Yours Retro is a great read for lovers of all things vintage, and after several prior appearances, Marilyn finally graces the cover of the latest issue, available now in UK newsagents and via Newsstand. ‘When Marilyn Met Larry ‘, a four-page article by biographer Michelle Morgan, focuses on Marilyn’s time in England filming The Prince and the Showgirl, and there are also pieces of related interest about Cyd Charisse, Picturegoer magazine, and Hollywood censorship. If you collect magazines featuring MM, this is a must-have. (Yours Retro has recently been launched in Australia; however, it is several issues behind, so the UK version is your best bet.)
As reported here last summer, Gillian Anderson has appeared as Marilyn for her ‘Media’ role in ‘Lemon Scented You’, the fifth episode of American Gods, a new sci-fi series on the US Starz channel. While Gillian may not resemble Marilyn physically (I was reminded of another Hollywood icon, Barbara Stanwyck) her performance has been praised by both critics and fans of the show. Morit Chaplynne reviews it on Culturess:
“The two best things about this episode are Gillian Anderson and Gillian Anderson. Sure, Shadow —and us along with him — manages to learn a little more about his new weird reality, and that’s definitely interesting. But Gillian Anderson appears as both David Bowie (in the teal Ziggy Stardust suit with the short red hair) and as Marilyn Monroe (in the iconic white dress from The Seven Year Itch) and it is everything.
Back at the police station, they lock Shadow and Wednesday in an interrogation room … Someone unlocks the door. It’s not the cops. It’s Marilyn Monroe.
Media floats into the room and speaks to them in a breathy whisper. Shadow asks Wednesday to tell him it isn’t real. He does not. The mysterious Mr. World enters the room, all overcoat and fedora, apologizing to Wednesday for not reaching out ages ago, but he hadn’t seen him.
Wouldn’t you like an upgrade? A brand new lemon-scented you?
Media gives an extensive sales pitch. Wednesday wants no part of it. He smells a con. When he laughs in Mr. World’s face, Media blows him a high-powered kiss that knocks out his two front teeth and leaves his mouth bloody.”
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gillian talks about her multifaceted role:
“I didn’t know all that much about Marilyn as much as we all know what’s in the greater consciousness: the key pieces of her death and her struggle and her marriage and all that. And actually, I was surprised at how easy I found it to immerse myself in that and how much fun it was. She was definitely the one I had the most fun doing, just because there’s an imminent joy to her. There is also with Judy [Garland], but there’s something so delightful and delicious about Marilyn that was a lot of fun to jump into. And there’s a mechanism that we used to get her floating — I was on this robotic contraption that had been built with fans in it so that my skirt was constantly moving, even though they were going to recreate and enhance some of that in CGI. So for the majority of that scene, it was me being driven around via remote control with fans blasting vertically up my dress. So, that was fun.
The fact that [Media] does manifest as male and female and however Bowie might identify himself… I mean, certainly, you say ‘worship,’ and Michael Jackson was worshipped as much as any female icon we’ve ever had. Actually, we discussed Michael Jackson at one point as a character I might do, and Prince. But to me, what was important for Media, male or female, was that we got to see that the women, the female gods, and the females in general are and can be as powerful as the male gods and the men [on the show]. That they are equal. I guess it makes sense that one of the most powerful gods in the story is embodied as female.”
On the eve of the UK general election, a stencil painting of Prime Minister Theresa May wearing her favourite leopard-skin stilettos, in a recreation of Marilyn’s ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch (originally photographed by Sam Shaw) signed by street artist ‘Loretto’, has appeared in London’s West End, reports Fitzrovia News.
The merging of Marilyn, an icon of youth and beauty, with a right-wing politician is either comical or grotesque, depending on your perspective. However, comparisons of this kind are nothing new, especially in the art world. Photographer Philippe Halsman started the trend with ‘Marilyn Mao‘, blending his own 1952 portrait of MM – her first Life magazine cover – with the head and shoulders of the Chinese premier, Mao Tse-tung.
Perhaps it’s the rumoured affair with President Kennedy that triggered this strange phenomenon, or just that Marilyn’s own cultural reach rivals that of our world leaders. For me, these images evoke the contrast between her radiant humanity, and the dangerous aura of those who wield power.
Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Postwar Los Angeles is a new book by film historian Jon Lewis, published by University of California Press. Here’s a synopsis:
“The tragic and mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of Elizabeth Short, or the Black Dahlia, and Marilyn Monroe ripped open Hollywood’s glitzy façade, exposing the city’s ugly underbelly of corruption, crime, and murder. These two spectacular dead bodies, one found dumped and posed in a vacant lot in January 1947, the other found dead in her home in August 1962, bookend this new history of Hollywood. Short and Monroe are just two of the many left for dead after the collapse of the studio system, Hollywood’s awkward adolescence when the company town’s many competing subcultures—celebrities, moguls, mobsters, gossip mongers, industry wannabes, and desperate transients—came into frequent contact and conflict. Hard-Boiled Hollywood focuses on the lives lost at the crossroads between a dreamed-of Los Angeles and the real thing after the Second World War, where reality was anything but glamorous.”
A previous book by Lewis, Essential Cinema, featured on its cover a still from My Week With Marilyn, the 2011 biopic starring Michelle Williams. In Hard-Boiled Hollywood, Lewis inevitably covers the pernicious rumours about Marilyn’s death, while acknowledging the slippery evidence. When mentioning her alleged ‘red diary‘, Lewis notes that “for those who believe Monroe was murdered, its very disappearance supports their point of view. For those who believe she died by her own hand (by intention or accident), the red diary is another piece of macabre Monroe folklore.”
For the most part, though, Lewis views Marilyn’s career and demise in the light of the studio system’s ongoing decline. Although I think he underestimates her self-determination (suggesting she may have fared better if she had stayed at Fox), he also recognises her as the last true star of Hollywood’s classic era, that her tragic death changed the public perception of celebrity.
Unacknowleged, a new documentary about UFOs written and directed by Michael Mazzola, rehashes a very old rumour: that the Kennedys ordered Marilyn’s death because she threatened to tell the secrets she knew about an alleged UFO incident at Roswell, New Mexico. You can view a clip here.
This 2011 article by Nick Redfern for the Mysterious Universe website sums up an outlandish, and (in my opinion) highly improbable conspiracy theory.
“By far the most controversial piece of unauthenticated documentation pertaining to UFOs concerns none other than the late Hollywood legend, Marilyn Monroe. It was during a press conference in 1995 that Milo Speriglio – an investigative author now deceased, who wrote three books on Monroe’s death: The Marilyn Conspiracy; Marilyn Monroe: Murder Cover-Up; and Crypt 33: The Saga of Marilyn Monroe – revealed the document to the world’s press.
Incredibly, according to the document, which surfaced via a California-based researcher of UFOs named Timothy Cooper, President John F. Kennedy had guardedly informed Monroe that he had secret knowledge of the controversial incident at Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947. As a result of Kennedy’s revelations to Monroe, the CIA took keen note of any and all developments as the story progressed. Or, at least, that is what we are led to believe, and what the document implies.
The bulk of the contents of the document are focused upon telephone conversations between Howard Rothberg, the former owner of a New York-based antique store, and Dorothy Kilgallen, the well-known celebrity gossip columnist of the 1950s and 1960s, who was herself the subject of a secret 167-page FBI file.
According to Speriglio: ‘[Rothberg] also dealt with a lot of photographers who used to film Marilyn. He got a lot of information about her from them, and he would feed it to Dorothy Kilgallen.’ Interestingly, Speriglio also revealed that the document was the subject of an investigation that was being undertaken by no less than ‘two federal agencies.’ To date, however, the names of those specific agencies have not been revealed.
When the document surfaced, Vicki Ecker, then the editor of UFO Magazine, said: ‘To put it succinctly, the document suggests that on the day she died, Monroe was going to hold her own press conference, where she was planning to spill the beans about, amongst other things, JFK’s secret knowledge of UFOs and dead aliens.’
Indeed, the document, ominously dated only two days before Monroe’s controversial death on August 5, 1962, tells the whole, remarkable story. Notably, at the top of the page it clearly states: ‘References: MOON DUST, Project’ (which was a genuine U.S. operation designed to capture, understand, and exploit overseas advanced technologies, such as Soviet spy-satellites.)
But, with all that said, where are things at today with respect to this most curious and extremely controversial document? Well, Tim Cooper left the UFO scene years ago, and has utterly washed his hands of the document – as well as many other questionable documents on crashed UFOs that he secured from Deep Throat-type sources in the 1990s.
And the CIA? The Agency officially denies having any files, at all, on the Hollywood hotty – despite the ironic fact that the very first document in the FBI’s ‘Monroe File’ was copied to the CIA! As for the players in the saga, they’re all gone to their graves.”
