The Irish Roots of Marilyn’s Scottish Ancestors

Marilyn sips an Irish coffee during a stopover at Shannon Airport, 1956

Further recent news about Marilyn’s Scottish roots (see here), it seems her Celtic heritage may go back even further, the BBC reports.

“A Highlands clan with links to Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe has traced its origins back more than a thousand years ago to Ireland.

The same project has traced American movie idol Monroe’s ancestors to a Munro family that lived in Moray. The seat of Clan Munro is Foulis Castle near Evanton in Easter Ross in the Highlands.

Clan chief, Hector Munro of Foulis, said for him the most interesting thing to have emerged from the project so far were the origins of the clan.

He said: ‘The origins of name Munro has puzzled historians for generations. Tradition has it that we were mercenary soldiers from near the River Roe in Derry, Northern Ireland, hence the name Munro – Mac an Rothaich in Gaelic. But it had proved impossible to verify.’

The chief said the DNA project had identified an Irishman from 1,750 years ago with four distinct male lines with living descendants. He said: ‘All four lines can be traced back to south west Ireland.'”

Cabaret Tribute to Marilyn at Edinburgh Fringe

So many stage tributes to Marilyn veer into caricature. Fortunately, cabaret artist Viviana Zarbo has avoided the pitfalls in her latest performance piece – pointedly titled I Am Not Marilyn – currently showing as part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. By intertwining tales about Marilyn’s life with her own, Viviana recounts how her life was shaped by Marilyn’s songs – earning a rave review from Lorraine at Marilyn Remembered.

“In I Am Not Marilyn, the title speaks for itself.  Zarbo has created a show dedicated to Monroe, but there isn’t a trace of the blonde stereotype on stage before you.  What you see before you is a proper, loving tribute to Marilyn’s talents as a singer. No gimmicks, no nothing… just an incredibly talented singer paying tribute to her idol.  Viviana is accompanied on stage by two very talented musicians, Chris Neill on piano and Stephanie Legg on Saxophone, both complimenting her sweet, sultry, velvet tones and we’re treated to beautiful renditions of Monroe’s finest songs such as Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend, I Wanna Be Loved By You, My Heart Belongs To Daddy and a hauntingly beautiful arrangement of Kiss from the movie Niagara.

Clan Munro to Celebrate Marilyn’s Scots Heritage

Marilyn makes the front page of today’s Inverness Press & Journal, with news of her ancestral links to the Munro clan of Moray. This story is also reported in today’s Scotsman.

“New DNA evidence proves beyond doubt that Marilyn Monroe had Scottish roots. She was descended from the famous Munro clan, from Moray, despite the alternative spelling of her surname. The blonde bombshell was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926, but took her screen name from her mother, Gladys Monroe.

Hundreds of members of Clan Munro will hear details of her Scottish kin during a clan gathering in the Highlands next weekend. They will meet at Foulis Castle, near Dingwall, for an update on the latest discoveries in the clan’s DNA project.

Monroe’s mother Gladys could trace her father’s line back to John Munro, a prisoner of war exiled to America after the Battle of Worcester during the English Civil War in 1651. No Munro men who shared the same signature pattern of the male Y chromosome had been found in Scotland, so the link to the Highland clan was uncertain.

Now, the Clan Munro DNA project has finally proved that Marilyn’s forefathers were related to a Munro family from the Moray village of Edinkillie, near Forres. Descendants of this Munro family, some of whom emigrated to the Bahamas in the 18th Century, carry the unique Y chromosome marker previously found only in descendants of exiled John Munro.

Another member of the Moray family, William Munro, emigrated from Scotland to Batavia, now Jakarta in Indonesia, in the early 19th Century. He married into a Dutch family, and William’s descendant Roelof Zeijdel said: ‘I was most proud to discover my clan Munro heritage, but very amazed that DNA could show also I was related to this big star that everybody knows.’

Clan chief Hector Munro said: ‘At Foulis Castle, Munros whose ancestors travelled throughout the world, as well as those who stayed in Scotland, will be coming together to celebrate our shared history, heritage and traditions, whatever their genes may tell us.’

Previously the Munro DNA project found that US President James Monroe was of a different male line, most closely related to the Munros of Teaninich Castle in Alness.”

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Happy Birthday, First Minister

Val McDermid may be one of the world’s most popular crime writers, but nobody would mistake her for Marilyn – until last week, when she sang ‘Happy Birthday, First Minister’ to Scottish premier Nicola Sturgeon at a literary festival in Harrogate this week, as reported in the Mail On Sunday.

Novelist Val McDermid (right) with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, 2016

Thanks to Fraser Penney

‘Making Montgomery Clift’ in Glasgow

Marilyn with Montgomery Clift at the ‘Misfits’ premiere, 1961

Making Montgomery Clift will have its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, screening at the Everyman on Thursday, February 28, and Friday, March 1, following rave reviews in the US. (As yet, it’s unclear whether Monty’s friendship with Marilyn features in the documentary, but The Misfits was one of his most important films, and likely to be mentioned.)

