Robert Wagner: ‘The Marilyn I Knew’

Marilyn films a screen test with Robert Wagner, 1951
Marilyn films a screen test with Robert Wagner, 1951

One of the last survivors of Hollywood’s golden age, Robert Wagner has written about Marilyn in his memoir, You Must Remember This, as well as providing the introduction to David Wills’ Marilyn – In the Flash. In his latest book, I Loved Her in the Movies: Memories of Hollywood’s Legendary Actresses, Wagner writes about her again, and an excerpt is published on the Town and Country website.

“I have no horror stories to tell. I thought she was a terrific woman and I liked her very much. When I knew her, she was a warm, fun girl. She was obviously nervous about the test we did together, but so was I. In any case, her nervousness didn’t disable her in any way; she performed in a thoroughly professional manner. She behaved the same way in Let’s Make It Legal, the film we later made—nervous, but eager and up to the task.

Years later, Marilyn began dropping by the house where Natalie [Wood] and I lived. Our connection was through Pat Newcomb, her publicist. I had known Pat since our childhood. She had also worked for me and often accompanied Marilyn to our house. I bought a car from Marilyn—a black Cadillac with black leather interior.

Marilyn (right) with Wagner's second wife, Marion Marshall, in 'A Ticket to Tomahawk' (1950)
Marilyn (at right) with Wagner’s second wife, Marion Marshall (second left) in ‘A Ticket to Tomahawk’ (1950)

Marilyn had an innately luminous quality that she was quite conscious of—she could turn it on or off at will. The problem was that she didn’t really believe that it was enough. My second wife, Marion [Marshall] knew her quite well; she and Marilyn had modeled together for several years, and were signed by Fox at the same time, where they were known as ‘The Two M’s.’ Marion told stories about how the leading cover girls of that time would show up to audition for modeling jobs. If Marilyn came in to audition, they would all look at each other and shrug. Marilyn was going to get the job, and they all knew it. She had that much connection to the camera.

When Marilyn died, Pat Newcomb was utterly devastated; Marilyn had been like a sister to her, a very close sister, and she took her death as a personal failure. Marilyn’s death has to be considered one of show business’s great tragedies. That sweet, nervous girl I knew when we were both starting out became a legend who has transcended the passing of time, transcended her own premature death.”

Marilyn at Julien’s: The Lois Weber Collection

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Lois Smith, publicist to Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and others, died in 2012, aged 84. “In a tough business known for steel-sharp elbows,” her New York Times obituary read, “Ms. Smith stood out for being nurturing. She was at the birth of Marilyn Monroe’s kittens...”

Born Lois Eileen Wollenweber of Brooklyn in 1928, she began working for publicist Ted Saucier in the 1950s. His most famous client was the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he and Lois recruited celebrities who had come there to escape Hollywood’s crumbling studio system. One of them was Marilyn, who lived there for several months after moving to New York in 1955.

Lois later married journalist Gene Smith, and formed Pickwick Public Relations with Pat Newcomb – Marilyn’s publicist at the time of her death – in 1969. A number of items in the current Julien’s sale, ending today, come from her estate (under the name of Lois Weber.)

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This photo was taken by Hans Knopf on February 22, 1956, when Marilyn was walking to Cecil Beaton’s studio for their famous session. Lois, who accompanied her that morning, is generally cropped out of the picture.

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Two other photos taken by Knopf that day show Marilyn and Lois getting into a taxi cab en route to lunch at the Ambassador Hotel with society columnist Elsa Maxwell.

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Interestingly, some copies of the candid photos taken by Frieda Hull and other members of the ‘Monroe Six’ were also in Lois’ possession. The young fans gave each other copies of their photos, so perhaps they shared a few with her as well.

A 32-page transcript of Marilyn’s 1960 interview with George Belmont, submitted by Lois to Look magazine, is also on offer. Perhaps the most significant items from her estate, however, are the many beautiful photos, negatives and colour transparencies from the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. Marilyn exercised a strict  approval process over all images, and relegated these to a ‘Kill’ folder.

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Misfits Footage (and More) at Profiles in History

H3257-L78855457The upcoming Hollywood Auction 74 at Profiles in History contains some interesting Marilyn-related items, mainly on Day 2 (September 30.)

