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Marilyn in Manhattan: Elizabeth Winder On Her New Book

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When Marilyn Monroe pulled a disappearing act and resurfaced in New York ready to take control of her career, Hollywood was shocked and everything changed for the world’s favourite blonde.  Author Elizabeth Winder looks at her year of rebirth in the newly released book Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy, available now in hardcover and ebook formats.  She talks about her book and her inspiration in an interview for Immortal Marilyn.

 

 

What inspired you to write a book about Marilyn Monroe?  Do you consider yourself a fan, and were you a fan prior to writing it?

I actually came late to Marilyn Monroe.  The most popular images of Marilyn are highly stylized– the caked on makeup and gummy red lipstick, the glued on lashes, skintight skirt and baby-doll coo. Somehow I picked up a copy of Norman Mailer’s fictional biography of Marilyn– which is sexist and horrifying but just so beautifully written– I read it in one night and started googling Marilyn obsessively, and found all those amazing photos by Milton Greene.  He photographed her with very little makeup, wearing baggy slips and sweaters or coarse wave skirts and heavy boots. Those photos really made me fall in love with Marilyn.

You went from writing about Sylvia Plath to Marilyn.  On the surface those seem like two vastly different people.  Do you feel there were similarities between them?  If so, did that surprise you?

It’s interesting to compare Sylvia Plath and Marilyn Monroe– I quite like the way Carl Rollyson compares them in his Plath bio American Isis.  They both had such sensitivity and ambition.  They both could command a room– that much is clear from anyone who remembers them.  But Marilyn sparked something protective and nurturing in those who knew here, whereas Sylvia presented as much more self possessed.  I wasn’t surprised by the similarities– I’m drawn to thin-skinned, creative women. Sometimes I imagine Sylvia and Marilyn as roommates.  Marilyn would have driven Sylvia crazy– eating ice cream in bed, crumbs and cigarette butts strewn everywhere, probably borrowing Sylvia’s lipstick because she couldn’t find her own.  Sylvia labeled her nail polish bottles so no one else would use them.   But Sylvia was fascinated by Marilyn, particularly her relationship with Arthur Miller.  I think Sylvia was ahead of her time– she looked beyond Marilyn’s blonde bombshell facade and saw something nuanced and special.

Why did you choose Marilyn’s first year in New York as the focus for your book?

After clicking through pages of photos Milton Greene took of Marilyn I began to read more about their relationship. I was touched by the potential he saw in Marilyn, the way he risked everything for her. I saw a real story there, a story that unfolded over the course of a year. I was shocked that no one had devoted a book to it yet– it seemed almost too good to be true.


The move to New York was a major turning point in Marilyn’s life and career.  Do you think, in the end, that it was a good move for her, in spite of the fact that by the end of her life she found herself back in LA making another fluff comedy?

Breaking from Fox and teaming up with Milton Greene was the best move Marilyn ever made.  In New York she was loved and appreciated. Carson McCullers, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams befriended her.  William Motter Inge wrote a play for her.  I think we underestimate how much this meant to Marilyn– she adored writers, she worshipped them.  In LA she was ridiculed, abused and incredibly lonely. And her friendship with Milton was so life-enhancing, so positive, so full of mutual support and creativity.  If Arthur Miller hadn’t broken them up, I think Marilyn would have lived happily for decades, making movies and possibly even directing.

Marilyn is one of those people about whom there is an incredible amount of misinformation.  What one thing do you most wish the average person knew about her?

I wish they knew that Marilyn was funny– I don’t mean the witty media quips but that warm-hearted kind of funny that makes you smile and want to hug someone.  I wish they knew that Marilyn actually read Ulysses and didn’t just pose with it.  I wish they knew that as a starving model she spent her money on books instead of food. I could go on and on– that’s why I wrote Marilyn in Manhattan– I totally fell in love with her!

 

Want to win this book?  IM is giving away five copies courtesy of Flatiron Publishing!  Leave us a comment telling us why you’d love to have a copy to be entered in a drawing to win!  

CONTEST EXTENDED!  Winners will be drawn randomly from all entries and announced on ImmortalMarilyn.com and our Facebook group on March 26th, 2017.  Contest closes March 26th at 12:00 pm US Central time.

Marilyn’s Contemporaries: Vivian Vance

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Life and Career

 

Vivian with her older sister, Venus

Euphemia Mae (Ragan) Jones and Bob Jones welcomed their second baby girl, Vivian Roberta Jones, on July 26th, 1909, in Cherryvale, Kansas. The Jones family would have a total of six children. Vivian’s mother Euphemia “Famie” was heavily religious, and growing up, she always hoped that Vivian, an outgoing and independent child, would pursue a career in teaching, rather than the stage, where Vivian knew in her heart she was destined to be from a young age.

Searching for better financial opportunities, the family soon moved to the town of Independence, Kansas, where Bob and brother Ralph opened the Jones Brothers Grocery Store. There, Vivian’s childhood consisted of staying out late with friends, getting out of the house as much as possible, and being adventurous. Despite heated arguments between Vivian’s parents, especially regarding Bob’s extra relationships with a few other women, he and Famie remained together and in 1928, the Jones family packed their bags once again and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a fresh start.

 

However, Vivian did not go with them. By this time, she was in her late teens, and longed to be freed from the strict and limiting confines of her home. She needed an environment to express her unique talents and passions; she was not being given the encouragement she needed at home. A couple years before her family made the move to New Mexico, Vivian had made the decision to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to pursue her passion for singing and stage acting. She spent her Tulsa days in a small hotel room while performing at the Crystal City Amusement Park. It wasn’t long before she fell for a man named Joe Danneck, a booking manager for the musical Broadway, which was making its way across the Midwest at the time. With Joe’s help, Vivian eventually landed a chorus role in the show and began touring with the company. The couple’s relationship quickly became serious, and they were married on October 6, 1928.

