Sammy, Marilyn and May Britt

This rare photo of Marilyn with actress May Britt is published in a new book, Sammy Davis Jr.: A Personal Journey With My Father, by Tracey Davis and Nina Bunche Pierce.

Swedish-born actress May Britt married Sammy Davis Jr in 1959. They were one of America’s first high-profile interracial couples, at a time when their union was still illegal in 31 states. May also converted to Judaism prior to their marriage, which ended in 1968. She now lives in California with her third husband, and is a gifted painter.

She was pregnant with daughter Tracey when this photo was taken at Frank Sinatra’s home in 1961. The lensman may have been Sammy himself, as he had photographed Marilyn, formally and candidly, on many previous occasions.

“Mom became an overnight sensation on film posters and magazine covers galore after she won the part in The Blue Angel. The film was a remake of the 1930 classic of the same that had made Marlene Dietrich a star. The part had previously been slated for no less a star than Marilyn Monroe. Mom said there was never any tension between her and Marilyn. She said, ‘Years later we were houseguests at Sinatra’s place. Marilyn, like me, was shy. Neither of us were the life of the party. I was pregnant with you at the time, and Marilyn and I had our picture taken together. Later it became quite a famous shot.’ “

Marilyn and May can also be seen among the ‘Rat Pack’ in another series of photos, taken by Bernie Abramson during the same period.

Marilyn with Peter Lawford and Frank Sinatra, 1961 (May Britt at right)

‘Trouble Doll’: Dennis Hopper on Marilyn

Born in 1936, Dennis Hopper played supporting roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant alongside his friend, James Dean, before falling out of favour with Hollywood. In 1959 he began five years of study with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

Hopper later found renewed fame when he directed, produced and starred in Easy Rider (1969.) After battling drug addiction, he once again resurfaced, with memorable roles in Apocalypse Now (1979) and Blue Velvet (1987.) He was also a prolific photographer, artist and sculptor.

Dennis Hopper died in 2010. He was rumoured to have attended a 1962 party where Marilyn Monroe met LSD ‘guru’ Dr Timothy Leary (though Leary’s own account has been disputed.)

In another post for his Follies of God blog, James Grissom has featured a portion of an undated interview with Hopper. The extract does not clarify whether Dennis knew Marilyn well – it focuses on his ideas about her enduring fame, though they may have known each other from the Actors Studio. In the excerpt, Hopper compares Marilyn to a Guatemalan trouble doll ( also known as worry dolls.)

Marilyn was like a trouble doll for a lot of people: A lot of people needed her because she was beautiful and she was sweet and she was pretty much what a lot of people believed was a perfect woman–a sexual machine with a heart. And a lot of people needed her because they wanted her to fail or to cry or to die, because they wanted to believe that all of her gifts–physical and otherwise–wouldn’t save her or make her happy. So the ugly and the mean-spirited could feel better about their lives and their various lacks. And a lot of people looked at her and saw money and sex and power and an evil sort of joy that comes from getting off. She was a product, a commodity to them. And a lot of people needed her because she so clearly needed a friend, needed some love, and a lot of people really wanted to give this to her.
Marilyn Monroe was this creamy, sweet, beautiful trouble doll for a lot of people, and we whispered to her image or her memory and told her what we needed, what we desired, and then we believed that things would happen or change. And she got put in her box and was put on an eternal shelf, where we can continue to ask of her what we need.” 

Debbie Harry on Marilyn

In the current issue of UK music magazine Mojo, cover star Debbie Harry – adopted as a baby in 1945, and a pop icon since she emerged in the late ’70s as Blondie’s frontwoman – explains why she daydreamed as a young girl that her mother was Marilyn Monroe, describing her fantasy as a “philosophical thing…I probably used the wrong language in the past. I saw her as the mother of invention or something like that. She had a profound effect on a lot of people.”

Deborah has spoken many times about Marilyn, whose image inspired her greatly. Unfortunately, this has been taken rather literally by some fans, with a string of conspiracy theories about Debbie being Marilyn’s biological daughter.

During the 1980s, she recalled of her childhood, “One afternoon while we sat in the kitchen drinking coffee my Aunt Helen said I looked like a movie star, which thrilled me and fueled another secret fantasy about Marilyn Monroe possibly being my natural mother. I always thought I was Marilyn Monroe’s kid. I felt physically related and akin to her long before I knew she had been adopted herself.

“Of course my continual participation in this maternal fantasy has changed drastically as I’ve grown up and discovered that quite a few adopted girls have the same notion.

