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troublemag | September 20, 2021

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A Moment with Marilyn – Part 1

A Moment with Marilyn – Part 1 Ernst Haas (1921-86), Marilyn the Goddess, on the Set of ‘The Misfits’ (1960/2002), silver gelatin print, 32 x 42 cm, © Ernst Haas Studio/Getty Images. (Ernst Haas Estate, New York). Unknown photographer, Marilyn Monroe on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1956/2006), Giclée (ed. 73/275), 50 x 70 cm, (Private Collection Germany). Publicity image for Niagara (1953) © 1953 and 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Publicity image for How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) © 1953 and 2016 Twentieth Century Fox. Heidi Popovic, Marilyn Contemporary (2008), digital pigment screenprint, 93 x 93 cm, (Courtesy Rudolf Budja Galerie, Salzburg) & After Andy Warhol, Sunday B. Morning (Publisher), Marilyn (1967/1982), screenprint, 93 x 93 cm, © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. (Private Collection, Germany). Installation shot at Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA) by Simon Dallinger,

by Inga Walton

“In private life she was not in the least what her calumniators would have wished her to be. She was very quiet, had great natural dignity (I cannot imagine anyone who knew her trying to take a liberty with her) and was extremely intelligent. She was also exceedingly sensitive.” – Dame Edith Sitwell reflecting on Marilyn Monroe, 1965

‘Iconic’ is a term so frequently misused these days as to lose much of its potency and relevance. Nonetheless, few personages in modern history have achieved such lasting global appeal, so dominated popular culture, and inspired such insatiable interest like Norma Jeane Mortenson (1926-62).

With a screen persona in turns captivating, playful, and vulnerable, as Marilyn Monroe, she commanded the attention, adoration and hero-worship of millions. The sheer ubiquity of Monroe’s image and likeness is extraordinary; her corona of impeccably coiffed blonde hair, the slightly quivering smile, heavy eyelids over-burdened with false lashes, and a gaze that was both alluringly naughty and reassuringly frank. Imbued with a vitality and charisma that radiated out to embrace everyone who saw her, Monroe remains one of the most recognisable figures in the world. Her fan-base is legion: she has a catholic and virtually unparalleled appeal to people from every background- as the mawkish, if persistent, strains of Sir Elton John’s threnody Candle In the Wind (1973) demonstrates.


Sir Cecil (Walter Hardy) Beaton, CBE (1904-80), Marilyn Monroe II (1956/2005) detail, silver gelatin print, 62 x 62 cm, © Cecil Beaton Studio Archive/Sothebys.

Sir Cecil (Walter Hardy) Beaton, CBE (1904-80), ‘Marilyn Monroe II’ (1956/2005) detail, silver gelatin print, 62 x 62 cm, © Cecil Beaton Studio Archive/Sothebys.


The aristocratic poet and writer Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) made several perceptive comments about her friend Monroe. “What will-power she must have needed in order to remain the human being she was, after the cruelty with which, in the past, she was treated! That cruelty was completely odious. It arose partly, I think, from the envy of people who are devoid of beauty, and partly from the heartless stupidity of those who have never known a great and terrifying poverty. There are people, also, who cannot believe that beauty and gaiety are a part of goodness … In repose her face was at moments strangely, prophetically, tragic, like the face of a beautiful ghost – a little Spring-ghost, an innocent fertility-daemon, the vegetation spirit that was Ophelia.” 1

It could be argued that it was Monroe’s genuineness – both on screen and as a person – that most endeared her to the public. Notwithstanding the strong backing and vital support she received from significant figures in the formative years of her career, Monroe was always very clear as to whom she ultimately owed her success. “You see it was my fans who wanted me, who made me a star. The studio was finally doing something about it [her career] because of the pressure that came from the public…”, she told her friend, the photo-journalist George Barris. “I worked day and night, now more so, to prove that I wanted to be a serious dramatic actress- even though some of the roles I was put in you could hardly believe it at the time. But I tried very hard at my profession of acting. It was always very important to me not to let my public down. I have an obligation to them. They are the ones who gave me the opportunity, and they are still the people that can make an actress a star”. 2 And their devotion to Monroe remains undimmed.

