Behind the Camera With Marilyn

Two intriguing new books caught my eye recently: firstly, Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration, by Deborah Nadoolman Landis (who curated the V&A Hollywood Costume exhibit.)

The cover features a sketch by Travilla of Marilyn in one of his designs for There’s No Business Like Show Business. (For the film, the dress was made up in blue.) Inside are chapters on Charles LeMaire, Dorothy Jeakins and Orry-Kelly.

Marilyn’s friend and co-star, Betty Grable, graces the cover of Twentieth Century-Fox: The Zanuck-Skouras Years, 1935-65, to be published by the University of Texas Press on March 25th.

‘The studio’s biggest new star of the 1950s was clearly Marilyn Monroe,’ writes author Peter Lev. It should be a useful reference tool for anyone interested in the history of Marilyn’s home studio.

Birthday Dress Owner Dies

Montage by Time Marches On

Martin Zweig, owner of Marilyn’s iconic beaded dress, worn at Madison Square Garden on President Kennedy’s birthday in 1962, has died aged 70. The investor and TV pundit is best known for predicting the 1987 stock market crash, reports the New York Times.

Caitlin Flanagan: ‘Inventing Marilyn’

Author Caitlin Flanagan examines Marilyn’s legacy in the latest issue of US magazine The Atlantic. While I think she underestimates Marilyn as an actress, in terms of her life and impact it’s an interesting article.

“Hers is the original True Hollywood Story, and that writers keep writing it and readers keep reading it, that studios keep optioning it and adapting it, that magazines keep telling it, while all around the world millions of people do their part to keep it alive—all of this reminds us that the life was not mere, that the scope of the legend is not preposterous. Anyone who thinks the story of Marilyn Monroe doesn’t warrant attention doesn’t know much about it; at every turn and in every moment, she was doing something either to align herself with an important part of the culture or to impress herself imperishably upon it.

She was the girl who always got the fuzzy end of the lollipop, the abandoned baby and the mean foster kid and the woman who took off her clothes for the camera when she felt like it. I drive past the old Hollygrove orphanage two or three times a week, and usually I don’t give it a second thought. But sometimes I think of that 9-year-old girl, dropped off screaming but forced to stay, and I think of the astonishing fact that somewhere between Hollygrove and the Hollywood Studio Club, which she moved into at 20, she dried off her tears and stopped believing in the realities of this ugly old world, made up her own set of rules and played by them.”

‘Great Lives’: Rollyson on Marilyn

Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, will give a lecture about MM, as part of the Chappell Great Lives series, at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on February 26 at 7.30 pm in Dodd Auditorium, George Washington Hall.

“A photograph of a dreamy-eyed Marilyn Monroe among a group of Hollywood starlets captures vividly the description of herself in My Story, the autobiography she collaborated on with screenwriter Ben Hecht.  The true dimensions of Monroe’s ambitions only began to be apparent when Norman Mailer wrote about her Napoleonic sensibility. She came to conquer her world in the same way as many of my other subjects—notably Dana Andrews and Sylvia Plath—did: through hard work, tenacity, talent, and the ability to see beyond their own cultural conditions. How did Marilyn Monroe and others like her overcome obstacles and setbacks? What is it that keeps a person going after so many rejections, and how does someone not only overcome self-doubt but became a star? Marilyn Monroe’s story contains the answers to these existential questions as well revealing both the promise and the peril awaiting those who aspire to greatness.”

Michelle Shocked: Indelible Marilyn

Singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked is to publish a new song ‘I Will Be Loved’, a tribute to Marilyn – part of her current work-in-progress, Indelible Women – on her website tomorrow, to celebrate St Valentine’s Day.

The sheet-music will be available to buy for $5.00. Michelle was inspired to write about Marilyn after seeing an ‘ethereal’ painting by David Willardson. (Indelible Women is described as a mixed-media collaboration between these two artists.)

David Willardson

American Isis: Marilyn and Sylvia

The American poet Sylvia Plath, who died fifty years ago today, once dreamed of Marilyn (see here). Her latest biographer, Carl Rollyson – whom has also written about MM – argues in his just-published book, American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath, that she was ‘the Marilyn Monroe of modern literature.’

He explained this comparison in a recent interview with Biographile:

“You begin your book by calling Sylvia Plath ‘the Marilyn Monroe of modern literature.’ Can you say more about that comparison, and how it shaped your writing?

It’s always struck me that Sylvia Plath was unusual for a woman of her generation in the range of her interests. She had such an interest in poetry, in prose, and in wanting to be a greater poet, but at the same time she saw no problem with also being a popular writer, for Ladies’ Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, and other kinds of magazines. When you look at her journals, she really wanted to have a wide range of appeal. That made me think of Marilyn Monroe, in part because Sylvia Plath dreamed about Marilyn Monroe, and I thought that for a writer of Plath’s age and seriousness, to dream about Monroe was really quite striking – and not only to dream about her, but to take Monroe seriously as someone who would give her advice, comfort her, appear as a kind of fairy godmother. When I read biographies of Plath, biographers would say that this was odd or strange, but because of my own work on Monroe I thought no, that’s exactly what Sylvia Plath is. This is a woman firing on all cylinders, who wants to be that kind of cynosure or center of attention, that marks her as a figure in the culture.

It’s a fascinating connection that you develop as the biography moves forward: Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with Arthur Miller, for instance, has several parallels to Plath’s with Ted Hughes.

Marilyn Monroe was always looking for, in some sense, a father figure, and Arthur Miller served that function, as well as being her lover and a man she respected for his writing. Well, look at Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes – in her poetry, and Hughes’s own poetry, in Birthday Letters, he emerges as a kind of replacement for Plath’s father, and also of course as a respected writer, someone with whom Plath could identify in that way.”

Marilyn, Travilla and Their Mystery Friend

This photo, featuring Marilyn relaxing at the 5-4 Ballroom, Los Angeles, in 1952, with costume designer Billy Travilla and an unnamed friend, was uncovered by the Travilla estate a few years ago. Previously, it had only been published in cropped form – with the man other removed, probably because he was black – in an era where segregation was still enforced in parts of America.

Over at his Travilla Style blog, author Eric Woodard investigates the background to this photo being censored – revealing how Marilyn took a stand against racism, and suggesting that the mystery man might have been Hank Jones, the renowned jazz pianist who, ten years later, would accompany Marilyn in her iconic performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at Madison Square Garden.