Film historian Jeanine Basinger is not a great fan of Marilyn – in her 2008 book, The Star Machine, she made the puzzling claim that Monroe was unpopular with filmgoers, though the statistics tell another story. Marilyn also rates a mention in Basinger’s latest book, The Movie Musical, in the context of Twentieth Century Fox’s long line of blonde musical stars.
“A discussion of Fox blondes, from [Alice] Faye to Monroe, defines the Fox musical factory system, but it has to begin with a blonde who started the trend but is seldom included in the pack. She’s a very little blonde: Shirley Temple. All the famous musical Fox blondes overlapped in film … [June] Haver appeared with Monroe in Love Nest (1951) and [Betty] Grable, the most famous musical star of them all, gave a boost to Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953.) The Fox blondes were powerhouses: Temple, Faye, Grable, and Monroe were all top-ten box office draws … Faye is closer in looks to Marilyn Monroe – the big, wide-set eyes, the lush mouth, and the vulnerable look combined with a zaftig body. [Grable was smaller, leaner and zippier – she gave off the energetic zeitgeist of the war years.)
Marilyn Monroe was neither a great singer or a great dancer, but she was good enough. Everyone accepted her breathy vocals as part of who she was, and her dancing was made into far more than it was by the great choreographer Jack Cole. Cole gave her hand gestures, hip movements, and head turns that had rhythm and attracted an audience’s eye …
Monroe was something of a challenge for Twentieth Century Fox. The studio apparently didn’t originally see her as a musical star … Monroe made only two pure musicals for Fox, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954.) She also sang in Niagara (1953), River Of No Return (1954), Some Like It Hot (1959), and Let’s Make Love (1960), usually with some dancing connection …
Monroe as a musical star in a typical Fox musical was not the Monroe who is usually defined as vulnerable, with a sad and wistful quality, a soul yearning for understanding while suffering the cruelties of an uncaring world … In both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and There’s No Business Like Show Business, Monroe was self-confident, playing a woman who knew how to use men if she had to in order to achieve her career goals. Monroe has one enduring solo (with a chorus of men): her immortal ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ …
The best movie by which to evaluate Monroe as a musical performer is There’s No Business Like Show Business. She’s surrounded by top-drawer names who’ve each spent a lifetime in the game … Monroe doesn’t have the musical chops of a single one of these players. She is, however, Marilyn Monroe. What she’s got doesn’t necessarily need musical chops, and she’s not a terrible singer/dancer, just not a highly skilled one … Cole’s choreography is constructed to show off Monroe’s body and to use the audience’s established sense of her as a sex object, but without being offensive about it …
‘After You Get What You Want’ has a bold lyric that feigns innocence … [Monroe] looks nude, and she’s in the best shape of her life … She’s beautiful and young and lush, all pure sex, and yet despite all this, there’s a strange air of innocence about her. That was the thing Monroe had that made her famous. It wasn’t just sexiness, though she had that in abundance …
Monroe’s second song is a full-out production number with elaborate costumes and a chorus of dancers – a Cuban thing with costumes, bongo drums, and palm trees. There’s a full choreography for the ensemble, and it’s too much for Monroe … Monroe handles ‘Heat Wave’, but she didn’t need all the clutter around her.
‘Lazy’ is a PhD thesis. It’s played as a rehearsal for a number to be done by Monroe, [Donald] O’Connor, and [Mitzi] Gaynor. Monroe is dressed in tight capri pants, a low-cut V-neck top, and a brightly coloured cummerbund. She lolls on a chaise longue, singing the song in a languid style. While she sings, draping herself around the sofa … the other two dance around her … The less she does, just showing off her body, the more they do, showing off their superb dancing. It’s a musical contrast: sex vs. talent. And it’s devilishly clever from a business point of view …
Marilyn Monroe ended the Fox blonde cycle. She became too big for its limiting label, and the time for the concept was over, as the studio moved towards its death. She was never defined by her musical performances, and her career didn’t impact musical history much, but it did impact the career of the woman originally put under contract to become the next Fox blonde: the talented Sheree North, who is practically unknown today …”
In this second post about the November 14 event at Julien’s Auction, Collection of a Southern Gentleman, we look at Marilyn’s early career and rise to fame. (You can read all posts about this sale here.) This montage includes a typical cheesecake pose; two small headshots used to promote her first movie, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, from which she was largely cut; and a selection of modelling photos taken circa 1947-49.
Photos SOLD for $875, $1,562,50, and $1,920, respectively
“Contract for Dangerous Years, housed in light blue covers, dated ‘July 30, 1947,’ outlining an agreement between the studio and ‘Sol M. Wurtzel Productions, Inc.’ for the loan-out of Monroe to act in the film as ‘Secretary’ even though her role ended up being that of ‘Evie,’ a waitress … signed by executives but not MM.” [And, sold separately, a retro-style poster produced in the 1980s.]
Contract SOLD for $1,024; poster SOLD for $125
“A group of two letters though both are severely water damaged and have substantial paper loss; likely from Henry Rosenfeld, one of MM’s early benefactors whom very little is known about; the first is three pages, handwritten in blue fountain pen ink on Barbizon Plaza Hotel (NYC) stationery, reading in part ‘I ran into Harry [Howard] Keel and his wife at the theatre last Sunday,’ ending with ‘best to your Aunt / H;’ with its original transmittal envelope addressed to MM at her Nebraska Avenue address in Los Angeles and postmarked ‘1947;’ the second one is two pages, also penned on the same stationery with the same ink, reading in part ‘Marilyn, / It was so wonderful / talking to you on the / telephone,’ other pages are now missing; frustrating to not read the letters in their entirety or even know who wrote them!” [And sold separately, a glamour portrait signed by Marilyn to Lois McCann.]