“But why Marilyn and not Lana Turner, Carole Lombard, Jayne Mansfield? Maybe it was Marilyn’s need for immense doses of demonstrative love that is the common denominator between us. Although that doesn’t fit me because I got loads of love…” (Source)

Maureen Stapleton on Marilyn


Born in 1925, Maureen Stapleton was an award-winning actress of stage and screen. An Actors Studio alumni, Maureen performed a scene from Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, with Marilyn in the title role, before Lee Strasberg and an audience of fellow students in 1955. (Marilyn’s performance was praised by Strasberg, but typically she thought Maureen was better.)

Stapleton wrote warmly of MM in her 1995 memoir, A Hell of a Life. She died in 2006. James Grissom mentions both women on his Follies of God blog today, quoting from his 1991 interview with Maureen.

“I always felt protective toward her. I liked her. While I had no reason to feel sorry for her–she was beautiful and rich and loved–I did: I just knew that she was a magnet for shit, and I saw a lot of people unload on her. She was a child–a sweet, needy child, and I’m very Irish and very Catholic and basically a decent person, and I think you take care of children and needy people. I think you reach out to the sad people and the sick people, and I always felt that Marilyn was an inch and a half from deep sadness. If I made her comfortable–and she told me I did–it was because I wasn’t after her for anything but friendship, and I had a house full of noise and kids and open doors. She could let it hang with me, and I wish–like a lot of other people–that I had kept the doors open more often. She was a good person. She was not treated well.”

‘Playboy’ Rides Again

As part of its 60th anniversary celebrations, Playboy is re-releasing its first issue, from December 1953 – with Marilyn on the cover and inside. And this is not a one-off special – the same edition was previously reissued in 2007. It is available now for $9.99 from Barnes & Noble and other stores across the US until July 7, and can also be ordered here. There’s no word of a European release as yet, but copies are already being sold on Ebay. Here’s a report from USA Today:

“This collector’s edition is an exact replica of Playboy’s first issue, right down to the staples that bind it and Marilyn Monroe gracing its cover. The star is also featured inside as the Sweetheart of the Month, along with a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a feature on ‘desk designs for the modern office’ and the usual cartoons and party jokes.

It was assembled by a then-27-year-old Hugh Hefner on the kitchen table of his Chicago apartment, financed by $600 of his own money and less than $8,000 of raised capital (including $1,000 from his mom).”

She never actually posed for the magazine – the cover photo is from her appearance at the Miss America contest in July 1952, while her 1949 nude calendar pose for photographer Tom Kelley – shrewdly acquired by Playboy‘s owner and editor, Hugh Hefner – graces the centre pages. Shortly before her death, Marilyn considered an official photo shoot for the magazine, but appeared to change her mind.

Since then, Marilyn has posthumously graced countless Playboy covers across the globe, and the multi-millionaire Hefner, now 88, has purchased the crypt beside hers. Whether you’re a fan of ‘Hef’ and his empire – or not – this reissue is certainly of historical interest, and much cheaper than the real thing.

Elia Kazan’s Private Letters

The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan, due to be published on April 22, has been excerpted in the Hollywood Reporter. One of the letters, written to wife Molly in 1955, is a confession of his affair with Marilyn four years earlier, while she was filming As Young As You Feel.

“In one sense it’s true to say that it meant nothing. On the other hand it was a human experience, and it started, if that is of any significance, in a most human way. Her boy friend, or ‘keeper’ (if you want to be mean) had just died. His family had not allowed her to see the body, or allowed her into the house, where she had been living. She had sneaked in one night and been thrown out. I met her on [director]Harmon Jones’ set. Harmon thought her a ridiculous person and was fashionably scornful of her. I found her, when I was introduced, in tears. I took her to dinner because she seemed like such a touching pathetic waif. She sobbed all thru dinner. I wasn’t ‘interested in her’; that came later. I got to know her in time and introduced her to Arthur Miller, who also was very taken by her. You couldn’t help being touched. She was talented, funny, vulnerable, helpless in awful pain, with no hope, and some worth and not a liar, not vicious, not catty, and with a history of orphanism that was killing to hear. She was like all Charlie Chaplin’s heroines in one.

I’m not ashamed at all, not a damn bit, of having been attracted to her. She is nothing like what she appears to be now, or even appears to have turned into now. She was a little stray cat when I knew her. I got a lot out of her just as you do from any human experience where anyone is revealed to you and you affect anyone in any way. I guess I gave her a lot of hope. She is not a big sex pot as advertised. At least not in my experience. I don’t know if there are such as ‘advertised’ big sex pots. She told me a lot about [Joe DiMaggio] and her, his Catholicism, and his viciousness (he struck her often, and beat her up several times). I was touched and fascinated. It was the type of experience that I do not understand and I enjoyed (not the right word) hearing about it. I certainly recommended her to Tennessee’s attention. And he was very taken by her.”

