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Fifty years ago today in Los Angeles, where I’m writing these words while facing a screen of a kind that didn’t exist in 1962, a thirty-six-year-old woman fatally overdosed on Nembutal and chloral hydrate, sedatives she used, or tried to use, to sleep. She had a documented history of insomnia and attempted suicide, but there’s no conclusive proof that she killed herself intentionally or accidentally or that someone else administered the drugs. Her housekeeper, whom the LAPD thought “vague” and “possibly evasive in answering questions,” reported finding her dead at around three a.m. in the master bedroom of the Spanish Revival hacienda she had bought six months earlier on the advice of her psychiatrist, who supposed it would give her a sense of stability. She lacked that sense, having lived since childhood like a nomad, for the most part in California, where flux was and is the norm.

She was a product of California both spiritually and factually, born in the charity ward of Los Angeles General Hospital to an emotionally disturbed mother who worked as a negative cutter at Consolidated Film Industries, a processing lab for Hollywood studios. Her father, also employed by Consolidated, refused to acknowledge her, and after her mother was institutionalized, she went from a Hollywood orphanage to a series of foster homes in a demoralizing trajectory made bearable by her love of movies. She dreamed of being an actress, a common dream for a girl of her time and ours, in California and elsewhere, but this girl could, and no doubt did, fantasize of discovery by a talent scout, per the local myth.

When she was eighteen, a variation on this myth was realized. By then she was married to a merchant seaman and holding a Rosie-the-Riveter job at an aircraft factory in Burbank, where a photographer with the Army’s First Motion Picture Unit, impressed by the way she photographed, encouraged her to model professionally. She applied to an agency owned by the wonderfully named Emmeline Snively, who was initially underwhelmed: the girl was “too plump,” though “cute-looking,” and “knew nothing about carriage, posture, walking, sitting or posing. She was a California blonde—dark in winter, light in summer.”

Most of the “cheesecake” photos of the day were taken in Los Angeles, and, tutored by Emmeline Snively, the girl soon became a favorite of cheesecake photographers. She bleached and straightened her kinky hair, and slimmed by jogging and lifting weights. She corrected a slight overbite with braces, and improved her nose and chin with cosmetic surgery. She scrutinized every frame on every contact sheet of photos shot of her, a lifelong policy, and devised makeup tricks to tweak remnant flaws. For instance, her lips were “really very flat,” a friend remembered, so she “painted them with about five shades of lipstick, to get the right curves, the right shadows to bring out the lips.” She further highlighted her lips by darkening a pale mole just above them. As a California girl, let alone a working model and aspiring actress, she was alert to the importance of surfaces, and she was searching for a look, the look, that would captivate the world. And bit by bit, from her first modeling job in 1945 to her first starring role in Technicolor in 1953, she achieved it, and so invented one of the most famous entertainers of the twentieth century, now more famous than any other, still instantly identifiable as Marilyn Monroe, even to twenty-first-century children who might be pressed to name the dead president on the dime they see daily without seeing it.

*****

The notion that California is a place where people reinvent themselves is older than Hollywood, though it was bolstered by the Hollywood star system, which amended the features and biographies of unknown novices and seasoned performers alike, often recalibrating the initial image if it failed to click. Lucille Ball, now maybe the second most famous entertainer of Marilyn Monroe’s era, underwent a series of image overhauls at RKO and MGM, where her brown hair was dyed its trademark red, the star system’s only significant contribution to her later success in television. It could claim even less for Marilyn’s success in movies. She was dropped by the first studio to sign her, 20th Century-Fox, apparently because, as California girls are wont to do, she was dating a surfer, another Fox discovery likewise desired by the daughter of Darryl Zanuck, chief of production at Fox. A contract with Columbia wasn’t renewed after, supposedly, Harry Cohn, the Columbia chief, watched rushes of Ladies of the Chorus, a backstage musical featuring Marilyn, and snarled to an assistant, “What did you put that fat pig in the picture for?” Finally, despite Zanuck’s dislike of her, she was signed again by Fox, where Zanuck was inclined to ignore her. But Marilyn wouldn’t let him ignore her. She courted journalists who published stories that stressed her desolate childhood, with Dickensian embellishments provided by Marilyn. Meanwhile, she haunted the Fox publicity department, so that whenever a starlet was needed for a photo, there was Marilyn, who played “the camera the way a virtuoso plays an instrument,” in the words of Life magazine photographer Philippe Halsman. Numerous photographers concurred, including Richard Avedon, who raved that Marilyn “gave more to the still camera than any actress—any woman—I’ve ever photographed,” and Eve Arnold, who marveled at a photogenic quirk: the “very fine golden hairs” that covered Marilyn’s face and “trapped the light. It was extraordinary; I’ve never seen it before. It acted as a nimbus so that she looked almost angelic.”

early modeling session

Marilyn’s self-promotion campaign generated mail from people who had never seen her onscreen. It made fans of film exhibitors and theater owners, and at a Fox party where established stars were on hand to meet them, they instead mobbed Marilyn, asking, “What pictures are you going to be in, Miss Monroe?” Marilyn coyly replied that such questions should be directed to Darryl Zanuck, who, at last forced to recognize her potential, mandated her use in any production that suited the image that, over his head and through the chinks of the system, she had peddled directly to the public: an orphaned bombshell, sweetly oblivious to her beauty and sex appeal.

In reality, of course, beauty and sex appeal were Marilyn’s currency. A classic Hollywood climber, she slept her way to the middle, which is still as far as the casting couch, in its manifold forms, can take anyone. “It wasn’t any big dramatic deal,” she later told a friend. “Nobody ever got cancer from sex.” She told other friends that, at especially fraught moments, she scraped by as a call girl. Would the public have forgiven her, had it known? Possibly. It forgave her when she copped to posing nude in desperation, a startling mea culpa for 1952, just as it forgave her incorrigible unprofessionalism, her oft-reported tardiness on the set. That was viewed then as an impish foible of the waifish Marilyn and not as passive aggression, a concept decades from popularization, even in Hollywood, which led the world in passive aggression, the “Good to see you!” followed by an obsequious retreat and an unspecific invitation to get together soon.

But Marilyn wasn’t just passive-aggressive; at times she was frankly hateful. Her occasional hairdresser, George Masters, recalled that if he was “two minutes late, she was furious, though she thought nothing of keeping others waiting for hours or days.” Masters considered her the coldest person he ever knew, while Billy Wilder, the director of two of her best films, once said that he had “never met anybody as mean as Marilyn Monroe,” perhaps thinking of her tirade after seeing rushes of Some Like It Hot—“I’m not going back into that fucking film until Wilder reshoots my opening”—or her response to an assistant director’s knock on her dressing-room door: “Go fuck yourself.”

But such accounts are usually overlooked, or anyway rationalized, by those acquainted with them. There’s no pathos in the image they propose; but there’s pathos aplenty in the image of Marilyn as a wounded stray, as the candle in the wind of Elton John song, as a martyr of celebrity, of Hollywood, of men and patriarchy and the male gaze. This image—and it’s finally a single image—excludes those traits it can’t, and doesn’t want to, accommodate: opportunism, toughness, willfulness, petulance, all of which, and then some, can be found in a convoluted woman with a genius for appearing the opposite.

*****

In December 1954, wearing a brunette wig, Marilyn flew to New York with a ticket she had bought under the name Zelda Zonk—even her protopunk alias was alliterative, with the Zs suggesting sleep—and was driven in the trunk of a car to a hideout in Connecticut. She hid as part of a strategy to force Fox to renegotiate her contract—the strategy was, naturally, successful—and after she emerged to hold a press conference, she took an apartment in New York, where she would live, on and off, to the end. New York was thought to be cultured as California wasn’t, a belief that persists, so that many Californians have entertained ideas of moving to New York. It has also worked the other way, of course. There may be more expatriate New Yorkers living in California than anywhere else in the world, but they, as well as transplants from elsewhere, often speak of leaving once they’ve gotten what they came to get, and that’s sometimes fame and wealth, though it used to be wealth alone, per the 49ers who panned for gold in the Sierra Nevada and another wave of gold seekers who in 1848 descended on the San Gabriel Mountains north of L.A. This earlier gold rush is all but forgotten, but so much is forgotten in California, a place with a scant sense of history, at least compared to my native Virginia. Flux is a foe of memory.

in New York

But Marilyn—an anomalous Californian in this way, among others—was versed enough in history that she would cite Eleonora Duse, a legendary Italian actress who died two years before Marilyn was born, as her role model. Duse was known for “living” her parts with a technique so subtle it didn’t seem to be a technique at all, inspiring the Stanislavski Method and its various interpreters, among them Lee Strasberg, the artistic director of the Actors Studio and Marilyn’s mentor in New York. She wanted to be a serious actress, she announced, not an “erotic freak,” and to that end, she formed her own production company, which would create projects of a kind that she knew she would never be offered by Fox. Long interested in literature, she befriended poets and novelists, marrying one of America’s two best-known playwrights, Arthur Miller, while the second, Tennessee Williams, looked on askance, asserting after Marilyn’s death that she was praised for reading books because “we couldn’t conceive that an ambulatory bowl of rich vanilla ice cream needed to think or to grow a mind. Marilyn sought and developed her identity as a sex symbol; she wiggled and cooed for the camera, but, incapable of satisfaction or understanding, she fought this image, so she would read Joyce and Schopenhauer and Woolf and Jung. Of course she understood none of it, because there was no fertile ground in which any of this could take hold: You can throw a multitude of seeds into the desert sands, but there will never be fruitage. Marilyn’s mind was a desert, a drought, with tiny compartments devoted to clothes, makeup, stardom, and fucking. That is all. That is absolutely all.”

This blistering assessment might sadly have rung true to Marilyn at her most insecure, and nothing made her more insecure than acting. A dream she noted helps to explain the crippling stage fright that worsened as her career progressed. In the dream, Lee Strasberg was a surgeon who opened her with a scalpel, “deeply disappointed” when he discovered “absolutely nothing there.” Acting, then, may have terrified Marilyn because it could expose her as the hollow shell—her mind “a desert,” a metaphor that recalls Southern California—she suspected herself to be.

Williams’ attack on Marilyn was equally an attack on the “gnomish” Strasberg, who “lied to her and told her she was the new Duse,” making her believe “that she might become the great actress Strasberg told her she could and should be,” though “we never did and never will look at her and admire her acting—we will admire her bust and butt and her giggling stupidity.” Many thought the same. Far from being praised for reading books, Marilyn was widely mocked for it, and even her advocates, with the inevitable exceptions, admitted her limitations as an actress. Laurence Olivier, her co-star in The Prince and the Showgirl, which he also directed, decided she was really a model after she followed his instructions perfectly, as she had never done before, during a scene without dialogue. To call an actress a model is a degradation for a classical actor like Olivier, but where Marilyn is concerned, I think, in a way, he was onto something.

A few years ago, I watched Marilyn’s first collaboration with Billy Wilder, The Seven Year Itch. I had seen it before, just because it happened to be on television, when I was a kid with no interest in old movies or the people in them, and I liked it to the extent that I could like any old movie, but seeing it again years later, what struck me, as it hadn’t when I was a kid, was the ineffable magnetism of Marilyn Monroe. Every time she was offscreen, I wanted her back, and every time she was onscreen, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It was, I slowly realized, partly because she was posing in ways that command attention, just as cats command attention with their poses, though I wouldn’t say that Marilyn otherwise reminds me of a cat. I wondered if she had been directed to pose as she did, but she did it so often and so well that it had to be her doing alone.

Douglas Kirkland shoots MM

Marilyn’s difficulty with dialogue was as irritating to her colleagues as her habitual tardiness. Multiple takes were sometimes necessary—thirty, forty, fifty, sixty—to get a single usable shot, even if her line was one word long. Yes, she was frightened. Yes, she was passive-aggressive. Yes, she was hazy from insomnia and the drugs she took to sleep. But her background as a model had prepared her to pose, not act, just as she was used to still photographers talking her through a shoot, which no movie director would do unless the shot was silent. Also, as a model, she was used to photographers pausing between frames to make small adjustments, as would she, with her preternatural sense of what did and didn’t look good to the camera. Those pauses were standard when she was working as a model, but she was expected to keep going as an actress, even as the model in her head, concerned with lighting and angles, found it natural to stop. Meanwhile, the actress in her head must have resented the intrusion of the model. She was there to act, not pose, and if Marilyn the model wouldn’t insist that every moment be “real” in the Method way, Marilyn the actress was determined to have an equal say. Am I feeling this? Am I really feeling it? Wait, I forgot my line. Can we do another? Damn, I’m getting a shadow on my face. Another, please. Is this real? Am I faking it? What’s my line again?

And so on. As much as she tortured her colleagues, Marilyn tortured herself most of all. Yet the result is that she always, in the slang of her day, looks like dynamite, since the model in her wouldn’t settle for less, while there’s a rawness, a freshness, a subtle spontaneity that comes through even when she’s posing. Then too the camera likes fear, which is why some directors prefer first takes, the ones in which the player we’re likeliest to watch is the least comfortable. All of Marilyn’s takes were first takes. Her terror of acting was an asset.

Of course, none of this qualifies her as a great actress as Tennessee Williams or Laurence Olivier would define greatness, with her narrow range and dicey technique. But Marilyn the actress is roughly equivalent, I would argue, to singers like Bob Dylan or Mick Jagger, who are far less versatile and skilled than any contestant who ever made the first cut on American Idol, while even the winners of American Idol are as immediately forgettable as Dylan and Jagger were memorable from the gate. As for Marilyn, I can hardly point to anyone else I find more enjoyable to watch onscreen, and by that measure, not only do I think she’s a great actress, I think she’s a great artist.

*****

Marilyn the artist is the Marilyn we always heard the least about, and we hear almost nothing about her now. The mysterious death of Marilyn the victim is making a few headlines again—is it proper to speak of this as the golden anniversary of her death?—and, over the years, there has been considerable talk of the alleged affairs of Marilyn the temptress—or is that again the victim?—with John and Robert Kennedy, though it’s unmistakably Marilyn the retro sex goddess who has recently materialized on Facebook to provide an authoritative example of an outstanding body versus the contemporary body ideal. Her films? How many now watch them, aside from old-movie buffs? They’re too slow for most of us. We want nonstop action and special effects, not dated bedroom comedies featuring dead people, including Marilyn Monroe.

In fact, the only Marilyn Monroe movie most people have seen, if they’ve seen one at all, wasn’t made in Hollywood; it was made at Madison Square Garden three months before Marilyn died, when she sang “Happy Birthday” for John Kennedy after being introduced—a gag about her tardiness—as “the late Marilyn Monroe.” Two clips of Kennedy’s forty-fifth birthday celebration were the first to come up when, researching Marilyn before writing about her, I checked YouTube for clips, with the shorter version of her brief performance at the top of the list. The quality is poor, but she can be heard and seen in action, as she can’t be, of course, in her many still photos.

But those photos are the key to her durability. Unlike most entertainers of her day and before, she doesn’t have to be heard or seen in action for someone unfamiliar with her—are there such people?—to glance at an image of her decked out and dolled up as “Marilyn Monroe” and grasp her essence reflexively: Hot blonde! Bimbo! Bombshell! Her makeup tricks, her tireless self-inventory, her scrutiny of every picture taken of her: all have paid off in a future world she could never have anticipated, and her acting has paid off too, since of course it’s her alter ego and not her that we observe in most of her photos. She no longer needs her auxiliary alter ego, the rags-to-riches waif, to help put her across. That’s for people curious enough to read a little about the overwrought inventor of Marilyn Monroe, and most people aren’t that curious, and why should they be regarding a woman who’s been dead for fifty years? She’s history, and now it seems that all of us are inventing alter egos through the photos and clips and updates we post online, peddling ourselves to “friends” we never met or barely know in a world that reduces everybody to driveway neighbors, people we wave to as we exit or enter our cars and dash off, on foot or behind the wheel, hoping never to be trapped in a complicated exchange.

I recognize this fast, simple, self-absorbed world, which owes a tremendous amount to Silicon Valley, in my offline life here in California. For better or worse, it’s the life I’ve always known in California, where I moved in search of fame and fortune, though, really, if I had been convinced of the immortality conferred on me by fame, I would’ve been content to struggle, or so I told myself. I was too young and dumb to realize that fame is ephemeral for the few lucky enough to come by it. I wasn’t one of them, and even if I left California after failing to get what I came to get, I could never leave it altogether. California is everywhere now, and its most famous daughter, as immortal as any dead celebrity can be, is everywhere known, and everywhere invisible in the way she most wanted to be seen.

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D. R. HANEY is the author of a novel, Banned for Life, and a nonfiction collection, Subversia, the inaugural publication of TNB Books. Known to friends as Duke, he lives in Los Angeles.