Letters SOLD for $256; photo SOLD for $12,800
[Marilyn’s first movie contract ended in 1947, but a year later, she was still spending time at Twentieth Century Fox.] “According to the original consignor, Robert Temple, Marilyn had a strange habit of taking home the commissary’s silverware every night, just to bring it back the next day to use it again. Temple was a busboy in the commissary at the time and when his boss noticed that Monroe seemed to be stealing, he told Temple to retrieve the utensils from the starlet and warn her that she would be kicked out of the cafeteria if she continued her odd practice. Temple did as he was told and took the utensils away from Monroe, but then he ended up stealing them himself. He had a crush on her and wanted to keep the silverware because it had been hers. He saved this flatware for 62 years and though his story is somewhat preposterous, its probably too weird for him to have made up and remembered all these years later. Additionally, Temple really did work at Fox in 1948 and he even acted in a small employees only talent show with Monroe (and others) called Strictly for Kicks as evidenced by a newsletter that surfaced at auction about nine years ago.”
SOLD for $1,152
“A model release form for Marilyn’s nude calendar session with photographer Tom Kelley, dated ‘May 27, 1949’, and signed by Marilyn under a pseudonym, ‘Mona Monroe‘. And sold separately, a group of ten sample pages produced by the calendar salesman, depicting Marilyn in the ‘Golden Dreams‘ pose with a blank space on the top margin where a business name would be printed; created circa 1952 to cash-in on her fame as text reading ‘Posed By Marilyn Monroe’ appears to the right side.”
Model release form SOLD for $37,500; photos SOLD for $1,280
“A single page of 20th Century Fox letterhead, typed, dated ‘July 11, 1949,’ sent to the then starlet from her friend, studio boss Joe Schenck, reading in part ‘…I shall be / pleased to see you when you come back,’ signed in black fountain pen ink in the lower right corner; included with its original transmittal envelope addressed to Monroe at the Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, Michigan where she wassent to promote the 1949 United Artists film, Love Happy.”
SOLD for $576
“Photo of Marilyn by Laszlo Willinger; and, sold separately, a standard check entirely penned in black fountain pen ink by Marilyn, dated ‘Nov 15, 1950,’ to ‘Helen Hunt‘ in the amount of ‘$100.30,’ signed ‘Marilyn Monroe,’ annotation in another hand in the lower left corner reads ‘beauty salon;’ interesting to speculate what MM had done at that salon that day for that amount which would be like spending $1,000 today.” [Helen Hunt had previously styled Marilyn’s hair during her Columbia contract in 1948.]
Photo SOLD for $1,920; check SOLD for $2,500
“Publicity still for Marilyn’s breakthrough movie, The Asphalt Jungle; and, sold separately, a handwritten list with penciled ‘notes to self’ on either side, circa 1950, relating to matters Marilyn wanted to deal with such as ‘ask agent not to take money from the top / ask for outside picture / forming of own company such as Rita H. [Hayworth] had at Columbia – deal made by J. Hyde / payment for mother / lesson – Checkhov [sic], Hal S., Lotty / anal – Gottesman’ and ‘Rena cleas’ among a few others — an intriguing quick look into the star’s head.” [Marilyn’s agent Johnny Hyde, acting coach Michael Chekhov, psychiatrist Dr. Gottesman, mime teacher Lotte Goslar, singing coach Hal Schaefer, and beautician Madame Renna appear to be mentioned here.]
Photo SOLD for $1,280; list SOLD for $5,760
A 1951 photo of Marilyn, credited to the Phil Burchman Agency. And, sold separately, a letter from photographer Philippe Halsman, “dated ‘March 10. 52,’ severely water damaged but some content still legible such as ‘We all three liked working with / you and I think that you are a / wonderful model,’ ending with ‘Sincerely, affectionally and / cordially / yours / Philippe H.;’ included with its original transmittal envelope addressed to the star at the ‘Beverly Carlton Hotel’ in Beverly Hills, California.”
Photo SOLD for $1,562.50; Halsman’s letter SOLD for $187.50
“A sterling silver hand mirror, back engraved ‘Los Angeles Mirror / Annual Award / Best Dressed / for / Her Life / 1951 / Marilyn Monroe;’ and sold separately, a 1952 headshot signed ‘to Dan, Warmest Thoughts, Marilyn Monroe’.
Award SOLD for $10,000; photo SOLD for $11,520
A selection of images from 1952: firstly, a Georgia Tech football program featuring Marilyn ‘used through the courtesy of Look Magazine’; second, two photos of a sultry Marilyn, possibly taken by Anthony Beauchamp, and seen in a one-off magazine special, Marilyn Monroe Pin-Ups, the following year; and finally, a framed photo by Sam Myers, showing Marilyn at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City.
