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Book Review: Murder Orthodoxies: Sex, Lies and Marilyn by Donald McGovern

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Murder Orthodoxies: Sex, Lies and Marilyn

Among the thousand or more books about Marilyn Monroe, there are certain strands – from coffee-table monographs to cultural criticism. One theme is so persistent, however, that it has become a sub-genre in its own right. Armed with dubious confessions and conspiracy theories, their authors argue that Marilyn’s untimely death was the result of foul play in high (and low) places, and these allegations have been seized upon by readers, as well as journalists and documentarians.

A handful of writers have directly challenged these assumptions. In 2005, David Marshall collected the findings of some dogged fans in The DD Group: An Online Investigation Into the Death of Marilyn Monroe. More recently, the internet radio show Goodnight Marilyn has featured input from psychotherapist and Monroe fan-turned-biographer, Gary Vitacco-Robles, and forensic pathologist Dr Cyril Wecht.

First-time author Donald McGovern follows in their footsteps with Murder Orthodoxies: A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn Monroe’s Death, a rigorous excavation of the myths and legends, meticulously structured and packed with intricate detail over 566 pages.

It all began at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, when Monroe sang ‘Happy Birthday, Mister President’ to John F. Kennedy as hundreds of well-wishers looked on. Among them was gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, who described this sensuous performance as a literal seduction. Less than three months later, Marilyn took a fatal overdose of barbiturates, and died alone in her bed.

That September – as noted by Monroe biographer Donald Spoto – three men met in Los Angeles to discuss Hollywood’s communist problem. Those men were Frank Capell, editor of a right-wing newsletter, Herald of Freedom; Maurice Ries, head of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals; and Jack Clemmons, a Los Angeles police sergeant who had been the first to arrive at Marilyn Monroe’s house after her death was reported. All three were vehemently opposed to the Kennedy administration; and according to Ries, the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had been Monroe’s lover.  

Capell relayed this story to columnist Walter Winchell, who was close to Marilyn’s ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. Winchell had been a staunch Monroe fan until 1955, when she divorced Joe and met her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller, who would be soon investigated by the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee. Even after the couple separated, Marilyn’s liberal associations were followed with some interest by the Bureau’s long-time head, J. Edgar Hoover.     

Over the next year or so, Winchell published snippets of innuendo about Marilyn in his column, fed to him by Capell. After John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, the red-baiters’ attentions turned to Bobby, who was contemplating a Senate run. Several months later, Capell produced a short pamphlet implicating the younger Kennedy in The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe. It drew little interest, and by 1968 Bobby was also dead, while Capell and Clemmons had been disgraced for their part in a plot to defame another politician.

The rumours should have ended there, but in 1973, the novelist Norman Mailer dropped some of Capell’s insinuations into his ‘factoid’ biography, Marilyn. A year later, hack reporter and small-time film producer Robert Slatzer took up where Mailer left off with The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe. And in the age of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, the scandal that began as a political smear suddenly became a media goldmine.

In 1982, the allegations that Marilyn had been murdered (at the behest of the Kennedys, by the Mafia, or CIA) were reviewed in a threshold investigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. No credible evidence of homicide was found, but this only served to fuel the fire. In 1985, Anthony Summers published his blockbuster, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, relying heavily on the testimony of Slatzer, Jeanne Carmen (Marilyn’s self-professed ‘best friend’); and Senator George Smathers (a former friend of the late president.)

Summers’ bestseller spawned several other conspiracy volumes, including Crypt 33 by the private investigator and self-publicist, Milo Speriglio; Double Cross by Chuck Giancana, putting his mobster brother Sam in the frame; and a salacious memoir by would-be actor Ted Jordan, who declared himself Marilyn’s lifelong lover and claimed to be in possession of her ‘red diary’, previously mentioned by his rival for the spotlight, Bob Slatzer. Another celebrity P.I., Fred Otash, claimed he had wiretapped Marilyn’s house and helped to ‘sweep’ the property of incriminating evidence after her death.

In Victim (2004), Matthew Smith featured extracts from alleged tapes made by Marilyn before her death to psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson. Rather like the red diary, those recordings have never been located; but John Miner, an attorney who had attended Monroe’s autopsy, claimed to have heard them. His mooted transcript was published in full a year later in the Los Angeles Times. Lionel Grandison, another peripheral figure, reimagined the ‘red diary’ in Memoir of a Deputy Coroner (2013), arguing that Marilyn was a secret government agent.

Other popular conspiracy books, such as Donald Wolfe’s The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe (1998) and Jay Margolis and Richard Buskin’s The Murder of Marilyn Monroe: Case Closed (2014), have fused various murder theories, including the rumour that Dr. Greenson was yet another of Marilyn’s lovers – and also her killer. A common thread, first proposed by Slatzer, was that she had threatened to hold a press conference disclosing her affairs with the Kennedys, and matters of national security (including, according to some ufologists, her knowledge of the alien landings at Roswell.)

During the final months of her life, Marilyn was embroiled in a bitter legal battle with her studio; she was having daily sessions with Greenson, and relying on large doses of sleeping pills from her physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg. She had suffered from depression for most of her life, and had a history of overdoses and suicide attempts. She may have met John and Robert Kennedy on just four occasions; their daily itineraries are in the public domain, and her routine is also well-documented. Only one sexual encounter with the president can be reasonably ascertained. Whatever her private demons, Monroe would surely have realised that such an indiscretion would end her career. Her own sporadic journal entries (collected in the 2010 book, Fragments) contain no references to either Kennedy.  

McGovern looks finally to her autopsy report, compiled by renowned pathologist Dr. Thomas Noguchi, for the true cause of her death. As a long-time drug user, Marilyn had a high tolerance which enabled her to ingest multiple pills in succession. Conspiracists have pointed to the disposal of some organs as proof of a cover-up, but as Noguchi pointed out, the toxicologist’s analysis of her liver and blood samples made further tests unnecessary.