82 responses to “Golden State Girl”

  1. D.R. Haney says:

    I would like to say a few quick words about the images that I included here, despite my growing discomfort with using images without attribution. The idea that “content wants to be free,” as our technocratic overlords have told us, has led to a cavalier disregard for the work of artists, and that disregard bleeds into other areas of life, I believe.

    Nonetheless, it’s impossible to write and post online a piece about Marilyn Monroe and not want to illustrate it with photographs of her. Google has confirmed the camera’s love for Marilyn in spades. I have never, when posting about any other subject here at TNB, been so overwhelmed with images that begged for inclusion, one after another after another.

    I can’t credit all of the images because I don’t know the names of all of the photographers, and in some cases I think the names are unknown to, pretty much, everyone. The shot of Marilyn with the umbrella, for instance, seems to have been recently discovered, in a drawer or scrapbook somewhere, and I used it because it was a photo I had never seen before, and I doubt that many others have.

    There are four photographers I especially want to credit. Andre de Dienes took the nighttime photos of Marilyn by the gate and in the alley, where she was lit only by the headlights of his car. The story goes that Marilyn called de Dienes, a former lover, at two in the morning when she was depressed and unable to sleep. It was her idea for him to photograph her in that state, and she allegedly told him to name the photos “The End of Everything.”

    George Barris, who, at ninety, continues to live in Southern California, took the photo of Marilyn, wearing a heavy sweater, on the beach. I’ve always loved that shot, and the others that Barris took of Marilyn on the beach three weeks before she died. Not only did Barris beautifully capture the light of Southern California, he captured a tousled, complicated Marilyn unseen by almost any other photographer.

    James Haspiel, an author and friend of Marilyn, took the photo of her in the elevator as she was returning from the JFK birthday celebration; and Sam Shaw, another Marilyn friend, took the photo of Marilyn sitting outside a store in New York.

    Finally, I want to say that the essay, if that’s what it is, by Tennessee Williams, entitled “Marilyn Monroe Got What She Wanted,” is from the forthcoming book “Follies of God: The Notebooks” by James Grissom, who has been posting excepts from the book on his blog. Grissom mentions in notes before some of the entries that they weren’t written by Williams but spoken by him, apparently to Grissom. There was no such note regarding “Marilyn Monroe Got What She Wanted,” which reads as if written, not spoken, by Williams, so I’m assuming that’s the case. If not, apologies.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    Fantastic piece – as I knew it would be.
    I’ve been waiting for you to write an MM piece forever and this didn’t disappoint.
    I’m not quite sure how to put this, but there’s something about you that reminds me of Marilyn -I associate you, along with her, without being quintessentially LA (even though I know you don’t hail from there) there is something about the spirit of the place that I think you and she are/were imbued with. That special something. That indefineable thing. That movie magic.
    But God, she is so incredibly beautiful, isn’t she?
    I like your likening her to a cat – there is something feline in her movement – but I think of her more as puppyish – playful, helpless, slightly off kilter but totally lovable.
    Beautiful piece. Golden Duke.
    x

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Oh, and I forgot to mention that dedication. This piece is for you, Zara. If you and Nat hadn’t encouraged me, I would never have taken a whack at it. With the other well-known people I’ve written about, there was a personal connection to some extent. There’s none with MM, and I’m not much of a character in the piece, as I usually am the nonfiction I write, so, for that reason alone — that I was out of my comfort zone — I considered it a real challenge.

      Just as you say “I’m not quite how to put this,” I’m not quite sure how to say thanks. I don’t think I remind too many people of MM! I mean, you know, it certainly isn’t something I ever tried to do. Now James Dean and Brando, on the other hand…

      Oh, and on the subject of Marilyn as an actress, here’s the great Montgomery Clift’s opinion: “She listens, wants, cares. I catch her laughing across a room and I bust up. Every pore of that lovely translucent skin is alive, open every moment — even though this world could make her vulnerable to being hurt. I would rather work with her than any other actress. I adore her.”

      I thought about including this quote, but I tried to rely as little as possible on quotes, though the one from Tennessee Williams — can you believe he said that? — was an excellent springboard to a discussion about MM’s bookishness and artistry.

      Thanks so much for all you say, Z. Truly, it makes me glad to have written it.

      XX

      • Zara Potts says:

        It’s a horrible thing for him to say, no?
        Thank you for the dedication! You know how I love a good dedication!
        It really is a wonderful piece.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Well, if you read the whole piece by Williams, he was getting at a larger point about unprincipled fame versus obscure artistic integrity. But, still, he really went after her with the claw end of a hammer.

          Should this piece ever be anthologized — stranger things have happened, yes? — I’ll have to make sure the dedication is put first and not last. Again, if you hadn’t said what you had on FB, the piece, whether it is or isn’t wonderful, wouldn’t exist.

  3. Marni Grossman says:

    I loved this line: ” I wasn’t one of them, and even if I left California after failing to get what I came to get, I could never leave it altogether.”

    A really well-researched, thought-provoking piece.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I could hardly believe it when I saw that you had commented, Marni. It’s been too long!

      Thanks for what you about the piece. MM is a very, very difficult subject, since so much has already been written about her, and I hated to trot out the usual suspects — her lack of professionalism, etc. — but I just had to hold my nose and go forward, hoping it pay off in the long run.

      Hope you’re well!

  4. jude says:

    How thrilled I am to read yet another of your writings. It’s been too long and how I’ve missed you!

    And then to get such a great tribute, so thoroughly researched, and beautifully put together on such a beautiful woman as MM was – well, there’s just not enough words to say how much I enjoyed reading this. I always come away feeling enriched with knowledge on the subject you write about.

    As for Tennessee Williams attack on Marilyn’s mind, I was gobsmacked that anyone could be so vile and vindictive. I’d go with Montgomery Clift’s opinion any day. After all, he did work with her and so was more qualified to speak of her than TW.

    I was about 10 years old when I saw “Some Like It Hot”. My parents took me to the ‘pictures’ (as we called them in those days) and like you, I was transfixed by MM. She was so beautiful – and so funny as well! (I didn’t realize you could be both, so it was quite enlightening for a young prepubescent girl.) I loved that film and have seen it a few times since, and I still have the same feelings as my 10 year old self had. She was such a star, the likes of which I’m not sure we’ve seen since. She was true Hollywood…

    And again, like you I love that photo that George Barris took of Marilyn on the beach. When I look at that photo, I think I see the ‘real’ Marilyn. She looks so very vulnerable and yet seems at peace with herself.

    Wonderful piece Duke. Thanks for writing it. xxx

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks so much, Jude. I had a lot of doubt about the worth of the piece, but a reaction likes yours makes me feel that it was worth writing.

      Like you, I was shocked at what Williams said about MM. Even though, again, he was trying to make a larger point, the nastiness seems completely unnecessary. He did know Marilyn, and I think there was even discussion about a collaboration of some kind, maybe more than one, but, as you say, he never worked with her. As for the Clift quote, I’ve wondered if that was something he said to a reporter during the making of “The Misfits,” as seems likely, and, if so, he was exaggerating a little in that make-nice Hollywood way. Probably not, but it was a thought that crossed my mind.

      Someone asked me recently, when I mentioned that I was going to write about MM, what I thought her best films were, or, really, I think the question was, which films is she best in, and of course “Some Like It Hot” was one of the first that came to mind. She’s always magical, but there’s a special sort of magic about her in that movie. I always think of that shot where all of the girls, including the girls who aren’t girls, are going to to sleep in their berths on the train, and she pops her head out to say good night. How can anyone not fall in love with her?

      Actually, she made a few film noirs, and those are probably my favorite MM movies: “The Asphalt Jungle” especially, and “Clash by Night” and “Don’t Bother to Knock.” She only has supporting parts in the first two, but she’s the female lead in “Don’t Bother to Knock,” and she’s something it. She never had another part like it: she plays a deranged babysitter, a chick that Richard Widmark is trying to pick up at the hotel where they’re both staying. Here’s the trailer, in case you’ve never seen the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9Vg9aUQsbI. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one.

      I’m so glad you share my appreciation for those George Barris photos. The light! And MM’s bohemianism really comes through. There was definitely a bohemian in there. She was a very arty woman in some ways, and I would guess that she never felt more comfortable than she did when she was observing at the Actors Studio. You get a sense of that in the picture I included of MM with Strasberg. Oh, and that’s my former acting teacher, Frank Corsaro, on the left. I’m not sure that I knew that Frank had been friendly with MM when I studied with him; I know he never mentioned her, and I definitely never asked him about her. But, then, I only began to appreciate MM later.

      Thanks again for all you say, Jude. The Potts women sure know how to make a writer feel good.

      XX

  5. James D. Irwin says:

    I’ve never really be that interested in Marilyn Monroe. I’ve seen clips from a few of her more famous films, and occasionally she crops up in documentaries and docu-dramas about the Kennedys, but I’ve never had the same fascination that so many people have, have had, and will no doubt continue to have.

    However, I really enjoyed this. For a the length of this piece I did have that fascination, and perhaps a strange sort of respect and admiration. It isn’t easy becoming a cultural icon.

    And of course, it’s always a treat to read your writing.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, I don’t take that “of course” for granted. Thank you for saying so, James.

      There a lot of people who don’t “get” MM. I mean, you know, when I was a kid, I thought she was a dead ringer for Marilyn on “The Munsters,” which ran in syndication on afternoon TV — in other words, it was TV for kids — and I didn’t think Marilyn Munster was especially attractive, and it didn’t even occur to me, when I first became aware of MM, that Marilyn Munster was a knockoff of Marilyn Monroe. Nor did I especially like the latter when I first saw one of her movies. Really, as I write in the piece, I only began to appreciate her years later, when I again saw “The Seven-Year Itch.” So she may yet catch up to you as well.

      I think she’s very worthy of respect and admiration, obviously. I think it’s presumed that she was a product of the old Hollywood star system, and I was trying to say, of course, that she was in the sense that she was a keen student of the system, as she was a keen student in other ways, and she borrowed its tools and techniques in creating herself. I think she was a “crazy kind of genius,” in the words of Arthur Miller, who was speaking of John Huston’s take on Marilyn. She was underestimated again and again and again, and now she’s weirdly overestimated in what I consider all the wrong ways. But I suppose I’m only repeating, with a variation of phrase, what I said in the piece.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        Duke, I’ve been meaning to reply to this for the last few days but there have been far too many things I’ve had to do— I’m leaving the country for a year, had to cut my hair short (well, I didn’t have to, but I felt an odd need to…), and I have had to set up a new computer.

        It feels strange not using my old machine, on which everything I’ve written in the last half a decade has been written on… Ah well…

        I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the Munsters either. I have been meaning to watch Some Like it Hot for about three years. I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually, along James Dean in The Grapes of Wrath.

        I think the underestimation of Monroe was what most intrigued and suprised me reading this essay. I had always assumed, like many others, that Marilyn was a not-that-bright girl from the mid-west who was manufactured into stardom by Hollywood. Of course I am now aware that she was a Californian with an incredible intelligence, at least in terms of manufacturing her own stardom. This of course is a far more interesting story, and something I shall no noubt keep in mind when I eventually get around to seeing her films…

        • D.R. Haney says:

          No need to explain about the delay in responding. But where are you going for a year? Oh, and of course it’s always strange to switch to a new computer. Even a new mouse can feel strange — or the lack of a mouse, if you’re used to using one.

          There are as many versions of anything or anyone, potentially, as there are people, and so there are many Marilyn Monroes. The version I’ve given here is not the only version I could’ve written; I was trying, of course, to emphasize her background as a Californian in service to a larger point. I did say, for instance, that she was “apparently” let go by Fox the first time because of the surfer she was dating; no one knows for sure, and that’s one theory, buttressed by the fact that the surfer was released by Fox alongside Marilyn, who had been signed with the wildly enthusiastic endorsement of Ben Lyon, who ran the talent department. Given that, her release was odd, and the theory I put forward, repeating what I read in a biography, seems credible, while it also allowed me to underscore that MM was a bona-fide California girl.

          “The Munsters” is being revived, I suppose due to the latter-day interest in vampires. Here’s a clip of the opening:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TTIqK9nFH8

          Also, this next clip is funny, featuring the Standells, a Sunset Strip band from the early-mid sixties, doing a rendition of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” at a party at the Munster house. Note the beatniks! Hollywood was so out of it that it was still making jokes about beatniks long after the beat scene had given way to something else entirely.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIF78v9oVYE

          “Some Like It Hot” is definitely worth a watch, but in”The Grapes of Wrath” you’ll see Henry Fonda, not James Dean. But of course “The Grapes of Wrath” is a novel by Stenbeck, who also wrote “East of Eden,” the Steinbeck adaptation that features Dean, and there aren’t many these days who know that Dean appeared in a Steinbeck adaptation at all.

          • James D. Irwin says:

            I was a little apprehensive of switching to a new machine, because I have written a lot in the last five years, and nearly every single bit of it has been on my old machine. It was a decrepit wreck, but I loved it. The keys were falling off and the circuit board stuck out of the back at an angle but it held out. It’s still going actually, but it’s time a good time to change things— after six years of only wearing white converse trainers and having long hair I’ve suddenly switched to shoes with arch support and a 1940s sort of haircut. I think I’m probably unconciously drawing a line between eras. Now there’s a new laptop. Moving on… moving country…

            I’m going to be in Georgia— the former Soviet state. I’m (hopefully) going to be teaching English. The Georgian government might still veto my application, but it is highly unlikely. I have no idea where abouts in Georgia though, because they only station you after a week of intensive training in Tbilisi. It could be in one of the cities, or a remote village in the mountains. I’m excited either way. Village life in Georgia sounds like a very antiquated way of life, but in the best possible way. Apparently villagers like to expend a lot of energy on finding their volunteer teachers a wife, which could be interesting…

            I’m only vaguely aware of the Munsters as something not dissimilar to the Addam family.

            Have beatniks ever really been properly portrayed on film? I always associate beatniks with a very short flashback gag in The Simpsons. Of course there’s a new film version of On The Road— a book I desperately wanted to like, but found the prose style to be difficult to read and really quite irritating.

            I was utterly convinced that James Dean played someone in The Grapes of Wrath. I knew he was in East of Eden. I thought it was both… I haven’t read East of Eden, but Grapes of Wrath is one of my favourite novels of all time. I love Steinbeck. I should probably watch the film, as it is just as revered as the book…

            • D.R. Haney says:

              Unbelievably, I only got around to Steinbeck last year, though I have owned a copy of “East of Eden” since I was a teenager. There just seemed to be so many other writers who needed to be read first. I haven’t read much so far, but I think he’s a very evocative writer with a strong appeal to the senses, though I don’t think much of him as a psychologist.

              I don’t know that the film adaptation of “East of Eden” is that highly regarded any longer. Elia Kazan is becoming more obscure all the time, and I think the cult of James Dean is likewise fading. As I wrote in the piece, MM doesn’t need to be heard or seen in action to be “understood” in the instant way that people demand these days. But pictures of Dean are only going to tell you so much, and when his movies aren’t being watched, well, that’s that.

              The Addams Family were patrician and eccentric, as patricians are allowed to be, in a way that’s now seen as “Goth,” though the show was greatly influenced by Frank Capa’s “You Can’t Take it with You,” about a family of free-spirited quasi-bohemians. The Munsters were working-class emigrants from what they constantly referred to as “the old country”–Transylvania–and in that way they evoked turn-of-the-twentieth-century “greenhorns.” The writing of both shows is creaky and formulaic–they both had their version of the standard, for the time, Husband Thinks Wife May Be Having Affair episode, Kids Get Into Trouble at School episode, etc.–but the writing is much wittier, appropriately, for the patrician family of the first show than the emigrant family of the second.

              I’ve known a few Georgians, and I’ve known a few non-Georgians who’ve spent quite a bit of time in Georgia, and no matter where you’re sent there, you’re sure to look back on the experience fondly. It’s an adventure, and I’m glad you’re having it. Also, everyone should be an expatriate, at least for a while. You learn things about yourself you could never learn otherwise. I do hope you’ll write about it. But of course I know, or should know, that’s a given.

              • James D. Irwin says:

                I used to despise Steinbeck, but it wasn’t his fault. At school we had to read and re-read Of Mice and Men over and over and then watch the film adaptation about three times. I think I only picked up Cannery Row during my absolute obsession with California, and was won over. Cannery Row is probably my favourite of Steinbeck, except perhaps his non-fiction Travels with Charley. Both Steinbeck at his funniest and, in a strange way, romantic. Well, Cannery Row is a romantic, rose tinted view of the Depression written about two decades later— of course Grapes of Wrath was written right in the middle of it all.

                I meant the film version of Grapes of Wrath is a classic, rather than East of Eden. I didn’t express that very well… I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Dean in anything besides a poster of his in Happy Days. I’m terrible at watching films, even with ones that I’m absolutely dying to see.