Goodman Basil Espy III, M.D. was “a true Southern gentleman.” He began collecting memorabilia for his beloved Georgia Tech, and sports in general. He was also a Marilyn Monroe fan, and his collection – which includes original photos and important documents plus key fashion items – enables us to review her life in a unique way. One of the auction’s four catalogues is devoted solely to Marilyn (you can order the entire set for $150 plus shipping here.)
Marilyn Southern Gentleman’s Collection will go under the hammer at Julien’s Auctions next Thursday, November 14. In the first of several posts, I look at items relating to Marilyn’s childhood and family background. (You can read all posts about this sale here.)
“An original print with a semi-gloss finish, depicting five young women in the 1920s standing in front of a Spanish-style building, Norma Jeane’s penciled annotation on the verso reading ‘Mother, second from End on Right / with her girl friends;’ also included are two other snapshots: another 1920s-era original print with a glossy finish, depicting Gladys Baker and two girlfriends, and a 1940s-era original print with a glossy finish, depicting a middle-aged Baker standing on a street in Reno, Nevada.” [Marilyn would later film The Misfits in Reno.]
SOLD for $768
“An original childhood snapshot with a glossy finish, depicting a six or seven year-old Norma Jeane crouching outside of someone’s house in rural-looking 1930s Los Angeles, a pre-printed decorative black border has an Olympic theme showing images of the Coliseum plus two bears displaying the initials ‘LA,’ thus seeming to date the photograph to 1932 or thereabouts. And sold separately, a set of two letters; the first a single page, now yellowed with age, typed, dated ‘December 4, 1935,’ sent to ‘Mrs. Dewey’ of the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later known as Hollygrove) by Grace Goddard, outlining how Goddard didn’t want Ida Bolender to see the 9 year-old Norma Jeane anymore ‘as her visits seem to upset the child,’ though Goddard does allow that many others can visit including ‘Elsie or Harvey Giffin, / Maude, George or Nell Atkinson, or her Aunt, Olive / Monroe, or Mrs. Martin, Olive’s Mother’ but poor Ida was banned; the second is a single page of letterhead from the Los Angeles Orphans Home Society, typed, dated ‘Dec. 6, 1935,’ Mrs. Dewey’s response to Goddard, reading in part ‘I’ll do as you request. We want to do all we can to / make Norma happy, and to please you’ — interesting documents illustrating some of the early childhood strife Norma Jeane went through.”
Photo SOLD for $2,187.50; letters SOLD for $2,812.50
“A group of seven though only one is annotated, original prints with a glossy finish, taken circa 1942-1944, four show a small house at 6707 Odessa Avenue in Van Nuys, CA, and three show its interior; one has Norma Jeane’s penciled annotation on the verso reading ‘6707 Odessa Ave / Van Nuys, Calif. / Where I lived when I first / ment [sic] Jimmy’ [Dougherty, her first husband]. Interestingly, this house was owned by Ana Lower, the paternal aunt of Grace Goddard, Gladys Baker’s best friend and on-and-off guardian of the child Norma Jeane. Grace seemed to use this house of her aunt’s as a temporary crash pad from time to time, such as in the early 1940s when she moved there with her third husband, ‘Doc’ Goddard, his children (including Eleanor ‘Bebe’ Goddard), and a teen-aged Norma Jeane Baker.”
SOLD for $1,000
“A set of two snapshots taken circa 1942-1944; the first depicts Ana Lower [Grace Goddard’s paternal aunt and sometime guardian of the child Norma Jeane] in front of the house she owned at 6707 Odessa Avenue in Van Nuys, CA, with Norma Jeanes penciled annotation on the verso reading ‘Aunt Ana;’ the second depicts Ana standing next to four others, NJs penciled annotation on the verso reading Taken at Aunt Alices & Uncle / Arts wedding / Aunt Ana, John, U. Art, A. Alice, Opal — interesting to see that NJ did have a family growing up, albeit a non-blood one. And, sold separately, a single sheet of onion skin paper, no date but circa 1944, penciled on the front and back with a number of tenets and quotes about the Christian Science religion such as ‘Thank God I’m not a mortal; / living in a material world subject / to a material law; But I am / an Immortal living in a spiritual / world subject to a spiritual law’ and the like, ending with ‘He who gets much out of Christian Sciences / puts much into it’ and ‘Am going to make a book on good / thoughts and helpful things in C.S.;’ likely an assignment for the young Norma Jeane from her ‘aunt’ Ana Lower who was a strict practitioner of the religion as was Monroe’s mother, as much as she could be.”
Photos SOLD for $437.50; Essay SOLD for $3,200
“A two pager on plain stationery, penned in blue fountain pen ink on both sides, addressed to ‘Dear Norm,’ dated ‘May 25, 1942,’ sent to a 15 year-old Norma Jeane from Grace Goddard’s step-daughter, Eleanor ‘Bebe’ Goddard, who had just moved to Virginia; Bebe blathers on about mundane goings-on but does mention NJ’s pending nuptials ‘…I know / that you’ll be very happy. I hope the / first one is a boy,’ and interestingly, she does mention a number of people the two young girls both knew such as Grace [Goddard, NJ’s mother’s best friend and her on-and-off childhood guardian], Enid [Knebelkamp, Grace’s sister], Sam [Knebelkamp, Enid’s second husband], ‘Daddy’ [Ervin Silliman Goddard aka ‘Doc,’ Grace’s third husband], Mrs. Dougherty [Ethel, NJ’s soon to be mother-in-law], and others such as Mrs. Watson, Bub, Diane, and Pat, ending with ‘give the Doughertys our love / Love / Bebe’ — a sweet letter to an unknown teenager who would become world famous less than a decade later.”
