Hollywood’s Last Lonely Places
Hollywood’s Last Lonely Places
The Sad, Short Stories of Barbara Payton and Marilyn Monroe
Abstract and Keywords
Transition-era Hollywood began with the dead body of Elizabeth Short and ended with two more discarded young women, Barbara Payton and Marilyn Monroe, two more casualties found at the crossroads between a dreamed-of life in the sunny city of angels and the reality lived by so many naïve arrivals after the Second World War. Payton and Monroe were glamorous movie stars who began their careers at the very moment Short ended hers. The Black Dahlia murder maybe did not register much with them. Or maybe it did and they figured a shot at movie celebrity was worth the risk. Payton and Monroe believed they were going to be different. They believed in what men had for years been whispering in their ears: “you’re so pretty you should be in pictures.” They were (pretty that is)… and they did (appear in pictures). But movie-land success was for them a mixed blessing at best, their dreamed-of Hollywood celebrity hopelessly complicated by a new breed of industry middlemen, gangsters, and gossip, their lives cut short before their fortieth birthdays.
Keywords: Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Payton, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Mobsters (gangsters), Movie stars, Hollywood scandals, Arthur Miller, Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Gossip, Confidential Magazine
I began this history of postwar Hollywood with the dead body of Elizabeth Short dumped and eerily posed in a vacant lot on the near outskirts of Los Angeles. And I end here with two more discarded young women, two more casualties found at the crossroads between the dreamed-of Hollywood (still based, for these dreamers, on a discarded industry model from Hollywood’s golden or classical age) and the real thing, the crossroads between an imagined life in the sunny City of the Angels and the reality lived by the many naïve arrivals after World War II. These two final bodies belong to Barbara Payton and Marilyn Monroe, glamorous movie stars found dead before their fortieth birthdays.
Both Payton and Monroe began their careers at the very moment Short ended hers. The Black Dahlia murder maybe did not register much with them. Or maybe it did, and they figured a shot at movie celebrity was worth the risk. Certainly they believed they were going to be different.
Payton and Monroe believed in what ex-boyfriends and photographers had for years been whispering in their ears: “You’re so pretty, you should be in pictures.” They were (pretty, that is) … and they did (appear in pictures). But movieland success was for Payton and Monroe a mixed blessing at best, their dreamed-of Hollywood celebrity hopelessly complicated by a new breed of industry middlemen, gangsters, and gossip.
I always imagined, if I could look like her I could toss my red hair into the wind … and meet the man of my dreams.
—1950s movie fan imagining what it might be like to be a movie star
In February 1967 two garbage men were doing their jobs outside what we would now call a strip mall on Fairfax and Sunset, behind a Thrifty Drugstore, an A&P Supermarket, and The Brush Wave Beauty Shop. They had just emptied a dumpster when they walked over to a pile of what looked like spilled garbage, which they soon discovered was the body of a woman lying on her side, dressed in a loose cotton shift and flip-flops, blood dried and caked thick under her nose. They assumed the old woman was dead. She wasn’t—old, that is—and she wasn’t quite dead yet, either.
One of the men later remarked that the woman was so battered, so worn out, that it looked as if she had been “dumped from out of the sky.” She was, sort of. The body in question belonged to a former movie star named Barbara Payton. The garbage men didn’t recognize her; but you could hardly blame them. Her career had ended in 1955, so a long time had passed—by Hollywood standards, at least. Payton hadn’t had a film credit for twelve years, and the scandal for which she was notorious, one that involved a fight (over her, of course) that put one man in a coma and got the other booted out of town, involved Hollywood players long past their best days and likely forgotten as well. In 1967, as her biographer John O’Dowd describes her, Payton was “a former star and tabloid queen,” and maybe not in that order. After twelve years on the bottle, in 1967 Payton had taken to playing a different role; that of “a longtime denizen of Hollywood’s Skid Row.”1
News of the Barbara Payton body dump—body discovery, more precisely—never made it past the city desk at the Times; there were plenty of drunks found and mistaken for dead in Hollywood by then. And it wasn’t until May 11, a few months after the body dump non-story outside Thrifty Drugs and three days after her dead body was discovered on the bathroom floor of her parents’ house in San Diego (where she was, at all of 39 years old, “convalescing”) that a Times reporter named Dial Torgerson insisted to his editors that the former actress’s death was newsworthy, that her short and sad life proffered a cautionary Hollywood story worth telling yet again. (p.154)
The Times headline put her life and legacy in context: “Barbara Payton, Once Object of Film Stars’ Fistfight, Dies.” She was, as Torgerson noted, an actress for whom, “fame turned to notoriety.” The fateful fistfight between her fiancé and lover was in its day front-page news. Indeed, much of what she did was newsworthy back in 1951, even if her work as an actor never amounted to much. The industry, Torgerson reported tersely, “tried to forget the bad publicity, but instead forgot her.”2
Payton had resisted being forgotten and as late as 1963, her career well behind her, published a memoir titled I Am Not Ashamed.3 Torgerson acknowledged the book in his article, noting that it “told how her career plummeted from one Hollywood scene to another: from nightclubbing on the Sunset Strip, when she wore a $10,000 mink coat and drove a new Cadillac convertible, to the seamy side street where she (p.155) lived with a bootblack, working as a prostitute.”4 Payton was in the early 1950s famous for being famous. And then she wasn’t famous any more. And then she was dead.
As to the book’s title, the essayist Robert Polito notes that “I am not ashamed” was a phrase the former actress had often used to punctuate the Hollywood stories she told to her fellow barflies at the Coach and Horses, a Hollywood saloon she frequented at the end of her life. Polito befriended Payton and in his contribution to Luc Sante and Melissa Holbrooke Pierson’s collection O.K. You Mugs: Writers on Movie Actors reminisces about a chance encounter with the former actress at the bar during which she opined: “You know, if I had to do this all over again, I’d do the same. … You are what you are, and there’s no out. You do what you have to do.”5 No one at the bar, Polito recalls, had any idea who Payton was. And even if they did, they would never have been able to reconcile who she once was with the woman they found sitting beside them. Here was a body briefly stalled late in the process of being discarded; here was another Hollywood dreamer about to be dumped literally and then figuratively by the side of the road.
Payton’s memoir had a predictable impact, especially among those who escaped her sorry fate. For example, the actress Barbara Stanwyck summed up the book in a terse remark: “I am not ashamed? Well, she damned well should have been.”6 But shame was beside the point for Payton in 1963; it was already too late for that. And anyway, Stanwyck was hardly one to talk … given her activities above and below board for the Motion Picture Alliance and later as a friendly witness complicit with HUAC, given her abandonment of her son, Dion, whom she adopted as a trophy of sorts and then discarded when he never quite fit her plans.7 Sure, some of Payton’s peers, like Stanwyck, were luckier or smarter or more talented; there were of course successful female stars who survived the Hollywood party scene, who survived the booze, the sex, the older men in the movie business, the scary guys in the gangster business. It’s not hard to appreciate why Stanwyck was so quick to dismiss Payton … it was because she saw in Payton how a bit of bad, dumb luck might have cost her too.
Payton’s career was in fact upended by a run of bad, dumb luck that began one afternoon in July 1951, when she first spied the actor Tom Neal at a pool party at the Sunset Plaza Apartments, in Hollywood. By then Neal had earned a reputation as a brawler and a reckless womanizer. He had palled around with Errol Flynn, with whom he shared a Malibu beach house, and Mickey Rooney, another of Hollywood’s (p.156) notorious ladies’ men. Neal was a for-real badass, and that was a big part of the attraction for Payton. His darker, violent side and her attraction to it would become significant in ways no one would be able to control in the months to come.
Before he and Payton hooked up, Neal had had two affairs that had warranted attention: one as the much younger “kept man” of Inez Martin, the former mistress of the gangster Arnold Rothstein in New York and then, upon his arrival in Los Angeles, an affair with the movie star (and at the time the ex-wife of Payton’s future husband Franchot Tone) Joan Crawford, whom Neal had two-timed with a studio executive’s wife. The revelation of Neal’s unfaithfulness led Louis B. Mayer, at Crawford’s insistence, to release Neal from his MGM contract after just one year. The risks and rewards to a relationship with Neal were readily apparent and manifold.
Neal famously remarked after the Crawford affair ended so badly that “women come and go like trolley cars.” But that proved to be an empty boast when it came to Payton; Neal fell for her just as hard as she fell for him. And his career, already heading downward after he had so disrespected Crawford, came quite undone after his encounter with Payton.
In 1951, Neal was a struggling actor, one of the many unmoored, out-of-contract players in Hollywood. Movie stars benefited from independence after the war. But for character actors like Neal, the contract meant a lot; it meant steady work and a steady paycheck. The banishment from MGM had put him in a difficult albeit increasingly common spot, as he became an independent actor on the hustle, taking whatever roles he could get, mostly in B-movies and on TV. Neal’s one remarkable credit before he met Payton was a starring role in Edgar Ulmer’s Detour, a 1945 B-noir that has acquired cult status with buffs and scholars alike but warranted little attention upon its initial release. The film is an annihilating melodrama in which one false move sets Neal’s character on the road to ruin. Life for him would soon enough imitate art.
To get cast, Neal had to put himself “out there,” looking fit and trim in a bathing suit, for example, at parties much like the one at the Sunset Plaza, where Payton first laid eyes on him and he first laid eyes on her. In her memoir, Payton described with characteristic frankness the impression Neal made on her: “He was a beautiful hunk of a man. He had a chemical buzz for me that sent red peppers down my thighs.” Though she knew better—she knew that unlike some of the other men at the party, Neal couldn’t help her career—“[her] heart paid no attention.”8 (p.157)
Payton was at the time engaged to Tone, an actor with a serious pedigree. Tone was at the Group Theater at the very beginning in the early 1930s and studied for a while with the godfather of the Method, Lee Strasberg. After stage roles in New York, Tone went on to an enviable list of major-movie credits, including featured roles in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Henry Hathaway, 1935) and Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd, 1935). Payton met Tone at Ciro’s in 1950, the year the Hollywood Foreign Press dubbed her the most beautiful girl in pictures.
Tone was in style and content quite the opposite of Neal; he was as suave as his rival was rough. But he was as well a veteran of Hollywood scandal; his bitter divorce in 1949 from the actress Jean Wallace led her, then a B-movie star, to attempt suicide, garnering front-page headlines in the L.A. dailies: “Franchot Tone’s Ex-Wife Jean Wallace Stabs Self: Mother Awakened by Screams in the Night, Wrests Knife from Daughter in Kitchen.”9 A month later Wallace was arrested for drunk driving after hitting a parked car. As the tabloids enthusiastically reported, she was dressed “only in a red coat, lace-trimmed panties, and bedroom (p.158) slippers.”10 Wallace and Tone had since 1950 been embroiled in a bitter custody suit that would persist for most of the rest of the decade.11
The notorious movie sex symbol Hedy Lamarr and Tone hooked up briefly after his divorce. She was a for-real movie star who had rocked the film world before she turned twenty with a provocative performance in the pre-Code export Ecstasy (Gustav Machaty) in 1933. Her celebrity had hardly diminished in the intervening years; indeed, when she became Tone’s rebound fling, she had just completed playing the role of the notorious biblical temptress in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 epic Samson and Delilah.
Tone moved on to Payton after he and Lamarr split. The young actress had in the previous few years impressed in supporting roles: opposite Lloyd Bridges in Trapped (Richard Fleischer, 1949), James Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (Gordon Douglas, 1950), and Gregory Peck in Only the Valiant (Gordon Douglas, 1951). And though she had just landed the lead in a film a few giant steps below Samson and Delilah—namely The Bride of the Gorilla (Curt Siodmak, 1951), produced for the comically named Realart Pictures—the young actress seemed to be looking forward to her career much as Lamarr would soon be looking back.
Lamarr turned thirty-five in 1949, and the DeMille film would indeed prove to be her last important role. When Payton met Tone, she was twenty-four. And he was forty-six. She was at the time a notorious Hollywood party girl who had been for the past few years hitching her star, such as it was, to a series of wealthy and famous men. However much love figured into the equation, Payton appreciated the fact that Tone knew a lot of people who could help her career—people who could get her cast in films better than some silly King Kong knockoff. As things played out, nabbing Tone would be Payton’s last really good idea. And in the end, she wasn’t cynical enough, and she wasn’t practical enough to see it through.
Love’s Lonely Fugitive: Barbara Payton’s Sad and Short Hollywood Life
The glittering clubs along the Sunset Strip have crowned a new queen—Warner Bros.’ blazing blonde bombshell Barbara Payton, who is turning heads nightly as she winds her superb curves through all the hottest spots in town. … The impression Barbara made in Warners’ Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is almost as impressive as the one she’s making on the local club scene.
—Harrison Carroll, columnist, The Hollywood Reporter, 1950
(p.159) In the late winter of 1946 Barbara Payton exchanged a part-time job cleaning other people’s apartments for a part-time job modeling for department stores and local style and clothing magazines.12 The men who took her picture, the men who spied her at department-store showcases, told her she was pretty (she was), that she should be in the movies. It was a pickup line as often as not. And Payton knew that. But by then she knew what she wanted, and she had a decent idea what it might take to get it.