                I quite like formulaic TV episodes. The bad ones you can bet on, and every now and then a show manages to pull off the standard formula in a new and exciting way. It’s incredibly rare, and I can’t actually think of any examples off the top of my head. I watch, or used to watch, an awful lot of sitcoms and I definitely recall being impressed along those lines.

                I agree with you about being an expatriate. I haven’t done it yet of course, but I have wanted to be an Englishman abroad for a long while now. I’m excited about it, and I am yet to read a bad word said about the Georgian people and very few bad words about the country in general. It’s incredible to have the prospect of travel and adventure, and perhaps I’ll finally have something to write about.

                I’ve found writing in the last few months very difficult. With non-fiction I have nothing to write about, and with everything else I’ve had to put my degree ahead of it even though there are now three detailed plans I want to write. If nothing else happens in Georgia, I should have things to write about, and plenty of time— between classes, feasts, and exploring— to write at least one novel…

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  At least one novel, eh? Well, all right. I won’t hold you to that.

                  You know, I knew last night, when I started my last comment to you, that you meant “Grapes of Wrath” and not “East of Eden,” but I was so scatterbrained that I lost track of what I meant to say. Anyway, yes, the film adaptation of “Grapes of Wrath” is still revered. Some–most?–think it’s John Ford’s best movie, but there are at least three others by Ford that I prefer: “The Quiet Man,” Fort Apache,” and “The Searchers.”

                  I started Steinbeck with “Cannery Row,” since it was the book of his that so many friends liked best, just as I always liked the title. It won me over, bit by bit, though I initially resisted, and I’m now curious to read the sequel.

                  I’m inclined to agree with you about not minding, and even liking, TV shows that are formulaic, at least if they’re relics. The narrative conventions seem as revealing about the times as the sets, clothes, performance styles, and so on. That’s why I’ll occasionally watch old shows on Netflix or Hulu, especially when I don’t have ninety minutes or two hours to devote to a movie. Over the course of a year I watched the first four seasons of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” a very spotty show that, every once in a while, is brilliant. But Hitchcock’s introduction and closing remarks on every episode are almost always brilliant.

                  I have a mental image of you heading to the airport days, possibly weeks, before you’re supposed to fly to Georgia and camping there until your flight is called.

                  • James D. Irwin says:

                    I’ll probably find I have no time at all, but I’ll be living with a host family and be provided with a room to myself— which is more than I have here at home. I’m working from the kitchen table with Olympic basketball blasting from one side of the room, and classic rock radio from the kitchen through the door. My bed is in the kitchen. It’s an odd set up.

                    Of course I’m already planning on a year long journal, but I’m absolutely desperate to find time to write a fucking story. I wrote one in March, a lazy mess of a thing that isn’t exactly awful, but far below par. I’m feeling pretty out of practice these days, and I’ve been watching far too much television. At least it’s been the Olympics, which has inspired me to do a little more exercise in the hope that physical health may help clear the mental fog…

                    I think of John Ford’s films I’ve only seen The Searchers, which I watched because of something Cynthia wrote about a year ago. I enjoyed it, although I still prefer the ultra-violent Clint Eastwood Westerns.

                    Cannery Row is a wonderful little book. It’s been a while since I last read it, but I think I will do soon. The follow up, Sweet Thursday, is by no means Steinbeck at his best, but it’s nice to revisit the place and the characters. The story is pleasant enough, I think.

                    Formulaic TV is like comfort food… comfort TV, I guess. When I was at university they we’d have TV sitcom re-runs on from about 2-9pm largely as background noise. Watch enough episodes and the characters are almost like friends— even with a poor episode of The Simpsons, I always find there’s something comforting in spending time with such familiar characters…

                    Unsuprisingly I’m not all that familiar with Hitchcock either, although I have seen a couple of his films. I was too young the first time I saw Pyscho. I’m convinced I shall never enjoy The Trouble with Harry, despite the fact that farce is one of my favourite things to watch. Vertigo is brilliantly disturbing, I don’t know how The Birds ends because the VHS tape ran out. The one Hitchcock film that blew me away (I was already aware of the high status of Pyscho and Vertigo) was Rope. It is an absolute masterpiece.

                    Strangely the plane tickets for Georgia are only issued a day or two before the flight, so I can’t camp out in advance. I would like to though, of course. I hate waiting for things…

                    • D.R. Haney says:

                      Your bed is in the kitchen. If I heard that about someone, I would assume him or her to be a gourmand, a stowaway, a migrant worker, or a student, and you’ve recently been the last and now, in a way, you’re about to be the second to the last.

                      I’ve thought about reading “Sweet Thursday” precisely because I wanted to revisit the characters of “Cannery Row.” I understand the film adaptation of “Cannery Row,” which isn’t supposed to be any good, is a combination of that and “Sweet Thursday.”

                      “The Trouble with Harry” is one of Hitchock’s lesser works. He rarely missed, and “Harry” isn’t as bad as a couple of other Hitchock movies, but there’s not much to it. I like “Rope,” but the case on which it’s based is so much more interesting than any fictional retelling could ever be, even if it’s directed by Hitchcock. “Vertigo” is my favorite by Hitchcock, not least because it has one of the greatest scores, if not the greatest score, of all time.

                      Speaking of great scores, it’s hard to beat the scores of those Leone Westerns, including the one he did without Eastwood. I’m not crazy about Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns. There are great shots in all of them, and they work on an iconic level, but even though they created the Spaghetti Western as a genre, they don’t work so well for me on a narrative level. The last, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” is far and away the best. But this is my favorite Spaghetti Western:

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTFnc50ZR1E

                      And–talk about ultra-violence!–this is my second favorite:

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8Ge2hmSTbo

                      The latter has now been remade by Tarrantino, although a note after this link mentions that it isn’t truly a remake at all:

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUdM9vrCbow

                      I’m surprised Cynthia hasn’t put up something about this movie. Is Cynthia around? Are her eyes everywhere, just as the Dust’s eyes used to be everywhere?

                      “The Searchers” is one of those movies I didn’t care so much about when I first saw it. When I saw it again years later, I was blown away by it. It’s a movie obsessed with sex, even though it barely depicts a peck on the lips.

                      I think “comfort TV” is a redundancy, like “cold ice” or “hot fire.” As for waiting, I know what you mean, though all too often anticipation proves superior to realization. Of course I hope it isn’t so with Georgia. I’m sure it won’t be.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        Ah, the board has forced me to start a new thread…

        My ‘bedroom’ in this house has been the lounge, the boiler room, and now the kitchen. And the kitchen used to be a garage until we converted it. It’s weird actually, as I’m sleeping in a room I helped to build… I do quite like the stowaway type feel of it, although I would like a proper room. It’s weird, after spending weeks anticipating the sad mournful existence of life after university I have found the only thing I really miss— aside from a few pubs— is the bedroom from my university house. It was tiny, but I’ve always had a preference for smaller rooms…

        I would definitely recommend reading Sweet Thursday. What is especially nice about it is that although the characters are the same, they have evolved and moved on to an extent. The row has changed, but it more of a romance story. I haven’t seen the film, but from what I’m aware most of the plot is from Sweet Thursday, because obviously the romantic aspect has wider appeal.

        We have a box of Hitchcock films somewhere, but we only made it through a handful of them. The Trouble with Harry is bizarre. It was almost like a parody of a farce, which somehow reduces the comic value of both genres…

        One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen… and generally I’m not a fan of personalised ringtones… I was walking through a shopping centre and I heard the music from For a Few Dollars More— the music from the pocket watches. The phone was one of those flip phones, so it opened like a pocket watch. It was brilliant.

        I actually prefer the post-Leone westerns Eastwood did. High Plains Drifter, which I think was the first film he directed, is excellent. I’ve been meaning to watch Unforgiven again as well. I haven’t seen the Leone one without Eastwood— Once Upon a Time in the West? I love that title.

        I’ve seen Tarantino is making a western, and typically of him one that is kind of homage-rip off-sequel-prequel-remake. I’d gone off Tarantino for a while after realizing that Pulp Fiction is actually quite a boring film and finding Death Proof to be an utter waste of time for all concerned. However, I thought Inglorious Basterds was superb. I’ve made it quite clear around TNB that I’m fascinated with that period of history, and I loved the re-writing of it. The first twenty minutes of the film do prove that Tarantino can do more than just stringing a few pop culture references and profanities together.

        I’ve seen a trailer for Django and it looks like a lot of fun.

        I must watch The Searchers again now, because I think I missed that aspect of it.

        I disagree slightly about TV. There are a few programs I watch for the educational value, and some for the sheer entertainment factor— stuff I wouldn’t watch just to have something on. There aren’t many shows like that though. Maybe nine a year or something, usually an adaptation of classic literature, a few documentaries, and the occasional feature length drama. But mostly, yes, TV is just a visual comfort blanket. Oddly for my family that’s more true of the radio.

        In my first year of university I didn’t have a TV. I was suprised by how little I missed it. I went out more, read more, and got through more films that year. Once I moved into a house we bought a TV and it was hardly ever off.

        I’ve just got an e-mail telling me my Criminal Record Check failed (as in, I didn’t fill the information out correctly) so I have to do it again. This will put back my departure to mid-September. So, a bit more waiting, but I think the extra few weeks time to prepare will be helpful…

  6. Maximilian H. says:

    Dear Duke,

    this piece is just too good to leave uncommented.
    I’m spellbound how you keep switching back & forth between minute detail & the big picture. There is no task for writers more honorable than carrying history back into the foggy forgetful present our world has become.
    And hey, is this not a very unCalifornian way to write about a deeply Californian actress?

    Like your wonderful elegy on cinema, “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth”, this text will certainly reverberate in my mind for a long time.

    I am in Helsinki right now and I won’t even think of mentioning our outstanding call. But know that you are often on my mind.

    All the very best,
    Max

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, Max, I always say that you’re one of my favorite people, so you’re often on my mind also. That phone call, huh? But maybe if we wait for Godot long enough, he’ll come.

      You know, when I started contributing to TNB, I was trying to hide my past in the movie world, so I never wrote about it. Lately, though, it’s all I’ve been writing about here, one way or another. I don’t like to think of myself as “the old-movie guy” I seem to have become. I have an interest in many other subjects, believe me, but for whatever reason, I haven’t been writing about them so much here.

      The going-back-and-forth thing is, to some degree, accidental. There are always a lot of details that strike me, at least, as fascinating, so I try to shoehorn them in. What an old metaphor! Who uses a shoehorn anymore? I guess you could say I try to sneak them in, hoping they don’t derail me.

      So much has been written about MM that I didn’t think it was possible to find a fresh angle, but I do think her roots in California are rarely mentioned as a way of explaining the MM phenomenon; usually, in any biographical sketch, that she was born in LA and grew up in Hollywood, with parents who worked in the industry, is treated like it’s nothing. Oh, and yes, her father’s identity was absolutely known to her, though, in most biographical sketches, there’s an insistence that that wasn’t the case. If you see a photo of him — and she, as a child, had seen at least one photo of him — there’s no question that he was the father. The resemblance is unmistakable.

      Give ’em hell in Helsinki, and we’re bound to speak at some stage.

      Best always,
      Duke

  7. Gary Socquet says:

    “. . . the folly of trusting images, which can never do more than hint at what we believe, or choose to believe, they reveal.” I wish I’d written that line. This is a gorgeous piece, and I’m awfully glad you wrote it. Nicely done, Duke.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thank you, Gary. I don’t see much of you on TNB these days, so I’m flattered that you’ve appeared to comment on my piece.

      I had it in mind to write more extensively about the disconnect between image and “truth,” but then I thought, Come on, guy, everybody freaking knows that, so I got in and got out on that front as quickly as possibly. Which is another of saying that I appreciate your citing it.

  8. seanbeaudoin says:

    This is a very smart and well-researched piece. I can count on one hand the number of pieces I can say that about that I’ve read this summer. If someone asked me who the perfect person to do a post-retrospective non-agenda take on Monroe would be, I have to say you would be my first choice. Or maybe Joe Rogan.

    This essay kills. I just need a little more about Bobby.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’ll tell you this much about Bobby: MM’s psychiatrist said, during a taped interview (I don’t think he knew it was being taped), that he wanted to talk about her death but he couldn’t, and to “ask Bobby Kennedy” about MM’s death. Also, MM’s housekeeper finally spilled a few beans in an on-camera interview in the mid-eighties, saying something about Bobby having upset MM the day she died, and “his handlers had to step in” to calm her down. But that’s all she said, and I don’t know that she was ever trustworthy.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. It’s led to a meltdown in more ways than one.

      Have we ever talked about MM? It embarrasses me, somehow, when I’m asked to name a favorite actress and MM is the one who comes to mind. I could explain but won’t, you’ll be relieved to hear.

      When you say Joe Rogan, is that a reference to “The Fear Factor”?

      Well, okay, I’m going to resume my meltdown, which I momentarily paused.

  9. What can I even say about this piece. I’m commentless. The first thing should probably be that now reading this, in turn, inspires me once again as I finish my own piece about California/LA which I believe I already mentioned to you. And if I had any part, however minor, in nudging you toward writing this, then I’m grateful.

    It’s hard for feel to feel unbiased about this is gorgeous revisiting of Marilyn actually, because it hits on so many things I love- the Golden State of course being first and foremost. For one, the idea that California had this lure before Hollywood and the movie folk just capitalized on the magic, or even stardust, that already emanated from the end of the western line.

    But for Marilyn, like I said before, her icon needs to be rescued, though it’s been lost and rescued through several cultural iterations by now. You manage no small feat here in bringing real adoration to all her complex sides. I mean, holy hell Duke, there’s this amazing passage:

    “This image—and, with variations, it’s finally a single image—excludes those traits it can’t, and doesn’t want to, accommodate: toughness, willfulness, petulance, truculence, all of which, and then some, can be found in a woman who demonstrates, like no one else, the folly of trusting images, which can never do more than hint at what we believe, or choose to believe, they reveal.”

    She was a genius in this sense, even if accidental, I realize reading this, demonstrating the folly of trusting images, but at once embodying the profound need for both the audience and the star to seek comfort in that folly.

    Some of her grasping of this concept must have come from her stage fright, like you say- “Her terror of acting, which she vainly tried so hard to overcome, was in fact an asset.”

    Anyway, a crown jewel of an essay you have here. And to think you almost didn’t write this, for God’s sake.

    Now I’ll go back through those pictures, the one of her in the car headlights that you say she called “The End of Everything” is unbelievable. Might have to even check out that clip you shared awhile back of her with Jack Benny.

    And meanwhile you have to write a Brando piece now, to complete the holy trinity.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I actually have a Brando piece that I never finished, but it’s nothing like this. I’m sure it would disappoint. But I think you’re right; I’ll have to do something about him one day.

      I love, by the way, that you place Marilyn with Brando, Dean, and Clift, because I think it’s in their company that she belongs. She didn’t, except for “The Misfits,” play the female equivalent of the characters they played — well, there’s also “Don’t Bother to Knock,” which I mention above — but there was a similar sensitivity, and that’s the quality I miss most in actors today. I think that to be emotionally naked in front of the camera is the hardest thing to do, much harder than working out an elaborate characterization — and crying isn’t necessarily the same as being emotionally naked. Some actors can turn tears on and off like a spigot.

      Also, with regard to playing comedy, Marilyn’s forte, there’s an old saying in the theater: Dying is easy; comedy is hard. Catherine Deneueve, in a documentary about Marilyn made for French TV in the late eighties, comments about how comedy is especially difficult for beautiful women, because the audience finds it hard to accept beautiful women in comic parts, or something like that. The documentary was looped in English, but you can find it in the original French on YouTube. This is a link to the first part of the English version:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2UIJFk-qOM

      I hate to make recommendations, since we’re besieged with recommendations these days, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s just Catherine Deneueve watching clips of MM and analyzing them, and you come away thinking Deneueve is a genius! Some of her insights are outright brilliant.

      What you say about the star seeking comfort in folly, etc. — actually, there was a line I cut that went something like: “She was ambivalent about the image she created, but not so ambivalent that she wouldn’t doll herself up as the public’s idea of Marilyn Monroe whenever she knew there would be cameras present.”

      But it’s weird; as calculating as she was about amping up the sex for the camera and during public appearances, there’s an anecdote I read while preparing this piece in which she did a scene for the great actor and acting teacher Michael Chekhov — I studied the Michael Chekhov technique, which is unlike the usual Method thing — and afterwards, he asked, “Were you thinking of sex when you were performing?” and when she said no, apparently sincerely, he said, “Ah, I think I understand your problem,” the problem being that she emitted a sexual vibe even when she wasn’t trying.

      On the other hand — with Marilyn there’s always the other hand, or ten — I’ve read quotes from people who said she emitted no sexual vibe at all unless there was a nearby camera.

