The Change in Alexis

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June 1946 Silver Screen

Yes, she had changed. Alexis Smith nodded her pretty blonde head in agreement. There had been a deep change in her real self. She thought there must inevitably be an equally deep change in her acting. And she knew just why.

“Of course, it’s my marriage that’s done that,” she said happily. “I know how different it has made me feel. I don’t see how it can help being reflected in my acting. And for the better, too.”

It wasn’t just contentment, that inner glow of happiness, which had changed Alexis Smith. That may have heightened her fair young beauty. There was more to this change than contentment.

“For the first time I haven’t got all my eggs in one basket,” Alexis explained. “That’s so important, this knowing there is something besides a career.

“I look at other actresses in Hollywood, ones who aren’t happily married, and I know what was the matter with me — and what was wrong with my acting.

“I was trying too hard. I kept working and working, and trying and trying. I overdid it. I was tense all the time. It was so important to me. A career seemed to be all there was in the world. And when you try too hard you aren’t very good.”

She had learned now to relax. A career has become fun, something to balance a cheerful marriage. Acting, success, fame are no longer matters of life and death. And just because they aren’t, they are coming much more easily to Alexis Smith.

“Eddie Goulding warned me about that when I did my first picture, ‘The Constant Nymph,’” Alexis remembered. “He kept saying I was ‘too perfect.’ Of course, I didn’t know what that meant. I said one couldn’t be too perfect. I kept on trying to be somewhere near good anyway.

“Then Mr. Goulding said perfection was fine. Naturally. But I was trying so hard, so terribly hard that I was tense all the time. There was a strain in my whole performance. It was ‘too perfect.’

“How I wish I could go back and do ‘Constant Nymph’ all over again. I hope I could be better, much better. After all, I should have learned something in three years.”

She has, at any rate, learned to let things slide a little. Craig did that for her. Craig Stevens is an actor, too. He was just getting started when war came along to interrupt his budding career. Craig went into the Army. He’s a good-looking young fellow who’d played with Alexis in two pictures, a little B production called “Steel Against The Sky” and a wild farce which neither of them likes to remember now, “The Doughgirls.”

Alexis is a tall girl, standing five feet eight in her stocking feet. Her hair is blonde and her eyes gray-blue; and she hopes she doesn’t look as tall as she really is.

“You see, I have small bones — and my face is small, too,” she said anxiously, but not too anxiously. “People don’t realize how tall I am, usually.”
She is growing up to that height now. It was a former Warner producer, David Lewis, who made five Bette Davis pictures and is now working on “Arch of Triumph” independently, who had called attention to the change in Alexis Smith. She used to be, he said, just a “tall little girl.” Now, seeing her at a Broadway opening on her first visit to New York he was struck by the new depth in her face. He would not hesitate to give her the Davis role in “Dark Victory” if he were re-making that now She wouldn’t play it like Bette, the producer said, but he knew, he was absolutely sure, that she could play such a vital and complicated part.

Alexis chuckled over the “tall little girl” description. She guessed that’s just what she had been, just a tall little girl trying hard to look grown-up.

The roles were all too old for her, much too old. But Alexis was tall. She had a natural dignity and a natural beauty. She had studied dancing so she walked with poise. That is more than most studios ask of twenty-year-olds. Alexis just didn’t have a chance at ingenue parts.

Not that she minded that. She’d tried two of these sweet young girl roles in two little films, “The Smiling Ghost” and that most important picture of her life, “Steel Against The Sky,” the picture which introduced her to Craig. Then Edmund Goulding saw her and thought of the wife in “The Constant Nymph.” He made one screen test, liked it, and suggested Alexis learn to talk with an English accent.

“Well, I did,” Alexis remembered, chuckling. “I got a tutor and I talked British all the time. For three months I studied and studied. And I got to talking with such an English accent that all my friends hated me. They just couldn’t stand it.

“Then they took another test and said I sounded natural. That was what they wanted, not just the kind of English accent you pick up easily. They wanted me to talk like that all the time, even in my sleep, so that no one could think I wasn’t English. In the part, you know.”

Well, those were the pictures that changed her life, “Steel Against The Sky” and “The Constant Nymph.” The first, which wasn’t much of a picture, led her to marriage. The second jumped her from smiling ingenues to mature character roles.