At first, Payton seemed to have the right stuff—the ambition and the moxie necessary to complement her good looks. Payton’s moxie was very much on display at her successful audition for her first big part, Holiday Carleton in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye—a behind-closed-doors, off-camera performance that overnight made her one of the most talked-about young actresses in Hollywood. In retrospect, it may also have been her best performance on screen or off. As Payton tells the story in her memoir: “I went over to Cagney Productions. It was a scorching hot day. I was a little late, and I hurried up the two flights of stairs that led to the casting office. … There were about a dozen girls about my age waiting there. They were all cool and looking at ease. I was hot, disheveled, and puffing. What I needed was a trick. I took advantage of the first one that came to mind. I went through the door into the casting director’s office, sat down on the couch, kicked off my shoes, and fanned my legs with my dress and said, ‘Shit! It’s a hot fucking day!’”13 Talk about Payton’s “It’s a hot fucking day” flashing stunt circulated industrywide, as did gossip about its logical second act, Payton’s affair with the film’s producer, William Cagney, who was twenty-two years her senior.
Many of the reviews of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye highlighted Payton’s performance. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, the Hollywood beat writer Edwin Shallert wrote: “She’s something of a blond savage when she really gets going in the part, [and she] sustains it remarkably for a newcomer.”14 The Hollywood Reporter lauded Payton: “In the difficult role of a basically good girl who turns evil in spite of herself, [Payton] makes a vivid appearance. She manages the subtle transition with polished artistry.”15 And the Variety review of the film singled her out as well: “Barbara Payton impresses as the girl who first falls victim to his tough fascination.”16 Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye launched the newly formed William Cagney Productions and had a significant, practical importance to James Cagney’s career as he navigated out from under his Warner Bros. contract. In the summer of 1950, Payton seemed to be a surprising reason why the new venture might well be successful.
(p.160) Payton’s relationship with the movie-star manager William Cagney came with plenty of perks for both parties. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was Payton’s first big break, a role that certainly got her noticed. For William Cagney, Payton was a dazzling piece of eye candy that made plenty of men in the industry envious. She was fun to be with, and if the film turned out to be the start of something big for her, careerwise, she might well prove to be a profitable new client besides. Whatever his motivations may have been—the quid pro quo in place was easy enough to appreciate—William Cagney had the young actress’s future in mind when he consistently and prominently featured her image in the film’s promotional materials. On the film’s theatrical poster and lobby cards used to support the August 4, 1950, release, for example, we find Payton seated provocatively on James Cagney’s lap with a dialogue bubble above their heads: “Kiss me, Honey. … I can handle trouble.” The image ran alongside the tagline “James Cagney makes love to danger in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” It was Payton, or so the promotional material suggested, who provided the danger; and as the poster image made clear, she was the object of his, as the title suggests, self-destructive desire.
Payton soon traded up, exchanging the producer William Cagney for the movie star Franchot Tone. With Tone, she frequented the MGM commissary, where she palled around with her new paramour’s former co-star Clark Gable. As the actor (and another of Payton’s former lovers) Steve Hayes reports of her halcyon days at MGM, “Babs seemed perfectly comfortable and at ease with these guys, like she was exactly where she belonged.”17
But Payton’s problem was that she was at ease with a whole lot of guys, including her co-star (in William Cameron Menzies’ 1951 film Drums in the Deep South) Guy Madison,18 the millionaire entrepreneur and film producer Howard Hughes,19 and two particularly shady characters from the Los Angeles underworld: the Hollywood drug dealer Don Cougar and his sidekick, a so-called jewelry salesman and Sunset Strip playboy, the mobster Stanley Adams. Her relationship with Cougar and Adams figured within a larger calculated risk that was not uncommon for aspiring actresses in the 1950s. Gangsters moved easily within the very club culture ambitious actresses by necessity frequented. It was a dangerous game that went badly for many of these young women; it got Jean Spangler involved with Little Davy Ogul, which soon involved her participation in shakedowns and blackmail, and then got her disappeared. And on October 29, 1950, just two months after (p.161)
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye had gotten her noticed (for the right reasons), it landed Payton in front of a Federal Grand Jury looking into the murder of one Abraham (“Singing Abe”) Davidian, a Mob stool pigeon who was discovered shot dead in his mother’s home, in Fresno.
Adams had been Davidian’s former partner in crime, and as it turned out, Adams was the gangster Singing Abe was ratting out.20 Payton was called to testify and arrived at the courtroom on Tone’s arm. On the stand and under oath, Payton alibied Adams; she testified that he was with her in Los Angeles at the time of the murder.21When Payton testified that on the night of Davidian’s murder she was entertaining Cougar and Adams in her apartment, her testimony was either an admission of (p.162) a sexual impropriety or it was perjury. Or, as Tone no doubt appreciated, maybe it was both. The press coverage of Payton’s testimony repeatedly put Tone’s personal judgment in question; what, after all, was he doing with her? Moreover, the press coverage of his relationship with Payton was complicating his effort to secure full and permanent custody of his sons in his legal struggles with Wallace.22 Payton was trouble. And Tone was starting to figure that out.
In the early fall of 1951, Payton’s affections vacillated with hookups and breakups, reconciliations and recriminations attending a romantic triangle including herself, Tone, and Neal. For those keeping score, Payton was on the fateful afternoon and evening of September 13, 1951, when she decided to spend the day in bed with Tone at the Beverly Hills Hotel, officially or technically engaged to Neal. Neal heard about the liaison and the hours spent afterward partying (in front of his friends!) at Ciro’s, and eventually caught up with Payton and Tone at an after-hours party at her house, at 1803 Courtney Avenue, in the tony Laurel Canyon neighborhood just north of Hollywood Boulevard. It took him a while to get there. He had to find a friend to drive him to Payton’s, as, to make matters even more irritating; Payton had been using his car to move about town with Tone.
In her memoir, Payton reflected upon her inability to choose between the two men. It reads like a bad ’50s melodrama; a woman fraught by a choice between practicality and romance, a choice between a man who would be good for her career and another who would be more fun in and out of bed. Tone was likable, she said, and suave; he hung around with Gable and got the best tables at the best clubs in town. But he was a whole lot older than she was. Neal “rocked [her] haunches every time [she] looked at him.” But the relationship was, in her own words, “a train to nowhere.”23
When Neal finally arrived at Payton’s apartment on the night of the 13th he got into a shouting match with Tone. He had been drinking all day and according to Payton he was spoiling for a fight.24 The Times report on the incident quoted Payton telling Tone to get rid of Neal, an entreaty that the actor foolishly obliged. Payton was cast as the only sure villain in the Times article, the first most Los Angelenos would read about the incident, especially since the reporters based their story on interviews with Neal’s roommate, Jimmy Cross, and his attorney, Milton Golden, both of whom were at the scene. “Neal tried to talk Tone out of fighting,” Cross told the Times, “but [thanks to Payton] Tone wouldn’t have it that way.” Cross further contended that Tone swung (p.163) first and missed and then Neal dropped the older man with a quick combination. Golden separately confirmed Cross’s version, adding that “Tom always liked Tone. They were personal friends.” They weren’t, of course, and Golden knew that. But since the Times offered the attorney a forum, he took full advantage, carefully establishing Neal’s relative innocence in case Tone died from the beating, which was a distinct possibility at the time. Both Cross and Golden insisted that when Tone offered to defend Payton’s honor, Neal tried to reason with him, noting the difference in their ages and boxing skill. (Much was made throughout the coverage of Neal’s brief career as a boxer.) At one point, according to Neal’s friends, the younger actor cautioned Tone about the perils of bad publicity that would undoubtedly follow a fistfight, to which the more established actor allegedly replied: “When you have bad publicity you just have to take it. And this is the way it is going to be.”25
By most accounts—and there were plenty of accounts on the newsstands in the days to follow—the fight was decided by one punch or at most a single quick flurry of punches from Neal. How many more times Neal hit or kicked Tone while he was prone and defenseless was the only subject of debate; several eyewitnesses reported a brutal, prolonged attack, whereas Neal and his entourage contended that he hit Tone at most once or twice after the first blows had decided things.
Payton’s version was decidedly cinematic: she claimed she threw herself on Tone’s prone body to protect him, and for her trouble Neal had blackened her eye and torn her dress. Predictably, the reporters for the Herald-Express ran with Payton’s fantastical version, commenting on the torn dress in wonderfully inappropriate and typical tabloid fashion: “When Neal socked her, Barbara’s dress was tore [sic] clear up to there … revealing the sexy legs both knew so well.”26 The dailies infused the real-Hollywood melodrama—one woman, two men: an impossible choice!—with a paradoxical mix of exploitative voyeurism (those “sexy legs both knew so well”) and self-righteous moralizing. Such sensational reports distracted from the facts of the matter—facts that were altogether unsettling; the initial reports from the hospital were that Tone was in grave condition: he had suffered a concussion, a broken nose, and assorted other facial injuries. Neal was unhurt and unmarked.
On September 15th, the Los Angeles Times began to speculate on the criminal investigation into the beating under the page-2 headline “Franchot Tone Badly Hurt in Fight at Actress’ Home: Chief Parker Orders Probe on Battle with Actor Tom Neal.” According to the article, Police Chief William Parker had taken a particular interest in the case and had (p.164) turned the investigation over to three veteran officers, one of whom, Lieutenant William Reid, worked in homicide.27 According to the Times, Neal would likely be indicted. After all, Tone had every reason to press charges. And if he died from his injuries, the police and district attorney’s office had Lieutenant Reid already on the case.
In a separate page-2 article, the Times recounted Payton’s recollection of the event. This was her first real chance to tell her side of the story. The actress disputed the contention that Tone had thrown the first punch, that the fight ensued only after Neal had advised the older actor to back down. Payton asserted—though as she digressed it became clear that her memory of actual events was pretty vague—that Tone “was not the sort of man who would strike anyone first.” Neal had admitted that he was angry when he had ventured to Payton’s home; he had grown sick of Payton’s indecision and her philandering, and he had decided to break off their engagement. Further, he resented how she had been (and here the Times reporters quoted Neal) “playing him” … he was particularly irked that she had used his car to facilitate the afternoon liaison with Tone; a matter that was, for him, “the final straw.”28
In the days that followed, Payton tried to spin the story. She exploited a series of photo ops at the California Hospital, where Tone convalesced. She kept a straight face as she insisted that she had really loved only Tone and that she would from that day forward dedicate her life to his recovery and ensuing happiness. On the 16th, for example, just two days after the fight, the Times publicized Payton’s new spin on the story under the colorful headline “Barbara Ignores Rules to See Tone: Blonde Climbs Fire Escape for Two-Hour Visit with Suitor.” The headline was suitably cinematic, and the accompanying narrative came complete with Tone’s doctor’s unintentionally comical admonition that a man in Tone’s condition didn’t need the kind of excitement that Payton’s visits had generated.
Neal’s public-relations and legal team were engaged as well in damage control; at Golden’s suggestion, Neal offered an apology: “I feel awful about Tone. I liked him even if we were in love with the same girl. I’ll do anything I can to help, blood transfusions, anything.” Neal was for a multitude of reasons worried about Tone’s recovery, and he had become anxious because the cops seemed to be urging Tone to press assault charges. But even if assault charges were not forthcoming, he knew his future as an actor in Hollywood was probably over. As the Times reported, the fight had been the bloodiest in recent memory. And there was a larger Hollywood narrative in play, one that was familiar to (p.165)
anyone following the celebrity beat, one that fueled an increasing public resentment, stoked by the press, regarding entitled movie stars. The scandal featured three privileged Hollywood celebrities, handsome people with too much money and time and little regard for the consequences of their behavior. All three carelessly risked professional and personal lives most Americans deeply desired, and all for a distracting night or two in the sack—a risk many fans could not condone or understand.
As coverage of the fight and its aftermath persisted, reporters for the Times got more and more dismissive of the principals and more and more cynical about their motives. They described Payton derisively as a (p.166) sloe-eyed Texas blonde and cynically opined that her handlers planned to use the scandal to promote her forthcoming eighteenth-century costume picture (then in preproduction) … after all, an unidentified publicist for the production company remarked, “that’s the way men fought for women in the eighteenth century.”29 The reporters recast the romantic melodrama (the story line encouraged by Payton) as a bedroom farce, reporting on where Neal was really living in the late summer of 1951 (mostly with Payton, as the story unfolded) and on exactly whom Payton planned to marry (on the 14th it was Tone, even though she was at the time engaged to Neal; weeks earlier she had been engaged to Tone but couldn’t stay away from the younger actor).
In the end no amount of damage control could counter the bad publicity. Less than two months after the scandal first hit the newspapers and just days after the absurd Hollywood public-relations event that was the Tone-Payton nuptials—they married on September 28th, less than two weeks after Neal had put Tone in the hospital—Payton was fired from her contract with William Cagney Productions. The eighteenth-century period piece mentioned in the Times never got made; at least it never got made with Payton. Bride of the Gorilla would in the end be the actress’s final Hollywood showcase, and it was, of course, a far cry from Warner Bros. and the A-picture future that seemed just months earlier firmly within her reach. In the late fall of 1951 Barbara Payton was twenty-four years old. And the end of her movie career was already at hand.
