Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “celebrity”

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #49: The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie, by Tony Curtis

“Some people say that Some Like it Hot is the funniest movie ever made. I don’t know. All I know is that it gave me a chance to work with four comic geniuses: I.A.L. Diamond, Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, and Marilyn Monroe.”

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon

In Tony Curtis’s memoir, The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie the well-known Hollywood actor tells his version of what went on behind-the-scenes of one of the funniest movies ever made. Written with the assistance of film historian Mark Vieira, the book is packed full of great color and black and white photos from the set.

Curtis, who died in 2010, had already written two memoirs, Tony Curtis: The Autobiography (1994) and American Prince: A Memoir (2008). So why write a third? Two reasons. Some Like it Hot’s recent heralding as the #1 American comedy of all time by The American Film Institute (AFI).  And cashing in on the enduring popularity of Marilyn Monroe, which would certainly guarantee book sales.

While Curtis is always an entertaining read, his never-ending ego does grow tiresome after a while. He tries to sound humble, but can’t help pondering that he was possibly “the handsomest” actor in Hollywood: “Some Like it Hot did a lot for my development as an actor. It was enough for me to be a handsome actor, maybe the handsomest in town. It wasn’t enough to learn the lines and show up. Being around artists like Jack and Billy and Marilyn affected me. I wanted to know more. I wanted to get closer to the source of the art. I wanted to know how to create that magic, like stars did in the pictures I’d seen when I was a kid.”

Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, and director Billy Wilder

He complains endlessly about the “special treatment” that Marilyn received. “I looked at the film and I thought that in the beginning of it I was weaker than I really was. Everything was done to keep Marilyn happy. She was chosen, favored over Jack and me. That’s what colored my perception of the film for a long time. Too long. But I finally got past that.” He may have gotten past those feelings, but that didn’t stop him from writing about them, repeatedly. He clearly felt that Lemmon was director Billy Wilder’s favorite and that Marilyn’s difficult behavior earned her special privileges. But for all of the stories about Marilyn’s reputation for keeping people waiting or blowing lines, Curtis has just as many instances where she was letter-perfect or got a scene in one take. The scene where Sugar meets Shell Oil, Jr. on the beach had to be filmed quickly, as noisy jets from a nearby naval base were taking off every ten minutes. Marilyn got everything right on the first take.

Marilyn seemed to flub her lines more often when the camera shot was a close-up, when the pressure was on her and her alone. There are numerous accounts of how well she did in group scenes, getting everything right, and right away. As Curtis recounts, “I had seen her last picture, The Prince and the Showgirl. She did long scenes where the camera kept moving and there were no cuts. She was excellent, holding her own against the great Laurence Olivier. We saw the same thing in our film. She did well in uninterrupted scenes, yet when it came to two-shots or close-ups, she suddenly lost confidence.” Billy Wilder observed, “I’ve noticed that if she gets past the first two or three lines she sometimes can go on and on, even if it’s a long speech. She doesn’t seem to get tired. She’ll do take after take. She poops out the other actors, but she blooms as the day goes on. She’s at her best in the late afternoon, when the other actors are dropping like flies.”

Jack Lemmon had a different perspective on why Marilyn needed multiple takes to get a scene right: “Marilyn had a kind of built-in alarm system. It would go off in the middle of a scene if it wasn’t right for her, and she would stop. It would look like she was doing exactly what she’d done in the previous take. But for her, something wasn’t clicking. She knew she was limited. She knew what was right for Marilyn. She wasn’t about to do anything else. So would stand there with her eyes closed, biting her lip, and wringing her hands until she had worked it out.”

Joe E. Brown and Lemmon

Curtis repeats the now-infamous anecdotes of the “Where’s the bourbon?” scene which took 59 takes; and how the studio wanted a “big name” like Frank Sinatra to star (who didn’t seem at all interested). What I hadn’t heard before was that Danny Kaye wanted to be in the film, but that Wilder turned him down and requested Jack Lemmon. Curtis comes up with an elaborate explanation for his “like kissing Hitler” quote; and is still smarting from jokes about his line reading, “Yondah lies da castle of my faddah,” from an early film, Son of Ali Baba.

Even with all of his grand-standing, Curtis can’t help but be interesting on how Hollywood shaped his life. He describes how intense ambition for Hollywood success was the cornerstone of his marriage to Janet Leigh, “Our marriage changed that [feeling like he was a long way from stardom]. The explosion of publicity pushed both of us much farther than we would have gone in the same amount of time if we hadn’t gotten married.” He is unapologetic about his countless affairs — he had a reputation for having affairs with his leading ladies, and wife Leigh was used to it — it was part of the territory.

But he always comes back to Marilyn, which does make for the most interesting stories in the book. He claims to have had an affair with her, when they were both just starting out in Hollywood. That seems possible, but all such claims are suspect when they appear so long after the other party has died. What doesn’t ring true at all are his claims that later he had a one-night stand with her on the set of Some Like it Hot,which resulted in her becoming pregnant, complete with a show-down scene with her husband Arthur Miller.

Curtis signing autographs

Curtis clearly had no love lost with the famous playwright. He repeats a wicked quote from Wilder about Miller, “In meeting him, I had at last met someone who resented Marilyn more than I did.” Ouch, but observant. Curtis can’t wait to share another story which shines an unflattering light on Miller. At at a pre-movie Hollywood party he witnessed Miller being pretentious to Billy Wilder and co-writer I. A. L. “Izzy” Diamond, pontificating on comedy and tragedy. “Billy and Izzy just stood there, with faces down, listening to this bullshit. Finally Billy rolled his eyes and shifted his weight. Arthur backed off. I could see Marilyn. She was standing off to the side, watching. She looked uneasy. She knew that her husband had made a fool of himself and had insulted Billy’s intelligence. It was not a happy scene. It was not a happy way to start a picture.”

He’s alternately full of praise for Marilyn and knocking her down, saying she had hips “like a Polish washerwoman” and “an incredible, unique body.” Like so many, he couldn’t understand why she found some things so difficult. “She was the most important star in movies, she didn’t really understand that. She had so much power. She could have used it in so many ways, become so great. … So much of Some Like it Hot rested on her. If only she used her power to bolster her self-confidence. But she didn’t. Even if she was turning in this miraculous performance, she was losing her sense of self.”

Fun facts he includes about Marilyn:

Marilyn “stole” one of Jack Lemmon’s black dresses from wardrobe for herself to wear in the film.

She recorded her songs for the picture and then, unsatisfied, re-recorded them, “A picture has to be great to be good.”