“It was like having your life advanced five years,” Alexis said. “You know how people usually have to struggle through a whole series of ingenue parts that don’t mean anything, until they have a chance at acting parts.

“Well, just suddenly I had the kind of part every young actress is dying to get. Once they’d seen me as a mature actress they never put me back in the ingenue class again. Of course, I’m glad about that. But it did make me strain harder than ever. I was always tense every time I walked on a set. It seemed such a big chance. I wanted so much to make good in it.”

She was making good, in spite of that anxiety, when on June 18, 1944, she married Craig Stevens. He had a medical discharge from the Army.

“June is quite a month for us,” Alexis declared. “First there’s my birthday, then our anniversary, and then Craig’s birthday. It just keeps us celebrating all month long.”

They had been courting, as Alexis describes it, during Craig’s Army days. That was when her future father-in-law came out from Kansas City to look her over. Alexis didn’t put it like that. She just said Craig’s father had visited him in Hollywood about that time; and she laughed as she remembered his report to the folks back home.

“You know, they’d heard Craig’s fiancee had something to do with movies, and they wanted to know what she was like.”
This was Alexis’ modest description of herself, ‘something to do with movies,’ after she’d appeared in “The Constant Nymph,” “Gentleman Jim,” and “The Adventures of Mark Twain.” She is, by the way, truly and astonishingly modest about her achievements. She doesn’t think she had begun to know her job yet. But she went on about the Kansas City report:

“Craig’s father had to answer so many questions he finally got a blanket answer to all of them. I love what he said. He just said Craig was marrying a regular he-man sort of girl.”

Alexis, a dainty, feminine young blonde, found this an entrancing description. She has always been tall. She has always been ambitious for a career. Her mother wanted her to be a concert pianist. Alexis practiced and practiced. Alexis herself wanted to be a ballet dancer. Alexis practiced and practiced at the ballet bar.

And if you want to make her really mad, you will ask if she isn’t too tall for ballet. She’ll answer you quickly, and vehemently:

“That’s the worst thing you could say. The very worst.

“Of course, it’s what every one says. Maybe it’s true. That’s the very worst part. I never believed it until I visited backstage at the ballet in Los Angeles. When I saw all those male dancers, so little — well, I realized I’d better give up ballet.

“But I’m still hoping Warners will give me a chance to dance in some picture. I did dance once, in ‘Hollywood Canteen.’ They got two husky adagio dancers to dance with me. I’d love to dance solo some time.”

Although she still keeps up her dancing, Alexis Smith is far from athletic. That surprises every one. People take one look at her slim height, her graceful walk, her clear skin. They think at once of the great outdoors.

“And I’ve never had time for the outdoors,” Alexis said, a little sadly. “I’ve always been studying something. Piano, ballet, acting. There just wasn’t time.

“I must look athletic. No one can believe I’m no good at anything outdoors, not even at swimming or riding. I’ve never been on a horse in my life.

“Craig’s always after me to learn tennis or golf so I can play with him. I suppose I should. Maybe I will try to learn. But I’m really very far from being athletic.”

That presents a problem now that her studio has gone ahead with plans for co-starring her with Ronald Reagan in “Stallion Road” instead of giving the coveted roles to Humphrey and Lauren Bacall Bogart. Alexis has been torn between delight at playing a girl somewhere near her own age and wonder at just how she is going to seem sufficiently adept at swimming and riding.

“When I read the script I couldn’t imagine what they’d do about me,” Alexis said in wonderment. “It will be really wonderful to wear dungarees and play a young girl — I’m twenty-four now — instead of trying to be a woman of thirty-eight in dignified evening clothes.
“But it seemed to me that every other scene has me leaping into the surf and swimming out to sea — or jumping on a wild horse and galloping off somewhere. I hope the studio knows of a tall blonde girl who can do all those things for me. I can’t do one of them.”

It will be an interesting contrast to the dignified roles she’s had these past three years.

“There have been so many pictures in which I just have to look dignified and a lot older than I am. I’ve played so many parts in which all I have to do is lift my eyebrows, stand up straight, and walk around in a stately manner that I do all that automatically whenever the director starts a scene.”