Hollywood Postmortem: Actress Barbara Payton, Dead at Thirty-Nine
Everything in this apartment was paid for on my back. And I’m damn proud of it, too.
—Barbara Payton, giving a tour of the West Hollywood home she shared with Tom Neal in 1952
In February 1967, when she was found drunk and unconscious, left for dead outside the Hollywood A&P, Barbara Payton was thirty-nine years old. She looked a lot older, and in a lot of ways she was. When she died, three months later, industry columnists exploited the occasion to ruminate on the wages of sin in postwar Hollywood, doing so with a mix of condescension and self-righteous moralizing that had come to characterize transition-era Hollywood history.
Payton was to the end philosophical on her rise and fall in Hollywood, which she summed up in the title of her memoir; there was, for (p.167) her, no shame in desire and ambition. That her professional life was complexly tied to sex was not particularly unusual for a female movie star in 1950s Hollywood. And that she would eventually turn to prostitution after her brief acting career faltered was as well a familiar scenario. What were the differences, Payton pondered in her memoir, between what she did to make it in the film business—what she did to get noticed on the nightclub circuit and after that fateful audition for William Cagney—and what she did, what she had to do to pay for drinks at the Horse and Coaches a decade later? The so-called casting couch was a very real aspect of professional mobility for actresses in the studio era. By the time Payton arrived on the scene, the couch was more a metaphor than a real piece of studio furniture; and that metaphor referred to a practice that, like a lot of film work, had moved off the studio lots and into more random, temporary, and sometimes risky sites. As an aspiring young actress, Payton slept with plenty of men to get noticed, to get cast and contracted, to become part of the glamorous Hollywood scene. Looking back in 1967, the price she had paid still seemed a fair-enough deal.
Payton was a movie star for at most two years. By the time she published her memoir, she he had been a has-been for fifteen. The intervening years were not kind. First, predictably, Payton and Tone’s marriage didn’t last. She was able to stick with the public-relations story that she created after the fight—that she had always loved only Tone—for all of fifty days. She was never that good an actress. The Payton-Tone divorce, finalized a few months later, was acrimonious, with Tone using a file of photographs that he had assembled from private investigations over the years—of Payton and Madison, of Payton and Neal—to blackball her at the studios where he still maintained some clout. The very executives who had enjoyed Payton’s stint as a party girl now damned her for playing the role so convincingly and so well.
Her recollection of the breakup of her marriage to Tone cannily exposes the double standard to which she refused to submit: “[Tone] couldn’t accept me as Barbara Payton from the day of our marriage. If he could have, we might have been happy. But I was the Barbara Payton of Tom Neal’s—of my lovers—of my past—all of it. He hated me for what I had been and loved me for what I was. He tortured himself. I was only somebody for his doubts, fears, recriminations to bounce off. I resolved to [spare him] the torture. It was endless. It built, and there was no end in sight. Every part of my body reminded him of another man. … It couldn’t work. I agreed to give him a divorce by default.”30
(p.168) Payton did her best to maintain her celebrity after the brawl. But she was no longer actually in (the) movies. The scandal sheets kept her in the public eye, but they encouraged a fascination with the past: the master narrative presumed that she had thrown it all away. Every time she tried to restart her career, she found herself caught in a double bind; her celebrity after the fall of 1951 was based upon the fact that she was washed up. And there was no getting around that fact.
In 1953, Payton flew to London to try her luck there. She signed with Hammer Film Productions and starred in two forgettable B-pictures, the inevitably titled Bad Blonde (Reginald Le Borg, 1953) and Four-Sided Triangle (Terence Fischer, 1953). But the relationship didn’t last. In an interview with the British weekly Film News staged during the production of Bad Blonde, Payton opined: “This business of being beautiful just leads to trouble. … Looking the way I do is a curse!” Her producers at Hammer were quoted in the press insisting that she “[had] the goods to become a top international sex symbol,” but in private they acknowledged that she seemed “determined to surround herself with the most unsavory men,” chief among them Tom Neal. When another studio producer mused aloud about Payton during her time at Hammer, he foreshadowed how we would soon talk about Marilyn Monroe, whose arrival on the movie scene with starring roles in Niagara (Henry Hathaway, 1953) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953) roughly coincided with Payton’s Hollywood exit: “[Payton] was an extremely beautiful person,” he remarked, “but deeply troubled.”31 That he used the past tense spoke volumes on the trajectory of her career.
Payton tried to make the most of her opportunity in London, because she knew that a comeback in the United States was pretty unlikely. When the film offers stateside stopped, she signed up for a summer-stock/dinner-theater tour with Neal in a stage version of James M. Cain’s noir novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. That there were obvious synergies between Cain’s story of a wife who falls for a drifter with whom she plots the murder of her husband and Payton’s love triangle with Neal and Tone was built into the show’s promotion. Thus there was a freak-show aspect to the entire run that Payton surely understood. But by then she was already, committedly not ashamed.
Payton’s comeback picture, if it could be called that, in the United States was Run for the Hills (Lew Landers, 1953) for Jack Broder Productions/Realart, the production/distribution team for Bride of the Gorilla. Then came a B-western, The Great Jesse James Raid (1953), (p.169) directed by Le Borg, with whom she had worked on Bad Blonde in the United Kingdom. Payton’s final screen credit was a 1955 cheapie noir titled Murder Is My Beat, directed by—in case there was insufficient coincidence and irony to go around by then—Edgar Ulmer, whose 1945 film Detour had featured Tom Neal’s only memorable work.
With the end of her film career came another marriage (to George A. [Tony] Provas, with whom she lived in Mexico, among other places, until their divorce in 1958) and a series of brushes with the law. She was arrested for passing bad checks at a Hollywood liquor store and then again for soliciting sex with an undercover police officer. Her descent into alcoholism landed her in a series of transient hotels and apartments in Hollywood and downtown L.A. Like Elizabeth Short, who in 1947 could only dream of being Barbara Payton, in her final years in Los Angeles the former actress had herself become a version of the Dahlia, trading sex for food and booze, a dangerous modus operandi that landed Payton in a police station one night, the victim of a teenage gang that beat and raped her. It was another bar pickup gone bad, something Short experienced (at least once) as well.
Neal finally split with Payton in 1955 and moved to Palm Springs, where he got work as a bouncer at a local pickup bar and then bought into an Italian restaurant that soon failed. He moved on to landscaping, and by the time he met and then married Patricia Fenton, a stewardess nearly ten years his junior, his business was doing well—and so, it seemed, was he. Two years later, Fenton died of cancer; and when Neal married again, this time to a receptionist at the local racquet club—a woman named Gail Lee Kloke, who was all of sixteen back when Neal and Tone had squared off over Payton—his temper and penchant for violence got him in trouble once again. The marriage was volatile, and the jealousy that Payton had exploited a decade earlier reemerged. The couple serially separated and reunited. Less than two days after their final reunion Neal found himself again in the newspapers. The New York Daily News headline succinctly captured the story: “Wife, 29, Slain; Actor, 51, Held: Jail Tom Neal in Palm Springs.”32
Two versions of the Kloke murder have circulated over the years. Neal’s version is that during a bout of makeup sex, Kloke pulled a gun on him. Was it a game? Rough sex? Just a dumb idea? He didn’t know. They struggled. And the gun went off by accident as it passed by her head. The forensic analysis conducted by the Palm Springs Police Department suggested otherwise. The cops and the district attorney (p.170) believed a simpler and more obvious scenario: the couple argued after having sex, and in a jealous rage Neal grabbed the gun and shot her.
Neal was arrested and charged with murder. He was broke and tried to borrow money from his family to hire F. Lee Bailey, a famous criminal attorney whom he had read about in the papers. His family refused to pony up and with a far less expensive and capable attorney in his corner Neal was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, eventually serving six years of a fifteen-year sentence in a federal penitentiary. Neal died less than a year after his release, in 1971; he was 58.
Legend has it that Payton attended the sentencing hearing, looking, according to these same reports, “plump, blotchy, and missing several front teeth.” The story may or may not be true, but it sounds about right. She wrote to Neal a few times while he was in prison; but she died before he got out.33
One final bit of eerie symmetry: according to the contemporary gossip site Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen, in 1963 Payton met with the writer John Gilmore, who would later write Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder.34 She told Gilmore a story (recounted in his book) about Tone’s “strange encounter with Elizabeth Short.”35 Payton’s motives were complex and unclear: she had every reason to seek revenge on Tone, who had blackballed her at the studios, and she needed money and figured the story might be worth something to Gilmore. According to the site, Payton died before the writer got to follow up on her lead.
Neal, it turns out, contacted Gilmore as well, touting a Black Dahlia script he claimed was in development and to which he was attached to star as an intrepid detective. Crazy as the project must have sounded at the time—Neal had been living in Palm Springs for half a decade by then, his acting career well behind him—Gilmore tracked down the financier of the proposed film, and he corroborated Neal’s story, adding that the project fell apart only after Neal shot Kloke and got sent to prison … one incomprehensible Southland murder overshadowing another, at least in the short term.36
Hollywood Confidential: Regarding the Legacy of Barbara Payton
Hollywood is in the business of lying. Falsehood is a stock in trade. They use vast press-agent organizations and advertising expenditures to ‘build up’ their ‘stars.’ … The problem with their ‘build ups’ is that they create a phony atmosphere which spoils some of those who are ‘built up.’ From Fatty Arbuckle to Bergman-Rossellini, Hollywood (p.171) has had trouble with its ‘spoiled darlings.’ All we have done is ‘blow the whistle’ on a few of these spoiled ones. We have given the truth to our readers.
—Robert Harrison, editor, Confidential magazine, September 1957
The first issue of the publisher Robert Harrison’s Confidential magazine reached newsstands in November 1952, posting a respectable 140,000 copies sold.37 Four years later readership reached its zenith, five million, exceeding the monthly numbers for such popular mainstream publications as The Ladies’ Home Journal, Colliers, Reader’s Digest, and Look.38 In 1955 the tabloid industry, with Harrison’s Confidential the genre’s best-known publication, put fifteen million scandal-filled copies into print every month.39 There seemed by then to be no limit to filmgoers’ fascination with a new brand of impolite and indiscreet gossip.
Harrison’s magazine was sensational and deeply cynical; it focused on stars’ beauty because it was sure to fade; it reported on the wild behavior of celebrities because one day the high life would certainly bring them back down to Earth. Confidential pledged to “tell all the facts and name all the names,” and however ridiculous and exaggerated such magazines’ stories may have been, the net effect of the genre was to deglamorize celebrity. The policing discourses proffered by Hopper and Parsons were at bottom nostalgic and sentimental; both women measured transition-era celebrity against an idealized, more glamorous classical period. The tabloids gleefully exploited the tawdry stories of transition-era movie and pop-culture celebrities and looked forward toward a profoundly unglamorous future in which filmgoers indulged a more jaundiced view of their idols, in which the price of celebrity involved the surrender of privacy and decency. (That such a future is upon us today is hardly subject to debate.)
Payton’s decline was predictably a popular topic in Confidential and in similar publications such as Bare, Nightbeat, and Vice Squad, in part because the magazines frequently recycled old news. Payton’s 1949 affair with Bob Hope, for example, made the cover of Confidential in July 1956, four months after the magazine had recounted, with photographs, Tone’s discovery of Payton and Madison in “Payton’s boudoir,” which had occurred more than half a decade earlier as well.40 By the summer of 1956, Payton had spent most of the money she had made as an actress. So when Harrison offered to pay her $1,000 for a signed affidavit for information about her affair with Hope, she rather enthusiastically told all the facts and named names. Hope was widely loved (p.172)
(p.173) at the time, and his popularity hinged upon an all-American reputation. But Harrison knew—indeed, almost everyone in Hollywood knew—that Hope was a serial philanderer, and more specifically a nasty cheapskate who had treated Payton shabbily, especially at the end. In 1956, Payton got to enjoy a cold dish of revenge cashing a check for $1,000 on a story she had to wait seven years to tell. And Harrison got to cut a self-righteous superstar down to size.
The phrase “name the names,” which appeared on the cover of Confidential after 1952, struck many in the business as a thinly veiled reference to what HUAC and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) were asking progressive writers, directors, and actors to do if they wanted to keep their jobs. But much as the phrase alluded to a right-wing agenda served by the gossipmongers in the more mainstream press, Harrison’s come-on was, as his attorney Daniel G. Ross remarked in 1957, intended as a counterpoint to the lies purveyed by press agents and fan magazines, a tearing down of the false idols currently worshipped by a deceived public.41
The priority placed on uncensored, impolite, and indiscreet stories rendered Harrison vulnerable to civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution to an extent the syndicated columnists never were and never would be. After all, Hopper and Parsons had newspapers and news syndicates behind them; they exploited complex personal and professional relationships within the movie colony where they were at once feted and feared. They followed policies and practices that Harrison found hypocritical, a complex system of quid pro quo that effectively protected their sources and their stories.
In August 1955, the United States Post Office issued a Withhold from Dispatch order against Harrison, refusing to distribute Confidential through the mail as its uncensored, off-the-record stories (or so the federal agency alleged) defied federal censorship guidelines. Though the order did not portend much of an impact—most of the sales of Confidential were made at newsstands and not via mail subscription—Harrison recognized the importance of an obscenity judgment against him and formally challenged the order. Pending specific proof of obscenity, which in the end was not forthcoming, Harrison forced the postal service to resume mailing the magazine.