With dry wit and exhaustive scrutiny, McGovern exposes the insupportable and absurd aspects of what has nonetheless become an urban myth. McGovern’s book will not, of course, be the last word on the subject; but it offers a timely redress to decades of shallow sensationalism. And in an era when ‘fake news’ is poisoning the fabric of public life, McGovern’s systematic unravelling of the calculated distortions that have so clouded Monroe’s legacy provides us with a very modern cautionary tale.  

Book Review: The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist

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Would Marilyn Monroe have called herself a feminist?

The answer is probably no; in Marilyn’s day and age the word was basically unheard of.  It didn’t come into popular use until a few years after her death.  Even if it was in use, it seems unlikely she would have seen herself that way given the times in which she lived.

Was Marilyn Monroe a feminist?

That’s an entirely different question.  Marilyn Monroe came into adulthood in the era when women went to work to step up for the war effort.  And she didn’t wait around for her husband to return; a taste of independence and freedom sent her instead into her first divorce and the long, hard fight for a career in Hollywood.

But it isn’t young Norma Jeane’s strength in the face of incredible adversity that is the focus of Michelle Morgan’s newest book on our girl – it’s The Girl.  Named for Marilyn’s character in The Seven Year Itch, Morgan’s book focuses on the events surrounding the making of that film, and those that followed.  Without a doubt, it was an absolutely life-changing era in Marilyn’s life, and while those watching it happen may not have recognized its import, hindsight shows it for what it really was.  Marilyn Monroe stood up to Hollywood, took control of her life and career, and emerged victorious.

Experienced Marilyn biographer Michelle Morgan traces that era in great detail; following Marilyn through the end of her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, her flight to New York, the founding of Marilyn Monroe Productions, and the incredible success of The Seven Year Itch that cemented her position as a box office draw without compare.  It was the success of the film that was a major part of the power Marilyn was able to wield over the Fox powers that be, eventually winning her the contract changes she had been fighting for since before she and DiMaggio said “I do” and more creative control over her films.

This book takes a more detailed look than any before at the years that changed the trajectory of Marilyn Monroe’s career.  Morgan approaches it with her usual solid research and attention to detail, digging up nuggets of information that will leave even the most seasoned fan saying “I didn’t know that!”  The book explores the creation  of Marilyn’s production company with photographer Milton Greene – and the factors surrounding the end of that partnership –  as well as her conversion from a Hollywood sex symbol to a New Yorker running in the highest intellectual circles.  It also looks in depth at the film that was at the center of all of it; Marilyn’s last film on her “slave” contract with Fox.  In retrospect, it’s hard to believe the amount of change that took place in Marilyn’s life in the span of about two years.

Some may say that Marilyn Monroe wasn’t a feminist, and by much of today’s definition, she may not have been.  For her era, however, her stalwart refusal to bend to the pressure of men who could have destroyed her career is nothing short of remarkable.  Morgan sheds light on a side of Marilyn that is rarely discussed, the actress and the woman whose life and career were truly remarkable aside from all of the sensational tabloid trash that has dominated the narrative about Marilyn for so long.

The Girl falls into the rare category of Marilyn Monroe books that show her as a real person who worked hard and took her career and her legacy very seriously.  It should take its place proudly on the shelf of any Marilyn fan.

The Girl is set for release on May 8, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon now.

-Leslie Kasperowicz for IM

Book Review – Of Women and Their Elegance

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Of Women and Their Elegance

Norman Mailer

With photographs by Milton H. Greene

Simon and Schuster 1980

 

The thing with Mailer is like the thing with Hemingway—you either love him or you can’t stand him. It’s hard to be ambivalent about a larger than life figure, be it Mailer, Hemingway or, yes, Marilyn Monroe. Mailer is full of himself, pretentious at times, an icon and touchstone of his times, one of those guys who try so hard at being the ultimate macho man that you can’t help but be put off while wondering at the same time why he is so preoccupied with making sure his image is one of Primal Man. And he was talented. Very.

Marilyn was one of the ones who couldn’t stand him, primarily due to his forever heavy handed attempts to meet and be a part of her life. What comes through in the accounts of her response to Mailer is the idea that she thought him a macho ass who was far too full of himself. Personally I get a kick out of him and think some of his work brilliant, (The Naked and the Dead, The Executioners Song, The Idol and the Octopus), while some of it is incomprehensible, (Harlot’s Ghost), or just flat out bad, (The Deer Park). And, as most of you know, Mailer was somewhat obsessed with Marilyn Monroe. The only difference between him and any man of his generation was that he published two books about the object of his obsession while all the others merely dreamed. Let me make on more point about Mailer: He was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe, the movie star, the sexual fantasy. He never met, let alone knew or had any insight into the actual woman behind the Hollywood veneer.

The best known of Mailer’s attempts to get Marilyn down on paper was his first, Marilyn, and to be honest, it is primarily remembered due to its lush illustrations capturing Monroe the still photograph model non-parallel. Seven years later, feeling he hadn’t quite captured her, Mailer brought out Of Women and Their Elegance. And, like everything else he ever produced, it is a work that you either love or really pisses you off. The later opinion is the result of the unique angle Mailer attempted—the text is written as if it were Marilyn’s actual thoughts and for most fans, knowing how little she actually thought of him, the idea of his penning her inner most thoughts is slightly galling.

Does he carry it off? I don’t think so but then maybe you will. Should you try and find a copy or leave this one out of your collection? I say find it and treasure it—not so much for the oddity of a man who styled himself as one of his generation’s macho icons but as the attempts of a lovelorn fan trying hard to understand the woman he never met. And the photographs. Ah yes, the photos. The book is chock full of Milton Greene’s work, THE Monroe photographer in my opinion and that of many MM fans. What may sound strange coming from me is that what is truly wonderful here is that not all of the photos are of Marilyn but a good sample of Greene’s non-MM work. By including his work with such luminaries as Marlene Dietrich, Anna Magnani, Judy Garland, Sophia Loren, and Jane Fonda, you can see that Milton’s genius could and did expand from his legendary work with Marilyn.

