Tag Archives: Susan Strasberg

Patricia Bosworth Remembers Marilyn

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Patricia Bosworth has written acclaimed biographies of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda. A lifelong member of the Actors Studio, she also wrote ‘The Mentor and the Movie Star‘, a 2003 article about Marilyn and the Strasbergs for Vanity Fair, and appeared in the 2006 PBS documentary, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life.

In her new memoir, The Men In My Life: Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan, Bosworth recalls her acting days. In an extract published by Lithub, she describes an encounter with Marilyn.

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“I slid into the backseat, where I found Marilyn Monroe huddled in a corner dreamily puffing on a cigarette. Her bleached blond hair was tousled; she seemed to be wearing no makeup. I noticed there was dirt under her fingernails, but I couldn’t stop looking at her. We were about to pull away from the curb when a voice cried out, ‘Hey Lee, goin’ my way?’ and Harry Belafonte hopped in beside me. We drove uptown in silence.

I knew Marilyn was aware I was looking at her. She was used to being looked at, and she wasn’t self-conscious. She had a mysterious indefinable quality that made her a star and separated her from everyone else. At the moment she appeared to be floating in another world as she puffed delicately on her cigarette and blew the smoke softly out of her mouth. The newspapers were full of stories about her—how she’d left Hollywood and come to New York to be a ‘serious actress,’ how Lee was coaching her at his apartment and letting her observe sessions at the Studio.”

Elsewhere, Bosworth confirms that Tennessee Williams had wanted Marilyn to star in Baby Doll (but Gore Vidal thought she was too old.) Bosworth knew many key figures in Marilyn’s life, including Elia Kazan, Lee and Susan Strasberg – who found her father’s ‘obsession’ with Marilyn disturbing.

As Bosworth admits, Marilyn was part of Lee’s inner circle from which she felt excluded. She was also intimidated by Marilyn’s fame, which nonetheless kept the Actors Studio in the headlines. Lee Strasberg often seemed cold and domineering, but Bosworth considered him ‘a great teacher.’

Bosworth, unlike Marilyn, was born into a life of privilege, and forged a stage career as well as starring alongside Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story. However, her impeccable connections couldn’t save her from family tragedy (her brother and father both committed suicide), and an abusive marriage.

The 1950s, as Bosworth observes, was a staid, even repressive decade – but the creativity and rebellion of the 60s was already fermenting. She talks about the impact of the anti-communist witch-hunts, both on the artistic community and her own family, and the rampant sexism she constantly endured.

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Elizabeth Winder will focus on Marilyn’s New York period directly in her forthcoming book, Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy, but Patricia Bosworth’s account comes from her own experience. For anyone interested in learning more about the bohemian world that women like Bosworth – and Marilyn – helped to define, The Men In My Life is essential reading.

The Day Marilyn Kept Rockefeller Waiting

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Photo by Tom Maguire

Newsday have dug into their archives for an account of Marilyn’s belated arrival in New York on July 2nd, 1957, from her summer home in Amagansett, to launch the construction of a new Time-Life building.

Arthur Miller wrote about the event in his autobiography, Timebends, recalling his astonishment at Marilyn’s star power – who else could keep a Rockefeller waiting? In the book, he described her dress as yellow, but his memory may be faulty. The article describes it as pink and white, matching its appearance in colour photos taken that summer by Sam Shaw.

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Another interesting point, for me, is that the article names Warren Fisher as Marilyn’s manager that day. According to Stacy Eubank, author of Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn, Fisher (or ‘Fischer’) was a press agent who also assisted Marilyn a few weeks later, when she suffered a miscarriage. In her memoir, Marilyn & Me, Susan Strasberg describes Fisher as ‘a secret friend she often met on Fridays for drinks at the St Regis Hotel.’

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Greetings card (colorised)

“Marilyn Monroe, a girl accustomed to standing out in a crowd, yesterday stood one up. And this crowd included a Rockefeller, who finally couldn’t stand it any longer. He waited for almost two hours and then left before Miss Monroe finally arrived.

The occasion was a ceremony at the site of the $70,000,000, 47-story Time & Life building now being built at 50th St. and Sixth Ave. Marilyn, a girl who sets off explosions wherever she walks, was supposed to set one off at the excavation by lighting a giant firecracker. The blast was planned to mark the reactivation of the old Rockefeller Center Sidewalk Superintendent’s Club.

The blow-up was scheduled for 11:30 AM. Laurance S. Rockefeller, a member of the board of directors of Rockefeller Center, was there in plenty of time. And so was Roy Larsen of Time Inc. But no Marilyn. When she did arrive, after a helicopter flight into the city from her vacation retreat in Amagansett, the blonde actress was more than two hours late.

About 500 ogling fans and 50 newsmen and photographers, climbed over each other for the most advantageous positions to photograph and to admire Miss Monroe’s charms. She smiled and two hours of sweat and swears were forgotten in an instance. The crowd loved it.