Thanks to Fraser Penney

“Co-director Robert Clift is the film’s onscreen searcher, heard in incisively written voiceover and seen poring over an astounding, and often poignant, assortment of Clift family memorabilia, items that go well beyond the usual photo albums and home movies … the film unravels the accepted wisdom that Clift’s life was one of inner conflict and painfully guarded truths. In footage of him at leisure, his joy and exuberance light up the screen. He might not have been ‘out’ — who was in those benighted times? — but his intimates testify that he was anything but closeted. By refusing to sign a studio contract, he was not only maintaining his artistic independence but protecting his private life from the kind of show marriage, like Rock Hudson’s, that the Hollywood publicity machine insisted on for gay stars.” – Sherri Linden, Hollywood Reporter 

“That ‘secret’ – that Clift was gay during an impossible era (the 1930s through the 60s) – led many interpreters to conclude that the actor must have led a life riddled with fear and shame. It hardly helped lend nuance to that reading that Clift was a well-known and long-time abuser of pain killers and alcohol, actions which likely sped his death from a heart attack at 45 in 1966 … In fact, the attitudes he and his family held towards his relationships with men were strikingly modern.

[Robert] Clift asserts that the actor’s use of alcohol and prescription drugs stemmed, primarily, from a near-fatal car accident in 1956. He used them to numb his physical pain. The accident changed his appearance, and many biographers assumed Clift felt ruined by it and, so, drank more.

Many of the myths surrounding Clift sprang from two biographies: a salacious one by Robert LaGuardia and another flawed work by Patricia Bosworth, titled A Life. The film-makers interviewed Bosworth extensively for the movie, but they contrast her words with old taped conversations she had with the actor’s brother. He pleaded with her to make changes to her book to correct the mischaracterizations. While she sounds apologetic, the changes were never made.

As to why Bosworth drew on the gay-self-hate narrative, and why that view took hold, the directors blame the homophobia of the time the book was written, in the 1970s. ‘The view then about queer people was that they would be inherently conflicted or tormented about their sexuality,’ said [Hillary] Demmon. ‘If you have a story that tracks along that line, that will feel true to people. Which gives that narrative a lot of traction. Now we’re at a historical point in mainstream queer discourse where that story seems less viable.'” – Jim Farber, The Guardian 

“And an alternative version of Monty, laid out by Making Montgomery Clift: Montgomery Clift was open about his sexuality. He was not ‘tormented’ by it. The man even had a sense of humor! Some of his favorite work came after that crash. Montgomery Clift’s story is not a tragedy of self-loathing, but a tale of a man who refused to be put in a box by the Hollywood system—only to be put into a different sort of box after his death, when he was no longer around to counter the narrative that began to calcify soon after his passing.” – Rebecca Pahle, Film Journal

Marilyn at the Edinburgh Festival

Marilyn is a hot topic in fringe theatre, though the results aren’t always stellar. At this year’s Edinburgh Festival, she’s the subject of two new shows, reviewed by Joyce McMillan for The Scotsman.

The Marilyn Conspiracy has grabbed a few headlines although Marilyn herself isn’t depicted – it’s set in the hours after her death, as some of the main players in her final months respond to the tragedy.

“The play is desperately confusing at first, and urgently needs to use its tableau-like opening moments to let the characters tell us exactly who they are … It’s a measure of the sheer power of the story, though, that the play rivets the attention nonetheless, as the two doctors in the room, and even Marilyn’s furious friend Pat Newcomb, are gradually worn down … “

However, another audience member – MM superfan Lorraine – told me, “The Marilyn Conspiracy had all the bogus theories – the ambulance, Bobby Kennedy, injections, enemas etc … I could hear people laughing a lot at some of the theories talked about … maybe the audience all knew better!” In his review for The Stage Paul Vale agrees, describing the play as a “stifling, under-developed drama that blurs fact and fiction.”

Theatregoers whom (like myself) aren’t enthralled by conspiracy theories may prefer the lighter option…

“JoJo Desmond’s cabaret show The Marilyn Monroe Story is a fragile little piece by comparison, a brief and simply staged hour of songs and biographical narrative tracing Marilyn’s remarkable life, not least through versions of some of her most famous and fabulous costumes. Desmond sings Marilyn’s songs beautifully, in a near-perfect imitation of her breathily gorgeous voice; and she, too, observes the link with the #metoo moment. Her script, though, never soars into anything like the brilliant writing a life like Marilyn’s invites and for all her charm, she is a long way from even beginning to capture the glowing charisma of the woman herself.”

Once again, Lorraine’s view was quite different to McMillan’s. “On the whole,” she says, “the show was well-researched and the costumes and mannerisms and performances of songs were spot on … the voice was accurate and she had some beautiful costumes (including a ‘Heat Wave’ replica outfit!), and you could tell that she had studied every single movement that Marilyn does in each of the musical performances.”

Where Marilyn is concerned, a diehard fan can be more perceptive than most theatre critics. Lorraine will be posting her full review of both shows soon on the Marilyn Remembered blog.

‘Not-So-Dizzy’ Marilyn in the Weekly News

Marilyn is a favourite cover girl at Scotland’s Weekly News. Inside the latest edition, there’s a double-page spread with author Michelle Morgan talking about her new book, The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist. The Weekly News is available from selected newsagents across the UK, and the second part of the interview will be published in next week’s issue.

Finding Marilyn at the Bus Stop

Marilyn never visited Glasgow, although her ancestors are rumoured to have hailed from Scotland. However, as Ken Smith records in his diary for the Herald, several would-be Monroes have passed through the bus stops of Castlemilk…

“OUR bus stories brought back memories for entertainer Andy Cameron who was a bus conductor in the early 60s. Says Andy: ‘When passengers had no money for their fare they could ask for a Pink Slip on which they wrote their names and addresses so that they could go to the Bath Street office and pay it later.’

‘What always surprised me was the number of famous people who lived in Castlemilk and were skint – Rock Hudson, Perry Como, Willie Henderson, Paddy Crerand, Harold Wilson, Marilyn Monroe – they were all on my bus and signed a Pink Slip.'”