 

Vivian soon reunited with her family in Albuquerque, moving into a small apartment there with her new husband. However, she and Joe were leading separate lives, and didn’t see each other often. By 1930, they were divorced. From there, Vivian became an overnight sensation in Albuquerque with her role in the vaudeville show Cushman’s Revue. This helped secure her a spot in the new Albuquerque Little Theater, where she landed lead roles in the seasons’ productions and shined among the cast, receiving great audience and critical appreciation. She was so loved by the community that the proceeds from a 1932 performance of The Trial of Mary Dugan were transferred to a special bank account for Vivian to be sent to New York.

 

Forever feeling that she owed Albuquerque for her opportunity, Vivian was determined to do well and become a successful stage actress. For years she worked to build her acting and singing experience, appearing in both lead and minor roles in several theatrical productions, and even made appearances on Broadway. At one point she was the understudy to Ethel Merman, and the rival of Gertrude Lawrence.  By 1933, Vivian married again, this time to musician George Koch. They had little in common, and marriage didn’t stop Vivian from seeking other opportunities from other men. She soon suffered a blow to her reputation in the press when she was caught seeing stage actor Phil Ober by his wife who had hired a private investigator.

 

“Men and marriage didn’t seem important to [Vivian], only as a means to an end. Her whole focus was on becoming successful.” – Vivian’s roommate Anne Farleigh

 

Vivian in the 1940s

In 1941, not long after Vivian’s divorce from George, she was married to Philip Ober. It was around this time that Vivian’s mental condition began to take form. Vivian had previously suffered bouts of depression, with symptoms such as fatigue or other physical ailments that would manifest as a result of stress. However, by now her condition was becoming more severe. She would sleep for twelve hours a day and suffered major depressive episodes, paranoia, violent nausea, swollen tongue, and panic attacks. By this point, Vivian was in the middle of a successful stage run of Voice of the Turtle. She immersed herself in books on psychology and various analysts that were recommended to her.

 

By the late 1940’s, shortly after the breakdown which caused her to seek help, Vivian reluctantly reprised her role in Voice of the Turtle to perform in La Jolla, California. This would change the course of her life and career forever. Three important people were in the audience that night: director Marc Daniels, writer/producer Jess Oppenheimer, and actor/bandleader Desi Arnaz. Arnaz and his wife Lucille Ball were at the beginning of creating what would become the most successful program in television history: I Love Lucy. The group was impressed with Vivian, and she was hired on the spot for the role of Ethel Mertz.

 

With husband Philip Ober

After her big break as Mrs. Mertz, Vivian filmed two more Lucy programs: The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and The Lucy Show. She would later make several cameo appearances in later shows. By 1959, she was divorced from Philip Ober, and by 1961, she was married to successful publisher John Dodds. While Vivian had cemented her fame with the success of the Lucy shows she filmed, she longed to return to her home in Connecticut to lead a quieter life and take care of her husband and become a proper housewife.

 

“My ambition was never to be a big star. I’ve seen very few happy stars, and I was determined that that wasn’t going to happen to me.”

 

In I Love Lucy

Once her memorable stint with Lucy was over, Vivian turned her focus back to stage productions and using her experience with depression to help those going through the same struggles. However, her next battle was just beginning. In 1973, Vivian was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a six hour surgery in order to eliminate the disease. Under the impression she was cancer-free, Vivian reunited with Lucille Ball for their last television show appearance together in 1977 for Lucy Calls The President. Not long after, Vivian received more devastating news: she now had bone cancer. By now, she and husband John Dodds were living in Belvedere, California, where she would spend her last days. Vivian was in incredible pain, and finally came to accept that she wouldn’t have much longer to live. Her husband and siblings always by her side, she was finally ready to go. “We all sat around praying, ‘Let her go. Please let her have her wish.’ A lot of people might think that was weird but it was her wish and we wanted her to have her wish. When she did, it was a mixture of jubilation and great sadness.” – Lou Ann, Vivian’s youngest sister

 

Vivian succumbed to her cancer on August 17, 1979. She was seventy years old.

Personal Connections

 

Marilyn suffered the loss of two unborn children in 1957 and 1958. Vivian also knew the pain of a miscarriage.

 

Both women were distant from their mothers, who were heavily religious and did not approve of their career choices.  Marilyn’s mother was schizophrenic, which left Marilyn traumatized and abandoned as a child. Vivian had almost no good memories with her mother. When Vivian’s fame escalated, Mae would send her letters criticizing her for her for participating in the sinful industry that was show business. Mae, like Marilyn’s mother, offered no support for her daughter’s passion, and, if anything, advised against it. However, it was only   a couple years before Mae died that she finally came to appreciate the success of her daughter.

 

Both women suffered major bouts of depression. While they both sought professional help, it was Vivian who gained support and a better mindset through psychotherapy. Marilyn is an example of how psychoanalysts fail by overstepping their patients’ boundaries and enable them rather than help them. Vivian, however, received a great deal of help through her journey. She not only developed a healthier mind, but she used this newfound knowledge and confidence to help others in need. Vivian was one of the first celebrities to speak openly about mental illness and depression at a time when these types of conditions weren’t focused on or deemed as very severe. Vivian visited countless hospitals to speak one on one with patients suffering from depression, and changed a lot of lives for the better just from her heart to heart talks with them.

“The most important thing she felt she ever did in her life was bust open depression.  She healed more people in this country than anybody has any idea of.” –Paige Peterson, close friend

 

With Lucille Ball and their husbands

Both women despised being stereotyped in their work. Marilyn worked relentlessly to rid the “dumb blonde” image her studio had always given her, and Vivian couldn’t stand to be called “Ethel” in public. Vivian, in real life, was the polar opposite of Ethel Mertz, and hated being stereotyped with the frumpy housewife she portrayed on-screen, let alone that the public could actually picture her with the elderly William Frawley.