She is usually inspiring some one on to bigger and better things. Alexis can hardly believe she has made only three autobiographies. “Night And Day,” musical tale of Cole Porter, is the latest.

“I’m so afraid,” she laughed, “that some time I’ll go home and try it on Craig. Can’t you imagine my saying to him, ‘Oh, my dear, the whole world lies before you ——’”

Alexis smiled, then sighed a little. She could hardly wait to get home to Craig. This was their first separation. Warner Brothers wanted Alexis to visit New York and talk about all those pictures, four of them, which are finished and awaiting release. They are “One More Tomorrow,” “Of Human Bondage,” “The Two Mrs. Carrolls,” and “Night And Day.” Alexis was delighted with the idea of a trip to New York. She had never been here. Now that she’s seen New York, she’s not so sure she’d like to live here. She had a good time visiting. But her idea of living is a house and a garden — and Craig. She hasn’t the house and garden yet. But they’ll come, they’ll come along all in good time. Alexis isn’t worrying about them.

“And I won’t pay fifty thousand dollars for an eighteen thousand dollar house,” she said firmly. “That’s what they want out in Hollywood now. In 1940 father and I built a house for nine thousand dollars. We sold it four years later for fourteen thousand. We thought that a wonderful profit. Now we hear it’s offered again at twenty-seven thousand. Well, Craig and I just won’t pay prices like that.

“Anyway, our apartment is unusually attractive, with gardens and a swimming pool. So we don’t mind waiting.”

But Craig was minding the waiting for her return from the East. He was working, his best parts since getting out of the Army. Warners had given him dramatic roles in two big pictures, “Humoresque” and “A Very Rich Man,” re-make of the George Arliss film, “The Millionaire.” He was busy: but that hadn’t kept him from being lonely, too. On the telephone he told Alexis she’d better come home soon. When she asked why he answered:

“When I can look at a toothbrush and feel sentimental, then it’s time for you to come home.”

Alexis was homesick. She hadn’t had a chance to be lonely. It was much worse for Craig, she knew, in that empty apartment. She hoped the studio would keep him busy, too.

It would have been fun for Alexis if one of those four completed productions had opened while she was in New York. She is a heavy in some of them. “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” makes her the woman for whom a husband tries to poison his wife. “One More Tomorrow,” which was once “The Animal Kingdom,” presents her as the hero’s mistress.

“Well, not really the mistress — but his wife, a wife who is really a mistress while the mistress is really a wife,” Alexis said and smiled at her efforts to explain “You remember the twist at the end? Where the hero says he’s going back to his wife, when he’s really going back to his mistress? Well, I’m the wife, a horrid person. Ann Sheridan is the sympathetic one.”

These catty females and the stately inspiring wives are Alexis’ usual lot in life. Errol Flynn pictures give her a relief from these. Although no one ever remembers she was in it, Alexis did have the romantic lead in “Dive Bomber” in-between the B melodramas and “The Constant Nymph.” Another Flynn picture, she thinks, did her career more good than any other. That was “Gentleman Jim” which was seen by tremendous numbers of people. “San Antonio” let her be a cafe singer in the Old West.

“It’s always fun to work in an Errol Flynn picture, because he’s so considerate,” Alexis continued. “Every one always seemed surprised at that. But it’s true. Errol is the most considerate star I’ve ever known. He’s always good-natured and amiable about everything.

“Maybe it’s because he doesn’t take his acting too seriously. Of course, that’s good for his acting, too. That’s what I’m learning now.”

There was a time when she wouldn’t have believed any one could take a career too seriously. That was when she was going through a two-year course at Los Angeles City College and studying ballet and piano seriously on the side. She could have gone into pictures then, if her father, Alexander Smith, had not warned the studio not to sign her before graduation. A talent scout had liked her performance in “The Night Of January 21,” put on by students.

“I hesitate to tell any one I studied drama at college,” Alexis confided. “It sounds so amateurish, and so silly somehow. Every one always says something like that. Usually it doesn’t mean a thing.

“But we did have such a fine professor of drama that I feel college taught me a great deal about acting. I specialized in drama; and it wasn’t just a snap course. I’m very grateful for what I learned.”