She posed for countless publicity stills but only approved a few, as she was self-conscious about her weight gain — of which the press was unremittingly unkind. Marilyn had to put up with a lot of crap during filming about her weight. Wilder asked if she would consider losing a few pounds. She used humor to deflect the insult. “You want your audience to be able to distinguish me from Tony and Jack, don’t you? And besides, my husband likes me plump.” She was pregnant at the time.

She traveled with an entourage — secretary May Reis, acting coach Paula Strasberg, dance director Jack Cole, and hair designer Sidney Guilaroff.

Marilyn was unsatisfied with her first scene in the film, which consisted of just walking past the train, and complained to Wilder. He and Diamond then came up with the burst of steam that gooses her — and makes a much funnier, more memorable entrance.

Everyone came to see Marilyn on set, from extras to Montgomery Clift and Maureen Stapleton — they all were enthralled with her.

Curtis, Lemmon, and Montgomery Clift

Possibly the most important thing that Curtis reminds us of is that the two guys being in drag for most of the picture was quite daring and unusual for its time. That edge is exactly what makes Some Like it Hot still so brilliant, so entertaining, so funny today. But Curtis can’t just end his story there. His ego demands additional soothing. He quotes a review of the film by Philip Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times: “‘Curtis is good enough … But his Cary Grant accent (not his doing) annoyed the hell out of me.’ Some actors never read reviews. I do. Mr. Scheuer’s review annoyed the hell out of me. To make myself feel better, I bought the rights to the autobiography of the Italian poet Gabriel d’Annunzio, a wild, sexy artist not unlike myself.”

Photos from Some Like it Hot

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #36: Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of Marilyn Monroe, by Richard Buskin

In Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of Marilyn Monroe author Richard Buskin chronicles all of Marilyn Monroe’s thirty films, highlighting the dramas that occurred behind-the-scenes, as well as giving details of the casts, crews, and plots of each film. He also includes quotes from some of her directors and costars over the years, including Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, Jean Peters and Jane Russell. Buskin also includes some interesting quotes from the actress herself:

“I think cheesecake helps call attention to you. Then you can follow through and prove yourself.” — MM, 1951.

Not only Marilyn’s movies but her surviving screen tests, her one television commercial, and an appearance she made on Jack Benny’s television show are included in the volume. Because of the nature of her film contract, Marilyn could not appear Whenever she chose on television, radio, or record music – she could not appear in different mediums as interchangeably as today’s stars can. One of the reasons modern movie stars have more freedom is because Marilyn fought hard to win hers.

With David Wayne in How to Marry A Millionaire

Marilyn’s notorious “difficult” behavior is put into context by people who worked with her before she became a worldwide sensation. Marilyn learned early on in her career that people would wait for her.

“She was only making $500 a week but she enjoyed a remarkable position because she could come in at any bloody time she wished. … I mean, all of the studio personnel were alerted that no matter what time Marilyn came in, nobody was to bark at her or ask her where she had been, and the reason for that was that Joe Shenck, who owned 20th Century-Fox, was head over heels in love with Marilyn.” — Actor David Wayne, who worked with Marilyn in four films, starting in 1951 with As Young as You Feel, and then in We’re Not Married (1952), O. Henry’s Full House (1952), and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).

Interspersed in the behind-the-scenes sections on various films are some of the familiar stories that have appeared in many other biographies of the star, including her failed marriages and struggles with barbiturates.  But Buskin is most interested and most interesting when he is chronicling Marilyn’s struggles and legal wrangles with her film studio, Twentieth Century-Fox.

“[After Marilyn fled Hollywod and formed her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions] Fox verbally promised to give her a $100,000 bonus for appearing in [The Seven Year] Itch, while also agreeing to pay drama coach Natasha Lytess, vocal coach Hal Schaefer, choreographer Jack Cole to work with her on [There's No Business Like] Show Business. What’s more, a new, more financially rewarding seven-year contract would be implemented in August 1954. Round one to Marilyn – at least in terms of her dealings with the studio.”

Perhaps the most fascinating and tragic story that Buskin tells in Blonde Heat is how completely insane were the dealings of the studio with their stars, especially Marilyn, during the making of the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give, the film that she was never able to complete before her untimely death in August 1962. The production had been troubled from the start. A remake of the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne comedy My Favorite WifeSomething’s Got to Give had an unfunny script that was constantly being tinkered wth, which added to the tension and dissatisfaction of everyone on the set. Things went crazy, and fast as the shoot progressed.

Because of the over-budget spectacle Cleopatra, Fox was going bankrupt, and decided to take its wrath out on an easier target than Elizabeth Taylor, who was still needed to complete the bloated extravaganza. Fox execs fixed on Marilyn, deciding to teach A lesson to all of its “wayward” stars, through her. Marilyn had missed many days on the set, due to a recurring sinus infection, and when it became clear that Something’s Got to Give was in serious trouble, Fox decided to fire her for breach of contract. They filed a suit against her for $500,000 and hired Lee Remick to replace her. But costar (and producer) Dean Martin refused to work with anyone but Marilyn, so Fox sued him for $500,000, too. Costar Cyd Charisse sued Dean for $14,000 for lost earnings. Not satisfied, Fox raised its lawsuit against Marilyn to $750,000, and sued Dean (as producer) for $3,339,000. Dean counter-sued for $5,885,000.

Even with all of this crazy litigation by August 1 the astute Marilyn had managed to patch things up with Fox. The lawsuit was dropped and she was rehired. She also signed a new two-picture deal — a raise on Something’s Got to Give, from $100,000 to $250,000 (the most she had ever made on a picture) and $750,000 for her next picture. Marilyn had also been busy, meeting and planning some other new projects — I Love Louisa (which became What A Way To Go!Harlow, a musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and some potential projects with Brigitte Bardot, to be filmed in Europe. What a combo they would have been.

A set photo from Something’s Got to Give, taken by Lawrence Schiller

But as we know, Marilyn never was able to complete any of those films, or Something’s Got to Give. Her unfulfilled promise is why she still remains so elusive, so enigmatic. Buskin has done a great job covering her life and her films in his enumeration of Marilyn’s career in Blonde Heat. Marilyn is long gone, but her films remain, and what seems universally agreed upon is how she loved the camera and it loved her back. Marilyn was simply born for the camera.

