Marilyn Forever: Musings on an American Icon

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Marilyn Forever : Musings on an American Icon by the Stars of Yesterday and Today is a new collection of quotes about Marilyn, compiled by author Boze Hadleigh. Those who knew and worked with Marilyn are featured here, alongside a wide range of public figures from past to present. Marilyn Forever is illustrated with around twenty full-page photos, all well-known. Hadleigh has researched his subject thoroughly, as many of the comments in this book were new to me. Not all of these are flattering to Marilyn, and some are highly speculative, but overall the tone is sympathetic.

My main criticism is that Hadleigh, who has written several books about gays and lesbians in classic Hollywood, seems determined to include Marilyn in their number, though in reality the evidence of anything more than curiosity on her part is rather scant. He focuses in particular on her close relationship with drama coach Natasha Lytess. Hadleigh also devotes several pages to the scandal of Marilyn’s nude calendar, framing her as a pioneer of the sexual revolution. While this may be true, there are other remarkable aspects of her life which are lesser known.

Nonetheless, Marilyn Forever is not overly sensationalised. When discussing the rumours about Marilyn and the Kennedys, Hadleigh gives equal weight to those who believe the allegations and other, more sceptical opinions. A brief epilogue features quotes from Marilyn herself, and I was relieved not to see any of the misattributed remarks which have become so rife on the internet in recent years. Marilyn Forever is well worth adding to your library, and I hope Boze Hadleigh will now consider writing a sequel, based on Marilyn’s own words.

Naked Truths: Drake, Rushdie and Marilyn

10373848_1451182991791300_5610828183029719260_nThe award-winning novelist, Salman Rushdie, has praised the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake in a video for Pitchfork, noting an allusion to one of Marilyn’s most famous quotes in ‘What’s My Name‘, Drake’s 2010 duet with pop star Rihanna.

“He also complements Drake on a subtle Marilyn Monroe reference in the What’s My Name line ‘Okay, away we go/Only thing we have on is the radio’. As he explains, ‘She [Monroe] posed in the nude and she was asked if she had nothing on, and she said ‘I have the radio on’.”

As Stacy Eubank reveals in her excellent book, Holding a Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, Marilyn’s remark was first reported by gossip columnist Erskine Johnson in August 1952, while she was filming Niagara on location in Canada. Marilyn’s candid humour won over the public, though her detractors questioned whether the quote was really her own.

In 1955, Roy Craft – Marilyn’s publicist at Twentieth Century-Fox – dispelled the rumour, telling the Saturday Evening Post‘s Pete Martin, “To give it a light touch, when she was asked, ‘Didn’t you have anything on at all when you were posing for that picture?’ we were supposed to have told her to say, ‘I had the radio on.’ I’m sorry to disagree with the majority, but she made up those cracks herself.”

Photographer Tom Kelley – who shot the nude calendar in 1949 – told Maurice Zolotow in 1955, “It wasn’t the radio. It was a phonograph. I had Artie Shaw’s record of ‘Begin the Beguine’ playing. I find ‘Begin the Beguine’ helps to create vibrations.’

In a 1956 interview with Milton Shulman, Marilyn herself explained, “It was a large press conference, and some very fierce woman journalist – I think she was Canadian – stood up and said: ‘do you mean to tell us you didn’t have anything on when you posed for that nude picture?’ Suddenly, an old nightclub joke popped into my head. ‘Oh, no,’ I said. ‘I had the radio on.’ I just changed the words around a bit, but I thought everybody knew it.”

The Importance of Not Misquoting Marilyn

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The mainstream media may be finally waking up to the fact that not all quotes attributed to Marilyn are genuine, if Mary Grace Garis’s latest article for Elle is any indication. (However, the piece is remarkably similar in some aspects to Marijane Gray’s ‘Misquoting Marilyn‘, back published in 2012.  You can learn more about Marilyn’s words of wisdom – real, and fake – at Immortal Marilyn Quote Unquote.)

“In all seriousness, during my search I came across an interesting response to a journalist about whether she had writers prepare material for her interviews. In this 1956 article from the Saturday Evening Post, Marilyn vehemently asserted that she refused to sign her name to that kind of falseness. In her own words: ‘This is wrong, because when I was a little girl I read signed stories in fan magazines and I believed every word of them. Then I tried to model my life after the lives of the stars I read about. If I’m going to have that kind of influence, I want to be sure it’s because of something I’ve actually said or written.’

I still don’t 100% get the Marilyn Monroe thing, but I can admire that she was a glamorous, titantic force, with undeniable charisma and a slew of memorable lines. She used her power to support the civil rights movement, which was huge at the time. She fiercely stuck to her brand, even while it probably ate away at her soul. And I think it’s only fair that we pause before trying to attach that brand to something she probably never said, especially knowing how her icon status makes her a huge role model for so many people.” – Mary Grace Garis, Elle

Scarlett, Elle Under Marilyn’s Spell

Elle Fanning for Interview - photo by Craig McDean
Elle Fanning for Interview – photo by Craig McDean

Actress Scarlett Johansson – who is sometimes compared to Marilyn – talks to another famous MM fan, 16 year-old Elle Fanning (now starring as Princess Aurora in Maleficent), about her idol in the May issue of Interview magazine.

