Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Captivated by Marilyn – A Brief Biography of Gary Vitacco-Robles

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

#sexsymbol #MarilynMonroe #Fifties #Cinema

This is the third in a series about Gary Vitacco-Robles, the author of the monumental biography ICON:The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes I and II. I have reviewed both volumes and published two segments of my interview with Vitacco-Robles. In this installment, I asked him to share something about his personal life.

Gary, the biographical information on you is quite sketchy as presented by the usual sources. Please fills us in on your background.

Gary Vitacco-Robles - A Birthday Photo

Gary Vitacco-Robles – A Birthday Photo

I was born to a warm Italian family and lived until age 10 in Flushing/Bayside New York. In 1975, my family relocated to a rural area north of the Tampa Bay – a severe culture shock for me, but I grew to enjoy how generations of Florida-born residents were melding with transplanted families from the northeast.

I was an honor student in high school, president of the drama club, editor of the yearbook, and involved in many other school and community organizations. Entering St. Petersburg College in 1983, I majored in architecture with an emphasis on Speech English Education. It was there that I was encouraged to consider mental health counseling. I transferred to the University of South Florida, Tampa, and majored in Psychology with electives in theater and Women’s Studies. Graduating in 1987, I went to work at a local community mental health center assisting adults who suffered from severe and persistent mental illness as they transitioned from state psychiatric hospitals into the community. I was promoted to case manager and ultimately to program supervisor. I completed my masters at USF in Counseling Education.

My first position as a therapist was in a program specializing in trauma-informed treatment of youth and families who had survived physical/sexual abuse and neglect and children with sexual behavior problems. I became licensed as Mental Health Counselor in Florida in 1997 and a Nationally Certified Counselor in 1998. I’ve remained at the same organization for thirty years and currently supervise an adult and children outpatient department. I am a founding member of a sexual abuse intervention network to prevent child sexual abuse and respond to children and youth with sexual behavior problems. For about five years, I had a concurrent private practice in Tampa.

My spouse and I met 26 years ago. I consider my marriage and the life my spouse and I created together my greatest achievement. We have enjoyed tremendous support from our families as a same gender couple. We are also very grateful for the support we have received from the relatively conservative area where we live.

When did you first become interested in Marilyn Monroe?

Gary and Oscar Vitacco Robles - Partner for over 30 years.

Earlier Photo of Gary and Oscar Vitacco Robles – Partners for over 26 years. Commitment Ceremony 1994. Civil Union 2000. Married 2004

Marilyn has always chased and haunted me. Norman Mailer’s biography of her was published in 1973 when I was eight. Images of her were everywhere when I was in junior high in the late 1970s. One that comes clearly to mind was Milton Greene’s iconic “ballerina” pose. Her soulful eyes captivated me like none other I have ever seen. I also remember Bert Stern’s portraits originally for Vogue in 1962 being widely circulated in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

I saw Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl back to back when I was in junior high school. They were my first Monroe movies. Her performances moved me. I quickly found and devoured Fred Lawrence’s 1960 biography, Norma Jeane, The Life of Marilyn Monroe, Edward Waghenknecht’s Marilyn: A Composite View, and Norman Mailers Marilyn: A Biography from 1972. I was immediately fascinated and felt tremendous compassion for her. Despite her tragic early death, I saw her as a resilient survivor.

Over the years, I’ve read at least 200 biographies. I recommend the works of Fred Lawrence Guiles, Maurice Zolotow, Donald Spoto, and Michelle Morgan. As for memoirs, look to the works of Norman Rosten, Sam Shaw – Rosten & Shaw’s Marilyn Among FriendsSusan Strasberg, and Berniece Miracle. Since my volumes contain over 1500 pages of text with no photos, Monroe photo books make the perfect companion. James Spada’s is a personal favorite from 1982. Also the photo books of George Barris and Bert Stern’s The Complete Last Sitting. The auction catalogues like Christie’s The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe from 1999 is a good source. Marilyn Monroe’s My Story is a primer. Fragments contain images of pages from her personal diaries and letters.