“No matter what her lack of technique was every shot of her — as long as she didn’t back out of her light — was a treasure. She just could not be badly photographed. It was impossible.” — Actor David Wayne

“She doesn’t do anything right and she drives everybody crazy, but then you go in the projection room, look at her on screen, and go ‘Wow!’” — Director Jean Negulesco (How to Marry a Millionaire), to actress Jean Peters (As Young as You Feel, Niagara)

“She was practically perfect to photograph. … No two eyes are alike on a human face — one will be a bit smaller or a slightly different shape — and a real artist will capture the essence in getting the likeness of the person. However, if you could measure Marilyn’s eyes and facial features, they were almost perfect. The end of her nose was tipped up a bit, but it was charming, and she was absolutely lovely. She photographed perfectly from any direction.”— Cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The Prince and the Showgirl)

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #35: Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, by Donald Spoto

I remember taking some of Donald Spoto’s film theory classes at The New School in the late eighties. He had written a nice book on one of my favorite film directors, Alfred Hitchcock, and I enjoyed the class discussions and being exposed to some great films I might never have gone to see on my own, like The Battle of Algiers and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. He has written many celebrity biographies over the years, including books on Laurence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Marlene Dietrich. His book on Marilyn Monroe is considered one of the most definitive biographies of the star. The facts of her life and death seem to be elusive (or even fabricated) to most who write about her, so I had high hopes for Spoto.

For the most part, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, doesn’t disappoint. If it does nothing else, Spoto’s meticulous research does seem to debunk once and for all the highly unlikely claims of Robert Slatzer, who has told anyone and everyone who would listen about his three-day “marriage” to the star. Spoto points out how other biographers, like Anthony Summers have used Slatzer as a credible source and have allowed the cult of mis-information about Marilyn to snowball. Spoto also identifies Marilyn’s “friend” Jeanne Carmen as a fraud, another person who has trumpeted her “close relationship” to the star, only after Marilyn’s death, to her own financial benefit. But the most interesting and useful of Spoto’s discoveries is that Marilyn may have had a one-time fling with President John F. Kennedy, as did many, many other Hollywood starlets, but that she never had an affair or any other sort of intimate relationship with his brother, Robert Kennedy. If the “Kennedy conspiracy” is subtracted from Marilyn’s life and death, her story is not only very different, but much more believable.

“Beginning in 1955, a formidable file on Marilyn Monroe also began to accumulate in Washington – records of which she was never aware. They comprise a ludicrous waste of paper.”

Spoto believes that if there is anyone to “blame” for Marilyn’s death it is the highly unethical behavior of her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, and her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, who Greenson had Marilyn hire shortly after she moved back to Los Angeles from New York. They do seem to have worked as a team, with Murray keeping tabs on the star and reporting back to the doctor. Marilyn was seeing Greenson almost daily at this point in her life, so the extra spying seems completely over-the-top, but Spoto makes a great case for Greenson’s desire to “possess” his most famous patient, and highlights his extremely unprofessional behavior throughout his career. While he doesn’t go so far as to accuse them of murder, he comes awfully close, suggesting that Murray (a person with no medical training) may have administered barbiturates to the already drugged-up star on Greenson’s orders, and that the dose was what put her over the edge.

I have to admit that I don’t completely buy Spoto’s reconstruction of Marilyn’s last days. He claims that she and Joe DiMaggio were planning to remarry on August 8 and she was excited and happy about it. There are receipts for a special dress and hair appointments and catering arrangements that help back up this idea. But he offers no reason for why, paradoxically, two days before her supposedly planned nuptials, she became suddenly upset enough to start the whole alcohol/pill/depression cycle again. He suggests her plummeting mood on the day of her death may be connected to her regular daily session with Greenson — he claims that she tried to fire the doctor that day. Maybe. She started drinking and popping pills and called Joe DiMaggio’s son, Joe Jr., twice that day, and did finally get through to him in the evening (he later said they had a pleasant conversation), but there are no records of her trying to contact Joe at all. Wouldn’t she have called her fiancé at least once, if she had been so disturbed, either by her meeting with Greenson or by something else?

Hollywood reporter Sidney Skolsky, a hypochondriac who worked out of the famous Schwabs drugstore (where he had easy access to sampling their products), befriended Marilyn. Once before an audition he “gave her three sleeping tablets so that the anxiety of preparing would not exhaust her before the test.”… Joe called Marilyn and Sidney Skolsky “pill-pals, not pen-pals.”

“Barbiturates to sleep, amphetamines to stay awake, narcotics to relax – in Hollywood, these were as plentiful as agents, and could easily be obtained through the studio front office.”

“[Her internist, Dr. Hyman] Engleberg visited Marilyn at home every day but six during July; except for the fourth, the sixth through the ninth and the 16th, she received injections – liver and vitamin shots, she said. But these transformed her mood and energy with alarming rapidity.”

The last few days of Marilyn’s life aside, which we are unlikely to ever fully know all the facts of, Spoto does paint a wonderful portrait of Norma Jeane and how she became Marilyn Monroe. Her great ambition, her constant struggles with health, and the huge difference between how she looked and how she felt inside, are meticulously and chronologically presented. He isn’t afraid to show her weaknesses and bad decisions, but he is also eager to show the screen goddess in a flattering light when he can, and has the facts to back up his debunking of old rumors — such as Marilyn’s family didn’t have a history of insanity as has been endlessly reported. Her grandfather died from a brain infection and her grandmother “of heart disease, which caused impaired mentation due to insufficient oxygenation of the brain.” Marilyn’s mother Gladys did fear genetic mental disease, especially after she had heard that her own grandfather committed suicide. Spoto points out that his death was related to his ongoing bad health and imminent eviction, not mental illness, Gladys was never aware of those facts. Gladys certainly suffered from anxiety and depression, but there was no Prozac for Marilyn’s mother in 1935, so she chose to opt out of life and spent most of her life in sanatoriums.

He charts her uneven childhood. She lived in many foster homes — but not as many as usually reported, and most of her foster parents were friends of Gladys, not unknown to her. She was in the Los Angeles orphange for two years. Maybe because of this bounced-around upbringing, always having to please a new set of adults, Marilyn throughout her life would seek out a patron of some sort, usually a family, like the Strasbergs, or an older man, like agent Johnny Hyde. But even with powerful people on her team she still had to work hard to get noticed, to get a decent part in a picture.

Cinematographer Leon Shamroy: “This girl had something I hadn’t seen since silent pictures.… She got sex on a piece of film like Jean Harlow. Every frame of the test radiated sex.… She was creating effects visually. She was showing us she could sell emotions in pictures.”

George Sanders: “She showed an interest in intellectual subjects which was, to say the least, disconcerting. And in her presence it is hard to concentrate. … She so obviously needed to be a star …”

Marilyn, about this time in her life, “… I didn’t have any friends. I had teachers and people l could look up to — nobody I could look over at. I always felt I was a nobody, and the only way for me to be somebody was to be — well, somebody else. Which is probably why I wanted to act.”