      Oh, and I really tried to downplay my own sexual feeling toward Marilyn, not wanting to come off as piggish, but, man, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another human being as beautiful as she is on “The Jack Benny Show.” I mean — I just — oh, wow. And if you ever want to see it again — it’s Christmas in August and I’m giving away links! — here it is:

      http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8C27F1504D4AD98D&feature=mh_lolz

      Hey, you can consider a woman a great artist and find her beautiful, you know!

      Oh, and that picture in the headlights — the last one, I mean — stunning, yes? I had never seen that before I researched this piece. And again, as with the Barris photo, which I cited above as a favorite, you somehow get a feeling for and of Los Angeles. I showed that to a friend a couple of weeks ago, and he immediately sent away for a huge book of photos of Marilyn photographed by Andre de Dienes. I spoke to my friend today, and he said the book just arrived and it’s amazing, that alongside the photos there are reproductions of handwritten diaries that de Dienes kept that explain the circumstances in which all of the photos were taken.

      Well, I think this comment is more than long enough, don’t you? Now, get to work on your own essay about LA/California, and many thanks for inspiring me to write this one. It was, as I’ve said numerous times already, a tough one to write, but I can only hope that, were MM able to read it, she would be, on the whole, pleased, despite my mention of her less attractive sides. But, of course, I did want to create as complete a picture as I could manage in what had to be a short piece.

      • I was thinking when I first read this post that ‘Wow, Duke, is doing a good job of skirting the fact that he has the hots for Marilyn’. How can we be fans of beautiful, sexy women without sounding like frat boys? I don’t know. But the mystery of whether she knew what she was doing or had no control over it, is fascinating to me and best kept as a mystery, I think.

        Did you see David Thomson’s tribute to her at The New Republic? I won’t even provide a link to it, because yours says more, better and earlier. Though he echoes the point about her being unknowable.

        Looking around at photos, I realize she never looks precisely the same in any two. Look at these two pics taken on the same night even (these links are worth sharing for our Christmas in August, the starting price for either of these prints is 2 grand BTW). In both, she reduces me to a warm pile of goo.

        http://www.sfae.com/index.php?pg=303819&c=74

        http://www.sfae.com/index.php?pg=303820

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Apologies, Nat, that I haven’t gotten back to you. In fact, I think your comment only just appeared. It sometimes takes a while when there are links in comments, I’ve found.

          I did not see David Thomson’s tribute, but then, I’ve sometimes found Thomson’s opinions strange. I may have mentioned this to you before, but, for instance, he slammed Julie Christie in his “Biographical Dictionary of Film,” or whatever it’s called, and Julie Christie — talk about being reduced to a warm pile of goo!

          MM’s sexual vibe is sometimes said to have been utterly calculated, and sometimes said to have been perfectly innocent. In her last interview, she mentioned that she was surprised when people started referring to her as a sex symbol, because she “always thought symbols were those things you clash together.” I suppose the truth is, as with so many things, somewhere in between.

          I’ve never seen either of the two pictures in your links, but they’re both great. Just after I posted this piece, I watched a PBS documentary entitled “Still Life,” about the photographers who worked with her, and one of them tells a story about her coming to his hotel room one night and saying, “Let’s shoot some pictures,” and he was astonished at the range of moods she went through. Of course any great model will present a range of moods to the camera, but she had a weird “X factor,” so that another photographer said in the same documentary that she was so luminous in person that she almost didn’t seem human.

          Oh, and by the way, I just learned the other day that the headlight photos were not the ones she wanted to be called The End of Everything, as they were incorrectly identified on a website. The End of Everything was a single shot from another session with de Dienes, supposedly this one:

          http://isis.soup.io/post/97723773/Marilyn-Monroe-the-end-of-everything

          Now, let’s hope that, by inserting a link, I haven’t condemned this comment to sit for a long time in the bowels of WordPress.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I could see that a new thread was imminent, James, if the dialogue continued. Old times, eh? And we almost always ended up discussing our tastes.

        It freaks some people out when I say so–and it really does!–but I don’t own a TV now, or, rather, I just never bothered to switch to digital, so that I only watch DVDs on TV when I no longer feel like watching movies on a computer. I won’t say that I never miss TV–it would have been nice to watch the Olympics, for example–but it’s very, very rare for me to miss it. I almost never owned a TV when I lived in NYC, and I never missed it there, either. Who needed TV in NYC? A stroll down any street was more than entertainment enough.

        Yes, “Once Upon a Time in the West” is Leone’s Western without Eastwood. I like it, but I prefer “Once Upon a Time in America,” which for my money–not that I have any money!–is Leone’s best movie. Oh, and I love “High Plains Drifter.” It’s an American Spaghetti Western, obviously, and a revenge Western to boot. Yeah, that and “Unforgiven” are my two favorite movies directed by Eastwood. But I stopped paying attention to Tarrantino after “Jackie Brown.” I really liked “Jackie Brown,” which is the most mature movie he ever made, and not just because it’s about mature people. After that, it seemed he reverted to his teenage movie-fan self.

        A few weeks ago, I saw Robert Forster, who’s in “Jackie Brown,” out with, apparently, his family. It was sad that no one in the restaurant seemed to recognize him. But one thing I really like about Tarrantino is that he’s so interested in marginal actors like Forster. Of course Forster should never have been marginal in the first place; he had screen presence like practically no big movie star, which he never was, of his day. Check out this clip. No, I insist; it’s a great movie that makes use of documentary footage of the violence outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90mqG8I2xR0

        I won’t ask, of course, about the bank robberies that have led to your delay. Oh, well. It’ll give you time to repack your bags, though you may have to get another haircut, and rob another bank, before the flight.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Oh, it has taken me a while to get to this… I had to attend an all day unemployment ‘initiative’ yesterday which somehow left me knackered. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be— or at least the pretty pyschology graduate in front of me laughed at my jokes…

          I think I could live without TV, but I’m glad I have it. Quite often I won’t plan to watch a film, but stumble across stuff when I’m bored. I’ve discovered quite a few cool things that I’d have missed for years otherwise. Recently I started watching an adaptation of Henry IV because I was bored and had nothing better to do, and ended up converted to Shakespeare’s history plays and reading more about medieval history. Granted, more often than not I end up watching repeats of mediocre comedies…

          And of course our television was always on during the Olympics. It’s good for sports, but then when I didn’t have a TV I’d have to go and visit a friend or the pub to watch it there which is always much more fun…

          I haven’t scene either of the ‘Once Upon a Time…’ movies, although ‘… in America’ is one I’ve always been meaning to watch. ‘Jackie Brown’ is another film I always end up missing— it is on TV tonight actually. I always think ‘True Romance’ is probably Tarantino’s best film, at least as a writer. Tony Scott directed it, for better or worse. Generally I don’t like Tarantino as a person, and increasingly his whole dialogue thing I’m finding a bit dull. I like good dialogue— and his is generally incredibly well written and entertaining— but I prefer a good story. ‘Django’ could be interesting, because it’s set before the creation of pop culture as referenced incessantly by Tarantino.

          I’ve re-submitted my application for a criminal background check, so I just have to wait. I probably will have to get my haircut again… but I’ve started learning the language and picked up a few bits of Georgian literature to read on the plane… Hopefully I’ll be off a month from today…

          • D.R. Haney says:

            It’s always nice to have one’s jokes appreciated, particularly by pretty graduates, or undergraduates, or dropouts.

            Was that an adaptation of the whole of “Henry IV”? I always liked the first part especially, with Hotspur and Prince Hal before he turned his back on Falstaff. I used to do one of Prince Hal’s monologues at classical auditions, the one about a bloody mask and so on.

            Did you watch “Jackie Brown”? I’ve never met Tarrantino, but almost two years ago I was at a memorial service at which he spoke, and he was much more charismatic than I would’ve guessed. You could immediately see why he’s so been so successful. He was very influential when he first came along; there were a few years afterward when people were doing Tarrantino-esque movies. Now no one is doing that; he’s in a category of his own.

            These little cultural waves never last long. For instance, the TNB we knew three years ago was part of a general trend of active message boards. My guess is that there are very few active message boards at this point; Facebook supplanted them, and I don’t even see as much interaction on FB as I used to see. But we already covered that in our last TNB discussion, when you were on FB and I wasn’t. Now it’s the reverse, although at the moment I’m suffering from yet another case of FB burnout.

            • James D. Irwin says:

              The BBC have done the whole run from Richard II-Henry V. I have Henry IV pt2 downloaded and ready to watch, and I’m hoping I can find Henry V somewhere because the adaptations are superb. I’ve seen a student production of Henry V and bits of the famous film versions, but not much.

              Henry IV pt1 became my favourite Shakespeare play after about half an hour. Hal is played by Tom Hiddleston, and he is just perfect for the role— to the extent I don’t know if I would enjoy it as much with another actor in place. Simon Russel Beale is a great Falstaff as well. The scenes between those two are brilliant. I watched a documentary where a Shakespeare scholar said, after some reluctance, that the scene in which Hal and Falstaff impersonate each other and the king was the finest he ever wrote. I can’t disagree. It’s comic and tragic… but not just a little bit funny and a little bit sad, but fucking hilarious and utterly heartbreaking…

              I was a bit disappointed to realise my favourite football team take their name from the real life Hotspur. He got what was coming to him…

              I missed Jackie Brown. Again. Such is the trouble of living with other people. If I was home alone it would have been so incredibly simple.

              Tarantino is nothing if not enthusiastic. I think I’ve said already, whatever you think of him as a filmmaker, you have to respect his sheer love of cinema. And he is unbeatable at what he does— I’ve sat in enough script workshops of mediocre Tarantino-inspired scripts to know that sort of dialogue isn’t easy. Oddly, Tarantino has sort of moved away from that in his last few films and I think consequently they are better films.

              I hate Facebook less not being on it… in fact I honestly can’t remember how I lived with it. What does make me a little sad is that hardly anyone has made any attempt to contact me through text or e-mail. It’s just the way it is now, I guess. If you’re not on social networking sites then who are you? Nobody. You’re dead. Go fuck yourself gramps! I think I still hate it, but maybe just a little less having escaped from a lot of the drama and inanity that it creates— or more accurately, make visible.

              I think there will be a backlash of sorts at some point. I can’t see how society can carry on living so obsessed with the virtual world. We’ve reached a point where people are running awareness campaigns so that people concentrate when crossing roads and railway lines because… yeah… people are paying so little attention to the world around them that they are literally walking out in front of cars and trains. OMG just got hit by train and died LOL #epicfail.

              • D.R. Haney says:

                “OMG just got hit by train and died LOL #epicfail.”

                #funnyshit! LMFAO!

                But I took the time to hold down the caps key on “LMFAO” — points detracted?

                You know, computers have already fucked us up in a way that has nothing to do with their toll on the imagination. Our current economic woes can be traced to the decision to let computers predict profits and/or losses, but I guess most of us don’t know that, and even if it were otherwise, most of us are so smitten with technology, its convenience and subordination to our whims, that we can’t bear to hear any criticism of it.

                As for Facebook, I’ve now quit it, what, three times, and yes, it’s less irritating once you’re off it, and I was very glad to be off it the last time, but then I went to make a comment on a Salon story, and I wasn’t allowed to post a comment unless I was hooked into “social media.” Facebook is now equivalent to the Visa or Master Charge logo on an ATM card; if you don’t have one, your ATM card won’t work at least ninety-percent of the time. I know because I do business with a small bank that didn’t have a Visa or Master Charge logo on its ATM card until fairly recently. I liked that the bank was small and everyone in its only L.A. office knew me, so that they would perform small favors that wouldn’t be performed at larger banks. But their ATM card was a problem until they added the Visa logo.

                I think there’s been a small backlash with regard to Facebook, but not enough to mean anything, and I don’t anticipate any significant forthcoming backlash against the digital world. I don’t think most of us perceive any reduction of the self in that world, and even where we perceive greater alienation, we see that as a trade-off in terms of convenience. I had someone tell me recently that she “hates” paper, and I thought, “You’re going to be hearing that a lot in the next few years.” Paper will one day be all but completely obsolete in the everyday household, and I think that’s a tragedy, personally. We’re moving away from the tactile world. But that’s what we seem to want. Part of being human is to desire to be something more than human — that is, to leave our animal selves behind. Of course that’s impossible, but we’re going to have to learn the hard way, I guess.

                I have a soft spot for Hotspur. The name alone — you must admit it’s a good name. And I don’t think he’s painted entirely as a bad guy. Shakespeare was too thorough a writer for that. His characters are never caricatures — an example that seems to have been largely lost.

                • James D. Irwin says:

                  I think lmfao HAS to be capitalised. I don’t know, maybe times have changed. I still remember quite awkwardly having to ask somebody what lmao meant. I thought it was some sort of Asian slang, making me some sort of dorky racist…

                  I’ve just been on a bus with people pointing out all the local stuff that used to exist in places of big stores and housing developments. I was talking to them, and then it occured to me how odd it is now to have conversations with strangers on public transport. Even if you’re somewhere more friendly where people do talk to strangers, most of the time people sit down, music plugged into their ears, eyes glued to a small screen.

                  Human interaction, oddly, has gone the same sort of way as stuff like banks— almost entirely automated, and with absolutely no personal touch. Facebook retains your information for three months before it gets permanently deleted, unless you visit a site linked to Facebook. Which is all of them. Even the cheese in my fridge has a Facebook page— the company, rather than the actual bit of cheese. I always feel like I’m being very old fashioned but… fuck it, I don’t like the sterility and disposability of modern life.

                  I think any backlash is probably a long way off… and actually the more I think about the more I think I’m probably wrong. But everything ends eventually. There’s only so far we can progress, and only so invasive technology can become before people start feeling suicidally depressed because nothing in their lives is real, tangible, or has any meaning whatsoever. That’s maybe a bit extreme.

                  I like touching and holding things. I like the feel of a book, I like the process of setting up a DVD player or putting on a CD… I simply love writing on paper and that is still and always will be the quickest and easiest way to make a quick note.

                  It’s hard to say ‘human civilisation is advancing down a dangerous path’ without sounding like a crazy old doomsayer. I don’t think the iPad is the first indicator of the coming apocalypse, but I do think there will be some horrendous consequences in the years to come stemming from the physical and pyschological damage of living so fervently in the virtual world.

                  Hotspur is a grand name, and unique in football. Of course an awful lot of those history plays Shakespeare copied straight from the only historical textbook in existence at the time. He made Hotspur younger though, to make he and Hal more similar. And of course he isn’t really a villain in the traditional sense… an antagonistic rival certainly but his intentions aren’t evil.

                  I consider Henry IV though to be more a prequel to Henry V. It’s more about Hal than it is Henry IV, he’s probably the best character Shakespeare wrote just because he got to go through three plays with him. He starts off drinking with peasant and prostitutes, and ends up leading a depleted English army to victory against the French. It’s just magnificent.

                  Although I also really like Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a fucking subplot, and it invents the modern romantic comedy several hundred years before rom-coms were a thing…

                  • D.R. Haney says:

                    I don’t know that Shakespeare invented the rom-com, but “Hamlet” has got to be one of the first works of Gothic literature. It has all the Gothic elements: melancholia, morbidity, occultism, incestuousness, etc.

                    As for “Henry V,” I agree that it’s quite a saga, but I think it actually begins with “Richard II,” in which Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, usurps the ineffectual Richard. Bolingbroke is almost equivalent to Hotspur in “Henry IV Part I.” But I’m sure you know all this, being a fan of the history plays.

                    “Even the cheese in my fridge has a Facebook page”: very funny line. I think it’s interesting how centralized the internet has become, via Facebook and Google and Amazon, when initially the internet was sold to us as a decentralized “free” zone. But I don’t believe people can stand freedom, ultimately, freedom and chaos being close cousins. We want order in our lives, which is why, I’m afraid, we opt in the end for totalitarianism. In fact, I think our technocratic leaders are akin to Bond villains; they really do want to take over the world, and we’ll probably let them succeed, where they haven’t already. Google wants to own “knowledge,” but so did Apple; Steve Jobs spent his last few months buying up the rights to textbooks so that children will be forced to buy iPads.

                    Oh, and about the iPad (among other things), this is pretty funny:

                    http://gizmodo.com/5933688/its-ok-to-be-a-hater-because-everything-is-bad

                    Anyway, humanity is always heading down a dangerous path, so if we’re doing so again, it’s business as usual. Meanwhile, almost everyone will assure you that they, too, like the tactile world, but I’m not sure that their buying habits match their stated preferences. Money talks in more ways than one.

                    • James D. Irwin says:

                      I’ve been away from my computer for a few days. It was quite interesting as, although I was expecting a few e-mails, I wasn’t as anxious to get online as I once was when I was on Facebook. In fact I was glad to spend a few days away from it all. I found it reassuring to know that not only does life continue, but I can survive quite comfortably.

