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To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s characterization of the Germans, the press with Marilyn Monroe was either at her feet or at her throat.
Adam Victor’s “The Marilyn Encyclopedia”: Press [Part 6]
Biographers unfailingly note that Marilyn never used the press to air personal grievances. She was always polite about her ex-husbands, and refused to be drawn into manufactured studio rivalries with other stars.
Particularly in the later part of her career, when she was not protected by a studio publicity department, sections of the press ran barbed snipes at Marilyn for alleged errors she had made, Simone Signoret writes that during the time they lived next door to one another at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1960, snide pieces documented alleged gaffes at fancy restaurants, despite the fact that Marilyn seldom went out to eat, and when she did, she was in her Marilyn mode and would play the role that was expected of her.
For the reported, the Marilyn beed was not the easiest. Columnist Erskine Johnson revealed his own experience in print:
” Waiting for Marilyn” I’ll never forget, and I doubt if Hollywood ever will. People may admire Marilyn Monroe, envy Marilyn Monroe, dislike Marilyn Monroe but, most of all, people wait for Marilyn Monroe.
Once I waited for Marilyn in Phoenix. A visit to the set and a chat with her on location for ‘Bus Stop’ had been arranged. I waited all day and Marilyn never came out of her dressing room. Another newsman, who had more time, waited in Phoenix for Marilyn for five days and she never came out of her hotel room. Or invited him in.
Adam Victor’s “The Marilyn Encyclopedia”: Press [Part 5]
Press interest in Marilyn during her time in England that year also was frenzied. If she and Arthur went out to the theater, which they did on numerous occasions, they were blocked by crowds of pressmen until police could clear a path. Miller writes that most of what was printed in British papers during their stay was fictitious,conversations invented by editors. One day, however, a conversations they had had in the privacy of their own home was repeated almost verbatim in a daily newspaper. The leak was traced back to the Hungarian servants: they were reprimanded by a British security operative, ex-policeman Roger Hunt, who acted as Marilyn’s bodyguard in England, and threatened the servants with immediate repatriation to Budapest if it ever happened again.
Journalists and photographers lay in wait every morning from 8 A.M. outside the Millers’ Sutton Place apartment. One morning when Marilyn attempted to leave home incognito, the press pursued her out of the service entrance and took photos of her among the garbage cans.
Adam Victor’s “The Marilyn Encyclopedia”: Press [Part 4]
Marilyn’s secret flight to New York in late 1954 set off a frenzied press hunt to track her down. Life on the East Coast brought at least partial respite from presshounds, and Marilyn even managed to get to known future husband Arthur Miller away from prying lenses and columnist sources. But when she returned to Hollywood in early 1956 to shoot Bus Stop, despite the best intentions of business partner Milton Greene to keep all press and newsmen off the set, he couldn’t prevent photographers from using the longest lenses they could muster.
When, in her private life, Marilyn did make concessions to the press, it didn’t always work to her benefit. Press conferences she held to announce the formation of her own company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, and official press notification about the company’s first movie, The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), brought a barrage of unfriendly fire from journalists who belittled what they regarded as her pretensions.
As press speculation reached a fevered pitch regarding the impending marriage between Marilyn and Arthur Miller, the couple arranged a press conference at their Roxbury home, attended by up to 400 journalists. Earlier that day Paris-Match reporter Mara Scherbatoff was killed in a car accident as she pursued Miller’s car down narrow country lanes- an incident that left Marilyn shocked on her wedding day.
Adam Victor’s “The Marilyn Encyclopedia”: Press [Part 3]
By this time the Fox publicity department had finessed the more “uncomfortable” aspects of Marilyn’s past. Hence in her official studio biographers Marilyn became an orphan (eliciting greater sympathy than a mother in a mental institution), and the number of foster parents increased at every telling-at one point reaching fourteen.
To give an idea of how famous Marilyn was at her most famous: in 1952 Marilyn merited as many column inches (including photos) as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London, or the engagement of high society political couple Senator John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier.