But Rockefeller, one of the late John D’s grandson, and Larsen were no longer around. After sweltering in the hot sun for almost two hours, they had announced politely at 1:15 PM that they wouldn’t wait any more.

The official left in charge, G. S. Eyssell, who later was overhead making a few irritated-sounding remarks to Miss Monroe’s manager, Warren Fisher, gave the actress a ‘warm welcome’ when her limousine rolled up to the scene. And the big blast finally went off.

The trip represented a vacation for Marilyn from her summer vacation in Amagansett. Her husband playwright Arthur Miller, stayed home to water the grass. Marilyn had arrived in New York in a nasty old helicopter that had made her airsick.

Lovely as a picture in a low-cut pink-and-white summer dress, the blond smiled and said, ‘Hi.’

Despite the brevity of her greeting, it was perfectly clear why gentlemen prefer blondes. She added that ‘it was a windy trip.'”

The Biographile’s Marilyn

Marilyn with Eileen Heckart in 'Bus Stop'
Marilyn with Eileen Heckart in ‘Bus Stop’

In honour of International Women’s Day, Flavorwire’s Emily Temple placed Donald Spoto’s Marilyn Monroe: The Biography 23rd on her list of 50 Great Books About 50 Inspiring Women. (While Spoto’s book is a good choice, I would nominate Michelle Morgan’s Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed as the best biography of Marilyn written by a woman.)

Over at Papermag, Michael Musto shares his choices for The 10 Best Celebrity Memoirs, including Marilyn’s own My Story. “Far from a giddy bombshell, Monroe was a keenly perceptive observer of the human condition,” Musto comments. “In this unfinished book — released years after her death — the sex symbol talks about her unhappy childhood and her adult stardom, revealing a mind full of illumination and curves. Who knew she was an intellectual, in her own way?”

Musto’s list also includes two other books in which Marilyn features prominently: Susan Strasberg’s Bittersweet, and Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up With Eileen Heckart, a tribute to Marilyn’s Bus Stop co-star penned by her son, Luke Yankee.

Writing Marilyn: Carl Rollyson

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Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated, the upcoming new edition of Carl Rollyson‘s 1986 biography, now has a book trailer. You can see it here.

Rollyson has also spoken about the process of writing about Marilyn in an interview with the How Did You Write That? blog.

“HDYWT:  How did you come up with the idea for Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress?

Carl: While Norman Mailer’s biography of Monroe has been much maligned, it is, in fact, an important work not only about Monroe but about the genre of biography …Mailer used one word to describe Monroe that no other biographer had used. He called her ambition ‘Napoleonic.’  That was very astute.  The more I read about her, the more I could see his point.  She really did want to conquer the world and, in many ways, she has succeeded…I spent the summer of 1980 reading the literature about Monroe. I realized that even the most important books about her, including Mailer’s, missed the most important part of her biography. She had this terrific desire to be an actress.  Did she, in fact, become an actress, or just a star?

HDYWT:  How did you get started on the project?

Carl: I was fortunate that I knew Bruce Minnix, director of the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. Bruce had told me long before I ever dreamed of writing about Monroe that he knew two of her friends. So I called on Bruce, who put me in touch with Ralph Roberts, Marilyn’s masseur and confidant, and Steffi Sidney, the daughter of Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, who helped Monroe invent some of the more dramatic stories about her life. They, in turned, connected me with others, like Rupert Allan, Marilyn’s most important publicist. Just as important were my contacts with Maurice Zolotow and Fred Lawrence Guiles, two of Marilyn’s early and most important biographers. They were wonderful to me, sharing their insights, and providing me with still others to interview. Guiles let me visit him in the hospital while he was recovering from a heart attack, and later he sent me a recording of his interview with Lee Strasberg, Marilyn’s most important acting teacher.

HDYWT:  How do you organize your research?

Carl: The breakthrough moment came when Susan Strasberg read part of an early draft. I had interviewed her about her memories of Monroe and Actors Studio, and we got along very well — in part, I think, because she could see I was going to write about Marilyn as an actress in a way no one else had done before. I sent her an early draft of the book, and she said: ‘When you tell the story of her life and her acting you establish your voice. But then there is also this other stuff that sounds like a treatise. Who are you trying to impress — your colleagues?’ That’s when I threw out about two thirds of the book and rewrote it as a narrative. As soon as I had my story, the organization of research fell into place.”

Joan Marans Dim: ‘My Two Seconds With Marilyn’

In an article for the Huffington Post, author Joan Marans Dim – a neighbour of the Strasbergs as a teenager – recalls seeing Marilyn arrive for a party at the Belnord apartment building, Manhattan.

“In the mid 1950s, I was star-struck and addicted to movies and movie magazines. From my second floor bedroom window, I could see the likes of Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Dean, Wally Cox, Shelley Winters, and yes, yes, Marilyn. All of them coming to the Belnord to pay homage to their guru, Lee Strasberg.