In recent months, Monroe’s Australian fans have been basking in an unprecedented Marilyn moment. Following a $10.5 million revamp, the former Albury Regional Art Gallery has been redeveloped and rebranded as Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA), which reopened in October, 2015. Marilyn: Celebrating An American Icon (until 8 May, 2016) marks the new Museum’s first international exhibition. An initiative of Sairally Fine Arts & Consulting in Hamburg, and circulated by International Arts & Artists in Washington, DC, the exhibition is based on the earlier show Life As A Legend: Marilyn Monroe which toured to fourteen venues in North America (2006-11). Premièring at Cinemateca Brasileira, São Paulo in 2012, the present exhibition includes nearly 120 various works and additional audio visual displays. Bendigo Art Gallery, in partnership with 20th Century Fox, has curated Marilyn Monroe (until 10 July, 2016), a collection of costumes and personal effects shown alongside film and newsreel footage, photographs and vintage film memorabilia.


Ernst Haas (1921-86), Marilyn the Goddess, on the Set of ‘The Misfits’ (1960/2002), silver gelatin print, 32 x 42 cm, © Ernst Haas Studio/Getty Images. (Ernst Haas Estate, New York).

Ernst Haas (1921-86), ‘Marilyn the Goddess, on the Set of ‘The Misfits’’ (1960/2002), silver gelatin print, 32 x 42 cm, © Ernst Haas Studio/Getty Images. (Ernst Haas Estate, New York).


Unlike the carefully crafted ‘ice blonde’ public images of stars like Greta Garbo (1905-90), Marlene Dietrich (1901-92), and her contemporary Grace Kelly (1929-82), Monroe was not a remote, untouchable figure. She was marketed by 20th Century Fox as a ‘blonde bombshell’ to rival the likes of the similarly ill-fated Jean Harlow (1911-37) and Lana Turner (1921-95). Monroe’s screen-test was covertly arranged by Ben Lyon (1901-79), a former silent screen actor who starred with Harlow in Hell’s Angels (Howard Hughes, 1930), who had moved into casting and acted as a talent agent for Fox. The six-minute Technicolor test was filmed at 5.30am on the deserted set of the Betty Grable film Mother Wore Tights (Walter Lang, 1947). As Monroe recounted to Barris, Lyon and four-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy (1901-74) scheduled it without approval from Fox’s studio head, the notoriously irascible and belligerent Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-79).3 While he liked what he saw, Zanuck was ambivalent about signing a pin-up model with no acting experience. It was at this point Norma Jeane’s then agent, Helen Ainsworth, decided to exploit the passing interest of the eccentric Hughes (1905-76), owner of RKO Studios. He had seen the model on the cover of ‘Laff’ magazine shot by Bruno Bernard (1912-87), the well-known Bernard of Hollywood, and had shown interest in meeting Norma Jeane.

The whiff of competition from another alpha male studio head was enough to seal the deal, Zanuck placed the newcomer under contract; but she needed a marquee-friendly name. Lyon told Norma Jeane that she reminded him of the tragic Broadway star Marilyn Miller (1898-1936), with whom he co-starred in Her Majesty, Love (William Dieterle, 1931). For a surname, she chose her mother’s maiden name.4 As Monroe’s star rose, she was groomed and promoted in order that her popularity with the public might eclipse that of box-office favourite and wartime pin-up girl Grable (1916-73). After a contractual dispute with Fox in 1952, Gable had gone on strike and lost the coveted role of ‘Lorelei Lee’ in the movie adaptation of Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953). The part was assigned to Monroe who played it to lasting acclaim, in particular her much-imitated rendition of the song ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’. By the time Grable co-starred with Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (Jean Negulesco, 1953), her interest in Hollywood, much like her star, was on the wane, and she withdrew from screen acting in 1955.

