Norma Jeane on Catalina Island

Photo by Allen J. Schaben

The Los Angeles Times reports today of a new exhibition, ‘Before She Was Marilyn’, opening at Catalina Island Museum in August. The display, featuring letters and photos, will focus on Marilyn’s time living with her first husband, Jim Dougherty, on the island during World War II, when it was used as a Marine base.

August 6, 2011 – October 31, 2011

“I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.”

‘Before She Was Marilyn: Marilyn Monroe on Catalina Island’ is the first major exhibition documenting the year Marilyn Monroe lived on Catalina Island. Although a brief period that is often ignored by historians, this candid and often disturbing exhibition brings to light documentary evidence and photographs that reveal the pivotal importance of this period in understanding the troubled psychology of a woman who would become an icon of popular culture. Born to an emotionally unstable mother who was often institutionalized, uncertain of her father’s identity, shuffled off to live with relatives and in a succession of foster homes, the early life of Norma Jeane Baker was tragic. To escape the miseries of yet another foster home, she – along with the boy`s own sympathetic mother – convinced a reluctant neighbor boy, James Dougherty, to marry her. She was only sixteen. The danger was real, and biographers speculate that the young Norma Jeane had been sexually abused, possibly as early as 12 years of age. After graduating from high school, Jim Dougherty entered the Merchant Marine at the height of World War II, and took his young wife with him when stationed on Catalina Island during 1943. Through diary entries, letters and photographs that have never before been assigned to Marilyn Monroe`s life on the island, the exhibition reveals a playful, even girlish Norma Jeane Dougherty. Indeed, the young girl is, as she would suggest in letters, liberated from the anguish of a tormented childhood. Far from the sophisticated “blonde bombshell” who later entered into a secret liaison with a U.S. President, the exhibition probes deeply into a woman who, by her own admission, did not feel married and enjoyed playing with neighborhood children until called home late in the evening by her husband. Possessing a radiant smile that would serve her well in the future, she can be seen on the island`s beaches, rowing with girlfriends and posing before the island`s most famous landmark, the Avalon Casino. But she remained ‘a lonely girl with a dream,’ and only months after leaving Catalina Island, she was discovered by a photographer whose remarkable photographs launched a film career that continues to be one of the most compelling in American history.”


Marilyn and Ann-Margret

Ann Margaret, 1960s

An interesting series on actress Ann Margret at Noir and Chick Flicks records an encounter with Marilyn in 1960, when Ann was just 19:

“Through high school, she continued to star in theatricals. As part of a group known as the ‘Suttletones’. They traveled Los Angeles and, through agent Georgia Lund, landed club dates in Newport Beach and Reno, where Ann-Margret had a chance meeting with Marilyn Monroe, who was on location for the film, The Misfits. Monroe noticed her in the crowd, then chatted privately with her, offering her encouragement.”

The Unabridged Marilyn notes that Ann-Margret later worked with Marilyn’s former stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and two of her hairdressers, George Masters and Sidney Guilaroff.

Ann-Margret found fame with Bye Bye Birdie in 1963, and went on to star with Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas, with Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge, and alongside The Who and Tina Turner in Tommy (which also featured a bizarre homage to Marilyn.)

Though Ann, like Marilyn, was a celebrated pin-up, she wisely turned down several opportunities to impersonate MM on stage and screen (After the Fall, The Sex Symbol, Sugar.)

Ann-Margret spoke directly of Marilyn in an interview for Life magazine in 1971:

“She was a very healthy girl when she came on the scene, mentally and physically. Years went by, people picked on her. She was terribly abused, for no reason. She became sick – and posthumously they gave her acclaim.”

More recently, Ann co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men, and in 2010, she won an Emmy for her guest role in Law and Order: SVU. She has been married to Roger Smith since 1967.

Lindsay Lohan, another famous MM fan, has always reminded me of Ann-Margret (in looks) much more than Marilyn. Perhaps she should give her a call…

Vintage Trailers: ‘The Misfits’

Film School Rejects have featured The Misfits among their favourite vintage trailers:

“It’s truly fantastic that in this world of course, Clark Gable once made a movie with Marilyn Monroe. It’s even better that it’s an existential love story that plays like Streetcar Named Desire in the middle of Nevada.

The bonus is that Monroe is insanely good at paddle ball, even if it does lead to bar fights.

It’s the 1960s answer to the Western genre, modernizing it and placing a gorgeous blonde bombshell right in the middle of Gable and Montgomery Clift to see who can make it out alive.”

View trailer here

The Millers at Parkside

Marilyn and Arthur cycling in Windsor Park, 1956

Mike Pope worked as a gardener for the Oliviers at their Notley Abbey home in Buckinghamshire when Marilyn Monroe came to England to film The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. Marilyn and her husband, Arthur Miller, stayed at nearby Parkside House, Englefield Green, Surrey.

Pope recalls that Vivien Leigh loved tending roses, but his memories of the Millers are succinct:

“He was around for what he hoped would be the most amazing visitor of all – Marilyn Monroe, who was coming to discuss her role with Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl.

‘We’d been brushing our hair for weeks in anticipation,’ he smiles. But then landed a major blow.

‘We were told by the head gardener that no one was to come up to the house while Marilyn and her husband, Arthur Miller, were staying.

We asked who was going to milk the cattle and remove the cowpats – the Oliviers liked it all tidied up – but they were adamant. In the end the security guards had to milk the cows by hand for two days!'”

Read Mike’s interview in full at the Dorset Echo

Did Marilyn Visit Castella in 1962?

The rumours about Marilyn and JFK are unending. In the Redding Record Searchlight this weekend, local historian Dottie Smith outlines the story of an alleged tryst at a log cabin in Castella, California in 1962 (now owned by Brian Theriot, also who took these photos.)

Personally I find it hard to believe that the notoriously restless president would have spent a whole weekend with a supposed girlfriend – even if she was Marilyn Monroe. However, it’s an interesting read nonetheless.

Marilyn’s Letters at Bonham’s

A letter written by the young Norma Jeane Dougherty to her half-sister, Berniece Miracle, in June 1945, is among the Marilyn-related documents on auction at Bonham’s and Butterfield’s on Wednesday, April 20.

Also included are Marilyn’s first offer on her Brentwood home from 1962, and a letter from Arthur Miller to director George Cukor, thanking him for his kindness to Marilyn during filming of Let’s Make Love in 1960.

“I just wanted to thank you for the way you have behaved toward Marilyn. The picture, of course, is important to her and to you, but immeasurably more important are the precious days and weeks of her life which your patience and skill and understanding have made humanly meaningful for her. I have never known her so happy at work, so hopeful for herself, so prepared to cast away the worst of her doubts. You must know now some of the reasons why she is so precious to me and will understand the sincerity of my respect for you. / I am at work here, but I don’t know how long I’ll be able to bear this bachelorhood…”

Speaking for Bonham’s, Kathryn Williamson described Monroe as the most ‘collectable’ of stars.