The text, the reader is told, “while based on episodes in Marilyn Monroe’s life, and on the reminiscences of Amy and Milton Greene, does not pretend that these are the actual thoughts of Miss Monroe…” And while the Marilyn depicted here is the Marilyn of Norman Mailer’s imagination and likely a far cry from the actual human who was Marilyn Monroe, it is an interesting concept especially when you keep reminding yourself that this is work of a man infatuated with an image, who longed to meet and possibly know the real woman yet never had the opportunity. That is the true reason for my own fascination with this book, knowing how much he wanted to meet her and couldn’t help but realize that she in no way felt the same. It is the work of a man saddled with an unrequited love/lust infatuation trying to understand the woman who held herself forever out of his reach or understanding.

 

-David Marshall for IM

Book Review: Making Sense of Marilyn

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How do you solve a problem like Norma Jeane, when even her name is in doubt? More than a thousand books to date have been devoted to this question. As Ezra Goodman, at the height of her fame, wrote so prophetically: “The riddle that is Marilyn Monroe has not been solved.” Andrew Norman’s Making Sense of Marilyn is the latest attempt. With a background in medicine, Dr Norman is now a prolific biographer. Marilyn would surely be proud, if rather surprised, to find herself among a litany of subjects as lofty and diverse as Jane Austen and Winston Churchill.

The difficulty of understanding who Marilyn really was, Norman believes, is compounded by unreliable sources. Her 1954 memoir, My Story, was ghost-written with Marilyn’s co-operation before being shelved at her request, and later revised for posthumous publication. But the confusion had begun when she was a child, and her troubled mother Gladys, whether deliberately or by mistake, told her that her estranged father had died in a car accident. “In her early years [Marilyn] was insecure and introspective,” Norman observes, “and unable even to make sense of herself.” As a starlet, she followed the studio’s Cinderella narrative and claimed she was an orphan. This was done partly for publicity, but also to protect living relatives. Unfortunately, these fabrications also hurt others close to her, like foster carer Ida Bolender, with whom she had lived until she was seven years old.

Norman relies mainly on primary sources, including accounts from Marilyn’s first husband, Jim Dougherty; her half-sister, Bernice Miracle; actress Susan Strasberg; and photographer George Barris, described as her ‘confidante.’ In the months before she died, Marilyn worked on a magazine shoot with Barris. He also interviewed her extensively for a book project, which was finally published many years later. However, the details of Barris’ arrangement with Marilyn are even hazier than the origins of My Story. And while she does seem to have put her trust in Barris, he had only met her once before their collaboration.

“When a little girl feels lonely and that no one cares or wants her,” Marilyn told Barris, “it’s just something that she can never forget as long as she lives.” In 1935, she went to live with her mother for the first time. Gladys worked as a film cutter in Hollywood and had put down a deposit on a new home. But after a few happy months, her mental health rapidly declined. She suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. A family friend, Grace Goddard, took over Marilyn’s care but this did not prevent her from being shunted between foster homes and an orphanage. As no one was willing to tell the truth about her mother’s illness, for several years the young girl was unsure whether Gladys was still living.

Compounding her sense of abandonment was the spectre of sexual abuse. Returning to My Story, Norman considers her experience of being molested by a boarder in a foster home. The account is deliberately vague, with some details probably altered. Jim Dougherty dismissed the claim that she had been raped, on the grounds that she was still a virgin when they married. But this does not preclude other forms of abuse.

Her first marriage, at sixteen, was arranged when Grace, her legal guardian, moved to another state. Marilyn had been dating Jim, a neighbour and five years her senior, for several months. “It wasn’t fair to push me into marriage,” she told Barris, admitting she was “scared to death about what a husband would do to me.” According to Jim, the marriage was happy at first, but his decision to enlist in the Merchant Marine triggered his wife’s fears of rejection. While he was serving overseas she began working as a model, and the marriage collapsed.

While her early film career was arduous, she surrounded herself with creative mentors who encouraged her ambitions. Her perceptive analysis of the characters she played belied their essential shallowness. She would describe Angela in The Asphalt Jungle as a “rich man’s darling”; All About Eve’s Miss Caswell as an “untalented showgirl”; in Monkey Business she was Miss Laurel, a “slightly dumb secretary”; and as Rose in Niagara, an “amoral type.” Her fragile identity was often at odds with her public image as a sex symbol, and fame only intensified this conflict.

Even with lesser material, Marilyn gave her all to each role: and when stardom was hers, she shone like no other. None of her inner turmoil is evident in The Seven Year Itch, made while her brief marriage to Joe DiMaggio was falling apart. “Marilyn enters into the spirit of the film,” Norman remarks, “proving once again that comedy was her forte.” In 1955 she moved to New York, and committed herself to method acting and psychoanalysis – a dual process that could be, as Norman comments, “equally painful and distasteful.” Bernice Miracle felt that Marilyn had lost confidence in herself, but her career continued to soar.

Her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller, found her next performance, in Bus Stop (1956), “deeply moving.” But filming of The Prince and the Showgirl led to clashes with her co-star and director, Sir Laurence Olivier. Norman believes that “the film is made bearable only by Marilyn’s gaiety.” The Miller marriage was overshadowed by Arthur’s legal battle with the House Un-American Activities Committee, which he finally won with Marilyn’s loyal support. “Instead of showing anger at the way her husband had been treated,” Norman remarks on her public demeanour, “she was the epitome of dignity and charm.”

Behind the scenes, Miller was alarmed by her psychological dependence on acting coaches Lee and Paula Strasberg, and her growing addiction to sleeping pills. Watching Marilyn perform ‘I’m Through With Love’ in Some Like It Hot, Norman observes that she looked “genuinely sad.” Curtice Taylor, whose father Frank produced The Misfits, considered her a “natural actress,” but this deeply personal project (written for her by Miller) would mark the end of her longest relationship.

Miller’s controversial 1964 play, After the Fall, depicts the doomed marriage of a suicidal star and her guilt-ridden husband, and Norman believes it holds the key to Marilyn’s troubled psyche (and why Miller was unable to save her.) Following their divorce, she moved back to Los Angeles and grew close again to DiMaggio, whom Bernice described as “full of common sense and concern.”