                      Hamlet is tremendously gothic, but also lends itself quite well to comedy. A friend of mine produced and abridged production that I was meant to be more involved with, in which events were played more for laughs than the traditional gothic feel. It was very well received, and I enjoyed it immensely.

                      And yes, the whole Henry IV-V does started with Richard II. But Hal isn’t in that, being too young and all so I didn’t mention it.

                      I wish the cheese having a Facebook page was pure invention, rather than a tragic fact. I think the thing I’m looking forward to most about Georgia is living in a place where the pervasiveness of the virtual world hasn’t yet arrived. No doubt it will do soon, and it has already. The internet should be a tool, but is of course more a market place— for things, for people professionally and romantically… and sexually… And it is big business in terms of the devices with which to access it. You’re right about the computer companies… they are taking over the world in a strange way which is easy to laugh off but could turn quite serious in an instant.

                      I didn’t know Steve Jobs had been buying up textbooks, and frankly I’m disgusted. I never liked or trusted him. The whole thing is pretty sinister. Not everyone can afford iPads. Even most of the people who have them can’t afford them. One of the single biggest reasons the economy collapsed is because of people buying shit they really didn’t need… and then buying the newer model they didn’t need a few months later… and so on and so on. The banks are to blame too, but really on both sides it demonstrates captialism at it’s most greedy and ugly.

                      Computers are easier than tactile things. Convenience is always better, right? That’s why there isn’t anything quite as delicious as a microwave meal… Steinbeck writes about the blight of convenience in Travels with Charley. He’s driving around America in what I think is 1961. He repeatedly laments the sterile, plastic wrapped homogenous food that he finds increasingly common as his journies across the US. Convenience encourages laziness, and we accept a certain decline in quality because it is far easier and far cheaper… And it really is quite sad, at least I think so…

  10. This was a great essay, Duke. I knew embarrassingly little about her until reading it. “Some Like it Hot” was one of my favourite films, and I’d seen the occasional documentary (usually about her death) but I guess I never realized until now how little I knew about her actual life.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      We know so little about so many well-known people, yes? We’re all specialists to one degree or another. I’m sure there’s much you know about Burroughs, for instance, I don’t; everything I know about him was picked up from Kerouac biographies.

      It’s funny with MM; last week I saw a friend, a native Californian, from Stockton, who’s lived in LA for something like thirty-five years–he was in the LA punk scene; his band played shows with the Germs, etc.–and he’s old enough to remember MM’s death, hearing it on the news, and when I mentioned that my piece about her was going to focus on her background as a Californian, he said, “She’s from California? Her real name was Norma Jeane, so I thought she was from the Midwest or someplace.” I think a lot of people assume that. One quote of hers I had wanted to include, but didn’t, was about her early years as an actress:”When people told to me go home”–she was referring to movie types who took her for a girl from Iowa or wherever–“I would say, ‘I am home.'”

      But, you know, when I started the essay, my only thought was to explain her continued fame, and also to make people aware that her success was truly her own doing, which I think is admirable. As Darryl Zanuck correctly said after she died, “Nobody discovered her; she earned her own way to stardom.”

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, and, more than that, I appreciate that you took the time to comment. I’m still adjusting to the new like-button system at TNB.

      • Researching this next book, I learned a lot about Burroughs that isn’t even the biographies of him… Yeah, there certainly is a ton that we just don’t know, don’t even think about.

        Honestly, I didn’t know she was from California, either… I would’ve also placed her from someplace in the Midwest. But then I didn’t really know much else about her except a few movie titles, and bits and pieces about her death.

        I still pop back to TNB every now and then but not as frequently as I used to. Still not used to the new style… and I haven’t had time to write anything of my own here in six months.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I was on an extended hiatus, also. But TNB–talk about reinvention!–has been through multiple changes and phases from the beginning, more than just 2.0, 3.0, etc.

          Some writers don’t like to discuss books in progress, or books they’re anyway only just beginning, so I won’t ask about the subject of your new one. But if you’re looking into the background of any famous American, I recommend that you write to the FBI and request files. I did that recently for a nonfiction book I propose to write — hopefully I’ll get the chance to write it; much research is first required — and, man, what I got back from the FBI was startling, stuff that never made the newspapers.

          I would be curious to know what any Beat researcher received from the FBI if queries were made. And you just know there were files on all of them.

          I hope you find the time to write a little something for TNB soon. I’ve missed your posts. It amazes me to think of just how central TNB was to my life two or three years ago — I don’t think I was the only one — and your letters from Korea were part of that. I don’t know if I remember every one of your posts, but I remember many, that’s for sure — the dog farm, the messiah, the haircut, the prostitute with the photo of the Korean movie star — just as I remember posts that had nothing to do with Korea — the murder house, the thousand-word piece on California, the storm that occurred just after a death, that miserable store, etc. Oh, and people shitting in public. I’m laughing just thinking of how often you were subjected to the sight of people shitting.

          • Wow. You remember more of mine than I do… Yeah, Korea was a blast. It sucked at times, of course, but the stories it gave me to write about… Wow. I was never short of material. Life here is somewhat boring in comparison. Or maybe I’m now just immune to weirdness. Or maybe married life has made me too sensible.

            I actually wrote a little weird thing about Burroughs for TNB. It’s probably too obscure/stupid for anyone to care about, but we’ll see.

            The FBI thing is a good idea, but unfortunately I’m done with the research and just trying to write it all down, which is harder than I anticipated because I’d left gaps in the so-called “easy” parts of the story. Anyway. It’s 50% done and should be finished later this month. Or at least, draft one should be finished.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t yet read “The Dog Farm,” but I do intend to get to it — and I don’t say that about most books. The more one writes, the less one has time to read, and ironically, it’s reading that inspired those of us who write to write in the first place.

              I don’t think you ever posted anything at TNB about the circumstances in which you left Korea, did you? Now, that’s a story!

              If you can write half a book in three weeks or less, you’re a better man than I. It takes me forever to write anything! I just keep fucking with it, trying out different ideas and discarding them. I wish, as a writer, I were more a photographer and less a sculptor, but it can’t be helped.

              Meanwhile, I’m sure that, whatever you’re now writing, I’ll want to read it.

              • Don’t be embarrassed. How long did it take me to get a copy of Subversia…? A looong time. I think it was waiting for me in Scotland for a year before I got back.

                Unfortunately, me leaving Korea might have to go unwritten for the foreseeable future. The US makes it pretty difficult to get a green card and I already have enough of my life online that would likely count against me. That would be the end of it.

                Writing the book has been slower than I thought, but the research has taken forever. I had to go to NYC and spent hours at the library, going through his notebooks and whatnot. Burroughs had worse handwriting than me… and I can’t even read my own. And he couldn’t type. Or spell. And then he gave up grammar… So that was slow going.

                Anyway, the way the book looks this now, if I continue it… Well, it’s not that well written. It’s ok but it slows down a lot and skips about, so I’ll probably have to put a lot of time into rewriting, but that’s easier than writing, I think. Maybe.

                Anyway, it’s no secret: I’m writing about Burroughs’ interest in Scientology. So that requires a lot of studying in and of itself. And what I didn’t realize until recently was that he was secretly reading so much of Hubbard’s work that he started adopting “Scientologese” – as they say – and his books are just filled with these fucking references… Argh. I’m exhausted. Tired of it. You ever dream about William S. Burroughs and L. Ron Hubbard? That’s probably means you’re going insane and need to take a break.

                But… I have nothing else to do so I can’t complain. And now there’s a big ass typhoon outside. Ripped a tree out from my garden this afternoon. I’m amazed the power is still on…

                Oh well. I’m rambling to avoid work.

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  Bloody hell, David, I’m the king of rambling. I’m also a prince, if not a king, when it comes to avoiding work.

                  I wish we could have a nice typhoon here in L.A. I enjoy storms, and even the ones we get here in the winter are rarely thunderstorms, which seem to purge and refresh the world.

                  Rewriting is, of course, the most time-consuming part of writing. But I don’t really do first drafts anymore. I tend to write in sections, nailing down every sentence in every paragraph and not moving on to the next until I’m done with that section. Then, when I’m done with the sections, I go back and tweak the whole thing. And tweak it. And tweak it some more.

                  I think, in fact, you said something about the visa situation with regard to that particular episode, so subject dropped. As for the Scientology thing, I’m sure you’re acquainted with Jack Parsons, right? Oh, man. I recently read “Sex and Rockets,” and what a story! I wish the book had been better, but even a so-so book about Jack Parsons can’t fail to astonish. And of course the OTO provided the framework for Scientology, the hierarchy and levels and so on.

                  Hope the power stays on.

                  • I was aware of Parsons prior to researching this book, but he never really came up in doing it. My aim is to explore why Burroughs how got into Scientology, why he took to it with such zeal, what exactly it meant to him, and then why he turned on it and became one of its most outspoken critics. As such, I’ve tried not to go into too much detail about Scientology -just focusing on the parts of it that really appealed to him, and largely ignoring the rest unless it was part of what he later came to despise (Sec Checks and so forth).

                    Thunderstorms are cool. Ours just dumped rain and the wind brought down some trees, but it wasn’t too bad.

                  • I have, however, been studying Scientologese… that, and Hubbard’s own weird/shit style of writing, which really influenced Burroughs for a short period.

                    • D.R. Haney says:

                      I’ve never been able to finish a book by Burroughs, including “Junky,” maybe because his aloof personality, as I perceive it, makes for, as I perceive it, an aloof style as a writer. I respond more to the idea of Burroughs than I do to Burroughs as a person and an artist, so anything I say about him is based in ignorance, but I do think of his writing as being in the margins of science fiction and fantasy, and in that way I can see why he might have found Hubbard’s writing of interest. Then, too, he was very interested in how we’re controlled, as of course was Hubbard.

                      I wonder how many artists of Burroughs’ magnitude have been, however briefly, Scientologists. He would have to be the only one, yes?

                    • My last few essays have been on Burroughs and now I’m writing a book about him, so people think that I actually like his work. It’s okay. I liked Junky, and Naked Lunch is… interesting. Honestly, like you, I find the idea of him far more fascinating than his work. Now that I understand him better, his work is actually kind of readable. Even stuff like Nova Express, which is considered something only his hardcore fans could get through, makes sense to me now. But I don’t particularly enjoy it. I wouldn’t take it for my beach reading as I sip rum in a hammock… whatever that means.

                      There have actually been a lot of famous Scientologists (and not just famous in the vacuous Tom Cruise sense). But he was the most intelligent, probably. Some people raise an eyebrow at his involvement, which I think is unfair. He “fell for it” because he was a deeply hurt individual in need of help, and they offered something he couldn’t get elsewhere. Eventually he saw it for what it was, but he still learned from it and got some of the help he needed, and he didn’t forget that. Beyond just the control thing, it helped him deal with various forms of sexual abuse that he suffered as a child, and with the memory of killing his wife, and losing so many loved ones, and being so socially inept that he was always alone…

                      Here’s something less depressing: I was raiding an abandoned apartment today for furniture and stumbled upon an unused notebook with Marilyn Monroe on the front. It’s covered in Engrish/Chinglish, or maybe even Konglish as these things often are shipped over from Korea. I thought you’d get a kick from it:

                      “In the United States and the Western world, and Marilyn Monroe thi Name is almost Wurenbuxiao, even in today’s She’s is still the ages of most America’s “sexy Godess. “50’s and early 60s, this from a solitary Flash out of the girl child throughout the hospital in Hollywood, so that Little girls vanity inspired easy; and her 30-year-old Fenghuo suddenly committed suicide a year of his death, but also to thousands of fans Puzzled. Ebara time again, as a product of the film industry, good Bollywood myth of Marilyn Monroe, and is not dead, Yong Far are vibrant, and she was the perfect size, self-Natural curved eyelashes, flawless white teeth and occasional Provocative actions can be callsed “Looking back a laugh 100-mei Student “is still printed hundreds of thousands of people were lavished on later.”

                      And they say Burroughs was unreadable…

  11. D.R. Haney says:

    Damn, David, I’m not sure that I should laugh, but I am laughing, and that’s the only laugh I’ve had for the last day and a half, the most miserable of the year to date. Not only did I break, or very nearly break, the little toe on my right foot, so that I’m hobbling around in pain, but I found out I’m broke when I thought I had money enough to see me through the month. Yeah, I had a script optioned late last year, but the script didn’t become a film, as seemed likely, and now I’m back to scramble mode in my usual state of poverty. Oh, well. I should be used to it by now. But thanks for transcribing that.

    I suppose it should never be assumed that a writer admires his or her subject, and I think I did assume that in the case of you and Burroughs. It’s funny; as a teenager, I loved Kerouac on the basis of “On the Road” and what I knew of his life at the time of “On the Road,” but I found the rest of his work unreadable. Then I heard recordings of him reading his work, and every time I read him afterward I could hear his voice in my head and his writing flowed without a hitch, except when he started referencing Buddha. I get Kerouac the Catholic, even though I’m not Catholic, but the Buddhist Kerouac never interested me. Anyway, I suppose some writers require something other than their writing in order to be understood and/or appreciated.

    I didn’t know Burroughs had been sexually abused. Huh. I saw a documentary about him–I’m sure you’ve seen it also; it was finished around 1982–and one moment in it has especially stayed with me, and that’s his account of shooting his wife. I remember him saying that earlier that day he had been in a horrible mood, as black as could be, adding something to the effect that you should always heed those moods because they don’t arrive without cause. Still, I don’t know how “accidental”–the quotation marks owe to Freud–the shooting really was. She seems to have had a death wish, and he was never meant to be a husband as we usually think of husbands, though I have no doubt that he was haunted by her death.

    There was so much early, and violent, death in that circle: Joan Burroughs, Natalie Jackson, David Kammerer, Bill Cannastra, Elise Cowen, etc.

    • Yeesh. Sorry to hear of your troubles. I’m broke myself, or at least I can’t access the money I own. Fortunately it’s cheap here in China. Anyway, you do get used to it to some degree, but it’s always a bummer. When I moved to Korea it was the first time I wasn’t broke, and so it’s harder now that I’m not used to it.

      Kerouac… I loved him until I started getting into the biographies. And I don’t mean that I stopped liking him because his biographers are assholes (oops, I better hope none of them are reading THIS post), but rather I kept seeing myself in him. And not the good parts. More like the crippling shyness and so on. I think that scared me a lot, and I started keeping away from him a bit. I read Dr. Sax a few years back. Came to it late, but I’d rank it up above On the Road in my personal estimation. Very beautiful book.

      Interesting that you mention the Buddha connection. I totally agree. I think he reached this point – as many writers and artists do – where you get into something and just forget that the rest of the world isn’t on that exact same track. Like Burroughs and his cut-ups. He didn’t really explain it as well as he could’ve, and just sort of assumed people would get it. That’s why his biggest books were initially published in editions of 1,000 and never really sold until the obscenity trial made him infamous. Totally self-referential and referencing weird oddball stuff that no one else could know about…

      Burroughs… Just fascinating. Certainly the stuff with Joan’s death. It took him so long to come out and talk about it. He was afraid that anything he said might be construed as a “cop out” like he was trying to shirk responsibility, but he did genuinely believe in demons and possession, and thought that something had gotten into him a few years earlier (can’t remember exactly when, but even as a young child he had his head filled with this idea from his mother and his nurses). Also, Joan said a few weeks before that she wanted to die or was ready to die… and other people in the room said that she silently coaxed him (telepathy, something they both believe in and were quite talented at) into doing it. Like she drew the bullet…

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Yes, that was my impression. I remember reading that he didn’t want to play William Tell, and she insisted. Also, he said something in the documentary, in the section I mentioned about his bad mood that day, that indicated, if not demonic possession, then something similar.

        I like the sense I sometimes get from Kerouac that he’s writing only for himself, but, again, not when it comes to Buddhism. I’m glad that we’re in agreement on his Buddhism. I’ve read at least five biographies of Kerouac, and in some ways they lessened my initial–teenage–admiration for him, as a detailed biography of almost anyone will often lessen admiration, or even abolish it. On the other hand, it’s a miracle that he was able to accomplish as much as he did, given his many problems, including his financial problems. He traveled a good deal in part, of course, because he was looking for the least expensive living arrangement. A great many artists are unable to realize themselves because they’re forced to hold full-time day jobs, or they feel they have to do so.

        “Dr. Sax” is a very odd book, but I like it, and definitely rank it above “On the Road.” Any attachment I feel to “On the Road” at this point is sentimental, based on its value to me when I was a teenager.

        Thanks for your sympathy on the poverty front. It’s true that it’s harder to be broke after having had a little money, a little being the most I ever had. But I’ve never been very practical. I think of my life as a kind of pyramid scheme, and one day it’s going to topple altogether, but until then it’s either soldier on or place a glass on the top of one’s head in the presence of a bad shot while playing William Tell.

