Tag Archives: San Francisco

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.”

63 Years Ago: ‘Joe, Marilyn Married Here’

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The San Francisco Chronicle has reposted their front page from January 15, 1954 – the day after Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn at City Hall.

“’Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio wedded the girl of his and many other men’s dreams yesterday afternoon in San Francisco City Hall,’ the story read.

‘The time and place of the wedding was kept a closely guarded secret and only 500 people managed to hear about it in time to turn the corridors outside Municipal Judge Charles S. Peery’s chambers in a madhouse,’ The Chronicle’s Art Hoppe wrote.

‘Marilyn, it seems, had made the mistake of calling her studio in Hollywood yesterday morning and letting it in on her plans to be married at 1 p.m. A studio official casually mentioned it as fast as he could to all the major news services.'”

And just FYI, January 14 has seen some other significant events – including the release of Clara Bow’s It in 1926, and the publication of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar in 1963 (less than a month after her suicide.)

San Francisco Remembers Marilyn

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Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1960

The San Francisco Chronicle has reposted their front page from August 18, 1962, in which news of Coroner Theodore Curphey’s report on Marilyn’s recent death shared space with a story about President John F. Kennedy, who was visiting California as work on the San Luis Reservoir commenced. (Click on the photo below to enlarge.)

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“In Hollywood, gloom still hung over the film industry two weeks after Monroe’s death.

‘Monroe’s will was filed for probate yesterday in New York,’ the story read. ‘The actress, reported by many … to be virtually broke, left an estate estimated to be more than a half-million dollars.’

‘A short while later, in Los Angeles, Coroner Theodore Curphey officially ruled that Miss Monroe’s sleeping pill death Aug. 4 or 5 was a probable suicide.’

Whether the glamour icon killed herself was never proved beyond a doubt, but her impact on pop culture remains unquestionable.”

Marilyn and the Fan Who Went Too Far

Marilyn in San Francisco, January 1954
Marilyn in San Francisco, January 1954

A Woodside, CA resident has shared his memory of meeting Marilyn as a young (and rather pushy) fan with the Daily Democrat.

“Stan Cartwright wanted to meet famed actress Marilyn Monroe so badly, it temporarily cost him his summer job. Cartwright, recently retired as Woodside High boys tennis coach, was 16 when he was hanging clothes for models at the I. Magnin department store in San Francisco.

‘I was working on the sixth floor and Marilyn Monroe walked in,’ said Cartwright, age 81. ‘She was on the main floor, walking along with Joe DiMaggio’s aunt. I left my floor, taking the elevator down to the cosmetics section.’

The bold Cartwright engaged the legendary Monroe in a conversation.

‘Hi, Marilyn,’ Cartwright said to Monroe. ‘How are you today?’

‘I’m fine,’ Monroe replied.

Cartwright asked for an autograph and Monroe obliged. Then he pushed the envelope even further.

‘Is there any chance to get me into the movies?’ asked Cartwright half-kiddingly.

‘I’m afraid I can’t do that,’ Monroe told Cartwright.

Monroe went up to the millinery department on the second floor to try on some hats.

‘All these models were standing behind me,’ Cartwright said. ‘Monroe was making a movie then, and she started singing. So I started singing with her.’

Unfortunately for Cartwright, the president of I. Magnin was standing right behind him at the time.

‘They let me go the next day,’ Cartwright said. ‘That’s the only job I’ve been fired from. They hired me back later on because my brother was the singing door man at I. Magnin.'”

62 Years Ago: Marilyn and Joe

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This week marks the 62nd anniversary of Marilyn’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio, on January 16th, 1954. Doug Miller looks back at their wedding in an article for the Major League Baseball website.

“‘Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio wedded the girl of his and many other men’s dreams yesterday afternoon in the San Francisco City Hall,’ read the newspaper story the next day in the San Francisco Chronicle, written by Art Hoppe.

‘Marilyn Monroe, who packs no mean jolt herself, said she was very happy. DiMaggio said he was also very happy. Also happy was the battery of columnists which has spent no little time in the past two years running down rumors that the two were already secretly married, were to be married, or were not speaking to each other.’

The report said that the location and time of the ceremony had been kept secret and ‘only about 500 people managed to hear about it in time to turn the corridors outside Municipal Judge Charles S. Peery’s court into a madhouse.’

The reason?