Norman briefly mentions George Barris’ claim that she was in a “serious romance” with John F. Kennedy, but seems reluctant to pursue it further. It is doubtful that Barris had any direct knowledge of the alleged affair. Nonetheless, Norman argues that she looked “pinched and drawn” during her iconic performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ at Madison Square Garden in May 1962. By June, she had been fired from her unfinished comedy, Something’s Got to Give, due to repeated absences from the set.

In the weeks before her fatal overdose in August, Marilyn was seeing her psychiatrist Dr Ralph Greenson almost daily. Her physician, Dr Hyman Engleberg, was trying to wean her off barbiturates, but also prescribing Chloral Hydrate. At times Marilyn’s speech was slurred, and she became drowsy and uncoordinated – a side-effect of the drugs she was taking. Miller had noted during their marriage how she seemed oblivious to the physical ravages of her habit, while Norman argues that barbiturate abuse may have exacerbated her recurrent depression.

There was a documented history of mental illness in Marilyn’s family, and her mother Gladys was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. While some biographers now speculate that Marilyn may have suffered from Bipolar Disorder, Norman explores the alternate possibility of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD.) This condition generally manifests in early adulthood, and is so-named because it sits on the borderline between neurosis and psychosis. Its defining features include unstable self-image; feelings of emptiness; fear of abandonment; bouts of anxiety, and impulsivity; instability in relationships; severe dissociative feelings; and recurrent suicidal behaviour.     

“Marilyn was a gifted, caring and intelligent person, with deep sensitivity and a poetic soul,” Norman writes, noting that “creativity is so often forged in the crucible of pain.” No matter how high she climbed on the ladder of success, insecurities constantly dragged her down and she needed close supervision to keep her from self-harm. In Making Sense of Marilyn, Andrew Norman refers frequently to Monroe’s own words, recorded in interviews and her own journals and poetry.

Over a concise 160 pages, and with a selection of photographs, the author cites his sources fully. Setting aside a few minor factual errors, this is a finely drawn portrait of a remarkable woman who wanted most of all to be loved. And as Dr. Norman concludes, “this yearning, and her vulnerability, captivated the world.”

– Tara Hanks for IM

Book Review: Marilyn Norma Jeane by Gloria Steinem

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Marilyn: Norma Jeane

By Gloria Steinem

Photographs by George Barris

1986 Henry Holt and Company

ISBN 0805000607

 

By this time you realize that there are literally countless books focused on the life, career, and physical beauty of Marilyn Monroe. There have been novels, coffee table picture books, memoirs with chapters devoted to the legendary movie star, conspiracy tomes, silly books, scholarly studies, scandal books and gossipy books, books written by friends, pseudo friends, maids, even one by her dog. So this month, looking back on all these choices, I wanted to talk about one that really stands out for me, now and when it was first published.

Not your average Marilyn biographer: Gloria Steinem receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

You have to be of a certain age to fully grasp the impact Gloria Steinem’s book had when it first came out, but then one of the perks of growing older is filling in those younger on things that happened in the past when you too were young. In 1986 Gloria Steinem was in her early fifties, the icon of the feminist movement, a women of considerable intelligence who had stood at the head of a movement that had literally been changing America’s perception of women for well over twenty years. For her to have written a book about Marilyn Monroe was nearly as surprising as say, Elizabeth Warren writing a book on Taylor Swift. The author and subject just didn’t seem to mesh, the differences between them so vast that one wasn’t sure if it was a joke, a put on or a put down. The bigger surprise was that with one book Gloria Steinem presented Marilyn Monroe with the respect she’d ached for all of her life. What’s more the book forced people to stop and consider that there might be more to Marilyn than anyone had ceded her during her lifetime let alone over the twenty-four years since her death. If Gloria Steinem, THE feminist intellectual of the day, was telling us to take another look at the wiggle-giggle gal of the 1950s, maybe we’d misjudged Monroe; maybe there really was something there of depth that had escaped all the countless newspaper reporters, movie critics, gossip columnists, and moviegoers.

Mailer’s Marilyn  was the first to try to explain this. But his book, filled with incredibly gorgeous photos one after another, was, after all, written by Norman Mailer, a great intellectual, granted, but whose prose, especially when writing about Marilyn, tended to be even a bit more purple than his usual output. Mailer, love him or not, made it clear that he was infatuated with Monroe and in between his drooling wolf observations of her life, made it even more clear that he’d wanted her as badly as every male of his generation and to heck with her mind or any other qualities. That he ended his book with a contrived conspiracy theory that he’d later admitted he’d made up only because scandal sells almost as well as sex and he’d needed the money, did him and his subject a disservice.

But Steinem doesn’t share Mailer’s testosterone infused perspective. Ms. Steinem, in 1986, stated flat out that Marilyn Monroe not only deserved our respect, she deserved a second look by all those who had pooh-poohed her impact not only on American film but American culture and history. Before Steinem’s book, it was a given that the majority of women both during Marilyn’s lifetime and after held a sort of resentment against her, considered her more of a joke than an actress. Marilyn Monroe was a male fantasy, a buxom blonde with a child’s innocence, someone men joked about and elbowed their pals over while women found her somewhat vulgar and rather embarrassing.

Steinem addresses this perception directly. She admits that as a young women she did find Marilyn Monroe, in her tight dresses and cooing voice an embarrassment. But when she admitted that there was something there, something that wasn’t allowed to come through in those early 50s films, she began to view Marilyn Monroe as an incredibly strong figure who had risen to the very top of her field in a heavily male dominated industry. Most readers in 1986 tended to forget what a powerful figure Marilyn Monroe truly has been. Sure Bette Davis and others had fought their studios and helped actors break out of the studio restraints, but when Marilyn risked everything to follow her own path by deserting Hollywood and heading off to New York, she proved that a woman could be a one hell of a powerful force to reckon with.