SOLD for $640
“A 12 page booklet titled ‘Our Wedding Day‘ noting a 1938 copyright date, on page 7 someone filled in the blank spaces in blue fountain pen ink that related to the event, noting the details ‘Nineteenth / June / 1942 / James Edward Dougherty / of Van Nuys / Norma Jeane Mortenesor [sic] / of Westwood / 432 South Bentley, Westwood / California,’ three witnesses’ names are evident but only one is legible: ‘Marion C. Dougherty,’ brother of the groom, and coincidentally with the same first name as Norma Jeane’s maternal uncle. And sold separately, a snapshot depicting James Dougherty wearing sweats, inscribed in blue fountain pen ink on the verso by his then wife ‘Jimmie in his gym / clothes, also these are the / work clothes of the Physical / Training Instructors. This was / taken at the Catalina Ball / Park where he works.’ (Both items are water damaged.)”
Photo SOLD for $640; wedding card SOLD for $2,812.50
A framed modelling photo of Norma Jeane by Andre De Dienes; and sold seperately, two love letters sent by Norma Jeane to Andre in 1946. The first is on a single page of stationery, no date but circa 1946, penciled on one side in full ‘Darling W.W. [Worry Wart, a nickname NJ gave to De Dienes], I’m writing today / I miss you. I love you with all / my heart and only you;’ and penned in blue fountain pen ink on the other in full ‘Dear Andre, / I’m not doing anything / much except just existing. / Darling there is absoltly [sic] / no one but you. Please / believe me. Absolutly [sic] / absolutely;’ most likely never sent as the then called Norma Jeane was figuring out how to spell the word ‘absolutely’ which she finally got on the last try. The second is penned in black and blue fountain pen ink, dated ‘June 4th, 1946‘ when Norma Jeane had just turned 20 years old, addressed to ‘My Dearest W.W.’ [Worry Wart – a nickname NJ gave to AD], reading in part ‘I’m so much in love with / you, Andre my darling…Don’t worry W.W. I’m being / a good girl. I wouldn’t for / the world be insincere toward / you… / all I / think about is Andre, Andre, / Andre. When will he ever get / here’ — a true love letter penned by a very smitten young girl,” seeming to prove De Dienes’ assertion that the two did indeed have a love affair.
Photo SOLD for $1,280; Letters SOLD for $2,187.50 and $5,625, respectively
Two telegrams and a love letter from Andre De Dienes, dated 1946-47; together with a snapshot of Norma Jeane and a man described as ‘possibly De Dienes’, but actually another photographer, Richard C. Miller. Sold separately, a 1946 model release form signed by Miller and Norma Jeane.
Correspondence SOLD for $750; model release form SOLD for $8,750
“A set of two letters from Jim Dougherty, then serving abroad in the Merchant Marines; the first on a single sheet of stationery, penned in blue fountain pen ink on both sides, dated ‘May 23, 1946,’ basically imploring his wife to write him, ending with ‘I get Mom’s letters O.K. but none / from you / …P.S. No Mail No Souvenirs,’ signed ‘Love / Jim;’ the second a birthday card probably from the same year as the letter, signed in black fountain pen ink ‘All my Love / Jimmie’ — little did poor Jimmie know he’d be divorced just four months later.”
Letters SOLD for $768
Handwritten letter from Norma Jeane to her half-sister Berniece, undated but from 1943; photo of Berniece with her husband Paris included. And sold separately, a single piece of plain paper, no date but July 1946 by postmark, penned in black fountain pen ink, a newsy letter from Berniece Miracle, sent to Norma Jeane (though Berniece leaves off the final ‘e’), reading in part ‘Your picture was in / the paper…I’m so / proud of you’ and ‘I was sorry to hear / about you & Jimmie,’ ending with ‘Tell Grace & Doc “hello”;’ with its original transmittal envelope addressed to ‘Norma Jean Dougherty’ at her ‘11348 Nebraska Ave’ address in Los Angeles but also addressed to her temporary Las Vegas address where she was staying during her divorce proceedings from James Dougherty.”
Norma Jeane’s letter SOLD for $12,500; Berniece’s letter SOLD for $1,125
“Two mysterious notes from Norma Jeane (or as she would soon be known, Marilyn), sold separately: firstly, a small gift card from Bullock’s Los Angeles, penned in black fountain pen ink, ‘Heres [sic] a little salt / for someone who is / “The salt of the earth” / Love, / Norma Jeane;’ included with its envelope but it’s not addressed so we’ll never know who NJ bought this gift for or what it was! By contrast, the second is a cryptic handwritten note, penciled on the front side ‘Do Not Call me / Neither on the Phone nor / in person do not want / to go into any explainations [sic] / this is absolutely final.’ — seems like she was breaking it off with some overzealous suitor, but who was it?”
