In an article for the Jewish Press, Saul Jay Singer explores the Judaism of Marilyn and Arthur Miller, including their 1959 appearance at an American Friends of the Hebrew University dinner at Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.
“Invited along with her husband to address a United Jewish Appeal (UJA) conference in Miami, Monroe wrote a speech about why she believed that Jewish institutions, especially Israel, deserve broad public support, but she ultimately declined to deliver the address when the UJA rescinded its invitation to Miller after his House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC ) indictment. She did, however, later attend a dinner held on September 27, 1959 in Philadelphia by a chapter of the American Friends of the Hebrew University where Miller was awarded an honorary degree to commemorate his ‘distinguished achievement in the Dramatic Arts.’
Shown here is a unique and rare item from my collection, a program from that historic event on which Monroe has signed and inscribed ‘To Stevie – Happy Bar Mitzvah! Marilyn Monroe.'”
Marilyn’s name has all too often been exploited for profit, but a recent incident involving a posthumous ‘proxy baptism’ by the Church of Latter Day Saints is downright creepy, as revealed in an Associated Press report for The Guardian. Despite having no living connection to the Mormon faith, Marilyn is one of several dead celebrities to be appropriated in this manner.
“Mormons have recently posthumously baptised at least 20 Holocaust victims, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and the Queen Mother, according to a researcher who has spent two decades monitoring the church’s massive genealogical database.
The researcher, Helen Radkey, is a former Mormon who left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mid-1970s and was excommunicated after publicly criticising it. She was blocked from the baptisms section of the massive collection of genealogical records the Utah-based church makes available to the public through its website, familysearch.org, until she was given a login by a friend.
Printouts and screenshots show that in the past five years, proxy baptisms were performed on at least 20 Holocaust victims. Radkey said she found no evidence of ancestral ties to Mormons in those baptisms or in those linked to famous people.
Her discoveries will bring new scrutiny to a practice that has become a sensitive issue for the church. In a statement, the church acknowledged the ceremonies violated its policy and said they would be invalidated.”
A Jewish daily prayer-book acquired by Marilyn at the time of her 1956 marriage to Arthur Miller will be auctioned at William Doyle Galleries of New York as part of their Rare Books, Autographs & Maps sale on Tuesday, November 7. The book, which numbers some 648 pages, is described as ‘quite worn’ and includes a few notations in pencil, apparently by Marilyn herself. It was originally sold at Christie’s in 1999. The estimated price this time around is $4,000-$6,000. For more information on Marilyn’s conversion, read this excellent article by Simone Esther.
In a fascinating blog post, MM fan Simone Esther looks at Marilyn’s conversion to Judaism in 1956 in the context of a lifelong spiritual journey.
“Norma Jeane’s interest in [Christian Science] drastically subsided when Aunt Ana tragically died of heart failure in 1948, but with her natural intellect and eager curiosity it did not take long for an interest in psychoanalysis and philosophy to develop; an interest which would stay with her until her death.
Perhaps this is one thing that Marilyn found attractive in the Jews that she came to be surrounded by in the 1950s – the tradition’s affirmation of critical thinking, rationalism and natural embrace of philosophical ideals (see The Haskalah).
Already Marilyn’s closest associates were Jews – including photographer Milton Greene, his wife Amy, poet Norman Rosten and her former acting coach Natasha Lytess – and she held a deep admiration for Jewish physicist Albert Einstein; But it was when she moved to New York to become a ‘serious actress’ at The Actor’s Studio in 1955, that the Jewish home of Lee Strasberg and his wife Paula became her second dwelling. There, she became Paula’s third child and she took comfort in the strong family values instilled by the tradition, something she never had the pleasure of enjoying in her youth. Susan Strasberg once recounted how Marilyn had told her, ‘I can identify with the Jews. Everybody’s always out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.’
So when Marilyn became engaged to Arthur Miller, whom she had known since 1951, it seemed natural for her to approach him and inquire about joining the faith of his forefathers; Arthur found the entire thing wholly unnecessary, but supported his bride’s decision nonetheless.
Truth be told, Judaism played little role besides providing community in Marilyn’s life once her initial enthusiasm faded – she even later described herself as a ‘Jewish atheist’. Yet in the brief time of her observance, no matter how valid we consider her conversion to be, she provided a platform to other Jews-By-Choice and paved a path for many of her contemporaries to soon, perhaps more stringently, venture for themselves.”
In Scotland’s Sunday Post this weekend, Craig Campbell looks back at the life of Marilyn’s most congenial co-star, Jane Russell, who would have turned 96 this week. The article was first published in the June 17 issue of Weekly News – and you can read my own tribute to Jane at Immortal Marilyn.
“This most-unusual woman, by Hollywood standards, also started a weekly Bible study group, something she would invite a most-unexpected guest to in years to come.
Jane was an established star by the time that she made GentlemenPreferBlondes in 1953 with the most-famous blonde of them all — but her opposite number certainly hadn’t yet attained iconic status.
Already an ‘old, established broad who’d been around’, Jane felt Marilyn Monroe might like to come to some faith discussions, but the idea didn’t quite click.
‘At that time, Marilyn didn’t even have her own dressing-room, which sounds insane now!’ Jane laughed. ‘She only got one for that movie.’
‘She was super-sensitive, had her feelings hurt a lot, and the guys around the studio weren’t exactly tactful.’
‘We had a group called The Hollywood Christian Group, and I asked Marilyn along.’
‘She did say the next day: It’s not for me!’
What both leading ladies did have in common, however, was movie success … Jane’s razor-sharp wit was the perfect foil for Marilyn’s portrayal of gold-digger Lorelei Lei, and the song ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ became a classic.
Russell would also star in the follow-up, Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes, which was lacking the Monroe effect and didn’t fare so well.”
Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn, a new exhibition at New York’s Jewish Museum, explores the parallels between Marilyn and Elizabeth Taylor, who both converted to Judaism, and Andy Warhol’s fascination with the cult of celebrity.
As Flavorpill reports, the exhibition (opening on September 25, through to February 7, 2016) is divided into three sections – Celebrity, Conversion, and Myth & Legend.
The New York Observer reveals that Marilyn’s Menorah will be on display, alongside two 1962 paintings by Warhol, ‘Mint Marilyn’ and ‘Blue Liz’, as well as two print portraits of the women, and assorted photographs, letters, and ephemera.
“Like Joe DiMaggio before him, Miller was completely smitten by Monroe, who despite her ‘dumb blonde’ persona in many of her roles, was actually quite intelligent and a graduate of the Actors Studio, along with Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Dustin Hoffman. Monroe fully requited Miller’s love, and became a Jew by choice under the supervision of Rabbi Robert E. Goldburg, who signed her official Certificate of Conversion on July 1, 1956. Her conversion pleased Miller’s parents and siblings at the time, and even after her divorce, she continued to identify herself as ‘Jewish.’ Among her prized possessions was a Hanukkah menorah that played ‘Hatikva’, Israel’s national anthem, an item that fetched a tidy sum when auctioned off by Christie’s in New York in 1999.”