2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

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In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

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In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

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Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

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In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

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In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

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June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

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In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

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August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

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In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

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In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

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In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

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Gladys: Portrait of Marilyn’s Mother

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Marilyn Monroe was one of the world’s most photographed women, but her mother Gladys, who suffered from severe mental illness, was a more shadowy figure. In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Katherine Yamada reveals how Louie Deisbeck of the Glendale News-Press, who died in January this year, captured a rare image of Gladys Baker Eley as a 60 year-old on the run from Rockhaven Sanitarium in July 1963.

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“Less than a year after Monroe died, the 60-year-old Eley fashioned a rope out of two uniforms, climbed through an 18-inch-square closet window and lowered herself to the ground. After climbing over the wire mesh fence surrounding the property, she began walking.

Twenty-four hours later, she was discovered some 15 miles away in a church on Foothill Boulevard. She had spent the night in the church’s utility room, sitting near the water heater to keep warm.

The minister who found her called the police; they were soon followed by Glendale News-Press photographer Louie Deisbeck and a reporter.

Deisbeck, who had been with the newspaper since 1957, had many contacts in the city.

Glendale photographer Louie Deisbeck
Glendale photographer Louie Deisbeck

‘Police and firemen contacted him all the time in those days, they knew to call him directly at home,’ his son Rusty said in a recent phone interview.

Deisbeck was met at the church by two female police officers. ‘It was real hush hush,’ his son recalled.

After he got the photo — the first taken of Eley in more than 20 years [although several family photos of Gladys were taken in the late 1940s] — Deisbeck raced back to the News-Press, leaving the reporter to get the story.

The police officers told the reporter (who did not get a byline in the July 5, 1963 article) that Eley stated she wanted to get away from the sanitarium and practice her Christian Science teaching. After determining that she was unharmed, they returned her to the sanitarium.

Deisbeck’s photo earned front-page coverage in many newspapers.

‘That was the most famous picture he ever did,’ son Rusty said. ‘He sold it to magazines and newspapers all over the world.'”

Save Rockhaven: Campaign Launches

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A campaign to save Rockhaven, the pioneering women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived for fifteen years, has been launched – and you can help, reports Immortal Marilyn. For updates, visit the Friends of Rockhaven page on Facebook.

When measuring practical considerations versus historic interest, politicians might want to consider the tale of Marilyn’s former San Fernando Valley home – dubbed the ‘Dougherty House‘ – as its demolition in 2015 has prompted a campaign for councilman Paul Krekorian to be recalled, reports LA Curbed.

Rockhaven Sanitarium at Risk

rockhaven6Following the controversial demolition of the ‘Dougherty House‘ in June, Danny Jensen reports for LAist that another Marilyn-related location – the former Rockhaven Sanitarium, where her mother Gladys was a resident from 1953-67 – is also the focus of controversy.

“The future looks uncertain for L.A.’s oldest sanitarium, which was originally built as a humane mental health facility for women in Los Angeles county.

The Rockhaven Sanitarium in Montrose opened in 1923 as an alternative to the grim treatment offered to women in many mental institutions at the time. And now the group Friends of Rockhaven is hoping to save the historic site, after preservation plans by the city of Glendale fell apart and developers proposed other uses, according to the L.A. Weekly. Home for a time to some of Hollywood’s early notables—including Billie Burke who played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard Of Oz and Marilyn Monroe’s mother—the 3.5 acre property was nicknamed the Screen Actor’s Sanitarium. The mental health facility was first developed by early feminist Agnes Richards and features small cottages where residents lived.

Richards helped women escape from the cells of mental wards throughout California and across the country, offering Rockhaven as a refuge from places where they were commonly abused and mistreated. The aging property includes 15 buildings that are a mix of Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival styles, which feature names like the Rose Cottage and the Willows. The sanitarium was designed to be a serene, landscaped complex for healing, rather than an intimidating, American Horror Story-style institution. The interiors of the buildings have remained largely untouched for years.

In 2008, Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles, which had used the site for nursing care for the elderly since 2001. The city had hopes to develop Rockhaven into an historic park with a community center and library, but after the recession hit, the plans fell apart. When Glendale’s plans fell though, developers then set their sights on Rockhaven with a variety of plans that included home for female veterans, an all-girls’ school, and condos. But the city put the brakes on those plans when the Friends of Rockhaven argued that they would compromise the site’s historic architecture and legacy.

The Friends of Rockhaven has now organized as a nonprofit corporation is looking to raise money to turn the property into a publicly accessible park. They also hope to obtain California Historical Landmark status for the Sanitarium. But considering Glendale spends $50,000 a year to maintain the property, there are more than a few hurdles for the group to get past. The city also just agreed to let the Crescenta Valley Water District tap a well beneath the Sanitarium to provide water to about 1,200 homes in the area.”

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In a related article for LA Weekly, Liana Aghajanian explores Rockhaven’s unique history.

“Beyond its ornate entry gate and picturesque transom windows sit the sanitarium’s largely untouched rooms — the walls of the dining room, sitting rooms and bedrooms still lined in peeling floral wallpaper, sofa sets neatly arranged, Murphy beds at the ready. Family photos lie on a table; a dressy coat hangs abandoned.

[Mike] Lawler, who was raised by a single mother and has four daughters, sees Rockhaven as a monument to women’s dignity, a mental health industry game-changer that must be saved.

He belongs to Friends of Rockhaven, whose president, Joanna Linkchorst, wants to ensure the site is preserved as a public space. Her love affair with the sanitarium began on her first visit.