Spoto has a very different take on Marilyn’s sexual history than most of the other lurid biographies of the star. The author claims that rumors of multiple abortions are ridiculous. She never had even one. “Later there were two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy requiring emergency termination, but no abortion.” Marilyn had lifelong struggles with endometriosis (for which she had multiple operations to try and ease the symptoms) and uterine bleeding which would cause her great pain. She, the great goddess of sex, was most likely unable to bring a pregnancy to term because of her physical problems, one of her life’s great disappointments.

Spoto uses quotes from many people in Marilyn’s life to document how she was able to turn on and off her “Marilyn” persona at will — when she had the need to feel glamorous, to be recognized. He uses these instances to support his underlying theory of her internal conflict of identity, of her never really reconciling her two (or more) selves. This Norma Jeane vs. Marilyn idea is hardly new. But what Spoto doesn’t acknowledge, probably because he has never personally experienced it, is that this sort of conflict exists in most women. Marilyn was an extreme case, surely, but most women have to deal with their public and private faces daily. Women are judged primarily visually. We are bombarded with cosmetics and media images that we are expected to at least attempt to aspire to. Men are judged by what they do, first, before how they look. For Marilyn, both how she looked and how her work was perceived, was incredibly important to her and to everyone in her orbit.

The best part of Marilyn Monroe: The Bigraphy is Spoto’s detailed recounting of just how hard Marilyn worked to become Marilyn. Once she became a star, we all know that things got even tougher for her, but Marilyn stayed strong and did things that no one would have ever expected of her — she started her own production company, married and divorced two very different American icons, worked hard to be taken seriously as an actress. Her death is tragic, and others certainly had a hand in helping her find the crutches that eventually killed her. But however she died, what really resonates from Spoto’s book was how she lived — always questing, reaching, trying to improve herself, trying to grow. That’s a new and valuable image of Marilyn.

Images from: Dr. Macro’s High Quality Movie Scans

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #33: Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, by Susan Strasberg

In Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, Susan Strasberg tries to tell what it was like to have Marilyn Monroe enter her life and the life of her family. Her father was Lee Strasberg, head of the Actors Studio, and guru to many of the film and stage actors of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s (Marlon Brando, Geraldine Page, James Dean, Elia Kazan, Eva Marie Saint, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, etc.) Her mother was former actress Paula Strasberg, who became Marilyn’s personal coach and factotum. For a short spell their home was a haven to Marilyn, who had fled Los Angeles after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio. Marilyn was looking for a new life as an actress, and was scheming with photographer Milton Greene about starting her own film production company, which would free her from the dumb blonde roles that her studio Twentieth Century-Fox was determined to lock her into.

Written approximately 30 years after Marilyn’s untimely death at the age of 36, Strasberg is still able to write from a teenage perspective. She may have been in awe of the glamorous movie star, but she was mostly envious of the attention her father payed her. Even while in the throes of a passionate love affair with Broadway costar Richard Burton, Strasberg can’t help but complain how available her father made himself for Marilyn at all hours. Once Marilyn moved to New York and started taking private acting lessons with Lee, she used the Strasberg home as her refuge — before, during, and after her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.

Paula became a surrogate mother, but Lee was her barometer — she constantly sought his approval. Apparently everyone in his orbit felt the same way, including his daughter, who seems to have fought a lifelong battle with resisting but desiring his help and input in her own work. Marilyn managed to get his attention more than most. That is what Strasberg is most jealous of. She idolizes her father, but she doesn’t seem to want to truly understand him. When he does offer her praise she doesn’t believe him, and becomes even more insecure. She had more in common with Marilyn than she realized.

Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe and Susan Strasberg visit backstage (Cort Theatre) in 1956.

Strasberg may be unwilling or unable to personally criticize her father, but she does allow others to share their viewpoints:

Johnny Strasberg: “He [Lee] was really fascinated by her, but that’s like saying about someone who is so fascinated by animals they put them in a cage so they can study them. In that sense you could say he loved her. He did have this great generosity in his work, although usually he never considered the needs of anyone else before himself. His gift to Marilyn, his great gift, was that he took her seriously in her work, and even personally, too, up to a point. Marilyn was there more than anyone before had been. Lee adored her; at least he seemed to do anything to please her.”

Strasberg does share a story that shows just how brainwashed and dependent everyone became on Lee. She was offered the role of Allison in Peyton Place (to be filmed at Twentieth Century-Fox, Marilyn’s studio, and the same one that once fired Lee) for $150,000. It was a great part and a great sum — Marilyn hadn’t made that much per picture yet. She asked her father if she should take it. He said no. When the family objected, he then told her to ask for more money. The studio refused to pay more, but still wanted her at the original sum. She debated about whether she should take the part anyway, without his permission (she was 19 and already her earnings were helping support the family.) Strasberg ultimately turned it down, and regretted it, but also justified her decision by saying she was avenging her father’s previous firing at Fox. Lee was using both his daughter and Marilyn to try and avenge his wounded ego. Strasberg doesn’t seem to see how her early success on stage (at age 16, in The Diary of Anne Frank) may have threatened her father. She didn’t study with him (although her mother coached her.) She never seems to consider that he may have helped her behind-the-scenes. Marilyn and Me is almost better reading between the lines.

Marilyn congratulates Susan backstage at The Diary of Anne Frank on opening night

As much as the Strasbergs offered Marilyn a second home, they may not have been the best port in the storm, as they had their own problems, including a strange way of expressing and dealing with anger. Lee would rage so much he would sometimes get a nosebleed, scaring everyone. Paula would get hysterical and threaten suicide. Susan would hide in a closet, silently screaming. But none of this would have mattered to Marilyn, who had finally met someone who showed her some respect:

Marilyn, “The best thing that ever happened to me was when your father took me seriously. I’ve always wanted for people to see me, not the actress, the real person. Your daddy does. He treats me like a human being. … I worked with this woman in California for years [her first acting coach, Natasha Lytess]. She taught me, educated me, like your father, gave me books to read, but even she thought I was a dummy. He doesn’t, and the most important thing is, with your father for the first time I feel it’s okay to be me, the whole kit and caboodle, you know, the whole mess.”

Once Marilyn gathered the courage to attend classes at the Studio and to even do scenes, her confidence increased, if only temporarily. Strasberg ran the Studio as a place where actors could experiment, be free. People may have thought she was a joke when she said she wanted to play Lady Macbeth, but they might have reconsidered if they had known Lee’s ideas for her in the part. He envisioned Lady Macbeth as “a sensitive, driven, compulsive woman, who used her sexuality and power to get her husband to do these terrible things. It was a side Marilyn possessed, but that she had never shown in her work.”

