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Remembering James Spada

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James Spada, author of the much-loved 1982 book, Monroe: A Life in Pictures, has passed away aged 67.

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.

James Spada attended Immortal Marilyn’s 2012 Pool Party during Memorial Week.  Below are photos of James, who was happy to sign autographs and pose with fans.

 

-by Tara Hanks

Natural or Not? The Facts About Marilyn Monroe And Those Plastic Surgery Rumors

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When a woman is so timelessly and stunningly beautiful as Marilyn Monroe, people are curious as to whether it’s all natural born beauty or if she’s had nips, tucks, lifts, and enhancements. Rumors circulate all the time about whether or not Marilyn Monroe had plastic surgery and to what extent, and lengthy debates never seem to come to a conclusion. So what are the facts about Marilyn’s alleged plastic surgery?

1. Rhinoplasty

An x-ray of Marilyn’s nose. 

Comparison of Marilyn’s nose.

Some authors have claimed that Marilyn had minor rhinoplasty, i.e., a nose job, although they do not allege that she had her entire nose reshaped but simply had the tip of it trimmed to appear less bulbous. Comparison photos do not show much difference in her nose, and any minor changes could also be attributed to greater makeup skill and lighting techniques. The source of the nose job claim is unknown, as it does not appear anywhere in her known medical records. Her medical records do indicate that she was seen for a possible nasal fracture on June 7, 1962, but there is no mention of previous surgery.  The nurse who worked for Marilyn’s surgeon, Dr. Gurdin, was Dorothy Henderson. Henderson stated that while she did assist  with Marilyn’s medical treatments, she had no recollection of anything being done to her nose.  Until solid evidence is forthcoming, this claim is dubious.

2. Electrolysis

A comparison of Marilyn’s hairline across many years.

 

Some books have alleged that Marilyn underwent hairline electrolysis, a method that in her era utilized a thin metal probe to reach into the hair follicle to permanently remove hair. Some sources claim she did it to minimize her widow’s peak while others state contrarily that she did it to emphasize it. In the 1940s and 50s, electrolysis was a painful and lengthy process, it would have caused redness and irritation along her hairline and could take up to a year of treatments before being considered complete. Marilyn was modeling nearly nonstop during this time and there are certainly no photos of her with a reddened and inflamed forehead. Also, comparison photos show that her widow’s peak remains practically the same over the entire course of her career. This claim appears to be a myth.

 
3. Chin Implant

In 2013, the rumors of Marilyn having had chin augmentation were finally put to rest when the medical records of Dr. Michael Gurdin came up for auction. Dr. Gurdin’s notes from July 14, 1958 state that Marilyn had come to see him about a ‘chin deformity’ and that she’d had a  small cartilage implant in 1950. His notes further state that the implant had become reabsorbed over time, there was ‘mild flatness’ of the chin, and that he could not feel the implant anymore under the skin. There are also a handful of photos where the small scar on her chin is visible, further proving that this rumor is in fact true.

 

4. Breast Augmentation

Nudes shot late in life show no sign of breast augmentation.

Also in 2013, a salacious rumor was started by Joan Kron, editor of Allure magazine. She wrote that a ”friend” of Marilyn’s,  Rosemary Eckersley, stated that near the time of her death, Marilyn had painful breast infections as a result of silicone injections. One does not have to dig very deep to find these allegations absurd. Firstly, there is no record of Marilyn having a friend by the name of Rosemary Eckersley. Marilyn authors, scholars, and colleagues were left befuddled by the name, as it does not appear anywhere in correlation to Marilyn’s life and had never been mentioned until the 2013 article.
While Marilyn’s breast size did fluctuate, as nearly all women experience, if one looks at the topless photos taken by Bert Stern in June 1962, her breasts are actually significantly smaller than in the zaftig figure Marilyn had throughout the 1950s. Following her gall bladder surgery in 1961, Marilyn’s weight dropped down to 115 pounds, and naturally her breasts reflected this weight loss. If she had the alleged breast infection, she certainly would not have felt comfortable posing topless as her breasts would have been red and sore. Her autopsy also indicates there was nothing unusual about her breasts, an infection and injected silicone would certainly have been noted. This rumor is utterly false.

5. Dental/Orthodontic Work

Marilyn’s “perfect teeth”

It is said that in 1948, Marilyn’s then boyfriend Fred Karger took her to see orthodontist Dr. Walter Taylor, and paid for a retainer to correct an overbite and teeth bleaching. Details are vague and documentation is difficult to locate so this story is hard to confirm or deny. It is interesting, however, that Marilyn’s file for the Blue Book Modeling Agency in 1946 makes significant notation that her teeth are ‘perfect’. Her long time dentist, Dr. LeRoy Nisson, recalled in 2015 that Marilyn had  ‘the most beautiful set of teeth” and “the best teeth I’ve ever seen”
A more macabre and salacious rumor was started in 2015 by mortician Allan Abbott. The ghoulish Abbot made outrageous claims about the condition of Marilyn’s body, including that she had false teeth. He went so far as to claim this was noted in her autopsy report. Abbot has a long history of telling exaggerations and outright falsehoods in regards to Marilyn and other celebrities, and this is no exception. There is zero evidence that Marilyn had dentures, and her autopsy report makes no mention of her teeth which by all other accounts were her own.

