By Peter Frost:
The two sides of Marilyn Monroe
Tuesday 08 January 2013
Almost exactly 60 years ago arch-sexist Hugh Hefner launched Playboy magazine.
When it came to choosing the cover girl and first centre-spread there was no contest. It just had to be Marilyn Monroe.
Who else appeared to match the American male dream of a shapely sex bomb who was both pliant, subservient and available?
A dizzy, bubbly blonde with no ideas or opinions of her own – for so many, that was the image they had of Marilyn Monroe.
Many still have that image today.
Just imagine how middle America might have reacted on discovering that its favourite sex icon was a communist.
Throughout her life and even more after her death, the tabloid media had a field day with Monroe’s private life.
If you believe the catalogue of scurrilous stories, she had slept with President Jack Kennedy, his brother Bobby and scores of film stars, male and female, from Marlon Brando to Elizabeth Taylor.
The lists were both comprehensive and imaginative. Albert Einstein and the plumber who came to fix her toilet were both allegedly welcomed into her bed.
The stories, true or not, certainly fed millions of male fantasies.
But Monroe’s image and the reality were as different as chalk and cheese. The supposedly dizzy brainless blonde actually had great intelligence and a real social conscience.
In segregated America she fought to get black performers onto previously white-only stages. She got Ella Fitzgerald her first booking in a Los Angles club that had previously only booked white artists.
This music video is called Ella Fitzgerald A Tisket a Tasket – From Ride Em Cowboy.
“Book Ella and I’ll sit in the front row for every performance,” she told the club owner – who wasn’t slow to realise that Monroe’s presence would bring in the crowds.
At the height of the anti-communist witch hunts she worked with and eventually married communist playwright Arthur Miller.
“Miller wouldn’t have married me if I was just a dumb blonde,” she told the press.
She employed communists and communist sympathisers at home and in her film production company. Her doctors and therapists were close to the Communist Party or indeed actual members.
Whether these people actually held – or told people they held – Communist Party membership cards is of little consequence.
After much campaigning and many Freedom of Information requests FBI files on Marilyn Monroe that could not be located earlier this year have finally been unearthed and published.
They contain gems like this, from an anonymous male caller, who phoned the Daily News to report that the actress’s company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, was filled with communists and that money from the company was being used to finance communist activities.
The caller said Miller’s marriage to Monroe during a Jewish ceremony less than a month earlier was a cover-up. Miller, the man said, “was still a member of the Communist Party and was their cultural front man.”
The files are not just vague and anonymous – they are far from complete and have been heavily censored. Other FBI files have not yet been released and the Bureau is still resisting anybody looking at them.
When Monroe’s house was remodelled after her death an extensive network of bugging devices were discovered.
The newly released files do show how frightened the FBI was that Monroe would be revealed as a communist sympathiser.
In fact the film star had never been ashamed of her opinions or her communist-leaning friends.
The records reveal her association with Frederick Vanderbilt Field, who was disinherited from his wealthy family over his leftist views. Field was universally described by the US media as a “millionaire communist.”
Monroe made no secret of her friendship with the Fields. She took a trip to Mexico where they were living in self-imposed exile with a group of other communists.
Field’s autobiography devotes an entire chapter to Monroe’s Mexico trip. He tells readers: “She talked mostly about herself and some of the people who had been or still were important to her.
“She told us about her strong feelings for civil rights, for black equality, as well as her admiration for what was being done in China, her anger at red-baiting and McCarthyism and her hatred of [FBI top dog] J Edgar Hoover.”
Monroe’s FBI file begins in 1955 and mostly focuses on her travels and associations, searching for signs of leftist views and possible ties to communism.
One entry, which previously had been almost completely censored, tells us that Monroe and other entertainers sought visas to visit Soviet Russia – a terrible crime in the eyes of Hoover’s FBI.
For all the focus on Monroe’s closeness to suspected communists, the bureau never found any proof she was an actual member of the party.
“Subject’s views are very positively and concisely leftist; however, if she is being actively used by the Communist Party, it is not general knowledge among those working with the movement in Los Angeles,” an entry in Monroe’s file states.
If they had simply asked Monroe could have told them that.
Just before her mysterious death in 1962 she gave a quote to a journalist.
“Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe,” she told him.
Fifty years after her death, and with her still making headlines, that is surely the least we can do for Marilyn Monroe.
We’ll give her the last word because what she believed in speaks for itself.
“What I really want to say is that what the world needs is a feeling of kinship. Everybody – stars, labourers, blacks, Jews, Arabs – we’re all brothers!”
Marilyn Monroe at Home in Hollywood: Color Portraits, 1953: here.
- Marilyn Monroe targeted by FBI for pro-socialist views (prolecenter.wordpress.com)
- FBI worried Marilyn Monroe was communist (bazaardaily.com)
- FBI Releases Marilyn Monroe Secret Files (newsy.com)
- What’s Inside the FBI’s Secret File on Marilyn Monroe? (theatlanticwire.com)
- Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe … (frithstreetpost.com)
- Go inside Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe (fashion.telegraph.co.uk)
- Book Review: Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe (prettycleverfilms.com)
- Marilyn Monroe ‘letter of despair’ to be sold at auction (swrnn.com)
- Marilyn Monroe photos stolen from Prague exhibit (bazaardaily.co.uk)
- Marilyn Monroe’s Closest Friend Talks (on.aol.com)