27 August 2019

The Politics of Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe's political flavour was decidedly left wing. Having grown up in poverty during the Great Depression, Marilyn always identified with the working class, feeling they were her kind of people. She was passionate about civil rights and a staunch defender of black equality. But while her views had always been left wing, Marilyn's political awareness only fully blossomed after she married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. (Miller was a leftist too and particularly during their marriage, which ended in 1961, Marilyn often mixed with people who talked politics a lot.)

1960 was an election year, the year when John F. Kennedy was elected president of the USA. That same year, Marilyn became one of the founding members of the Hollywood branch of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and she was also appointed alternate delegate to Connecticut's state Democratic convention. Marilyn was clearly into politics that year, often engaging in political discussions with Lester Markel, a friend of hers and Sunday editor of The New York Times.

On 29 March 1960, Marilyn wrote to Markel, her interesting and at times humorous letter seen below. For the upcoming elections she mentions several potential presidential candidates, feeling that William O. Douglas (Justice of the Supreme Court) would make the best president. Since Marilyn realises that his being divorced poses a problem, she suggests Irish-Catholic John F. Kennedy as vice-president so Douglas could still get the Catholic vote. A supporter of the Communist struggle against capitalism and of Cuba's Fidel Castro, Marilyn goes on to criticise the US for not helping Cuba build a democracy after the revolution. After a few personal remarks, she concludes her letter with some fun slogans for the campaigns of the presidential candidates. Interesting to note is that Marilyn's slogan for Kennedy clearly shows that she had little faith in his becoming the Democratic nominee (Kennedy had announced his candidacy earlier that year).

Marilyn with Lester Markel (middle) during a visit to The New York Times in 1959.
Source: Julien's Live


March 29, 1960

Lester dear,

Here I am still in bed. I've been lying here thinking-- even of you. I bet you don't know how fond I am of you-  you're one of those ones that one could say anything one meant or wanted to to.

I loved the way the Sunday piece on [Irish playwright] O'Casey was handled and I think it was wonderful of you to tell people about his very human quality. We need to know about the few like him.

About our political conversation the other day: I take it back that there isn't anybody. What about Rockefeller? First of all he is a Republican like the New York Times, and secondly, and most interesting, he's more liberal than many of the Democrats. Maybe he could be developed? At this time, however, Humphrey might be the only one. But who knows since it's rather hard to find anything about him. (I have no particular paper in mind!) Of course, Stevenson might have made it, if he had been able to talk to people instead of professors. Of course, there hasn't been anyone like Nixon before because the rest of them at least had souls! Ideally, Justice William Douglas would be the best President, but he has been divorced so he couldn't make it -- but I've got an  idea -- how about Douglas for President and Kennedy for Vice-President, then the Catholics  who wouldn't have voted for Douglas would vote because of Kennedy so it wouldn't matter if he is so divorced! Then Stevenson could be Secretary of State!

Now, Lester, on Castro. You see, Lester, I was brought up to believe in democracy, and when the Cubans finally threw out Battista [sic] with so much bloodshed, the United States doesn't stand behind them and give them help or support even to develop democracy.  I can understand a "John Daly" on an American national broadcast making fun of Castro for having appeared at one of his country's national functions in a tuxedo. (I use the above as an example.) But the New York Times' responsibility to keep its readers informed - means in an unbiased way. I don't know, somehow I have always counted on The Times, and not entirely because you're there.

How are you, Lester? Did your amarillys bloom this year? Mine didn't - it's a little like me. But maybe there's still hope. How late do they bloom?

I hope Mrs. Markel is well. I take for granted she is happy since she sits at the foot of your table.

I am enclosing an unfinished letter to you that I didn't tear up. (Started in California).

About Arthur [Miller] and your Sunday piece. What do you want me to do- persuade him? Undue influence on my part wouldn't be quite hocky [sic] would it?