 

Vivian Vance and Marilyn Monroe may have led very different careers, but they share quite a bit in common personally. Vivian may always be remembered for her role as the loyal Ethel Mertz and Marilyn as the blonde bombshell, but both women should and will continue to be celebrated for the unforgettable mark they made as actresses in television and film. They will always be treasured for their talent, compassion, and timeless brilliance.

 

-Ky Monroe for Immortal Marilyn

Marilyn’s Contemporaries: Ronald Reagan

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Life and Career

Ronald Wilson Reagan started his life inauspiciously, born on February 11, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois to a working class family.  His early life was marked by a strong faith and an early belief in civil rights.  Nicknamed “Dutch” by his father for a rotund appearance, the young Reagan slimmed down by his teen years and became a lifeguard.  Moves around the Midwest in his youth eventually landed him in Des Moines, Iowa, where his life in the public eye began.

Reagan in Kings Row, 1942

Starting out as a radio announcer, Reagan eventually landed a job announcing games for the Chicago Cubs; it was this job that took him on the road with the team and to California, where he landed a screen test.  Radio and film collided in his first on-screen appearance in the film Love Is On The Air.  Two years later, his film credit count was up to 19.  His appearance in the film Knute Rockney, All American earned him a new nickname that would last a lifetime: “The Gipper”, but it was the 1942 film Kings Row that cemented him as a star.  During his rise to fame, Reagan met and married actress Jane Wyman.  The couple had two biological children although sadly the second child lived for only a day.  They later adopted a third child.

Ronald and Nancy in 1952

WWII interrupted Reagan’s film career, as it did for so many, and although he returned to films in 1945, he never rose to the same heights.  In 1948 political differences led to the end of Reagan’s marriage to Jane Wyman.  He continued to appear in numerous films; a notable film near the end of his movie career was Hellcats of The Navy – memorable because it was the first and only time he made a movie with his then-wife Nancy.  The pair had met in 1949 when she requested his assistance with the blacklisting of her name as a Communist, and married in 1952.  Their marriage would be among the longest of Hollywood unions, lasting until Reagan’s death and producing two children.

After his final film appearance in 1964, Reagan moved into television work.  In the meantime, his political aspirations were growing.  Originally a staunch Democrat, Reagan’s leanings moved to the right over time, and by 1962 was a Republican. In 1966 Reagan ran for, and won, the job of Governor of California on a strong anti-Socialism platform.  He made several major and controversial legislative moves, and spent two terms in the position before setting his sights higher.

The 1981 Presidential Inauguration

In 1976, Reagan made his first bid for the Republican nomination for the Presidency, losing to Gerald Ford, who in turn lost the election to Jimmy Carter.  1980 was a different story.  Reagan led the Republican party to a landslide victory over Carter, and became the 40th President of the United States.  Reagan survived an assassination attempt shortly after taking office, in 1981.  He won a second major victory in 1984, earning a second term in office.  Reagan’s 8 years in office included major controversies and changes, including his financial policies which were dubbed “Reaganomics”, the “War on Drugs”, a highly criticized response to the AIDS crisis, and the “Iran-Contra Affair”.  His Presidency also saw the escalation and eventual end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

After leaving the White House, Ronald and Nancy Reagan returned to California.  In 1994, the former President was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  The progressive disease, along with pneumonia, led to his death in 2004.  Nancy outlived him by more than a decade, dying in 2016.

 

Marilyn Connections

Marilyn with the Reagans in 1953

Although Marilyn and Reagan were in Hollywood during the same time period and eventually met, Reagan’s first connection to her occurred long before Marilyn Monroe was even an idea.  It was Reagan, working for the Army’s First Motion Picture Unit, who assigned photographer David Conover to the task of photographing attractive young women in factories aiding the war effort.  One of those young ladies was Mrs. Norma Jeane Dougherty, who was working at the Radioplane factory in Burbank.  The 1945 photos were her first modeling shots and started her career.

Marilyn later met Reagan at a party for the birthday of Charles Coburn, Marilyn’s co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (and Reagan’s co-star in Louisa), in June of 1953.  It is the only time they were photographed together.

In spite of claims to the contrary, Marilyn did not have an affair with Reagan – he is one of many alleged lovers for whom there is no evidence.

Marilyn and Reagan do have a connection through Jane Wyman – she later married Marilyn’s one-time vocal coach with whom she had a love affair, Fred Karger.

The two co-starred with some of the same people, although at different times.  Marilyn had one of her first big breaks in All About Eve, starring Bette Davis.  Reagan appeared with Davis in 1939’s Dark Victory.  Reagan also appeared in That Hagen Girl with Rory Calhoun, who would appear in River of No Return with Marilyn, and in The Voice of the Turtle with Marilyn’s We’re Not Married co-star Eve Arden.  He starred with Barbara Stanwyck in Cattle Queen of Montana, who appeared in another pivotal film for Marilyn, Clash By Night.

Reagan had an uncredited role in Jean Negulesco’s first solo directing credit, the short Alice in Movieland – he would go on to direct Marilyn in How To Marry a Millionaire.

 

A controversial political figure, Ronald Reagan started life with no sign of who he would become.  He became one of the most influential people in U.S. history – and played a small role in launching the career of Marilyn Monroe, another person who started from humble beginnings to rise to great heights.

-Leslie Kasperowicz for Immortal Marilyn

No, Marilyn Monroe Was Not Pregnant In 1960

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Another tabloid run at Marilyn has taken some candid photos sold at the recent Julien’s auction and made up a pregnancy to go with them.

The Daily Mail, a British publication well known for unreliable stories, published this story, which features photos from the Frieda Hull collection recently sold by Julien’s Auctions.  They interview Tony Michaels, the man who bought the slides at auction.  Michaels claims that Frieda was a friend of his, and told him that Marilyn confided in her about the pregnancy, a result of an affair with French actor Yves Montand during filming of Let’s Make Love in 1960.

