Hollywood Misfits: Monty and Marilyn

‘The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift’ – an extract from Anne Helen Petersen’s upcoming book, Scandals of Classic Hollywood – is published at Vanity Fair today.

“Clift appeared in The Misfits, a revisionist western best known as the final film of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. The director, John Huston, supposedly brought in Clift because he thought he’d have a ‘soothing effect’ on Monroe, who was deeply embroiled in her own addictions, with her own personal demons. But even Monroe reported that Clift was ‘the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am.’ The pictures from the set are as poignant as they are heartbreaking: it’s as if all three were meditating on their respective declines, and there’s a sad, peaceful resignation at the difference between what their bodies could do and how people wanted to remember them.

But 1961 audiences were too close to the day-to-day deterioration of its stars to see the meditative genius of The Misfits. It was also a dark, melancholy film: as a review in Variety pointed out, the ‘complex mass of introspective conflicts, symbolic parallels, and motivational contradictions’ was so nuanced as to ‘seriously confound’ general audiences, who were likely unable to cope with the philosophical undercurrents of the Arthur Miller script. Or, as Bosley Crowther, taking the populist slant in The New York Times, explained, the characters were amusing, but they were also ‘shallow and inconsequential, and that is the dang-busted trouble with this film.’

Whether morally repulsive or philosophically compelling, The Misfits bombed, only to be recuperated, years later, as a masterpiece of the revisionist genre. Looking back, the film had a legacy of darkness surrounding it: Gable died of a heart attack less than a month after filming; Monroe was only able to attend the film’s premiere with a pass from her stay at a psychiatric ward. She wouldn’t die for another year and a half, but Misfits would be her last completed film. As for Clift, the shoot was incredibly taxing, both mentally and physically: in addition to acquiring a scar across his nose from a stray bull’s horn, severe rope burns while attempting to tame a wild horse, and various other rough-and-tumble injuries, he also performed what has widely come to be regarded as one of his best scenes, a stilted, heartbreaking conversation with his mother from a phone booth. Even if Clift himself was already spiraling out of control, playing a character that did the same only amplified the psychological toll.”

Deconstructing Heymann’s ‘Joe and Marilyn’

Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Ryan Chittum adds to the mounting criticism of C. David Heymann’s posthumously-published Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love. 

The article includes an acknowledgement to ES Updates: ‘Marilyn Monroe fan sites saw through this right away. The British blogger Tara Hanks wrote this in July, several weeks before the Newsweek piece appeared.’

Furthermore, Ryan Chittum has investigated some of Heymann’s controversial sources:

“Heymann claimed to have talked to Lotte Goslar, Monroe’s mime teacher, for the book. But Goslar died in 1997. Susan Strasberg, another source, died in 1999. Monroe’s makeup artist, Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, whom Heymann cites two-dozen times, died in 1994. Yankees legend Bill Dickey died in 1993, and gossip columnist Doris Lilly died in 1991.

These supposed interviews fit a pattern, as Johnston noted in Newsweek: Quotes and new information attributed to dead sources who can’t say whether Heymann ever actually talked to them.

In the book, Heymann extensively quotes Robert Solotaire, whose father George was a good friend of Joe DiMaggio’s, discussing DiMaggio’s supposed use of prostitutes and his tiffs with Monroe, among other titillating anecdotes. Robert Solotaire died in 2008. Benjamin Solotaire, Robert’s son, tells me the quotes were made up.

‘He would never have shared such intimate details about what Joe said,’ Benjamin says. ‘My father said that George, my grandfather, would look away when having dinner with Joe and Marilyn whenever they were being affectionate. My father continued respecting that privacy. And the quotes just aren’t the way dad spoke. They are too crass and detailed for him.’

‘It is bothersome to me and my family that these made-up, embarrassing quotes are attributed to my father,’ he continued. ‘George and dad were great friends of Joe and would never have tarnished his or Marilyn’s reputation.'”

Chittum also mentions Dr Judd Marmor, a psychiatrist who briefly treated Marilyn. Heymann previously quoted him in his pulped biography of Barbara Hutton, claiming the heiress had an affair with his patient, James Dean. But Dean’s biographer, Val Holley, also approached Dr Marmor, who rightly refused to discuss his former patient with any author. Marmor died in  2003.

In Joe and Marilyn, Heymann claimed that Dr Marmor revealed confidential details about Marilyn’s relationship with Elia Kazan; and that Marilyn was then treated for a year Dr Rose Fromm, which – as the Newsweek article has already established – is untrue.