Although born in British Columbia, Alexis is still pretty much a Hollywood product. She went to school in Los Angeles, at thirteen danced in the Hollywood Bowl, at sixteen won a state declamation contest. At ten years old her piano playing was being seriously regarded by professionals. It is little wonder that the tall little girl grew up tense and eager about a career. For one thing, she had to choose between all these talents. For another, she had to live up to the promise of her childhood.

“Now I feel differently about it all,” Alexis explained. “I like a career, of course. I enjoy acting.

“But it’s not everything in life. If it were gone, there would still be something left. The most important things would still be left. Craig and I would have our marriage. And there would be other things we could do for a career.

“That is what Craig is always telling me. And it’s true. It’s terribly true. When a career is all that one has, then it becomes so difficult. When anything goes wrong then everything seems lost and ended. I know. That’s the way I used to feel.

“Now I can look at other people and feel so sorry when I know how tense they are about a career. All that worry keeps one from relaxing. An actress should be able to play without tenseness. You can’t do that when you feel your whole life depends on that scene.”

Alexis is sure this new sureness will be reflected some time in her acting, that somehow she will achieve an ease and naturalness she has never known.

“Craig says it wouldn’t matter if we both left pictures. After all, he could always get a job in Bullock’s basement. I could run the house, or get a job at Bullock’s too.

“And we wouldn’t have to get up at five-thirty in the morning. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

There was a time, only two years ago, when Alexis could not have imagined giving up a career so cheerfully. She could never have joked about it. She has changed, a happy, healthy change reflected in her work as well as her personality.

What it’s like to be married to Marilyn Monroe

 

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April 1958 Inside Story

“What would marriage to Marilyn Monroe be like?

Does she dawdle over her dressing and makeup? Does she hand her washed stockings over the shaving mirror? Would she rather watch the ‘Late Late Show’ or come to bed?

Does she encourage other men to make passes? Can she cook a decent meal – or isn’t that really important?

I interviewed dozens of people who have known the blonde charmer more or less intimately through her three marriages. I talked with men who knew Marilyn very well before she wed Joe DiMaggio and others who filled her time between the ballplayer and her current playwright husband, Arthur Miller.

And this story is the answer – so far as I know, the first definitive answer to appear in print. It is the frank, intimate INSIDE STORY of what private life is like with one of the world’s most desirable women, Marilyn Monroe.

California cop Jim Dougherty, who married Marilyn in 1942 when she was 16, is a shy, taciturn man, still bewildered by the fact that the shy blonde girl he abandoned in 1943 is today’s queen of the movies.

‘When I married Norma Jean (Marilyn’s real name),’ he said, ‘ she was sweet and innocent. She had a typical adolescent crush on me, things like liking me in white shirts and being fascinated by my mustache.’

A girlfriend who knew Marilyn in those days, however, tells a different story. ;The kid was scared to death of Jim – of any man,’ she told me.

She and Marilyn, the friend recalls, once got hold of a book on sex and marriage and read it in secret. Marilyn was horrified.

‘I don’t think I could ever do anything like that,’ she confided.

On her wedding night, Marilyn sat demurely in a chair with her hands in her lap, while Jim Dougherty prepared for bed.

‘Jim, honey,’ she said, ‘I want to ask you something. Do you mind if we stay just friends?’

Patiently, Dougherty outlined in some detail the extent of what he expected from his bride. To his surprise, Marilyn then told him how, as a very young girl, she had been physically assaulted by a man who boarded with her foster parents.

That wedding night set the mood for their marriage, which lasted hardly a year. Instead of regarding Dougherty as a husband, Marilyn called him ‘Daddy,’ and would spend hours talking about her tragic childhood.

Not even her gradual thawing-out in their marital relationship could compensate Marilyn’s husband for her other childish traits.

She was an incessant talker, although she had little of interest to discuss. In the midst of world war, her conversation was limited to movies, the cost of food and what to make for supper. And the charm of her endless monologue wasn’t heightened by the fact she had a pronounced stutter.

It was hard for Him even to get a word in edgewise. He couldn’t talk about his job and Marilyn froze whenever he told an off-color joke. He soon found himself spending more and more nights out with ‘the boys,’ even though he’d been married to Marilyn only a few months.

To her credit, the young bride was a good housekeeper. Years of semi-slavery in the kitchens of a dozen foster homes had drilled into her the necessity, if not the value, of cleanliness.

