The question of whether or not Marilyn had plastic surgery has long been controversial. Over at Immortal Marilyn, Marijane Gray sets the record straight.
“The truth of it is that Marilyn had extremely minimal work done- so minimal that it’s undetectable in before and after photos, so minimal that when her chin implant was reabsorbed it didn’t alter her stunning face in any perceptible way. However, even if every single claim of plastic surgery were true, it does not diminish Marilyn’s remarkable beauty … Let us appreciate her for how she chose to look without picking apart what was natural and what may have been enhanced, and let us stop trying to assuage our own insecurities by feasting on the flaws, real or imagined, of other women.”
Norman Brokaw, former head of the William Morris Agency, died on October 29, aged 89. His uncle, Johnny Hyde, co-founded the legendary Hollywood talent hub, and gave the teenager his first job in the mailroom in 1943.
By 1949, Hyde was infatuated with Marilyn Monroe, who at 23 was barely a year older than his nephew. During their two-year relationship, Hyde secured her important roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, and a long-term contract at Twentieth Century Fox.
A copy of Marilyn’s original William Morris Agency contract, recently sold at Julien’s Auctions for $7,680, included a covering letter signed by Norman Brokaw. In an article for Huffington Post, Brokaw’s son Joel recalled, “There were lots of wonderful memories he shared with me about his family, his uncle Johnny Hyde and Marilyn Monroe (including the time that he got screamed at when he was about to sit on their sofa and crush the plaster model of her new chin.)” If true, this story may add some credence to the longstanding rumour that Marilyn underwent minor cosmetic surgery at this time.
When Hyde died of a heart attack in December 1950, Marilyn was bereft. According to J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, Brokaw accompanied Marilyn to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, but his uncle passed away before their arrival. (However, there are several competing versions of this story.)
Marilyn’s next serious romance, with baseball hero Joe DiMaggio, began in 1952. According to Taraborrelli, the couple first met two years earlier, when Brokaw arranged for her to play a walk-on part in Lights, Camera, Action, an NBC variety show. (If this was the case, the footage may not have survived as it is not documented elsewhere. But Marilyn did film a TV commercial during the same period, so she wasn’t entirely unaccustomed to the small screen.) After filming, she and Brokaw dined at the famous Brown Derby restaurant, where I Love Lucy star William Frawley if he could introduce her to his pal, Joe DiMaggio.
As they left the restaurant, Norman and Marilyn approached the ‘bashful’ sportsman. At the time, she was one of the few Americans who had never heard of DiMaggio. The next morning, Brokaw said, Joe called him and asked for Marilyn’s phone number – although whether he had the courage to follow through is unknown.
After a much-publicised courtship, Joe and Marilyn tied the knot in 1954. Taraborrelli writes that early on in their brief, tempestuous marriage, a worried Joe called Brokaw, and they met for drinks at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. When Joe explained that he wanted Marilyn to stop making films, Norman replied, “She’s not going to give up her career any more than you would have before you were ready to do it.” (Joe later sought advice from other Hollywood friends, including Sidney Skolsky, and would remain close to Marilyn long after their divorce.)
By then, Brokaw was building up the Morris Agency’s new TV division. He persuaded stars like Barbara Stanwyck to try the new medium, and negotiated a pioneering deal for Kim Novak, granting her a share in the profits of her films. In 1965, he secured a lead role for Bill Cosby in I Spy, making him the first black actor to achieve star status on a major television network.
During the 1970s, Brokaw added high-profile names in sport and politics to the agency’s roster. His career continued into the new century, and he was also a philanthropist, serving on the board of directors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (formerly Cedars of Lebanon), and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Norman Brokaw died at his home in Beverly Hills. He is survived by his wife, Marguerite Longley, six children and four grandchildren.
As I predicted, the upcoming sale of Marilyn’s medical files has led to a media blitz of speculation (mostly unfounded) about the history of Marilyn’s plastic surgery. In a blog for Allure, Joan Kron fills in the gaps:
“The story of Monroe’s surgery starts in 1949 or 1950 and is a (somewhat fuzzy) part of Hollywood mythology. According to Patrick McGrady, author of the book The Youth Doctors, Monroe was a $75-a-week contract player and getting nowhere fast when she allegedly overheard herself referred to at a party as a ‘chinless wonder.’ Monroe consulted John Pangman, a surgeon who often operated in Gurdin’s office, who diagnosed a mild flatness of the chin and performed a cartilage graft, according to McGrady. Needing time to recover, Monroe postponed a screen test by explaining that she had fallen on her chin. When she finally took the test, the director said, ‘Honey, you should have cut your chin two years ago.’
