Marilyn graces the cover of The Golden Age of Hollywood, a new one-off special from the Saturday Evening Post. It costs $12.99 and can be ordered directly here. (Unfortunately I don’t yet know if it ships outside the US, but I’ll update you if I find out.)
Marilyn has a long history with the Post, as one of her most revealing interviews with Pete Martin, ‘The New Marilyn Monroe’, was serialised over three weeks in 1956, and later published in book form with the playful title, Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe?
On Marilyn’s birthday this year, the Post paid tribute with a blog about the sex symbols who preceded her – including Lillian Russell, Theda Bara and Clara Bow, all of whom she impersonated in her extraordinary ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ shoot with Richard Avedon. But she turned down the chance to play showgirl Evelyn Nesbit in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (the role went to Joan Collins.) And of Mae West, she told W.J. Weatherby, ‘I learned a few tricks from her – that impression of laughing at, or mocking, her own sexuality.’ Jean Harlow, perhaps Marilyn’s greatest influence, is a surprising omission.
The former home of actor Charles Laughton, the great English character actor, is now on the market for $19.995 million, reports the Los Angeles Times.
“The Pacific Palisades home where British stage and film actor Charles Laughton and his wife, actress Elsa Lanchester, lived during the 1940s is up for sale at $19.995 million.
Laughton and Lanchester bought the Mediterranean-style estate in 1941 and used the property to host acting classes for a number of years. Shelley Winters and Marilyn Monroe were among those said to have participated in the workshops hosted in a theater, now outfitted as a media room. Laughton and Monroe would later appear together in the 1952 film O. Henry’s Full House.
Silent-film comic Charlie Chaplin was a frequent guest of the couple, who sold the property in 1949.”
“I took Marilyn with me a couple of times to Laughton’s group, which I was attending religiously,” Winters recalled in her 1980 memoir, Shelley: Also Known as Shirley. “Her whispery voice would become completely inaudible, and she seemed to shrivel up. After the second time I realised it was such agony for her that I resolved not to invite her again unless she asked me and I really felt she could handle it.” She also mentioned that Marilyn felt intimidated by some of Laughton’s ritzier students, including Paulette Goddard. And although Laughton was neither young nor handsome, Marilyn told Shelley that she considered him “the sexiest man alive.”
Despite this inauspicious beginning, Marilyn would fondly remember the experience of acting with Laughton several years later, in ‘The Cop and the Anthem’, the opening episode in O. Henry’s Full House. In this adaptation of one of O. Henry’s most popular short stories, set at the turn of the 20th century, Laughton played ‘Soapy’, a tramp who tries to get arrested so he can spend the winter in a warm jail. In one scene, he accosts a young woman (MM) on the street, in full view of a policeman. However, it is to no avail, as the lady is a ‘pro’ and all too willing to accept his advances.
“I was overawed at first but he was very nice to me,” she told journalist W.J. Weatherby (Conversations With Marilyn, Chapter 15.) “He accepted me as an equal. I enjoyed working with him. He was like a character out of Charles Dickens. At first I felt it was like acting with a king or somebody great – like a god!”
The stage and television director Edward Parone died aged 90 on January 24 after a short battle with cancer, the Santa FeNew Mexican reports.
Born to an Italian immigrant family in Hartford, Connecticut on August 30, 1925, he attended Trinity College after serving in the US Navy.
During the 1950s, Parone worked as a production supervisor at the off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre, read plays for famed literary agent Audrey Wood, and wrote occasional pieces for the New Yorker.
Parone is credited with ‘discovering’ the great American playwright, Edward Albee. While working for the William Morris Agency in 1959, Parone read Albee’s one-act play, The Zoo Story, and signed him up.
After leaving the William Morris Agency, Parone helped to run the New York office of Marilyn Monroe Productions (following the departure of Milton H. Greene.)
In 1961, Parone was hired as assistant to Frank E. Taylor, Arthur Miller’s editor, who was producing his screen play, The Misfits. The Nevada shoot was infamously gruelling, not least because Miller’s marriage to Marilyn – also his leading lady – was on the rocks.
As journalist W.J. Weatherby observed, the Misfits crew was split into two camps. As Taylor’s aide, Parone was part of Miller’s group. In an interview for the 2002 documentary, Making the Misfits, Parone would recall Marilyn’s legendary unpunctuality – although his niece, Lynn Ladue, said he admired her professionalism.