A growing number of libel suits filed by Hollywood celebrities who claimed that they were damaged by stories published by Harrison proved to be a much more difficult problem. Unlike Hopper and Parsons, whom Harrison regarded as ersatz celebrities beholden to (p.174) Hollywood hype, the publisher fashioned himself to be an industry outsider. Such a role left him vulnerable, especially when the MPAA weighed in on behalf of the many plaintiffs in 1957 and in doing so put the explicit and considerable support of the entire movie industry behind an effort to put Harrison out of business.
The MPAA’s clout in Sacramento was considerable. At the trade organization’s behest, the state attorney’s office and Governor Pat Brown commenced a grand-jury investigation into Confidential, an investigation that prompted a criminal trial charging Harrison and his cohorts Marjorie and Fred Meade (who ran the dubious outfit Hollywood Research, which blackmailed celebrities into paying hush money to Confidential to forestall publication of embarrassing items and on occasion, in a twist on Hopper and Parsons’ many quid-pro-quo deals, suppressed a negative story in exchange for embarrassing items about other celebrities) with conspiracy to publish criminal libel; conspiracy to publish obscenity; and conspiracy to disseminate information in violation of the California Business and Professions Code.42
In response, in the September 1957 issue of the magazine, Harrison published a full-page statement condemning the state for filing the suit on behalf of the many spoiled-brat celebrities in Hollywood. Confidential, he claimed, had been singled out for the crime of telling the truth.43 As things played out, Harrison was on firm ground using a First Amendment defense for the first two charges. But he was vulnerable on the third, which called into question the magazine’s dubious coverage of abortions and its inclusion of advertisements for male-enhancement products, pregnancy tests, and surgical cures for frigidity, all of which ran afoul of the state’s business code.
A pretrial settlement was sought by both the state and the defense, especially after Judge Herbert V. Walker supported Harrison’s right to subpoena movie stars about whom Confidential had written: “They’ll come to court even if I have to send officers with handcuffs to get them.” Among the celebrities Harrison planned to subpoena were Robert Mitchum, Maureen O’Hara, Lizabeth Scott, June Allyson, Mae West, Walter Pidgeon, and Liberace. However libelous the content of Harrison’s coverage may have been according to the law, the subpoenaed testimony risked an open discussion of topics the celebrities and their studios had, for obvious public-relations reasons, covered up, including homosexuality, miscegenation, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Going into the trial, Harrison knew that he could well win the legal argument but lose his business in the process to a long and expensive legal (p.175) battle; the court might finally support First Amendment protection for gossip, but only at a financial cost the magazine, indeed the entire gossip-magazine industry, could not cover. So Harrison decided to settle, agreeing to pay a modest fine for the abortion articles and male-enhancement ads. He promised as well to refocus the magazine’s investigative journalism away from Hollywood and onto the larger political scene.
Though it was Judge Walker’s decision to allow Harrison to subpoena celebrities that had led the two sides to settle in the first place, when the state’s attorney brought the signed settlement to court, Walker refused to accept the elaborated terms, forcing both parties to try the case in court. The state’s chief witnesses included Maureen O’Hara, who Confidential claimed engaged in lewd behavior with her Mexican boyfriend at Grauman’s Chinese, a public movie theater; the disgruntled former Confidential writer Howard Rushmore; and a prostitute named Ronnie Quinlin, who Confidential claimed consorted with Desi Arnaz in a Las Vegas hotel room. O’Hara’s performance on the stand—she was, after all, a professional actress—initially supported the prosecution’s case, but the defense subsequently undermined her credibility. They marched in a handful of eyewitnesses who testified that they saw O’Hara engaging in heavy petting (one witness claimed she was having intercourse) with a Mexican man in what would become after the trial a Hollywood tourist attraction, Row 35 of the movie theater.44
Rushmore was a lousy witness even in direct testimony. The jury found him to be easily as sleazy as Harrison and the Meades.45 Quinlin, dubbed a soiled dove in the press, offered nothing that materially refuted the Confidential story about her liaison with Arnaz. The prosecution figured that the very act of buying information from a prostitute was proof of Confidential’s immorality and impropriety and that the jury would certainly view her testimony that way. It wasn’t. And they didn’t. The case went to the jury, which after prolonged deliberation failed to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the three charges. Judge Walker had no alternative but to declare a mistrial.
A guilty verdict seemed no more likely in a subsequent trial, but given the cost of mounting a second defense, Harrison decided to settle. The prosecution and defense teams met and agreed again to conditions presented to Judge Walker before the trial. The deal was signed and accepted, and a second trial was averted. Per the settlement, Harrison announced: “We’re quitting the area of private affairs for the arena of public affairs. Where we pried and peeked, now we’ll probe. … It’s a big world, a foolish world, a crazy world, … and we’ll be taking you (p.176) on an inside tour.” Harrison followed through on this promise, but the pubic had little interest in this new and different Confidential. In January 1958, the rights to Confidential and its sister publication Whisper were sold off to Hy Steriman, and the magazine became steadily tamer and less interesting until it was ultimately and finally pointless.46
The scandal magazines published exposés on sex, drugs, and crime in Hollywood. They banked on and reveled in the provocative and wicked stories of movie stars gone wild and bad. The film historian Mary Desjardins argues that Harrison and his fellow scandal-sheet publishers “realized that the studios’ power was declining and that stars, as the symbols of that system, were left vulnerable to attack.”47 Whether or not Harrison and his ilk thought so deeply about the state of the industry is subject to debate, but the very existence of the magazines they published, as Desjardins contends, characterized a growing cynicism about the disjunct between public-relations Hollywood and the sordid film colony huddled there.
As mentioned earlier, the scandal magazines dutifully chronicled Payton’s fall from grace; Nightbeat, for example, ran a “true-life inside story of the sex-for-sale racket!” that mentioned Payton among a coterie of former “Hollywood slick chicks.”48 A 1957 issue of Nightbeat promised a look back at the lives of two of the transition era’s most notorious party girls, Payton and Lila Leeds (arrested with Robert Mitchum in the notorious 1948 Laurel Canyon reefer bust).49 The magazine ran photos of the two has-been actresses under the headline “The Queens of the Sunset Strip: Inside Hollywood’s Bedroom Jungle.”50 Years later, Vice Squad would run a cover story answering a question few by then knew or cared enough to ask: “How Franchot Tone’s Ex-Wife Became a Common Prostitute.”51 Indicatively, by then it was pointless to run Payton’s name on the magazine’s cover, since few readers would have known or remembered who she was.
Marilyn Monroe, Movie Star
The ancient Greeks had Oedipus. And we have Marilyn.
—Sarah Churchwell, Monroe biographer
On January 30, 1947, just over two weeks after the Black Dahlia murder had captured the attention of its readership, on the back page of its lifestyle section the Examiner ran what at the time seemed an unremarkable piece of industry public relations about a newly signed starlet at Twentieth Century Fox. Under the headline “It Pays to Sit” the paper published (p.177) a “cheesecake photograph” of a blonde starlet dressed in a two-piece bathing suit perched on the arm of chaise lounge. Below the photograph, a caption recounted an old-Hollywood tale of “discovery” … this, just days after the Dahlia murder cautioned those who dared to dream about someday making it in the movies.
The pictured starlet was a handsome newcomer with the alliterative stage name Marilyn Monroe. A brief caption no doubt scripted by Fox highlighted Monroe’s after-hours work as a babysitter, noting as well that she used this income to pay for acting lessons. It was money well spent, or so the caption asserted, since Fox executives thought enough of her talent to offer a contract.52 But Monroe’s career failed to launch. So in the spring of 1947, she went back to modeling. Broke and a little desperate, Monroe agreed to sit for a session of revealing photographs—a series of artfully staged nudes. Tom Kelley took the photographs. And Monroe received a model’s fee of $50.53 The wannabe actress signed the model release under an assumed name: Mona Monroe. The published calendar withheld her name as well—identifying her only as “Miss Golden Dreams.” The photo session with Kelley was a calculated risk and the AKA reveals that Marilyn Monroe was well aware of that fact. But the alternative—working the club scene, trading sex for drinks, food, and contacts (like Short, like Spangler, like Payton)—was risky as well and harder to keep secret.
The gamble paid off … but not in a way anyone at the time could have predicted. With the photo session well behind her and the calendar come and gone, Monroe began landing meaty supporting roles: as Angela Phinlay in John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950), as Miss Caswell in Joseph Mankiewicz’s Oscar-winning All about Eve (1950), as Nell Forbes in Don’t Bother to Knock (Roy Baker, 1952). But just as her acting career seemed finally on track, the press got hold of the photos. And the public-relations team at Fox freaked out. They urged Monroe to lie, to say that the photos were in fact not of her. It was an old-Hollywood strategy, and it probably would have worked.
But Monroe kept her own counsel and fashioned herself a new sort of movie celebrity. So she owned up to her past and, teary-eyed, confessed to the press that she had indeed done a desperate thing in a desperate moment: she was broke; she was hungry; she was taking care of her mother, who was mentally ill. The reporters were easily sidetracked; if anyone needs proof of this still, Monroe was a really good actress. They asked, “Didn’t you have anything on?” And Monroe replied in that little-girl voice of hers, “Just the radio.” At that very moment, she (p.178) tapped into a new Hollywood zeitgeist, one that presupposed an appreciation and understanding of the perils awaiting a single woman on her own in such a big, bad company town. The unselfconscious honesty and instinctive vulnerability that has acquired a cultlike dimension in postmortem, here, even before her career had taken off, seemed pinned on the public persona “Marilyn Monroe,” the lonely girl lost, crying out for rescue. And what she needed to be rescued from, even here at the start, was Hollywood.
The nude pictures not only did not destroy her career; they became emblems for the Marilyn Monroe origin story. On-screen nudity in a studio film was still nearly fifteen years away. But these revealing images vividly accompanied Monroe’s ascent to stardom as the visionary publisher Hugh Hefner licensed Kelley’s pictures for the inaugural issue of Playboy, which hit the newsstands in December 1953, the very year Gentlemen Prefer Blondes made Monroe a star.54
Marilyn Monroe is Dead: One Last Body in the Scheme of Things
I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.
The sad stories of Spangler and Payton are seldom told in film histories. But there is no such dearth of discussion and commentary on the life and death of Marilyn Monroe. She is unquestionably postwar Hollywood’s most famous and most scrutinized casualty—an actress–movie star–pop-culture celebrity whose ascent to fame, decline into depression and addiction, and death just after her thirty-fifth birthday (a victim of murder? suicide? misadventure?) has warranted scrutiny from a range of investigators including film historians, feminists, biographers, moralizers, and conspiracy nuts.
The entry for Marilyn Monroe on the encyclopedic website IMDB lists thirty-three acting roles in feature films.55 Of the first seven, all predating the nude-photo session, four are listed as uncredited:56 that is, Monroe received no on-screen credit, and her name did not appear in any of the studio publicity. Her first big break came in1950 with a small part in The Asphalt Jungle, and her last completed film, a starring role in The Misfits (also directed by Huston, adapted from a story and script written by Monroe’s then-husband, the playwright Arthur Miller) was (p.179)
released in 1961. Fairly speaking, her professional acting career lasted just over ten years, and she was a movie star for eight of them, running roughly from the musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953 through her death in 1962. From the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes through the completion of her last film, The Misfits, we find just nine completed films: a relatively minor comedy, How to Marry a Millionaire (John Negulesco, 1953), in which Monroe ably undermines the Emily Post dictum that “men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses”; a co-starring role in the western River of No Return (Otto Preminger, 1954); a scene-stealing part as a hatcheck girl in No Business Like Show Business (Walter Lang, 1954); the unnamed model at the (p.180) core of an adman’s tortured dreamscape in The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955); a waitress surviving on coffee and cigarettes in the adaptation of William Inge’s stage play Bus Stop (Joshua Logan, 1956); as an American variety show entertainer, co-starring with with the legendary British actor Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl, produced by Monroe and directed by Olivier in 1957; a star turn as the perfectly named Sugar Kane in Wilder’s brilliant gender-bending comedy Some Like It Hot (1959); and as a popular stage actress in the uneven romantic farce Let’s Make Love (George Cukor, 1960). Such is Monroe’s star oeuvre.
What fuels her enduring reputation as the quintessential ’50s female movie star involves less what she did than what she meant and what she continues to mean in the context of American cultural and Hollywood-industry history. Her death put an end to what was left of the studio era in 1962. She was one of the studios’ last true contract stars: discovered, groomed, suspended, discarded, recovered, fired, and finally martyred all under the aegis of a system en route to obsolescence.