‘All his friends – even those who tried to flirt with his wife – felt sorry for Jim. Marilyn was pretty scatterbrained,’ said one of La Monroe’s old-time friends.

Dougherty escaped to the merchant marine, leaving a bewildered bride behind him. For Marilyn, it was a stroke of disguised luck. Low in funds, and with her husband at sea, she turned to modeling jobs, posed for the now-famous nude calendar and finally landed in the movies. She was on her way to stardom.

As a rising queen of the screen, she also become more conscious of her appearance. It was at this time that the famous Monroe habit of being late became evident.

‘She couldn’t be on time for anything even if she tried,’ says Flack Jones, who was her press agent at 20th Century-Fox. ‘When she was making a movie, shooting had to be scheduled a half-hour earlier than usual just to get Marilyn there on time.’

Even recently, when she was invited to the Warner Brothers’ premiere of A Face in the Crowd, the invitation sent to Marilyn was a special one. It read: ‘Performance starts at 8.’ All the other invitations sent out were for 8:30!

‘I knew she was always holding up work at the studio, missing trains and planes, things like that,’ recalled one of Marilyn’s favorite boyfriends after she divorced Dougherty. ‘But I did expect her to be ready for a date when I called.’

The Long Wait

Instead, he said, he would often arrive to find Marilyn running from bedroom to bathroom in nothing but a sheer negligee calling out, ‘I’ll be right with you, honey.’

‘I once got to read five whole chapters of The Brothers Karamazov, just waiting for Marilyn to get her lipstick on,’ says an ex-beau.

Two hours is still about par for Marilyn to make up her face. And during this period between her first and second marriages, she developed a disorderliness that drove her friends and admirers to distraction.

‘Visiting Marilyn,’ recalls one friend, ‘ was like walking into the china shop after the bull got through. Books and records all over the joint, dishes in the sink or on the table, discarded dresses here and there. When you entered the john – if you could get to it – there would be scraps of lipstick-covered tissues, powder all over the mirror. Marilyn’s stockings were usually hanging over the towel rack.’

It Was An ‘Ideal’ Marriage

This boyfriend, who had endeavored in vain to discover the secret at first hand, counted no less than three garter belts, with discarded stockings still attached, on the tile floor.

When Marilyn married Joe DiMaggio, friends said it was an ideal match. The actress, for all her sexiness, was actually a shy, retiring girl. And Joltin’ Joe also was not known for his sociability.

For a brief time they moved in Hollywood party circles, going out as often as possible. But around this time, through the film capital’s intellectuals, Marilyn discovered culture.

From drama coach Benno Schneidershe learned about the Stanislavsky acting method. With her husband’s friend, Frank Sinatra, she talked music. Writers introduced her to the world of books, artists to painting and sculpture. Marilyn was growing in awareness of a strange and wonderful new world.

No Talking In Bed

She wanted to discuss all the things she was learning. But DiMag was happy only when they retired to their Beverly Hills mansion. His idea of a pleasant evening was to spend hours in front of the TV set – and she discouraged conversation even during the commercials.

‘For months,’ recalls a friend, ‘they were holed up in that house. Nobody knew if they were happy or fighting. Marilyn only came out to fo to work, and then she wouldn’t talk about her home life.’

In the beginning, Marilyn apparently enjoyed the seclusion. For the first time, she discovered the real joys of married life.

‘I don’t approve of separate bedrooms,’ she told Joe. ‘Like sometimes when I’m in bed I think of something I want to say and I don’t want to go chasing down the hall to another room.’

Marilyn had indeed changed. Only a few months earlier, she had told an interviewer who asked if she thought she had a bedroom voice: ‘I don’t talk in the bedroom. That’s no place for talking.’

Now that was a sentiment DiMaggio agreed with. But he had something else in mind. He installed a giant television set in the bedroom. And though he readily agreed with Marilyn’s suggestions that they go to bed early, he would promptly switch on the set, ignoring his ravishing wife who lay between the sheets, ‘feeling blonde all over.’

Marilyn didn’t appreciate TV in the bedroom.

‘I think people need to feel warmth next to them when they are asleep, not somebody watching Steve Allen.’

Joe, on the other hand, objected to the way other men ogled his wife and the way she shrugged it off.