Kazan had first met Marilyn a year before, at a screening of A Streetcar Named Desire with Johnny Hyde (the aforementioned ‘keeper’.) Hyde died in December 1950. Kazan came to Hollywood with Arthur Miller in 1951, which is when their affair began. However, he has written elsewhere that even then, she was attracted to Miller.

Their relationship lasted a few months, until Kazan returned to New York. They remained friends afterward, and a letter from Kazan to Marilyn was auctioned on Ebay a few years ago.

Miller and Kazan fell out when the director co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee, at the height of the ‘red scare’ which ruined many careers in the movie and theatre world. While married to Miller, Marilyn tried to reconcile them.

During their affair, Marilyn naturally hoped Kazan would consider her for a future role. But he rejected her for the lead in Baby Doll (1955), though author Tennessee Williams thought her a perfect choice. He also refused to cast her in Wild River (1960), after Twentieth Century-Fox offered her the part.

Marilyn bore no grudges, though, and wrote in a 1961 letter to her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, that Kazan ‘loved me for one year and once rocked me to sleep when I was in great anguish.’

Barbara Loden in ‘After the Fall’ (1964)

Ironically, Miller and Kazan would reunite after her death to collaborate on After the Fall, a controversial, thinly-veiled account of Miller’s private demons, including a self-destructive character based on Marilyn.

Return of the White Dress

Marilyn by Sam Shaw, 1957

Marilyn had a penchant for the colour white. Like Jean Harlow before her, she decorated her homes in white, and often wore white to accentuate her platinum blonde aura. Her billowing white dress from The Seven Year Itch is the most famous example, but there are many other, off-screen examples as well.

Marilyn at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, 1953
Marilyn in New York, 1957

This year’s fashions feature white prominently. At the high end, actress Marion Cotillard models a Lady Dior pleated white dress, in a photo shoot reminiscent of Philippe Halsman’s ‘Jump’ series. Her gamine look is similar to that other fifties icon, Audrey Hepburn.

On the high street, meanwhile, supermodel Kate Moss has previewed her latest range for Top Shop in Vogue magazine.

Beyonce Comes ‘Out’ For Marilyn

There isn’t a bigger star right now than Beyonce, who fronts this month’s Out magazine in a blonde, Marilyn-style wig. Some of the photos (by Santiago & Mauricio) are quite reminiscent of Bert Stern’s iconic Vogue session with MM, without sacrificing Beyonce’s own persona or trying to supplant Monroe’s. Rather like ‘Queen B’ herself, the images attempt to cross cultural boundaries – and are quite tastefully done (for a change.)

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962

‘American Classic Screen’ Remembered

Published from 1976-84, American Classic Screen was the magazine of The National Film Society. Intended for scholars and general readers interested in films from the golden age of cinema and beyond, the magazine ran for a decade and included original interviews, profiles, and articles that delved deep into the rich history of Hollywood.

Published in 2010, American Classic Screen Profiles is a 256pp compendium of profiles of Hollywood stars and filmmakers. A portrait of Marilyn adorns the cover, with ‘Marilyn: A Personal Reminiscence’ – a short interview with Frank Radcliffe, who danced with her in three films – among the articles inside.

In a separate profile of Jayne Mansfield, James Robert Haspiel acknowledges the debt she owed to Marilyn, who inspired her ‘blonde bombshell’ image. Haspiel was formerly a teenage fan of Monroe, and became her friend. He wrote three well-received books about her, lavishly illustrated with rare studio and candid photos.

Haspiel’s feature on MM, ‘How a Cinema Legend Was Born: The Screen Testing of Marilyn Monroe’, is published in a 344 pp companion volume, American Classic Screen Features.

Pharrell Inspired by Marilyn

Music’s perennial over-achiever, Pharrell Williams – singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, rapper, producer – performed tracks from his second solo album, GIRL, on Saturday Night Live this weekend, backed by an all-female orchestra.

‘Marilyn Monroe’ is the opening song on the album, and has been confirmed as the second single. It features backing vocals by self-confessed Monroe fan and reality TV star, Kelly Osborne. The chorus goes like this:

“Not even Marilyn Monroe
Queen Cleopatra please
Not even Joan of Arc
That don’t mean nothin’ to me
I just want a different girl…”

I think Norma Jeane would have appreciated these lyrics, as she was also a ‘different girl.’ You can watch Pharrell’s performance here.