She exemplifies as well Hollywood’s gender-based double standard. She tried, for example, in midcareer to use her celebrity to break away from the studio that made her, to grow out of the endless stream of dumb-blonde and showgirl roles, and to establish independence. To that end she founded her own production company, much as many male stars of the era like Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster did with their respective production outfits, Bryna and HHL.57 But while her male contemporaries successfully reinvented themselves as independent contractors, Marilyn Monroe Productions failed to do the same for her career. There are a number of reasons for this: her manager Milton Greene’s inexperience perhaps, her ill health for sure. When the production company faltered, Monroe re-started her career with Some Like It Hot, a studio film at United Artists. But she was by then in bad shape physically, emotionally, and psychologically. It was clear in 1959 as she worked on Wilder’s film that she had been better off in Fox’s so-called stable of stars—a term embraced by the studios in their heyday, a term that aptly evinced a business plan as well as an attitude toward those who helped industry executives sell their pictures.
Monroe here offers one last dead body in the scheme of things—one last corpse left by the side of the road that in fact and metaphor speaks for an industry and city in transition, one last narrative that altered forever the Hollywood zeitgeist. After Monroe, the filmgoing public’s imagined Hollywood as a site of glamor, of social mobility, of (p.181)
luck and fortune, beauty and smarts, fame and celebrity would never be the same.
Monroe died on the night of August 5, 1962, and the story broke the following day. For the front page of the morning edition on the 6th, the editors at the Los Angeles Times weighed the significance of two big stories: the death of the iconic movie star and a report from a news service out of Uppsala, Sweden, that the Soviet Union had just completed a high-altitude test of a forty-megaton superbomb, following through on a promise from the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to respond to recent U.S. bomb tests in the Pacific.58 Desperate and frightening as the arms race had become, the editors gave the headline to the Hollywood story: “Marilyn Monroe Found Dead: Sleeping Pill Overdose Blamed.” Two separate front-page articles ran under the banner headline. Pages 2 and 3 in their entirety were devoted to the Monroe story—and all but two columns of page 4, as well.
(p.182) The reporters Howard Hertel and Don Neff were assigned to cover the facts—the who, what, where, and when—but they couldn’t resist opening with what would become a familiar commentary, describing Monroe in their opening sentence as “a troubled beauty who failed to find happiness as Hollywood’s brightest star.” The title of their article, “Unclad Body of Star Discovered on Bed; Empty Bottle Near” presented an enduring image. Monroe always slept in the nude; everyone knew and many fantasized about that! As to the “empty bottle near,” the paper ran a photograph of Monroe’s cluttered night table with a graphic arrow pointing at a bottle of Nembutal.59
Though no note was found, the preliminary and unofficial report from the coroner’s office—what was termed a presumptive opinion—identified the cause of death as suicide, a finding based on amateur film history and informal psychiatry. It was as if the coroner regarded her death as a tabloid story, citing the widely acknowledged “fact” of Monroe’s clinical depression, which had been an unsubstantiated subject of open discussion in the Hollywood community, in industry gossip, and in mainstream press coverage. Monroe had indeed been subject to psychiatric treatment, though the details were kept confidential. The doctors in the coroner’s office seemed to share with the tabloids and with most Americans at the time the notion that if the actress was seeing a psychiatrist she must have been crazy. And if she was crazy, she probably killed herself.
The diagnosis of depression was, or so the reporters noted, affirmed by the scene of her death; after all, the glamorous movie star “was unkempt and in need of a manicure and pedicure.” There was on her part “a lack of interest in maintaining her usual glamorous appearance.” As insensitive and politically incorrect as these comments appear today, at the time Hertel and Neff were highlighting a celebrity narrative that had for a year or more already adhered to Monroe. She was, according to this narrative, privileged, gifted, and most of all lucky, but being rich and talented and beautiful was not enough to make her happy. In this scenario, Monroe had what most every other woman in the world wanted quite desperately, and still she found it all to be an unaccountable burden.60
The other front-page article countered or at least complicated this notion of Monroe as spoiled brat with what we might call the “sad Marilyn” scenario. Hertel and Neff’s article cast Monroe’s depression as a symptom of ingratitude; she had everything anyone could want, but she wanted more, she wanted something else. Under the two-column (p.183) headline “Sad Child, Unhappy Star,” Charles E. Davis, Jr., resituated Monroe’s depression as a product of an unhappy childhood. She was, Davis wrote, “born into insecurity and never escaped it.” That Monroe earned fabulous wages and that she was the subject and object of desire, envy, and acclaim never compensated for the sadness of her childhood, of “being shunted from one foster home to another.” In Davis’s armchair analysis, Monroe’s search for happiness was subsumed in a search for self-awareness and self-actualization. “I am trying to find myself,” Monroe had told an interviewer in the last months of her life. Precisely what folks made of such a comment likely guided their attitude toward her struggles and her death.61
The Los Angeles Chief Medical Examiner Theodore Curphey supervised what would be officially recorded as Coroner’s Case 81128. Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who in 1962 was a deputy medical examiner,62 performed the autopsy and submitted the certificate of death to the county clerk, identifying the cause of death as “acute barbiturate poisoning due to ingestion of overdose.”63 According to the subsequent toxicology study, Monroe had in her blood 4.5 mg percent barbiturates and 8.0 mg percent chloral hydrate (a sedative, technically a hypnotic, likely used by Monroe to help her sleep). In an August 17th autopsy report, Curphey wrote: “Now that the final toxicology report and that of the psychiatric consultants have been received and considered, it is my conclusion that the death of Marilyn Monroe was caused by a self-administered overdose of sedative drugs and that the mode of death is probable suicide.”64 Curphey cited forensic psychiatric reports from three doctors—Robert Litman, Norman Farberow, and Norman Tabachnick—that referred to the late actress’s frequent depressions and past suicide attempts. She had on these previous, unsuccessful attempts called for help, which was consistent with the discovery of Monroe’s dead body at her home, stretched out on the bed clutching the telephone.65
The curious absence of barbiturate in her stomach, this despite the high levels in her blood and liver, prompted questions about mode and motive: How might the drugs have been administered, and by whom? One possible explanation for the apparent inconsistency was a hotshot: that is, the possibility that Monroe had been injected with the drugs, perhaps against her will. Noguchi dismissed this theory in his autopsy; he examined the body with a magnifying glass and found no evidence of an injection. Another possible explanation for this inconsistency was offered well after the fact by Monroe’s friend Peter Lawford—a movie actor, rat-pack mainstay, and (significantly for those conspiracy-minded (p.184) at the time) President John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law—who, in an off-the-cuff remark to his third wife, Deborah Gould, curtly remarked after hearing of her death, “Marilyn took her last big enema.”66
Politicians, Gangsters, and Movie Stars: Murdering Marilyn Monroe
We had evidence that Marilyn Monroe had not only slept with Kennedy, but also with Fidel Castro. My commanding officer, Jimmy Hayworth, told me that she had to die, and that it had to look like a suicide or an overdose. I had never killed a woman before, but I obeyed orders. … I did it for America! She could have transmitted strategic information to the Communists, and we couldn’t allow that! She had to die! I just did what I had to do!
—Normand Hodges, retired CIA agent, deathbed confession, April 2015
Monroe’s personal assistant and confidante Pat Newcomb insisted the death was an accident; Monroe’s mood had been on the upswing in recent days.67 Monroe’s psychiatrist, Milton Greenson, who was called to the actress’s house on the night of her death, claimed as well that Monroe was making progress and that she was not a suicide risk. The 1982 Carroll-Tomich Report that revisited the initial autopsy—an investigation that was meant to quell the many conspiracy theories attending her death but rather fueled them instead—referred significantly to an interview with Greenson, noting that his account of her mental health “did not fit with the psychological profile” laid out by the three forensic psychiatrists consulted by Cuphrey.68 Both Newcomb and Greenson viewed the overdose as accidental—a significant distinction in the nature of the tragedy attending her death.
The Carroll-Tomich Report lent support as well to the persistent conjecture that Monroe was murdered, a story line that continues to support a cottage industry in print, on film, and online. Following the various theories leads down a rabbit hole we will not venture into too deeply here. Here, as with the Black Dahlia murder, solving the crime is far less important (to this historical study, at least) than acknowledging the range of potential suspects culled from the victims’ orbits, from the various subcultures at play in Los Angeles at the time and the inevitable path-crossing that occurred when the lines between modes of celebrity were so complexly transgressed. The murder and cover-up conspiracy theories implicate the United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy (and at his behest the CIA and FBI), the singer-actor Frank Sinatra and (p.185)
his compadre Lawford (who likely pimped Marilyn to his famous brothers-in-law), the gangsters Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli, and the labor leader (and gangster) Jimmy Hoffa. At bottom here again is the often-toxic relationship in Hollywood after the war among celebrities of various stripes: politicians, gangsters, and movie stars.
Many of the murder conspiracies hinge upon a diary supposedly kept by Monroe in which she foolishly recounted pillow talk with John and then Robert Kennedy. The diary included embarrassing details of their sexual relationships and, even more troubling, off-the-record musings on official secrets concerning Castro, Giancana and Hoffa.69 This “Red Diary” has never surfaced, but for those who believe Monroe was murdered, its very disappearance supports their view. For those who believe she died by her own hand (by intention or by accident), the red diary is another piece of macabre Monroe folklore.
In his critical biography of Monroe, Graham McCann tracks the intrigue, focusing on the actress’s famous lovers and confidants, her (p.186) personal and domestic staff, the investigating officers, and on her doctors.70 According to McCann, Dr. Greenson, Monroe’s psychiatrist, had in the months before her death urged her not to take barbiturates. Her primary doctor, Hyman Engelberg, encouraged her to take them. Monroe trusted both men, but in this instance, at least, followed Engelberg’s advice. Sergeant Jack Clemmons, from the West Los Angeles Police Station, was among the first law-enforcement officers to arrive at Monroe’s Brentwood home, where her body was discovered. (There is a debate about the sequence of events here; more on that later.) He observed Greenson “smirking” and Engleberg looking “remorseful.” Hence: accidental overdose, with Engleberg potentially negligent or maybe just wrong to have encouraged Monroe’s mixed prescription-drug use. Clemmons observed Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, who was also present, to be “vague” and “nervous.” She had discovered the body but before the authorities arrived had for some reason tidied up. More on that later as well.
For the conspiracy-minded, it is worth noting that Greenson treated Monroe and Sinatra. The singer was her chaperone, her beard for her liaisons with the Kennedy men. And if you believe the rumors, it was with Sinatra as well that Monroe spent time with Giancana and Hoffa at the Cal-Neva Lodge, in Lake Tahoe. Monroe and Sinatra shared the same attorney, Milton A. “Mickey” Rudin—a coincidence, perhaps, but the underworld connection is worth thinking about here, especially since Sinatra kept Rudin on retainer as his chief counsel and public spokesman, a relationship that included Sinatra’s failed bid (fronting for the mob, or so some folks suspected) to take control of the Del Webb Corporation (which owned several casinos in Nevada). Rudin was, not incidentally, Dr. Greenson’s brother-in-law and was present at Monroe’s home along with the doctor and the police on the day of her death, a matter deemed significant enough to include in the New York Times obituary for Rudin, on December 17, 1999.71
Approximately twenty years after Monroe’s death, Murray, the housekeeper, significantly revised her story. In this new version of the story, Murray claims that she discovered Monroe overdosed but still alive three hours before the police were called to the movie star’s Brentwood home. Monroe was taken by ambulance to Santa Monica Hospital, where she later died in the emergency room. Walter Schaefer, owner of the Schaefer Ambulance Company, corroborates Murray’s revised version, logging in a pickup at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, Monroe’s Brentwood address, and a drop-off at Santa Monica Hospital. Gould, (p.187) Lawford’s aforementioned third wife, now claims that her ex-husband and a private investigator went to Monroe’s house while she was at the hospital, to “clean things up.” (Here it is fair to guess at what they were looking for: the red diary.) Lionel Grandison, a coroner’s-office employee in 1962, adds to the intrigue, here again many years after Monroe’s death, by alleging that he was coerced into signing the death certificate well before all the evidence was in. Of those telling a revised story, or recanting one previously told—or both—Grandison is the easiest to dismiss; Grandison was summarily dismissed by the coroner’s office shortly after the Monroe autopsy for stealing property from dead bodies.72
And then there is the curious silence of Patricia Newcomb, Monroe’s assistant and friend. When Murray began telling her new story, reporters sought out Newcomb, but she refused to answer questions, insisting only that Robert Kennedy had not visited Monroe on the day of her death. After Monroe died, Newcomb, as McCann writes, “entered into a series of working relationships within the Kennedy entourage.”73 So she has her reasons for refusing to speak about her former employer’s death.
On May 19, 1962—less than three months before her death—Monroe flew to New York to sing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy. The jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee and the opera star Maria Callas were also on hand, but Monroe’s last great performance is the only thing anyone remembers from that night. Dressed in a skintight gown from the legendary Hollywood costume designer Jean Louis, Monroe sang her brief number in an excruciatingly sexy manner. Kennedy’s embarrassment was palpable, but he gathered himself well enough to improvise in response, “I can now retire from politics after having ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.” Rumors abound that Jackie Kennedy found the rendition anything but wholesome (it wasn’t, of course) and bristled at such a public display of her husband’s (rumored) extracurricular activity.