The duo has led tours through the sanitarium, a sprawling and serene complex that housed around 125 residents at its peak and is, they say, one of the most endangered historic spaces in the Los Angeles area.

In a bid to save the facility, in 2008 Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles. But now, city officials sound almost tongue-twisted about its status.

‘We do not have the ability to go and either try to realize what was kind of nebulously described and envisioned for that site, but at the same time we can’t simply divest in the property because of the expectations of a number of the stakeholders have,’ says Glendale city manager Scott Ochoa. ‘So we’re in this position where we’re floating somewhere between the ceiling and the floor.’

Former Glendale city councilman John Drayman led the city effort to preserve Rockhaven as a historic park or library, saving it from demolition. But no funds were appropriated beyond the acquisition price, Ochoa says. After the recession, the idea of reviving the site fizzled, and so did Drayman’s influence — he was convicted last year of embezzlement, perjury and filing false tax returns.

‘Rockhaven lost all momentum,’ Ochoa says.

Linckhorst has joined forces with Lawler, former head of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley and author of Murder and Mayhem in the Crescenta Valley, and an expert on the stories of the region. Lawler says the sanitarium’s own story began in the 1920s when Richards came to the Crescenta Valley — then famed for having the healthiest air quality in the United States — with six patients and some chickens. Richards was bent on helping her charges escape cells in mental wards throughout California and the nation where women were commonly abused.

Rockhaven quickly earned the nickname the ‘Screen Actors Sanitarium’ thanks to its famous clientele such as Burke; Broadway actress Peggy Fears; Babe Egan (front woman of Babe Egan’s Hollywood Redheads); and Monroe’s mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, who slipped away from Rockhaven several times while Marilyn paid $250 a month for her care.

At the end of the 1920s, when Richards wanted to expand her sanitarium, she was met with opposition from the community. One resident accused Richards of being unfit to run it. The flinty nurse sued the resident in a $100,000 slander case and won, although she was granted just $500 in personal damages.

‘This land was purchased with the promise that it would be a park,’ Lawler says. ‘If [the city] won’t create a park there, like they said they would, then we’ll do it ourselves.’

But with Rockhaven owned by Glendale, which spends about $50,000 a year to maintain the site, a number of bureaucratic issues stand in the way, and it’s not clear what the group’s next move should be. For now, the city has agreed to give them time to look for independent funding.

‘We’re certainly aware that it’s there, and we’re trying to find solutions for it — it’s not something that anybody is going to forget about,’ says Glendale city council member Laura Friedman.

Rockhaven stands as a hopeful feminist symbol of humanity during inhumane times — one that may or may not survive the wrecking ball.”

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Tales from Rockhaven, and Sister Aimee

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Writing for the Glendale News-Press, Katherine Yamada looks at the stories of three famous women who stayed at Rockhaven Sanatarium, where Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived for fifteen years. Other patients include actresses Billie Burke, Frances Farmer, and Josephine Dillon – best-known as the first wife of Clark Gable. Yamada promises a future article about Gladys, and also mentions Aimee Semple McPherson, the woman rumoured to have baptised Norma Jeane.

Revisiting Rockhaven

Southern California-based readers may be interested to know that one of the least-known, and most poignant Marilyn-related sites will be opened to the public on Saturday, April 26, at 10 am. Rockhaven Sanitarium in Glendale was in its time one of the region’s most progressive, humane clinics for women, and Marilyn’s mentally ill mother, Gladys, lived in its beautiful surroundings for fifteen years.

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“Founded in 1923, Rockhaven was one of many sanitariums in the Crescenta Valley. What made this business unique was Agnes Richards’ approach to treatment of mental issues by giving the patients dignified individualized care in a home-like setting. It was also run by women for women for 78 years. It began with 6 women and as the numbers grew she bought neighboring homes. Soon she built new buildings.”

Gladys Baker Eley (right) with her legal guardian, Inez Melson, at Rockhaven in 1963
Gladys Baker Eley (right) with her legal guardian, Inez Melson, at Rockhaven in 1963

This free tour has been organised by the Crescenta Valley Historical Society. Writing for Crescenta Valley Weekly in 2012, Robin Goldsworthy traced the history of Rockhaven, which closed its doors in 2001. Some of the buildings have since been sold off, but local residents have formed Friends of Rockhaven in the hope that this former sanctuary will be restored as a library or community centre.

“By far the most famous Rockhaven resident was Marilyn Monroe’s mother Gladys Baker Eley. Gladys’ relationship with her daughter was tumultuous, and undoubtedly had much to do with the instability of Monroe’s troubled life. Most likely insane, Baker put Monroe in various foster care situations, while she herself went in and out of young Marilyn’s life, spending much of her time in state mental hospitals. When the actress achieved fame, she finally faced the confusing relationship she had with her mother, and in 1952 she had her transferred from the cold Norwalk State Hospital to the more personal care of Rockhaven. Monroe’s death in 1962 rendered her mother even more unstable and several suicide attempts took place, along with several very well publicized escapes.

Gladys was a tiny woman and once managed to squeeze out of an 18-inch closet window in her room, climb the fence, and walk 15 miles to a church in Shadow Hills. Her room and that tiny closet window are still there. Monroe’s estate after her death was entirely eaten up by unpaid taxes and creditors, leaving nothing for the care of Gladys Baker. Rockhaven, to its credit, kept Baker on gratis until 1967, when her other daughter took her in.”

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If you would like to participate, please email in advance: friendsofrockhaven@gmail.com