We, in 2017, know this but it took someone of Steinem’s stature to point the fact out to Middle America. If the online groups had been around in the 1980s, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a surprise that the majority of her fans are women, that it took a feminine perspective to see beyond the moistened and parted lips, the bleached hair and perfect proportions. And that is what Steinem brought to the table. There are drawbacks to the work; like most authors covering the Monroe story in the 1980s, she too sources a lot of her research to Robert Slatzer and there’s a lot of Kennedy finger pointing, a connection that was still a major shock even ten years after it had first reached the popular press. But beyond that, Steinem brought a near lyrical sense of Marilyn, aided greatly by illustrating the majority of the book with the wonderful George Barris sessions from the summer of 1962.

Steinem could have, like Mailer, used any of the hundreds of talented photographers who had worked with Marilyn, each with their own unique perception of the ultimate star. But by using the Barris photos taken shortly before Marilyn’s passing, Steinem was able to illustrate that there was a stronger connection with the everyday woman than anyone had noticed before. Sure, Marilyn looks beautiful and desirable but she also looks like a woman in her thirties with windblown hair on a cold day at the beach. And when she and Barris got together for a second session in the Hollywood Hills, Marilyn doesn’t come across so much as the va-va-voom sex symbol of the day as an easily accessible woman of her era in her Jax slacks and Pucci jerseys.

Steinem presents a Marilyn most often overlooked– the Marilyn of 1962 rather than say 1954 or 1957. Even in 1986 the Barris photos show a woman who could easily be contemporary and that brings Steinem’s point across even stronger; there is very little difference between the hurdles and obstacles a woman alone in Hollywood faced in Marilyn’s day and the untold crap a woman has to put up with in the workplace of 1986, let alone 2017.

There’s another reason why I want to point this book out and encourage anyone who hasn’t found it yet to make an effort to do so: Steinem is a great writer. The talent she has shown in her essays for Ms. Magazine, the periodic pieces that appear in the New Yorker, or in the several collections of her work and her recent autobiography, is possibly even more evident here. The book has the feeling that Steinem  has allowed herself the sheer space to fully explore her own feelings rather than restrict herself to a single column. Let me give just one example:

“In the 1930s, when English critic Cyril Connolly proposed a definition of posterity to measure whether a writer’s work had stood the test of time, he suggested that posterity should be limited to ten years. The form and content of popular culture were changing too fast, he explained, to make any artist accountable for more than a decade.

“Since then , the pace of change had been accelerated even more. Everything from the communications revolution to multinational entertainment has altered the form of culture. Its content has been transformed by civil rights, feminism, an end to film censorship, and much more. Nonetheless, Monroe’s personal and intimate ability to inhabit our fantasies has gone right on. As I write this, she is still better known than most living movie stars, most world leaders, and most television personalities. The surprise is that she rarely has been taken seriously enough to ask why that is so.”

 

– David Marshall

Book Review: Music For Chameleons

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Music for Chameleons

By Truman Capote

1980 Random House

 

Is it a “Marilyn book”? Not really, but there is a short piece on her. Is that any good? Depends whether you like Truman Capote or not. A lot of folks do. But an equal number can’t stand the guy.

If there were a list created that named one hundred of the most memorable characters of the 20th century, Truman Capote would likely be in the top ten. If you are not old enough to remember his appearances on the Tonight Show or his famous/infamous masked ball, then you missed out on quite a lot. Without Capote the character, the man who either grated on people’s nerves, (and made them plenty nervous), or could boast of fans as devoted as Marilyn’s, all that is left are his words. And that perhaps is not a bad thing. I have a friend who to this day refuses to read Capote simply because he can’t stand the guy who used to show up on Johnny Carson fully equipped with all of the stereotypical mincing moves and that high pitched voice that sounded like a homophobic comic trying to imitate a gay man.

But the thing with Capote was he was SO outlandish, that voice so falsetto and his attitude one big “I don’t give a sh**”, that you couldn’t help but love him. He wasn’t PC, but he thrived on being a celebrity and when his words dried up and all that was left was the celebrity, he played it for all it was worth and more power to him. Maybe now that he is dead and the memory of that voice, (seriously– you think Evelyn Moriarty has a funny way of talking?), has faded away, more people will turn to the work he left behind and realize what an incredible artist the guy was. The funny thing about Capote is that he is remembered primarily for “In Cold Blood”, the one book of his that was a huge bestseller. I say funny because that book, which I admit is phenomenal, is so different than anything else the man wrote. “Other Voices, Other Rooms”, “The Gras Harp”, even “A Christmas Memory” are works that are closer to poetry than standard fiction.

But what does this have to do with Marilyn? Simple. A collection of his essays issued in 1980 includes a piece called “A Beautiful Child”, a small memory work that focuses on the afternoon he and Marilyn spent together following Constance Collier’s funeral in April 1955. April 28, 1955 to be exact, as he informs the reader in the very first line.

Capote might be a great writer but you really wouldn’t know it from this short piece. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable but after the first few pages, the rest is written up as if it were dialog from a play–

TC: You want to go home?

MARILYN: Everything’s ruined.

TC: I’ll take you home.

 

And for the diehard MM fan, Capote proves he hasn’t done his research when in the third paragraph he states that Asphalt Jungle was Marilyn’s “first speaking part”. But who cares, right? What I want in a MM memory, (and I assume you too), is that it provide me with a glimpse into Marilyn’s life and I’d like to learn something new. On those counts, “A Beautiful Child” does not disappoint. I had never heard of Marilyn having studied with Constance Collier, let alone that she had attended her funeral.

So then there’s the question– as Capote presents everything as dialog– does this “sound” like Marilyn? Up to you. As much as I like to think I know Marilyn, reading her words here, (or at least her words as Capote recalls them), it doesn’t sound like the Marilyn I thought I knew. Capote, when asked by Marilyn what Elizabeth Taylor is like, answers “Well, a little like you, she wears her heart on her sleeve and talks salty.” So maybe Marilyn did have a mouth on her. I never met the woman and have only heard her speak words written for her or talking with Richard Meryman. But be forewarned– if you don’t like your Marilyn “salty”, don’t read “Music for Chameleons“.

