2015: A Year in Marilyn Headlines

10888615_10152588248917584_8987576087019859357_nIn January, Marilyn was named as the ‘new face’ of Max Factor cosmetics. Also this month, Joe Franklin (Marilyn’s first biographer) and Anita Ekberg, a fellow blonde bombshell of the fifties, both passed away.

In February, New York Fashion Week included a Fall 2015 collection from Max Mara, inspired by Marilyn’s 1960s style. A hologram of multiple Marilyns appeared in the Oscars opening ceremony. Also this month, Richard Meryman – the last person to interview Marilyn – passed away.

adf8341a9d7c6e436611f9b166316971In March, Marilyn was featured in a vintage-inspired ad campaign for Coca Cola. In book news, the long-awaited first volume of Holding A Good Thought For Marilyn, a two-part biography by Stacy Eubank, was published.

eubankMarilyn Forever, an opera by Gavin Bryars, had its US premiere. And Marilyn: The Strength Behind the Legendary Monroe, showcasing the collection of Ted Stampfer, opened in Liechtenstein.

In April, a viral hoax news story, claiming that a CIA agent had made a deathbed confession to Marilyn’s murder, was debunked. Plans for a monument to Marilyn in South Korea were announced. And in book news, Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe, edited by Marcelline Block, was published.

fan phenomIn May, Dr Cyril Wecht – one of the world’s most renowned forensic pathologists – gave an interview to Immortal Marilyn’s Marijane Gray, laying to rest some of the many myths about Marilyn’s death. Marilyn was the subject of two controversial TV shows: Autopsy – The Last Hours of Marilyn Monroe, a documentary; and The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, a mini-series based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography, starring Kelli Garner.

bfi monroe_season_posterOn June 1 – Marilyn’s 89th birthday – the British Film Institute launched a month-long retrospective of Marilyn’s movies, and a nationwide reissue of The Misfits. Menswear designer Dries Van Noten used iconic images of Marilyn in his Spring 2016 collection. A benefit performance of Bombshell (the Marilyn-inspired musical subject of TV’s Smash) spurred plans for a full Broadway run. And Marilyn Monroe: Missing Moments, a summer-long exhibit, opened at the Hollywood Museum.

jpegOn June 29, Julien’s Auctions held a Hollywood Legends sale dedicated to Marilyn, and her floral dress from Something’s Got to Give sold for over $300,000. Sadly, it was also reported that the ‘Dougherty House’ in North Hollywood, where Marilyn lived from 1944-45, has been demolished – despite protests from local residents. And George Winslow, the former child actor who appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, passed away.

hollywood-legends-catalogIn July, Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, a new book by Michelle Morgan, was published. Limited Runs launched the Red Velvet Collection, a US touring exhibition featuring Tom Kelley’s famous nude calendar shots of Marilyn, as well as rare photos by Gene Lester. In Los Angeles, the Andrew Weiss Gallery launched their own exhibition, Marilyn: The Making of a Legend, and published a catalogue, 17 Years.

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In August, the Marilyn Remembered fan club’s annual memorial service was held at Westwood Memorial Park, marking the 53rd anniversary of Marilyn’s death. It was reported that hip hop producer Timbaland would sample ‘Down Boy’, a ‘lost’ song recorded by Marilyn for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And the Daily Express published rare photos of a young Marilyn in Salinas.

In September, a large number of rare candid shots of Marilyn were auctioned by Profiles in History. A new exhibition, Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn, opened in New York. And Norman Farberow, the psychologist who contributed to the first official report on Marilyn’s death in 1962 , passed away.

wills marilyn in the flashIn October, Marilyn – in the Flash, David Wills’ stunning sequel to MM: Metamorphosis, was published. Members of Everlasting Star discovered rare photos of an early public appearance by Marilyn at the Hollywood Legion Stadium in 1947. October also marked Arthur Miller’s centenary, and the death of movie legend Maureen O’Hara.

In November, Marilyn’s blue gabardine suit from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was sold at Bonham’s for $425,000. Congressman Tony Cardenas introduced a bill to rename a Van Nuys post office after Marilyn. Cartier unveiled a new ad, featuring a diamond-themed homage to Marilyn. And the Writers’ Guild of America voted Some Like it Hot as the second funniest screenplay of all time.