The flip side to all this media attention was the almost total absence of privacy. Marilyn’s romance with Joe DiMaggio was often a slalom between copy-hungry hacks. In November 1954 it was impossible for Marilyn to emerge from the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, where she had had surgery, because the press besieged the building.
Adam Victor’s “The Marilyn Encyclopedia”: Press [Part 2]
On June 27, 1949 the story that started the avalanche of press coverage appeared in the New York Daily Mirror when Sidney Fields wrote, “Marilyn is a very lovely and relatively unknown movie actress. But giver her time; you will hear from her.” A month later Marilyn gave her first interview to Earl Wilson.
At the outset, Marilyn’s contacts with the press were rigorously developed and massaged by the studio publicity department at Twentieth Century-Fox, led by publicist-in-chief Harry Brand. When Marilyn won a degree of independence from the studios in the mid-fifties, she had her own publicists to arrange and vet interviews. But Marilyn quickly developed the skills required to turn the press to her best advantage. She found and cultivated press allies, and became a recognized master in the art of “the plant.” Her main confederate in these endeavors was columnist Sidney Skolsky, whom she first met in the late forties. Skolsky not only gave Marilyn favorable coverage in his own column, he helped her draft articles that were published under her name (such as a 1952 series of articles entitled “Wolves I have Known” as told to columnist Florabel Muir), advised her on how to combat negative publicity, and became the second person to publish a Marilyn biography. Another reliable ally was columnist Louella Parsons, who came to Marilyn’s assistance in 1953 when she was attacked by Joan Crawford for her display at the Photoplay awards.
Adam Victor’s “The Marilyn Encyclopedia”: Press [Part 1]
Although we tend to think of press intrusion in the lives of the famous as a modern-day phenomenon, Marilyn was one of a long line of huge stars whose every move was stalked by men with cameras. Pieces in the press were important to make her a star, but once she was there, the paparazzi became an intrusion. Nevertheless, on many occasions Marilyn used her newsworthiness to push her own agenda.
Marilyn’s first press exposure came in 1946, in the form of a judiciously planted item that appeared in Hedda Hopper’s syndicated column. Mentions outside of trade publications and cheesecake magazines were few and far between for the next three years, though Marilyn did curry some favor with local Hollywood journalists, winning the 1948 “Miss Press Club” title at the Los Angeles Press Club.
Films Marilyn Considered or Wanted: Guys and Dolls
This MGM version of a Broadway smash hit came out in 1955, not long after Marilyn told columnist Earl Wilson that the role she most wanted was the one Vivian Blaine had played onstage in the Broadway adaptation of Damon Runyon’s short stories about colourful, loveable New York lowlifes. The lavish production starred two of Marilyn’s favourite actors, Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, alongside Vivian Blaine and Jean Simmons. It was written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and photographed by Harry Stradling.
Marilyn Monroe Productions [Part IV, Adam Victor ‘The Marilyn Encyclopedia’]
Before the release of The Prince and the Showgirl in April 1957, Marilyn issued a statement claiming that Greene had been mismanaging the company and conducting secret negotiations without her knowledge. Marilyn proposed to bring a new Board of Directors. Five days later Marilyn replaced the company lawyers with Arthur Miller’s own legal advisor Robert H. Montgomery, his brother-in-law George Kupchik, and friend George Levine.
Milton Greene publically responded in the Los Angeles Times: “It seems that Marilyn doesn’t want to go ahead with the program we planned. I’m getting lawyers to represent me, I don’t want to do anything now to hurt her career.”
Marilyn’s counterstatement was far less conciliatory, accusing Greene of giving himself false credits: “My company was not formed merely to parcel out 49.6 percent of all my earnings to Mr. Greene, but to make better pictures, improve my work, and secure my income.”