What is worth the price of the book is the one page where Capote has Constance Collier speaking about Marilyn. That’s where the description “a beautiful child” comes in. She likens Marilyn to Greta Garbo and makes a very convincing case. The admiration of the aging Shakespearean actress for Monroe is evident, especially when you read that she had been working with Marilyn on doing Ophelia. The things we missed being born when we were and not traveling in the right circles, eh?.

As for the book and as for “A Beautiful Child”, I think this is one that is going to be up to you if you want to seek it out or not. Me, I love Capote, so the question was a no-brainer. But if you want to read only about Marilyn, I don’t know if you’d like it or not. Capote was a character. But the character he presents here as Marilyn, I’m not sure it is one we would recognize.

If you would prefer another Capote work to get a true feel for Marilyn as well as Capote’s thoughts about her, find a copy of the short novel, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, written with Marilyn in mind. It’s odd but Holy Golightly feels much more like the Marilyn I think I know than the Marilyn Monroe of “A Beautiful Child”.

One last thought–  If ever there was ever a doubt Marilyn’s popularity, (and ability to sell), “Music for Chameleons” provided proof a few years back when I was in Italy. The book had been reissued and the new paperback caught my eye immediately when I saw it in a bookshop window– not because it was Capote but because the entire cover of the book was a black and white photo of Marilyn. “A Beautiful Child” is only 19 pages long, yet the publisher was relying on MM to sell the whole book.

 

David Marshall for Immortal Marilyn

Book Review Times 2: Hometown Girl and Marilyn’s Addresses

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Hometown Girl

By Eric Woodard

2004 HG Press

 

                               Marilyn’s Addresses

 

                               By Michelle Finn (Morgan)

                               1995 Smith Gryphon Limited

 

For those of you who weren’t able to go to this year’s annual MM Community gathering in Los Angeles, I’ve two books to tell you about that will allow you to see Marilyn’s hometown from wherever you are. Or maybe you are planning to head to LA at some point in the future and want to create your own tour of those spots where Marilyn Monroe once worked, played, lived and laughed. Used to be you either went ahead and booked a trip and once there just kind of winged it but with the aid of Michelle Finn and Eric Woodard you can sit down and map out every single place you want to see in person.

 

Eric Woodard took his time in researching everything from addresses, vintage phone numbers, gathering visuals be they matchbook covers or old postcards, and it paid off big time with Hometown Girl. The resulting book is a class act from the first page to the very last. The colors are vibrant. The paper is of the highest glossy quality. And again the research that went into this project is astounding. As Eric mentions in his introduction, “most people don’t understand when I try to explain what Hometown Girl is all about. But then again, this book isn’t for them. It is for those fans like myself who have an obsessive need to know the minutest tidbit of information about, to us at least, one of the few iconic symbols of the twentieth century and beyond.”

 

The text on the cover pretty much explains the concept of the book: “A chronological guide of Marilyn Monroe related Los Angeles area addresses from 1923 to 1962 with 250 listings illustrated with over 700 images.” What the cover doesn’t tell you is that the visual images leap off the page to grab the reader and pull them deep into a world that for the most part is no longer: the actual world Marilyn Monroe inhabited. Yet this is not a presentation of photo after photo but a nearly 200 page collage created by an incredible graphic artist. In the hands of any other author the information would be welcomed but in no way could it have been presented in such a dazzling manner.

 

Many authors can write about Marilyn’s life and I’m pretty sure you’ve read a good deal of them. But it is one thing to read a four hundred page biography, (even those with a sizable photo section), and quite another to enter Marilyn’s environment with Eric Woodard as your visual guide. You can see a picture of the young MM dining with her first husband and her mother, everyone at the table grinning for the likely souvenir photograph, but to see the restaurant in color, see a menu or a matchbook cover and know what now stands there—this is a totally different experience. Or how about trying to find where the famed Macambo nightclub once stood, the place where Marilyn Monroe used her growing stardom as leverage to break the color barrier and land Ella Fitzgerald a booking? Or maybe you’re halfway through Donald Spoto’s biography and would love to figure out the distance between Peter Lawford’s Santa Monica home and 12305 5th Helena? Curious to see what the exterior AND interior of the home Marilyn and Milton Greene rented during the filming of Bus Stop? You’ve read that Marilyn was looking for a place like Dr. Greenson’s house but have no idea what his home looked like? It’s all right here in this book.

 

From the very first page Hometown Girl guides you through Marilyn’s day to day life, seeing her world through her eyes, from the quiet of Grace Goddard’s backyard, to the skating rink Norma Jeanne and Bebe escaped to, from the Beverly Hilton where she accepted her last Golden Globe to poolside at the Lawford’s Santa Monica beach house.

And that’s’ the joy of this book: to see Los Angeles as it she saw it. Any book that can tell me on which corner to stand and then describe the famous Schwab’s Pharmacy to the point where I can actually see Sidney Skolsky rather than the Crunch Gym that stands there today, is more than okay with me. It is a treasure to hold onto and retreat into whenever the spirit moves me.

 

While Hometown Girl concentrates on the many places Marilyn lived, played and worked in and about Los Angeles and is presented in a chronological-biographical format, Marilyn’s Addresses also encompasses many of the locations Marilyn traveled to—from Los Angeles to New York, from Canada to Japan, from England to Mexico.

 

After she compiled Marilyn’s Addresses, Michelle Finn got married, became Michelle Morgan and went on to write Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed and The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd , among others. What you’ve got to remember though is Michelle is not a California native—she was simply a talented fan living in England when she put her self-published “The Marilyn Monroe Address Book” together in 1993. That bit of fan research turned into her first published book Marilyn’s Address in 1995. And although this may have started out as more of a fan’s hobby, thanks to her impeccable research it has led to Michelle’s standing as one of the foremost Hollywood historians.

