Aleshia Brevard 1937-2017

Aleshia Brevard, the pioneering transgender actress, model and writer, has died aged 79, reports the Telegraph. She was born Alfred Brevard Crenshaw to Southern fundamentalist parents and grew up in abject poverty on a farm in the Appalachian Mountains. From an early age, Alfred dreamed of movie stars – and at 15 he took a Greyhound to California. So far, so Cherie in Bus Stop – but by the late 1950s, inspired by George Jorgensen aka Christine, America’s first transsexual, Alfred was working as a female impersonator at San Francisco nightclub Finocchio’s, and had begun the surgical  transition process.

Marilyn in 1960

In 1960, during a break from filming The Misfits, Marilyn saw Aleshia impersonate her onstage at Finocchio’s. One of Monroe’s early biographers, Fred Lawrence Guiles, first told the story in Norma Jean (1969.)

“Finocchio’s in San Francisco is one of the few tourist attractions of that city of special interest to show folk. It features some of the best female impersonators in the business. Marilyn had expressed an interest in seeing the show when others of The Misfits company came back talking about the place. Now it had been rumoured that one of the boys was impersonating her. She had seen and laughed at Edie Adams, a good friend, in her celebrated parody of Marilyn, but the Finocchio act was something special she would go out of her way to see.

Everyone in her party was a little tense as they took their ringside table at the club. [Allan ‘Whitey’] Snyder was frankly apprehensive and kept reminding Marilyn that she should keep in mind it was all in fun. And then the breathless moment arrived. The man was gusseted in a skin-tight sequinned gown, a wind-blown platinum wig on his head. The resemblance was uncanny. [Ralph] Roberts observed Marilyn’s eyes widening in recognition, and then she grinned. Her mimic was undulating his lips in the familiar insecure smile and cupping his breasts, taking little steps around the floor, wiggling his rear.

‘You’re all terribly sweet,’ the mimic said in a little-girl voice. Marilyn put her hand to her mouth. ‘I love you all!’ the man was saying as he began to point at the men in the audience in turn. ‘You … and you …’

While Marilyn might have worn her black wig and tried to control the fits of girlish laughter that would give her away, this night she had not wanted anonymity. She had told the others she might leave them later on and wander down to Fisherman’s Wharf to visit DiMaggio’s Restaurant and then perhaps Lefty O’Doul’s. Neither establishment would find a Marilyn incognito especially amusing.

The mimic, discovering his model, could not avoid playing to her. There was a rising buzz of whispers around them as the audience saw the rapt and smiling original. Regretfully, Marilyn suggested they leave. The impersonator rushed to finish his turn. It was a short one anyway. No one could sustain such a parody for very long. As Marilyn and her friends were leaving, the man, blowing kisses to the audience and then to Marilyn removed his silvery wig.”

Aleshia at Finocchio’s

The Telegraph reports that Marilyn wrote in her diary that evening that the experience was ‘like seeing herself on film.’ However, Marilyn did not keep a regular diary and this remark doesn’t appear in her private notes, so it’s more likely that she said this to one of her friends. Aleshia would share her own account in her 2001 memoir, The Woman I Was Not Born to Be: A Transsexual Journey.

“Newspaper columnists touted me as Marilyn’s double. That was flattering, but it was only good publicity. Mr Finocchio paid for such fanfare. I was young, professionally blonde, and sang, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ in a red knit sweater, but that does not a legend make. I knew the difference. Marilyn was the epitome of everything I wanted to become.

The nation’s favourite sex symbol came to Finocchio’s to catch my act. She must have read the publicity.

‘Marilyn left after your number,’ I muttered to myself.

That was true. I might be reacting to the pre-op medication, but I wasn’t hallucinating. Miss Monroe had watched me perform her song from Let’s Make Love – and fled.

‘Well, I wouldn’t be sittin’ my famous ass in some nightclub watching a drag queen sing my number,’ I mused. ‘Not if I was Marilyn Monroe! No way, darlin’, I’d have better things to do with my life.”

Marilyn and Aleshia

When Marilyn died, Aleshia was recovering from her long-awaited operation and would recall, ‘I felt as though I’d lost a close, personal friend.’ She later became a Playboy Bunny, and appeared in a film produced by Robert Slatzer, a man notorious for his exaggerated stories about Marilyn, claiming they were secretly married and linking her death to the Kennedys.