Strasberg is never able to truly focus on Marilyn without dragging herself into the picture, as she does when telling about Marilyn recounting her horror story of being locked up in a psychiatric hospital ward by her New York shrink Dr. Marianne Kris: “‘I was always afraid I was crazy like my mother or that I’d get that crazy with age. You know women sometimes to go nuts then, but when I got in there with really crazy people, I realized I had problems, but I saw I wasn’t as bad as they were.’ She made it sound as if it hadn’t been that bad. Yet I had heard that it had been worse. Was she trying to protect me from how horrible life was, or didn’t she trust me? Who was she lying to? Me or herself? Why?” It’s not all about you, Susan.

With all of Strasberg’s competitive neuroses, she still comes across as likable, and as someone, who with all the envy, did care for Marilyn. “[Marilyn] took ordinary black-and-white light and reflected it back to us in Technicolor, in epic proportions. Yet she kept it accessible. As famous as she was, she remained human.” Marilyn and Me is a very human book about the star and an entertaining read. Strasberg may have been jealous of her, loved her, but she never ceased to be amazed by Marilyn and her power. At the 1962 Golden Globes, when Marilyn attended to accept the World Film Favorite Award, “There was a room full of the biggest stars in the world, and when Marilyn walked in and made her way slowly to the table, her dress was so tight she could barely move; some people in the room stood on chairs, just to get a look at her, like kids. I’d never seen stars react to another star like that.” Strasberg’s judgements and impressions may not always be accurate, but they do offer a personal glimpse of a woman and a movie star who for most, still remains a mystery.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #29: Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, by Anthony Summers

I’m working on a long-form project on Monroe, so I’m reading everything I can get my hands on.

Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers is a comprehensive look at the actress’s life, from her erratic childhood to her pursuit of a Hollywood career. Marilyn was atypical from many starlets, as her primary goal wasn’t fortune or fame. She wanted adulation and love, but what she seemed to want most was to be a success as an actress, and to transcend her humble and unhappy beginnings. In 1952 Harry Brand, the publicity director for Twentieth Century-Fox said of her, “We’re grooming her — or maybe I should say she’s grooming herself — to be the sexiest thing in pictures since Jean Harlow.”

Marilyn as Jean Harlow, photographed by Richard Avedon in 1958 for LIFE magazine

Marilyn was blessed (and possibly cursed) with beauty, but she was more than just pretty, she was incredibly photogenic. The camera loved her. She was made for movies. But she also had a crippling stage fright. She would never have had much of a career on the stage, but film presented the ability to cut and paste her various successful takes. Her directors were often amazed at the performance that showed up on film, versus their experience with the nervous actress they struggled with on set.

As with most biographies of Marilyn, Summers catalogues her many love  affairs, possible multiple abortions, and almost constant use of prescription drugs. Originally written in 1985, Summers conducted interviews with many of Marilyn’s intimates or staff who knew her, like housekeeper Eunice Murray and “friend” Peter Lawford. He relies a bit too much on the testimony of Robert Slatzer [who controversially claimed he was married to Marilyn for three days in 1952], who keeps turning up, but for no discernible reason, in Marilyn’s life — according to him. If Slatzer was truly such a good friend of Monroe, then he was also an enabler, calling her to tell her when Robert Kennedy would be in town, and looking the other way when she was drinking and drugging too much. The major players in her life — Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, and actors and friends like Marlon Brando (all dead now) declined to comment for Summers’ book, which just adds fuel to the fire that there will always be questions about the end of her life that must remain unanswered.

Marilyn could be a mass of contradictions. But because of her beauty and the circles she moved in, she took on the status of a goddess. Her brief life was lived not only in front of the cameras, but at a time when many societal changes were happening in America — specifically, for women. Marilyn may have embodied the “Dumb Blonde” and the “Bombshell” on screen, but she was also one of the few women in her time in Hollywood who dared to form her own production company to have some control over her films and her image.

She was a high school drop-out, but she had an endless thirst for knowledge. She was avid about books, and tried to better herself intellectually and spiritually. She loved children, but was plagued with gynecological issues from an early age. “Maurice Zolotow, her early biographer, once penetrated her studio dressing room and noted no less than 14 boxes of pills. Almost all were painkillers prescribed for menstrual cramps.” Her friend Amy Greene [wife of Marilyn Monroe Productions business partner and photographer Milton Greene] said, “She told me she’d always use drugs. She was a baby when she started taking pills, 17 or 18 years old.”

Marilyn tried desperately in her teens and twenties to prevent pregnancy, as it would have been deleterious to her career. When she was finally ready, in her ’30s, her body had sustained too much damage. Or maybe, with her various issues, she was infertile. It was not lost on her that America and the world’s goddess of sex could not bring a baby successfully to term.  Greene: “Marilyn made the horrendous admission that she had had 12 abortions, some of them back-street butcheries dating back to her earliest days in Hollywood. And then … she was surprised that she had trouble having babies …” Greene took her to a gynecologist who diagnosed endometriosis and advised a hysterectomy, but Marilyn refused. “I can’t do that. I want to have a child. I’m going to have a son.”

Marilyn’s status as a sex goddess was a boon and a curse, as she told Ben Hecht, in 1954, “Why I was a siren, I haven’t the faintest idea. I didn’t want to be kissed, and I didn’t dream of being seduced … The truth was that with all my lipstick and mascara and precocious curves I was as unresponsive as a fossil. But I seemed to affect people quite otherwise.”

The goddess, photograph by Douglas Kirkland

Her ability to make love to the camera made her a star, on film and in print. Her oft-told tales of abuse when she was just a young girl may have caused to to think of sex as something she could use, so that it wouldn’t use her. As she explained to interviewer Jaik Rosenstein in 1960, “When I started modeling, it [sex] was like part of the job. All the girls did. They weren’t shooting all the sexy pictures just to sell peanut butter in an ad, or get a layout in some picture magazine. They wanted to sample the merchandise. If you didn’t go along, they were 25 girls who would. It wasn’t any big dramatic tragedy. Nobody ever got cancer from sex. … You know that when a producer calls an actress into his office to discuss a script that isn’t all he has in mind. And a part in the picture, or any kind of a little stock contract is the most important thing in the world to a girl, more than eating. She can go hungry, and she might have to sleep in her car, but she doesn’t mind that a bit — if she can only get the part. I know because I’ve done both, lots of times. And I slept with producers. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t …”

Marilyn never apologized for sex, or her use of it to get ahead. Unlike her iconic gold-digging character from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Lorelei Lee, she didn’t use it to trap a rich husband, turning down powerful agent and lover Johnny Hyde, who left his long-term marriage to be with her. She could have been comfortably set up for the rest of her life, but she just wanted him to help her get better parts in films, not take care of her. And he did, securing her first prestige parts, in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, which helped put her on the map. Marilyn was ambitious as an actress:

“My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third-rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn! To change, to improve! I didn’t want anything else. Not men, not money, not love, but the ability to act.”