“JOHANSSON: Growing up, my idol was Judy Garland. I loved her fragility, but also her strength. I know that you love Marilyn Monroe. Do you relate to Monroe as a performer? What is your Marilyn story?

FANNING: I was seven when I first saw a picture of her. I didn’t know that she was such a big icon. But I would just look at her and I was mesmerized. She was beautiful and so … truthful. She’s not faking it. If she’s having a terrible day when the picture was taken, she’ll show that she’s really depressed and having a terrible day. You can see it in her eyes. There are all the layers behind it. She not like, “Oh, let me just put on a smile.” That year my dad got the DVD of The Seven Year Itch [1955]. I was probably way too young to watch it. I didn’t even know what the story was about, but I was just looking at her the whole time and the way she talked was so light. That year I was Monroe in the white dress for Halloween. It was interesting to me that she did mostly comedies but her life was so tragic.

JOHANSSON: Sounds like you were attracted to her, if not attracted to her tragedy—you could see there’s such a soul to her.

FANNING: I felt like there was something deeper. It wasn’t glossy—there were bumps. There was more to her than just her blond hair.

JOHANSSON: Have you seen The Misfits [1961]?

FANNING: No. I’ve seen most of them but I haven’t seen that one. I bought this Marilyn Monroe app on my phone, and I was reading all her quotes.

JOHANSSON: Wow. I think there’s something really interesting about a really young girl—seven at the time—noticing the depth to Marilyn, because so many people only respond to the surface glamour or movie star glitz of her.”

(And for anyone looking to read genuine quotes by Marilyn, I recommend Immortal Marilyn Quote Unquote.)

Anatomy of a Lingerie Ad

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ABG, the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate, has launched yet another brand. Marilyn Monroe Envy is a range of lingerie – which is ironic, since Marilyn found underwear confining and avoided it whenever she could.

The cover image is a merging of two well-known Milton Greene photos. Some fans are unhappy with this, when there are so many thousands of gorgeous originals to choose from. However, Milton’s son Joshua has stated that a unique, one-off image had been commissioned for the advertising campaign.

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Merged image without lettering and colouring. Thanks to Fraser Penney
Merged image without lettering and colouring. Thanks to Fraser Penney

When asked if she wore anything at all to her famous calendar shoot, Marilyn memorably replied, ‘I had the radio on.’ However, at the foot of the page on the website, another sentence has been added – ‘I did too have something on.’ In fact, she never said this. The phrase ‘did too’ was not commonplace in Marilyn’s time, and makes her sound rather like a stroppy teenager!

While I understand the desire to keep Marilyn’s image up-to-date for marketing purposes, I can’t help feeling that her essence is being sidelined, and am doubly concerned that her estate seems to be encouraging this.

Birthday Tributes in the Blogosphere

Over the next few posts I’m going to focus on the best fan tributes for Marilyn’s birthday. But firstly, here are a few selections from the blogosphere.

We’re all used to reading Marilyn’s own words online – though sadly, some of them are internet fakes – but Flavorwire has compiled a rather good list, 30 of Marilyn Monroe’s Smartest and Most Insightful Quotes.

Nearly all of these are genuine, in my opinion – meaning, they can be traced back to reputable biographies and interviews with MM herself. The only one I’m not sure about is the second one, regarding James Joyce’s Ulysses, which comes from the disputed Miner transcripts. (However, we do at least have Eve Arnold’s 1955 photo as evidence that Marilyn read the book – and, indeed, she later performed Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy as an exercise for her dramatic coach, Lee Strasberg.) 

“Here is [James] Joyce writing what a woman thinks to herself. Can he, does he really know her innermost thoughts? But after I read the whole book, I could better understand that Joyce is an artist who could penetrate the souls of people, male or female. It really doesn’t matter that Joyce doesn’t have… or never felt a menstrual cramp. To me Leopold Bloom is a central character. He is the despised Irish Jew, married to an Irish Catholic woman. It is through them Joyce develops much of what he wants to say.”

Geeks of Doom posted this thoughtful tribute:

“While she didn’t have the cocksure winking swagger of a Mae West, or the sharp natural beauty of an Ava Gardner, she somehow fell somewhere in the middle of both of those ladies…In a strange way, she is old Hollywood and still remains fresh in new Hollywood.”

And finally, Kim Morgan reposts her wonderful Playboy tribute from last year over at her Sunset Gun blog.

“Because through it all, no matter what was happening in her life, Marilyn gave us that gift: pleasure. Pleasure in happiness and pleasure in pain and the pleasure of looking at her. And great artist that she was, looking at her provoked whatever you desired to interpret from her. Her beauty was transcendent. For that, we should do as Dylan instructs: ‘Bow down to her on Sunday, salute her when her birthday comes.'”

Lady Gaga’s Blonde Moment

Lady Gaga responded to criticisms of her recent weight gain via Twitter last night, sharing a photo of Marilyn with this quote, accompanied by a message from Gaga: ‘And thank to my fans who love me no matter what, and know the meaning of real beauty & compassion. I really love you.’

The supposed MM quote has been circulating on the internet for a few months.  However, it’s 100% fake, as Size Zero wasn’t introduced until 1966, four years after Marilyn died.

While I fully support Gaga over her weight issues, and detest the incessant media bullying of young women, it’s a little ironic that she has chosen this quote in her own crusade against misrepresentation.