Weatherby remembered an encounter with Monroe and Parone in his 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn:
“One morning on the dry lake I watched her repeat an emotional outburst ten times before [John] Huston was satisfied with her nuances … The wear and tear on her nerves must have been savage…
I was surprised then in the early afternoon to see her looking composed and dazzling in a simple dress – looking, in fact, every inch her image … She was out shopping with Eddie Parone … I heard her say to him, ‘Who’s that?’ He told her and she asked to be introduced. She gave me a friendly smile …”
In 1963, Parone returned to the theatre as managing director of the new Albee-Barr-Wilder Playwrights Unit. After directing LeRoi Jones’ The Dutchman in 1964, Parone’s name became synonymous with cutting-edge drama, and his later discoveries included playwright Sam Shephard.
In 1967, Parone moved to the newly opened Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, directing ground-breaking plays such as Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, as well as some classic revivals. He edited two books of new writing, and also worked in television. ‘He wasn’t in it for fame,’ Lynne Ladue said. ‘He was in it for the love of what he did. It was never about winning awards or who he knew, it was always about the work.’
In 1985, Parone retired and moved to a farm in Nambé, New Mexico. He enjoyed gardening and walking his dogs, as well as helping his friend, Harvey Perr, to stage a reminiscence piece in New York last year. ‘He always seemed to be very, very young,’ Perr recalled.
As so many outlandish conspiracy theories have arisen in the 53 years after Marilyn’s death, it is instructive to look back at how the tragic event was covered in the days after the news broke. Firstly, an extract from Time magazine’s obituary, which focused on the ill-fated production of Something’s Got to Give, claiming that only a few minutes of usable footage were shot. This myth persisted until 1990, when Marilyn’s impressive, if unfinished work was shown in public for the first time. (Headlined ‘The Only Blonde in World’, Time‘s obit inspired a painting of the same name by British pop artist, Pauline Boty.)
“She had always been late for everything, but her truancy was never heedlessness. Beset by self-doubt and hints of illness, she would stay alone, missing appointments, keeping whole casts waiting in vain. In the past year, her tardiness was measured in weeks instead of hours … She seemed euphonic and cheerful, even while 20th Century-Fox was filing suit against her in hopes of salvaging $750,000 damages from the wreckage of Something’s Got to Give.”
The New York Times noted the gulf between Marilyn’s ‘golden girl’ image and her sad demise, echoing the shock felt by many fans:
“The life of Marilyn Monroe, the golden girl of the movies, ended as it began, in misery and tragedy.
Her death at the age of 36 closed an incredibly glamorous career and capped a series of somber events that began with her birth as an unwanted, illegitimate baby and went on and on, illuminated during the last dozen years by the lightning of fame.
Her public life was in dazzling contrast to her private life.
No sex symbol of the era other than Brigitte Bardot could match her popularity. Toward the end, she also convinced critics and the public that she could act.
During the years of her greatest success, she saw two of her marriages end in divorce. She suffered at least two miscarriages and was never able to have a child. Her emotional insecurity deepened; her many illnesses came upon her more frequently.
In her last interview, published in the Aug. 3 issue of Life magazine, she told Richard Meryman, an associate editor: ‘I was never used to being happy, so that wasn’t something I ever took for granted.’
Considering her background, this was a statement of exquisite restraint.”
Writing for The National, Lincoln Kerstein – co-founder of the New York Ballet – praised Marilyn’s comedic gifts and unabashed sexuality:
“Marilyn Monroe was supposed to be the Sex Goddess, but somehow no one, including, or indeed first of all, herself, ever believed it. Rather, she was a comedienne impersonating the American idea of the Sex Goddess … When people paid their forty millions to see Monroe, it was for an aesthetic performance, not a simple provocation. And she, perhaps even consciously, exemplified a philosophy which had come to her pragmatically, and which a lot of American women don’t like very much—a philosophy at once hedonistic, full of uncommon common sense, and, even to some intellectuals, deeply disturbing. Her performances indicated that while sex is certainly fun, and often funny, it is only one of many games … Marilyn Monroe’s life was not a waste. She gave delight. She was a criterion of the comic in a rather sad world. Her films will continue to give delight, and it is blasphemy to say she had no use. Her example, our waste of her, has the use of a redemption in artists yet untrained and unborn.”
The Los Angeles Times gave a detailed report about Marilyn’s final days, and the still-disputed circumstances of her death, under the headline ‘Marilyn Monroe Dies; Pills Blamed’…
“Two motion pictures executives were bidding for her services at the time of her death. One of them was reportedly J. Lee Thompson, director of the film The Guns of Navarone, who planned to meet with her Tuesday.