Marilyn is frequently portrayed as a woman who was used by Hollywood. She may have gone out with many older men to advance her career, but she always seemed to have a choice whether to date a powerful man like Elia Kazan or Joseph Schenck or Johnny Hyde. Many of her problems came as a result of her pill and alcohol dependence. But there are many who knew her who felt she was ill-served by her friends and mentors. John Strasberg, son of Lee and Paula: “The greatest tragedy was that people, even my father in a way, took advantage of her. They glommed on to her special sort of life. Her special characteristics, when what she needed was love. My parents did give her some love, but it was inextricably linked with the acting.”

The most sinister characters in the last few years of her life, at least according to Summers’ account, were Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, and the Kennedy brothers, who all come off terribly in Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. “The goings in at Lake Tahoe enraged [DiMaggio]. ‘He was very upset,’ says [DiMaggio pal] Harry Hall. ‘She went up there, they gave her pills, they had sex parties, and Joe thought — because at that time he was a friend of Sinatra — it never should have happened … he [Sinatra] should have left her alone.’” Sinatra, the Kennedys, etc. didn’t see Marilyn as a person; just her sex goddess image. Why else would they want to be with such a drug-addled, vulnerable girl, except to say they “did” Marilyn Monroe?

Another account of a typical party at Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge, from Marilyn’s friend Gloria Romanoff: “I think some of this gets a bit hazy because they were all drinking a good deal. … Marilyn drank champagne, and some vodka, and would take sleeping pills. The Lawfords walked her about, after midnight, trying to keep her awake, and I think they called Frank in, too. I remember Marilyn telling me one of her problems was that she’d take pills for so long, they didn’t work for her the way they did for other people. So she’d begin about nine in the evening, and build up that lethal combination of booze and pills.”

Marilyn was caught in a vicious cycle of insomnia, pill-taking, parties, booze, and enablers. She could call friends and doctors at all hours, who would come running with barbiturates. She saw her psychiatrist Dr. Greenson and internist Dr. Engelberg almost every day during the last few months of her life. Both doctors kept prescribing sleeping pills. Although they tried to reduce her drug intake, no one ever seemed to really try to dry her out, or to address her chronic insomnia in some other way. Marilyn must have been beyond annoying to be around, as most addicts can be, yet no one seems to have wanted her to harm herself. Marilyn OD’d many times, and was brought back by friends and doctors many times. It is interesting that many of her previous overdoses coincided with miscarriages. Could she have lost another baby the week or month that she died?

Marilyn with a glass of champagne, her drink of choice

Marilyn’s life is usually presented as an inexorable, inevitable, and pathetic progression towards her death. Death is waiting for us all, but we wouldn’t be able to function if we didn’t have hopes and dreams for our present and future. For all of her talk about death, Marilyn did, too. She always wished and hoped that the next guy would be the right guy. She had ambitions for her career, for her life. She was in talks to get back to the set to finish Something’s Got to Give and to appear in some other interesting projects, but unfortunately they never had the chance to come to pass.

Summers gets a little too sidetracked in Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe with the Kennedys and their amorous and political complications. Poor Marilyn gets lost in the middle of the book in the Kennedy glare. The last few chapters present a Rashomon-like account of her final hours. It’s well-researched, but full of so many conflicting statements by people who claimed to be “on the scene” that it is depressing and dizzying to read. Autopsy surgeon Thomas Noguchi “had the strong feeling that the case was being delayed, and that the scene of death had been disturbed.” There was no CSI for Marilyn in 1962. “It seemed to me … it’s very likely the police department did close things down. I’ve encountered this often in my experience, and deaths involving important people…” Noguchi himself may have shown undue reverence in the autopsy, analyzing Marilyn’s stomach contents and liver, but not her intestinal tract which may have shown traces of chloral hydrate and Nembutol. The absence of drugs in her stomach continues to fuel conspiracy theorists about drugs being administered to her in some other sinister fashion (e.g. via an enema).

All of Summers’ meticulous documenting of links between Jimmy Hoffa, Sam Giancana, Sinatra, and the Kennedys aside, readers will most likely be convinced that Marilyn was not murdered — but her association with the Kennedys led to her death scene being fudged in attempts to cover up the relationship. Not that it did any good, as the open secret of Marilyn’s affairs with both Kennedys has survived them all. Maybe singer/actor Sammy Davis, Jr. said it best, “The husbands, and some of the lovers, have found their lives altered forever by their association with Marilyn. ‘She hangs like a bat [says Davis] in the heads of the men that knew her.’” Marilyn, her life, and her death, continue to fascinate.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #28: Marilyn’s Men: The Private Life of Marilyn Monroe, by Jane Ellen Wayne

Marilyn’s Men: The Private Life of Marilyn Monroe by Jane Ellen Wayne is yet another recap of the actress’s life, focusing on her busted love affairs and not offering much real insight. It’s chock-full of sleazy unsubstantiated details and gossip added for prurient interest. I’m working on a long-form project on Monroe, so I’m reading everything I can get my hands on, but this one is not to be taken too seriously.

Wayne relies on quotes from Robert Slatzer, who gained fame with his claims of a supposed 1952 secret marriage to Marilyn that supposedly took place in Mexico, at the height of her romance with Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio. The marriage was supposedly annulled three days later at the insistence of Darryl F. Zanuck. That’s a lot of supposedlys. Slatzer’s credibility is not helped by other quotes by him that Wayne includes as facts, including basic facts of Marilyn’s early life, which he seems to get very wrong. Readers can draw their own conclusions about whether to believe any of Slatzer’s other claims about Marilyn, including his belief that she was murdered.

Marilyn entertaining the troops in Korea in 1954

Wayne also recycles unproved stories written by others, repeating a story from author Sandra Sherry, that Marilyn was pregnant during The making of The Seven Year Itchand had an abortion. There are many contradictory and conflicting “facts” in Marilyn’s Men. Wayne claims that Marilyn’s agent Johnny Hyde told her not to have children, so she had her tubes tied, which was reversed later. But she also recounts multiple concurrent abortions, which is in direct contradiction to a tubal ligation. And what about her attempts to get pregnant with husband Arthur Miller? None of the stories add up.

