Sammy, Marilyn and May Britt

This rare photo of Marilyn with actress May Britt is published in a new book, Sammy Davis Jr.: A Personal Journey With My Father, by Tracey Davis and Nina Bunche Pierce.

Swedish-born actress May Britt married Sammy Davis Jr in 1959. They were one of America’s first high-profile interracial couples, at a time when their union was still illegal in 31 states. May also converted to Judaism prior to their marriage, which ended in 1968. She now lives in California with her third husband, and is a gifted painter.

She was pregnant with daughter Tracey when this photo was taken at Frank Sinatra’s home in 1961. The lensman may have been Sammy himself, as he had photographed Marilyn, formally and candidly, on many previous occasions.

“Mom became an overnight sensation on film posters and magazine covers galore after she won the part in The Blue Angel. The film was a remake of the 1930 classic of the same that had made Marlene Dietrich a star. The part had previously been slated for no less a star than Marilyn Monroe. Mom said there was never any tension between her and Marilyn. She said, ‘Years later we were houseguests at Sinatra’s place. Marilyn, like me, was shy. Neither of us were the life of the party. I was pregnant with you at the time, and Marilyn and I had our picture taken together. Later it became quite a famous shot.’ “

Marilyn and May can also be seen among the ‘Rat Pack’ in another series of photos, taken by Bernie Abramson during the same period.

Marilyn with Peter Lawford and Frank Sinatra, 1961 (May Britt at right)

Makeover for Cal-Neva Lodge

The Cal-Neva Lodge in 1997

Plans are afoot to renovate the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe – where Marilyn partied with Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies in the early 1960s – reports the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“‘There will be an elegant, clean, post-modern feel to it after we’re done,’ [developer Robert Radovan] said. ‘You don’t want to lose the history of the Frank Sinatra era and eras before it. But you have to … bring it back to where it’s a modernized version of what it was in the heyday.”

Owners hope to reopen the Cal Neva on Dec. 12, 2014, which would have been Sinatra’s 99th birthday. He died in 1999.”

Marilyn, Shirley and ‘The Apartment’

The photo above shows Marilyn attending a preview of The Apartment with Yves Montand in June 1960.

There has been some debate over what dress Marilyn wore that night. To me, it looks a little like the grey halter-dress that she had also worn at a press conference that year, and would wear again in Reno that summer.

Eve Arnold, 1960

However, Shirley MacLaine, star of The Apartment, told guests at the LA Film Fest Q & A last week:

“I’ll tell you a story: I came out of the first screening of The Apartment, and it was at some little screening room here in town. I left before the lights went up, and I walked out of the door and there, up against kind of a bar because they were serving food and drinks, was a woman — a blonde swathed in a white mink coat. I walked over to her just to talk, and she said [whispering], ‘You were so wonderful! Just brilliant!’ She opened up the coat and she had nothing on. Marilyn.”

I find it a little odd that Shirley has not mentioned this detail on her website:

“I remember Marilyn Monroe was at the screening. She had no makeup on and was wrapped up in a mink coat. In her low whispery voice she said… ‘The picture is a wonderful examination of the corporate world.’ My mouth flew open! She got it!”

Also, the fur coat in the photograph is dark, not white. However, Montand – Marilyn’s co-star in Let’s Make Love, with whom she had an affair – told biographer Anthony Summers that MM had once entered his hotel room wearing nothing but a fur coat. And so, whether true or false, the rumour is not unprecedented.

Shirley’s co-star in The Apartment was Marilyn’s friend, Jack Lemmon (her co-star in 1959’s Some Like it Hot.) Both movies were directed by Billy Wilder, with whom Marilyn had fallen out. However, Marilyn was seen embracing Billy at the screening of  The Apartment, so it seems that they must have made up their differences.

While Marilyn has often been criticised for her ‘difficult’ behaviour on film sets, Shirley also found Wilder hard to please. ‘He was un-empathetic,’ she recalled. ‘We looked at a scene in front of everyone, and he stood up in front of everybody and said, “I tried.”‘

Marilyn considered several roles that were ultimately played by Shirley MacLaine: in Some Came Running, Wilder’s Irma La Douce and What a Way to Go! Also, both actresses were friendly with Rat Packers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

‘The Rat Pack’ in Photos

A limited edition photo book, The Rat Pack, is published by Reel Art Press in three different versions, priced from a jaw-dropping £400. Text is provided by Shawn Levy, author of the best-selling, gossipy Rat Pack Confidential (2003.)

The photos of Marilyn are not new to me, but overall it’s a stunning record of a bygone era. A selection of pictures will be on display at Milk Gallery, NYC, until March 28.

“Marilyn Monroe at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Studio reps told the photographer he had 10 minutes to get his shots of Marilyn – but she demurred, ‘You have as long as you want; they’re my pictures, not theirs.’ ” Interview Magazine

On Dean Martin’s yacht: photo by Bernie Abramson, 1961

“Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Peter Lawford, Patricia Kennedy Lawford and May Britt, Sammy Davis Jr’s wife. They’re all sitting around in beachwear, someone’s got a Polaroid camera and they’re all playing with it. Lawford’s beach house is part of Rat Pack lore because that’s where the Kennedys and the Rat Pack partied. But to see Marilyn Monroe among them in a picture at that time is just shocking.”

Shawn Levy, GQ