‘This would be a very uninteresting world if there weren’t any wolves,’ Marilyn told him. ‘Some are sinister. Others are just trying to get something for nothing. Others make a game of it. The last type is the most interesting.’

DiMaggio didn’t think any type of wolf was interesting, not with Marilyn playing Little Red Riding Hood. He also didn’t like the way her more intimate charms were displayed on the screen.

Their first big blow-up came after Joe watched Marilyn play the famous subway-grill scene in The Seven Year Itch, where a draught from below sent her skirt billowing up to her shoulders.

Shortly after their return to the Coast, Marilyn showed that she could be difficult to live with when crossed. After one argument, she banished her husband to the second floor of the house, while she remained below.

All the talk about double beds and ‘feeling warmth’ was forgotten in the icy chill that settled between them. They were divorced soon afterwards.

A year and a half ago, Marilyn married playwright Arthur Miller, a Brooklyn-born intellectual with horn-rimmed glasses. He was a far cry from Joe DiMaggio, and further still from Jim Dougherty.

Miller is 11 years older than his wife and wise in the ways of the world. Why did he marry Marilyn? How could a studious, orderly intellectual take as a bride a ‘dizzy blonde’ whose ex-husbands found her over-talkative, whose friends called her sloppy, whose co-workers called her silly and scatterbrained?

The secret is simple. Marilyn Monroe, whatever she may have been like to live with before, is not the same girl today. She has changed tremendously.

Even her stuttering has disappeared. She speaks well in public and is no longer afraid of people. Much of this she owed to Lee Strasberg, directer of the Actors Studio, who says:

‘Marilyn came to me a frightened, bewildered, shy girl. Now she is poised, at ease even among the most scholarly intellects who are Arthur Miller’s friends.’

The ‘New’ Marilyn

Although she has learned to talk well, she no longer monopolizes the conversation. She can sit for hours, listening to Arthur and his friends.

‘This doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand what’s being said,’ Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan stated.

Marilyn’s dressing room today contains a picture of Abraham Lincoln, books by Spinoza, Edgar Allan Poe, Dostoevsky, and Einstein, and modern statuary and paintings.

She has worked hard and knows what she’s reading and hearing. When she does make a comment on a conversation, it is an intelligent one, to the point.

The Millers still use a double bed. Marilyn says that if she were suddenly to become poor, a bed is what she would miss most of all.

‘I’d hate ever to be so poor again that I didn’t have a bed of my own.’

The Millers, however, are not poor. They live in a swank 13th-floor apartment on East 57th Street in New York, overlooking the East River.

Although Marilyn entertains a great deal, she and her husband seldom go out, except to walk their enormous basset hound, Lady [note: their basset hound was actually named Hugo].

Marilyn is proud of her famous husband. He is a writer of serious plays and novels, whereas DiMaggio’s main reading was said to be comic books.

Her present philosophy is that a wife ‘should soothe a man, calm him, try to be everything to him – partly mother, partly sister, partly mistress.’

She has improved her cooking, learning her husband’s favorite Jewish recipes from his mother.

Although her clothes bill is not high – her favorite dress cost $5.98 – she insists on helping Miller pick out his clothes, except where they disagree. Then he wins.

While out driving, Marilyn tends to be a side-seat driver, and Miller tolerantly calls her ‘Direction-Finder.’ She also makes him jeep a rigid schedule at the typewriter, whether he likes it or not.

Miller thrives on it. He has gained 25 pounds since they were married. Marilyn, on the other hand, carefully keeps her famous figure in check by dieting and exercising with bar bells.

When she suffered a miscarriage last year, she was heartbroken. But instead of breaking up and going into tantrums – as she might have done when she was younger – she calmly began planning for a new baby as soon as possible.

In only one major respect is she still the old Marilyn. Getting places on time is still a problem.

Miller is patient about it. He will usually first sit down and read a book until Marilyn has finished making up her fabulous face, paying particular attention to disguising a small bump on the end of her nose. When he remonstrates with her, it is only in the gentlest terms.

‘Penny Dreadful,’ he will say, using one of his pet names for her, ‘even if you didn’t wear makeup, you still look good to me.’

Marilyn has taken the hint and now often goes without makeup. And, of course, she still does look good.