It's true I am in your building quite frequently mostly to see my wonderful doctor as your spies have already reported. I didn't want you to get a glimpse of me though until I was wearing my Somali leopard. I want you to think of me as a predatory animal.

Love and kisses,

P.S. Sloans for late '60:

"Nix on Nixon"
"Over the hump with Humphrey (?)"
"Stymied with Symington"
"Back to Boston by Xmas- Kennedy"

13 August 2019

Don't worry, everything will be Jake

John Barrymore fell instantly in love with Dolores Costello after she had been cast as his co-star in The Sea Beast (1926). Still married to his second wife Blanche Oelrichs, Barrymore started an affair with Costello which eventually led to their marriage in November 1928. Barrymore and Costello had two children, daughter Dolores in 1930 and son John Drew in 1932. (With Oelrichs Barrymore also had a daughter, Diana, born in 1921.)

By 1934, the marriage was in serious trouble, mainly because of Barrymore's excessive drinking. Barrymore, addicted to alcohol since the age of fourteen, had been drinking continuously for two years (according to Costello) and began to experience several alcohol-related health issues, both physical and mental. Afraid that his wife was going to declare him mentally incompetent, Barrymore left Los Angeles in the fall of 1934, travelling to England to work and afterwards spending time in India. He came back to the US at the end of January 1935, not returning to Costello in LA but settling in New York instead. There, a month later, Barrymore fell ill and was admitted to a hospital where he was visited by a 19-year-old fan, Elaine Jacobs. The two became friends and started a much-publicised relationship. Jacobs (later Barrie) eventually became Barrymore's fourth and last wife.

Dolores Costello filed for divorce on grounds of "cruelty and habitual intemperance" in May 1935, demanding custody of the children and financial support. Later that year, in October, Costello filed a new suit, dropping the original charge of cruelty while accusing Barrymore only of desertion. The divorce was a bitter financial fight, nevertheless Costello said in a later interview: "Whenever I think of John, it is with great compassion". 

While Costello is said to have initiated the divorce proceedings, a letter from John Barrymore (as seen below) indicates that he had asked her for a divorce several months before she officially filed for it. The letter, written on 8 February 1935, is quite respectful and courteous, with Barrymore asking Costello for a quick settlement of the legal matters "in as friendly a fashion as possible". The divorce between Barrymore and Costello was ultimately finalised in October 1936.

Above: Lionel and John photographed at the Hollywood opening of Don Juan in 1926. Below: John, Ethel and Lionel in 1904.

The day after he had written to his wife, John Barrymore also wrote a letter to his four-year-older brother Lionel, this letter obviously quite different in tone. From what I've read online, John adored and was very much in awe of his big brother. (Later Lionel would dismiss this as nonsense: "He was awed by only one person in the world, the same person who awed me: Ethel.") It seems only natural that John would discuss his impending divorce with Lionel, although he didn't really say much about it in the letter, feeling his brother could supply most of it himself. In any case Lionel was not to worry, said John, assuring him that everything would be fine.

Incidentally, John and Ethel called Lionel "Mike" and John was usually called "Jack" or "Jake".

Source: icollector.com


Hotel New Yorker
New York
Feb. 7. 1935

Dear Dolores:

This is rather a difficult letter to write to you but believe me I do it after having considered everything very deeply. We might as well face the fact like two civilized people that it is quite evident for your own happiness as well as mine that our life together has come to an end. In fact as you know our proper relationship as husband and wife really terminated about a year ago. Therefore let us get together to make the necessary legal arrangements in as friendly a fashion as possible for our own sakes as well as for the children. I think the sooner this is started the better, and as certain picture negotations require me to remain in New York for the present I have asked Senator McAdoo's partner in Los Angeles, Col. W. H. Neblett, to act as my legal representative to hand you this letter and to meet you to discuss some plan by which we can get our affairs in order.