 

What I found surprising, (although having now read her other books I realize I should never be surprised by Michelle Morgan), was the amount of information that I had been unaware of. Take Las Vegas for example. I knew that Marilyn had traveled to Vegas for the Dougherty divorce, knew that she had met up with Roy Rogers while there and even got to ride his horse Trigger, but I had no idea where she had stayed. Well, here in Marilyn’s Addresses you will discover that it was at The Last Frontier, (still in existence as The Frontier), one of the very first hotel casinos in what was then a sleepy little town out in the Nevada desert. Or take her entry on Paramount Studios. I knew that the last scenes for The Misfits were filmed there but had no idea which scenes or that it was during the two weeks of final filming that Marilyn posed for the Arnold sitting. And although you might already know where Marilyn and Joe went on their first date, not many MM fans know the exact location in New York where Marilyn scrawled “Marilyn Monroe Was Here” in a patch of wet cement. Michelle Finn, all the way over in England made it a point to find out and includes this information in her book.

 

If I haven’t made it clear yet, comparing Hometown Girl  and Marilyn’s Addresses is like apples and oranges- both are wonderful additions to any Marilyn collection. Look at it this way: even though two books might be similar, you really should own both. As is the case with The Marilyn Encyclopedia and Marilyn A to Z, both editions of Eve Arnold’s Appreciation, or The Complete Films of Marilyn Monroe and Blonde Heat, what you might find in one you won’t find in the other. And if you are as entranced with Marilyn as I am, you’ll want ALL the information you can get. You read both Donald Spoto and Barbara Leaming, why not both Hometown Girl and Marilyn’s Addresses?

 

David.

Book Review: Dinner With DiMaggio

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Dr Rock Positano was thirty-two, with his own practice in Manhattan specialising in non-surgical treatments for foot and ankle problems, when he met Joe DiMaggio in 1990. At seventy-six, DiMaggio still suffered from the effects of a botched foot operation which had brought his baseball career to an abrupt end in 1951. Over the next decade, until Joe’s death in 1999, Positano became his New York  companion and confidant. A notoriously difficult man to know, DiMaggio was both deeply private and intensely concerned with his reputation. First announced back in 2015, Dinner With DiMaggio: Memories of an American Hero promises a rare glimpse into the private life of a frequently misunderstood man, and although occasionally prone to sensationalism, for the most part it delivers.

Joe was a fisherman’s son, and his father – a Sicilian immigrant to San Francisco – had wanted him to follow the family trade. Having disappointed him at an early age, Joe grew closer to his mother. Throughout his life, he strove to avoid any hint of scandal. This perfectionism made him fiercely self-critical, and equally intolerant of others who failed to meet his high standard. He came face to face with one of his own idols when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who guided America through the Great Depression, saw him play in the 1936 World Series. After the game, the president got into a big limousine parked on the infield. “Joe, great catch!” he said, his hands cupped. “FDR was my hero,” Joe marvelled, “and he was admiring me!”

During World War II, his parents (like many other Italian Americans) were declared ‘enemy aliens’. It’s no surprise that Joe resented his military service. President Roosevelt barred him from overseas combat, and he was assigned to the USO entertainment division. But his patriotism was proved beyond doubt when he helped the FBI to track down a suspect in a 1959 narcotics case.

Joe met his first wife, showgirl Dorothy Arnold, on a film set. Their son, Joe DiMaggio Jr., was born in 1941, but the couple were soon embroiled in a bitter divorce. “Dorothy was always trying to get between my little guy and me,” Joe told Positano; nonetheless, even when she sued him for more money, Joe refused to disclose her infidelities (not to mention his own.)

Although he was a lifelong movie fan, Joe’s brushes with Hollywood left him unimpressed. In the late 1940s, he was dining at the Stork Club with some of the biggest names in the movie industry, including Marlene Dietrich and the Bogarts. “Those Hollywood big-shots were all baseball fans,” he recalled, “but they liked to talk about themselves more.” Charlie Chaplin came to the table and introduced himself to Joe, while pointedly ignoring the others. “I didn’t know that he was being blackballed by the entertainment industry and not welcome in Tinseltown,” Joe explained. “My companions and their huge egos were flabbergasted.”

From the New York Post to The Times, media coverage of Dinner With DiMaggio has mainly focused on his ill-fated second marriage to Marilyn Monroe, although it comprises only a small part of the book. “I knew better than to pry,” Positano says, claiming that Joe gradually opened up. “He also spoke with [lawyer] Morris Engelberg about Marilyn,” he adds, “but I never knew what he told each of us, and Morris and I never compared notes.”

Joe thought Marilyn was both beautiful and “highly intelligent,” as Positano revealed in a recent interview for People magazine. “He had a tremendous amount of respect for Marilyn because she was a really great actress.” Their marriage ended, Joe said, because “Marilyn was hurt by the woman thing – her inability to have children.” On their wedding day, Marilyn told reporters she hoped for six children; Joe wanted just one. She suffered from endometriosis, which made it extremely difficult for her to carry a pregnancy to term. Nonetheless, her star was rising when she married Joe, and babies seem not to have been an immediate priority. His jealousy, and her ambition, were more likely causes of the split. When crowds gathered to watch her standing over a subway grate during filming of The Seven Year Itch, columnist Walter Winchell dragged a reluctant Joe along. The couple separated shortly afterward. A few weeks later, Joe and Frank Sinatra tailed Marilyn as she drove to a dinner date, and broke into a neighbouring apartment. The resident sued, and the so-called ‘Wrong Door Raid’ was a rare public disgrace for Joe.

“Doc, Marilyn told me that no man ever satisfied her like I did,” Joe said. Although respectful in public, Joe apparently took a dim view of her third husband, Arthur Miller. Sinatra told Joe that Marilyn kept a photo of him hidden in a closet, which “drove Miller crazy and right to the divorce court.” This story was first published in Marilyn Monroe Confidential (1980), the ghost-written memoir of Lena Pepitone, her New York maid. Others, like Marilyn’s friend Amy Greene, have spoken of her sexual chemistry with Joe, although she would later write of being “attracted beyond my senses” to Arthur. Joe’s name was not cited in the Millers’ 1961 divorce, which was granted on grounds of mutual incompatibility.