The bottom line is that this isn’t even a book for the casual fan of the star. Marilyn certainly deserves better.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #26: Marilyn, by Gloria Steinem

Other iconic celebrities have died — Elvis, James Dean, Frank Sinatra, but none seem to have the enduring power of Marilyn Monroe. In 1986′s Marilyn, feminist Gloria Steinem presents her take on the iconic star, in a series of essays, aided by the beautiful photographs by George Barris, taken in a few sessions over the last two months of her life.

Steinem tries to present a sympathetic portrait of the star, but as she admits herself multiple times in the text, she finds Marilyn embarrassing. She goes so far as to compare her, more than once, to a drag queen. She shares a personal anecdote early on, claiming to have run out of a screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a teenager, embarrassed by the star’s performance, “How dare she be just as vulnerable and unconfident as I felt?”

She goes on to present a pretty stereotypical image of Marilyn as the dumb blonde who men see as, “a compliant child-woman … Offering sex without the power of an adult woman” a woman that other women envy or fear, “a sexual competitor who could take away men on whom women’s identities and even livelihoods might depend; the fear of having to meet her impossible standard of always giving – and asking nothing in return; the nagging fear that we might share her feminine fate of being vulnerable, unserious, constantly in danger of becoming a victim.”

She can hardly veil her dislike of Marilyn’s ’50s sexpot movie starlet persona, so she shifts her attention to Norma Jeane, for whom she has much more sympathy. She outlines the young fatherless Norma Jeane’s early life, her mother who was either absent or institutionalized, her shuffle from foster homes to an orphanage to a young (16 years old) marriage. The preternaturally beautiful girl was quickly spotted and encouraged to model, which led to her pursuing her life-long dreams and fantasies of movie stardom.

A quote from Marilyn, “In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo,” she wrote bitterly. “You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you $1000 for a kiss, and $.50 for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the $.50.”

Marilyn seems to have taken sex with producers and others who could help her in stride, as apparently all the young starlets did. From her early modeling days onward she found her beauty and her sex as a commodity. As much as Marilyn and other young aspiring actresses were used by men, we should also understand that she was very ambitious. She never saw herself as just another starlet. She was determined to become a star. Sex was one of the tools she used to get what she wanted in her career. She treated sex casually, an exchange of favors.

As is unavoidable with any discussion of Marilyn, Steinem details the actress’s many affairs — including possible, probable, and definite lovers — a veritable Who’s Who of prominent men of the ’50s: Howard Hughes (his interest in the young hopeful may have prompted rival studio Twentieth Century-Fox to hire her), Elia Kazan, Johnny Hyde (her agent), Joe DiMaggio (2nd husband), Arthur Miller (3rd husband), Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Yves Montand, Jim Dougherty (1st husband), Freddy Karger (her voice teacher). She devotes an entire chapter to John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, who she most likely had fairly open affairs with. She met Jack first, before he was president, but soon moved on to and was more serious about his brother Robert. Their affair was a well-known secret. Columnist Art Buchwald even made jokes about Marilyn and the President in his Washington Post column. It may have sounded funny in 1960, but it sounds beyond sexist now.

“Let’s Be Firm on Monroe Doctrine”

Who will be the next ambassador to Monroe? This is one of the many problems which President-elect Kennedy will have to work out in January. Obviously you can’t leave Monroe adrift. There’re too many greedy people eyeing her, and now that Ambassador Miller has left she could flounder around without any direction.

Steinem may not connect with the woman Marilyn became, but she is sympathetic to how difficult her road could be. Elizabeth Taylor was getting $1 million for Cleopatra from Twentieth Century-Fox when Marilyn averaged only $100,000 a film. Although she never seemed to suffer financially, she was not paid equitably. Marilyn may have frequently called in sick, causing delays and creating difficulties on her films sets, as a form of protest. It also may have been her way of knowing she was was needed, was not being overlooked, as she had been throughout her childhood. “People are waiting for me. People are eager to see me. I’m wanted.”

As much as her illnesses may have cropped up too often to suit her producers, directors and costars, Marilyn’s health issues dated from her youth. She was on painkillers from a very early age, to deal with excruciating menstrual pains. Her young body endured multiple abortions and operations, including an appendectomy, tonsillectomy, plastic surgery, gall bladder surgery, and many procedures to ease painful endometriosis. She was a woman who had to be obsessed with her body, inside and out.

Drugs were a huge part of Marilyn’s life. As Steinem notes, “Physicians have been more likely to prescribe sleeping pills and tranquilizers than to look for the cause of Monroe’s sleeplessness and anxiety. … even after she attempted suicide several times. … It was my first understanding that women are more likely to be given chemical and others arm’s-length treatment and to suffer from the assumption that they can be chemically calmed or sedated …”

As popular as conspiracy theories continue to be, Marilyn’s death was unlikely murder, or even a completely intentional suicide, but it does seem that there was a cover-up. According to Steinem, Bobby Kennedy may have even tried to take a still-alive Marilyn to the hospital with Peter Lawford, her body only returned to her home later, after her death. If that is too far-fetched to believe, it does seem to be true that Lawford, Marilyn’s maid, and others cleaned up the place, either suppressing or eliminating evidence. The local police and even J. Edgar Hoover held back phone records that showed her links to the Kennedys.

Marilyn was a troubled, at times drug-addled, soul. Extremely lonely, ever in search of unconditional love. She was also generous to a fault; always concerned with others before herself. Part of her enduring mystique is that she was frequently misunderstood and underestimated. Some of the people closest to her didn’t seem to really get her at all. Marilyn told her maid Lena Pepitone, about a scene in The Misfits, the script that playwright husband Arthur Miller had written for her, where she convinces Clark Gable’s character not to sell wild mustangs to a slaughterhouse, “I convince them by throwing a fit, not by explaining anything. So I have a fit. A screaming crazy fit … And to think, Arthur did this to me … If that’s what he thinks of me, well, and I’m not for him and he’s not for me.”

Monroe desperately wanted to be taken seriously, as more than just a sex object. She had more praise and understanding from her director, John Huston, “She went right down into her own personal experience for everything, reached down and pulled something out of herself that was unique and extraordinary. She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn. But it was Marilyn, plus. She found things, found things about womankind in herself.”

The Misfits was Marilyn’s last completed film and the death knell to her four-year-plus marriage to Miller. She went on a downward spiral after the divorce, from which she never completely recovered. Miller certainly didn’t help things any with his response on hearing Marilyn might be being depressed to hear he was already expecting a child with his new wife Inge Morath (a Magnum photographer that he met on the set of The Misfits), “She knew I was a father before; she knew the children, she knew it wasn’t anything wrong with me that kept us from having children.” What a guy, huh?