Despite her burgeoning success, Monroe, too, became increasingly frustrated with being typecast as the vacuous gold-digger, the girl-next-door, or the sweet and pliable ‘dumb blonde’, a trope that reached its ultimate expression with her role as ‘The Girl’ in The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955), based on the play by George Axelrod. Monroe was acutely conscious of her lack of formal education, and realised that her ‘airhead’ screen persona led people to underestimate her: she once enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) in an effort to better herself.5 Monroe was also determined to assert more control over the roles she was offered by a studio whose executives often treated her with contempt, underpaid and exploited her. In a proactive move, she founded the film company Marilyn Monroe Productions (MMP) in 1954 to develop projects in which she wanted to star.


Unknown photographer, Marilyn Monroe on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1956/2006), Giclée (ed. 73/275), 50 x 70 cm, (Private Collection Germany).

Unknown photographer, ‘Marilyn Monroe on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1956/2006), Giclée (ed. 73/275), 50 x 70 cm, (Private Collection Germany).


Today, this is a commonplace strategy for major stars with box-office clout, but Monroe was openly challenging her nemesis Zanuck and the terms of her contract with Fox, so it represented a sizeable gamble on her part. Her partner in the enterprise was photographer Milton H. Greene (1922-85), whom Monroe first met in 1949, and again when he was assigned to photograph her for ‘Look’ magazine in 1953: they worked together on over fifty photo sessions in subsequent years. Furthermore, Monroe signalled her aspiration to forge a ‘serious’ acting career and earn the professional respect she craved, both from her peers, and the wider public, who had only seen her in a fairly narrow range of lightweight and ‘decorative’ roles. To that end, she devoted most of 1955 to studying with Lee Strasberg (1901-82), considered to be the ‘father of method acting in America’, at the Actors Studio in New York, of which he was director.

An industry spanning thousands of books and publications devoted to Monroe, reproducing any available photograph, and picking over every aspect of her brief life, are a testament to our abiding, if somewhat morbid, fascination with the star. Perhaps the reason that Monroe remains a somewhat intangible and tantalising figure is because the ‘real’ woman continues to elude us, as it seems to have eluded her. So much of Monroe’s press was either manufactured by 20th Century Fox publicists (the so-called ‘star text’ supplied to fan magazines), or filtered through the malicious perspective of gossip columnists, and a (largely) disparaging media. To capitalise on her growing popularity, and refute the view that she was inarticulate and lacking in substance, 20th Century Fox co-founder Joseph M. Schenck (1878-1961) encouraged Monroe to write a memoir that would bolster her credibility.

Schenck, who ran the studio’s business operations, contacted playwright and Academy Award winning screenwriter Ben Hecht (1894-1964) to act as her ghost-writer. Hecht co-wrote the screenplay of Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, 1952), in which Monroe had a supporting part. Hecht was enthusiastic about the project, ‘My Story’, and travelled to San Francisco to begin interviews with Monroe in December, 1953.6 Doubleday was keen to publish the book, but when Hecht’s duplicitous literary agent Jacques Chambrun sold the incomplete typescript for serialisation in the English tabloid Empire News without Hecht’s permission the fall-out from 20th Century Fox was swift, and the wider project fell apart in 1954. The entertainment industry biographer Maurice Zolotow (1913-91) interviewed Monroe on several occasions and published the only biography in her lifetime (1960).


Publicity image for Niagara (1953) © 1953 and 2016 Twentieth Century Fox

Publicity image for ‘Niagara’ (1953) © 1953 and 2016 Twentieth Century Fox


Without question, Monroe’s early life was a traumatic tale of abandonment and adversity that neither the fan magazines, nor any screenwriter, could have concocted to greater dramatic effect. She was the illegitimate child of Gladys Pearl Monroe (1902-84) and probably Charles Stanley Gifford, a married salesman who worked with Gladys at Consolidated Film Industries. Gladys was first married to John Newton Baker, but he took their two children and returned to his native Kentucky in 1921; they divorced in 1923. She then married Norma Jeane’s legal father, Martin Edward Mortensen, in 1924, but they too would divorce in 1928. Gladys was initially unable to care for Norma Jeane herself, so the child was fostered out. Gladys briefly regained custody of her daughter in 1933, but early the next year she suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalised; a diagnosis of Paranoid schizophrenia led to her being institutionalised in 1935. Norma Jeane was made a ward of the state, and shuffled through various foster homes before being placed in the Los Angeles Orphans Home in September, 1935.