The medical records tell a similar story, with slight variations. On July 14, 1958—years after the original procedure— the actress showed up at Gurdin’s office using her husband, Arthur Miller’s, last name for cover. The visit was for an evaluation of a flat chin, which was apparently a remnant of the graft that Pangman, possibly working with Gurdin, had implanted in 1950. (Norman Leaf later wrote that the graft was bovine, or cow, cartilage, since semi-soft silicone implants had yet to become the standard of care.) On the chart, Gurdin noted that the original graft had absorbed or dissolved over time, leaving virtually nothing but a scar under Monroe’s chin. There is no notation about whether Gurdin or Pangman replaced it, and no mention of work on Monroe’s nose—although Leaf claimed that Gurdin told him in private conversation that he and Pangman also refined Monroe’s nasal tip.
In an interview nearly 20 years ago, Dorothy Henderson, Gurdin’s nurse, told me she clearly recalled assisting Pangman at Monroe’s early chin graft operation, although she didn’t remember Gurdin being there, nor a nose job taking place. Neither did John Williams, another Doc Hollywood, who in an 2001 interview with London’s Daily Mail said he witnessed Pangman’s operation on Monroe’s chin, but that the implant was sponge, not cartilage. (That seems plausible to me, since Pangman was experimenting with a plastic sponge for breast implants years before silicone gel implants were developed.) Williams recalled Pangman’s description of Monroe as an up-and-coming actress who felt this would help her appearance in photographs. ‘She photographed beautifully after that and I realized how simple and important it could be for facial balance,’ said Williams.
The reason for the 1962 visit was an accidental fall, said Monroe, who feared she had broken her nose. There was ‘swelling and tenderness,’ Gurdin wrote. Insiders believed the fall was no accident, but rather the result of abuse by the psychiatrist. ‘Mike Gurdin told me he thought she was beaten up,’ says J. Arthur Jensen, associate clinical professor of plastic surgery at UCLA, who discussed Monroe with Gurdin when he was writing a book, The Kennedy Assassination.
In 1962, the radiologists who reviewed Monroe’s X-rays detected no break in her nose. But Leaf was curious: Would more modern tools find something different? Recently, he sent the film out for a second opinion, and this time radiologists found ‘a minute fracture of the tip of the nasal bone,’ he says—a condition that, even if detected, would not have required treatment.”
The article ends with further speculation that Marilyn may have had silicone breast injections:
“The chart being auctioned contains nothing about Monroe’s alleged breast issues. I learned of those in 1995 when I interviewed Rosemary Eckersley, a friend of Monroe’s and the widow of Franklin Ashley, another legendary Hollywood surgeon, known for rejuvenating John Wayne. (Yes, John Wayne had facial work). Shortly before Monroe’s death ‘her breasts were infected,’ Eckersley said, probably from liquid silicone injections. ‘Marilyn wanted Frank to do something about them, but he wouldn’t.’ More accurately he couldn’t, because it’s almost impossible to remove free silicone after it’s injected.”
This is the first time I’ve heard about Marilyn having had ‘work’ done on her breasts. Personally, I’m not convinced – by 1962, Marilyn’s bust was noticeably smaller than before. She had lost weight after gallbladder surgery the previous year. While I’m no expert on these matters, this seems to suggest that her breasts were natural.
Furthermore, I don’t really care if Marilyn had surgery – this doesn’t make her beauty any less real to me, because I believe it came from within. But I’m certainly not prepared to accept hearsay.
Much as I feared, the sale of these medical files – while informative – tells us less about Marilyn herself than the intrusive, shallow, and base nature of today’s celebrity culture. Hopefully, this will be my last word on the subject!
The upcoming sale of Marilyn’s medical files (at Julien’s in November) has spawned many sensationalist headlines. As I said in a previous post, I don’t approve of this sale. However, the files have raised some important points which have largely been overlooked – so I’m going to briefly address some of these issues here.