Marilyn was fired from her next film, Something’s Got to Give, but it looked like she had smoothed things over with producers and was set to resume filming in the fall of 1962. Unfortunately that film and many others she was slated to appear in were not to be. Steinem presents Marilyn almost as a split personality, always haunted by her true self, Norma Jeane. It becomes a bit much after a while in Marilyn, but the glorious, natural-light photographs by George Barris help to show how the girl Norma Jeane who became the woman Marilyn Monroe endures.  Marilyn was vulnerable, concerned with others, but also had an innate understanding of her own power:

“As soon as I can afford an evening gown I bought the loudest one I could find. It was a bright red low-cut dress, and my arrival in it usually infuriated half the women present. I was sorry in a way to do this, but I had a long way to go and I needed a lot of advertising to get there.”

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #25: MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe, by Lois Banner

I have been researching Marilyn Monroe for a project I am working on, so have been immersing myself in the iconic Hollywood star’s life via a lot of different books. MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe presents the contents of two file cabinets that were left after Marilyn died in June 1962 as a peek into the star’s private and professional life. Author Lois Banner and photographer Mark Anderson have reverently presented everything from letters, memos, and telegrams to jewelry that may have belonged to Marilyn, and even items of clothing. Some of the items are photographed placed on rose petals, which is admittedly kind of corny; but page after page of piles of saved receipts, although mundane items, still serve as a touching reminder of Marilyn’s brief but compelling life.

There is a bit of a mystery behind how these files and the book came to be. When Marilyn was married to Joe DiMaggio he helped her find a new business manager, Inez Melson, to help take care of her mother, Gladys Baker Eley, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and was in and out of mental institutions most of her adult life. Inez not only managed Gladys but also Marilyn’s burgeoning career, helping her with her financial affairs. When the marriage with DiMaggio went bust and Marilyn left California for New York, she soon also severed ties with Inez, apart from her continuing custodianship of Marilyn’s mother. But Inez didn’t want to lose Marilyn and managed to stay connected through the years.

When Marilyn died Inez was called, and there is some dispute over whether she may have tampered with evidence in the apartment, as far as removing prescription medicine bottles in an effort to protect Marilyn. She did help plan the funeral with Joe DiMaggio. She managed to immediately secure one of Marilyn’s two file cabinets, and then bought the other at auction, using her nephew’s name for the purchase, even though they both rightfully belonged to Lee Strasberg, the major beneficiary in Marilyn’s will.

What Inez did was clearly fraud, but if she hadn’t maneuvered getting hold of Marilyn’s belongings the contents of the file cabinets would have certainly been tossed or scattered by now. Instead, readers get to flip through these intact, daily records of Marilyn’s life. At times it’s admittedly a little creepy, like going through her drawers, shuffling through her papers. Drugstore receipts for enemas and colonics tell the tale of quick weight loss methods, common to Hollywood actresses, but did we really need to know that? Marilyn surely wouldn’t have wanted to tarnish any mystique she may have had with her public. Some of the items are frankly boring or indecipherable. But some, mostly letters, are interesting, and shed a light on Marilyn’s personality, as well as her more familiar Hollywood persona.

- Marilyn wanted Frank Sinatra, not Tony Curtis as her co-star in Some Like it Hot (a terrible idea, as Sinatra just wouldn’t have worked and we would have lost the Curtos/Lemmon dream team). She had an affair with Sinatra much later, shortly before her death, after she broke up with husband Arthur Miller.

- In a typewritten (probably by a secretary) note to magazine illustrator Jon Whitcomb, who did an illustration of the actress that appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitanin March 1959, Marilyn’s distinctive voice and humor comes through, as she apologizes for the hold-up in their getting together:

“Please forgive the long delay in answering, but I have been up to my derrière in preparation for two movies for the near future… I would love to have the picture from you and I repeat ‘at last to be a Whitcomb girl!’ .… I am looking forward to meeting with you and I want you to meet Arthur [husband Arthur Miller].”

Her sense of humor also shines through in letters to Miller’s son and daughter, which she wrote as if from their dog or cat.

- In a telegram to director George Cukor after she was fired from Something’s Got to Give, she blames herself and offers to make it up to him, by cleaning his house, “I can dust.”

- The are some intriguing fan letters that she chose to keep, including the offering up of a newborn baby girl for adoption. It makes one wonder if she was seriously tempted to accept the baby.

- One of the more interesting letters is an apology from public relations man Joe Wolhandler in reaction to her anger at a magazine article quoting Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Billy Wilder about how difficult she was to work with during Some Like It Hot.

“As you know, TIME Magazine is, of all the ghoulish press, in a class by itself for unmitigated nastiness and inaccuracy. It has been a “middle-class confidential” for a long period. I don’t believe they are quoting Wilder and Curtis accurately. We have asked for a retraction…”

- More poignant is a letter from April 1952 that she taped to her stomach before an appendectomy, begging, “Dear Doctor no ovaries removed – please again do whatever you can to prevent large scars. Thanking you with all my heart, Marilyn Monroe”

- Some of the receipts do tell heartbreaking stories — gifts of roses and a bed jacket from a maternity store from Arthur Miller, given right before two separate miscarriages.

So much has been written about how difficult Marilyn was to work with, with the focus in most biographies on her addictions, men in her life, and instability, but the more and more I learn and read about her this behavior seems to also speak of her quest for power. If she wasn’t considered such a valuable commodity to the studio, she would have been fired and replaced, and that would have been that. She used her frequent illnesses and perpetual lateness to protest scripts she didn’t like, or too-controlling studio executives. Marilyn used many different methods to have more control of her career and her life, not an easy thing for a woman of her time.

History professor Banner frames the bits and pieces of Marilyn’s life in biographical sections. Her text jumps around chronologically and at times is a bit repetitive, as the reader is told in at least three separate sections about her infamous stroll from one end of the studio to the other in a see-through negligee. Apparently that exhibition of her sexual power made quite an impression on the author. She even repeats the anecdote in another book she wrote on the star, Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox. There are no major revelations here in the oft-told story of Marilyn’s tragically short but eventful life, but some of the items photographed by Anderson and selected by Banner do help frame her life in a more easily relatable and approachable context.

MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe is by no means a definitive text on the star, but it is an interesting glimpse into the actress’s life, and it makes one wonder how our own lives might be pieced together by the detritus of our daily lives.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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