And finally … in December, Marilyn-related items from the collection of Dame Joan Collins were sold at Julien’s Auctions, and Ferragamo launched a capsule collection featuring a Marilyn-inspired shoe. Over in Toronto, the TIFF Cinematheque launched a season of movies starring Marilyn and her greatest Hollywood rival, Elizabeth Taylor.

Richard Meryman Dies at 88

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Journalist Richard Meryman – who was the last person to interview Marilyn, and went on to become an acclaimed biographer – has died aged 88, reports the New York Times.

The son of artist Richard Sumner Meryman, ‘Junior’ was born in Washington, and grew up in Dublin, New Hampshire. He graduated from Andover and Williams College, was an All-American lacrosse player, and a World War II Navy ensign. In 1949 he was hired by Life magazine,  and became its human affairs editor. Meryman is credited as a pioneer of the taped interview.

On February 10, 1962, Meryman wrote a letter to Marilyn requesting an interview. On May 17, Marilyn arrived in New York for John F. Kennedy’s birthday gala (which took place two days later.) That evening, she and publicist John Springer met Meryman and his assistant, Barbara Villet, at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, and arranged an interview.

On July 4, Meryman interviewed Marilyn at her new home in Brentwood, Los Angeles. On July 9, Meryman brought her a transcript of their discussion. She received a copy of the article on July 14, and it was published in Life on Friday, August 3 – the day before she died. In the magazine’s next issue, Meryman published his own reminiscences of their encounter, entitled ‘A Last Talk With a Lonely Girl.’

Thirty years after Marilyn’s death, Meryman’s tapes were broadcast  in an HBO documentary, Marilyn: The Last Interview. ‘My experience with stars is that – through all the publicity and the hype and everything – the public senses the essence of the person,’ Meryman told CNN’s Larry King in 2001. ‘And the essence of Marilyn is she communicated a kind of truth. And truth is very powerful.’

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Meryman’s interview was published as a compendium of quotes from Marilyn herself, without his questions. It gives the reader a sense of hearing Marilyn’s own voice, perhaps for the first time. She talked about her difficult childhood, the double-edged nature of stardom, and her recent dispute with Twentieth Century-Fox. In 2007, the ‘last interview’ was included in ‘Great Interviews of the 20th Century‘, a series of pamphlets published by The Guardian.

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Perhaps inspired by his work with Marilyn, Elizabeth Taylor collaborated with him on a 1964 book, Elizabeth Taylor: An Informal Memoir. Louis Armstrong was among many other celebrities interviewed by Meryman, and a short book, Louis Armstrong: A Self-Portrait, was published following his death in 1971.

Meryman’s subsequent biographies included Mank: The Wit, World and Life of Herman Mankiewicz (1978) and Enter Talking, a 1987 collaboration with acid-tongued comedienne Joan Rivers.

His first wife, artist Hope Brooks, died of a malignant melanoma in 1975, leaving behind two daughters. Meryman wrote about his grief in a 1980 memoir, Hope: A Loss Survived. In the same year, he was remarried to art consultant Elizabeth Burns.

Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life,  Meryman’s biography of the American artist (best-known for his 1948 painting, Christina’s World) was published in 1998. Meryman had befriended Wyeth in 1964. Wyeth died in 2009. In 2013, Meryman published an illustrated compendium of their discussions, Andrew Wyeth: A Spoken Self-Portrait.

Meryman also wrote a novel, Broken Promises, Mended Dreams (1984.) He died of pneumonia in Manhattan on February 5, and is survived by his second wife, his two daughters and two stepsons, and grandchildren.

Variety Reviews ‘Love, Marilyn’

Variety has reviewed Love, Marilyn, giving us a fuller picture of the cast and materials. (David Strathairn as Arthur Miller is surely inspired casting!)