Most of these stories pertain to plastic surgery, but the files (from the collection of Dr Michael Gurdin) actually prove what sites like Danamo’s MM Pages have been saying all along – that Marilyn had very few surgical enhancements:
“1. Prior to the shooting of Ladies of the Chorus, (1948) Dr. Walter Taylor, an orthodontist specializing in cosmetic surgery, fixed her front teeth, which protruded slightly.
2. In 1950, Johnny Hyde arranged for her to have her nose and chin surgically perfected. The details are unknown. Rumor has it that they removed a piece of dead cartilage from her nose and added cartilage to her chin.”
The sale of the files was originally reported in an interesting article by Eric Kelsey and Sharon Reich for Reuters:
“The set of six X-rays and a file of doctors’ notes that offer a partial medical history of the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes actress from 1950 to 1962, are expected to fetch between $15,000 and $30,000 at auction on November 9-10, said Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California.
The notes written by Hollywood plastic surgeon Michael Gurdin appear to confirm speculation that Monroe, who epitomized glamour and set a standard of movie star beauty during the latter part of Hollywood’s golden era, went under the knife for cosmetic reasons.
The seller, who is so far unnamed, received the items as a gift from Gurdin.
Gurdin’s notes include references to a 1950 cartilage implant in Monroe’s chin, which he observed to have slowly begun to dissolve.”
What intrigues me most about the files is that they also mention the mysterious injury to her nose that Marilyn suffered in June 1962. It was attributed to a fall in the shower, although some biographers have disputed this.
Following the incident, Marilyn visited Gurdin’s office with her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson. These files are under the pseudonym ‘Joan Newman‘ – probably after Greenson’s daughter, Joan, and Leo Rosten’s novel, Captain Newman M.D., which was based on Greenson’s wartime experiences. Marilyn was reading the book in the weeks before her death. It was filmed in 1963, with Gregory Peck in the lead role.
At the time of her visit to Gurdin, Marilyn weighed 115 lb. And at 5 ft 6, this makes her quite slim – certainly not the plus-size beauty that some have claimed. Like all women, MM’s weight fluctuated at times – but even at her heaviest, she was still only 140 lb.
Finally, the files also reveal that Marilyn suffered from neutropenia – a low level of a white blood cell type, which can make patients vulnerable to bacterial infections.
Maybe this could help to explain why Marilyn was so susceptible to viruses throughout her short life. Also during filming of Something’s Got to Give, she caught a cold which quickly developed into acute sinusitis. Unfortunately, her bosses at Fox were unsympathetic, and her repeated absences from the set led to her being fired.
“The X-rays are dated June 7, 1962, after Monroe saw Gurdin following a late night fall and two months before the actress would die at age 36 from an overdose of barbiturates. The death was ruled a probable suicide.
The X-rays include Monroe’s frontal facial bones, a composite right and left X-ray of the sides of her nasal bones and dental X-rays of the roof of her mouth.
A set of three chest X-rays of Monroe from 1954 sold for $45,000 at a 2010 auction.
A self-published memoir by Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Norman Leaf in 2010 claimed that Monroe underwent cosmetic surgery on her chin in 1950, citing the same notes made by Gurdin, Leaf’s medical partner.
Leaf also states in his memoir that Monroe underwent a slight rhinoplasty procedure on the tip of her nose.
A radiologist’s notes included in the lot determined that there was no damage to Monroe’s nose from the fall, but a recent evaluation of the X-rays found a minute fracture, the auction house said.
Doctors used the name ‘Joan Newman‘ as Monroe’s alias on the X-rays which list her height as 5 feet, 6 inches (1.68 m) and her weight as 115 lb (52 kg).
Gurdin’s notes were first drawn up in 1958 when the actress complained about a ‘chin deformity’ and the note listed her married name, Marilyn Miller. She was married to playwright Arthur Miller from 1956 to 1961.
The notes also indicate that Monroe suffered from neutropenia, a low level of a white blood cell type, in 1956 while in England and had an ectopic pregnancy in 1957.”
Some interesting Marilyn-related items are featured in the upcoming Icons and Idols auction at Julien’s, set for November 9th. My favourites are these Korea photos, taken by Daryl Mitchell, who served in the Korean War from August 1952 to August 1954 as ‘Senior Still Photographer’ of the 101st Signal Battalion.
This photo of Marilyn holding a fan was probably taken during filming of Niagara in 1952. The photographer is not named, but it seems to came from the same occasion when Marilyn posed with Robert Slatzer (who went on to write several books about their controversial relationship, though some believe he was a fantasist.)