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, JFK and the Mythmakers

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Over at Buzzfeed today, Immortal Marilyn’s Marijane Gray debunks some of the rumours about Marilyn and President John F. Kennedy.

“Because of Robert Slatzer, who kept selling ever more lurid tales to the tabloids, the myth of the actress and the President has snowballed out of control and has been repeated so often that the general public just accepts it as fact even though it’s fabricated.

The image of Marilyn that is projected through this tabloid lens is not that Marilyn that her fans know and admire. She is portrayed as a a needy, clingy, pathetic, vindictive woman who was utterly delusional….and that’s not who she was at all…

Look for proof. Learn who in Marilyn’s life was a credible source and who was not. Don’t repeat something as if it’s true because you maybe sort of heard it somewhere one time. Get comfortable with the idea that something you were certain was true just might not be.”

Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love

Heymann Legends

Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love is the final book by celebrity biographer C. David Heymann, whose previous subjects included Elizabeth Taylor and the Kennedy family.

Born in Manhattan in 1945, Heymann was a literary scholar whose first books, about Ezra Pound and Robert and Amy Lowell, were published in the 1970s. “I learned from this,” he told the New York Observer in 1999, “never write a book about a poet if you want to sell books.”

In 1983, Poor Little Rich Girl – his biography of heiress Barbara Hutton – was withdrawn by its publisher because of factual errors, as Heymann’s New York Times obituary explains:

 “That December the book’s original publisher, Random House, recalled and destroyed 58,000 copies of the book because of factual errors. Chief among them was Mr. Heymann’s assertion that Edward A. Kantor, a Beverly Hills doctor, had prescribed excessive drugs for Ms. Hutton in 1943.

Dr. Kantor, who became Ms. Hutton’s physician in the late 1960s, graduated from medical school in 1954. In 1943, as the news media reported after the error came to light, he would have been 14.

Mr. Heymann, who did not dispute this and other errors ascribed to the book, attributed them to researchers he had engaged to conduct interviews on his behalf.

After the book was withdrawn, Mr. Heymann later said, he attempted suicide. He moved to Israel for a time; there, he told interviewers afterward, he worked for Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.

On Thursday, Mr. Heymann’s wife said that while he had sometimes spoken to her of having worked for Mossad, she could not confirm that assertion.

In 1984 Mr. Heymann’s biography of Ms. Hutton was republished, in what was described as a revised and corrected version, by Lyle Stuart, an independent publishing house known for renegade titles.

The flap over Mr. Heymann’s Hutton book put his earlier work under scrutiny. After that book was withdrawn, news organizations reported on a charge by the Pound scholar Hugh Kenner that had received comparatively little attention at the time:

In 1977, writing in the magazine The Alternative: An American Spectator (a forerunner of The American Spectator), Mr. Kenner accused Mr. Heymann of having taken an interview with Pound by an Italian interviewer, published in Venice, and presented it in his book as if it he had conducted it himself.

Mr. Heymann denied the accusation, calling it retribution for a negative review he had written of one of Mr. Kenner’s books.”

Heymann went on to write A Woman Named Jackie, a bestselling biography of Jacqueline Kennedy; and Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor (1995), both of which were made into TV movies.

He first became known to MM fans in 1999, when RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy was published. In this book, he claimed that Peter Lawford told him that he and Kennedy had visited Marilyn on the day she died, and that she had threatened Kennedy with a knife.

This interview is often cited by those authors who believe Marilyn was murdered by order of the Kennedys, though others doubt that Kennedy visited Marilyn that day (he was photographed on a friend’s ranch near San Francisco with his family on the same weekend.)

The controversy surrounding Heymann deepened in 2009, with the publication of Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story. Many Kennedy scholars disputed his claim of an affair between Robert Kennedy and his brother’s wife. “It’s a new low, and you just wonder how far people are willing to go,” Laurence Leamer, author of three books about the Kennedys, told the New York Daily News.

Heymann died in May 2012. Joe and Marilyn was originally due to be published in April 2013, but the release date was repeatedly pushed back. It has now been published, and was heralded by a rather scurrilous article in the New York Post:

“In one of the book’s more outrageous claims, DiMaggio spent $10,000 on a life-size sex doll made in Monroe’s image. One year after Monroe filed for divorce, he showed it to a stewardess he was seeing.

‘She’s Marilyn the Magnificent,’ DiMaggio said. ‘She can do anything Marilyn can do, except talk.'”