“Most of my audition time had been wasted by Slatzer’s bragging about his marriage to Marilyn Monroe,” she wrote. “‘Joe DiMaggio maybe; Bob Slatzer, never,’ I thought. My Marilyn, I believed, would never have married the man I personally regarded as a blustering, rotund, B-grade movie maker. I didn’t believe a word he said.'”

Nonetheless, Slatzer gave Aleshia a part in his 1970 film, Bigfoot – as a seven-foot mother ape! “A munchkin from The Wizard of Oz would play my Sasquatch child,” Aleshia cringed. “There would be no Academy Award for this acting stint. In film history, no Sasquatch has ever received the coveted statuette. The only appeal to the potboiler was its cast. John and Chris Mitchum, brother and son of screen luminary Robert Mitchum, were in the debacle … John Carradine taught me to play poker – and I paid dearly for the privilege.” After enduring long days in full gorilla makeup without filming a scene, Aleshia contacted her agent and, much to Slatzer’s chagrin, the Screen Actors’ Guild intervened.

Aleshia went on to work in television, and after earning a master’s degree, she taught film and theatre studies to supplement her income. She was married four times, and followed her successful autobiography with a novel and further memoir. After her death on July 1, author Gary Vitacco-Robles, who interviewed Aleshia for his 2014 biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, paid tribute on Facebook: “She was a brave and lovely woman. May Aleshia’s memory be eternal.”

Marilyn, Joe and ‘The Serial Fabulist’

newsweek sep 14

Last month I posted a less-than-stellar review of C. David Heymann’s posthumously published Joe & Marilyn: Legends in Love. The latest issue of Newsweek – due out on Friday – includes an extraordinary cover feature by David Cay Johnston about Heymann’s ‘career as a serial fabulist.’

Johnston challenges Heymann’s long-standing claim that Marilyn attacked Robert Kennedy with a knife on her last day alive:

“In both A Woman Named Jackie and RFK, Heymann recounts Marilyn Monroe’s last afternoon alive, August 3, 1962*. (Keep in mind that Heymann maintains that both JFK and Bobby Kennedy had affairs with Monroe.) In both of those books, Heymann wrote that just a few hours before Monroe killed herself, Bobby Kennedy and the actor Peter Lawford visited her home in L.A.’s tony Brentwood neighborhood. Heymann said that at one point Monroe pulled a knife and lunged at Kennedy, and that the two men wrested the weapon from her.

When he later told that tale in Joe & Marilyn, Heymann wrote that Monroe tossed a glass of champagne in Kennedy’s face.

In the back of that book, Heymann explained how the knife had turned into bubbly. ‘In an interview with the author, Peter Lawford originally claimed that Marilyn threatened RFK with a kitchen knife; he then revised the anecdote to indicate instead that she threw a glass of champagne at him.’

Unexplained is when Lawford changed this story. Lawford died on Christmas Eve 1984, long before any of the three books were published. Putting the best possible spin on things, that means Lawford revised his story before the first book was published. And if that’s the case, why did Heymann tell the knife story in the first two books?

The answer, according to Lawford’s widow, Patricia, is that Heymann made it all up. She told Newsweek Heymann could not have interviewed her husband on any of the occasions he cited because he was under her care around the clock. Asked if Heymann could have somehow gotten past her, she said Lawford was close to death and hardly able to make coherent statements, much less conduct a lengthy interview.

The Heymann archive at Stony Brook includes his handwritten notes of the purported interview with Lawford. The dying man’s supposed words flow smoothly, the way a writer’s do after polishing. Most people in interviews meander off-topic, digress and revise their stories as they draw on their memories, especially those who are sick and dying.

A handwriting expert said Heymann’s handwritten notes of the purported Lawford interview bore a striking resemblance to the writing in Heymann’s purported Hutton notebooks.”

* Marilyn’s last afternoon alive was on August 4th, not the 3rd.

Johnston also questions Heymann’s oft-repeated claim that Marilyn told Jacqueline Kennedy she wanted to marry her husband, John F. Kennedy:

“In Joe and Marilyn, Heymann drew heavily on the rich trove of books about the Yankee Clipper and the iconic blonde. He also cited interviews with writer George Plimpton; Salinger, the Kennedy White House press secretary; and [Jack] Newfield. All three men were dead by 2005. Plimpton, in a tape recording in Heymann’s own archive, declined to be interviewed. Salinger, in a letter also in the Heymann archive, said Heymann wrote ‘dramatic lies’ and refused to cooperate. We already know that Newfield wrote a column in the Post denouncing Heymann. Despite this, Heymann ‘quoted’ all three men in his book… long after they had been buried.