One of Gladys’ friends, Grace McKee Goddard, became Norma Jeane’s legal guardian in 1936, and removed her from the orphanage in 1937. As an adult, Monroe recounted that she was sexually molested twice during this turbulent time. She found some semblance of stability when she was taken to live with Goddard’s aunt, Ana Atchinson Lower, the person Monroe credited with being the greatest influence in her life. However, after Lower’s health deteriorated, Norma Jeane returned to live with the Goddards until early 1942 when the family were due to relocate to West Virginia. As a ward, Californian law prevented the Goddards from taking Norma Jeane out of the state, and she faced the prospect of returning to the orphanage. ‘Aunt’ Grace instigated an expedient marriage between Norma Jeane and Jim Dougherty, the twenty-one year-old son of the Goddard’s neighbours. It was three weeks after her sixteenth birthday, “In those days I would be considered a child bride. I guess even by today’s standards I’d be considered one, too”, Monroe told George Barris.7 A small selection of photos from Norma Jeane’s fractured childhood, including the wedding party, makes for sobering viewing at Bendigo.

In an attempt to correct misconceptions about her life, and regain some control over her personal narrative, Monroe gave a series of candid interviews to Barris intended for an authorised book. They were working on this project at the time of her death; he published the excerpts, with many of his final photographs of her, in 1995. Meanwhile, the Hecht manuscript resurfaced in 1974 when publisher Stein and Day was supplied with Monroe’s corrected copy by her former business partner, Greene. Apparently, she left the manuscript with him when she stayed at his property in Connecticut in late 1954, as they too were discussing a book project. The two subsequently fell out, amidst accusations of financial misappropriation at MMP, and Monroe fired Greene in April, 1957. There was no rapprochement.8 However, neither Greene, nor the publisher, thought to consult Hecht’s widow Rose over the legalities of the situation, despite his ‘complete’ copy, and the outline for its conclusion, being retained by her. (Hecht’s papers are now in the Modern Manuscript Collection of the Newberry Library, Chicago).9


Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995), Actress Marylin Monroe Playfully Elegant at Home (1953/2003), silver gelatin print, 52 x 42.5 cm © Alfred Eisenstaedt/TimePix. (Private Collection Germany).

Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995), ‘Actress Marylin Monroe Playfully Elegant at Home’ (1953/2003), silver gelatin print, 52 x 42.5 cm © Alfred Eisenstaedt/TimePix. (Private Collection Germany).


Perhaps the challenging circumstances of Monroe’s formative years gave her an insight into the human condition, along with the candour, and emotional porousness that endeared her to so many. Much of the pathos associated with Monroe’s story stems from the disparity between her flash-bulb bleached public image and her private turmoil, her agonised introspection. Her quest for self-knowledge, personal happiness, and a measure of peace remained largely unfulfilled by the time of her shocking and unexpected death in August, 1962. The murky and inconsistent circumstances surrounding Monroe’s tragic and premature demise only served to fuel speculation about the nature of the psychiatric care she was receiving, her escalating drug dependence, faltering career, her neediness, and destructive emotional entanglements. Ruled a ‘probable suicide’, conspiracy theories and innuendo abound as to Monroe’s links to President John F. Kennedy, his brother, the Attorney General Robert Kennedy, their brother-in-law actor Peter Lawford, the mafia associates of her former beau Frank Sinatra, such as Sam Giancana, and FBI surveillance of them all.

In his sensational biographical treatise published in 1973, American literary bad boy Norman Mailer (1923-2007) posited the idea that the actress had met with foul play, presumably because she planned to expose her relationship with the Kennedys, with whom she was firmly disenchanted. It was a notion that gained some currency in subsequent years with several of Monroe’s intimates, such as Barris, who spoke to her the day before her death about their book.10 Written in a climate of anti-government suspicion and paranoia as the Watergate scandal unfolded, Mailer blustered that Monroe’s death was part of a wider crisis within American public life precipitated by the suicide of writer Ernest Hemingway in July, 1961,