Based on known documentation, the only plastic surgery claim about Marilyn that can be confirmed for certain is that she had a small chin implant. It’s very telling that this is the only rumor that has substantiation, both through doctor’s records and photographs, while the other speculations have little to support them other than hearsay. The truth of it is that Marilyn had extremely minimal work done- so minimal that it’s undetectable in before and after photos, so minimal that when her chin implant was reabsorbed it didn’t alter her stunning face in any perceptible way.  However, even if every single claim of plastic surgery were true, it does not diminish Marilyn’s remarkable beauty. Often comments about her having had cosmetic surgery are made in an effort to demean and belittle her, as if the person stating it refuses to accept that she could have possibly been that beautiful all on her own. These statements reveal far more about the insecurities of the person making them than they do about Marilyn. One does not need to use allegations of plastic surgery as an insult or a put down, and women shouldn’t be demeaned for their nips and tucks or however else they choose to present themselves to the world. Marilyn faced a litany of scrutiny under a microscopic lens during her lifetime and our society has progressed to criticize women’s appearances even more harshly. Let us appreciate her for how she chose to look without picking apart what was natural and what may have been enhanced, and let us stop trying to assuage our own insecurities by feasting on the flaws, real or imagined, of other women.

 

Marijane Gray for Immortal Marilyn

Review – Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime

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A new Channel 4 documentary, Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime, begins with some footage of the star in 1960, arriving in New York for test shots on what would be her last completed movie, The Misfits. The grainy clip was filmed by Frieda Hull of the Monroe Six, a gang of teenage fans based in Marilyn’s adopted city. One of the perks of Frieda’s job – airline stewardess – was a proximity to her idol on both coasts, and with Monroe’s goodwill, she amassed a large archive of candid photos which remained unseen until her death in 2014. A batch of colour snapshots taken the same day, was purchased recently by a former acquaintance of Hull, who claimed she told him Marilyn was secretly pregnant at the time by her Let’s Make Love co-star, Yves Montand. This random piece of hearsay was reported in the Daily Mail, and the National Enquirer who upped the ante by stating the father of this phantom baby was future president John F. Kennedy.

“She was an object of desire for men and an inspiration to women,” says narrator Tracy Ann Oberman, as familiar images of Marilyn cut to a still of Madonna in her Blond Ambition days. Ever since the first dedicated auction at Christie’s in 1999, her possessions have become the most covetable of any modern celebrity. After a touring exhibit stopping off in London, Ireland, the USA (via a transatlantic cruise) and China, Julien’s Auctions held the largest sale to date in November 2016, drawn mostly from the estate of Lee Strasberg, and ranging from household goods and cosmetics to sketches and poems; the British collector David Gainsborough Roberts, who has amassed a number of her most famous movie costumes; plus smaller archives like Frieda Hull’s, and mementoes from the estate of Lois Weber, Marilyn’s former publicist. Even the four-volume catalogue, spread over 1,000 pages, is a collectors’ item priced at $400.

“This is the last chance to see her through the things she loved,” Oberman says, although several lots (especially photographed) have reappeared on EBay. Even the auction’s centrepiece, the beaded ‘nude’ dress worn by Marilyn on John F. Kennedy’s birthday, first went on the block in 1999. It was sold again last November for $4.8 million – the most ever paid for a dress. The buyer, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, will present it in future exhibitions. Some of Marilyn’s cash-strapped fans wish her property had been kept together, perhaps in a museum, but not even the Smithsonian can afford to invest now. Nonetheless, the diehard fans are a fairly close group, and I recognised several familiar faces among the bidders – including lookalike Suzie Kennedy, who also voiced some of Marilyn’s private notes for the documentary. Decorated for the occasion with giant, wall-to-wall photographs, the Beverly Hills auction house resembled the ‘Church of Marilyn’ in Ken Russell’s rock opera, Tommy.

Although there are some tantalising remnants from Norma Jeane’s early days, the narrative quickly skips ahead to the ‘red velvet’ calendar shots taken by Tom Kelley in 1949, when Marilyn was still relatively unknown. By 1952 she was on the cusp of fame, and as Sarah Churchwell observes, she would be the first major star to survive a nude photo scandal. “You don’t become the biggest movie star in the world by accident,” Churchwell concludes. At dinner with her agents, Marilyn jotted down notes on the menu, spelling out her vaulting ambition (“I can be one of your greatest stars”) and dramatic technique (“Think with your body – let go physically to pick up emotionally…”)

As actress Ellen Burstyn points out, this holistic approach was inspired by one of Marilyn’s favourite books, The Thinking Body by Mabel Elsworth Todd. Winning the role of Lorelei Lee in the glitzy musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), would be her reward. The dress worn by Marilyn in the opening number, says fashion historian Amber Butchart, made her “the quintessential showgirl – blood red, sequins everywhere, and form-fitting with that incredible plunging neckline.” (However, some experts believe the costume sold at auction may actually have been Jane Russell’s identical number.)