Marilyn Monroe Productions made no more movies, though it continued to exist for tax purposes to handle Marilyn’s earnings. This ultimately led to problems with the tax authorities, which had, from the company’s foundation, suspected that Marilyn had created the company purely for purposes of creative accounting.
Marilyn Monroe Productions [Part III, Adam Victor ‘The Marilyn Encyclopedia’]
Marilyn Monroe Productions pressed ahead with two projects, Bus Stop (1956) for Fox, and its first (and only) independent productions, The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).
Undoubtedly the fact that she was president of her own production company gave Marilyn far more power than most actresses at the time. For a start, in her new Fox contract she had script, director, and cinematographer approval. Less positive was an occasional attitude of superiority, now that she was the boss. During filming on Bus Stop Marilyn was less than friendly to her fellow actors, and some of her behaviour was reportedly close to paranoia- she was convince that male lead Don Murray would make her look stupid, or that young co-star Hope Lange would make her look old and dowdy.
Through 1956 relations between the company’s two shareholders slowly but surely deteriorated. Marilyn’s new husband Arthur Miller wanted to make his own contribution to his wife’s future business plans, Marilyn began to feel that Greene was not worth his share of her earnings.
Marilyn Monroe Productions [Part II, Adam Victor ‘The Marilyn Encyclopedia’]
A few months later Marilyn explained on live national TV- Edward R. Murrow’s “Person to Person” show- exactly why she had taken this step: “It’s not that I object to doing musicals and comedies- in fact, I rather enjoy them- but I’d like to do dramatic parts too.”
In doing it alone, Marilyn was single-handedly taking on the all-powerful studio system. The immediate reaction at Twentieth Century-Fox was outrage. She was sued by the studio, mocked by colleagues, and vilified by the press.
Meanwhile, Marilyn began what would turn out to be a sabbatical year. She stayed with the Greenes, lived in the Waldorf Astoria when in New York City, began studying with Lee Strasberg, and went into psychoanalysis. Greene dedicated himself to personally bankrolling the company’s asset (Marilyn), generating movie projects, and working with the team of lawyers led by Delaney, who were renegotiating Marilyn’s contract with Fox.
It took a full year of negotiations before the fledgling company was in a position to announce that it had struck a revised non-exclusive deal with the studio. The huge success of The Seven Year Itch (1955) the previous summer considerably strengthened Marilyn Monroe Productions’ hand, and Marilyn beat the Fox into submission. Her new deal brought a check for past earnings, a new salary of $100,000 for four movies over a seven year period, and approval over all major aspects of her productions. Her victory created one of the first breaches in the Hollywood studio system.
Marilyn Monroe Productions [Part I, Adam Victor ‘The Marilyn Encyclopedia’]
In 1954 Marilyn finally had enough of mediocre sex-role typecasting and a salary pegged to just $1500 per week, many times lower than the vast majority of her colleagues. In November she divorced Joe DiMaggio, and in December, after months of planning with Milton Greene, she left for New York and put the finishing touches to her brainchild, Marilyn Monroe Productions.
The world learned of the formation of Marilyn Monroe Productions on January 7, 1955, when a public statement was read out to eighty journalists and friends at the East Sixty- fourth Street home of lawyer Frank Delaney- the only notable press absentees were “hostile” columnists Dorothy Kilgallen and Walter Winchell. Marilyn was appointed company president, with Greene named vice president; 51 percent belonged to Marilyn, the remaining 49 percent to Greene.
To celebrate the launch, Marilyn took the Greenes and their pals to see Frank Sinatra’s show at the Copacabana night club. The fact that it had been sold out for weeks was no problem, the management fitted in an extra table by the stage. In some reports, the party continued at Marlene Dietrich’s apartment.
Della Mae with Norma Jeane in 1926.
