John Seward Johnson, the sculptor who created a 50 ft. likeness of Marilyn, has died aged 89, the Desert Sun reports. The artist, whose grandfather founded the Johnson & Johnson empire, began a highly successful career in sculpture in 1980. ‘Forever Marilyn’ was first unveiled in Chicago in 2011; after touring the U.S. and Australia, it is set to return to Palm Springs later this year (and a number of smaller replicas are also on display across America.)
Photographer Bruno Bernard (aka ‘Bernard of Hollywood’) collaborated with Marilyn on numerous occasions, from her early modelling days to the peak of her career in the mid-1950s. One of their photo sessions will be the subject of a lecture by the Palm Springs Historical Society, launching their ‘Let’s Talk’ series at the Palm Springs Cultural Centre on November 21 at 6 pm, as Tracy Conrad reports for the Desert Sun.
This piece raises a few questions, however. Firstly, Bernard photographed Marilyn at the Racquet Club in 1949, not ’47. Secondly, his claim to have introduced Marilyn to her agent and lover, Johnny Hyde, conflicts with other versions of events. Some believe it was a mutual friend, John Carroll, who introduced Marilyn to Hyde in early 1948, while others have suggested they met at a party in Sam Spiegel’s home. Nonetheless, the couple were photographed together by Bernard at the Racquet Club in 1949.
And finally, this photo dated 1961 does not, in fact, show Marilyn with Bernard. They had last worked together in 1954. Fraser Penney has suggested to me the lady may have been actress Paula Lane, who became a Monroe impersonator and later starred in the panned 1989 biopic, Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn. She died in 2015.
Plans to bring Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn’, to Palm Springs are now in motion, the Desert Sun reports.
“‘Forever Marilyn,’ the popular 26-foot-tall statue of actress Marilyn Monroe that was on display in downtown Palm Springs from 2012 to 2014, will return to the city permanently, Mayor Robert Moon and Councilman J.R. Roberts said Wednesday. The city has not officially announced Marilyn’s return and has not finalized details on when it expects the statue back and where it may go, but Roberts said both a new downtown park and Town and Country Center were options.
‘Marilyn has become somewhat of an icon for Palm Springs and some love her and some not so much, but at the end of the day she’s become part of our brand,’ Roberts said. ‘And she was discovered here poolside in Palm Springs,’ he added, referring to a legend that she was first scouted by a talent agent in 1949 at Charles Farrell’s Racquet Club compound.
The statue, created by Seward Johnson, first came to Palm Springs as part of a loan arranged by the Sculpture Foundation, an organization the artist founded to promote public art and sculpture. In 2014, the 16.5-ton stainless steel and aluminum sculpture that depicts the screen legend from a scene in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, was shipped to New Jersey for a retrospective on the artist’s work. It was later exhibited in Connecticut and the Australian city of Bendigo.
Since ‘Forever Marilyn’ left, PS Resorts, a nonprofit group that aims to boost tourism in Palm Springs, has been working to bring the Instagrammable icon back to downtown. City Manager David Ready couldn’t confirm exact details about the statue’s cost, but said it was estimated to be more than $1 million. Moon said the city is ‘not putting any funds’ into the acquisition of the statue.
Moon said he knew the idea to locate the state in the center of Town and Country would be controversial. ‘Some people are going to love it and some people are going to hate it,’ he said in his State of the City Speech, noting the statue would be several feet higher than the Town and Country roofline.
Since the statue left Palm Springs, various plans have been discussed to bring it back and install it at a temporary location; one proposal would have seen the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians host it at the tribe’s casino at Calle Encilia and Andreas Road. That plan never came to fruition. Another plan is to locate the returning Marilyn in a new downtown park envisioned for a plot across from the Palm Springs Art Museum. The park has been in the works for years but has yet to come to fruition.”
The Palm Springs Cultural Centre is hosting a summer season of Marilyn’s movies each Wednesday at 7 pm, with Niagara on July 10; followed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on July 17, How to Marry a Millionaire on July 24, and Some Like It Hot on July 31. On Wednesdays at 7 through August, catch The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Let’s Make Love and Monkey Business. And finally, the retrospective winds up in September with Don’t Bother to Knock and The Misfits.
Marilyn gets her first magazine cover of 2019 with this beautiful Milton Greene shot for Inland Empire, a high-end lifestyle magazine for the Southern California region. Inside the upcoming January issue, there’s an article about Palm Springs and its links to Marilyn, Frank Sinatra and other Hollywood legends. Marilyn visited the glamorous Racquet Club with Johnny Hyde in 1949, and again in 1954. In 1962 she spent a weekend at Bing Crosby’s Palm Springs home, when the singer played host to President John F. Kennedy. And in recent times, Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn‘, has proved a firm favourite with sightseers at the desert resort.
Thanks to Paul Glazebrook
Unlike her celebrity peers, Marilyn preferred to live modestly. Nonetheless, you may recall that a Los Angeles home she shared with Joe DiMaggio was recently put on the market (see here) – and it has now been joined by two luxury estates with connections to Marilyn. As reported in Architectural Digest, Frank Sinatra’s former Los Angeles home is on sale for $12.5 million. (It was last put up for sale in 2012, as reported here.)
Marilyn stayed in Sinatra’s guesthouse (shown at top) in 1961. They were having an on-off relationship, and Frank was abroad on tour. She later spent a few months renting an apartment in the Doheny Drive complex he owned, as a neighbour to his secretary, Gloria Lovell.
“Old Blue Eyes himself lived in the sprawling home in the 1950s and 60s and frequently hosted his famous friends … the home seems preordained to shelter celebrities from the Hollywood hullabaloo, as it rests at the end of a near mile-long driveway atop a private promontory that overlooks the vast 1,325-acre Chatsworth Reservoir nature preserve.