“I was astonished that a girl could be that sexy on purpose,” Ellen Burstyn recalls of Marilyn’s screen persona. “She revolutionised the female image.” Her explosive sexuality would also wreck her marriage to Joe DiMaggio. Candid photos by Frieda Hull show Marilyn on a New York street one September evening in 1954, preparing to film an outdoor scene for The Seven Year Itch. Arriving on Lexington Avenue, she wore her mink coat – a gift from Joe – over a cream, silky halter dress designed by Travilla for the movie. Her hair was still pinned, and she clutched a script. A raucous crowd gawped as she stood over a subway grate, her skirt blowing in the cool night air.

The city became her sanctuary, as she left marriage and Hollywood behind. Sarah Churchwell – author of a ‘meta-biography’, The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe – describes the move as “a laudable attempt to create professional control … a new side of Marilyn was emerging.” She also came under the influence of Lee Strasberg, head of the Actors Studio. Marilyn in Manhattan author Elizabeth Winder says he taught Marilyn to “lean into her sensitivity.”

When Marilyn renegotiated her contract with Twentieth Century Fox, Time magazine praised her as a “shrewd businesswoman.” Her ‘comeback’ movie, Bus Stop, established her as not only a sex symbol, but also a formidable actress. Co-star Don Murray recalls that she dubbed her skimpy costume as weary nightclub singer Cherie a “snake outfit,” making serpentine gestures while singing ‘That Old Black Magic’ to a room of drunken cowboys. Amber Butchart notes that Marilyn chose authenticity over glamour, ripping up her fishnet stockings and clumsily darning them.

This UK-made documentary, helmed by Rosie Schellenberg, places a special focus on The Prince and the Showgirl, the film Marilyn made (and produced) in England. Agent Jay Kanter remembers her hiding in the bedroom “like a frightened deer” when she first met her co-star and director, Sir Laurence Olivier, but the venerable actor believed she could revitalise his career. Torn between Olivier’s disdain for method acting, and criticisms of the script from her new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, Marilyn’s confidence was shaken.

Biographer Lois Banner cites the alleged incident when Marilyn found Miller’s diary, claiming that he had written “words to the effect of ‘I married a whore.’” However, Miller’s diary has never been made public, and Elizabeth Winder may be nearer the mark when she suggests that Arthur simply felt that living with Marilyn was not what he expected. Banner also claims that Arthur “never had good sex before Marilyn,” whom she describes as “very practiced and experienced,” adding, “she blew his mind.” How Banner could know such intimate details is unexplained, and while Miller may have admired his wife’s sensuous nature, theirs was a traditional marriage, and Marilyn’s longest relationship.

After a brief sabbatical – rather melodramatically characterised as “a desperate attempt to save her marriage” – she returned to Hollywood for Some Like It Hot, her greatest success. She was also pregnant, but would later suffer a miscarriage. “She sometimes didn’t show until noon,” recalls Marian Collier, one of the last surviving members of Sweet Sue’s band. Director Billy Wilder was “calm and patient,” but leading man Tony Curtis “got a little upset.” The seamy black dress Marilyn wore to sing ‘I’m Through With Love’ was so tight that she had to be lifted onto the piano. “That was her voice, you know,” Collier says – many other stars of that era were dubbed. “Marilyn Monroe gives the film a heart,” Sarah Churchwell remarks. “She makes it touching and poignant.”

Marilyn’s brilliant performance in The Misfits is overlooked, as the narrative skips to her 1961 photo shoot with Douglas Kirkland, in which she lay nude under silk sheets. “She found the images that portrayed the Marilyn she felt she wanted to see portrayed,” Kirkland comments, remembering how she expertly manoeuvred the project from beginning to end.

“Six months later she was sleeping with JFK,” the narrator continues, although no conclusive evidence of an affair can be found among the thousand lots at Julien’s. As so often happens in Monroe lore, the legend has surpassed reality. As the camera pans over the prescriptions and pillboxes she left behind, Sarah Churchwell offers a sobering analysis of Marilyn’s final decline: “There was no stability in her childhood. The Hollywood environment exacerbated those anxieties … She was often isolated, lonely …”

Last year’s auction at Julien’s raised $11,000,000 – Marilyn died with only a few hundred dollars in her checking account. She had been fired from her last movie, and although the narrator adds that a lucrative new deal was in place, this had not been finalised. The modesty of her estate stands in stark contrast to the vast profits still being made from her name. The woman who wanted her possessions to be divided among her friends would probably be bewildered by events like this, but it is perhaps an inevitable consequence of her enduring fame. “There was a sweetness about her,” says Ellen Burstyn, who knew Marilyn during her Actors Studio days. “She never played dark characters – always played characters filled with light, like a sexy angel. There has never been anyone like her.”

-Tara Hanks

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!  

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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