  1. An early pin-up photo, signed by Marilyn.
  2. Artwork inspired by Marilyn’s nude calendar.
  3. Marilyn’s ‘topless cowgirl‘ calendar.
  4. Marilyn’s 1952 contract for The Charlie McCarthy Show.
  5. Marilyn’s hand-annotated script for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
  6. Travilla’s costume sketch for ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.’     H3257-L78859923
  7. Original transparencies of photos taken on location for River of No Return.
  8. Photos taken by Darlene Hammond at various public events in 1953.
  9. Original prints stamped by Milton Greene.
  10. Candid photos taken in Japan and Korea.
  11. Marilyn’s 1953 recording contract with RCA.
  12. Photos taken by Sam Shaw during filming of The Seven Year Itch.   123a
  13. Candid negatives of Marilyn in public, circa 1955.
  14. Books on psychology and mythology, owned by Marilyn.
  15. A painting of Marilyn and Sir Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl, by Francis R. Flint.                                                              H3257-L78859604
  16. Posters from Marilyn’s ‘Fabled Enchantresses‘ session, signed by Richard Avedon.
  17. Letters to Marilyn from Pat Newcomb and Arthur Miller.
  18. 48 minutes of 8mm film shot on location for The Misfits by Stanley Killar, an uncredited extra.
  19. A Misfits autograph book, signed by Marilyn and others.
  20. Contact sheets for photos taken by Sylvia Norris at the Golden Globes in 1962.
  21. The final draft of Something’s Got to Give.
  22. A camera used for many of Marilyn’s films at Fox.
  23. An archive of vintage press clippings.

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Willy Rizzo 1928-2013

Collage by Marilynette Edits

Willy Rizzo, who photographed Marilyn in 1962, has died aged 84. Born in Naples, he moved to Paris during the 1930s, and became interested in photography.

Rizzo’s photos of the North African war caught the eye of Life magazine. He later worked for France Dimanche, and covered the first Cannes Film Festival.

Rizzo worked for the Black Star agency in New York, and in 1948, he began a 20-year tenure at Paris Match. He photographed historic events like the Nuremberg Trials, and stars including Brigitte Bardot, Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn.

In his 2010 book, The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe, author Keith Badman gives a detailed account of how her photo shoot with Rizzo came about.

It was originally arranged with Paris Match in December 1961. Marilyn had been out of the public eye since The Misfits, so this was considered quite a coup. He planned the shoot with Marilyn’s publicist, Pat Newcomb, who suggested an afternoon session.

On February 8, 1962, Newcomb informed Rizzo that Marilyn was unwell, and promised that she would appear the next day.  And indeed, Marilyn did so – however, exhausted after moving house, she apologised with a kiss.

‘For you, I would wait a week,’ Rizzo said.

She arrived on Saturday, February 10th. ‘Marilyn was immensely sad at the meeting,’ he said later, ‘and that sadness was very visible in the pictures.’

‘These photos showed a very different side to Marilyn,’ wrote biographer Michelle Morgan (in MM: Private and Undisclosed), ‘in that her hair is rumpled, her clothes are plain and she looks thin and exhausted. Still, she loved them and on March 9th Pat Newcomb wrote to Rizzo to express that Marilyn thought the photos were sensational and she looked forward to working with him again.’

The photos were first published in Paris Match on June 23rd. In recent years, outtakes from the shoot have emerged, showing a softer, more flattering view of Marilyn than the original shots had indicated.

During the 1960s, Rizzo launched a successful second career in furniture design, and was much favoured by the international jet set. In 2010, he opened a gallery in Paris with the help of his wife, Italian actress Elsa Martinelli, and their son.

Willy Rizzo died in Paris on Monday, February 25th. His funeral was attended by, among others, actor Jack Nicholson.

For more information on Rizzo’s work with MM, please visit Immortal Marilyn.

Marilyn, Pat and Terry O’Neill

The renowned portrait photographer, Terry O’Neill, tells the Daily Mail why he turned down the chance to photograph Marilyn – he was dating her publicist, Pat Newcomb, at the time. (Given the close relationship between the two women, he probably made the right choice personally, if not professionally.)

Furthermore, O’Neill’s first marriage – in 1957 – was to actress Vera Day, who had played Marilyn’s friend Betty in The Prince and the Showgirl a year before. They had two sons.

Early in her career, Ms Day was touted as the ‘British Marilyn Monroe’. Now 86, she was interviewed recently about her memories of the film’s production.