“What a jolt to the dream life of the nation that the angel died of an overdose. Whether calculated suicide by barbiturates or accidental suicide by losing count of how many barbiturates she had already taken, or an end even more sinister, no one was able to say. Her death was covered over with ambiguity even as Hemingway’s was exploded into horror, and as the deaths and spiritual disasters of the decade of the Sixties came one by one to American Kings and Queens, as Jack Kennedy was killed, and Bobby, and Martin Luther King, as Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis and Teddy Kennedy went off the bridge at Chappaquiddick, so the decade that began with Hemingway as the monarch of American arts ended with Andy Warhol as its regent, and the ghost of Marilyn’s death gave a lavender edge to that dramatic American design of the Sixties which seemed in retrospect to have done nothing so much as to bring Richard Nixon to the threshold of imperial power.”11


Publicity image for How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) © 1953 and 2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

Publicity image for ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (1953) © 1953 and 2016 Twentieth Century Fox.


Indeed, it did not take long for the great connoisseur and exponent of the cult of celebrity, Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-87), to react to the news of Monroe’s death. From early childhood, Warhol was an avid collector of film memorabilia, and wrote away for signed photographs of his favourite stars. “Warhol’s studio at 1342 Lexington was strewn with copies of ‘Teen Screen’ and ‘Movie Life’. Andy’s reading material consisted almost entirely of movie magazines, whose function as an extension of the studio system was to enhance the extraterrestrial nature of the stars they depicted”, observes author David Dalton. “Even when the pictorials showed stars doing things normal people do, the effect was surreal. The intention was not to make the stars seem more like us, but less”.12

Warhol was both an unabashed fan and an active participant in the myth-making process that surrounded such figures, an unrepentant voyeur who also cultivated his status as a social arbiter. “Articles about Hollywood Stars oscillated between … the idolatry of the fan magazines and the sleaze of the scandal sheets, generating an irresistible magnetism. These strains of worship and debasement were the fossil fuel of fan idolatry and achieved a kind of frenzied refinement among the gay, speed-freak culture out of which Warhol emerged. The Factory became a magnet for brilliant speedfreaks who simultaneously worshipped and trashed movie stars. This frame of mind created the alternating current that infuses Warhol’s paintings of Liz [Taylor], Elvis [Presley], Marilyn, Jackie [Kennedy] and Tab Hunter with such flashing ambivalence”.13

Warhol had hundreds of photographs of Monroe in his personal collection, including a publicity image probably taken by 20th Century Fox’s in-house portrait and still photographer Frank Powolny (1901-86) for Monroe’s breakthrough film Niagara (Henry Hathaway, 1953). Warhol tightly cropped the frame of this image to excise the black and white tuxedo-style dress the actress was wearing to focus just on her face. His exhibition of the Marilyn suite at Stable Gallery, New York that year included the large Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), and smaller panels in vivid colour schemes; there would be twenty-two paintings of Marilyn by the end of the year. “I don’t feel I’m representing the main sex symbols of our time in some of my pictures, such as Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, I just see Monroe as just another person. As for whether it’s symbolical to paint Monroe in such violent colours: it’s beauty, and she’s beautiful, and if something’s beautiful, it’s pretty colours, that’s all. Or something”, he remarked.14 Warhol produced an even more fetishistic series from the Niagara image, Marilyn’s Lips (1962), saying, “People look the most kissable when they’re not wearing make-up. Marilyn’s lips weren’t kissable, but they were photographable.”15


Heidi Popovic, Marilyn Contemporary (2008), digital pigment screenprint, 93 x 93 cm, (Courtesy Rudolf Budja Galerie, Salzburg) & After Andy Warhol, Sunday B. Morning (Publisher), Marilyn (1967/1982), screenprint, 93 x 93 cm, © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. (Private Collection, Germany). Installation shot at Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA) by Simon Dallinger,

Heidi Popovic, ‘Marilyn Contemporary’ (2008), digital pigment screenprint, 93 x 93 cm, (Courtesy Rudolf Budja Galerie, Salzburg) & After Andy Warhol, Sunday B. Morning (Publisher), ‘Marilyn’ (1967/1982), screenprint, 93 x 93 cm, © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. (Private Collection, Germany). Installation shot at Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA) by Simon Dallinger,