Richard Meryman’s lengthy Life 1962 interview and Allan Levy’s for Redbook the same year are fascinating. I recommend documentaries which include audiotapes of Meryman’s interview of Marilyn as well as Georges Belmont’s for Marie Clare magazine, the latter recorded in 1960. Both men asked brief open-ended questions which allowed Marilyn to expound in two of the most revealing narratives. They are a significant record of her thoughts and insights about her life because she speaks in her natural voice recalling the events of her life and commenting on her daily routines. The result is the closest glimpse of her true self available to us today.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?

Gary Vitacco-Robles - Aspiring Writer

Gary Vitacco-Robles – Aspiring Writer

I have been writing short stories and plays since junior high school. Two books had a major impact on me. The Diary of Anne Frank is the book of all books with its spiritual content. It is almost a miracle that it survived. To Kill a Mockingbird is another great book that changed the world. Harper Lee’s backstory fascinated me. She attained distinction despite not being prolific.

I set a goal at age fourteen on New Year’s Eve 1979-80 to  become published someday . My English teachers saw me as a playwright or mystery novelist. A young woman, Courtenay O’Connell Sims, was my mentor in junior high school. She encouraged me to take a chance on publishing. We’re lifelong friends to this day. She gave the toast at my wedding.

Publishing biographies about Marilyn have been my only success. My first effort, Cursum Perficio: Marilyn Monroe’s Brentwood Hacienda/The Story of Her Final Years, turned out to be self-prescribed occupational therapy. I self-published it through iUniverse in 2000. The book focused on Marilyn’s renovation of a home in the last months of her life. The renovation, incomplete at the time of her death, is an obvious metaphor for her unfinished life and premature death. The second edition of Cursum Perfico resonated with readers because it was professionally illustrated by Brandon Heidrick. The book prompted many to encourage me to write a full-length biography.

What plans do you have for your next book?

Icon" The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe - Volume I Book Cover

Icon” The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I Book Cover

I’ve been involved since February of 2015 in the Goodnight, Marilyn radio show investigation into Marilyn’s death. Nina Boski and Randall Libero have had me as a frequent guest and I am currently a weekly panel member for three seasons, I will be an investigative team member for the Seeking the Truth Conference in Los Angeles in 2017. I’ve recently acquired the 641-page LA District Attorney’s investigation materials and final report from 1982. I’ve been privileged to consult with forensic experts including psychiatrists Dr. Cyril Wecht, Dr. Reef Kareem, and suicide expert Dr. Scott Bonn. This 21st century investigation will yield new results and impact our perceptions about her death. I intend to publish the findings in Volume III and have received encouragement from Ben Ohmart, my publisher (BearManor Media) who is very interested. The next volume, ICON: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume 3 – The 1982 and 2016 Investigations into Her Death (the current working title) will be the largest volume in completing the trilogy.

What if Marilyn Monroe had lived? How would her career have taken shape if she lived to the fullness of her years?

Marilyn, as a woman of 40, would have to survive the turbulent 1960s in film. She would have turned 40 in 1966. The studio system had collapsed, and freelancing and independent films were the norm. Changing times challenged actresses over 40, although the new freedoms and cultural revolution were liberating and allowed for creativity. Some of the notable female performances included Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate.

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

The 1970s ushered a cultural nostalgia for the 1950s and the veterans of the Golden Age of Film, an era for which Marilyn was the icon. I believe she would have made a come-back. Consider the ensemble casts of Hollywood greats in the disaster films of the 70s: The Towering Inferno (Fed Astaire), The Poseidon Adventure (Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons), Earthquake (Eva Gardner) and Airport ’75 (Gloria Swanson). Marilyn might team again with Jack Lemon in the Sandy Dennis’ role in the hilarious The Out of Towners in 1970. Marilyn as Auntie Mame in 1974 seems better cast than Lucille Ball. The public would have seen a more mature Marilyn, but her growth as an artist qualified for these roles and she would have remained relevant and become rediscovered by another generation.

In 1962, Marilyn stated her desire was to become a character actress. Aging and television would have provided an opportunity. Television was a burgeoning option for stars of the 50s with its sitcoms, dramas, variety shows and specials. The new made-for-television movies would have been a medium for Marilyn as she moved into her late 40s and early 50s, affording her ample opportunity to enjoy success as a dramatic actress. TV was less expensive and more creative than film at that time and holds true even today.