After the “Happy Birthday” spectacle, conspiracy theorists believe Monroe was passed on from John to Robert Kennedy, likely at Jackie’s behest. Murray, in her revised 1980s version of events, insists that Robert Kennedy visited Monroe on August 5th, adding, significantly, that the two argued in her presence and that during the three-hour gap between the first discovery of the body (alive, though barely) and its subsequent return (by then dead, as efforts to resuscitate at the hospital had failed) Lawford and a private detective secured the red diary while (p.188) Robert Kennedy quietly exited Los Angeles—all before news of Monroe’s death was made public.74
The notion that Robert Kennedy may have been involved in, maybe ordered, an assassination of Monroe dates to a 1964 self-published pamphlet written by an anti-Communist fanatic named Frank A. Capell and titled The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe.75 The American novelist Norman Mailer based his biography of Monroe on Capell’s story, with a rather wild new twist, asserting an FBI conspiracy in which J. Edgar Hoover used Monroe’s death to blackmail the Kennedys.76 In a 1973 interview on 60 Minutes, Mailer backtracked, suggesting that the conspiracy story was just a publicity stunt.77 Robert Slatzer’s 1975 The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe accepted Capell’s version of events as well,78 implicating Robert Kennedy. And later that same year, a journalist best known for writing about rock-and-roll music, Anthony Scaduto, under the pen name Anthony Sciacca, published Who Killed Marilyn?, adding further conjecture to the Monroe–Robert Kennedy connection.79
In 1982, right around the time the Los Angeles district attorney’s office felt compelled to revisit the case—worth noting here: they again found no evidence to indicate murder—a private detective named Milo Speriglio alleged that Monroe was killed on orders issued by Hoffa and Giancana.80 Speriglio’s version was built upon testimony provided by Grandison, who by then claimed he had actually seen the red diary at (what he revealingly called) “the murder scene,” and that Monroe’s body was horribly bruised, as if she had been beaten (allegedly by Hoffa and Giancana’s thugs).
The biographer Anthony Summers’s commercially successful book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe alleges that Robert Kennedy and Lawford supplied Monroe with the drugs with which she later overdosed. According to Summers, Monroe felt betrayed and had foolishly made threats to go public about being “passed around” by the Kennedy brothers. Robert Kennedy and Lawford wanted only to calm Monroe down—to buy time to convince her to keep her mouth shut. Her death, Summers concludes, was an accident, albeit an accident in which the attorney general and the actor were complicit. The dirty job of ferrying the unconscious actress to the hospital and then returning her dead body to her home and staging the scene as a suicide was performed by the FBI on orders from Hoover as a favor to (and later as material with which to blackmail) Robert Kennedy.81
Summers’s work is based on hundreds of interviews. But despite such exhaustive research, it too bases its allegations about Monroe’s final (p.189) days on testimony from Capell and Slatzer, who, among his many fictions, claims to have married Monroe in Mexico … a story pretty much no one believes, except perhaps Slatzer. Two recent biographers, Daniel Spoto and Sarah Churchwell, discount Summers’s version as anecdotal and speculative. Spoto opts for the most likely scenario, accidental overdose. And Churchwell, somewhat less skeptical than Spoto about a Monroe-Kennedy connection, offers instead (much as McCann did before her) a critical commentary, focusing less on precisely what happened on August 5th than on what Monroe’s death has come to mean across the vast pop- and high-culture landscape, what previous biographers, lunatic fans and conspiracy nuts, famous novelists, and plenty of mostly sober academics have expounded over the years.82
For what it’s worth, I figure we’ll never know what really happened. And while I agree with McCann, that sanity lies with “resist[ing] the obsession with ‘what happened to Marilyn’” on the night of her death, I’m less confortable with his conclusion that “She died. Surely that’s enough.”83 Because, finally: it’s not. What happened to a famous movie star one August night in 1962 in Brentwood, California, has been forever complicated by a subsequent, debatably related event fourteen months later, the assassination of John Kennedy—a death that has as well prompted half a century’s worth of conspiracy theory, a lot of it involving the same cast of characters. Both stories have become collectively fascinating in the transition from postwar to postmodern America. As Churchwell aptly posits via Richard Hofstadter (who wrote his famous essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in 1964, just after the Kennedy assassination), conspiracy theories “project onto [an] imaginary enemy [one’s] own anxieties and desires.”84 So, yes, Marilyn Monroe is dead. But following Hofstadter, her death figures into conspiracies that have in many ways shaped American political and cultural life in the post-Kennedy era.
Last Rites for Hollywood: Some Final Words on the Death of Marilyn Monroe
People ought to know that I never did want her to become an actress.
Her career never did her any good.
—Gladys Pearl Baker, Marilyn’s mother
When a journalist asked Arthur Miller if he planned to attend Monroe’s funeral, he replied, “Why? Will she be there?” No doubt Monroe was a handful during their brief marriage. And by August 1962 Miller had (p.190)
already moved on, marrying the photographer Inge Morath, with whom he would spend the next forty years. Still, the remark seemed then as now disrespectful, even cruel.
The playwright’s impatience with the question—any question, really—recalling his relationship with the actress betrayed a discomfort with his previous role as Mr. Marilyn Monroe, the movie star’s husband. He was as well already anticipating her martyrdom, already harboring a calculated apprehension at how his role in her life might be elaborated in the evolving postmortem. Here his allegorical 1964 play After the Fall figures significantly. Written two years after Monroe’s death, this “rumination on the dilemma of social responsibility,” as Miller described the work in 1987, struck audiences and critics as rude, vindictive, and self-serving. The play is based in part on Albert Camus’s The Fall, which chronicles a man’s failure to save a woman from suicide. In After the Fall, Quentin, the apparent stand-in for Miller, is a weary witness, at one point telling Maggie, the surrogate for Monroe, (p.191) “a suicide kills two people—that’s what it’s for.” To be fair, the play takes place inside Quentin’s head, significant here because that’s where (in his head) Monroe persisted in Miller’s experience of the world in 1964, when he completed After the Fall. And though Miller uses the play to rationalize his failure to save her, this too is part of an internal drama, something the playwright was still sorting out. As Miller remarked in the 1987 interview, the play was “an attempt to arrive at a real relationship with [Monroe’s] self-destruction”—again, “a suicide kills two people—that’s what it’s for.”85
During their courtship and brief marriage, Monroe and Miller struck many in the movie business as an odd couple, and the mysteries of their mutual attraction inevitably cast Miller as a Svengali figure. When Monroe contested her contract with Fox in the mid-’50s and ventured to New York to study under Lee and Paula Strasberg at the Actors Studio, her pretensions struck industry insiders as evidence of the playwright’s influence over her. After all, several of Miller’s plays had been staged there, and Miller and Elia Kazan, who helped found the Actor’s Studio, were creative partners, though, after Kazan named names, they were not exactly friends. When Monroe used her production company to cast herself as Cherie in an adaptation of William Inge’s 1955 Tony Award–winning play Bus Stop—the very sort of role executives at Fox would never have secured for her—this too seemed Miller’s doing; indeed it was exactly what he had publicly said she deserved. Miller was as well rumored to have been behind John Huston’s announced intention to cast Monroe in a biopic on Sigmund Freud that he was developing based on a script by the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre, an apparent admirer of the blonde movie star.86 All to say: thanks to Miller, the actress was coming to the attention of, and was frequently photographed in the company of, serious artists and writers. For example, when Monroe attended the Chicago premiere of Some Like It Hot, in 1959, her escort was not one of her co-stars from the film but instead the novelist Saul Bellow. And then there was, more troubling still, Miller’s political influence, in evidence as Monroe became a sponsor for the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.87
However encouraged or choreographed (or both) by Miller, there was an audacity to Monroe’s midcareer path that confounded Hollywood tradition. It certainly confounded Parsons and Hopper, both of whom, by the late 1950s, were struggling to account for such a transitioning and transforming Hollywood.88 The two columnists appreciated at the very least Monroe’s newsworthiness and competed for control (p.192) over this new celebrity narrative. Parsons reminded her readers that she had played a role in the early evolution of the Monroe story; she knew the actress would become a movie star before anyone else did. Parsons recalled that in October 1952, while she convalesced in a Los Angeles hospital, daily conversations with hospital staff frequently involved Monroe: “There were more questions about Marilyn Monroe than any other star, male or female. Marilyn herself had been in the same hospital not long ago, and she made a great hit with all the nurses and doctors.” Though the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was still months away, in the fall of 1952 Parsons listed the “Ten Most Exciting Women” in Hollywood, and she put Monroe at the top of the list.89 In her memoir, Tell It to Louella, first published the year before Monroe’s death, Parsons continued to cling to her initial assessment: “Marilyn is the most exciting movie personality of this generation. She possesses the star quality that has to be natural, that can’t be manufactured.”90
Their relationship—and movie stars were careful to forge relationships with Parsons in the 1950s—proved useful to Monroe in the early years of her stardom. For example, there was the dress incident: a 1953 party at the Beverly Hills Hotel to which Monroe wore a showstopping, formfitting gold lamé dress. Monroe was well aware of what wearing that particular dress would accomplish careerwise; she was in 1952 in control of the very image that would later drag her down.91 The following day, writing for The Citizen News, the columnist Florabel Muir reported on the dress and the would-be movie star wearing it: “With one little twist of her derrière, Marilyn Monroe stole the show. … The assembled guests broke into wild applause, while two other screen stars, Joan Crawford and Lana Turner, got only casual attention. After Marilyn every other girl appeared dull by contrast.” Irked by Muir’s assessment regarding “every other girl” in the room, Crawford denounced her rival: “Kids don’t like Marilyn … because they don’t like to see sex exploited.” Monroe needed a forum for rebuttal, and she exploited her relationship with Parsons to issue it. At the same time, Parsons exploited her relationship with Monroe to appear important; the exclusive with the young actress marked her relevance in the evolving Hollywood-celebrity subculture. Much as Monroe cleverly turned the nude-photograph scandal on its head, here she deftly used Crawford’s attack to her own advantage. “The thing that hit me hardest,” Monroe remarked through Parsons in the exclusive, “is that I’ve always admired [Crawford] for being such a wonderful mother—for taking four children and giving them a fine home. Who better than I knows what that means to homeless little ones.”92
(p.193) However absurd her remarks appear today in light of the revelations of Mommie Dearest,93 the incident reveals Monroe’s public-relations savvy and Parsons’s professional pragmatism. Monroe exploited the fracas to highlight—and hardly for the first time—the “orphan girl made good” backstory, the “triumphing over disadvantage” narrative that lay at the core of her appeal in the early years of her movie stardom. Moreover, both Monroe and Parsons recognized that Crawford’s remark said more about her than about Monroe. Hollywood was (and still is) an ageist industry, especially for women: Crawford turned forty-eight years old in 1953; Monroe was just twenty-seven. Parsons knew enough to hitch her wagon, so to speak, to the younger star.
Monroe’s death posed a distinct challenge to the gossip discourse and to the practice of gossip writing. Much as Hopper observed in her Monroe obituary that “No one in my memory hypnotized the camera as [Monroe] did,” her culpability in Monroe’s disaffection with Hollywood—a disaffection that culminated in the star’s self-destruction—was hard, even for one so unself-conscious as Hopper, to ignore. When, for example, Hopper wrote that “Marilyn Monroe seemed to be touched by forces impossible for any human being to bear” and that “life became a nightmare of broken dreams, promises, and pain,” the columnist seemed, as Jennifer Frost affirms, to hold celebrity culture responsible for the actress’s dysfunction on the sets of her last three films, for her suicidal depression, and for her dependence on pills and alcohol to treat that depression.94 “In a way we are all guilty,” Hopper wrote in her column on August 7, 1962; “we loved her, but left her lonely and afraid when she needed us most.”95 Melodramatic as such a sentimental account may be, it hardly vindicated Hopper in the emerging narrative of the sad and tragic Marilyn Monroe. Indeed, who more than Hopper contributed to “the forces impossible for any human to bear.”
Hopper predictably resorted to melodrama to characterize her role in Monroe’s physical and psychological decline. But many of her readers, astonishingly I think, wrote in to blame the columnist for Monroe’s death. “You knew Marilyn was sick, but you never gave her any sympathy,” wrote a man from South Dakota. Another reader wrote in: “What effect did you think those harsh words would have on her sensitive and unstable mind? … But it made for good copy; it Sold!” And finally, projecting into the future: “Now you’ve killed Marilyn with your dirty journalism, I suppose the campaign is on until Liz [Taylor] kills herself too.”96
Hopper’s column was built upon the fundamental late-’40s notion that celebrities were public property and that their wealth and privilege, (p.194) good looks and even better luck, made them fair game for the sort of sniping she dished out. Movie stars were in such a discourse pampered, spoiled brats—publicly celebrated while secretly envied and despised. Hopper publicized their wonderful lives but at the same time insisted that their wealth and privilege should not free them from traditional American political and social values … This, just as Hopper and her readers knew very well that it did. Monroe’s death exposed this fundamental hypocrisy. And after August 1962, there was, for the columnist and her readers, no turning back.
Hopper recognized this shift and offered a deft but ultimately unsuccessful counterpoint. “Inside the head of tragedy’s child,” Hopper wrote in the second edition of her memoir, The Whole Truth and Nothing But, an edition published just months after Monroe’s death, “fame and misery were mixed up like tangled skeins of knitting wool.” There were the failed marriages and a surfeit of bad advice from Monroe’s two famous husbands, the retired baseball star Joe DiMaggio (whom Hopper adored) and Miller (whom Hopper despised); the former wanted Monroe to quit Hollywood and settle down as a wife and mother, the latter told Monroe that with the proper training she could be the greatest actress of her generation.