During this period, I often thought how lucky Susan Strasberg was to have access to Marilyn. The movie magazines reported that they were bosom buddies. I knew Susan slightly. She was older than I and did not deign (understandably) to make me a bosom buddy. Once, however, Susan did invite me into the Strasberg enclave. I remember a sea of books in a rambling apartment and Paula, sitting on the sofa, glasses on the tip of her nose, absorbed in a Modern Screen(a woman after my own heart).

Alas, I only visited the Strasbergs once. Instead, much of the time, I perched at my window. Or I hung out with Sylvester, the building’s sterling doorman, who was always happy to see me, even when I made his life miserable as I careened around the courtyard on my Schwinn or slammed a Spaulding against a wall or drew a chalk hopscotch on the courtyard’s precious walkway, or, even worse, scaled the large marble fountain. On one occasion, I fell into the fountain — perhaps three feet of water — scaring Sylvester, who, saint that he was, rescued me with his long doorman arms. The Catcher in the Belnord!

Sylvester and I had our secrets. During this period, Marilyn was likely the Strasberg’s most frequent visitor. But only Sylvester and I knew who she really was. Marilyn arrived in the same outfit: Wrapped in an oversize camel-hair coat, her head swathed in a kerchief, a few sunny ringlets exposed. She wore large dark sunglasses and no makeup and was surprisingly petite. Amazingly, she wasn’t exactly ordinary, but she was no goddess. As she passed us, Sylvester tipped his doorman’s cap.

‘Good afternoon, Miss Monroe,’ he whispered.

She smiled ever so slightly. This was the ritual, almost every afternoon. Marilyn Monroe was invisible, except, of course, to the cognoscenti.

Then, one balmy evening, something astonishing occurred.

‘Today is going to be different,’ Sylvester reported.

‘What’s going on?’

‘The Strasbergs are having a party,’ he answered.

At that moment, a Cadillac Eldorado convertible, its top down, rolled into the arch’s driveway. Opposite the chauffeur sat Marilyn, not the Marilyn of the camel-hair coat, kerchief and sunglasses. But the Marilyn of myth and movies. Her mouth was slightly open. The breeze ruffled her pale hair and a lock suddenly fell over an eye. The Cadillac stopped and Sylvester tipped his cap and opened the car door. Marilyn stepped out of the car, shimmering in a clingy evening dress that displayed her milky white shoulders and sumptuous hips and bosom. I took a deep breath.

‘Good evening, Miss Monroe,’ Sylvester whispered.

Then, unexpectedly, Sylvester’s long arm reached for me. He wanted me to have the moment, too. I stood at his side directly in front of Marilyn. Such a doorman! Marilyn stopped, perhaps for two seconds, and looked me over. A smile that could melt icebergs. Teeth of gleaming porcelain. Then, she turned, and taking small quick steps, she bounced across the courtyard in pure MM style. She looked back at us once. Then she was gone.

When I think of that moment today, I recall the scene in Some Like It Hot when Jack Lemmon first spies Marilyn — the singer and ukulele-playing Sugar Kane — sashaying on a railroad platform. Bug-eyed, Lemmon marvels at the sight. ‘Like Jello on springs,’ he gushes. And so it was, too, at the Belnord that day. Like Jello on springs.”

Susan Strasberg’s ‘Marilyn and Me’

As part of her ongoing series of MM-related book reviews, Elizabeth Periale takes a look at Susan Strasberg’s 1996 memoir, Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends.

“Written approximately 30 years after Marilyn’s untimely death at the age of 36, Strasberg is still able to write from a teenage perspective. She may have been in awe of the glamorous movie star, but she was mostly envious of the attention her father payed her. Even while in the throes of a passionate love affair with Broadway costar Richard Burton, Strasberg can’t help but complain how available her father made himself for Marilyn at all hours. Once Marilyn moved to New York and started taking private acting lessons with Lee, she used the Strasberg home as her refuge — before, during, and after her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.”

You can read Elizabeth’s review in full here.

Marilyn and John Strasberg

 

Marilyn drives the black Thunderbird she later gave to John Strasberg

John Strasberg, son of Lee and Paula, will be familiar to MM fans as the lonely teenager to whom she gave her black Thunderbird. John’s sister, actress Susan Strasberg, published a family memoir, Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, in 1992.

John went on to become a teacher of acting, developing the ‘Organic Creative Process’, distinct from his father’s Method. His 1997 book on acting, Accidentally on Purpose, is also the title of a documentary.

Actress and writer Sheila O’Malley remembers attending a workshop taught by John on her blog, and also posts a chapter from his book where he recalls a lesson with Marilyn at the Actors’ Studio, working on a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“Marilyn and I rehearsed in the tentative fashion that is common when actors are exploring a new world. We did a lot of anxious searching in one another’s eyes. This longing for eye-contact is one of the things I remember most about her, as she trembled with the desperate hunger of a child for life, comfort, love. Beneath whatever mask I was presenting to the world, I trembled in the same way, but no one ever saw it, not even me.”

Read John Strasberg’s account in full here