Marilyn during costume tests for The Misfits, July 1960.

Marilyn does appear to have a little tummy in the photos, taken in early July of 1960 during costume tests for The Misfits.  The problem is that the tummy is nothing new, but was in fact just as visible during costume tests for Let’s Make Love a good six months earlier, prior to Marilyn’s time on set with Montand.  Photos throughout the film show a somewhat heavier Marilyn with a small tummy showing.  If this was a pregnancy, it started some time earlier and somehow managed to not advance at all for six months.

Marilyn during costume tests for Let’s Make Love.

Putting aside photographic evidence, it doesn’t take much to look at the story itself and see a fabrication.  If indeed Marilyn was pregnant by means of an adulterous affair, why would she confide in young fan Frieda Hull and no one else?  And why would Frieda then tell her neighbour and no one else?  And why would either of them keep the secret for so long, Frieda to her grave and Michaels until he purchased the photos from Julien’s?  It wouldn’t be the first time a salacious story was fabricated about Marilyn to get some press and make a small piece of Marilyn history into a much bigger and more valuable one.  And sadly, these stories are shared as gospel.

There was no word about this pregnancy at the time that the catalog was prepared for Julien’s, as Marilyn Remembered tweeted today in response to the article.  No mention or evidence for a pregnancy during this time has ever surfaced, in spite of exhaustive research into every aspect of Marilyn’s life in the 55 years since her passing, and the fact that she was photographed everywhere she went.  The odds of such a pregnancy going unnoticed and unreported at the time, and to have been kept a total secret all these years are incredible.

A scene from Let’s Make Love

Marilyn’s weight fluctuated during her lifetime, and the years from 1957-1960 were heavier than previous years.  Following her divorce from Arthur Miller, Marilyn slimmed down considerably.  What is seen in these photos could be the result of the onset of the gallbladder problem that would lead to surgery in 1961.  It could be bloating from Marilyn’s endometriosis – a condition that caused Marilyn to have difficulty conceiving and carrying a child to term, making this claim even more hurtful – or just from a big lunch.  Or it could be nothing at all.

Sometimes, a tummy is just a tummy.

Marilyn’s Contemporaries: Debbie Reynolds

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Life and Career

 

Mary Frances Reynolds was born on the 1st of April, 1932, in El Paso, Texas to parents Maxene and Raymond Reynolds.  Growing up during the Depression, Debbie spent the first seven years of her life in a very small house with her parents, brother William, and their grandparents. She never had her own bed, and instead to share one with her relatives. During this time, her father, who worked on the railroad, was saving up every penny in hopes of building a house to provide better living conditions for his family. That hope came true in 1939, when he purchased a lot in Burbank, California.

 

Although continuing to live modestly on the west coast, the Reynolds family was happier in California, and Debbie was raised with a relatively average upbringing, and even became a proud member of the Girl Scouts.

 

At sixteen years old, Debbie was preparing to participate in the local Miss Burbank beauty contest, upon hearing that all contestants would receive a free blouse and scarf. Debbie was only interested in the free clothes, but her parents convinced her to stick to her commitment and work for the accessories by going through with the contest. She unexpectedly won, catching the eye of talent scout Solly Baiano from Warner Brothers, who happened to be in the audience that night.

 

Before she knew it, young Mary Frances Reynolds from Texas was signed to a major Hollywood studio, her name changing to Debbie at the suggestion of a Warner Brothers executive, and became one of the youngest contract players on the lot at the time. From there, Debbie continued attending private tutoring to finish school, while juggling small parts in films. She appeared in bit parts in June Bride and The Daughter of Rosie O’ Grady in the late 1940’s before Warner Brothers began to cut back on musicals. Solly Baiano drove Debbie to the MGM lot where she auditioned for the upcoming film Three Little Words. Her talent was instantly recognized after singing and performing the same song and dance as she had in the Miss Burbank contest, and was hired at $300 a week.

 

With Gene Kelly for Singin’ In The Rain

After working on Three Little Words, nineteen year old Debbie was whisked away to start production on a film that would become her first big break, earning her a spot in one of  the most legendary classics of all time: Singin’ In The Rain. However, the work behind the scenes was not as joyful as the final product. Debbie was new to dancing, and sweated through rehearsals for eight hours a day. Although they would become great friends and have a mutual respect for each other’s’  abilities, she was driven to tears by co-star Gene Kelly for working her too hard, until Fred Astaire came to her rescue and helped her with her routines, reassuring her that “If you’re not sweating, you’re not doing it right.” Debbie once said: “Making Singin’ In The Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I’ve ever done.”

 

In 1954, while making Athena, Debbie met and fell in love with singer Eddie Fisher. A year later, the young couple married and Debbie learned she was expecting her first child. Carrie Frances Fisher was born on October 21, 1956, and in 1958, Debbie gave birth to her second child, son Todd Emmanuel Fisher, on February 24. Todd was named after producer Mike Todd, Eddie’s best friend and mentor. The Fishers spent a lot of time with Mike and his new wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor, whom he had married in 1957.

 

Tragically, however, Mike was killed in a plane crash the following March, leaving Elizabeth, Debbie, and Eddie devastated. Not thinking much of it and wanting to help Elizabeth during this difficult time, Debbie allowed Eddie to go and stay with her and comfort her when she needed company. What resulted was one of the biggest scandals in Hollywood history. Debbie stated in one of her memoirs:

 

“[Elizabeth] was so devastated by Mike Todd’s death that she looked for comfort in a convenient person who also was Mike’s best friend. That connection made her grab on to Eddie in an attempt to get over the loss of her true love.”

 

Debbie with her children

Although Eddie had initially not been around much as a father due to his work, Debbie still wished he would come home to her and the kids. But unfortunately, Eddie chose Elizabeth, and the two were married in 1959, after his divorce from Debbie. Despite the dramas of their past, Elizabeth and Debbie reconciled, and ended up developing a close bond that would last for the rest of their lives.