Meanwhile, she is trying to discipline herself about keeping her appointments on time. She is usually only an hour late these days. And there has been a marked improvement in her personal neatness. Garter belts no longer hang over the Miller towel racks.

And there are, of course, other compensations in being married to Marilyn, besides the obvious ones.

‘As a wife,’ Arthur Muller says, ‘she has an enormous sense of play and inventiveness. She is never dull.’

And 100 million American males will probably wonder how anyone could have thought for a moment that life with Marilyn could be dull.

Best Classic Hollywood Books of 2019

Best Old Hollywood Books of 2019

Best Biography:

This is a tough one being there have been some great biographies released this year. I’m excluding the 50s blondes from this category being I already know I’m going to have a bias towards them. My vote is for Dutch Girl.

1

Dutch Girl (which I received an advance copy of but was unable to review in a timely manner due to a personal emergency) is by esteemed author Robert Matzen. Matzen expertly traces and tells the story of Audrey Hepburn’s young life with a major focus on the WWII years. Hepburn’s life has been done to death, but this book provides new insights on the making of an icon.

Best Monroe Biography:

2

Private Life of a Public Icon’s title basically says it all. Casillo attempts to shed the light on Monroe as a person, not an actress. While I don’t always agree with Casillo’s conclusions, the book is a must have for any Monroe book collector.

Best Blondes Biography:

3

When a Girl’s Beautiful by Richard Koper examines the life of a woman who has sadly been forgotten with time. Lansing never quite made it but she sure as hell tried. One thing I really enjoy about Koper’s work is how he continuously focuses on women who were always on the brink of stardom but continuously watched it slip out of their hands.

Best Picture Book:

This one is a tie being the books are so different from one another, I couldn’t pick just one.

4

John O’ Dowd is still attempting to give Barbara Payton the recognition she deserves, and this book is one for the ages. Containing over 1,000 photos, we see Payton’s rise and fall from superstardom. I recommend reading this book after his first Payton venture, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story. You’ll need both to fully understand Payton both as a person and a performer.

5

Vieira has partnered with TCM to give us this lovely coffee table book focusing on the Pre-Code Era. Full of pictures, tidbits, and a keen selection of films to showcase when sin ruled the movies, Vieira gives the reader an illustrated film history in a large, lovely package.

Best Film Retrospective:

6

Jean Harlow’s films have not been properly evaluated in book-form since The Films of Jean Harlow in 1969. As much as I appreciate the Films of series, they have nothing on what Neibaur has presented us. Harlow’s tempestuous personal life frequently overshadows her professional accomplishments but Neibaur has righted this wrong in his excellent retrospective of the original Blonde Bombshell’s work.

What We Want for Christmas

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From Picture Week, December 20, 1955.

What We Want for Christmas… by 20 Celebrities

With the visit from the cherubic old gent at the left only two weeks away, Picture Week decided to pay a holiday call on 20 of the celebrities who have graced its pages during the past year. Each of the 20 was asked one question: “What would you like for Christmas?” The answers follow, with a prefatory note to anxious fan clubs: the suggested sources for these particular Christmas gifts are : local retail stores, hospitals, banks, and any diplomatic table in the world.

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Steve Allen: 48 hours on uninterrupted sleep.

Milton Caniff: A Rube-Goldberg-like couch, with a cybernetic brain machine that does all the work needed to turn out Steve Canyon. When it is finished, you kick a pedal and the money rolls out.

Walter Slezak: I want a new boat. I lost my old one in a storm.

Al Capp: I’d like my little friend, the Bald Iggle (who makes people tell the truth), to be by my side and yours this Christmas and the year ahead. I expect we’ll be needing him.

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Ed Sullivan: It’s not very original, but the only thing I’d like is world peace.

Margaret Truman: I’d like a gadget to wake me gently, open the Venetian blinds, close the window, and have a cup of steaming hot coffee at my bedside.

Bess Myerson: I’d like things to remain the same as they are for me and my family. And I hope for Peace on earth, good will toward men, because it was never needed more than today.

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Nejla Ates: I don’t know what Christmas is; they don’t have it in Turkey. I can have anything I want? A million dollars and I’ll use it to buy the Majestic Theatre.

