it. I think the reason for that was because you never received the gifts,’ ‘…I have been a fan of yours since 1950, I even have every book that ever came out with your picture in it,’ ‘there is only one thing I would like you to do for me…is to win the Academy Award for best actress of the year, to show them in Hollywood that your (sic) a real good actress. Everybody tries to imitate you, but they can’t…there is only one Marilyn Monroe, and that’s you.’ The letter is signed, ‘Yours Truly, Pete Monti.’ A photo of Monti in formal attire, together with a female companion, is stapled to the letter. Included also is a typed response to this letter, dated June 19, 1959, reading, ‘Miss Monroe has asked me to thank you most kindly for your birthday remembrance and good wishes. She appreciates your thoughtfulness very much.’ The letter is signed ‘Yours sincerely, Secretary to Marilyn Monroe.’ The letter was likely prepared by May Reis, Monroe’s secretary for several years.” (UNSOLD)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Evelyn Moriarty. Moriarty was Monroe’s stand-in on three films: Let’s Make Love, The Misfits, and Something’s Got To Give.” (SOLD for $750)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Snyder was Monroe’s makeup artist from her very first screen-test in 1946 and also for most of her films and public appearances, and even photo shoots.” (SOLD for 5,760)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Augusta and Isidore Miller, the parents of Marilyn’s third husband Arthur Miller. The handwritten message from the Millers reads, ‘And Lots of Mazel + Brucha, Love Mom + Dad.’ In Yiddish this phrase means ‘happiness and blessing.'” (SOLD for $640)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from ‘Grace + Daddy,’ the latter being Ervin ‘Doc’ Goddard. Grace’s handwritten note in the card reads, ‘We couldn’t love you more if you were our real daughter.'” (SOLD for $768)
“A handwritten letter to Marilyn and then husband Arthur Miller from Marilyn’s half-sister Berniece Miracle, postmarked April 28, 1960. The letter reads in part, ‘My! How I would love to hear from you and all about what you are doing. I see where Arthur has written a movie, The Misfits. When will the filming start? Hope it’s a big success.'” (SOLD for $1,875)
“A grouping of correspondence to Marilyn from Anne Karger, including three telegrams wishing Marilyn a happy birthday. One telegram is dated June 2, 1957. Interestingly, the other two telegrams are both from 1961, one is dated May 31, and the other is dated June 1. Also included is an undated holiday card with greetings for Christmas and the new year. Anne was the mother of Fred Karger, whom Marilyn fell deeply in love with near the start of her film career. It is widely reported that she had wanted to marry Karger. While the relationship ultimately didn’t last, Marilyn remained very close with his mother. Anne was one of a very few guests from Marilyn’s inner circle who was invited to her funeral.” (SOLD for $1,152)
“A grouping of correspondence to Marilyn from John Moore, including a Western Union telegram dated May 31, 1961, which reads, ‘Wish you were here to celebrate it. Love you.’ This message is likely in reference to Marilyn’s birthday, which was on June 1, the day after the telegram is dated. Also included, an undated, hand-signed Christmas card, and a note that likely accompanied a bouquet of flowers with a message that reads, ‘Will you be my Valentine? John Moore.’ Moore was a fashion designer, interior decorator and close friend of Marilyn’s. He worked for Talmack, and designed many of Marilyn’s clothes; including the gown she wore during the private wedding ceremony in which she married Arthur Miller. He also assisted Marilyn in redecorating the apartment she and Miller shared on East 57th Street in New York City.” (SOLD for $384)
“A one-page handwritten letter to Marilyn from poet and friend Norman Rosten, apparently while he was vacationing in the Arctic Circle. The letter reads in part, ‘This bar of chocolate and paperclip were both bought in this Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle! Who says the world isn’t round? It’s too round!’ The actual chocolate bar wrapper is affixed to the letter using the aforementioned paperclip. Also included is the original envelope, postmarked January 27, 1959, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Miller at 444 East 57th Street, New York, NY.” (SOLD for $640)
“An undated, handwritten note from Joseph M. Schenck to Marilyn, reading simply, ‘Dear Marilyn, I am with you. I know you are right. Joe Schenck.’ Schenck was co-founder of 20th Century Pictures in 1933. When his studio merged with Fox Film Corporation in 1935, Schenck was named chairman. He was an important figure in Marilyn’s early career.” (SOLD for $625)
A wide range of Marilyn-related items, including her 1956 Thunderbird, will be up for grabs at Julien’s Icons & Idols auction on November 17. Another high-profile item is the white beaded Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business, purchased at Christie’s in 1995; as yet it’s unclear whether this is the same dress listed at Julien’s in 2016.