 

Debbie would endure two more failed marriages after Eddie. The second to Harry Karl, a successful businessman. Their marriage lasted thirteen years, ending in 1973 because of Harry’s relentless gambling and cheating. The third would be to real estate developer Richard Hamlett. Debbie and Richard would be married for twelve years, and they even worked to open a hotel in Las Vegas in 1993 called the Debbie Reynolds Hotel, a place where Debbie could perform shows and finally start to realize her dream of building a museum to show off the precious movie memorabilia from her MGM days that she had begun collecting since the 1970’s.

 

Debbie called her third marriage being “married to the devil.” Not only was Richard wiping her out financially, but he was also backdating deeds to their shared estates and transferring them to his mistress. At one point, Debbie even feared for her life after Richard came home in the early morning hours from a rendezvous with his girlfriend, and Debbie confronted him. “I was sure he was going to toss me off the balcony. One shove and all his troubles would be over. I pictured myself plummeting twelve floors to the pavement.”

 

Debbie with daughter Carrie and granddaughter Billie.

Richard Hamlett would be her last attempt at marriage; they divorced in 1996. By then, her children were forty and thirty-eight years old. Todd had developed a successful career in the technical aspect of the entertainment industry, sound engineering, architectural design, and managing his mother’s hotel. Carrie had become an accomplished writer, an internationally famous actress with her timeless role of Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, and also an advocate for the awareness of bipolar disorder and prescription medication addiction.

 

On December 23, 2016, Carrie was rushed to UCLA Medical Center after suffering a major heart attack on a flight to Los Angeles from London. She was placed on a ventilator, but the damage had already been done. She passed away five days later on December 28, at just sixty years old.

 

Debbie’s biggest fear was her children pre-deceasing her. In her 2013 memoir, she poignantly and prophetically stated:

 

“It’s not natural to outlive your child. This has always been my greatest fear. Too many mothers have lost their children, for thousands of different reasons. I don’t know if I could survive that.”

 

Debbie was completely devastated and broken by the loss of her daughter. The morning after Carrie’s death, Debbie suffered a stroke, and passed away after being hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Her son Todd released the statement, “She went to be with Carrie.”

 

Debbie was one of the few remaining Old Hollywood royalty we still had with us today. Her legacy has only just begun, and her memory and talent will continue to dazzle and warm the hearts of audiences around the world.

 

Marilyn Connections

 

In 2011, Debbie was forced to part with many items in her film memorabilia collection to pay off the seemingly endless debt leftover from her third marriage. She held the famous Debbie Reynolds Auction through Profiles in History. One of the hundreds of items on the auction block was Marilyn’s white subway dress from The Seven Year Itch. The dress made headlines after selling for an unbelievable total of $5.6 million.

 

Debbie with Marilyn’s costume from Let’s Make Love

Both women were presenters at the 1951 Academy Awards.

 

Both women knew the pain of losing an unborn child. During the filming of My Six Loves (1963), Debbie became pregnant with her third child during her marriage to Harry Karl. She lost the baby during her pregnancy, and was forced to carry it to term for seven months, resulting as a stillborn. In the beginning of 1963, she became pregnant again, and again she learned that the baby had died during pregnancy, and this time labor was induced. “The pain was excruciating. The experience left me depleted and emotionally devastated.”

 

In 1964, Debbie filmed Goodbye Charlie with Tony Curtis, who had worked with Marilyn on Some Like It Hot (1959). Debbie’s role in Goodbye Charlie was originally offered to Marilyn in 1960.

In addition to causing problems with Marilyn in the press by making a heated comment that kissing Marilyn was “like kissing Hitler,” Tony Curtis also made ridiculous claims that she carried his baby at one point, only coming forward after both Marilyn and husband at the time Arthur Miller had passed away. Curtis also caused problems for Debbie on the set of Goodbye Charlie. This was just a few years after Debbie’s divorce from Eddie Fisher. Tony had been spreading Eddie’s lies about her. “I didn’t realize that Tony had been telling people around town that my marriage to Eddie Fisher broke up because I was a lesbian and a lousy lay. I’m not a lesbian. I may be a lousy lay, but Eddie was my first love.”

 

Both Marilyn and Debbie have faced many hardships in life, and both will always be remembered for how strong they truly were. Both were raised in the heart of Hollywood, in and out of a studio every day in their adult lives. Debbie has always had nothing but respectful things to say about Marilyn, and her relentless efforts for the preservation of Hollywood memorabilia will never be forgotten. Both trailblazing women have earned iconic status in their own right, and will continue to be cherished for their contributions to film and to the world for generations to come.
-Ky Monroe for Immortal Marilyn

The Seven Year Mystery

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The white pleated halter dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch is always described in superlatives: most iconic, most recognized, most recreated, most expensive. It can also be called the most mysterious: how many copies of the dress were there? Is there another one in existence, hidden away all these years? Did Marilyn herself own a copy of the dress, and if so, where did it end up? And perhaps most intriguing: was a copy of the dress really stolen back in 1993?

On location in New York

In 2011, The Seven Year Itch dress was sold to great fanfare for an astounding $5.6 million. It had been part of the Debbie Reynolds collection, obtained by her during studio sell offs of costumes in previous decades. Astute Marilyn fans noticed that there were some discrepancies between the dress being auctioned and the one Marilyn appeared to be wearing. For cost saving measures, studios would reuse costumes, making alterations as needed, and this was no exception: the dress was altered and worn by Roxanne Arlen in the film Bachelor Flat in 1962, and this was the dress in Reynold’s collection. Scott Fortner investigated extensively and was able to prove beyond doubt that the dress auctioned was in fact one that was worn by Marilyn and was also confirmed by the designer, William Travilla, himself.So it would appear that   the dress auctioned is authentic, alterations and all. You can read Scott’s detailed research here.