Hopper additionally blamed Monroe’s manager, Milton Greene, who in the mid-’50s backed the actress’s decision to leave Hollywood to take greater control and responsibility for her career. Greene, and Hopper was right about this, was inexperienced—she repeatedly refers to him as “a photographer” and not as a theatrical manager—and he was, as Hopper insinuated, likely in love with the movie star he represented. But Greene’s misdeed, in Hopper’s view, was not so much or not only a betrayal of Monroe’s career as a studio-based movie star, it was also a betrayal of a studio system on the brink of collapse, a system that Hopper herself, a former actress, had dabbled in, a system in which her style or genre of gossip had once held sway. “Didn’t it occur to you,” Hopper opined, focusing on the actress’s brief midcareer sojourn to New York, “that great stars pursue their careers in conventional fashion, accepting the experienced judgment of good producers? … How did you rationalize that a photographer [Greene] who’d no experience making theatrical pictures could do better by you than the men who made you famous?” The answer was, for Hopper, there in the asking; Monroe had dreamed of stardom and then once she attained it defied the system that made stardom possible. That system was, and maybe Monroe recognized (p.195) this in the mid-1950s, in decline. And whatever new Hollywood loomed at the horizon, it didn’t arrive in time to save her.
Monroe’s death left us, as Hopper put it in her memoir, “with bitter memories of what might have been.” And while she fervently wished that her “Dear Marilyn [might] rest in peace,” Hopper revealingly surrenders the final word on the subject to the Examiner columnist Gene Fowler—whose son Will was one of the first newspapermen to cover the Black Dahlia story. By way of providing an epitaph for Monroe, Hopper cites Fowler’s famous rumination on celebrity, circa 1962, in which the newspaperman characterized Monroe as “a toy balloon among children armed with sharp pins.”97 Hopper of course was one of the nastiest of the Hollywood kids, armed with the sharpest pin. It tells us all we need to know about her character that Hopper failed to see that. In the memoir, Hopper recalls Monroe’s “charm of innocence” in the apparent merging of character and actor in The Seven Year Itch. In doing so Hopper stumbles upon (and through) the fundamental rift between illusion and reality, between the imagined Hollywood still locked into the studio-era glamor—the “eternal values of real talent, excitement, and glamor”—that created Marilyn Monroe and the real Hollywood that rather killed her.98
Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee … The Impossibility of Celebrity
I like to smoke. I’m twenty-five years old, and it so happens that I like to smoke. So out in Hollywood the studio press agents are still pulling cigarettes out of my hand and covering my drink with a napkin whenever my picture is taken. Little Sandra Dee isn’t supposed to smoke, you know. Or drink. Or breathe.
—Sandra Dee, movie actress, former teen-magazine icon, 1967
The creative fictions attending the off-screen lives of movie stars—public lives at once sensationalized and sanitized by public-relations gurus, personal managers, and press agents and complicated by newspaper gossip writers, sordid scandal sheets, and nowadays the crazy supermarket tabloids—have fascinated moviegoers since the earliest days of the medium. But the cultural compact, the complex relationship between celebrities and their fans, has by necessity accommodated a basic understanding: much of what we read about movie stars is not fully or fundamentally true. What we have witnessed, filtered through (p.196) the Hollywood public-relations machine, are creative fictions stage-managed for our consumption and diversion. Monroe complicated this compact, if only because her real life seemed all too troublingly real, rendering her decline for her many fans disconcerting and difficult to disavow. “A suicide kills two people—that’s what it’s for.”
“You had the innocence of a baby,” Hopper told Monroe in 1955, at the height of her star appeal. “We knew the words were naughty, but we didn’t think you did.” Amused, Monroe replied, “I didn’t know? But I have always known.”99 Of course she did. And Hopper knew that. But the gossip writer understood as well that the fiction that was Monroe’s off-screen identity—that too had a reality of sorts. Monroe’s off-screen Method performance of the too-sensitive former foster child facing up to the perils of life in the Hollywood limelight was real too; the actress did in fact endure loneliness and hardship growing up as the daughter of single mother with a mental illness, and Hollywood had become a hard and hard-hearted place in the 1950s. For those who witnessed Monroe’s public decline—movie fans and journalists alike—it finally didn’t matter what the actress intended or what she couldn’t help or stop. There were, finally, consequences to the demands laid at Monroe’s feet.
When Monroe died, in1962, two women cut from a very different mold stepped forward: Sandra Dee and Doris Day. Unlike Monroe, these two women were fashioned to be uncomplicated and unsullied. They were Hollywood’s newest new blondes, and they were too good to be true … because, of course, they and the stories told about them weren’t (too good, or true). Dee became a movie star as a teenager playing an idealized version of herself.100 She was Gidget (that is, “girl” + “midget”) and Tammy, the quintessential good girl next door, who didn’t smoke, drink, or have sex. She would experience (though in many ways not enjoy) what the New York Times writer Daphne Merkin termed a “spectacularly short-lived fame”—all told, less than a decade from being discovered to getting dropped by Universal. Hers would be one of the last contracts allowed to expire as the system itself hobbled into extinction.
Dee won a Golden Globe in 1958 and the following year received the Motion Picture Herald’s nod as the “Number One Star of Tomorrow.” At the height of her fame, she received more fan mail than Rock Hudson and placed on the list of the top ten box-office stars for seven consecutive years.101 She was a valuable property.
we have discovered in the years since her career ended, Dee had, again as Merkin writes, “a dazzling wreck of a life.” As recounted in Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, the memoir penned by her son, Dodd Darin, Dee was serially raped by her stepfather before she was ten years old. And throughout her Hollywood career she battled anorexia, with at least three hospitalizations in her midteens.102 Dee’s mother pushed her into modeling and then into a movie career before she could have imagined she could say no. To escape her mother’s control Dee eloped with the pop star Bobby Darin. But by then she was already in trouble, crumbling under the pressures of stardom, of living up to an image to which the studio insisted she adhere. The marriage fell apart quickly and spectacularly. The bad press and the advancing hands of time (sped significantly by a drinking problem and an addiction to prescription amphetamines) put Dee out of the movie-star business in her early twenties, her “darling pink world”—that is, in her words, the world Universal had stage-managed for her—quite suddenly at its end. Absent a contract, drunk, addicted, and weighing in at barely ninety pounds, Dee told a reporter (p.198) from the Newark Evening News in 1967, “Sometimes I feel like a has-been who never was.”103
In her prime—which is to say, when she had a studio contract—Dee regarded herself as something of “a junior Doris Day.” The comparison was at the time inevitable and apt. But as with Dee, Day was never all that or so simply what the industry had made of her.104 Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, Day was a prodigy entertainer as a dancer. Then, after a car accident put an end to that career, she used the prolonged convalescence to study Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal work and fashioned herself into a jazz singer. From the moment she committed to the singing career, she was successful. And she made it look easy. Much the same can be said for her transition into movie acting, a career in which she thrived for a full twenty years, followed by another five on television with, like Lucille Ball before her, an eponymous comedy series. Throughout her career she played a single part, that of Doris Day (and not the diminishingly real Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff), a “heroine who reminds us,” as the novelist John Updike wrote in 1983, “of those tireless, elastic television ladies who exhort us to get up in the morning and do exercises.”105 Updike contends that Day appreciated the value of her image not because she was ever much like those energetic and earnest television ladies but because like Dee and Monroe and almost every actress worth our time, she couldn’t help what she projected on-screen, and as a consequence she never tried to change what we made of her.
The actress credited her effortless performance of Doris Day to the director Michael Curtiz, who early in her movie career offered the following piece of advice: “No matter what you do on screen, no matter what kind of part you play, it will always be you. What I mean is, the Doris Day will always shine through the part.” Following Curtiz’s advice, Day became, as Updike observes, “a dedicated technician in the industry of romantic illusion.”106
Day’s off-screen life was a more complicated story. And she was a more complicated character in it. There were four bad marriages to men who took advantage of her earning potential—which is to say, they spent her money as fast as she could make it. One committed suicide years after Day dumped him; another claimed, bitterly, that she loved her dogs more than him. Day committed adultery and stole someone else’s husband at least once and shrugged it off: “I didn’t care whether he was married or not,” she quipped in retrospect, “A person does not leave a good marriage for someone else.”107 Day was, by her own account and others’, profoundly unsentimental.
(p.199) Just as her film career was ending and her brief stint as the moral majority’s favorite TV character had begun, Day’s son, Terry Melcher, a successful music producer, rented a house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Bel Air, where, on August 9, 1969, followers of Charles Manson murdered the actress Sharon Tate, the hairdresser Jay Sebring, the screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski and his girlfriend, the heiress Abigail Folger. If rational motives apply at all here—and I don’t think they do—it was Melcher’s casually made and then abandoned promises to help Manson pursue a career in pop music that prompted the attack. Day woke up on the morning of August 10th to find herself one or maybe two degrees of separation from one of the most horrid, notorious crimes of the twentieth century. But it did little to tarnish her image. The hard work at romantic illusions had paid off.
The cultural compact that was Doris Day survived the Hollywood transition. Hers was an image uniquely built to endure in such a perilous place and time. Monroe, Updike writes, “lulled us like a moon seen from a motel bed.” There was always going to be a price to be paid for languishing there … for her and for us. Day, on quite another hand, had “a kind of fresh and energetic innocence.” She took a “guileless delight in being [herself].” There in the dark “she hinted at how, if we were angels, we would behave.”108 (p.200)
(1.) John O’Dowd, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story (Albany, Ga.: Bear Manor, 2006), 11.
(2.) Dial Torgerson, “Barbara Payton, One Object of Film Stars Fistfight, Dies,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1967, B1.
(p.217) (3.) Barbara Payton, I Am Not Ashamed (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1963).
(5.) Robert Polito, “Barbara Payton: A Memoir,” in O.K. You Mugs: Writers on Movie Actors, ed. Luc Sante and Melissa Holbrook Pierson (New York: Pantheon, 1999), 28. Robert Polito’s father tended bar at the Coach and Horses, and his first writing job, sort of, was editorial work for Holloway House, which published Payton’s memoir I Am Not Ashamed, the first edition of which Polito transcribed and copyedited. See Barbara Payton, I Am Not Ashamed (Los Angeles: Holloway Press, 1963).
(7.) There was plenty of gossip about Stanwyck in the’40s and’50s, and she had plenty to be ashamed of as well. See Axel Madsen, Stanwyck: A Biography (New York: Open Road, 2015); and Anne Helen Peterson, “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Many Faces of Barbara Stanwyck,” the hairpin: http://thehairpin.com/2013/03/scandals-of-classic-hollywood-the-many-faces-of-barbara-stanwyck/.
(9.) “Franchot Tone’s Ex-Wife Jean Wallace Stabs Self: Mother Awakened by Screams in the Night, Wrests Knife from Daughter in Kitchen,” Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1949, 1.
(11.) See “Tone Granted Custody of Two Sons in Court Battle with Jean Wallace,” Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1950, 5. The custody ruling would be amended in 1952, after Wallace’s marriage to the actor Cornell Wilde and Tone’s fistfight with Neal— “Joint Custody of Tone Children Won by Mother,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1952, 5 —and that later ruling would persist through 1956, by which time Tone’s disastrous relationship with Payton had made him out to be a prize fool. Meanwhile, Wallace’s life got back on track; the marriage to Wilde had by 1956 lasted half a decade, and she had resumed her acting career, including a co-starring role with Wilde in the terrific noir crime film The Big Combo (Joseph Lewis, 1955). See also “Franchot Tone Compromises Custody Plea,” Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1956, A12.
(12.) “Love’s Lonely Fugitive” is the title of an August 1956 article by Ruth Seymour in Movie Secrets magazine about another movie star with romantic problems, Rita Hayworth. The article focuses on the actress’s many failed affairs and marriages. The melodramatic coverage of female stars’ love lives has long been a staple of gossip and entertainment-industry news. In the transition era, two parallel narratives emerged: (1) that celebrity hopelessly complicated the search for the right guy, and (2) that celebrity prompted a carelessness, a wantonness, that as well left these fabulous women unfulfilled and lonely.
(13.) While it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in I Am Not Ashamed, Payton’s 1963 memoir released by the frankly disreputable Los Angeles publisher Holloway House, the actress affirms her willingness to perform on the casting couch, so to speak (see pages 106–9), to get acting roles and in at least (p.218) one case (see p. 190) to exchange sexual favors for film financing. For the audition story, see pages 112–13.
(14.) Edwin Shallert, “Cagney Smart in Rough, Tough Film,” Los Angeles Times, August 9, 1950, 9. Shallert had written (positively) about Payton before. In “Metro Seeks Long Term Contract with Calhern; Giant Killer Speeded,” Los Angeles Times, July 1, 1949, 19, he complimented her work on Trapped. Months after the review of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Shallert put Payton’s name in the headline of his column: “Jack London Episodic Film in Offing; Payton Set as Cochrane Spouse,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1950, B7.
