55 Years Ago: A Poem for Marilyn

Photo by Bert Stern, 1962

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.”

Marilyn: Still Loved For Her Yellow Hair

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‘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.

Australia’s Marilyn Moment

Marilyn-Monroe-Exhibition-4

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…”

Marilyn’s Love Affair With Brooklyn

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The Rostens’ home in Brooklyn

“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

Marilyn’s adventures in Brooklyn are featured in Robert Furman’s new book, Brooklyn Heights: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of America’s First Suburb, reports the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“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: Marilyn’s Poet Friend

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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.

rosten songs for patricia

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.'”

Marilyn Linked to White Barn Theatre

white barn theatre

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.

10933837_10204895973894598_5940993618544594846_nThe 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.)

Pete Seeger’s Ballad for Norma Jean

seeger carnegie hall

The great American folk singer, Pete Seeger, died on Monday, January 27, aged 94. MM fans may not be aware that in 1963, he set Norman Rosten’s poem, ‘Who Killed Norma Jean?’ (based on an English nursery rhyme) to music, and performed the song in his legendary Carnegie Hall concert, as explained on the Murder Ballad Monday blog.

“Pete Seeger opens Chapter 11 ‘Money and Music’ in his book The Incompleat Folksinger (Bison Book, 1972) with this reflection.

‘The vision of hollow claws and fangs has come back to me more than once when I have seen a friend in the clutches of the ‘culture’ industry, which values human beings only for what profit can be sucked from them. This destruction goes on all the time, though it seldom is dramatically visible to the general public.’

As Seeger mentions in his introduction to the Carnegie Hall performance, the song was written by Norman Rosten, a close friend of Monroe’s. Seeger writes in his songbook, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Musical Autobiography, that he first read the poem in Life magazine, and put the tune to it then. He got Rosten’s permission to perform it after that.

‘Who Killed Norma Jean?’ appears not to have had much performance life outside of Pete Seeger’s performances of it. There are doubtless many other songs about Marilyn Monroe which we could explore, but that’s for another day. For this one, we’ll conclude with Janis Ian’s performance of the song on Seeds–Volume 3 of a series of tribute albums to Pete’s music, which was released in 2003.”

Profiles in History: Avedon Outtakes + Mystery Candids


With the death of Bert Stern, and the upcoming Milton Greene auction, some of Marilyn’s most eminent photographers have been making headlines recently.

With Arthur Miller

Profiles in History have just published a catalogue for their 56th Hollywood Auction, set for July 29th, and it includes rare, unseen photos by Richard Avedon (outtakes from a 1957 session, and contact sheets with Arthur Miller) and a number of candid photos taken at Amagansett that summer (attributed to Sam Shaw by the auctioneers, though his estate has not confirmed this.)

What I find most interesting about the Avedon photos is that they show that his more famous portrait of Marilyn alone, looking dejected, was actually one in a series of poses – similar to Philippe Halsman’s ‘mixed emotions’ concept.

Marilyn spent a mostly joyous summer at Amagansett, New York, with Arthur Miller in 1957. Among her companions were poet Norman Rosten, and Arthur’s children, Jane and Bobby. She was pregnant, but sadly lost the child in August.

Amagansett, 1957
With the Miller children, and the Rostens

These informal snaps are sweet, sexy – and were probably taken at around the same time as the picture below (not on auction), which has long been a mystery among Monroe fans.

Mystery photo, attributed to Sam Shaw (not in auction)

Finally, you may have noticed that a topless photo of Marilyn is among these candid snaps – sure to attract the attention of tabloid journalists! You can see the uncensored version here.

Marilyn: A Lady of Letters

With Norman Rosten, 1955

A letter written by Marilyn to her poet friend, Norman Rosten, while living at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel circa 1955, is on display until December 9 at the Douglas Elliman Gallery on Madison Avenue, alongside notes penned by Joe DiMaggio, Emily Dickinson and others, reports DNAInfo. It will be auctioned by California’s Profiles in History on December 18.

A full transcript is available at Booktryst:

“Dear Norman, 

It feels a little funny to be writing the name Norman since my own name is Norma and it feels like I’m writing my own name almost, However— 

First, thanks for letting Sam [photographer and MM confidant Sam Shaw] and me visit you and Hedda last Saturday. It was nice. I enjoyed meeting your wife – she seemed so warm to me. Thanks the most for your book of poetry—with which I spent all Sunday morning in bed with. It touched me – I use to think if I had ever had a child I would have wanted only a son, but after reading –Songs for Patricia [Simon and Schuster, 1951] – I know I would have loved a little girl just as much but maybe the former feeling was only Freudian for something…anyway Frued [sic]

I use to write poetry sometimes but usually I was very depressed at those times and the few (about two) people said that it depressed them, in fact one cried but it was an old friend I’d known for years. So anyway thanks. And my best to Hedda & Patricia and you— 

Marilyn M.”

Marilyn’s Will and Her Beneficiaries

Marilyn with poet Norman Rosten and his wife, Hedda, in 1955

NPR takes a look at Marilyn’s will. Made in 1961, it remains controversial, and it’s rumoured that she had wanted to change it in the weeks before her death.

“Monroe grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In her will, the actress set up a trust to care for her mother until she died; left money to her half-sister, who Monroe didn’t even know existed until she was 12; and made bequests to a poet friend and his wife (she loved poetry, and even wrote some herself) and to others she trusted.

According to Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling Monroe biography, the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.

‘They took Marilyn under their wings,’ he says. ‘They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.’

Monroe also left a bequest to her psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris.

‘She felt that [Kris] was very helpful and sympathetic,’ says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. ‘She found that [Kris] was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.’

After Kris died, her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Monroe would have approved.

‘That would have made her really happy,’ Churchwell says. ‘She did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.’

But Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe. When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate and eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a company that specializes in managing the estates of dead celebrities, to license Monroe products. That’s when the actress started making big money.

Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Strasberg sold what remained of the Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, for an estimated $20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal.”