Among the many statements presented as fact in Joe and Marilyn that might have raised eyebrows at CBS was the one on Page 315. Heymann quoted the late actor and masseur Ralph Roberts as saying that Marilyn Monroe called the White House and ‘actually told the First Lady she wanted to marry the president,’ and that Jackie Kennedy, humoring the actress, said ‘she had no objection.’

Yet years earlier, in 1989’s A Woman Named Jackie, Heymann attributed that story to Lawford. Only in that version ‘Jackie wasn’t shaken by the call. Not outwardly. She agreed to step aside. She would divorce Jack and Marilyn could marry him, but she [Monroe] would have to move into the White House.'”

Johnston also probes some of Joe & Marilyn‘s other main sources:

[Emily] Bestler, Heymann’s longtime editor, insists that independent fact-checking established the reliability of Joe & Marilyn, but most of Chapter 3 is fabricated. It consists primarily of long quotes attributed to ‘Rose Fromm, a German Jewish refugee’ who Heymann said treated Marilyn Monroe as a therapist. Heymann writes that Fromm told him:

I have to stress that I work as a psychotherapist in Europe but not in the United States and I made that perfectly clear to Marilyn. My doctorate in clinical psychology had been awarded abroad and I had no interest in going through the process all over again.

Heymann wrote that Fromm moved to Los Angeles for six months in 1952, when she treated Monroe, whom she met through two Hollywood journalists she describes as friends, James Bacon of The Associated Press and Sidney Skolsky, then a syndicated Hollywood columnist.

Fromm was born in Sztetl, Poland, not Germany. She arrived in America at age 17, according to her 2007 autobiography. She graduated from the Dante School in Chicago in 1931 and the University of Illinois medical school in 1938, facts supported by photographs and her medical licensing records. Nowhere in her autobiography did Dr. Fromm mention Marilyn Monroe, James Bacon or Sidney Skolsky.

In Joe and Marilyn, Heymann cites Joe DiMaggio Jr., the slugger’s only son, as a source on more than 50 of the book’s 393 pages. Joe Jr. died in 1999, long before Heymann started work on the book, and he routinely turned reporters away. Public records contradict many of the quotes attributed to him in the book – Heymann wrote that he left Yale for San Francisco, almost immediately married a woman he barely knew, quickly divorced her and joined the Marines. In fact, records and interviews with his friends show, he moved to Los Angeles, joined the Marines before Monroe died (he was photographed in uniform at her funeral) and nine months after her death married a 17-year-old San Diego woman in Southern California.  George Milman, a Beverly Hills lawyer who was Joe Jr.’s roommate back then, and Tom Law, a contractor who worked with him, said Joe Jr. was circumspect about his father and devoted to his stepmother.

Heymann also wrote that Joe Jr.’s mother, Dorothy Arnold, took her son and Milman on overnight trips to Mexico where, panty-less, she would do handstands in an apparent effort to channel Monroe’s sexual allure. Milman, chuckling, said he recalls a few trips to Baja, but not the rest of that tale.”

Marilyn and Ralph Roberts

Marilyn first met fellow actor Ralph L. Roberts at the home of Lee Strasberg, and in 1959 he became her personal masseur. She loved to hear stories about his hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina, and called him ‘brother’ – in fact, her final phonecall may have been to Ralph. He died in 1999.

Ralph’s nephew, Hap Roberts, will appear in a forthcoming documentary, Marilyn: Birth of an Icon, and extracts from an unpublished memoir, Mimosa, have been posted on Roberts’ website.

In today’s Salisbury Post, Mark Wineka looks back at their close friendship.

“Only two weeks ago, documentary filmmakers from Paris were here, interviewing Ralph Roberts’ nephew, Hap, who saw his uncle almost every day for the last three years of his life in Salisbury.

French Connection Films also spoke to Chris ‘Steve’ Jacobs, the man Hap Roberts has made archivist for his uncle’s papers and all things Marilyn.

Long after Monroe had died and mainly as a way to correct and set straight things written about her, Ralph Roberts started several versions of a memoir, which he titled Mimosa.

‘There’s constant interest in that manuscript,’ Jacobs says.

Hap Roberts and Jacobs hope to publish the memoir some day, though putting the Marilyn years in chronological order and dealing with Ralph’s writing style have been difficult.