  12. D.R. Haney says:

    Well, James, yet another thread is necessary, and I’m going to trust that you’ll see this way down here, just before this piece disappears from the main page. Rest in peace, piece! I’ll visit your tomb every so often in the graveyard where my other dead and forgotten pieces are buried.

    Your remark about Steinbeck reminds me of a key scene in “The Graduate,” in which Dustin Hoffman, the title character, is advised to go into the plastic business. At the time the film was released, I gather, “plastic” was a dirty word among the educated set. Now we accept plastic in our lives with almost nary a raised doubt.

    Of course Jobs is practically a deity in America, being a great success — and we love great success in equal proportion to our detestation of failure — who also made for greater convenience; is there a better recipe for deification?

    As for the iPad and its assault on the imagination, I give you no higher authority than: http://joelrunyon.com/two3/an-unexpected-ass-kicking.

    May your mental comfort in the absence of technology continue. What a rare young twenty-first-century man you are, like a unicorn or something.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I just happened to catch the comment appear at the side of the page…

      I never really ‘got’ The Graduate. The first time I saw it I was bored, but I did laugh a few times on second viewing— probably because I was with other people rather than on my own. But I still don’t like it that much, and still don’t get why ‘plastics’ is supposed to be one of the funniest lines in cinema, as many people seem to claim.

      I’m still amazed by how revered Steve Jobs is, despite not really doing anything besides making everything white and shiny. He’s like the father who hates you, but you love him blindly because he always has some shiny new toy for you to play with… And much of technology doesn’t make life more convenient, people just thinks it does. I think most of it actually complicates life.

      That is one of the finest links I’ve ever opened. I like to think of the guy— who looks almost exactly like my grandfather— just going around various coffee houses, waiting for somebody to get their Mac out, and then blowing their mind before nonchalantly shuffling off, pastry in hand.

      Everything he says is right, of course.

      I am a simple man, of simple needs and pleasures…

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I’m glad you liked the link. It was certainly agreeable to me to know that the man who invented the first computer has qualms about twenty-first-century computers, or at least with a certain company that’s also the biggest music distributor in history, to the point of practically having a monopoly on music distribution.

        Meanwhile, I of course agree with you in the matter of Jobs and complication versus convenience. But I don’t think that line in “The Graduate” means much anymore, as maybe I already said in my last comment, and I’m not sure that it was regarded as hilariously funny back in the day so much as telling. But I’ll have to ask someone who saw the film in 1967, or anyway remembers the reactions to it, to confirm.

        You know, when I learned that Tony Scott had died, I thought, “I just had an exchange about him the other day,” but I couldn’t place where or with whom, and now I remember that it was with you, James, on this board. “For better or worse,” you wrote. In fact, his style was almost identical to the style of other British directors of the day, or those who had big Hollywood careers, from Adrian Lyne to Alan Parker to Scott’s brother, Ridley. I think that style was honed in commercials, no? But “Revenge,” which I think was a flop, and “Top Gun” and “The Hunger” are personal guilty pleasures, and there will probably be a revival of “The Hunger” now. I hadn’t heard a word about that movie in years, and today, on Facebook, I’ve seen a number of clips and photos from it, people professing how much they love it, etc.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I agree with him completely, and feel quite ashamed of how much time I spend online not really doing much. I think the whole iTunes situation is a bit… not good…

          I’ve read a number of lists of ‘greatest film lines’ of all time, where ‘plastics’ frequently features high up the list. I probably don’t get it. Quite often I just don’t get films, but as is probably relatively well know at TNB I mostly enjoy cinema that falls into the ‘action’ genre. There isn’t a lot of social satire at the heart of COMMANDO.

          I’d forgotten about that exchange until you mentioned it. I didn’t realise how many Tony Scott films I’d seen— and enjoyed. Oddly I don’t really like Top Gun. True Romance though is one of my favourite films. Even Domino is quite enjoyable, and it is beautifully shot. And The Last Boy Scout… easily the second best Bruce Willis film of all time— and there is no shame is coming second to Die Hard.

          He did adverts as well, yes. It is terrible what happened, but it is some small consolation that he is getting the vocal appreciation he deserves.

          It always feels that he is treated Tony’ brother of Ridley’ Scott, rather than a director in his own right— I mean even the obituary quoted on the TNB article begins ‘Born June 21, 1944, Tony followed in the footsteps of his older brother, the director of “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator,” among other films.’ It’s a shame, because whether you enjoy action films or not, not many were as good at making them as Tony Scott.

          • D.R. Haney says:

            I know that you favor films of that kind, but I also think you sometimes watch movies ironically, yes? I mean, I don’t personally get a kick out of laughing at unintentionally funny movies like “Point Break” or “Roadhouse,” not usually, though I do kind of like “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” but I don’t laugh at it so much as just marvel as its oddness.

            I don’t believe action and intelligence are mutually exclusive. I think “To Live and Die in L.A.” is a great example of an intelligent action movie, as is “The French Connection.” But they’re not the kind of wall-to-wall action flicks that started to become popular around the time of “To Live and Die in L.A.,” and the action flick per se seems kind of dated now, replaced by the superhero/comic-book/CGI extravaganza aimed at twelve-year-old boys, where the old-style action flick was aimed at boys up to university age, and even a little past it. But as I’ve said here, and elsewhere, most of the movie-going public now has the mentality of twelve-year-old boys, while much of the reading public now has the mentality of twelve-year-old girls. But people either freak out when you say such things or they pretend you don’t exist. Per this piece and California, it’s a time-honored tradition in Hollywood to isolate and ignore anyone who doesn’t go along with the program, and that’s now the general attitude in America. “Think out of the box,” I believe the old Apple ads used to say. Sure, and guess what? That will render you invisible.

            But, in some ways, invisibility isn’t bad, maybe. There’s something to be said for being left alone. Reciprocity can wear a person down.

            I never really gave a lot of thought to Tony Scott, aside from liking the movies I mentioned. But I did think of them as guilty pleasures, as I said, maybe “The Hunger” most of all. It seemed to capture a little of the spirit of downtown NYC, in a way. But it’s been interesting to see his stature rise in comments I’ve read over the last day or two, people referring to him as a kind of giant, which, in terms of success, he was. It’s a strange end to such a life — and only now do I realize that William Petersen’s character leaps from the same bridge in Long Beach in “To Live and Die in L.A.,” so that I must have made a subconscious connection when I mentioned it in this comment.

            • James D. Irwin says:

              I’ve come to decide that a lot of the films I like— films like Point Break and RoadHouse— that my enjoyment of them is genuine rather than ironic. I don’t like it because it’s bad as such, but because it’s a beautifully shot, exciting film with two actors have a bizarre charm to them. I am however completely aware that those films have little to no artistic merit. I think you can like different sorts of films for different reasons…

              I mean I enjoy Bon Jovi and Beethoven. It’s all music, but the enjoyment and stimulation is completely different and I enjoy them in different ways. Bon Jovi is something to listen to when alcohol is involved, or any sort of high tempo activity. It’s an odd sort of adrenaline rush. Conversely, classical stuff like Beethoven calms, and soothes, and is generally more interesting and complex… of course in this analogy Bon Jovi is a Michael Bay movie, and Beethoven is Casablanca.

              But I agree with you, and actually intelligent action films are far more entertaining— whilst Die Hard is not generally considered an intelligent film, I would argue that it is one of the best written and best plotted films of any genre. I don’t like modern action films, the stuff with CGI tends to be quite dull. The old Bond films, or at least From Russia with Love, is a perfect example of an intelligent action film.

              Most superhero films I don’t like, because it’s all messy CGI and nonsense. With the slight exception of The Avengers film, but that’s largely because the dialogue was witty, and there were a host of very good actors amongst the green screens and stunt vehicles. In fact Tom Hiddleston was the villain, and it was because of his performance that I decided to watch Henry IV…

              But by and large I would agree with your assessment of the mentalities of the movie going and reading public. It’s quite depressing actually, more with the reading public I think. I don’t know how many books are sold based on ironic value, but I do though that it is disheartening having written millions of words trying to be a good writer whilst knowing that you will never write anything as successful as cliched erotica— and it’s not the erotica I object to, although I don’t exactly think it reflects terribly well on society. The writing is awful. Really, really bad. I bumped into a friend in a bookshop and she was tearing it apart, apalled. She read a few passages out loud and I think it might have killed a bit of my soul…

              I have come to decide invisibilty is a good thing. I never used to feel that way— in fact there once was a time when I always wanted people to see how brilliant I was, and have hundreds of comments, and be a famous writer… the greatest of all time! I can’t put my finger on what changed, but I couldn’t give a fuck about any of that any more. I think quitting Facebook helped with that, and not posting at TNB for a while. I am largely invisible, and I like it. It’s quiet and simple and I can still write but now nobody sees what I write unless it’s good enough— where before I’d rush something off in a hurry because… well, the sooner I do the sooner the comments come rolling in…

              When you’re invisible you have a little more control over pretty much everything. I’m not a hermit, I still talk to people and meet up. But when I’m away from people I really am away from people. With modern technology that is never really an option.

              I just hope Tony Scott doesn’t go from ‘Ridley’s brother’ to ‘the one who jumped off a bridge.’

              • D.R. Haney says:

                As mean as it may sound, and I don’t intend it to sound mean, he’ll be forgotten in a week, if not sooner, memory being so short these days. As I somewhat wrote before, I hadn’t seen any mention of Tony Scott or his movies in quite a while before he died. Then, suddenly, there were clips and stills on Facebook, and if I were to look right now, I bet I wouldn’t see any new clips or stills, and a year from now, I bet I won’t see any updates to the effect of: “Still thinking of you, Tony Scott.” But, then, I don’t know any of his friends or family, and of course if I died there would be nothing from strangers at all. That we can vanish so utterly is difficult to grasp.

                You’ve written before that you don’t demand as much from movies as you do from books, or so I seem to remember, but that’s beside the point; what you say about Bon Jovi and Beethoven is what I’ve always maintained, that no choice is necessary when it comes to “high” and “low,” and in fact one can lead to the other, as happened with you and “The Avengers” and “Henry IV.” But that doesn’t happen often, I’m afraid; most people stick to what they know, and what they know, usually, is what’s popular, so that preferences, more often than not, amount to a form of climatization, as a friend recently put it.

                Intrusion is definitely one of the worst aspects of technology, I agree. Last year, while working on “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,” I watched again “Shampoo,” one of the movies I referenced in “Dinosaurs,” and I was really struck by a scene in which Warren Beatty and Julie Christie are alone during a party, which we can hear in the distance, and they come together in a kiss after talking quietly about their failed relationship. I realized, watching it, that I couldn’t imagine two young or youngish people having a conversation like that now, because at least one of them would break off to text or otherwise glance at the phone. Poetry, and by that I don’t mean poetry in the literal sense, may be the greatest casualty of all in today’s world.

                When you write about your friend in the bookshop, was it “Fifty Shades of Grey” she read aloud? Either way, erotica is especially difficult to write. It’s difficult to get right in any form, actually — movies, still photography, painting, sculpture — though it gets easier when the intent isn’t, simply, to arouse or titillate; but if it does that, is it still erotica? But I have seen it pulled off. A few years ago, the Spanish were making films that managed to be erotic without being cliched. They really had the touch. “Jamon Jamon” may be the most erotic film I’ve ever seen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpWqWXDawLg). I wouldn’t classify it as softcore porn; I would say it’s in its own unique category, except that the director, Bigas Lunas, made other films almost as erotic, and so have other Spanish directors, including Vicente Aranda, Fernando Trueba, and Pedro Almodovar, especially “Live Flesh” in the last case (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYLgjp9yON0).

                I don’t meet up with people often these days, because they don’t seem to want much to do with me. The only invitations I receive, with rare exception, are the generic ones sent on Facebook. But that’s okay. I have plenty to occupy me. If I could spend my life doing nothing but reading and writing, I would be pretty happy, I think. But I’m not allowed to do that, and neither are most people with a similarly odd notion of happiness.

                • James D. Irwin says:

                  Oh, you are quite right. These things always die down, and slowly fade away and are eventually forgotten. Of course Tony Scott will be remembered in the long run, because if nothing else he directed Top Gun. Top Gun is still a pretty important reference point for low brow culture and action films in general AND of course for being the brother of Ridley, AND almost certainly for the fact that he killed himself. But probably not in any immediate way, just sort of generally, largely among films.

                  I am quite ignorant really to consider film a lower form of art— although I don’t. I still have quite an old fashioned attitude, but I have argued quite strongly in favour of the validity of degrees in film. After all nobody scoffs at literature or fine art students and it isn’t really the fault of cinema that it isn’t hasn’t existed as a form for as long. I’m trying to be better with my own film watching, but if I’m going to sit down for a few hours I’d still rather read a book.

                  Of course people tend to stick to what they know, but the films that get produced tend to be the ones with the widest bases of appeal so they become the films people know and feel comfortable with. However, it does seem to me that in the last few years a lot of interesting films are being released into the mainstream— but maybe I’m just more aware of film releases than when I was a kid.

                  I think intrusion of privacy is one of the few things that genuinely annoys me on a daily basis. I don’t have much privacy living at home, because I don’t have my own room. But generally I hate getting phone calls and texts. I’m not anti-social by any means, and I love being around people. I’m volunteering at a shop at the moment and I’ve realised the reason I enjoy it so much is the level of interaction with an array of people. Being around people is nice, but when I choose to be on my own, as I often do because I quite like that too, I find any sort of interuption an incredible annoyance.

                  Communication devices are, oddly, a threat to actual communication. There’s nothing worse than talking to someone, only for them to start texting whilst you’re talking, or take a call, or whatever. It is incredibly rude, and yet somehow perfectly acceptable. It’s how the world is now, for better or for worse…

                  It was that book, yes. I find continental Europeans are much better at erotic art than the US or Britain. The British are too uptight, and Americans tend to lack subtlety. ‘Erotica’ is nearly always on some level pornographic, despite the fact that ‘erotic’ doesn’t have to mean ‘sex’. In fact one could argue that erotica is at it’s most sexually charged without sex— a teasing promise rather than a buffet cart of sweat moistened breast.

                  The thing that bothers me about Facebook… or one of the many things, is that nobody sends personal invites and it is so ubiquitous that you are just assumed to be on there. If you’re not, you miss the invite. That was one of the only reasons I re-activated in my final year of university, because people kept forgetting I existed.

                  I share your idea of happiness, more or less. Of course the money has to come from somewhere. Actually, I think I shall rather enjoy teaching. I just got my criminal record clearance, so I’m nearly set for my journey. It’s all happened so quickly and easily that it doesn’t feel real— and yet I might be an ex-pat within three weeks…

              • In his book, “Why Write a Novel?”, published in 1943, Jack Woodford said that most Americans were eternal twelve year olds. Philip Wylie said much the same thing in his novel Night Unto Night, published in 1944. The point being that the perception that the majority of Americans are aging teenagers isn’t a new one. If in fact that perception actually reflects reality–a big if–, then Americans haven’t suddenly become immature just now.

                I have to disagree about Jobs merely making things white and shiny and needlessly complicating things. The history of computing has had two large trends. The first is the movement from centralized computing to distributed computing. The second is the progression from computers that could be only be understood and used by a small number of highly-trained specialists to computers that can be used by untrained laypeople.

                When did you start using personal computers? The Macintosh and the graphic user interface it popularized (no, Apple and Jobs didn’t invent it, before anyone should raise the point, but they made it affordable) simplifies by a great deal the use of PCs and minimizes the need for the typical user to have to bother educating themselves about what really goes on under the hood, so to speak. I remember using command line interfaces and doing things like teaching myself about hexadecimal codes just to code a little BASIC program to get my printer to work. It was like having to hand crank your car to get it started. You want to do that?

                I don’t revere Jobs, but he was actually a very bright guy with a strong creative imagination he applied to improving personal electronics. All this “Steve Jobs, destroyer of worlds and the repository of western civilization” rhetoric is just so much hyperbolic bullshit.

  13. D.R. Haney says:

    Apologies for the long delay in responding. I was finishing a screenplay — a job, not something I was writing only for myself — and meanwhile going through an involved drama with my landlords and next-door neighbor.

    I don’t know that the idea of happiness I mentioned earlier is always my idea of happiness; it especially comes to me when I want even less to do with people than is the case usually. Anyway, yes, the money has to come from somewhere, and there’s the rub. Gore Vidal’s memoir “Palimpsest” is taken up to a considerable degree with his efforts to make himself independently wealthy, being a kind of aristocrat with no money. He clearly had the kind of foresight that I lacked. On the other hand, he knew he wanted to be a writer early on, unlike me, and it was possible, when he was a young man, to, for instance, make a killing with a hit play, which he did with “Visitor to a Small Planet” and “The Best Man.” I don’t think that could happen now. There isn’t much interest in plays anymore, except among the dyed-in-the-wool theater set, which shrank, year by year, after the introduction of television. TV also took a bite out of the book-buying audience, and now the Internet is finishing the job.