Notes SOLD for $2,560 and $12,500, respectively
Four books, including three purchased in ‘an obscure Butterfield’s auction’, described as belonging to Norma Jeane and possibly passed on by family members: “1) Hammond’s Handy Atlas of the World by C.S. Hammond & Company, printed in 1933, signed in pencil on the front free end page ‘Hollywood, Cal. / Columbia Studio / Grace McKee / Dec. 29th 1933;’ 2) The Female Impersonators by Ralph Werther, printed in 1922, signed in green fountain pen ink on the front free end paper ‘Property of / John G. Eley M.D. / Fellow College of Phys / Physo-Gyn-Diseases;’ 3) Male and Female by Jack Woodford, printed in 1946; and 4) Illegitimate by Jack Woodford, printed in 1946, with dust jacket.” [John Eley was the bigamous third husband of Norma Jeane’s mother Gladys.]
SOLD for $2,500
“A group of eight pieces given to Norma Jeane during her childhood by her beloved guardian. ‘Aunt Ana’ Lower including: 1) a partial two page letter penned by Lower in blue fountain pen ink to ‘My darling,’ dated ‘June 1st 1947’ [NJ’s 21st birthday], reading in part ‘A girl needs a father, mine / was never a help, so you and / I are alike in that respect,’ last pages now missing; 2) a single sheet of paper with notes penciled by Grace Goddard [Lower’s niece] about the history of her friend’s [Gladys Baker, though she’s never mentioned] mental breakdowns from 1935 to the early 1950s; 3) a prayer card inscribed on the verso by Lower in blue fountain pen ink ‘To Norma Jeane / With love / Aunt Ana / June 10, 1940;’ 4) a 1947 Christian Science pamphlet; 5) a 1947 schedule for a Christian Science meeting; 6) two pages removed from a prayer book; 7) two of Ana Lower’s business cards plus an envelope flap printed with her name and famous address of ‘11348 Nebraska Avenue / West Los Angeles, 25, California;’ and 8) a 1943 newspaper clipping about Mary Pickford adopting a son. And sold separately, a letter from Gladys Baker, dated ‘May 30, 1948,’ addressed to ‘Grace and all’ [Goddard, Gladys’ best friend and Norma Jeane’s on-and-off guardian], a newsy yet somewhat sad letter written to her old friend, Gladys references how she’s in debt for the first time in her life and how she hates it, she further writes ‘…why didn’t / you let me know of / Aunt Ana’s passing away? / Didn’t you have my address? / Or what?!’, and then she briefly mentions her daughter as an afterthought (even though NJ’s 22nd birthday was just two days away) with ‘By the way how is / Norma Jeane getting / along(?)’ Gladys oddly signs off as ‘Gladys V. Baker’ as if Grace wouldn’t know who she was if she had just written her first name; included with its original transmittal envelope addressed to Grace at her Van Nuys address and coincidentally with a postmark of ‘June 1, 1948.'”
Anna’s correspondence SOLD for $896; Gladys’ letter SOLD for $768
“A single page of small lined notebook paper, with penciled scribblings by Marilyn, reading in full ‘We can only / merge spiritually / never physically – no matter / contact your partner / focus your look / your thought on the partner;’ evidently some musings on her religion; also included is a small black and white cheesecake photograph of MM.”
SOLD for $576
“A small group of seven items all sent to Norma Jeane/Marilyn ranging in date from the mid-1940s to about 1952, though sadly all are severely water damaged; including: 1) a two page letter handwritten in blue fountain pen ink from her half-sister Berniece Miracle; 2) a birthday card also from her sister; 3) a black and white snapshot of Berniece and her daughter, Mona Rae; 4) a black and white snapshot of Berniece and her husband, Paris Miracle; 5) a black and white snapshot of a good-looking young man; 6) a completely damaged black and white snapshot with a partial inscription on the verso reading in part ‘Bill;’ and 7) an early 1947 fan letter sent to MM at 20th Century Fox from someone in Italy.”
Robert Evans, who has died aged 89, is best-known as the producer who saved Paramount Studios from ruin in the 1960s and ’70s with a string of hits, including The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, True Grit, Love Story, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby, and Chinatown. His fortunes changed for the worse in 1980 when he was convicted of drug trafficking, and the spiralling budget of The Cotton Club (1983) accelerated the downturn in his career, although he continued producing films sporadically for another twenty years.
Born Robert J. Shapera in 1930, Robert grew up on New York’s Upper West Side and began his career promoting his brother’s fashion company, Evan-Picone, and doing voice work on radio. In 1956, actress Norma Shearer spotted Bob by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and suggested him for the role of her deceased husband, legendary Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, in Man Of a Thousand Faces, a Lon Chaney biopic starring James Cagney.
It was not his first movie role – he had already played a minor part in Jean Negulesco’s Lydia Bailey (1952), and an uncredited bit part in The Egyptian (1954), both at Twentieth Century Fox. (The studio’s top female star, Marilyn Monroe, had been tipped for the role of Nefer in this expensive biblical epic, until head of production Darryl F. Zanuck cast his girlfriend Bella Darvi instead.)
After shooting Man Of A Thousand Faces at Universal, Evans returned to Fox at Zanuck’s behest, to play bullfighter Pedro Romero in a star-studded adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises. He was second-billed in The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958), and worked again with director Negulesco on what would be Evans’ final acting role for many years, as Dexter Key in The Best of Everything (1959), starring Hope Lange and Joan Crawford.
In his best-selling 1994 memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Evans described how missing out on the chance to co-star with Marilyn in Let’s Make Love (1960) put paid to his hopes of stardom, and ultimately changed the course of his life. (He was first suggested for the role of Tony Danton by producer Jerry Wald, before losing out to the British singer Frankie Vaughan.)