I hope that in a few weeks I can settle the business matters that keep me here now, and come to California to see you and the children before going again to England. But meanwhile I hope that rapid progress can be made in settlement of our problems, as the English picture may start sooner than is now planned.


Source: icollector.com


Febr. 8. 1935

Dear Mike -

You know I can't put in a god damned letter, which are foul things anyway, one tenth of what I want to say to you, but I don't think that's so damned necessary as you can supply most of it yourself. The whole thing is cold, and worse than that, and from something I vaugely [sic] remember before I was even married to the shrimp. When we were together at the Ambassador you won't be unduly surprised!! Nobody knows better than you how difficult in a way these kind of letters are to write, but I know I don't have to write you anything as your bean and your soul don't need it.

Everything is all right and I feel fine. Ever so much love to you Mike. Give my best love and thanks to Irene*-  and don't worry
Everything will be Jake.
Much love

Irene Fenwick was Lionel's wife from 1923 until her early death in 1936. Before she became involved with Lionel, Irene had dated John. Lionel's marriage to Irene caused a rift between the brothers who didn't speak to each other for a few years. When Irene died of anorexia at age 49, John was a big support to Lionel taking over his role of Scrooge on the radio.

(l-r) Lionel Barrymore, Irene Fenwick, Dolores Costello and John Barrymore in Palm Springs in February 1933.


7 August 2019

This script would make a very good trailer

During her impressive career, Ginger Rogers had turned down many a role. Some of the parts she had refused were terrific parts, for example the female leads in His Girl Friday (1940), Ball Of Fire (1942), To Each His Own (1946) and The Snake Pit (1948). Ginger later admitted that she should have accepted these roles, but at the time she was waiting for something better to come along (the ultimate part that never came).

Ginger also rejected Bachelor Mother (1939). She hated the script and refused to do it, after which RKO production chief Pandro Berman suspended her without pay. Ginger eventually agreed to do the film, reluctantly. When the film was finished, she still didn't like it. Audiences, however, loved it and the film became a big hit, one of the biggest of Ginger's career.

Above: Ginger Rogers with Bachelor Mother's director Garson Kanin (middle) and Pandro Berman who suspended Ginger after she had refused to make the film. Below: Ginger and co-star David Niven in my favourite scene from Bachelor Mother.

Over the years Ginger grew to like Bachelor Mother, as is evident from the following memo sent to RKO's "Charlie" in May 1945. Ginger wrote the memo to reject another script that was offered to her, Make Way for the Bride. (Searching online, I found no film under that title, so I guess it was never made; and if it was, it must have been made under a different title without Ginger.) Having made very clear what she thought of the scriptGinger went on to mention several scripts she did like including Bachelor Mother (unlike Ginger, I have always loved that film). She concludes the memo by mentioning two other films she made deserving of a "rousing raspberry", i.e. Having Wonderful Time (1938), co-starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Lucky Partners (1940), co-starring Ronald Colman.


Memo from Ginger Rogers


Dear Charlie...

I hereby return the script you sent me, "Make Way for the Bride", which I am tactfully renaming, "Make Way for the Broom". Unfortunately, I think the latter title is more appropriate. Get it? If you do, you may stay for the $64 question.

Personally, I think this script would make a very good trailer. In my opinion the writer made a mistake by not throwing away the original idea and starting fresh.

Here's to more scrips like "Kitty Foyle", "Tom, Dick and Harry", "Bachelor Mother" and "Vivacious Lady". And here's a rousing raspberry for scripts like "Lucky Partners", "Having A Wonderful Time"and last and really least, "Make Way for the Bride." Hope to see you soon.


[The image above doesn't show the P.S. Ginger had added to her memo: "P.S.: Guess what? Morally and legally I do NOT like it".]

Ginger in three films she did like: (l to r): with James Stewart in Vivacious Lady (1938), James Craig in Kitty Foyle (1940) and Burgess Meredith in Tom, Dick and Harry (1941).