In 1921, Della Mae briefly took in her daughter after her marriage to Baker collapse. Gladys remarried in 1924, but that marriage quickly turned sour too. A year later, Norma Jeane was born. Della Mae was a mixed presence in the life of her young granddaughter. Della Mae, was by then living in Hawthorne, California, not far from Ida and Wayne Bolender, the couple who looked after Norma Jeane for the first seven years of her life. She had become a devout follower of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, and insisted that Norma Jeane be baptized at Sister Aimee’s Angelus Temple.
Perhaps the most horrific incident of Norma Jeane’s infancy involved her grandmother. In July 1927 Della Mae reportedly attempted to smother Norma Jeane with a pillow. On August 4, 1927 she was committed to the Norwalk State Hospital. She died nineteen days later from heart failure during a maniac seizure, a victim of what Marilyn’s mother Gladys, and Marilyn herself, came to regard as the curse of mental illness in their family.
According to another version of events espoused by biographer Donald Spoto, Della’s wild behaviour was not caused by mental illness, but by degenerative heart disease which caused acute depressions. This was compounded by a stroke just before the summer of 1927. Spoto concedes that Della Mae broke into the Bolender house, where baby Norma Jeane was living with foster parents, but did not do anything to the child.
-Part 2; “The Marilyn Encyclopedia” by Adam Victor
Della Mae Hogan [1876-1927] (right) with her sister Myrtle, around 1890.
Marilyn’s grandmother (also referred to as Della Mae Monroe, Della May Graces, and Della May Grainger), born in Brunswick County, Missouri on July 1, 1876, was the second of three children. Her parents- Tilford Marion Hogan and Jennie Nance- separated when she was thirteen. She spent the following years traveling between her parents.
Della Mae married husband Otis Elmer Monroe in late 1899. In 1901 they moved to Mexico, where Otis began working for the Mexican railways. In 1902 Marilyn’s mother Gladys was born. Otis Elmer found better paid work in Los Angeles, so he and Della Mae returned to the U.S., where in 1905 Della Mae gave birth to a son, Marion Otis Elmer.
After the death of husband Otis in 1909, Della Mae returned to the free ways of her earlier life. Soon enough she found a new husband, Lyle Arthur Graces, a man originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin and sic years younger than Della Mae. Their marriage was doomed from the start. Just eight months after their nuptials, celebrated on March 7, 1912, Della Mae moved herself and her two children out of Graves’s home. Their divorce was finalized on January 17, 1914. Two years later Della set up home in one room of a boarding house in the newly developed beach district of Venice, California, just south of Santa Monica. Son Marion Monroe, aged eleven, was sent to live with cousins in San Diego, while fourteen-year-old daughter Gladys was just beginning to develop her own set of male admirers. One of these men, John Baker, aided by Della Mae who testified that her daughter was old enough to marry, became Glady’s husband. Around this time Della Mae met Chales Grainger, a man who had traveled the world working for oil companies. Della Mae took to calling herself “Mrs. Grainger,” without bothering to go through the trouble of a ceremony. Though they did not live together, Grainger was the man in her life for a number of years, at least when he wasn’t out of the country. Some biographers state that Della Mae spent some time with Grainger in India, where he was posted on a drilling project.
-Part 1; “The Marilyn Encyclopedia” by Adam Victor
Jenny/Jennie Nance, Della Mae, and Tilford Marion Hogan (Marilyn’s great-grandparents and grandmother).
Maternal great-grandfather Tilford Marion Hogan, born in 1851 was the son of Illinois farmers George Hogan and Sara Owens. He married Jennie Nance in Barry Country, Missouri, and they had three children. The marriage lasted about twenty years, during which time he supported the family working as a day laborer. Tilford remarried at the age of seventy-seven, and set up home with a widow named Emma Wyatt. His long life came to an end of May 29, 1933. Like so many thousands of people during the Depression, he was forced off his land. Receipt of eviction notice was too much for him, and he hanged himself from the beams of his barn. Within months of his suicide, granddaughter Gladys Baker also succumbed to mental illness, leaving Norma Jeane effectively an orphan.
-The Marilyn Encyclopedia, Adam Victor