Joe and Marilyn contains numerous factual errors. For example, Heymann claims that Ana Lower took Norma Jeane to visit her mother in a mental hospital. In fact, it was Grace Goddard; Ana did not meet Gladys until much later. Heymann also writes that Marlon Brando sent Marilyn a fake signed photo of Einstein as a joke. In fact, the prankster was Eli Wallach. He later claims that John Huston first directed Marilyn in Ladies of the Chorus (actually, it was The Asphalt Jungle.)

Among the book’s more bizarre claims are that Marilyn smoked dope with Arthur Miller; that Miller’s young son was a cross-dresser; that she ran naked through the Mapes hotel and casino; and had sex in public with Jose Bolanos.

Heymann claimed to have interviewed many people close to Joe and Marilyn, including press agent Rupert Allan; make-up artist Alan ‘Whitey’ Snyder; George Solotaire’s son, Robert; Dom DiMaggio; Joe DiMaggio junior; Marilyn’s mime teacher, Lotte Goslar; and her masseur, Ralph Roberts.

However, many of the quotes attributed to them seem paraphrased from previously published material. And most of these people were known for their discretion, which makes much of what is said therein hard to believe.

In the case of Lotte Goslar, there is no evidence that she was a longterm confidante of Marilyn’s. Doris Lilly, author of the 1951 novel, How to Marry a Millionaire, is also named as a close friend, without corroborating evidence. Other alleged sources, such as psychiatrist Rose Fromm and journalist Kurt Lamprecht, also seem to have appeared from nowhere.

While Heymann acknowledges that Robert Slatzer’s story of a secret marriage to Marilyn has been debunked, he nonetheless asserts that Slatzer’s story of a clash with Joe DiMaggio is true. He also claims to have interviewed Jeanne Carmen, Marilyn’s self-styled ‘best friend’, whose stories have also been widely discredited.

As Margalit Fox noted in her New York Times obituary: “Though some critics admired Mr. Heymann’s biographies for their comprehensiveness, others were far more caustic. Their concerns included his use of single rather than multiple sources in reconstructing historical events, and his reliance on hearsay accounts by people not directly involved in incidents he was describing.”

With all this in mind, I cannot recommend Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love as a reliable biography. It is so utterly riddled with mistakes, exaggerations and distortions that it soon becomes impossible to tell whether any of it is real. I suspect that what little grains of truth this book may contain are largely thanks to the earlier work of other, more rigorous authors.

Inner Marilyn at the Jung Center

The Jung Center in Houston, Texas is a non-profit educational institute, named after Carl Jung and dedicated to the arts, psychology and spirituality. A new exhibition, ‘The Inner Marilyn‘, has just opened and will be on display until June 2.

The items featured are from the collection of Marie Taylor Bosarge, who produced and starred in the 2011 musical, Babydoll Reflects, and is president of the Music Doing Good foundation.

Associated events include ‘The Wounded Feminine’, a lecture and workshop led by psychoanalyst Sharon Martin, and a musical celebration of Marilyn’s life. This compassionate, humane approach sounds very promising.

However, I do have a few concerns – firstly, a chair said to be from Marilyn’s home comes with a letter of authentication by Robert Slatzer, who many consider a fraud (see here.) The chair may well be Marilyn’s, but I think a second opinion is needed.

Also, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, the Jung Center’s Jerry Ruhl seems to imply that Marilyn may have had up to 13 abortions. This is an uncorroborated rumour propagated by Norman Mailer in his ‘factoid’ biography, Marilyn (1973.) In fact, Marilyn suffered from endometriosis which made her unable to carry pregnancies to term.

“There is no proof of it through medical records and stuff like that though, because abortions were illegal and so no records would have been kept,” Danamo notes on the long-standing MM Pages website. “However, to have that many ‘back-alley’ abortions would have surely messed Marilyn up gynecologically, but her autopsy report doesn’t report any abnormalities of this nature.”

Marilyn at Julien’s in November

Some interesting Marilyn-related items are featured in the upcoming Icons and Idols auction at Julien’s, set for November 9th. My favourites are these Korea photos, taken by Daryl Mitchell, who served in the Korean War from August 1952 to August 1954 as ‘Senior Still Photographer’ of the 101st Signal Battalion.

There is also a set of three childhood photos of Norma Jeane, taken when she was 3 1/2 years old. Her young companion is named as ‘Dona’.