“From the moment we met, Jerry Wald and I became fast friends. Jerry was by far the most entrepreneurial producer in Hollywood. No one had a greater flair with both industry and press. Best of all, he even respected me as an actor and wasn’t shy in telling anyone. From the Saturday Evening Post to Photoplay, to television, radio and print, the industry was well aware that I was Jerry Wald’s pick as ‘the romantic rage’ of the sixties.
It didn’t happen. As a bullfighter, the head of a studio, or a crazy killer, at the very least, I was believable. Playing myself, I was a dud. Why? I was a better imitator than actor.
Jerry Wald felt different. Maybe because he had already gone out on a limb announcing me for the second male lead in The Billionaire, opposite Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand. Who was I to argue?
The title is not the only thing that got changed. Now called Let’s Make Love, principal photography kept getting pushed back and back. Monroe was being her usual indecisive self. Meanwhile, Jerry Wald offered me a co-starring part in Return to Peyton Place. What could be worse than being in a sequel to a piece of shit? Playing the same part I had just finished, that’s what. Only this time it was ‘Dexter Key Goes to New England.’
‘No thanks,’ I said.
‘Fine,’ said Lou Schreiber, who ran business affairs at Twentieth. ‘You’re on suspension.’
Dumb move, Evans. Being on suspension, Twentieth cast someone else in the Monroe film.”
The Brothers Mankiewicz, a dual biography of screenwriters Joseph and Herman Mankiewicz, has just been published. Herman, the elder brother, boasted credits for Dinner at Eight, The Wizard of Oz, and Citizen Kane; while Joe, eleven years his junior, also worked as a producer and director, and gave a little-known actress a big break.
In 1950, Marilyn won a minor role in All About Eve. As an ambitious starlet, notes author Sydney Ladensohn Stern, she had “unusually good lines,” and given her subsequent rise, the performance has “unintended retrospective importance.” Stern then claims that she was hired “mostly as a favour to her mentor/lover, William Morris agent Johnny Hyde.” While Hyde’s influence may have helped, Joe Mankiewicz would later say he had chosen Marilyn after seeing her in The Asphalt Jungle, noting that she had “a sort of glued-on innocence” which made her ideal for the part.
Stern also claims that the story about Marilyn and Joe Mankiewicz discussing Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, which she had picked up in a bookstore, is unreliable because she had actually been given the book by her acting coach, Natasha Lytess. But however Marilyn may have acquired the book (and she already had a charge account at a Los Angeles bookstore), both her telling of the story, and Joe’s, emphasise her understanding of its themes. Her personal copy was auctioned by Christie’s in 1999.
In 1954, Marilyn contacted Mankiewicz expressing her wish to play nightclub singer Miss Adelaide, the long-suffering fiancee of Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), in his upcoming musical, Guys and Dolls. Producer Sam Goldwyn also wanted Marilyn to star, but the role went to stage actress Vivian Blaine. According to Stern, Mankiewicz joked that “he couldn’t imagine [Marilyn] waiting fourteen years for a guy.” (You can read more about Guys and Dollshere.)
However, Monroe biographer Barbara Leaming believed the rejection was rather more personal, while Mankiewicz would later make disparaging remarks about her to another author, Sandra Shevey. He dismissed outright the notion that Marilyn was a victim of Hollywood, although he was no stranger to industry disputes and volatile stars.
In 1961 Mankiewicz became mired in Fox’s notoriously fraught production of Cleopatra, which took him two more years to complete, and almost bankrupted the studio. In fact, the Cleopatra debacle is thought to have indirectly caused Marilyn to be fired from her final movie, Something’s Got to Give. (During his brief, inglorious tenure as studio boss, Peter Levathes also sacked Elizabeth Taylor from Cleopatra. She was swiftly re-hired, but Marilyn would pass away before negotiations for her own reinstatement were realised.)
While The Brothers Mankiewicz contains little new information about Marilyn, it’s a valuable resource about two men who shaped Hollywood’s golden age. In her 1954 memoir, My Story, Marilyn praised Joe as “a sensitive and intelligent director”, and in 2010 she was featured on the cover of a French tome, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and His Double.
Film historian Rudy Behlmer has died aged 92, Varietyreports.
“Behlmer was among the most widely respected historians of Golden Age Hollywood, in part because of his insistence upon researching ‘primary source material’ and not relying on faulty memories or exaggerated press accounts of the time.
Memo From David O. Selznick, which Behlmer edited from thousands of Selznick’s private letters, telegrams and memoranda, was a best seller in 1972. Behlmer first interviewed the Gone With the Wind producer for a 1963 article for Films in Review, one of dozens of magazine pieces he wrote over the decades.
Other books followed: Hollywood’s Hollywood: The Movies About the Movies (with co-author Tony Thomas, 1975), Inside Warner Bros. 1935-1951 (1985), Behind the Scenes: The Making Of… (1989) and Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck (1993).