“Fromm’s appearance in Chapter 3 allowed Heymann to fill in lurid details about Monroe’s youth, including a supposed sexual incident with ‘Roxanne Smith,’ a ‘pretty and well developed’ sixth-grade classmate, whose existence, ‘despite the best efforts of the dozens of biographers who have written about Marilyn Monroe over the years,’ had never been reported until Heymann came along. These and many other anecdotes and quotes from Monroe’s childhood, including details about her sex life with her first husband, come from Fromm in vivid detail 50 years after the fact (Heymann wrote that Fromm ‘kept notes on her meeting with MM, and these notes were made available to the author’).”

Finally, Ryan Chittum challenges Simon & Schuster, who published Joe and Marilyn, to answer these charges:

“You can’t libel the dead, as biographer Kitty Kelley noted in that Post story, and Heymann made a living off of that. But Simon & Schuster looked the other way.

It continues to do so. Johnston says the book’s editor, Emily Bestler, hung up on him when he started asking about Heymann’s fabrications, and that Simon & Schuster declined to talk to him. Bestler did not respond to my requests for comment, and Simon & Schuster and CBS Corporation declined to comment on questions Johnston and I have raised. “Thank you for checking in on this again before you go to press. Once again, we will have no response to Mr. Johnston’s article in Newsweek, nor any comment on your questions,” says Adam Rothberg, Simon & Schuster’s senior vice president of corporate communications.

That doesn’t cut it.

Simon & Schuster and CBS need to answer questions about whether Bestler actually had the book factchecked, and if so, how that process went so wrong. They need to talk about why they haven’t recalled books that have been so thoroughly discredited. They also need to say why they signed someone like Heymann in the first place.”

John Malkovich: Being Marilyn

Actor John Malkovich has recreated a classic Marilyn pose for an art project with photographer Sandro Miller, now on display at Chicago’s Catherine Edelman Gallery, reports the Huffington Post. In the original photo session, with Bert Stern in 1962, Marilyn’s gallbladder surgery scar is also visible. Although Marilyn rejected a large number of his photos, Stern published them all after her death.

It’s a problematic subject to begin with, given Stern’s attitude towards Marilyn. Some fans may consider it a mockery of her sex appeal. But at least there is a certain bravery and good humour in the reproduction.

Here is an example of a picture Marilyn rejected – the orange cross is from her own pen.

And here it is re-enacted by Malkovich. I think this image is more powerful, because it reflects the ambivalence with which we now view Stern’s work – especially because it was one of Marilyn’s last photo shoots.

Obviously, Malkovich can’t match Marilyn’s beauty. It might have been interesting to see Malkovich recreate one of George Barris’s gentler images of Marilyn, taken shortly before she died.

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

Marilyn is one of several women Malkovich impersonates: the others include Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Gordon Parks’ American Gothic, and Diane Arbus’s twins. Also featured is a parody of Warhol’s Marilyn, but that looks a lot like ‘Life is Wonderful’, Mr Brainwash’s MM/Michael Jackson portrait from 2009.

John Malkovich as Warhol’s Marilyn
‘Life is Beautiful’, Mr Brainwash, 2009

Profiles in History: Hollywood Auction

This gorgeous photo of a young Marilyn in her favourite Oleg Cassini dress is one of several rare, unseen pictures featured in the upcoming Hollywood Auction 65, to be hosted by Profiles in History from October 17-19.

Also featured are candid photos of Marilyn with Joe DiMaggio in Canada; outtakes from Joseph Jasgur; and many other rarities, including publicity shots and photos during taken during public appearances.

Barbara Leaming on Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn

The October issue of Vanity Fair includes an article by Barbara Leaming about Jacqueline Kennedy, focusing on the aftermath of her husband’s murder in November 1963. ‘The Winter of Her Discontent‘ is an extract from Leaming’s upcoming book, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story.

“The untold story of how one woman’s life was changed forever in a matter of seconds by a horrific trauma.

Barbara Leaming’s extraordinary and deeply sensitive biography is the first book to document Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ brutal, lonely and valiant thirty-one year struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that followed JFK’s assassination.

Here is the woman as she has never been seen before.  In heartrending detail, we witness a struggle that unfolded at times before our own eyes, but which we failed to understand.