Producer Sam Spiegel also wanted her to star in a picture for him, it was reported.
Miss Monroe had received an offer of $55,00 a week to star in a night club appearance in Las Vegas recently, but she turned it down.
Further evidence that her career was on the upswing was indicated by a typewritten message on a table in her home.
It was from a representation of Anita Loos, creator of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and said:
‘Dear Miss Monroe: On behalf of Anita Loos, now in Europe, we would like to know if you would be interested star role new musical based on French play Gogo. Book by Anita Loos, lyrics by Gladys Shelley and enchanting music by Claude Leville. Can send you script and music if you express interest. (signed) Natalia Danesi Murray.'”
Finally, The Guardian‘s W.J. Weatherby published a personal tribute to Marilyn (click to enlarge.) He would later write a book about their friendship, Conversations With Marilyn.
Perhaps the most celebrated child star of all time, Shirley Temple, died on Monday, February 10th. Writing for Bust, Alanna Bennett notes that in her teenage years, Shirley looked a lot like the then-unknown Norma Jeane Baker.
“I mean, look at them. It could be chocked up to 1940s/1950s styles — the hair style is certainly that, and makeup trends also probably played a part — but there’s also a definite shared heart-shaped face, lip and eye shape, nose curvature, etc.
What’s interesting to me here is that these women did not spend the majority of their lifetimes resembling each other. It appears that they did, however, sort of meet in the middle: Temple spent her young childhood as one of the most famous people in the world, then went on to live a relatively ‘normal’ life thereafter; Monroe had that relatively ‘normal’ life roughly until her breakthrough in 1948, when she was twenty-two. Temple was also born only two years after Monroe, in 1928.
Both women made a big impact on the culture of their time — generations of women spent their childhoods wanting to be Shirley Temple, and their adolescence or adulthood yearning to be Marilyn Monroe. They obviously had very complicated lives in large part because of that, but there’s something calming in seeing their similarities.”
Temple delighted Depression era filmgoers, and some have said she helped to save Twentieth Century Fox from bankruptcy during the 1930s. Marilyn would later become the same studio’s most bankable star of the 50s.
Shirley Temple Black retired from acting in 1950, aged 22, and later became a US diplomat, travelling the globe under successive Republican administrations.
Marilyn’s biographer, Carl Rollyson, speculates that ‘it was the portrayal of Shirley as waif and orphan that appealed to Marilyn and formed the basis of some of Marilyn’s stories about her childhood.’
In later life, however, Marilyn did not always welcome the comparison, as this extract from journalist W.J. Weatherby’s Conversations With Marilyn reveals:
“‘I read your article about me,’ she said. ‘Who’s Mrs Patrick Campbell?’
I had described her in the article as a cross between a theatrical grand-dame like Mrs Campbell and a child star like Shirley Temple.
She beamed when I told her, but added that she took a dim view of being even remotely compared to ‘Lolita Temple.’
‘Sorry. Now that I know you better, I wouldn’t compare you to anyone.'”
Over at Pretty Clever Films today, an interesting look back at director Billy Wilder’s tussles with the Production Code:
“Most of Wilder’s film topics were more risqué than other movies of the time. Take The Seven Year Itch (1955) for example, a film about temptation and marital infidelity. Richard’s (Tom Ewell) family is out of town for the summer, and a gorgeous blonde bombshell (Marilyn Monroe) moves in upstairs. They strike up a friendship, and it’s clear he’s attracted. The specter of adultery rears its ugly head, but since much of the film is told through Richard’s fantasies – not actual infidelity – and is resolved with him joining his wife and family on holiday, Wilder’s suggestive and titillating film fully complies with the Production Code.
In Wilder’s slapstick comedy Some Like it Hot (1959) Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play down and out Chicago musicians. On the run from gangsters, they dress up in drag to join an all-female band on tour. Both enamoured of the band’s lead singer (Marilyn Monroe), the two men compete for her affections. Hijinks ensue.
By the late 1950s, many directors were getting more daring, and audiences were looking for a loosening of the Code’s standards. Wilder’s Some Like it Hot (1959) was an enormous popular and critical success, but received a ‘Condemned’ rating from the National Legion of Decency. It was released anyway, without Code approval, and its success helped spur on the eventual demise of the Code in 1968.”
However, it seems that Marilyn may have thought the director wasn’t daring enough. In a 1961 interview with W.J. Weatherby, author of Conversations With Marilyn, she said of Wilder, ‘He’s a brilliant moviemaker, but he worries too much about the box office.’