But essays and journalism were only part of Behlmer’s life. He enjoyed a lively and successful career in television and advertising throughout the 1950s and ’60s … He was director on ABC’s Ray Anthony Show, featuring the big-band leader and his orchestra, during the 1956-57 season, and served as executive producer and director for KCOP from 1960 to 1963, overseeing various shows including his own Movies’ Golden Age. “
InMemo From Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century Fox, which is still in print after a quarter of a century, Behlmer offered insights into Marilyn’s prickly relationship with her studio boss, including this letter he sent to her North Crescent Drive address in December 1951, regarding her leading role in Don’t Bother to Knock and her insistence on having her dramatic coach Natasha Lytess on the set. (This was a battle Zanuck ultimately lost: Natasha continued working with Marilyn – much to the annoyance of her co-workers – until she was replaced by Paula Strasberg in 1956.)
“… I think you are capable of playing this role without the help of anyone but the director and yourself. You have built up a Svengali and if you are going to progress with your career and become as important talent-wise as you have publicity-wise then you must destroy this Svengali before it destroys you. When I cast you for the role I cast you as an individual …”
This memo from September 1952 reveals Zanuck’s vision for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in which Marilyn would play Lorelei to Jane Russell’s Dorothy – making clear that he recognised how crucial their friendship was to the movie. (This memo was addressed to producer Sol Siegel, director Howard Hawks and writer Charles Lederer.)
“There are two things which I consider vital to the telling of the story, and which I want to emphasise in the script. These are (1) The love story between Dorothy and Malone [Elliott Reid]; (2) Dorothy’s genuine affection for Lorelei.
This is not a satire. It is a solid and honest comedy … We must be completely sold on Dorothy’s love for Malone, or we won’t be able to accept her taking him back. And we must be sold on her real affection for Lorelei or we won’t be able to understand her sticking her neck out for her in the courtroom scene.
In order to accomplish these two things we must be willing, if necessary, to sacrifice comedy in these particular scenes …”
In March 1953, Zanuck contacted writer Nunnally Johnson, director Jean Negulesco and others involved with How to Marry a Millionaire, to express his satisfaction at how CinemaScope technology was enhancing the movie.
“… Almost in all instances the composition has been vastly improved over previous material. The full figure shot of [Lauren] Bacall on the bed and the big closeup filling the screen of Monroe were unique examples of the new medium.
I am still opposed to too much camera movement. I fully believe that while we have to occasionally move the camera we should put the emphasis on moving the actors …”
In 1954, Zanuck mooted the idea of a torrid biblical epic, The Queen of Sheba. It was never made, although United Artists would later produce Solomon and Sheba, starring Gina Lollobrigida.
“In a nutshell, this should be the story of a glamorous but evil temptress … As you know, confidentially, I have even flirted with the idea of Marilyn Monroe as Sheba. I think it might be one of the biggest box-office combinations of all time …”
And in 1955, Zanuck revealed that he had been offered I’ll Cry Tomorrow, the sensational biopic about alcoholic singer Lillian Roth, as a potential vehicle for Marilyn (then involved in a contractual dispute with Fox.) After Zanuck passed on it, the film was produced at MGM.
“This is a very interesting, solid, downbeat story and, while it has an outstanding performance by Susan Hayward, I considered it to be overrated … We turned down I’ll Cry Tomorrow, frankly because we were all afraid of the subject matter and of the fact that Lillian Roth was not a really famous personality. [Producer Julian] Blaustein wanted it but only if he could get Marilyn Monroe for the role …”
Zanuck left Fox to become an independent producer in 1956. By the time he returned in 1962, the studio was fighting bankruptcy. Reportedly, it was Zanuck who argued for Marilyn to be re-hired for Something’s Got to Give, although she would pass away before her final studio battle was concluded.
In 1960, columnist Hedda Hopper asked Zanuck why he had left Hollywood. His response makes it clear that he had anticipated the demise of the studio system…
“I just got well fed up with being an executive and no longer being a producer. That’s what the job became. Actors are now directing, writing, producing. Actors have taken over Hollywood completely with their agents. They want approval of everything … scripts, stars, still pictures. The producer hasn’t got a chance to exercise any authority! … What the hell, I’m not going to work with them!”
As a Monroe fan, one of my greatest pleasures is taking the opportunity to see her movies on the big screen. But after the recent acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox by Disney (see here), a growing number of theatre owners are worried that Marilyn’s films and other studio classics may soon be out of bounds, as Ryan Faughnder reports for the Los Angeles Times.
“Fox, and the movies in its storied library of motion pictures, is now part of Walt Disney Co., which has long placed tight restrictions on when and how cinemas can screen its older titles. Disney’s long-standing policy is to not allow first-run theaters or commercial discount cinemas to screen movies from its library … That policy now will apply to Fox’s vast catalog, according to exhibition sources who were not authorized to comment …
Repertory theaters — those that specialize in screenings of old titles — will still have normal access to Fox movies, sources said … But the Disney policy is nonetheless expected to make things more difficult for independent theaters, and has already caused uncertainty among art houses. Some said that they haven’t been given clear guidance on the rules and are left to make requests on a case-by-case basis.”
Perhaps best known for her role in It Came From Outer Space (1953), Kathleen Hughes was married for sixty years to River Of No Return producer Stanley Rubin, who died in 2014 (see here.) She is also a regular guest at the annual memorial services for Marilyn.
In an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News, Kathleen looks back on her career, and shares memories of Marilyn dating back to the first time she saw her perform in Strictly For Kicks, a revue staged at 20th Century Fox in March 1948 – many months after Marilyn’s first contract with the studio lapsed. (You can hear the Glenn Miller Band’s version of the song Marilyn performed here.) Kathleen’s cousin, Diana Herbert, had briefly appeared with Marilyn in her first movie, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! Both were uncredited.