Leaming’s biography also makes clear the pattern of Jackie’s life as a whole. We see how a spirited young woman’s rejection of a predictable life led her to John F. Kennedy and the White House, how she sought to reconcile the conflicts of her marriage and the role she was to play, and how the trauma of her husband’s murder which left her soaked in his blood and brains led her to seek a very different kind of life from the one she’d previously sought.

A life story that has been scrutinized countless times, seen here for the first time as the serious and important story that it is. A story for our times at a moment when we as a nation need more than ever to understand the impact of trauma.”

This is not Leaming’s first book on the subject: Mrs Kennedy (2001) focused on Jacqueline’s thousand days as First Lady. And prior to this, another Leaming biography – entitled simply Marilyn Monroe – was published in 1999.

In her Vanity Fair article, Leaming reveals that in the months after her husband’s assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy considered suicide. The death of Marilyn Monroe just a year before – then widely believed to have been a clear-cut suicide – played on her mind, as she confided to a Jesuit priest, Father Richard T. McSorley, in early 1964.

“By May 19th, Father McSorley found himself growing fearful that Jackie, as he wrote, ‘was really thinking of suicide.’ The priest had briefly hoped she might be doing better, but the way she talked now spurred him to take a different view. Speaking again of the prospect of killing herself, Jackie told him that she would be pleased if her death precipitated ‘a wave’ of other suicides because it would be a good thing if people were allowed to ‘get out of their misery.’ She disconcerted the priest by insisting that ‘death is great’ and by alluding to the suicide of Marilyn Monroe. ‘I was glad that Marilyn Monroe got out of her misery,’ J.F.K.’s widow maintained. ‘If God is going to make such a to-do about judging people because they take their own lives, then someone ought to punish Him.’ The next day, after Father McSorley strove to persuade Jackie that suicide would be wrong, she reassured him that she agreed and that she would never actually attempt to kill herself.”


Cameron Mitchell Honoured in Pennsylvania

Marilyn with Cameron Mitchell in ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’

Actor Cameron Mitchell (1921-1994), who played Tom Brookman in How to Marry a Millionaire, will be honoured in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, beginning with a screening of the 1953 comedy on September 27 at the Zion Church, Glen Rock, reports YDR.com. The event will be sponsored by the Glen Rock Historic Preservation Society, with proceeds earmarked for the Cameron Mitchell Scholarship Fund.

Mitchell was born in Pennsylvania. He served as a bombardier during World War II, and was a founding member of the Actor’s Studio. In 1949, he appeared as Happy Loman in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

According to The Unabridged Marilyn, Mitchell was heading to the Fox Commissary with Marilyn when they met Miller, and salesman director Elia Kazan, in December 1950. (However, most accounts place Marilyn’s first meeting with Miller slightly later, in early 1951, on the set of As Young As You Feel – her first role under a new studio contract. Her agent and boyfriend, Johnny Hyde, had died in December, and as Miller and Kazan have both recalled, Marilyn was still grieving.)

‘As you know her, you find out she’s no goddamn gold-plated birdbrain. She’s a serious dame,’ Mitchell said of Marilyn. ‘At the time I first met her, she was on a big psychiatry kick. She was studying Freud, Menninger, that kind of thing.’

The Sixty Year Itch

“A warm draft from the subway ventilator shaft is enough to turn Marilyn into the most exotic butterfly in history. Director Billy Wilder’s brilliant idea, with its mixture of erotic fantasy and the dream of being weightless and able to fly, transcends the mere tomboy eroticism of a sensation-seeking public. Film still for The Seven Year Itch, September 15th, 1954.” – Schirmer’s Visual Library, Marilyn Monroe Photographs 1945-1962

Read more about the filming of Marilyn’s most iconic movie scene in The Guardianand another perspective from Melissa Stevens – granddaughter of Sam Shaw, who captured the moment – on Biography.com.

New York to Recreate ‘Marilyn Moment’

The US-based Sexy Hair brand, who have been using Marilyn in their promotional campaigns since last year, are hosting a mass ‘Marilyn moment’ next Monday, recreating the famous ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch – exactly sixty years after it was originally filmed,  reports Marketing Land.

“On September 15 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., the brand will unleash an army of modern day Marilyns that will entertain New Yorkers with their own dress-blowing moments on Lexington Avenue between 52nd and 53rd. Then that evening, images recorded from the dress-blowing moments will be projected on the sides of various landmark buildings in the city in and around Times Square, Union Square, Columbus Circle and Grand Central Station.”