Perhaps more than any of the countless photographers who captured Monroe’s image throughout her career, it was Warhol’s silk-screens that provided her apotheosis and secured her ‘afterlife’ as a global icon. The popularity of Warhol’s Marilyn series confirmed Monroe’s virtually unmatched appeal, and indelibly lodged his interpretation of her in the public consciousness. “Once he had found that magic portal, the silk-screened photograph, Warhol would essentially go on making the same painting over and over endlessly, like a character in a fairy tale”.16 This, despite the fact that Monroe’s own fairytale had reached such a pitiful and lonely denouement. Eight Marilyn screenprints (1967/1982) from the so-called Sunday B. Morning (unauthorised) series, based on Warhol’s originals, are on show at MAMA. These are displayed next to Marilyn Contemporary (2008), four works by Austrian artist Heidi Popovic. She has maintained the outline of Monroe’s hair from Warhol’s work, but replaced the face with a skull, perhaps making reference to the forensic level of attention Monroe has been subjected to in the years since her death.

The touring exhibition is supplemented by the addition of some local content, including Centre Light Set (Marilyn Monroe) (1970) and Mm Maygao No. 1 (1974) by the prolific Australian Pop artist Richard Larter (1929-2014). In something of a curatorial coup, a group of six photographs are on loan from Albury businessman Colin Glassborow that have never been publicly displayed. Twelve such works were left to Glassborow, taken by his American friend Arthur ‘Art’ Meyers (1919-2009), a freelance photographer during the 1940s and 1950s. Meyers was commissioned by a member of the organising committee for the World Film Stars Baseball Game to photograph Monroe and other contract players at Chicago’s Wrigley Stadium in July, 1949. This event saw Monroe reunited with Adele Jergens (1917-2002), who played her mother in the Columbia Pictures B-movie Ladies of the Chorus (Phil Karlson, 1948).

Other up-and-coming talent in attendance at the event included Jean Peters (1926-2000), Roddy McDowall (1928-98), Virginia O’Brien (1919-2001), and Sonny Tufts (1911-70), who would later have a supporting role in The Seven Year Itch. At the time, Monroe was promoting the Marx Brothers film Love Happy (David Miller, 1949) in which she has a memorable cameo role opposite Groucho Marx (1890-1977). Art Meyers was also on hand in the evening, when Monroe and McDowall attended the infamous Ricketts nightclub, once favoured by gangster Al Capone. Numerous other black and white photographs of Monroe, and a smattering of colour frames, by such well known figures as Eve Arnold (1912-2012), Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995), Laszlo Willinger (1909-89) and Bert Stern (1929-2013) are by far the most engaging aspect of the exhibition.


Publicity image for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) © 1953 and 2016 Twentieth Century Fox.

Publicity image for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1953) © 1953 and 2016 Twentieth Century Fox.


It has often been observed that the camera loved Marilyn, and indeed the photographic medium was probably her most constant and rewarding relationship. Whatever the difficulties of her film career – directors she considered unsympathetic, friction with co-stars, conflicts over the script and difficulties with her lines – the still camera was her friend and its output her fervent ally. Modelling would provide Monroe with an escape from her unsatisfying life, and the wherewithal to build a new one. By 1943, Jim Dougherty had joined the Merchant Marines and when his unit was deployed, his young wife moved in with his parents and took a job at the Radioplane Munitions plant in Burbank to contribute to the war effort. It was here that photographer David Conover, on assignment for the army magazines Yank and Stars and Stripes, took the first published images of Norma Jeane as a morale booster.

Conover showed his photos to another colleague, Potter Hueth, who agreed to use Norma Jeane for speculative work, whereby she would get paid a fee if the image was sold for publication.17 He, in turn, brought Norma Jeane to the attention of Emmeline Snively who ran the respected Blue Book Model Agency, and who signed her up in 1945. It was Snively who first identified the ‘problem’ with Norma Jeane’s smile, “… the space between the top of her mouth and the end of the nose. The space was too short. There wasn’t enough room for her upper lip. The solution? ‘Try smiling with your upper lip drawn down … a slight pouting look’. It was a piece of advice that would change Norma Jeane’s appearance subtly but substantially; it would become part of Marilyn Monroe’s persona for the rest of her life … a mannerism that began as a solution to a problem and became a personal trademark”.18 Norma Jeane soon became a popular choice for ‘pin-up’ and ‘cheesecake’ shots, and started to appear on various magazine covers.