Kathleen also mentions testing for a role ‘a short time after’, which involved dancing, and losing the part to Marilyn. This could be Ladies of the Chorus, a low-budget 1948 musical filmed at Columbia Pictures in April 1948. The black gown worn by Marilyn in Strictly For Kicks was a costume from the movie.
“My cousin Diana Herbert was taking acting lessons when I was already under contract. She was in a show at the studio club. Every studio in those days had a studio club and it consisted of all the people behind the scenes – the mailroom people, the secretaries – everybody but the actors. They would put on a show every year. My cousin was going to be in one of these shows.
The day before the show, she said, ‘They took my song number away from me and they gave it to a girl named Marilyn Monroe who had been under contract at the studio for six months — they had just dropped her! But now they’re giving her the song. I’m still in the show and you still have to come and see me.’ Well, I went to see it and Diana did her number. She was very, very good. But then Marilyn came on. Oh my God, she was fantastic. She did a song called “I Never Took a Lesson in My Life.” She was wearing this slinky black dress. I just couldn’t believe they dropped her.
She was incredible. She was just a star. I just thought if anyone from the studio saw the show, they would realize they made a terrible mistake and sign her back again. A short time later, the casting office called me and they said, ‘Can you dance?’ They got me with this poor, patient man of a dance director. He tried hour after hour after hour to teach me one simple step. Years later I was able to pick it up, but I could not learn this step at the time. At the end of the day, as it was getting dark, he said, ‘Forget it! We’ll get someone else.’ That someone else was Marilyn.”
Alexandra Pollard takes a fresh look at Marilyn’s ill-fated last movie, Something’s Got to Give, in an insightful piece for The Independent.
“She hadn’t been on a film set for over a year when she was cast in Something’s Got to Give, a remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife. Her time off had been plagued by illness and drug addiction … The accumulative physical toll had caused her to lose so much weight that she was thinner than she had been in all her adult life. The studio, Twentieth Century Fox, was delighted. ‘She didn’t have to perform, she just had to look great,’ said the film’s producer Henry Weinstein, ‘and she did.’
But in hindsight, Monroe wasn’t ready – either physically or mentally – to return to acting … ‘She was just fearful of the camera,’ said Weinstein, who recalled Monroe throwing up before scenes. Early on, he found her unconscious, in what he described as a barbiturate coma … The studio and production team had little sympathy for their star. ‘Yes this is a sick woman,’ said screenwriter Walter Bernstein, ‘but this is a movie star who’s getting her way, and who doesn’t give a damn about anybody else, and is being destructive and self-destructive.’
But watching Something’s Got to Give’s raw footage – most of which remained unseen for years after the film was scrapped – gives a very different impression. On camera, Monroe is earnest, demure, desperate to get her part right. If she messes up, she apologises profusely … She is gentle with her young co-stars, too. Alexandria Heilweil, who played her five-year-old daughter, is told to sit up straight. ‘If I do the right thing…’ says the little girl, but [George] Cukor cuts her off: ‘Be quiet.’ Monroe smiles at her. ‘You will,’ she says gently. It certainly doesn’t seem like the behaviour of someone ‘wilfully disruptive’.
And there were a few good days. During the now (in)famous swimming pool scene, Ellen takes a late-night skinny dip, attempting to lure her husband out of his bedroom. The set was closed, but a few select photographers were allowed to stay. When Monroe ended up removing the flesh-coloured swimming costume she had been given, they were caught completely off guard. ‘I had been wearing the suit, but it concealed too much,’ she later told the press, ‘and it would have looked wrong on the screen… The set was closed, all except members of the crew, who were very sweet. I told them to close their eyes or turn their backs, and I think they all did. There was a lifeguard on the set to help me out if I needed him, but I’m not sure it would have worked. He had his eyes closed too.’ Photos of Monroe emerging from the pool, sans suit, appeared on magazine covers in over 30 countries. By all accounts, spirits seemed high.
But things went rapidly downhill. On 19 May 1962, having been too sick to work for most of the week, Monroe flew to New York for President John F Kennedy’s birthday celebrations … Monroe had gained permission to attend the event long before filming began, but [Cukor] deemed it unacceptable. In June, just a few days after Monroe’s 36th birthday, she was fired for ‘spectacular absenteeism’, and sued by Fox for $750,000 for ‘wilful violation of contract’. ‘Dear George,’ wrote Monroe in a telegram to Cukor, ‘please forgive me, it was not my doing. I had so looked forward to working with you.’
In fact, it may not have been entirely Monroe’s doing. At the same time as Something’s Got to Give was being made, Fox was haemorrhaging money on its three-hour epic Cleopatra … The studio was panicking. ‘Tensions were high, nerves were frayed, funds were low,’ wrote Michelle Vogel in Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life, ‘and it’s clear that Something’s Got to Give and Marilyn Monroe were the scapegoats for some very anxious studio executives who felt they were spinning out of control with both productions. The lesser of the films had to go.’
A few days before she died, Monroe had given an interview to a journalist from Life Magazine, and the subsequent profile was published a few weeks later. It ended with the following: ‘I had asked if many friends had called up to rally round when she was fired by Fox. There was silence, and sitting very straight, eyes wide and hurt, she had answered with a tiny, “No”.'”