In the final years of her life, Marilyn grew close to Joe again. Talk of reconciliation was rife, but she insisted they were just good friends. He allegedly blamed the Kennedys for her death. “They did in my poor Marilyn,” he lamented. “She didn’t know what hit her … my good friend, Frank Sinatra, was their pimp.” Joe had probably been hurt by Marilyn’s relationship with Frank, but by 1962, when her alleged involvement with John F. Kennedy occurred, the president had distanced himself from Sinatra. Positano repeats the tale of Joe snubbing Bobby Kennedy at Yankee Stadium in 1965.

But Marilyn had a long history of depression, and was addicted to sleeping pills. Joe told Positano that she would sometimes neglect her appearance. “Though Joe saw Marilyn’s behaviour become erratic, he was unsophisticated about mental illness,” Positano reflects. “I had the impression that Joe did not understand what happened. He was to regret it for the rest of his life.” He may have experienced a form of survivors’ guilt, which left him susceptible to the rampant gossip and conspiracy theories that have circulated ever since Marilyn’s death.

Marilyn was fond of Joe’s son, who was twenty-one when she died. Their frequent telephone conversations were apparently a cause of concern to Joe. It’s possible that the younger man could have developed a crush on Marilyn, but there is no indication that her own feelings were anything but maternal. These pitiful confessions expose Joe’s hidden insecurity, and at times feel uncomfortably intrusive. In later life Joe Jr battled alcoholism and died penniless, survivIng his father by only a few months. Although their relationship was further strained by “lies and exaggerations” in the press, Joe was devoted to his granddaughters and great-grandchildren. One of his proudest achievements was the opening of the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Florida. “Joe’s fatherly skills must have skipped a generation,” Positano concludes.

With well-chosen investments, lucrative advertising endorsements and an active role in the growing trade for sports memorabilia, Joe was a wealthy man. “All of us ballplayers have Joe to thank for a life after baseball,” said fellow legend Sandy Koufax, while Positano admitted, “I was impressed by his business savvy … Not bad for a high school dropout.” But Joe refused to consort with anyone he didn’t respect, regardless of their credentials. At the 75th anniversary gala for Time magazine, he turned down an invitation to meet the Clintons. On the other hand, he was friendly with former US diplomat Henry Kissinger, and the unlikely pair attended the 1997 World Series.

Although he never remarried Joe was still attracted to women, nursing a secret crush on supermodel Elle McPherson. Pop star Madonna would mention both Joe and Marilyn in her hit song ‘Vogue’, appearing as a Monroe clone in the video. During his final trip to New York in 1999, a frail Joe was in a nostalgic mood. “I miss Marilyn more than ever,” he confided. “Marilyn, Frank and me were all working-class kids. No one taught us this fame-and-fortune racket. In our own way, it wounded us all. But I can say I regret nothing. Well, almost nothing … Doc, we should have reached out to help each other. Marilyn, Frank and I tried to stand on our own. We didn’t do too well …”

 

-Tara Hanks

Book Review: The Elvis & Marilyn Affair

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The Elvis and Marilyn Affair

By Robert S. Levinson

1999 A Forge Book, Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

ISBN 0312869681

We all know that Marilyn has played muse not only to biographers, poets, artists and filmmakers over the years but novelists as well. Sometimes the results are very good, sometimes pretty good, and sometimes not so good at all. But if you are overwhelmed with the idea of reading yet another biography, tired of thinking through yet another conspiracy theory, and have had it up to here with the names of Slatzer, Carmen, Jordan et al, maybe it’s time you switched to fiction clearly labeled as fiction.

 

As I say, there’s a lot to choose from, (try finding a copy of Sam Staggs’ “MMII: The Return of Marilyn Monroe” or Doris Grumbach’s “The Missing Person” but stay clear of John Rechy’s “Marilyn’s Daughter”. If you are not up for the heavy-handed drama of Oates’ “Blonde” why not try for something fun, of no consequence, the sort of book they used to call “beach reads”, (meaning something that you can read while listening to the radio and watching the kids and not care if you get sand all over it). A beach read really is a polite term for something that is pure fluff, has no pretensions of art, can be read quickly and forgotten just as quickly: but leave you with a good after taste– kind of like a Doris Day movie.

 

“The Elvis and Marilyn Affair” is forgettable but fun fluff. The idea is that MM and the Pelvis met up at Fox while she was finishing “Bus Stop” and he was working on “Love Me Tender” and then elaborates on the premise that the two fell hard for one another and carried on a “torrid” affair, (is there any other kind of Hollywood affair?). The myth lived on and people always wondered—was that for real or was the Marilyn and Elvis affair just a publicity ploy? Set in present day, the book’s premise has a Hollywood big wig who has been killed, possibly offed because he might have been in possession of a treasure trove of love letters between Marilyn and the King. Like a lot of beach reads, you’ve just got to let yourself go and enjoy the ride through a convoluted plot and nonsense filled with gumshoes, MM imitators, and lots of movie stars and movie star wannabes.

 

Sure it’s a thin plot. We’re not talking Fitzgerald or even Danielle Steel. The characters are one dimensional, the page is filled primarily with snappy dialog but more along the lines of one of those Porky movies than anything with Nick and Nora Charles. Again, we’re not talking literature here; one look at the cover and you know this is not going to be anything with “In depth” or “Revealing” on its cover blurbs. It’s fun escapism and takes maybe a few sittings to finish off and forget.

 

But credit where credit is due, the author has done a bit of research—at least he can accurately describe Westwood Memorial even if he makes a mistake on Marilyn’s crypt marker. But the way I look at it, if the book clearly states THIS IS FICTION, I’ll give the author a bit of slack rather than my usual nitpicking. The trick, sometimes, is just to lighten up and enjoy. We all agree Marilyn should be taken seriously but surely even Marilyn had moments when she just wanted to kick back and be entertained. One of my favorite lines is when she said sometimes her brain got real starved. But ya know, there are times when candy just sounds a lot better than something healthy.

 

Summer’s upon us and sometimes even the most devoted Marilyn fan just needs something to read that requires very little exercise of the old gray matter. And if you happen to live far, far away from anything remotely sandy, you can always turn all the lights up high in the living room, stretch out on a terry cloth towel and strip down to your bathing suit and pretend. Actually that sounds kind of fun.

-David Marshall