    I already remarked on the impersonal invites of Facebook, but then, FB has made life much more impersonal across the board. If this is how people are now interacting, it must indicate that people have long been wanting to interact in this way and technology belatedly provided the means. I sympathize to the degree that, yes, socializing can feel like a chore at times. But everything can come to feel like a chore, including tasks that were once joyous.

    When I lived in Serbia, I was used to stretches in which everyone around me would jabber away in Serbian without making any effort to translate. Not that I blamed them; the translation would have amounted to an interruption, and I filled the time with observation and daydreaming. But that prepared me for today’s world, in which I’m likewise expected, as we all are, to entertain myself while others text or take calls that apparently can’t wait. At least the calls are usually short. MM, the subject of the above piece — lest we forget! — was known for long phone calls, and in his final years, so was Jack Kerouac; but long phone calls are rare these days, I think, and exclusive, pretty much, to older people. A person of sixty said to me recently, “Well, what do kids have to talk about? They don’t really investigate their feelings, like I used to do when I was a kid, and that’s what most long talks amount to: an exploration of feelings.” The same person also said to me something to the effect of: “It used to be that kids were kind of apologetic about being inarticulate. It was understood that they would become more articulate with time, but now it’s understood that they’re always going to stay at the same level.” True? I don’t know, but it was a striking remark, I thought.

    Of course one person’s erotica is another person’s pornography. There’s no way to clearly delineate the two, as the law has sometimes tried to do, not to mention an early wave of feminists who effectively declared that erotica was something that didn’t offend an imagined everywoman, as did pornography. This everywoman, of course, strongly resembled the women associated with that wave of feminists, while Christian types were more concerned with the damage inflicted by pornography — all sexual content was pornography to them — on an imagined everychild. But, in a strange way, I welcome that kind of repressive attitude, since it favors a sexual charge that diminishes when anything goes.

    Wait. I can hardly believe it; the phone is ringing. Okay, well, it was only a recorded message from Time-Warner to warn me that if I don’t pay up soon, my Internet service will be discontinued. I should probably go back to worrying now. Glad your criminal record cleared and you’re on your way to Georgia. Personally, I would rather be anywhere than where I am at the moment.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I’ve always fancied myself as a traveller, but I think I’m happier when I’m settled and comfortable in my environment. A lot of people in this village have barely left, and I’m beginning to think they have the right idea. It’s quiet and it’s friendly— life is good. I do get bored though, and no doubt would do here if I weren’t moving on— or hoping to anyway.

      I like the idea of being an aristocrat without the money, but then I also like the idea of writing a successful play. I have written a few, and another one has just been accepted but of course none are for profit and hardly anyone will come and see them anyway. It’s a shame, because I think plays and books are so much more rewarding than TV and the internet. TV and internet have their merits of course, and I’m glad both exist but it is a shame that they had to kill theatre and books on their way…

      I think interaction on Facebook is more to do with convenience. The quality of socialisation isn’t the same, but the quantity of it is just vast…

      I need to pack and catch a train. I’ll try and add more thoughts if I can get to a computer over the weekend….

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Wait. You’re already in Georgia, James? Damn, that was fast.

        I’m trying to remember the last play I saw. It’s been a few years. I used to see them all the time when I lived in NYC, and I was in them, of course, surrounded by people who would go on about the great value of theater in the same doomed way that people now speak of the value of books.

        I love places of transit, and specifically the weird sort of reflection that occurs in places of transit. Notice how quiet so many people become in airport waiting areas, for instance. Technology has not yet found a way to kill that kind of reflection, as it’s killed so many other kinds. It likewise hasn’t found a way to kill the fleeting encounters one has while traveling; no social-media interaction can suffice, not for me.

        So much in life boils down to an issue of quantity vs. quality, yes?

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Oh no! I was going to my old university house to collect my things.

          I don’t see much theatre, as there was only one theatre in the town and it was still very expensive— and going to London is out of the question. It costs £3o just to get there, and the tickets are usually double that. It’s seen as a very high class, intellectual pursuit and nobody has really tried to challenge that— in fact one might argue London theatres have cultivated that sort of audience and deliberate excluded the ‘proles.’ The exception is the number of very successful, very popular big musical adaptations of recent films.

          I can’t stand airport lounges. They should be buzzing with anticipation but everyone always looks so miserable. The atmosphere is always weird and gloomy.

          You’re right about the fleeting encounters. I love those— it’s not quite the same, but I had a fleeting visit from a few of my old university friends which was the same because it was near spontaneous, arranged via phone, and wasn’t documented in any way that could be uploaded to social media.

          But of course even that can’t match the true spontaneity of meeting a stranger and forming a friendship that may or may not last beyond that brief window of time.

          Right now my life is being negatively affect by the quality and quantity of my teeth. I have a lot of them, and they are all in bad shape. I have gum disease, I think. It’s my own fault, I switched back to a manual toothbrush and it’s been years since I actually went to a dentist…

          I’ll found out on/around wednesday if I’m going to Georgia for sure. I have an interview. Of course it won’t really matter if I end up needing extensive dental work again…

          • D.R. Haney says:

            Is the verdict now in on Georgia and/or your teeth?

            The matter of your teeth causes me to remember this remark, made to me years ago by a former Playboy Bunny (meaning a cocktail waitress, not centerfold) whose brothers were among my best friends in NYC: “The horror of life is that there’s so much maintenance involved.” That’s the exact phrasing; I’ve never forgotten it. By way of further anecdote, she worked her way through college as a Bunny after returning to NYC from Paris, where she’d been a fashion model with some huge agency, leading to another great (I thought) quote: “All the other girls at the Playboy Club were Bunnies who wanted to be models; I was a Bunny because I didn’t want to be a model.”

            The atmosphere in airport lounges is definitely weird, but I personally wouldn’t say it’s gloomy; as I wrote already, I observe that people become reflective while waiting for flights, or that used to be the case; omnipresent technology guarantees that people almost never become reflective. “I think, therefore I am” should be amended to: “I text, therefore I am.” TV screens in grocery stores, at gas stations, in the backs of cabs, and so on, also assist in the elimination, or anyway the diminishment, of reflection.

            About West End theater (or theatre): while researching this piece, I came upon this: http://www.nickelinthemachine.com/2010/01/hampstead-heath-and-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-author-colin-wilson/. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the relevant passage: “Arthur Miller was actually no fan of the ‘trivial, voguish theatre’ of the West End, considering it, not entirely unfairly at the time, as ‘slanted to please the upper middle class’. When the auditions started for View From A Bridge in London he asked the director Peter Brook why all the actors had such cut-glass accents. ‘Doesn’t a grocer’s son ever want to become an actor?’ he asked. Brook replied, ‘These are all grocer’s sons.’”

            The more things change, etc.

            On the subject of fleeting encounters: I knew someone from Milwaukee who, while on a trip to Italy, found himself standing next to a high-school classmate in a museum. I knew someone else, originally from Washington, DC, who, while driving across America, ran into his cousin at a rest stop in Wyoming. But of course that’s different from encounters with strangers, so that I don’t even know why I mention it, except that I live in a weird and gloomy atmosphere and for that reason, among others, my brain is mush.

            • James D. Irwin says:

              I went to the dentist last week only to be told there is absolutely nothing wrong with my teeth. I was still convinced they’d moved, and they felt weird but I found a photo from a few months ago that confirms they’ve always looked like this. My best guess is it’s some sort of weird stress thing…

              Still no word on Georgia yet. May have fucked up the interview… I’m terrible at answering interview questions. The thing is whilst I still want to live overseas for a bit I don’t want to be a teacher… It suddenly became very obvious to me that I should be doing whatever I can to work in theatre. A year ago or so ago I got heavily involved in student theatre and it was the joint best experience of my life— joint with playing for a football team but the joy I got from them were for actually quite similar reasons. I really thrived on that collaboration, I did a good job directing, and I think I prefer writing for the stage to prose. Certainly I’m better at it. An old tutor said he was disappointed I hadn’t gone in that direction…

              I think if I do get the opportunity to go to Georgia I will take it, but if I don’t… it might prove to be for the best.

              Airport lounges always feel sterile and lifeless to me… I don’t know, I don’t like them. The only positive airport lounge experience I can remember is waiting to fly back from Amstersdam. Our flight was delayed and my friend and I played cards for hours and ate snacks…

              I think Arthur Miller is still right about West End theatre. In Britain we only really have the exclusive, high-brow west-end productions, big musicals, regional theatre— productions of west end plays with amateurish actors, and fringe theatre which is closer to interpretive dance. We still cling to a class system and the social expectations that come with them… Student theatre is really the only place you get a good mix… but even then all the best actors end up at RADA and come out with cut-glass accents…
              Actually, an actress from a student production I wrote and directed got into RADA…

              I was on a boat to France once when I bumped into a kid from my old school. I like encounters like that. Actually, the weirdest one was a few years ago when someone called my name. It was raining so I huddled under a shop doorway and looked up to see a thin effeminate guy I didn’t know. But he knew me. Once he realized I didn’t have a clue who he was he told me. I didn’t really beleive him— the last time I’d seen him he was a big macho fat guy who used to smoke behind the school…

              Struggling to focus my own brain. Pretty tired. Currently working with young children… should get some sleep… I’m back on all social networks by the way. I hate myself, but I got a text from a friend out of the blue today and realised how much I miss her… and a few other people… keeping it ultra-private and not giving fb any personal info. It’s a compromise, I think… a compromise between my boredom and my distrust of social media…

              • D.R. Haney says:

                No less a personage than a certain Brad L. recently, in my presence, made a remark about being over social media, FB in particular. Earlier this month, I quit FB yet again for a day or so, but then I “had” to go back in order to send a message to someone whose email address I lacked, and after I sent the message I thought, “Oh, what the hell,” and left my profile standing, though I barely check FB at this point.

                It’s hard to believe that, during the MySpace era, I considered social media fun. But of course that was a different time, not only in terms of technology but my actual — that is, physical — social life. MySpace augmented my social life; it didn’t replace it. Theoretically, I suppose, that’s what the digital world was intended to do, but to paraphrase Nietzsche, people always prefer a copy to the original.

                On a related subject, last night I was talking on the phone — a very rare occurrence, outside of my day job — with a friend about the fact that people rarely talk on the phone, and I mentioned that, over the last year or so, I’ve had friends and acquaintances remark on a longstanding apprehension of talking on the phone, though none of them were able to articulate their reasons for this apprehension, and my friend said, “I’ve had people say the same to me, and I gather that they feel a kind of performance anxiety. It’s like it’s too much pressure to have to come up with something to say unless they can put some time into crafting it.”

                After that conversation, I read a NY Times article about the new attitude toward talking on phones, and while the piece itself wasn’t very interesting, some of the comments were, like this one:

                Having worked in the intensely verbal field of broadcasting, I was stunned 5 years ago to work in a production house with multiple productions in the works. Most of the employees were under 30. There was no conversation…on the phone or among colleagues. NONE! Quiet as a morgue. Everything was via e-mail or instant messaging, even among workers in adjoining cubicles, 2 feet apart. It took all the human energy out of the workplace. And may explain the state of programming now.

                That struck me because my apartment complex is like a morgue, thanks to my next-door neighbor, who’s unable to withstand any noise that isn’t her own, and even complained about me once to the landlords for running water in my own apartment (though she denied having done so during a recent verbal altercation). Also, this comment struck home, though I’m not — physically anyway — an invalid:

                I’m in Chicago, and am disabled and cannot go out very often. Phone calls from friends, especially local friends, would be welcome, especially asking me if I feel well enough to go out for an hour or two.

                And even though they know I am ill, and that if I’m calling it is either asking if they are going out because it is one of the rarer days where I am feeling well, or because I need help with my diability. Emails don’t replace this contact but no one answers the phone.

                This social isolation has made me extremely depressed to the point where out of state friends had to intervene, and I have to move to a place where people care if I need an emergency ride to the pharmacy.

                People whom I was friends with before the popularization of the cell phone still call, answer the phone, and still show genuine compassion. Those met after the early 2000s, well, I don’t really consider them friends anymore.

                Something is very wrong in a culture where a friend who hasn’t seen you in over 10 years cares enough to help you through difficult times, while someone a mile away ignores you.

                I honestly thought I was making friends for life while attending a large Midwestern university law school that prides itself on its great alumni network. But sharing hours and days, travelling thousands of miles by car together, going abroad, attending each others weddings, whatever else, doesn’t merit a phone call. Apparently out-of-sight is out-of-mind for these people.

                One of these days, if I have time to write anything for myself ever again, I should really take a whack at a full-scale piece on the effects of the digital world on the psyche. Of course I’ve written about it in drips and drabs on this board, among others, but I mean something deeper. I have yet to read anything on the subject, apart from comments like the ones above, that can begin to describe my own experience and what that may or may not spell for others. But there are so many things I would like to write about, and I don’t have time for any of them.

                On theater: I was very involved in theater from ages 18-24, but I saw it at the time as a springboard to the work I really wanted to do, in movies. Only later, after I’d stopped performing in theater, did I realize that, really, it was much more satisfying than working in movies. There was much more emphasis on the process, a growing into the character instead of having to leap into it. But theater directors understand acting, where movie directors don’t, with the occasional and inevitable exception. Meanwhile, my impression is that British actors are much closer to the old American style of actors than are American actors these days. Daniel Craig has been called the new Steve McQueen, for instance, and I don’t know of any young American actors who could compare favorably with Brando, as can Tom Hardy. But of course here I’m speaking of British film, not theater, actors.

                So it seems that your problem with your teeth was psychosomatic. It’s common, I know, for people to dream of losing teeth, and I read somewhere that such dreams occur at moments of profound change and its accompanying anxiety. And I think I understand what you mean about not wanting to be a teacher. Someone old and seemingly wise once told me I would make an ideal teacher, but I was unable to see what he did, and I was thinking just the other day about the whole mentor-student thing and how it mirrors parents and children. Some people enjoy molding other people in that parenting sort of way, but I don’t. I take people as they are, regardless of age.

                I’m now interrupted by the neighborhood coyotes, who are having their nightly frenzy. It’s a really eerie sound; have you ever heard it? Here’s a poor recording:

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ba-mtcCarzU

                If the neighborhood coyotes had to answer to my landlords, my next-door gorgon would surely be on the phone right this second.

                • James D. Irwin says:

                  That’s the problem with FB— even if it’s not important to your own life/projects there will always be someone who needs you on there for some reason. My returned presence is basically now for the purpose of being conveniently reachable for a few people, and occasionally commenting on posts if I have something relevant or amusing to say.
                  And actually I need FB presence now for my role at The Weeklings. I’ve been asked to handle the social media side of things… It’s led me to re-think my stance on social networking a little bit— Twitter is actually a lot of fun when people use it properly i.e. not just talking about food. I don’t think it is a benefit to our culture, but nor is it the harbinger of doom I have sometimes considered it to be.

                  MySpace was fun. Here’s the thing: MySpace required at least a small amount of effort to interact, generally it was a smaller community, and it was largely strangers you interacted with. FB largely involves real-world friendships. I made some good friends via MySpace— I spent about two years exchanging messages with a girl in NY state, it’s where I ‘met’ David Wills, and the interviewee in my last TNB post.

                  Some of the people I was MySpace friends with became if not real world friends, then friends beyond MySpace. Actually, it led to TNB and many other awesome things. One of my then stand up heroes messaged me, in a pre-Twitter world where ‘celebrity’ interaction wasn’t quite so common online.

                  I really miss one particular forum as well. When I started watching the NFL I joined a Patriots forum, and was given a pretty friendly welcome. I was posting in there for a year or two before Facebook effectively killed MySpace, and that was a lot of fun. It was an online community, as opposed to an online collective of people.

                  Yes, in that halcyon age of internet use it was a complement to my real social life, not the focus of it. In fact there was very little overlap between the two. There were internet friends and we talked about football and stand up, and there were real friends who used to hang out at the bowling alley or play soccer…

                  Talking on the phone is weird… there’ so much you lose in face to face interaction that makes it awkward. In person lulls in the conversation are natural, on the phone it just feels incredibly awkward.

                  I find those comments odd. I don’t dispute them, as I’ve seen a lot of evidence to suggest most young lives now revolve around written text on phones, or online but… Well, I have a longstanding theory that I’m of the last pre-digital generation.

                  For example, I grew up watching VHS tapes and when we finally got a home computer in the early 2000s it was slow and clunky and the internet wasn’t that big a deal. I remember phones developing from my parents heavy basic blocks to models that had black and white displays, to colour displays, to flip designs and so on and so on evolving to smart phones.