Hal March: . . . three and half acres of bamboo fields in Calcutta. But seriously, I’d like peace in this world; and for myself, I’d like my life to continue as it’s been for as long as it can.

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Harry Belafonte: I would like to see a definite and appreciable gain in the lot not only of the Negro professional but the Negro laborer in this country as well.

Henry Morgan: I will not tell you in a hundred words what I want for Christmas, I will tell you in three words: Surcease from travail.

Raymond Loewy: A non-fattening turkey, ten pounds of dietetic marons glace, and the address of a nearby drugstore that would not send iced coffee and cream when I order tea and lemon.

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Mr. Magoo: Mae West under the mistletoe.

Charles Atlas: My wish for Christmas is that every man in this country be healthy and strong. A strong America is a peaceful America.

Dave Garroway: I want most for Christmas a 1932 PII Rolls Royce, just because I like cars.

Robert Harrison: A good, Juicy scandal [Harrison was the publisher of Confidential].

G. David Schine: Customers at the Roney Plaza, the McAllister, the Gulf Stream, the Ambassador. I want plenty of customers for Christmas.

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Ernie Kovaks: The gift I want most for Christmas I already have, and it comes gift-wrapped all year: The greatest wife and two daughters that Santa ever handed out.

Dick Shawn: My Christmas package arrived last Tuesday – a 7-lb baby girl. But I could use a spare 2,000 dispensable diapers. I’m getting dishpan hands.

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Gwen Verdon: I’d like a miniphone – a little portable recorder that you can attach to the body. It would be invaluable for practicing accent, intonation, dialect and so forth.

When a Girl’s Beautiful

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When A Girl’s Beautiful: The Life and Career of Joi Lansing

 

Koper is at it again with his biography of 1950s starlet, Joi Lansing. Koper has previously written on the likes of Jayne Mansfield, Barbara Nichols, and an encyclopedia of 1950s blondes. Joi has had one book written about her previously, written by her rumored lover, Alexis Hunter. Koper hits the mark on the 1950s bombshell, showcasing a life and career that leaves one constantly thinking “What If?”

 

Koper begins with the usual biographic fare. We learn Joi had a rather difficult childhood with an overbearing mother and an absentee father. He traces her marriages, career, and personal life on a subject who is relatively difficult to find information on. As always, his book is full of photographs and little tidbits on her life that bring “Joi Lansing” to life. Her struggles are relatable (she always seemed to be two steps away from hitting it big, her eventual issues with botched plastic surgery). Her highs are notable, if not always memorable to audiences of today. One of the biggest bombshells (no pun intended) is Joi’s affair with Sinatra, with her agent, Bill Corcoran telling Koper, “Joi was very smart and very sweet. She was not a playgirl and I was surprised she started dating and even moved in with Frank Sinatra. She told me she couldn’t stand Sinatra drinking all night, although she said he was wonderful to her and his best attribute was that he wanted to please any girl he was having sex with, and that included just about every starlet in Hollywood.”

 

This shouldn’t be taken as another sleaze ball biography. Koper, as always, remains respectful of his subject. We learn Joi was not the Mormon-girl-next-door she claimed to be but liked the stories circulating so she could be perceived as a “good girl.” Koper has interviewed everyone under the sun who had even the slightest interaction with Joi, including Mamie Van Doren, Gloria Pall, Hunter, John Shupe (Joi’s cousin), Beverly Watkins (another cousin), and a host of other players in Joi’s life.

 

My only real issue is a story given to Koper by Hunter which details Marilyn Monroe propositioning Joi for an affair. There has never been anything that has come to light from Monroe’s estate or any other star’s to support the rumors of Marilyn dallying in lesbianism. This should not be taken as anything homophobic by me (if she was, she was) but I always prefer some sort of documentation to avoid Scotty Bowers/Darwin Porter vibes. There have also been whispers about Hunter exaggerating her relationship with Joi. Again, I am not able to comment on these besides saying Hunter has provided a handful of documents and a photo that solidifies some sort of relationship (I touched upon this in my review of Hunter’s book).

 

Overall, I would highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a sneak-peak on the girl who was almost always close to stardom but never quite there. Koper’s work is some of the best in the field and I will always recommend his books to anyone who wants to find out more on 1950s blondes. Buy by clicking here.

 

Final Rating: 9/10