Marilyn owned several pairs of checked trousers, wearing them repeatedly throughout her career. This pair, seen in one of her earliest modelling shoots, was purchased from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.
A number of photos owned by Marilyn herself are also on offer, including this picture with US troops, taken on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a set of publicity photos for Love Nest; a photo of Joe DiMaggio in his New York Yankees uniform; and Roy Schatt‘s 1955 photo of Marilyn and Susan Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
A postcard from the Table Rock House in Niagara Falls was signed by Marilyn and her Niagara co-stars, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, in 1952.
This publicity shot from River of No Return is inscribed, ‘To Alan, alas Alfred! It’s a pleasure to work with you – love & kisses Marilyn Monroe.’
A set of bloomers worn by Marilyn in River of No Return (as seen in this rare transparency) is going up for bids.
Among the mementoes from Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Japan and Korea are two fans and an army sewing kit.
Also among Marilyn’s personal property is this ad for There’s No Business Like Show Business, torn from the December 24, 1954 issue of Variety.
Among Marilyn’s assorted correspondence is a latter dated August 22, 1954, from childhood acquaintance Ruth Edens:
“I have long intended to write you this letter because I have particularly wanted to say that when you used to visit me at my Balboa Island cottage, you were a shy and charming child whose appeal, it seems to me, must have reached the hearts of many people. I could never seem to get you to say much to me, but I loved having you come in and I missed your doing so after you’d gone away. I wondered about you many times and was delighted when I discovered you in the films. I hope the stories in the magazines which say you felt yourself unloved throughout your childhood, are merely press-agentry. In any case, I want you to know that I, for one, was truly fond of you and I’m proud of you for having developed enough grit to struggle through to success … I hope you are getting much happiness out of life, little Marian [sic]. I saw so much that was ethereal in you when you were a little girl that I fell sure you are not blind to life’s spiritual side. May all that is good and best come your way!”
Marilyn’s loyalty to the troops who helped to make her a star is attested in this undated letter from Mrs. Josephine Holmes, which came with a sticker marked ‘American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.‘
“My dear Miss Monroe, I was so happy to hear from Mr. Fisher about your visit to the Veterans Hospital. When I spoke to Mr. Alex David Recreation he said the veterans would be thrilled, probably the best present and tonic for them this holiday and gift giving season. I am sure it will be a wonderful memory for you, knowing you have brought happiness to so many boys, many have no one to visit with them. Thank you, and may God bless you and Mr. Miller for your kindness.”
Marilyn wore this hand-tailored black satin blouse for a 1956 press conference at Los Angeles Airport, as she returned to her hometown after a year’s absence to film Bus Stop. When a female reporter asked, ‘You’re wearing a high-neck dress. … Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’ she replied sweetly, ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.’
Letters from Marilyn’s poet friend, Norman Rosten, are also included (among them a letter warmly praising her work in Some Like It Hot, and a postcard jokingly signed off as T.S. Eliot.)
Among Marilyn’s correspondence with fellow celebrities was a Christmas card from Liberace, and a telephone message left by erstwhile rival, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
File under ‘What Might Have Been’ – two letters from Norman Granz at Verve Records, dated 1957:
“In the September 5, 1957, letter, Granz writes, ‘I’ve been thinking about our album project and I should like to do the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to an album called MARILYN SINGS LOVE SONGS or some such title.’ In the December 30, 1957, letter, he writes, ‘… I wonder too if you are ready to do any recording. I shall be in New York January 20th for about a week and the Oscar Peterson Trio is off at that time, so if you felt up to it perhaps we could do some sides with the Trio during that period.'”
Also in 1957, Marilyn received this charming card from the Monroe Six, a group of dedicated New York teenage fans, mentioning her latest role in The Prince and The Showgirl and husband Arthur Miller’s legal worries:
“Marilyn, We finally got to see ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ and every one of us was so very pleased. We are all popping our shirt and blouse buttons. Now we will be on pins and needles ‘til it is released to the general public. You seemed so relaxed and a tease thru the whole picture and your close ups, well they were the most flawless ever. You should be real pleased with yourself. No need to tell you what we want for you to know now is that we hope everything comes out all right for Mr. Miller and real soon too. Guess what we are working on now. We are trying to scrape up enough money for the necessary amount due on 6 tickets to the premiere and the dinner dance afterwards. Well again we must say how happy we are about T.P.+T.S. and we wanted you to know it. Our best to you.”