                  For a lot of guys my age (basically, kids who grew up in less wealthy backgrounds) phone calls are still used for basic organization, and we all prefer to meet in person. Usually at the pub. When we speak online, it’s usually brief and it’s usually opportunistic i.e. Dave’s online— I’ll ask him about… whilst I can.

                  Aged between 18-24 now, I do kind of see it as a springboard to other writing: TV comedy in my case. What I really want to do is work for a US TV series because the writing process is much more collaborative than film of British TV where you write first, then everybody else changes it as doesn’t give you any credit for your work.

                  Of course if I could make a living writing and/or directing theatre I think I’d find it hard to stop doing it. I think for one thing there is nothing that beats live performance. I wish I could play music. I would love to be in a band. Stand up kind of replaces that, but unless you’re in a big city there aren’t the opportunities to gig like a band. I’ve often thought if I was living in somewhere like New York I’d probably get back into performing.

                  I don’t know about Hardy, but Daniel Craig has done a lot of theatre. It always feels to me that US movies are more concerned with how an actor looks than whether he can act… a lot of stuff I watch have guys who are impossibly handsome, but with no substance behind them. That’s not so true over here, so actors do theatre, get on TV, and eventually film… so once they’ve made the big time they’ve got years of hardcore experience to go with their natural talent.

                  So when we’re casting something like a Bond film, we can call on a guy like Craig with about 20 years of experience that started in small theatres and developed through hard won TV roles. When US producers are putting together an action or really any film, they’ll throw in whoever is ‘hot’ at the time. It’s genuinely hard to think of a really good US film actor off the top of my head.

                  Tom Hardy is incredible. He’s the best part of The Dark Knight, and you can’t see his face for any of the film. I was just looking at him actually, because he has weird teeth.

                  Essentially I just became suddenly aware of how ‘British’ my teeth are. I’ve been looking back at pictures of me and they’re all the same… the weird feeling basically comes from being conscious of them.

                  I could be a teacher if I were older, or teaching older kids. I feel too young for it now, and I’d want to teach something like Creative Writing.

                  Teaching young kids sucks. I’m volunteering at a pre-school, and whilst it’s awesome that there is a Polish kid who only knows five English words and one of them is my name, and another kid actually remembered how to play snap I absolutely hate that I’m not allowed to be ‘fun’ around them. I’m not allowed to say ‘fart’, or make them laugh too much because they get over-excited. I feel like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

                  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a coyote. Closest I’ve come is wolves…

                  • D.R. Haney says:

                    James, I really let the ball drop, didn’t I? I’m sorry.

                    Since it’s been a while, I’m not sure that a length reply is appropriate, so I’ll forebear — for now — and simply ask — if you can be bothered to answer — what’s happening, on the Georgia front.

                    • James D. Irwin says:

                      Very short answer: not going to Georgia. Fell through at the last minute. Kind of relieved in the end.

    • “TV also took a bite out of the book-buying audience, and now the Internet is finishing the job. ”

      See my reply to Mr. Irwin above regarding Steve Jobs, but I respectfully disagree that the Internet is destroying, or has already destroyed, people’s appetite for books. There is no evidence to support your conclusion, and plenty to rebut it, such as Amazon.com’s revenue generated from book sales. Who’s buying all those books, per chance? I never thought the Kindle would succeed, but it has succeeded, and the fact that people want to spend money on a device dedicated to reading text speaks volumes (ahem) about some people’s interest in books. Reading has always been a minority interest, but there has and continues to be a subset of the general population who are heavy readers.

  14. Gloria says:

    It just occurred to me that I never commented on this, Duke. I read it and I loved it. You do celebrity biographies like no one else.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thank you, Gloria. It’s the first piece in which I covered the background of a well-known actor in relative detail. Before, it was more of a kind of hit-and-run thing, so that I wasn’t sure I could pull this piece off.

      If I ever write another such piece, it’ll be about this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WINREV3ny_Q

      It’s a remarkable story, and I recently had a strange encounter with someone who knew him.

  15. wryterRy says:

    This is the only piece on Marilyn I’ve ever read to the end. It’s the only one that moved me. You did very well conveying the three-dimensional nature of a person who is not only dead but an icon (who are by their nature reduced to one dimension), and that is not an easy task. Furthermore, I think that by talking about her modeling training you explained something that’s always been a mystery to me: I have seen her movies, I’m not particularly a fan though I don’t dislike them, I’ve never been interested in the mythical story around her…but a picture of her always makes me stop and LOOK. You even used the photo of her I most like: in a sweater with disheveled hair, like a proto-Debbie Harry but more somehow. Thanks for this article.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      It’s really gratifying to receive a comment from someone I don’t know, and even more so to be told that you were moved by the piece. Thank you.

      What I wrote about her background as a model, and the way it may have influenced her as an actress, is conjecture of course, but I have to admit that, while writing it, I did feel that I may have hit on something. After I finished the piece, I watched about an hour’s worth of rushes from her last, unfinished movie, “Something’s Got to Give,” and though she blew her lines now and again, I was mostly struck by her professionalism, at least in the acting department. (She was famously fired from the movie for chronic absenteeism.) It seemed to me that she only forgot her lines as the result of being caught up in the scene and the feelings it provoked in her, which I suppose is close to what I wrote. Also, her line readings always varied a little, which is the mark of an actor who approaches the work from the inside; and one moment in particular fascinated me so much that I watched it several times: just before a take (the director, George Cukor, kept the camera rolling between takes), her eyes flared for just a second, after receiving a little direction, as if she had just had a “Eureka!” moment. In that second you could see her mind — her acting mind — at work.

      What can I say? I think she’s magical. Like you, I always have to stop and look whenever I see a photo of her. That quote from Philippe Halsman, about her playing the camera like a virtuoso, really nails it — and he said that after his first session with her, when she was an unknown. In a documentary I watched while preparing this piece, Halsman’s widow pulled out a shot from that session, where she’s surrounded by other girls, and accurately said, “She stands out like a candle.”

      The photo you mention of Marilyn on the beach is, likewise, my favorite of her, and apparently it’s the last photo ever taken of her (not including the autopsy and death-scene photos). Also, it was the last frame of film that the photographer, George Barris, had in his camera that day. Anyway, everything about the picture works for me: the sunset light, the beatnik sweater, the blanket over her legs (she was cold, according to Barris), the disheveled hair, the kiss she’s blowing to the camera. I wonder what she thought of it — if, that was, she ever saw it or the other photos from that session. I don’t believe she did.

      Man, I love Debbie Harry, and when I was researching this piece, I came upon a few shots of Marilyn from “The Misfits” where the resemblance to DH is startling. You can see (at least) one of them in this clip at 0: 51:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9MtNVIxbJ4

      Thanks again the comment. It couldn’t have arrived at a better moment.

  16. D.R. Haney says:

    Hey, you! The protean Mr. Irwin! Down here!

    Your plans seem constantly in motion, Jim, as for instance your decision to return to school a couple of years ago, which I wasn’t expecting to hear. But I was somehow expecting to hear that the Georgian sojourn was off.

    Now belatedly to address a few matters from your comment of yore.

    I think phone conversation has become more awkward in recent years, in part because there are fewer phone conversations, which of course renders them increasingly unfamiliar. Also, I find myself interrupting people more often on the phone, which may be the result of digital sound. I can no longer tell when the other party has finished speaking, and someone recently told me that’s because there’s a slight delay on the phone that wasn’t wasn’t there in the analog days, if “analog” is, here, the correct term.

    I didn’t see the last Batman movie, and probably never will, so I’ll have to take your word about Hardy’s performance in it. Alas, he’s going the route I predicted in my “Meat Puppet” piece from two years ago. But, whatever route he goes, he’s at least deserving of his success, as I wouldn’t say of so many others.

    I hope to see the new Bond film, but it will have to wait; I’m leaving for Vegas tomorrow for a weekend business trip, and I just glanced at the clock and saw that have limited time in which to do ten things I need to be doing, and I should really be getting on to them, hoping you’ll understand.

    Are you still handing social media for the Weeklings?

  17. Eric says:

    Wow, what an excellent article. I agree: It is the photos, with their enormous expressiveness and projection, that keep MM famous. Everyone sees something in them.

    Given the use of close-ups in movies, I think her facial expressiveness is the core of her acting power. Having said that, she uses her body and voice very expressively. “The Prince and the Showgirl” is a good example. A tour de force.

    Watching her fumble in takes of “Something’s Got to Give” I thought she might be a person who learns by doing. Repeating the scene would plant in her mind the words, expressions, and actions she had to coordinate. Reading a script isn’t the same thing to that type of learner. Of course, depression, drugs and alcohol don’t make for a good memory. It’s also interesting to see that she didn’t seem nervous in the takes. Where’s the crippling stage fright?

    And don’t forget her excellent singing in a number of movies, even duds like “River of No Return” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” No dancer, though.

    Not the greatest actress, not the greatest range, not the greatest career, no more beautiful than many leading actresses — but the greatest presence on screen, so alive and real even in roles intended to be one-dimensional or farcical.

    It’s strange to think how her life would be different if she were a young woman today with the same physical and mental conditions. Her anxiety, depression and insomnia wouldn’t be treated with barbituates. Perhaps she’d be calmer. We’d recognize the causes of her rages in childhood trauma. She’d have a wide range of therapy available instead of the now-discredited Freudian therapy.

    Professionally, she wouldn’t be part of a studio system. If she had three hits in one year, as she did in 1953, and wanted to do dramatic roles, she would get the opportunity.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hey, Eric, many apologies that it’s taken me so long to respond to you. I used to receive notifications when new comments appeared on archive pieces like this one, but that’s no longer the case.

      At any rate, I couldn’t be more pleased that you enjoyed the piece. It turned out to be more important to me than I could have guessed, since I’m now writing a series of similar pieces about figures as disparate as Hugh Hefner, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jim Morrison, and the surfer Miki Dora for an essay collection that, as things currently stand, will have a title inspired by a Monroeism: “Fifty Cents for Your Soul.” All of the essays will have to do with film and/or Los Angeles, and some of them have already been completed and posted, for the time being, online.

      I, too, have watched the raw footage from “Something’s Got to Give,” and for me it confirms that Monroe was a real movie actress, one who could deliver the goods in take after take while changing slightly from one take to the next. It’s the change that makes all the difference to me. I dislike acting that’s thought out thoroughly in advance. I also found Monroe responsive to direction — you could see her taking in Cukor’s instructions between takes — and, like you, I didn’t detect any stage fright, though it was manifested especially, so I understand, before she arrived on the set, so that she couldn’t bring herself to leave the safety of her dressing room, ignoring the knocks on the door, etc., while she tried to calm herself and otherwise prepare. Cukor didn’t like Marilyn after working with her on “Let’s Make Love,” so that he was a bad choice for “Something’s Got to Give,” and Fox scapegoated her for the problems it was having with Elizabeth Taylor on “Cleopatra,” so that she was smeared in the press for her poor performance; but again, the surviving footage gives the lie to the smear campaign. Her lack of professionalism is another matter, but while she may never been in better shape physically, she may never have been in worse shape psychologically, so I don’t think she was entirely at fault, and either way, she was almost always worth any trouble she caused. As Billy Wilder once said, apropos of Marilyn, “My Aunt Minnie would always be punctual and never hold up production, but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie?”

      In a documentary made for French television, Catherine Deneuve remarked about Monroe’s dancing: “A professional dancer might have done certain things differently, more cleanly, but when you have that natural grace, that’s what make the difference between technical perfection and a truly personal interpretation.” I think remark could stand for Monroe as a performer overall. Deneuve, a Monroe fan, makes a number of penetrating remarks in the doc. Here’s a link to it, if you haven’t already seen it:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIwOUBTxmpU

      You might also find this interesting, if you haven’t seen it already: an interview with Natasha Lytess, apparently done just before Marilyn died. It’s in French, but a translation is available somewhere online. I can find it if you can’t. Let me know.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24O7yQBMiJM

      Personally, I believe that the magic of Marilyn Monroe — and I really see it as just that: magic — is so tied to her neurosis and childhood trauma that it would have been lost if her psychological ailments had been successfully treated, as we believe they can be treated these days with psychopharmacology, etc. She was completely a product of her time, so that I can’t really imagine her in a latter-day setting, just as I can’t imagine Dean or Clift or Brando in the same. The conditions don’t allow for such people now. But I freely admit that that’s a bias, and one I’m not prepared to defend.

      What do you think of Monroe in “The Misfits”? It may be heresy, but it’s my favorite Monroe movie, though I don’t think she’s as effective in it as she might have been, what with her crisis-level addiction to pills, the scorching Nevada heat, and the impending divorce. Still, I don’t think there’s any question that she had unrealized possibilities as a dramatic actress. I like her very much in “Don’t Bother to Knock.” It’s her forays into noir or noirish territory that I seem to prefer. After “The Misfits,” my favorite Monroe movie is probably “The Asphalt Jungle,” though of course she only has a few scenes in it.

      Thanks again for such a thoughtful comment. It was like discovering money in the pocket of a coat I haven’t worn in a while.

  18. Eric says:

    I think the “50 cent” quote comes from “My Story.” I’m inclined to think the book was entirely written by Ben Hecht, based on talking to Monroe and Sidney Skolsky. But maybe she said it or something like it. Maybe something more salty than “kiss.”

    In the context of comedies and musical comedies, her acting seems just fine. You could even argue that no actor at the time could have done better in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “How to Marry a Millionaire,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “Bus Stop,” “The Prince and the Showgirl,” and “Some Like I Hot.” In other words, she wasn’t just good; she was the best.

    I think one of her minor tragedies is she couldn’t appreciate her strengths. She was always dissatisfied. I’m not sure she even understood how good “Some Like it Hot” was.

    She was the female equivalent of Cary Grant in his comedies, which should have been something to be proud of. As Howard Hawks said, Monroe always played a creature from a fairy tale.

    She did fairly well in her dramatic or melodramatic roles — “The Asphalt Jungle,” “Clash by Night,” “Don’t Bother to Knock,” “Niagara,” and “The Misfits.” (I’d say she plays the comic relief in “All About Eve.”)

    I think her mistake was in thinking that drama was more important than comedy. A lot of dramatic movies haven’t lasted. But she craved an Oscar, and few Oscars go to comic roles. And she craved respect as an actor. Maybe if she lived longer, she would have become a character actor and received respect.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, here I go again, with another apology for a late reply — months, in this case.

      I should have mentioned the first time around that the “fifty cents” remark is a “Monroeism” without any proof that it’s truly hers. I agree; it’s probably a reworking of something she said. It does jibe with what I know of her experience. She could easily have married Johnny Hyde, for instance, but she refused, not only because she didn’t love him “that way” but also, apparently, because she knew no one would ever take her seriously if she married him. At the same time, she wasn’t above using sexual favors to advance herself. She had a logic of her own in such matters, so that she would sleep with one powerful man and refuse another, but I think her logic was always rooted in the idea of respect. Harry Cohn’s low regard for her would lessen if she slept with him, she must have (astutely) figured, so she told him no, but Johnny Hyde believed in her as almost nobody else did in her salad days, so she slept with him as a kind of reward. It must have irked her that Darryl Zanuck was immune to her sex appeal. He was attracted to “exotic” Europeans, and I believe it’s true that he disliked her because she had “stolen” Tommy Zahn, the surfer, from his daughter, Darrilyn, since Tommy Zahn and Marilyn were both dropped as Fox contract players at roughly the same time. Sex appeal worked for her where nothing else did, she had learned the hard way, and she never had that advantage with Zanuck or his subordinates at Fox, who followed his lead. Fortunately, she won over Spyros Skouras.

      I don’t know to what extent the “bedroom comedy” is recognized as as subgenre, but Marilyn was certainly the master of it, with very few peers, in her own time and otherwise, in America and elsewhere. But I agree with you that she’s also good, and sometimes excellent, in dramatic roles, and I further agree that she put drama ahead of comedy in her quest to be respectable. She was always one for self-improvement, and once she had succeeded in a given area, she seems to have checked it off her list and moved on to the next, but she was insecure enough that she never entirely disowned her sex-symbol image, as much as she partly hated it. That was her meal ticket, her assured place at the table, so that she bared her breasts to the camera in “The Misfits” (though that take wasn’t used in the final film) and swam nude in “Something’s Got to Give.” It’s hard for me to imagine what might have happened if she hadn’t died when she did. It seems to me that where she’s known as an actress and not simply as an image, she’s generally respected now, and if she had lived, that might not have been the case. So much would have depended on the roles she was offered and the ability of the public to accept her in mature roles — “Something’s Got to Give” might have been a step in that direction, since she was playing a wife and mother — and the way she handled her formidable demons. It tend to think that it could only have ended the way it did, more or less, but I say that humbly. She was full of surprises — yet she wasn’t.

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