However, Scott’s research raised some more questions, especially after it was revealed in Travilla’s notes that he had actually made four copies of the famous dress. It would make sense that one was used on location in New York, and another for the reshoots  of the scene in Los Angeles. So where are the other dresses, if they exist?

Filming on an LA soundstage.

When Marilyn Monroe died, her Last Will and Testament stated “I give and bequeath all of my personal effects and clothing to LEE STRASBERG, or if he should predecease me, then to my Executor hereinafter named, it being my desire that he distribute these, in his sole discretion, among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted.” Rather than distributing these items to her friends, Lee had everything from her Los Angeles home and her New York apartment placed in storage. Two years after the death of his wife Paula in 1966, Lee married Anna Mizrahi, a woman 38 years his junior. They met when Anna, an aspiring actress, auditioned for a place at The Actor’s Studio. When Lee died in 1982 his entire estate, which included Marilyn’s belongings, was inherited by Anna. Anna Strasberg has been a controversial figure, as she held sole rights to Marilyn’s belongings, name, image, and licensing and ruled them with a litigious iron fist although she had never even met her. Lawsuits were filed against anyone who attempted to use Marilyn for commercial gain, including a drawn out battle with Marilyn’s photographers over who retained the rights to their photos: the photographers who took them or Anna, as they contained Marilyn’s image. (the photographers won). In 1999, following Joe Dimaggio’s death, Anna cosigned the majority of Marilyn’s belongings that had been warehoused to Christie’s Auctions for the now legendary $13 million sale. However, a few years prior to that we gained some clues as to the whereabouts of a second Seven Year Itch dress.

Initial news report of the burglary.

On September 13, 1993 a stolen property report came in to the 10th Precinct of the New York Police Department. A storage unit had been burglarized, and some cartons had been stolen. A pretty nondescript crime, except  those cartons contained the personal property of Marilyn Monroe. The report was filed by none other than Anna Strasberg. She kept several boxes of Marilyn’s things in a seventh floor storage locker at Chelsea Mini-Storage on West 28th Street. An employee had gone to do an inventory report for an upcoming exhibit and discovered that there was a new lock on the door and cartons were missing. Evidently a burglar had cut the lock, stolen 3 or 4 (reports vary) boxes of priceless Marilyn memorabilia, and then took the time to put a new lock on the unit. The last time the items had been checked on was late July, so the crime could have occurred at any time in the previous six weeks.

Initial news reports on September 15 claimed that items listed as missing were letters between Marilyn and Lee Strasberg, the sequinned Jean Louis dress that she wore when she sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy, and the dress and shoes from The Seven Year Itch. However, the following day Detective William Oldham of the Major Case Squad stated to the press that reports that the Happy Birthday dress was missing were false.

Thomas O’Malley, a detective with over 20 years on the police force, was assigned the case of the missing Monroe items. He spent six and a half months tracking down clues and investigating who had stolen the Marilyn items and where they were now, and the pressure was on for him to find the most valuable missing items: Marilyn’s white pleated dress and shoes from The Seven Year Itch. As he pursued leads, the local and national newspapers all reported on the theft of the most recognizable film costume of all time. O’Malley searched out witnesses, fingerprinted the scene, checked the storage facility’s customer list, and interrogated prisoners. Eventually he got a lead that seemed worthwhile: a prisoner told him that it had been a crime of opportunity, and the thief was someone named Jesus Davila. After discovering that Davila had a previous arrest for burglary of a storage unit and had a rented unit on the same floor of the storage facility as Anna, O’Malley felt he had his man.

On March 28, 1994, armed with a search warrant, O’Malley entered Davila’s storage unit and immediately spotted boxes with Anna’s name and address on them contained within. O’Malley called Anna in California with the good news and asked her to send a representative over to identify the stolen property. Eagerly awaiting a look inside the boxes, O’Malley wholeheartedly hoped that the Seven Year Itch dress had been recovered. “Not just for Anna’s sake, not just to do my job as a detective, but for Marilyn Monroe herself,” he said. “The dress is a piece of movie history, and a symbol of its sexiest star.”

The representative arrived and the boxes were opened. The famous dress was not there.

The next day, March 29, O’Malley arrived at St. Luke’s -Roosevelt hospital, where Jesus Davila worked, to make the arrest. Davila quickly confessed to committing the crime and said that he had given some of Marilyn’s things to his coworkers and a neighbor in his building. They were told they had until 8 o’clock that evening to return everything or face charges of receiving stolen goods themselves.

Back at the precinct, Davila offered more details of the crime. He had clipped the lock on Anna’s storage unit and removed the boxes, but claimed he had no idea what was in them until the press reported that the theft was of Marilyn Monroe’s property. He then moved some of the items to his home, and gave some away as gifts. Davila consented to having the officers escort him to his apartment to do a search and recover the stolen goods, and that search was conducted at 4:40 pm on March 29. Nothing was found in Davila’s apartment, but the neighbor Davila had given items to brought down a black plastic bag and handed it over to the detectives. It contained a few hats, a fur piece, and some plates but no white pleated dress and Davila was not forthcoming about it’s whereabouts.

The press reported on the items recovered but noted that the Seven Year Itch dress was still missing. O’Malley was taken aback when his superiors told him to stop working to recover  the dress. They were claiming the the new ”official” story was that the dress and shoes had been located in Anna’s storage unit after all. The detective was initially startled by this pronouncement, but after all his years as a detective thought he had figured out what had happened.