He was born in Staten Island, New York, in 1950 – the year in which a young Marilyn Monroe made her breakthrough in Hollywood. “When I first saw a photo of her in the newspaper,” James said, “I was totally enamored.” He would later write that his father, Joseph Spada, “always encouraged me in my love for Marilyn.”
Like many others, James vividly remembered hearing of her tragic death in 1962. “I was twelve – a kid with a scrapbook,” he told Immortal Marilyn in 2013, recalling that when a friend of his brother called to tell him the news, he turned on the radio and burst into tears. “After she died there wasn’t much interest in her in the press,” James recalled, “not like there is today.” In 1963 he founded the Marilyn Monroe Memorial Fan Club with fellow fan George Zeno. Over the next four years, the friends produced regular bulletins and yearbooks, mailing them to other admirers.
While in college, James edited EMK, a quarterly dedicated to Senator Edward Kennedy. In 1970, he worked as an intern in Kennedy’s Boston office. His debut book, Barbra: The First Decade, was published in 1974. The multi-talented Streisand was the quintessential star of her era, and James would become a leading authority on her remarkable career. This was followed by The Films of Robert Redford in 1978. And in 1979 came The Spada Report, based on hundreds of interviews with gay men, and documenting a social revolution in progress.
Twenty years after Marilyn died, James reunited with George Zeno for a lavish tribute. Monroe: A Life in Pictures combines more than 200 black-and-white photographs, including film stills, studio portraits and newspaper shots, with a mid-section of full-page, glossy colour images by Andre De Dienes, Cecil Beaton and others. At the time, many were unknown to the public. Douglas Kirkland’s gorgeous cover photo epitomises Marilyn’s unique blend of sex and innocence, and a life poised between beauty and sadness. Inside, Spada retold her fabled story through extended captions, enhancing each photograph with his impeccable research and sensitive commentary. Monroe: A Life in Pictures was a bestseller, spawning many imitations but seldom equalled. Its success enabled James to produce similar volumes on Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, Katharine Hepburn, and Jane Fonda.
In 1987, James published his first non-pictorial biography, Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess. This was followed by Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept All the Secrets (1991), and Bette Davis: More Than a Woman (1993.) He also wrote several coffee-table books about America’s political families, including Jackie: Her Life in Pictures (2000.)
In more recent years James completed a biographical novel about Edgar Allen Poe and three collections of his own erotic photography, as well as an anthology, The Romantic Male Nude. His final book, Barbra Streisand: In the Camera Eye, was published in 2014. Monroe: A Life in Pictures is now available on Kindle, and in 2016, a rather gossipy extract from his biography of Peter Lawford was reprinted in a one-off magazine special, Vanity Fair Icons: Marilyn Monroe. He also mentioned Marilyn frequently on his entertaining blog, James Spada’s Hollywood.
James was a popular speaker at the annual memorial services hosted by our sister club Marilyn Remembered in Los Angeles, including the fiftieth anniversary of her death in 2012. Many fans have spoken fondly of their personal encounters with this gentle, approachable man. Set apart by visual elegance and a genuine enthusiasm, Monroe: A Life in Pictures remains a classic of its kind. If you don’t have a copy it can still be found online or in used bookstores, earning a rightful place in every fan’s library, and all our hearts.
More than 300 items of Marilyn’s personal property, including costumes, letters, and her David di Donatello award for The Prince and the Showgirl, are featured in ‘Unmissable Marilyn’, an exhibition curated with the guidance of collector Ted Stampfer, at the Palazzo Degli Esami in Rome until July 30. More details here.
Marilyn makes two jewellery-related appearances in this weekend’s Financial Times, firstly in this article about the diamond trade; and elsewhere, she’s pictured wearing pearl earrings at a press conference in 1956.
Thanks to Fraser Penney
This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the most influential pop albums ever made. The cover – a collage by artist Peter Blake – features the Fab Four lining up alongside more than sixty of the last century’s most iconic figures. Marilyn is there, as photographed by Ben Ross in 1953. BBC Music have compiled a mini-documentary for each one: Marilyn’s includes newsreel footage from her arrival in England to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. You can watch the clip here.
All About Eve and Some Like It Hot are among the 53 films selected for this month’s ‘Glamour’ season at the Forum Des Images in Paris. (Although the striking poster art features Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the 1953 musical comedy is not included – which is a pity, as it is partly set in a Hollywoodised version of Paris.)
Thanks to Eric