Constructed in 1949 by William Pereira, Byrdview is only one of four homes the famed architect designed. Sitting on seven acres, the midcentury-modern house comprises three structures: the main house, a guest house (with its own pool), and a cabana … Outdoors, beyond the pool, there’s a parking space for 100 cars and enough agricultural-zoned acreage that, should the new owners like their wines, a vineyard could be built.”
Secondly, the Rancho Mirage estate of Bing Crosby (near Palm Springs), where Marilyn and John F. Kennedy were among the weekend guests during the March 1962 Democratic Convention, is on sale for $5 million ( although the property has been available for some time, as reported here.) This is the only verified occasion when Marilyn and the president spent a night at the same address, and rather predictably, it’s being promoted as ‘the tryst house’, according to Bloomberg. (Incidentally, Sinatra had hoped to host Kennedy and was reportedly furious that he chose Crosby, a Republican, instead!)
“The 6,700-square-foot estate, spread across more than an acre, was built for the crooner and his second wife, Kathryn, in 1957. The single-story home, with a 1,400-square-foot master suite along with four other en-suite bedrooms, has been on and off the market since 2010, when it was first listed for $3.4 million. It’s also been available for rent through Airbnb for $3,400 a night.”
Becoming Marilyn Monroe, the new documentary about Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show (Marilyn: Forever Blonde), is set to have its world premiere at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs on April 10. Sunny recently spoke about her long-running stage role with Bruce Fessier of the Desert Sun.
“Why is Marilyn still fascinating more than 55 years after her death?
I think it has a lot to do with her softness. You can see it in her eyes in all of her photos … I have met young girls who came to the play and said they were big Marilyn fans and yet they had never seen a movie with Marilyn in it. Only her photos! They had fallen in love with an image.
After 10 years, what did you learn that was most interesting about her?
Maybe how absolutely terrified she was facing the press and yet how charming and witty she was at answering their questions, like coming up with something engagingly clever.
Have you learned to turn the Marilyn character on and off the way Marilyn did?
Funny you mention that because I think I might have an inkling as to how Marilyn must have felt around people. She couldn’t really just be herself … People come up to me and say ‘You play Marilyn Monroe?’ And if I just say yes, they are disappointed. But if I light up and sparkle a bit, and give them a little Marilyn look, then they go away happy.
How would you describe Marilyn’s state of mind on the last day of her life?
I lived that day on stage hundreds of times and I always felt Marilyn was feeling unloved and disillusioned. I play her reliving her life before an audience and deathly afraid that when her looks go and her body goes she will be nothing! I want to believe she didn’t purposely take her own life.”
An exhibition of Warhol prints (including a 1967 Marilyn) is currently on display at the Palm Springs Art Museum until May 28. In an article for the Desert Sun, Bruce Fessier talks to several of the artist’s friends and associates, including Jamie Kabler, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.
“Jamie and Elizabeth Kabler moved to New York after their 1979 marriage and remained friends with Warhol until his death in 1987 … They hosted parties with New York socialites, visited Warhol’s Factory and attended several lunches with Warhol. Kabler also invested in theatrical shows. Marilyn: An American Fable had 16 shows in 1983 after 35 previews. Warhol attended the opening, which meant a lot to Kabler.
‘Andy would go to the opening of a toothpaste factory,” he said. “He went out every night … He always showed up and people appreciated him. You could count on him.'”
Of all the Marilyn-inspired plays staged in recent years, Marilyn: Forever Blonde – a one-woman show starring Sunny Thompson – is perhaps the only one to win the hearts of fans as well as critical acclaim. And now Becoming Marilyn Monroe, Tammy Plimmer’s new hour-long documentary about the making of a star tribute, will have its premiere on April 10 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, as part of the American Documentary Film Festival.
“In 1952, a 10-year-old boy falls in love with a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a magazine. 47 years later he marries her. This improbable true story of a successful producer of musical revues who discovers a young girl from a small town in Northern Minnesota, marries her, and makes her the star of his one-woman theatrical tribute to Hollywood’s most famous star, Marilyn Monroe. This results in an award-winning, critically-acclaimed theatrical play with music, Marilyn Forever Blonde.”
The movie costume collection of Marilyn Remembered president Greg Schreiner – around 500 garments in total, including this red dress originally designed by Oleg Cassini and worn by his former wife, Gene Tierney, in On the Riviera (1951) , and by Marilyn a year later in promotional shots and at the premiere of Monkey Business – returns to the spotlight in Hollywood Revisited, a musical extravaganza at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs on February 22, the Desert Sun reports.
“‘It began with Marilyn,’ Schreiner beams. ‘She was always my No. 1 star.’ In those early days of collecting, he says he could fetch a vintage garb from $200 to $500. ‘It was one of the first times [auction houses] had done something like it; nobody had thought the costumes would ever be worth anything.’ As prices for movie costumes shot north over the years, especially Monroe-related items, Schreiner fell deeper in love with collecting all kinds of movie wardrobe items.
In 1987, Schreiner formalized the genesis for what is now Hollywood Revisited in a very small way — in nursing and retirement homes. Things snowballed after that. This year, Schreiner has shows booked in major theatrical houses around the country — from West Palm Beach and Santa Monica to Chicago. He is now heralded for being one of the most well-known collectors of classic movie costumes worn by Monroe, Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Katherine Hepburn, Mae West, Judy Garland, and countless others. In fact, 30 of Schreiner’s costumes are on display in the Hollywood Museum.”
UPDATE: Hollywood Revisited will be staged again at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, Los Angeles on Match 26, to benefit the Musical Theatre Guild’s extensive youth outreach programs.