Among the lots is assorted correspondence from Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, dated 1958. In that year, Marilyn sent Xenia a check which she used to replace her wallpaper. She regretted being unable to visit Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot, but would write to Arthur Miller on November 22, “I wanted to tell you how much your visit meant to me and how glad I was to see you and my beloved Marilyn being so happy together.”
In April 1959, Marilyn received a letter from attorney John F. Wharton, advising her of several foundations providing assistance to children in need of psychiatric care, including the Anna Freud Foundation, which Marilyn would remember in her will.
This telegram was sent by Marilyn’s father-in-law, Isidore Miller, on her birthday – most likely in 1960, as she was living at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love. She was still a keen reader at the time, as this receipt for a 3-volume Life and Works of Sigmund Freud from Martindale’s bookstore shows.
After Let’s Make Love wrapped, Marilyn sent a telegram to director George Cukor:
“Dear George, I would have called but I didn’t know how to explain to you how I blame myself but never you. If there is [undecipherable due to being crossed out] out of my mind. Please understand. My love to Sash. My next weekend off I will do any painting cleaning brushing you need around the house. I can also dust. Also I am sending you something but it’s late in leaving. I beg you to understand. Dear Evelyn sends her best. We’re both city types. Love, Amanda Marilyn.”
Here she is referencing her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and Amanda Dell, the character she played. “Dearest Marilyn, I have been trying to get you on the telephone so I could tell you how touched I was by your wire and how grateful I am,” Cukor replied. “Am leaving for Europe next Monday but come forrest [sic] fires come anything, I will get you on the telephone.”
There’s also a June 30, 1960 letter from Congressman James Roosevelt (son of FDR), asking Marilyn to appear on a television show about the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research, to be aired in October. Unfortunately, Marilyn was already committed to filming The Misfits, and dealing with the collapse of her marriage to Arthur Miller.
In 1961, movie producer Frank McCarthy praised Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits:
Rather touchingly, Marilyn owned this recording of ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ sung by Adriana Caselotti. The record copyright is from 1961, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was originally released in December 1937, when Marilyn was just eleven years old.
This pen portrait was sketched by George Masters, who became Marilyn’s regular hairdresser in the final years of her life.
On July 5, 1962, Hattie Stephenson – Marilyn’s New York housekeeper – wrote to her in Los Angeles:
“My Dear Miss Monroe: How are you! Trusting these few lines will find you enjoying your new home. Hoping you have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Fields by now. Found them to be very nice and the childrens [sic] are beautiful. Got along very well with there [sic] language. How is Maff and Mrs. Murray? Miss Monroe, Mrs. Fields left this stole here for you and have been thinking if you would like to have it out there I would mail it to you. Miss Monroe Dear, I asked Mrs. Rosten to speak with you concerning my vacation. I am planning on the last week of July to the 6th of August. I am going to Florida on a meeting tour. Trusting everything will be alright with you. Please keep sweet and keep smiling. You must win. Sincerely, Hattie.”
Hattie is referring to Marilyn’s Mexico friend, Fred Vanderbilt Field, who stayed with his family in Marilyn’s New York apartment that summer. She also alludes to Marilyn’s ongoing battle with her Hollywood studio. Sadly, Hattie never saw Marilyn again, as she died exactly a month later. Interestingly, the final check from Marilyn’s personal checkbook was made out to Hattie on August 3rd.
After Marilyn died, her estate was in litigation for several years. Her mother, Gladys, was a long-term resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, which had agreed to waive her fees until her trust was reopened. In 1965, Gladys would receive hate mail from a certain Mrs. Ruth Tager of the Bronx, criticising her as a ‘hindrance’ due to her unpaid bills. This unwarranted attack on a sick, elderly woman reminds one why Marilyn was so hesitant to talk about her mother in public.
On Friday, August 3, 1962, Marilyn called her close friend Norman Rosten and talked about her plans to visit New York that fall, urging him joyfully, ‘Let’s start to live before we get old.’ By Sunday, the world was mourning her death. Norman wrote this poem while Marilyn was still alive, but she never had a chance to read it.
“We who spread the rainbow under glass
And weigh the most elusive sky and air,
Of that clan I come to track your heart –
But I’m baffled by those loose strands of hair.
You stand, finger at your lips, lost
In a long-abandoned heaven. No one within,
The angels gone, and all the harps undone.