‘He never took advantage of his relationship with Marilyn Monroe in any shape or form,’ Hap Roberts says of his uncle. ‘We don’t want to profit from it, either. We just want to do what Ralph would want done.’

Roberts actually met Marilyn Monroe for the first time at [Lee] Strasberg’s New York apartment in 1955. He wrote in his memoir that she was ‘one of the most radiantly beautiful creatures’ he had ever seen.

‘And when I say creature, that was it,’ Roberts wrote. ‘An animal. The blue-whiteness one sees sometimes in the stars of a desert night. White-blond hair, clear-white complexion framing violet-blue eyes.’

Roberts became Monroe’s official masseur in 1959, and for long periods, during her various marriages and romantic entanglements, would give her massages daily.

Roberts and Monroe forged a bond. She called him ‘Rafe,’ the British pronunciation for his name.

They connected on the Willa Cather books they read, their spirituality and, believe it or not, Salisbury.

As Roberts massaged her at night, he spoke to her about his hometown and all of its places and people – down to men such as Irvin Oestreicher and Julian Robertson Sr. to the roasted peanuts at the Lash store and the winged statue on West Innes Street. Together, Roberts and Monroe ran errands, ate meals together, attended parties and took plane trips across the country between New York and California.

Roberts was with Monroe the night she practiced singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ the version she would famously croon to Kennedy.

They watched the 1960 Democratic National Convention together when Kennedy won the nomination. They were on the set together every day of The Misfits, Clark Gable’s last movie.

In addition to massaging Monroe between scenes and being her chauffeur, Roberts played the part of an ambulance driver in The Misfits.

Hap and Annette, who also became close to Ralph, knew not to probe him for his memories of Monroe.

When he did talk about their relationship, they tried not to interrupt, savoring every detail and recognizing how much he loved and respected Monroe.

Ralph Roberts felt great remorse that he wasn’t home the night of Monroe’s death to answer her call. He lived close to the actress and could have been to her house quickly.

‘I do think he probably carried that to his grave,’ Hap Roberts says.

Hap Roberts tells a funny story, too, of another Monroe gift to his uncle. After Ralph’s death, Hap was gathering his uncle’s clothing together for a donation to Goodwill.

He noticed a woman’s Burberry trench coat in the closet, but he figured it was a friend’s coat, left at Ralph’s house in the past. He placed it with the other things for Goodwill.

‘About a month later, I found a list of Marilyn Monroe items,’ Roberts says. ‘Sure enough, on the list was Burberry trench coat.’

‘Well, Marilyn’s coat is now protecting some unsuspecting lady in Salisbury from inclement weather.’

When Ralph Roberts died April 30, 1999, at his home, he was 82. Hap Roberts said he sat alone in his uncle’s house and cried until he couldn’t cry any longer.

Roberts noticed the stacks of memoir papers spread out everywhere in the living room. In the den, he also saw the open Willa Cather book that his uncle had been reading.

Up to the end, Ralph Roberts was chasing his friend, Marilyn Monroe.”

Norma Jeane: A ‘Last-Born’ Child

‘Lastborns are usually rebellious, risk takers, confident, caring, creative, charming, affectionate and “the life of the party”. Lastborns can also be immature, self-centered, spoiled, manipulative and irresponsible. Youngests seem to be more observant and have more diverse interests than their older siblings. They also take more risks, travel more, and are more liberal. Youngest brothers are the most fearless of men. Youngest females are the most feminine and flirtatious of women. Younger sisters of brothers are magnets to men. Examples of younger sisters of brothers include Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor. They often find that they have more men attracted to them than other girls. The best match for a youngest male is a firstborn female and the best match for a youngest female is an oldest male of sisters. Two lastborns in a relationship can be fun but firstborn children bring stability to a relationship.’

Source

This is an interesting take on how Marilyn’s character was formed, though given her unstable childhood, it is hard to place her as a ‘lastborn’ at any period. Norma Jeane had an older half-brother and sister from her mother’s first marriage, but she never met her step-brother, who tragically died at just 13. At the same age, Norma would learn that she had a ‘sister’, and first met Berniece Baker Miracle, then married with a young daughter, six years later. Marilyn remained in contact with Berniece throughout her life.

The young Norma Jeane was also close to another foster child, Lester Bolender, and later Eleanor ‘Bebe’ Goddard. But Marilyn always considered herself a ‘waif’, passed between relatives, friends and an orphanage, and in some ways was more like an only child. One of her closest friends at the end of her life was masseur Ralph Roberts, whom she nicknamed ‘Brother’.