“With: F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Banks, Adrien Brody, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Hope Davis, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Ben Foster, Paul Giamatti, Jack Huston, Stephen Lang, Lindsay Lohan, Janet McTeer, Jeremy Piven, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Marisa Tomei, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Lois Banner, George Barris, Patricia Bosworth, Sarah Churchwell, Amy Greene, Molly Haskell, Jay Kanter, Richard Meryman, Thomas Schatz, Donald Spoto.

Two unearthed boxes of diary entries, letters and whatnot (some of which were published in 2010 as Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe) provide the novelty and appeal to what would otherwise be a standard life-overview. The erstwhile Norma Jean Baker’s awful childhood, her stormy marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, the paralyzing effects of her insecurities on film shoots, her problematic alliance with the Actors Studio, her pill consumption, et al., all constitute familiar terrain that makes Love, Marilyn seem redundant at times.

The first-person testimonies are more interesting, from archival clips of Susan Strasberg, John Huston, Joshua Logan, Jane Russell, Laurence Olivier and others to excerpts from memoirs and other writings by one of her many shrinks (read by F. Murray Abraham), Miller (David Strathairn), and analysts Gloria Steinem (Hope Davis) and Norman Mailer (Ben Foster), among others. Particularly flavorful are Oliver Platt and Paul Giamatti as Billy Wilder and George Cukor, respectively, both recalling their exasperation working with the hypersensitive box office sensation. There are also present-tense interviews with biographers, critics, Actors Studio contemporary Ellen Burstyn, and close non-celebrity friend Amy Greene (who shares some salty thoughts on Marilyn’s husbands).

While there’s no question Garbus has recruited first-rate talent to pay homage here, some of the most impressive names prove heavy-handed or simply miscast in attempting to channel the love goddess’s fragile spirit; moreover, having them act against green-screened archival materials has a tacky, pop-up televisual feel. Probably most effective in their straightforward readings are Jennifer Ehle, who gets a fair amount of screentime, and (perhaps surprisingly) Lindsay Lohan, who does not.

Limiting clips from predictable movie highlights, and skipping over several well-known titles entirely, the pic tries to emphasize lesser-known materials, including numerous candid photos, behind-the-scenes footage, and one uncomfortable live appearance on TV’s Person to Person.”

‘An Actress Prepares’ in Hampstead

Bulgarian actress Irina Diva has spoken about her one-woman show, An Actress Prepares, based on Marilyn Monroe’s last interview with Richard Meryman in July 1962:

‘Irina quickly tells me not to go along expecting an impersonation; the play is an introspective performance that uses Marilyn’s own words. Although most audiences expect to see the blonde wig a lot earlier in the show, Irina laughs, ‘‘People always say, ‘we expected more Marilyn’, and I say ‘it is all Marilyn!'”

Read interview in full at Vintage Seekers

An Actress Prepares is now playing at the New End Theatre in Hampstead, London, until July 10. It was recently reviewed in The Stage:

“Diva has hit upon the fascinating concept of stripping away all the cliches of the Monroe brand – so the blonde bombshell’s words are spoken by a brunette Bulgarian, purposely making no attempt to cover her accent.

This allows us to focus on the oft poignant words rather than the trappings of yet another Boo-boo-bee-doo impersonator and reminds us that Norma Jean never used to have platinum hair either.

That said, Diva’s performance is so eccentric that a breathy rendition of Happy Birthday wouldn’t be so amiss to anchor this in some kind of normality.”

And another review, from a previous performance at the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival:

“Irina Diva is a first class actress. She speaks slowly and clearly with much colour and emotive range in her voice. She is fit, attractive and intelligent in her performance. The setting of the play in the dressing room of the star, ably assisted by her silent dresser accentuates the intimacy of her analysis of female sexuality and her relationship with men who desire her. The dresser (Award Winning Graham Elwell) is gay and sees and touches intimately the body of this goddess, which must have been the ultimate desire of most men of her generation.

Diva has emotion, an intimate understanding of the text, strong stage presence and a noticeable accent. Here and it is only here that I part company with the production. Monroe had constructed phrases and caressed words that would make men shudder, it was softly spoken, sensual and full of implication. Diva’s accent is loud, strong, emotive and does not in anyway reflect the linguistic impact of Monroe’s sultry tone.”