In an interview in 2000 about the case of the missing dress, O’Malley used the following analogy:

“If a stamp collection with one world famous stamp were stolen and most of it recovered except the premier stamp, the owner would of course do anything to get it back; and if the perp had a half decent lawyer, he would know that stamp was his bargaining chip. The lawyer could offer to return the stamp provided his client didn’t get any jail time. Probation, maybe, but no jail time.
{As far as the dress} Here’s a guy who got himself a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Lawyers make deals with the district attorney’s office, they don’t make deals with the police department. The DA has the last lick. So if a cop is looking for a world famous stamp and the DA tells him to stop poking around, what’s he to do but stop looking?
But how do you explain the stamp all of a sudden showing up? Of course, the media is going to ask the police if they recovered the stamp. The detective would respond “I never recovered the stamp”. So the media would say “Wait a minute, what’s going on here? If the police didn’t recover it, how was it found?’ To save face, the DA might say “The stamp was reported stolen in error. It was in the back of the safe, and we didn’t see it. But it was always there.The owner’s got his stamp back, the perp does soft time, the district attorney is happy because the case is closed with probation, and the police department is happy because the case is closed.”

Detective O’Malley was interviewed for this article. He speaks in the no nonsense way that one would expect from a New Yorker with years on the police force, but his story remains absolutely consistent with both the published reports at the time and later interviews he gave about the missing dress. “We checked the guy’s apartment, there wasn’t much there. He didn’t keep the stuff. He put it in an upstairs apartment, we went there and found everything.  The DA  and I sat down and she  said ‘Tommy, you got him good.” He couldn’t say he didn’t do it, everything led to him. We found it in the storage bin in his name and got a confession from him. I had it locked down,a  done deal. The perp was charged with  grand larceny and burglary also.”

He goes on to reiterate how he was told lay off anything to do with the famous white dress, which was not recovered at Davila’s apartment building. “I get a call from DA,  she says the dress will be recovered. It was the only thing that was still missing but I was told to stop working the case. I asked “How are you going to put that into play?” She says to  go see Anna Strasberg and talk to her. So I go see her at her apartment. She tells me it was never missing, I always had it. I didn’t believe her, but she insisted, so that’s how it’s going to be. If it’s not missing, and she has it, that’s it, case closed. All she really  wanted was the dress, that’s why  it was big time publicized and in all the papers at the time. I could have made a big stink, but it was considered closed and I had other cases to get to.”

He repeats his earlier theory that the dress was used as a bargaining chip to get a plea deal: “I think the guy’s lawyer convinced him to return the dress to her, she says it’s  her mistake, it was  never actually stolen. The DA  went along with it, the  whole case is dismissed. They worked out a deal, I see it all the time. I don’t think he even did any time for it. That’s how you get out of doing time for stealing a million dollar dress.”

O’Malley’s theory seems plausible,which would mean that the second Seven Year Itch dress is safely with Anna Strasberg and we may never know if it was actually stolen or not. However, there’s one more bit of intrigue to the Seven Year saga…..sources have said that Anna Strasberg not only says that she does not currently have a Seven Year Itch dress, she claims that she NEVER had a Seven Year Itch dress. I asked Detective O’Malley why he thought it would be claimed that she never owned the dress and while he was reluctant to speculate, he did state that maybe it had simply been sold privately some time ago and that both Anna and the new owner didn’t want that publicized.

Anna  cosigned what is believed to be the remainder of Marilyn’s personal items to Julien’s Auctions for a November 2016 sale and there is certainly no Seven Year Itch dress among the lots. Which begs the question….does Anna in fact have the dress and is withholding that information for reasons known only to her? Did she have it in 1994 but no longer has it today? Or, is she being truthful in stating that she has never had one….but then how does that explain the police report, filed by Anna Strasberg personally according to Detective O’Malley,  stating that it was missing? Stoically reluctant to answer questions pertaining to Marilyn on the record, we may never know from Anna herself. While it’s highly likely that there is more than one copy of the dress, until it surfaces and brings it’s story with it, all we can do is speculate on who has it and where it is now.

 

By Marijane Gray for Immortal Marilyn

Marilyn’s Contemporaries: Lana Turner

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Life and Career

Lana was born Julia Jean Turner of Wallace, Idaho in 1921. Her father was murdered in 1930, and a year later, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother. Turner’s ‘discovery’ – while sipping a Coke at the soda fountain outside the Top Hat Café on Sunset Boulevard and after skipping a typing class – is the stuff of legend. She was just sixteen years old. Billy Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, was struck by her youthful good looks, and in 1937 she was signed by MGM under a new name, ‘Lana’.

Lana in The Postman Always Rigs Twice

While initially more celebrated for her looks than her acting, Lana proved her critics wrong with a dramatic turn as an alcoholic starlet in Ziegfeld Girl (1941.) Perhaps her best-known performance is as the adulterous Cora Smith in the classic thriller, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946.)

Turner married seven times, and once said of her many failed relationships, “I’m so gullible. I’m so damn gullible. And I am so sick of me being gullible.” In 1957, her teenage daughter was charged with stabbing Lana’s boyfriend, gangster Johnny Stompanato, to death after she found him beating her. It was later ruled as justifiable homicide.

She earned acclaim for her performances in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Peyton Place (1957), Imitation of Life (1959), and Madame X (1966.) Turner’s career continued until the early 1980s, when she acted in TV soap opera Falcon Crest. She died in 1994.

Marilyn Connections

“Sweater girl” Lana Turner

Sweater Girls: In her movie debut, They Won’t Forget (1937), Lana played a character loosely based on Mary Phagan, whose murder in 1913 led to the lynching of an innocent man. Lana’s first scene, in which she walked down a street wearing a form-fitting top, led to her being labelled ‘The Sweater Girl’, a name she detested. This trend was later adopted by Marilyn. She joked about it during a performance for US troops in 1952: “You fellows are always talking about sweater girls. I don’t know what the fuss is about. Take away their sweaters and what have they got?”