‘Marilyn, it seems, had made the mistake of calling her studio in Hollywood [the day before the wedding] and letting it in on her plans to be married at 1 p.m. A studio official casually mentioned it as fast as he could to all the major news services.’

With that cat out of the bag, the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. were forced to host an impromptu press conference led by the hard-hitting question, ‘Are you excited, Marilyn?’

Monroe, the Chronicle wrote, giggled and said, ‘Oh, you KNOW it’s more than that.'”

Montgomery Clift’s Personal Archive

This candid photo of Marilyn with her co-star and dear friend, Montgomery Clift, from the late actor’s private collection, is featured in a slideshow over at Vanity Fair‘s website. The Montgomery Clift Archive is now stored in the New York Public Library.

Thanks to Eric Patry

“Clift with a sultry Marilyn Monroe in a souvenir photograph taken at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, which once boasted a variety of alluringly named nightspots, including the Venetian Room, the Squire Room, and the Tonga Room. The two starred in the 1961 film The Misfits; it would be Monroe’s last picture before her 1962 death. ‘She gave so much as an actress,’ Clift once recalled. ‘Working with her was like going up and down on an escalator.'”

‘Marilyn Was My Mother’s Babysitter’

Dale Corvino‘s delightful reminiscence of Marilyn’s little-known connection to his mother’s family, the Rizzos – neighbours of the DiMaggios in San Francisco – is published in full at Salon today.

 “‘Marilyn Monroe was my mother’s baby sitter,’ I used to tell the neighborhood kids, whenever our rambunctious play took us inside the house. The girls went open-mouthed with wonder and admiration. The boys were skeptical, even scornful: ‘Movie stars don’t baby-sit!’

But then I’d point to the photo-booth image hanging in the vestibule of my childhood home…In the photo, my mother holds a pursed smile while looking right into the camera. A mass of dark curls surrounds her face as she upstages Marilyn in a way no studio executive would allow. Cousin Laraine is caught unawares by the flash; she looks out of frame with a half-smile. Marilyn is grinning candidly — not the practiced smile she’ll use for thousands of subsequent photos…

The DiMaggios were also Sicilian; Guiseppe, the patriarch, had fished Mediterranean waters, and relocated to the Pacific coast in pursuit of a bigger catch. His haul out of San Francisco bay was bountiful, and he went on to raise nine children. To his initial disappointment, three of his sons turned their backs on the family trade to become baseball players. Joe was the real power slugger, having gone on to a record-breaking hitting streak with the Yankees. Around the time the DiMaggios befriended my grandparents, Joe began courting Marilyn Monroe.

Joe brought Marilyn around on visits to get to know his family. During one visit in late 1953, two pictures were taken: In one of them, Marilyn and my grandmother Helen are seated on the couch. Helen gives Marilyn an affectionate hug, and Marilyn is smiling warmly. In the second shot, Helen stands behind Marilyn with a protective hand poised lightly on her shoulder, while my Great Aunt Rose, Helen’s older sister, looms and fawns over Marilyn like a hungry vulture; Marilyn has notably shifted her body away. When Great Aunt Rose heard that Marilyn was spending the weekend, she bought a ticket from New York to San Francisco, and tagged along uninvited.  On the back of the photo, Helen wrote: ‘Marilyn had a rash on her face at the time and didn’t want to be photographed, but Rose insisted. Marilyn agreed as long as it was black & white.’

…My mother isn’t in either of those photos, but she was around that day with her cousin and playmate Laraine, and the presence of these two playful little girls warmed Marilyn’s heart; she longed for children of her own. She took to the girls instantly and showed them great affection.

One day, Marilyn offered to take them to Playland. Laraine’s mother, consumed with a newborn, thought it would be good to get the girls out of the house. The trio took off to the amusement park, with Marilyn driving the short distance in her Pontiac convertible…The girls both liked the pretty blond lady who was taking them to Playland, but the main attraction was the Ferris wheel. It would be their first visit to the park…

The trio first found a photo booth, and posed for the picture that hung in the vestibule. Grandma Helen wrote on the back: ‘This is a 25¢ picture taken at Playland. She wanted to go on the rides with your mother & cousin Laraine. A sailor recognized her & she took a picture with him and it got around & the police were called. It was frightening.’ A brisk wind blew Marilyn’s headscarf off her signature platinum bob, giving that sailor a jolt of recognition. My mother vividly recalls the only ride they got that day — rushed through the throng out of the park on the shoulders of San Francisco policemen.”