This photo of Marilyn holding a fan was probably taken during filming of Niagara in 1952. The photographer is not named, but it seems to came from the same occasion when Marilyn posed with Robert Slatzer (who went on to write several books about their controversial relationship, though some believe he was a fantasist.)

lot148441 Also from 1952, a series of photos by Philippe Halsman:

Among the more curious items on offer are a painting by Earl Moran, believed to be of Marilyn though I’m not sure (I’ll let the experts decide!)

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A medical file from the office of Dr Michael Gurdin has attracted the attention of Reuters, and will doubtless ignite further debate about cosmetic surgery. While certainly interesting, I think this kind of item is too personal to be sold at auction.

Also included in November’s auction are Marilyn’s Redbook trophy from 1952; a contact sheet from the pool scene of Something’s Got to Give; and Marilyn’s snuff bottle.

A.C. Lyles 1918 -2013

ac-lyles1

A.C. Lyles, a veteran producer of Westerns for Paramount Studios, died last Friday, September 27th. His long, illustrious career has been marked by the Los Angeles Times, the Hollywood ReporterVariety, and Forbes.

Lyles also befriended a young Marilyn Monroe. In 2001 he shared his memories with members of Marilyn Remembered:

“A. C. spoke of Marilyn in the most delightful of ways, remembering her as a young sweet girl who had a ‘Gracie Allen‘ quality to her. He said she was always interested in the goings on in the studio, but never in a gossipy way. A.C. shared with us that when he first met Marilyn he wanted her to be his little sister, someone to hug and protect. He said that she would immediately evoke from you a feeling of protectiveness over her, like she was vulnerable and needed looking after.

Story #1: A.C. used to accompany Marilyn to the studio commissary where she would confide in him her dreams to become a big star. He said she would look around the studio commissary all wide eyed and said, ‘One day people will turn their heads to look at me.’ Later on in Marilyn’s career A.C. would accompany her to the studio commissary where she was now a big star, and indeed peoples heads would turn to stare. Always conscious of her appearance, A.C. said Marilyn only ordered soup when she went out to lunch with him because as she put it, ‘If someone comes up to me I don’t want to be caught with a big mouth full of food!’

Story #2: He said that Marilyn would often want to know details about stars that A.C. knew. But they were usually obscure stars like Lili St. Cyr or Mae West. She was even interested in the intimate life of Christine Jorgesen, famous for being the first person to have a man to woman sex operation!

Story #3: Mr. Lyles was a good friend to agent Johnny Hyde who was instrumental in Marilyn’s career. A.C. said he often would get calls from Johnny asking for him to look after ‘Baby,’ (Johnny’s nickname for Marilyn) because he had to work late. A.C. said he would often take Marilyn out to nightclubs for the evening at the request of Johnny Hyde and would have many conversations with her about her career. One such conversation he remembered was her concern about becoming a star. She thought she had the talent for it but that her butt was too big and therefore she might not make it! Of course as history would later prove it was one of her most important assets!

Story #4: A.C. Lyles also shared another delightful story about Marilyn and journalist Sidney Skolsky. Sidney was a close friend to Marilyn Monroe, as well as to other young starlets. He often would rely on them for transportation from one studio to the next as he did not drive. In exchange for these actresses help, Sidney often would write favorable items for them in his column. It was said that Sidney was never at a loss for a ride in Hollywood! Well, one Saturday morning Marilyn was having lunch with A.C. and she turned flush. In a panic she asked A.C. what time it was, to which he replied 12:15. She utter ‘Oh No! I was supposed to pick up Sidney at 11:30!’ A.C. said, ‘Well Marilyn you are only 45 minutes late.’ To which she replied, ‘You don’t understand. I was supposed to pick him up on Monday!’

Story #5:Interesting to note, A.C. Lyles was asked about Robert Slatzer. (For those who are unfamiliar who Robert Slatzer is, he is the gentlemen who claims among many other things to have once been married to Marilyn Monroe.) A.C. actually had some rather nice things to say about Mr. Slatzer. He said that although he won’t comment on the ‘supposed marriage to Marilyn,’ he can say he remembers attending many parties where BOTH Marilyn and Bob were seen together. He said Mr. Slatzer used to work at the Paramount Studio and that he is really a delightful man whom he has the highest regard for. Coming from Mr. Lyles this was quite something and makes one stop to think.