Mickey Rooney: Another of Lana’s early films was Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, America’s most popular young star at the time. In his 1991 autobiography, Life is Too Short, Rooney claimed that he and Lana had an affair and that she aborted his baby. “Mother was livid and adamantly denied it,” Cheryl Crane noted. “I know that it was very important to her to fight this accusation because she even phoned her attorney … If Rooney’s story had been true and she wanted to keep it a secret, it would have been more like her to act as though he didn’t exist.”

Rooney also claimed an affair with Marilyn, and even that he invented her name. In the latter case, it is well-known that her name was created in 1946 by Marilyn herself and the Fox talent chief, Ben Lyon. (‘Marilyn’ was inspired by a Broadway star of the 1920s, Marilyn Miller, while ‘Monroe’ was the maiden name of Marilyn’s own mother.

MGM: As her career rocketed during the early 1940s, Lana was managed by Johnny Hyde, “a dear friend for years” according to Cheryl Crane. In 1949, Hyde met Marilyn in Palm Springs, and was instantly smitten. “He said that he had discovered Lana Turner and other stars,” she recalled, “and that I had more than Lana and it was a cinch I would go far.”

Marilyn had sought an MGM contract as early as 1947, while under the management of Lucille Ryman Carroll, a talent scout for the studio. Ryman had earlier served as a mentor to Lana Turner. But with Lana on their payroll, the studio didn’t need another sexy blonde. Then in 1950, Johnny Hyde secured a breakthrough role for Marilyn in MGM’s The Asphalt Jungle. All that year, Hyde tried to negotiate with Dore Schary to take on Marilyn permanently. But though Monroe would make two more films for MGM – Right Cross and Hometown Story – Schary wasn’t interested.

When Lana’s career began, MGM was Hollywood’s most lavish studio. Marilyn, on the other hand, made her name at Fox during the 1950s, when the studio system was in decline. She never enjoyed the protection that stars of Turner’s generation had.
In 1951, Dore Schary replaced Louis B. Mayer as head of MGM. Lana felt unsupported by Schary, and left the studio for good in 1956.

Drama Queens: Turner was generally cast in romantic dramas, but Monroe also shone in comedies and musicals. Of all the roles she played, the most similar to Lana’s characters was that of amoral Rose Loomis in the film noir, Niagara (1953.) Like Cora in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Rose persuades her lover to murder her husband. While Niagara was not as compelling as Postman, it looked spectacular and in one famous scene, Marilyn was filmed taking the longest walk in cinematic history.

Lana was also famed for her style of walking. “She would try to teach it to me, but I never quite got the hang of it,” Cheryl Crane admitted. “It was a manner of twisting the ball of the foot with each step. One unusual feature of hers that had an effect on it was that her left leg was a bit shorter than the right … She also wore high heels, usually four inches, sometimes with platforms. Hers was a rolling, subtle kind of glide, not a hip-swinging Marilyn Monroe walk.”

Lana Turner in The Merry Widow

Dancing Girls: Though Lana, unlike Marilyn, was not an outstanding singer, she danced superbly and was once nicknamed Hollywood’s ‘Nightclub Queen’. In The Merry Widow (1952), she worked with choreographer Jack Cole. “The Waltz musical sequence featured a chorus of beautiful dancers dashing about all in pink,” author Cindy De La Hoz observed. “It appears Cole looked back to his work in these moments the following year in his choreography of Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number” (in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)

Betty Grable: From the 1940s onward, Lana was friendly with another glamorous blonde, Betty Grable. ‘At the height of their fame, fans who ran into them would mistake them each other occasionally,’ Cheryl Crane revealed. ‘Mother happily obliged them with a “Betty Grable” autograph.’ Monroe, who was often shy around others, nonetheless bonded with Grable when they starred together in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953.)

Otto Preminger: Marilyn’s 1954 western, River of No Return, was by her own estimation, “a grade-Z cowboy movie.” Director Otto Preminger bullied Monroe, and she reputedly considered him ‘a pompous ass’. In 1958, Lana was offered a role in one of Preminger’s best films, Anatomy of a Murder. After clashing with Preminger over her wardrobe demands, however, Turner rejected the part, and later reflected, “God forbid my family should ever be so hungry that I have to work for him.”

Lana Turner and Clark Gable

Clark Gable: In 1941, Lana starred alongside the ‘King of Hollywood’, Clark Gable, in Honky Tonk, a western which became MGM’s highest grossing movie that year. She and Gable were featured on the cover of Life magazine, and went on to make three more films together. Gable and Turner were branded ‘The Team that Generates Steam’. In 1942, while they were filming Somewhere I’ll Find You, Gable’s wife, actress Carole Lombard, was killed in a plane crash. Gossip spread that Lombard had taken an early flight because she was nervous about leaving Gable ‘alone with Lana Turner,’ which she denied.

Gable was one of Marilyn’s childhood idols, and she realised her dream of working with him with The Misfits in 1960.  Sadly, it was to be the last film either star would complete. Gable died of a heart attack shortly after filming ended, and Marilyn was devastated by reports that Gable’s widow, Kay Spreckles, blamed his collapse on Marilyn’s erratic behaviour during filming. But Kay later reassured Marilyn by inviting her to the christening of Gable’s son.

Children: Lana’s chronic endometriosis made her unable to have more children, but she remained close to daughter Cheryl throughout her life. Marilyn, who also suffered from endometriosis, endured at least two painful miscarriages and would never have children of her own.

Legends: In Lana: The Memories, the Myths, the Movies, co-written with Cindy De La Hoz (author of two books on Monroe), Cheryl Crane states that her mother “thought Marilyn Monroe was a fine actress besides being a fascinating personality.”

Marilyn’s death is considered one of Hollywood’s greatest tragedies. While Lana never found lasting love, ultimately she survived. Both women came from humble backgrounds, and achieved immense fame through their beauty and talent. Like so many sex symbols, they were rarely given the respect they deserved, and their difficult private lives contrasted poignantly with the upfront glamour they projected.