Prominent in both exhibitions are images from the lens of Hungarian-American photographer André de Dienes (1913-85) who worked with the fledgling model in 1945. So taken was de Dienes with Norma Jeane that he sought permission from ‘Aunt’ Ana Lower to take her on an extended location shoot to Death Valley, Yosemite, and Oregon for over a month. These images would appear on the covers of ‘Family Circle’ (April), ‘U.S Camera’ (May) and ‘Pageant’ (June) in 1946. They briefly visited Gladys Mortensen, recently released from Agnews State Hospital, and living in a small hotel in Portland. Norma Jeane hadn’t seen her mother for six years: it was a stilted and upsetting reunion. Norma Jeane and de Dienes had a brief liaison before he returned her to Los Angeles.19 He had discussed marrying her in Las Vegas once she had divorced Jim Dougherty, and continued to press his suit following his return to New York. Weeks went by and de Dienes quietly seethed as it became increasingly difficult to get Norma Jeane on the telephone. His assumptions about their future were dashed when she finally admitted, “But André, I don’t want to get married … I want to get into movies”.20 According to de Dienes, he swallowed his disappointment and continued their professional relationship as Norma Jeane transitioned into Marilyn Monroe.


Frank Powolny (1901-86), Black Bathing Suit #2 (detail) (1950), silver gelatin print, 70.5 x 50 cm © Edward Weston Collection. (Private Collection Germany).

Frank Powolny (1901-86), ‘Black Bathing Suit #2’ (detail) (1950), silver gelatin print, 70.5 x 50 cm © Edward Weston Collection. (Private Collection Germany).


De Dienes witnessed the process by which the radiant young model who had so captivated him was at first exulted by her growing fame and recognition, and then beaten down by it. This was the disillusionment of the beautiful fantasist who, as a child, used to believe she was Alice In Wonderland,21 but eventually found life, lost down the rabbit hole of Hollywoodland, too much to bear. Their last photo session was in 1953, an impromptu and disturbing encounter at 2am on the darkened streets of Beverly Hills, “when we had finished she said to me in a barely audible voice: ‘You usually write captions for your photos. You can put ‘The end of everything’ underneath these.” 22 De Dienes last saw Monroe, 1 June, 1961, her birthday. “I knew only too well how badly she was sleeping, her whole nervous system was giving way. What really upset me about her wrecked life was her bitterness: her success was a sham, her hopes thwarted; she had been let down repeatedly, even by the men who had said they loved her. Her money had been squandered; fame had become a burden … But she was a star, people would help her go even further, attracted by her fame. Others would profit by her success. This is the way things are.” 23

Monroe divorced Dougherty in 1946, but before her dream of Hollywood stardom was finally realised, she endured several false starts and much uncertainty. In August, 1947 her contract was not renewed by 20th Century Fox, despite lobbying from Joseph M. Schenck. He persuaded his poker crony Harry Cohn (1891-1958) at Columbia Pictures to take her on, but after only one film there Monroe found herself dropped once again in 1948. It was during this low point that Monroe agreed to pose for photographer Tom Kelley (1914-84), whom she had worked with before on a beer advertisement. This time it would be a nude shoot for which Monroe was paid a flat rate of $50. Images from this session, three of which appear at MAMA and one at Bendigo, were eventually sold and appeared in the calendars ‘Golden Dreams’ and another called ‘A New Wrinkle’. Monroe was mortified when she was identified as the model in 1952, and afraid that any negative publicity could potentially jeopardise her prospects. Her new contract with 20th Century Fox, negotiated in 1950, contained the standard ‘morals clause’.