A.C.’s insight to Marilyn gave us all such a fresh perspective of this sensitive and talented star. He didn’t recall a woman who was all breathy and put on, but instead a sweet, insecure, young woman who was tremendously sensitive. A girl who broke out in tears when told of a story about Clark Gable having to pass by a studio stage showing a plane crash shortly after his wife Carole Lombard had died in a similar way.”

Marilyn (and Dorothy) at the Plaza

One of Marilyn’s favourite New York hangouts was the Plaza Hotel, where in February 1956, she held a press conference with Sir Laurence Olivier – and, much to his amazement, chaos erupted when the strap on his co-star’s dress broke!

John F. Doscher, a bartender (or ‘mixologist’) at the Plaza during the fifties, remembers Marilyn and other stars in his new book, The Back of the Housereports Hernando Today.

“Take for instance his va-va-va voom encounter with Marilyn Monroe. The starlet stayed at the hotel numerous times.

Doscher said he was awestruck by the entourage of photographers, hair stylists and makeup artists accompanying Miss Monroe each time she came in.

‘They were from Life, Look and Photoplay magazines, all there for photo opps, he said, early paparazzis, you know?’

One day Monroe was having a late breakfast in what was the Edwardian Room and sitting by the window overlooking Central Park South. A few tables away with her back to Monroe sat Plaza-regular New York newspaper columnist, Dorothy Kilgallen.

Working the bar that day in the Edwardian, Doscher mentioned to Kilgallen that Monroe was sitting by the window. Kilgallen, he said, ‘Let out a “harrumph” and said, ‘Yes. I saw her. She looks like an unmade bed.’

‘Apparently, there was some animosity there,’ Doscher observed. ‘I mean, Marilyn Monroe has been described many ways in her lifetime, but never the description Kilgallen offered.'”

Marilyn with Dorothy Kilgallen, 1960

Dorothy Kilgallen was a syndicated newspaper columnist. In 1952, she reported that journalist Robert Slatzer was a rival to Joe DiMaggio for Marilyn’s affections. (Slatzer has since become a notorious figure in Monroe history, and biographer Donald Spoto considers him a fraud.)

After Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released in 1953, a sceptical Kilgallen wrote to Darryl F. Zanuck, asking him to confirm that Marilyn’s singing was her own voice, which he did.

Needless to say, none of this endeared her to Marilyn, and in his essay, A Beautiful Child, Truman Capote wrote that MM had described Kilgallen as a drunk who hated her.

Kilgallen lived near the summer house where Marilyn and Arthur Miller stayed in 1957. In 1960, she was photographed with Marilyn at a press conference for Let’s Make Love.

Just days before Marilyn died, Kilgallen alluded to the star’s affair with a prominent man in her column. In the following weeks, she tried to investigate the circumstances behind Monroe’s death – particularly her alleged links to the Kennedy brothers.

In 1965, 53 year-old Kilgallen was found dead in her New York apartment, having overdosed on alcohol and barbiturates, and also having possibly suffered a heart attack.

However, some conspiracy theorists think Kilgallen was murdered, because of her critical comments about the US government.

 

‘Marilyn’s Men’ Reviewed

Marilyn’s Men: The Private Life of Marilyn Monroe, a scandalous 1992 book by Jane Ellen Wayne, gets a less-than-glowing review on the Cannonball Read 4 blog.

“Yet another recap of the actress’s life, focusing on her busted love affairs and not offering much real insight. It’s chock-full of sleazy unsubstantiated details and gossip added for prurient interest…Wayne relies on quotes from Robert Slatzer, who gained fame with his claims of a supposed 1952 secret marriage to Marilyn that supposedly took place in Mexico, at the height of her romance with Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio…Slatzer’s credibility is not helped by other quotes by him that Wayne includes as facts, including basic facts of Marilyn’s early life, which he seems to get very wrong.”

Marilyn Monroe Confidential

Anne Helen Peterson takes a look at Confidential, the notorious ‘scandal sheet’ of the 1950s which paved the way for the likes of The National Enquirer and Perez Hilton.

The rise of Confidential ran parallel to Marilyn’s own reign as the uncrowned queen of Hollywood, including the disastrous ‘Wrong Door Raid’ of 1954, and a 1957 story by journalist Robert Slatzer, who claimed to have had an affair with Marilyn five years earlier, while she was filming Niagara.

Years after Marilyn’s death, Slatzer claimed to have secretly married the actress in Mexico in 1952, and he remains one of the most controversial figures in Hollywood lore.