What legend draws you there? O hurry down!
Surely your home’s with us, and not the gods.
Below your sealed window as you watch,
A river barge goes by, someone waves,
You laugh and throw a kiss for him to catch.
You’re not to be rescued wholly in this world.
It must be so. As many are saved,
That many drown. I see you clinging
To rooms, to phones, forgotten to be loved.”
‘Love me for my yellow hair alone’, Marilyn once wrote to her friend, Norman Rosten – it was an ironical misquote (perhaps intentionally so) of a line from W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘For Anne Gregory‘, which actually read ‘Love me for myself alone/And not my yellow hair.’
This weekend, two locks of Marilyn’s hair – previously owned by Frieda Hull, a former member of the teenage group known as the Monroe Six, who befriended the star when she moved to New York – were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000, as part of their latest Icons and Idols sale. Other items from the late Ms Hull’s collection, including many rare, candid photos, will be sold by in November’s Marilyn-only auction, also at Julien’s.
In a macabre footnote, the ashes of novelist Truman Capote – another friend of Marilyn’s – were also sold at Julien’s this weekend for $43, 750. And in other hair-related news, a wig worn by Marilyn in The Misfits will be on sale at Heritage Auctions on November 12.
UPDATE: You can now read a CNBC interview with Remi Gangarossa, who placed the winning bid for a lock of Marilyn’s hair, over here.
Following two major exhibitions in Bendigo and Albury, it can be said that 2016 (so far) has been Australia’s Year of Marilyn. Journalist Inga Walton has also made a significant contribution with ‘A Moment With Marilyn’, her detailed and insightful four-part series for Trouble magazine, which you can read here.
“There is something of the universal fable in Monroe’s story, in the way tales are re-cast, with a different setting, for a new generation. There is also an unmistakable touch of the heroic about her, given where she came from and where she went. ‘We take her seriously as an artist and person, a liberated woman before it became fashionable, who won an honoured place and lost her life,’ Norman Rosten attests. ‘A woman of obscure beginnings who studied and struggled against great odds to create a life of dignity and respect. She confronted a world of caste and prejudice; she broke into the clear for herself and others.’
There are myriad reasons for Monroe’s inextricable hold over generations of audiences. Her unique and intoxicating combination of beauty, talent, sensuality, impulsiveness, and emotional turmoil continues to beguile and haunt. Monroe’s life was plagued by frailty, isolation, and self-doubt. She suffered from the thwarted ambition and unfulfilled promise that afflicts so many of us- and yet she demonstrated great resilience. We have come to empathise with Monroe’s faults, feel compassion for the many challenging aspects of her life, and applaud her candour. Sometimes it seems as though the desperate pathos of her tragic demise might threaten to overwhelm the pleasure her work continues to bring. It is as though Monroe anticipated this paradox when she mused,
Life- I am both of your directions, Somehow remaining hanging downward, The most, but strong as a cobweb in the wind- I exist more with the cold glistening frost. But my beaded rays have the colours I’ve seen in paintings Ah life, they have cheated you…”
“When I retire, I want to retire to Brooklyn…it’s my favorite place in the world so far that I’ve seen. I haven’t traveled much, but I don’t think I’ll find anything else to replace Brooklyn. I just like walking around. I think the view is better from Brooklyn, you know, you can look back over and see Manhattan. That’s the best view…It’s the people…I like the streets, just the people and the streets and the atmosphere, I just like it.” – Marilyn to Dave Garroway, NBC Radio, 1955
“84 Remsen St.: Lots of literature lovers can tell you where Arthur Miller lived in Brooklyn Heights. But do they know where the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright met Hollywood goddess Marilyn Monroe?
According to Furman, it was at 84 Remsen St., in the home of Norman Rosten, the late playwright, novelist and Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. Rosten and Miller had been friends since their days as students at the University of Michigan.
As everybody knows, Miller and Monroe did not live happily after. They married in 1956 and divorced five years later.
The Remsen Street brownstone where Rosten once lived now belongs to philanthropists Joseph and Diane Steinberg, Finance Department records indicate.”
Norman Rosten (1913-1995), a poet and playwright dubbed the ‘Bard of Brooklyn’, was a friend of Arthur Miller from their college days at Ann Arbor in Michigan. He met Marilyn through another mutual friend, photographer Sam Shaw, in 1955. Norman and his wife, Hedda Rosten, soon grew close to Marilyn, and he was one of the last to speak with her at length the day before she died. Marilyn would bequeath $5,000 for the education of his daughter, Patricia Rosten, in her will.
