Norman Brokaw 1927-2016

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Norman Brokaw, former head of the William Morris Agency, died on October 29, aged 89. His uncle, Johnny Hyde, co-founded the legendary Hollywood talent hub, and gave the teenager his first job in the mailroom in 1943.

By 1949, Hyde was infatuated with Marilyn Monroe, who at 23 was barely a year older than his nephew. During their two-year relationship, Hyde secured her important roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, and a long-term contract at Twentieth Century Fox.

A copy of Marilyn’s original William Morris Agency contract, recently sold at Julien’s Auctions for $7,680, included a covering letter signed by Norman Brokaw. In an article for Huffington Post, Brokaw’s son Joel recalled, “There were lots of wonderful memories he shared with me about his family, his uncle Johnny Hyde and Marilyn Monroe (including the time that he got screamed at when he was about to sit on their sofa and crush the plaster model of her new chin.)” If true, this story may add some credence to the longstanding rumour that Marilyn underwent minor cosmetic surgery at this time.

When Hyde died of a heart attack in December 1950, Marilyn was bereft. According to J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, Brokaw accompanied Marilyn to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, but his uncle passed away before their arrival. (However, there are several competing versions of this story.)

Marilyn with Johnny Hyde (1950)
Marilyn with Johnny Hyde (1950)

Marilyn’s next serious romance, with baseball hero Joe DiMaggio, began in 1952. According to Taraborrelli, the couple first met two years earlier, when Brokaw arranged for her to play a walk-on part in Lights, Camera, Action, an NBC variety show. (If this was the case, the footage may not have survived as it is not documented elsewhere. But Marilyn did film a TV commercial during the same period, so she wasn’t entirely unaccustomed  to the small screen.) After filming, she and Brokaw dined at the famous Brown Derby restaurant, where I Love Lucy star William Frawley asked if he could introduce her to his pal, Joe DiMaggio.

As they left the restaurant, Norman and Marilyn approached the ‘bashful’ sportsman. At the time, she was one of the few Americans who had never heard of DiMaggio. The next morning, Brokaw said, Joe called him and asked for Marilyn’s phone number – although whether he had the courage to follow through is unknown.

After a much-publicised courtship, Joe and Marilyn tied the knot in 1954. Taraborrelli writes that early on in their brief, tempestuous marriage, a worried Joe called Brokaw, and they met for drinks at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. When Joe explained that he wanted Marilyn to stop making films, Norman replied, “She’s not going to give up her career any more than you would have before you were ready to do it.” (Joe later sought advice from other Hollywood friends, including Sidney Skolsky, and would remain close to Marilyn long after their divorce.)

Marilyn dines with husband Joe DiMaggio (1954)
Marilyn dines with husband Joe DiMaggio (1954)

By then, Brokaw was building up the Morris Agency’s new TV division. He persuaded stars like Barbara Stanwyck to try the new medium, and negotiated a pioneering deal for Kim Novak, granting her a share in the profits of her films. In 1965, he secured a lead role for Bill Cosby in I Spy, making him the first black actor to achieve star status on a major television network.

During the 1970s, Brokaw added high-profile names in sport and politics to the agency’s roster. His career continued into the new century, and he was also a philanthropist, serving on the board of directors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (formerly Cedars of Lebanon), and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Norman Brokaw died at his home in Beverly Hills. He is survived by his wife, Marguerite Longley, six children and four grandchildren.

Gretchen Mol: Starting Out With Marilyn

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Gretchen Mol, who starred in The Notorious Bettie Page and TV’s Boardwalk Empire, has talked about her early days as an aspiring actress in an interview with  Backstage.

“I remember when I took my résumé into William Morris Agency and they kind of snickered at my special skills section. Like, ‘We gotta get rid of this.’ The one that did get me my first summer stock job was I had ‘Marilyn Monroe impersonation,’ and a director said, ‘Can you sing your song as Marilyn Monroe?’ It was ‘Unusual Way,’ from Nine. I did it. I really did not have the impersonation down that well. [Laughs.] I didn’t expect to be called out on it! I remember when I walked out he said, ‘You aren’t afraid and that’s gonna really help you in this business.’ Along the way, you need people to believe in you or see something in you and then tell you, so you feel you’re on the right track. Those kinds of moments are so important when you’re starting out. And I remember that so well, walking out thinking, Whether I get that job or not, I feel like it couldn’t have gone better.”

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Gretchen was also (albeit inaccurately) compared to Marilyn after playing a woman involved with John F. Kennedy in An American Affair (2009.)

“Her first, semi-nude scene in An American Affair is reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic photo shoot with Bert Stern in 1962, taken shortly before her death, a year before this story begins. Monroe was also alleged to have been a lover of John F. Kennedy, and even played a similarly-named character, Claudia Caswell, in All About Eve (1950.)

Blonde, free-spirited and sexy, with a messy love life – it would be easy to assume that Catherine Caswell is a version of Monroe herself. However, the resemblance is only skin-deep. Monroe’s dalliance with Kennedy has long been the subject of gossip, but the truth of the matter is still uncertain.

After further investigation into Kennedy’s many extra-marital affairs, it becomes clear that Catherine Caswell is more closely modelled on another of his mistresses, Mary Pinchot Meyer …. Meyer was smart, liberal and probably one of the few women whom Kennedy treated as an intellectual equal. They met at least thirty times, and their relationship is generally considered to be one of the most significant in Kennedy’s fast-paced life.”