 

George Masters on Marilyn’s Death

Marilyn en route to Mexico, February 1962. George Masters at right

Tapes recorded in 1998 by Jeff Platts, nephew of George Masters, suggest that the celebrity stylist was with Marilyn the night before she died:

‘About a month before he passed away, he sat down and recorded some discussions with Platts. Recently, Platts shared a portion of the tapes with me, specifically one that dealt with Monroe’s last night.

In a frail but controlled voice, here’s what Masters remembered about the last night he saw Monroe alive.

“The night before she died, the last time I saw her, was in Lake Tahoe at the Cal-Neva Lodge. She was there with Sam Giancana, who was the head of the Mafia.” ‘

Masters was one of Hollywood’s top hairdressers, and he styled Marilyn’s hair for her ‘Last Sitting’ with Bert Stern in June 1962. He can also be seen with Marilyn in photos taken at a Miami airport earlier that year, en route to Mexico.

Though she admired his skills as a stylist, Marilyn never seemed to confide in Masters as much as some of her other aides, eg make-up man Whitey Snyder or masseur Ralph Roberts. According to Platts, Masters did not remember Monroe fondly:

‘George and Marilyn had a love-hate relationship. He described her as the coldest person he’d ever known. He said she’d never really loved anyone but herself. She would do whatever was necessary to keep all the attention focused on her. Her public image was a complete fabrication. George stayed with Marilyn because she was his biggest client (financially as well as level of celebrity).’

These claims appear in an article by Chris Epting for AOL. Epting is also the author of Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here: More Locations of America’s Pop Culture Landmarks.

Over at The Examiner, Elisa Jordan offers her opinion on these latest allegations:

‘Let’s start here: Pat Newcomb (Monroe’s publicist) said she slept over at Marilyn’s house that night, but doesn’t address whether or not Marilyn was there—only that Marilyn woke up about noon.
Actually, although Newcomb has spoken very little, at least publicly, about her relationship with Marilyn, she has stated that she and Marilyn went out to dinner at a local restaurant that Friday night. Some people maintain that the women were with Peter Lawford. And even other stories report that Bobby Kennedy was there. I tend to believe it was a low-key evening at a restaurant with Marilyn and Pat, but I wasn’t there. The important thing to remember is that in all versions of the story, Marilyn and Pat were out together on the night of August 3. How could Marilyn have been in Lake Tahoe?

And let’s address Lake Tahoe. Epting does ask some important questions. Were there other people on the plane, for instance? It’s unclear. I would like to take that a step further. What about the pilots? Were there flight attendants? Airport employees?

Masters claims he drove Marilyn home from LAX, but who picked her up in Lake Tahoe? Wasn’t there a driver? Where is he? What about the employees at the Cal-Neva? Cooks? Waitresses? Maids? Bellhops? No one saw Marilyn Monroe, the world’s most famous movie star, at the lodge that night? No other guests saw her? These types of people were able to place her at the Cal-Neva a week earlier. Why not on August 3, too?’

Jordan also adds some thoughts on Master’s credibility:

‘If Epting’s reporting is correct—and I believe that it is—then Masters died broken and drug addicted. And if George Masters and Marilyn Monroe had a “love-hate” relationship as reported in Epting’s article, was Masters merely trying to get the last word over Marilyn? Did he merely want to involve himself in one of the most famous mysteries of the 20th century?

Sound like a credible witness to you? Not to me, but I admit that I’m cynical about stories people tell about Marilyn Monroe—especially stories concerning her death. At this point there are so many that it’s nearly impossible to keep them straight.

Now George Masters has added himself to that list. Is it any wonder why people are so fascinated with Marilyn Monroe’s death? The victim is an American icon. The suspects and coconspirators are also celebrities, including a beloved President of the United States. It is a story that instantly makes you famous if you claim to be involved in it. And everyone, it seems, wants to be involved.’

My personal view on these tapes is that though interesting, I am highly sceptical of Masters’ claims. I find it hard to believe that Marilyn really did visit Lake Tahoe the night before she died, because there are no other witnesses. I think she probably spent the evening with Pat Newcomb, and perhaps stayed at home because Pat was unwell that weekend.

Pat Newcomb is still alive and in her eighties. She has never spoken publicly about Marilyn’s death and I doubt she ever will. The truth, I suspect, is more mundane – and even more sad – than the conspiracy theories espoused by Masters et al.

I think Newcomb is the only person still living who knows the truth about Marilyn’s final days. Even if she did tell all, I think the rumours would go on regardless. So while her silence may be frustrating to those of us who would like to see the record set straight for once and for all, I can understand her reluctance, and maybe even respect it.