An extract from Lois Banner’s Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox was published in The Observeron Sunday.
“I was drawn to writing about Marilyn because no one like me –an academic, a feminist biographer, and a historian of gender –had studied her. As a founder of ‘second-wave feminism’ and the new women’s history, I had dismissed Marilyn for many years as a sex object for men. By the 1990s, however, a generation of “third-wave feminists” contended that sexualising women was liberating, not demeaning, for it gave them self-knowledge and power. The students I taught were swayed by this. Had I dismissed Marilyn too easily? Was she a precursor of 1960s feminism? Was Marilyn in actual fact a feminist? Is she one of the women who changed the world’s attitude toward women?
She certainly took actions that could be called feminist. Her entire life was a process of self-formation. She was a genius at self-creation and made herself into an actress and a star. She formed her own production company, she fought the moguls to a standstill, and she publicly named the sexual abuse visited on her as a child: a major – and unacknowledged – feminist act. She refused to keep quiet in an age that believed such abuse rarely happened and when it did, the victimised girl was responsible. Such self-disclosure would become important to the feminist movement in the 1970s.
She never called herself a feminist but the term wasn’t yet in widespread use during her life, and the movement wouldn’t appear until a number of years after her death. Hedda Rosten, her secretary and close friend, identified her as ‘the quintessential victim of the male.’ Norman Rosten, Hedda’s husband, who was equally close to Marilyn, saw her relationship to feminism differently. He contended that Marilyn would have quarrelled with her ‘sisters’ on the issue of sexual liberation. She had achieved the financial and legal gains they sought. And she enjoyed her femininity, recognising its power over men. Marilyn’s stance in his eyes sounds like a post- feminist position, which privileges power over oppression and emphasises the power women possess through their femininity and sexuality.
On the other hand, one could argue that it was her fixation with her femininity – and her attitude towards it, sometimes regal and sometimes tormented – that caused her victimisation in the end. No matter how hard she tried, Hollywood and its men refused to consider her as anything more than a party girl and in the end they treated her like a slut they could use with impunity.
She commented that ‘black men don’t like to be called boys, but women accept being called girls, ‘ as though she were offended by the latter term. And she didn’t like male violence. That is apparent in the dispute she had with journalist WJ Weatherby over Ernest Hemingway. Weatherby liked Hemingway for his understanding of human nature. Marilyn didn’t like his masculine heroes. ‘Those big tough guys are so sick. They aren’t even all that tough! They’re afraid of kindness and gentleness and beauty. They always want to kill something to prove themselves!’ She praised the young people who were beginning to rebel against social conventions. In her best moments, she saw herself as part of that movement. Yet Marilyn had no gender framework to support her stance, no way of conceptualising her situation beyond her individual self, to encompass all women, whose rights were limited in the 1950s. Had she lived a few years longer, into the mid-1960s, the feminist movement could have offered the concept of sexism as a way to understand her oppression and the idea of sisterhood as a support.”
Over at VibeVixen, an interesting post asks, ‘Why Are Female Rappers Choosing Marilyn Monroe Over Lena Horne?’ Given the recent tributes to MM from Brianna and Nicki Minaj, it’s a fair question – when R&B is (mostly) an African-American field, why are black icons overlooked in Marilyn’s favour?
I have often regretted that other icons are being forgotten, but this is not Marilyn’s fault. And it’s not just a racial issue either – even Elizabeth Taylor noted that Monroe was more ‘mythic’ than her. Furthermore, not all the media attention thrust on MM is positive. Fifty years after her death, she is still vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
VibeVixen don’t do themselves any favours by citing two quotes wrongly attributed to Marilyn (see ‘Misquoting Marilyn’ by Marijane Gray.)
The recent tributes to Monroe primarily focus on her glamour, which is recognised worldwide. However, VibeVixen is right to also praise Lena Horne for her talent, beauty and wit. Marilyn’s friend, Dorothy Dandridge, was another black icon of the era.
Maybe it’s more interesting to ask why black women are drawn to Marilyn on a deeper level. She was known for her progressive views on race in an era when segregation was still commonplace in parts of the US.
Journalist W.J. Weatherby asked his girlfriend, Christine, a young black woman whom he had met through the Civil Rights movement, why Monroe appealed to her more than other white stars. ‘She’s been hurt,’ Christine told him. ‘She knows what the score is, but it hasn’t broken her.’