(16.) “Review: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” Variety, December 31, 1949: http://variety.com/1949/film/reviews/kiss-tomorrow-goodbye-1200416647/.
(18.) The gossip attending Payton’s dalliance with Madison and Tone’s subsequent confrontation, armed with photographs taken by a private detective, with her younger co-star got Payton briefly suspended at Warner Bros., mostly because Madison felt compelled to leave for New York until Tone simmered down and the story fell out of the papers. In retrospect it is fair to surmise that Jack Warner valued Madison and his film over Payton. The valuation proved astute; Madison would be a stalwart performer in film westerns for Warner Bros. and then on TV for CBS; he was the star of the successful series The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, which ran from 1951 until 1958.
(19.) Charles Higham, Howard Hughes: The Secret Life (New York: St. Martin’s, 2004), 160. According to Higham, after the Tone-Neal brawl, Hughes, who was at the time a notorious womanizer, ended the affair.
(20.) This proved to be a complicated case, and even if Payton’s alibi was false—and it may have been—Adams still may not have been the killer. In his book In My Father’s Name (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991), Max Arax alleges that the Davidian murder was covered up by the Fresno police at the urging of California Attorney General Frederick N. Howser, who at the time, Arax claims, was in Mickey Cohen’s pocket. A car seen leaving the scene provided a fascinating set of suspects: an unidentified narcotics agent, a former cop and heroin trafficker named Rusty Doan, and a Fresno police lieutenant named John Orndoff, whom the author blames for the murder of his father.
(22.) Wallace’s attorneys introduced this argument. See “Actor Backs Adams in Davidian Alibi,” Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1950, 29.
(24.) Her address at the time, 1803 Courtney Terrace, remains a stop on many of the star-scandal tours in L.A. See E. J. Fleming, Hollywood Death and Scandal Sites (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2015), 55.
(25.) “Franchot Tone Badly Hurt in Fight at Actress’ Home,” Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1951, 2.
(26.) “Tom Neal Knocks Out Tone in Love Fist Fight: Barbara Payton Hysterical after Brawl on Lawn,” Los Angeles Herald-Express, September 14, 1951, 1.
(28.) “Tone Didn’t Hit First, Barbara Payton Says,” Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1951, 2.
(29.) “Barbara Ignores Rules to See Tone,” Los Angeles Times, September 16, 1951, 3.
(32.) “Wife, 29, Slain; Actor, 51, Held,” New York Daily News, April 3, 1965, 1.
(34.) John Gilmore, Severed: The True Story of the Back Dahlia Murder (Los Angeles: Amok Books, 1994).
(35.) “Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen”: http://www.glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com/show/217/Barbara+Payton/index.html.
(36.) See John Gilmore, “A Story from Someone Who Knew Elizabeth Short and Marilyn Monroe Personally,” Horror Zine: http://www.thehorrorzine.com/Special/JohnGilmore/JohnGilmore.html.
(37.) This first issue was dated December 1952.
(38.) J. Howard Rutledge, “The Rise of the Exposé Magazines,” Kansas City Times, August 10, 1955, 30.
(39.) Alan Betrock, Unseen America: The Greatest Cult Magazines, 1950–1966 (Brooklyn: Shake Books, 1990), 4, 28.
(40.) Confidential, March and July 1956.
(41.) Jack Jones, “Witness Tells of Wild Pool Party,” Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1957, 18. See also Mary Desjardins, “Systematizing Scandal: Confidential Magazine, Stardom, and the State of California,” in Headline Hollywood: A Century of Film Scandal, ed. Adrienne L. McLean and David A. Cook (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001), 206–31.
(42.) This final charge stemmed from the sensational coverage of the clandestine abortion industry as well as dubious advertisements in the magazine for male rejuvenation.
(43.) For the publisher’s full statement, see http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/confidential/hollyvconfid.html.
(44.) Miscegenation was a major taboo—indeed, it was still illegal in many states—and thus it was a favorite subject of the magazine, as well as a frequent opportunity for shakedown and blackmail. The African-American actress Dorothy Dandridge’s dalliances with white men and the affairs of Sammy Davis, Jr., with white women were covered frequently in the magazine.
(45.) In despair over the case in general and with how badly his testimony was received by the jury, in January 1958, three months after the Confidential trial ended, while riding in a New York City taxicab, Rushmore pulled out a gun, murdered his wife, and then shot himself dead. Weirdly, Harrison, whom Rushmore had betrayed at the trial, refused to accept the official version and used his still-considerable investigative resources and connections to allege foul play.
(p.220) (46.) For a full account of the trial (used to full advantage here), see Douglas O. Linder, “The Confidential Trial: An Account,” in Famous Trials, published by the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/confidential/confidentialaccount.html.
(48.) Nightbeat, December 1956.
(51.) Vice Squad, April 1963.
(52.) “It Pays to Sit,” Los Angeles Examiner, January 30, 1947, section 2, 14.
(53.) In 2015, the negatives and color separations from the original shoot were auctioned off for $6 million. See “That’s One Pricey Pin-Up,” Daily Mail, December 23, 2015: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3235373/Rare-stills-Marilyn-Monroe-s-iconic-nude-calendar-shoot-1950s-revealed-worth-6-MILLION.html.
(54.) Hugh Hefner paid just $500 to license the photographs for the inaugural issue of Playboy, which hit the newsstands in December 1953.
(56.) Of the four uncredited roles, one is listed as undetermined and unconfirmed.
(57.) Kirk Douglas’ founded his production company, Bryna Productions, in 1955 and produced more than twenty-five films casting the actor in a lead role. Among Bryna’s best-known films are Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957), Spartacus (Kubrick, 1960), and Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer, 1964). Burt Lancaster’s production company, HHL, formed with Harold Hecht and James Hill in 1954, enabled the actor to challenge studio typecasting and better control his career. Among HHL’s best films was The Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957), in which the movie star played a sociopathic newspaper columnist based rather obviously on Walter Winchell.
(58.) “Red Super Bomb Kicks Off Series,” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1962, 1, 13.
(59.) Howard Hertel and Don Neff, “Unclad Body of Star Discovered on Bed; Empty Bottle Near,” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1962, 1.
(61.) Charles E. Davis, Jr., “Sad Child, Unhappy Star,” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1962, 1, 25.
(62.) In 1967 Noguchi would replace Curphey to become the county’s chief medical examiner; in that position he supervised the high-profile autopsies of Robert Kennedy, Sharon Tate, Janis Joplin, and Natalie Wood.
(63.) The autopsy report is available on the Web site autopsyfiles.com. The full document can be found at: http://www.autopsyfiles.org/reports/Celebs/monroe,%20marilyn_report.pdf.
(64.) This document is available on line as well at: http://www.autopsyfiles.org/reports/Celebs/monroe,%20marilyn_report.pdf.
(p.221) (66.) Jay Margolis, Marilyn Monroe: A Case for Murder (Bloomington: Universe, 2011), 138–39. The enema drug-delivery theory has been widely reported (by almost every biographer). Monroe took enemas for weight control, so perhaps that was what Lawford meant by his comment. The biographer Donald Spoto found forensic experts who seriously doubted the effectiveness of such a delivery method—much of the dose would be expelled before it was absorbed. See Donald Spoto, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography (New York: Cooper Square Press, 1993), 588–89. Speculation abounds with regard to this comment, with regard not only to Monroe’s official cause of death but also to the larger conspiracies attending the death of John F. Kennedy. See Richard Gilbride, Matrix for Assassination (Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2009), 12.
(69.) Worth a look here is the film An American Affair, directed by William Olsson in 2008, in which the actress Gretchen Mol, who in the film bears a distinct physical resemblance to Monroe, plays a free-spirited woman having an affair with an American president. The character bears a greater historical resemblance to Kennedy’s mistress Judith Exner, who carried on an affair with the president and the gangster Sam Giancana. The film pivots on a possible diary and what the FBI, CIA, and Secret Service might do to protect a president.
(70.) See Graham McCann, Marilyn Monroe (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 53–58.
(71.) Todd S. Purdum, “Milton A. Rudin, 79, Lawyer for Sinatra and Other Stars,” New York Times, December 17,1999: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/12/17/arts/milton-a-rudin-79-lawyer-for-sinatra-and-other-stars.html.
(74.) The 1985 BBC documentary Say Goodbye to the President (Christopher Olgiati) elaborates this version convincingly.
(75.) Frank A. Capell, The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe (Staten Island: The Herald of Freedom Press, 1964).
(76.) Norman Mailer, Marilyn: A Biography (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1974). See also an FBI memorandum from T. J. Smith to J. Edgar Hoover dated July 23, 1973: https://books.google.com/books?id=eb2oQbu8xcsC&pg=PT32&dq=Mailer+on+Monroe's+death&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKE-wiHzLzkj7TKAhUN12MKHeA8CtIQ6AEIOz.AC#v=onepage&q=Mailer%20on%20Monroe's%20death&f=false; and Mary Dearborn, Mailer: A Biography (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1999), 317.
(77.) The episode of 60 Minutes first aired on July 13, 1973, on CBS.
(78.) Robert Slatzer, The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe (London: W. H. Allen 1975).
(79.) Anthony Sciacca, Who Killed Marilyn? (New York: Manor Books, 1976).
(p.222) (80.) Milo Speriglio, The Marilyn Conspiracy (New York: Pocket Books, 1986).
(81.) Anthony Summers, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe (New York: Orion, 2000).
(82.) Sarah Churchwell, The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe (New York: Metropolitan, 2005).
(86.) Huston made Freud from a Charles Kaufman script in 1962, a year after he directed Monroe in her last complete film, The Misfits. Whatever Sartre may have contributed to the production went uncredited. Monroe’s friend Montgomery Clift starred as the legendary psychotherapist, and Susannah York played the role Huston had initially planned for Monroe.
(87.) Miller’s politics were well known to HUAC. His 1953 anti–witch hunt play The Crucible offered a thinly veiled metaphor for the political hysteria of the times. After Miller found himself on a variety of blacklists, the HUAC chair Francis E. Walter offered (or at least he is rumored to have offered) Miller a unique deal: bring Monroe to Washington to pose for pictures with the Pennsylvania congressman, and the committee would leave him alone, despite clear evidence of what at the time was regarded as subversive political activity. Miller refused to comply, and the committee pulled his passport, preventing the playwright from traveling outside the United States.
(88.) Both Parsons and Hopper published memoirs in the early 1960s: Louella Parsons, Tell it to Louella (New York: Putnam, 1961); and Hedda Hopper, with James Brough, The Truth and Nothing But (New York: Doubleday, 1962). Both books were nostalgic and retrospective, revealing that the columnists were aware that their significance in the discourse on celebrity had diminished. Parsons retired in 1965, slowly turning over her column to Dorothy Manners through the previous twelve months. Hopper persisted through 1966, the year she passed away, but her power and prestige had diminished noticeably by then.
(89.) Hedda Hopper, “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood,” Los Angeles Examiner, October 19, 1952, III, 1.
(91.) Michelle Williams’s deft portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011) reveals the complexity of Monroe’s performance of innocence and sex appeal. Much as we see Monroe (as portrayed by Williams) through the eyes of the men who fall (or, in Laurence Olivier’s case, don’t fall) for Monroe’s performance of Marilyn, so to speak, we begin to recognize the calculation, the method to the madness of the woman, and the world that seemed to spin around her. The act, which by then (the film is set in 1956 and 1957) had become second-nature to the mythic and indulged movie star, was—or so Williams’s portrayal suggests; so Curtis’s direction suggests, and so Colin Clark’s memoir (on which the film is based) suggests—a mode of self-defense, all right, but it was also complexly selfish and destructive.
(p.223) (92.) Samantha Barbas, The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005), 316, citing Muir and Crawford.
(93.) See Christina Crawford, Mommie Dearest (New York: William Morrow, 1978); and the film adaptation Mommie Dearest (Frank Perry, 1981).
(94.) Jennifer Frost, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 209.
(95.) Hedda Hopper, “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1962, C8.
(100.) There is still some debate about the year of Dee’s birth; it’s pegged at either 1942 or 1944, which would make her either 16 or 14 when she landed her first big role in The Reluctant Debutante (Vincente Minnelli, 1958) and a year older when she starred in Gidget (Paul Wendkos, 1959). Daphne Merkin’s 2005 New York Times obituary sets the birth year at 1944. See Daphne Merkin, “Gidget Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” New York Times, December 25, 2005: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/magazine/gidget-doesnt-live-here-anymore.html?_r=0; the website IMDB lists the birth year as 1942. Merkin insists on the later birth date, arguing, persuasively, that Dee’s ever-ambitious mother backdated her age to make her appear older and get her career started.
(101.) See Roger Ebert, “Beyond Miss Dee: Sandra Dee Grows Up,” Roger Ebert Interviews, November 5, 1967: http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/beyond-miss-dee-sandra-dee-grows-up; and Sandra Dee, “Learning to Live Again: A Former Teen Queen Shakes Free of Her Humiliating Past to End Years of Self-Hate and Loneliness,” People, March 18, 1991: http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20114698,00.html.
(102.) Dodd Darin, Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee (New York: Warner Books, 1994).
(104.) See A. E. Hotchner, Doris Day: Her Own Story (New York: William Morrow, 1976).