In 1973, Norman published a memoir, Marilyn: an Untold Story, and he also provided the text for Sam Shaw’s pictorial tribute, Marilyn Among Friends. Sadly, Arthur Miller would never forgive Norman for going public (although Miller wrote about Marilyn in his own autobiography, and drew on her memory in several plays.)
Among Marilyn’s fans, however, Rosten is regarded as a ‘mensch’, and one of her few associates to emerge with much credit. In an article for the Huffington Post, the children’s author and illustrator, Melanie Hope Greenberg, shares her own fond memories of Norman.
“In the mid-1980’s I had read excerpts of a memoir about the iconic celebrity, Marilyn Monroe, in the New York Post. It was written by Monroe’s close friend, Norman Rosten, Brooklyn’s first poet laureate, novelist, playwright, and college friend of Arthur Miller, Monroe’s husband. I remember riding home on the subway and recognizing Rosten from his photo in the newspaper as we both departed the Borough Hall Station in Brooklyn Heights. I never dreamed that a few years later he and I would collaborate on a reissued book of poetry and publish a picture book together.
During the late 1980’s a community of writers and poets gathered in Brooklyn Heights at a children’s bookstore on Montague Street. Cousin Arthur’s Book Shop was a delightful resource in our neighborhood. The shop featured children’s events as well as poetry reading for adults … I officially met Norman Rosten at the front counter of Cousin Arthur’s where they gave away the free cookies.
During that time I was also a freelance graphics artist designing Cousin Arthur’s news and event posters. The Tramontes hired me to work on a book their poetry press planned to reissue and publish. Songs For Patricia, Rosten’s book of poetry for his daughter, was originally published in 1951. Norman’s teacher and poet friend had a print shop for book production at Wingate High School in Brooklyn. Norman and I traveled together and bonded during our ‘Wingate H.S. Adventure’. He was a ball of energy at 73 years old. I was more than half his age and out of breath chasing him up the school’s stairwell to the print shop.
Norman became a mensch mentor. He was grounded and did not take himself too seriously. He was wise and aware of the glories and pitfalls of fame. A kind neighbor and gentleman whenever I saw him on the street. I understand how Marilyn Monroe must have felt safe with Norman and acknowledged as an artist.”
While researching this story, I learned that composer Ezra Laderman, who collaborated with Norman on a Marilyn-inspired opera, died in March 2015. From Laderman’s New York Times obituary:
“Mr. Laderman (pronounced LAD-er-man), was a prolific composer of symphonic, chamber and vocal music, as well as a bevy of works for traditionally neglected instruments like the viola and the bassoon. But on account of its subject matter, it was Marilyn, commissioned to honor the 50th anniversary of the New York City Opera, that made him known to the general public.
Mr. Laderman’s eclecticism was on abundant display in Marilyn, which received its world premiere at City Opera on Oct. 6, 1993, with the soprano Kathryn Gamberoni in the title role. The opera, with a libretto by the poet Norman Rosten, was performed under the baton of Hal France; Mr. Laderman’s score fused tonal, atonal and serial elements with jazz, folk and pop motifs evocative of Monroe’s era.
The production garnered advance publicity round the world, with every performance sold out well ahead of time. The reviews were mixed at best, with some critics embracing the score for its stylistic range but others dismissing it as a pastiche.
In an interview with The Hartford Courant in 1994, Mr. Laderman was asked what lessons he had drawn from the critical response to “Marilyn.”
‘One lesson is that a lot of people apparently thought Marilyn Monroe was not a suitable topic for an opera,’ he replied. He added: ‘I disagree.'”
According to New Canaan News, the site of the former White Barn Theatre in Norwalk, Connecticut is being eyed by a housing development firm. The Save Cranbury Association opposes the plans to build on the two-acre site. ‘This is one of the last pieces of open space,’ said local resident Tim Hawks, whose house abuts the land. ‘I’m all about protecting it.’
As the above photo reveals, Marilyn visited the theatre (circa 1955) and signed its guestbook. Another rare photo, seemingly from the same visit, shows her with poet Norman Rosten, a close friend.
The White Barn Theatre was founded by actress, producer and impresario Lucille Lortel on the property of her estate. Numerous plays from major dramatists premiered there, including Rosten’s 1966 work, Come Slowly Eden. Eileen Heckart, Marilyn’s co-star in Bus Stop, performed there in Unfinished Business (1989.)