Just as the actress Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) survived the scandal surrounding her early European film Ecstasy (Gustav Machatý, 1933), in which she appears nude in several scenes, so Monroe won the public’s sympathy over Kelley’s shots with an endearing mix of honesty and chutzpah. “’I’ve done nothing wrong’, she said firmly, ‘I was broke and I needed the money’”.24 The additional publicity certainly didn’t hurt Monroe’s new film Clash By Night (Fritz Lang, 1952), an adaptation of the 1941 play by Clifford Odets (1906-63), the Broadway premiére of which had been directed by Lee Strasberg. As ‘Peggy Coffey’, a young cannery worker with an overbearing boyfriend, Monroe gives a feisty and down-to-earth performance. However, there was conflict with German expressionist director Lang, who resented Monroe’s dependence on the former actress Natasha Lytess (1911-63). The head drama teacher at Columbia Pictures when she met Monroe in 1948, Lytess became Monroe’s personal coach and mentor, and it has been suggested they had a more intimate relationship.25 Certainly, Lytess did much to expand Monroe’s world-view, and shepherded her through twenty films until 1955, when Monroe transferred her allegiance to Strasberg.26

NEXT ISSUE: Extend your moment With Marilyn as the story continues in Trouble June 2016

Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA), 546 Dean St, Albury (NSW), until 8 May 2016 – | Marilyn Monroe, Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, Bendigo (VIC), until 10 July 2016 – | Official web-site of the Estate of Marilyn Monroe –

1 Dame Edith Sitwell, Taken Care Of: An Autobiography, Hutchinson, London, 1965, p.182-83. | 2 George Barris, Marilyn: Her Life In Her Own Words- Marilyn Monroe’s Revealing Last Words and Photographs, Birch Lane Press, New York, 1995, p.102-03. | 3 Ibid, p.61-63. | 4 Lois Banner, Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, Bloomsbury, London, 2012, p.118-19. | 5 George Barris, op cit, p.113 & Ibid, p.184. In Banner, it is given as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). | 6 Lois Banner, op cit, p.229-30. | 7 George Barris, op cit, p.36. | 8 Lois Banner, op cit, p.232. | 9 Florice Whyte Kovan, “A Ghost Materialised: Ben Hecht Finally Credited on Marilyn Monroe’s Memoir”, The Ben Hecht Story & News, Volume 3, Number 1, Snickersnee Press, 2001. A second edition of My Story, published by Cooper Square Press in 2000, reinstated Hecht’s writer credit. | 10 George Barris, op cit, p.136. Mailer mentions an earlier book by Frank A. Capell, The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe (1964), as being one of the earliest to suggest she was murdered. The Los Angeles district attorney ‘reinvestigated’ Monroe’s death in 1982; British journalist Anthony Summers laid bare its deficiencies in his book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe (1985). | 11 Norman Mailer, Marilyn: A Biography, Spring Books, London (1973), 1988, p.15. | 12 David Dalton, “Matinee Idols” in Steven Bluttal (Ed.), Andy Warhol “Giant” Size, Phaidon, London, 2006, p.174. | 13 Ibid. | 14 Steven Bluttal (Ed.), Andy Warhol “Giant” Size, Phaidon, London, 2006, p.184. | 15 Ibid, p.187. | 16 David Dalton, “Matinee Idols” in Steven Bluttal (Ed.), Andy Warhol “Giant” Size, Phaidon, London, 2006, p.174. | 17 George Barris, op cit, p.44. | 18 Joseph Jasgur & Jeannie Sakol, The Birth of Marilyn: The Lost Photographs of Norma Jean By Joseph Jasgur, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1991, p.7 & Lois Banner, op cit, p.107-08. | 19 André de Dienes, Marilyn: Mon Amour- The Private Albums of André de Dienes, (trans. Sara M. Harris), Sidgwick & Jackson, London, Third reprint (1986) 1989, p.47, 65, 69. & Lois Banner, op cit, p.110-12. | 20 André de Dienes, op cit, p.73. | 21 George Barris, op cit, p.31. | 22 André de Dienes, op cit, p.147. | 23 Ibid, p.154. | 24 Joseph Jasgur & Jeannie Sakol, op cit, p.15 & Lois Banner, op cit, p.151-53. | 25 Lois Banner, op cit, p.158-62. | 26 Ibid, p.146-47, 161-62.