Gary Vitacco-Robles - Biographer, Therapist

Gary Vitacco-Robles – Biographer, Therapist

Shirley MacLaine’s later film career suggests what Marilyn could have achieved in film in the 1980s and beyond. Think of her in Terms of Endearment, Used People, Steel Magnolias. She would have had to turn to television in the 1970s to secure a film presence later. Comedy and self-parody were both options: The Golden Girls, perhaps even a sequel to Some Like It Hot. Marilyn belongs to the boomer generation after all, the largest single group in the population. Her aging would be revered as boomers strove to remain young on the tennis courts, in exercise studios and on the golf links.

In a parallel universe, Marilyn would also remarrie DiMaggio and retire to a ranch in Carmel (like Doris Day and Kim Novak),where she’d rescue animals and abandon film altogether until someone like Ron Howard or Tom Hanks would coax her out of reclusion and retirement for a sexy elderly mother role.

The high level of interest in  Marilyn among cinema fans and movie historians attests to her enduring appeal as a person. Her performances set new standards the have prevailed over the years in an industry that, almost by definition, is transitory at its core.

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Overdose Caused Marilyn Monroe’s Death – Suicide Still a Doubt

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

 

#Overdose #Suicide #MarilynMonroe

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

This is the second installment of an interview with Author Gary Vitacco-Robles. In earlier posts, we reviewed Volume I and Volume II of his definitive biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe. In this installment, the author responds to our questions about the star, her psychological profile and her legacy among those who remember her today.

When asked, most people remember the more sensational images and episodes from Marilyn Monroe’s life. There is her famous nude photo taken in 1949 for which she was paid $50 that appeared in 1951 in the Golden Dreams calendar – tame by current standards. She was Norma Jeane Baker when it was taken but published in 1951 after she had gained recognition as a rising star. Original negatives of the shot go for six million and higher at auctions today. Back in the 1050’s, photos feminine nudity were euphemistically marketed as photographic studies. Marilyn broke through the hypocrisy with her exultant, fully nude photograph that Hugh Hefner used as a centerfold for his inaugural issue of Playboy.

Among those who were of voting age at the time, the scandal over her alleged affairs with John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy come quickly to mind.

Although it was staged without public viewing in mind, her rendition of “Happy Birthday” at the birthday party for President John F. Kennedy made an indelible imprint on many.

Finally, movie file aficionados still ponder how one so beautiful, famous and wealthy could die at her own hand. Drug over dose deaths have regrettably become commonplace. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Winehouse, Prince, and Michael Jackson – among the more famous.

Putting the weight behind of his research behind his thoughts on Marilyn Monroe’s death, Gary Vitacco-Robles responded to our direct question about the matter in a recent interview.

Do you agree with the judgement that Marilyn’s death was an accidental overdose?

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

The level of barbiturates metabolized in Marilyn’s liver suggests that she consumed about 45 Nembutal and nearly 20 chloral hydrate. This large dose of two medications suggests an intentional overdose and her awareness that it would kill her. There is, of course, the possibility that the overdose was accidental. Marilyn experienced severe mood fluctuations consistent with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis. The disorder is marked by episodes of mania or hypomania and episodes of depression. At times, an episode can be mixed, having symptoms of both mania and depression.

We know Marilyn was irritable on her last day, she was struggling with insomnia the entire spring and summer; her insomnia was chronic since the mid-fifties. Marilyn’s erratic presentation on the set of Something’s Got To Give, her inability to concentrate, her memory disturbances, her paranoia, all can be linked to her mood disorder. Keep in mind, she wasn’t being treated with a mood stabilizing drug. Most of what was prescribed for her were sedative drugs, and lithium, an early mood stabilizer, was experimental at the time.

We didn’t know as much as we do now about Bipolar Disorder at this time in history, and didn’t clearly understand that it was on a continuum; we clearly knew of the manic psychosis state on the continuum of the disorder. And we also didn’t know about the brain chemistry related to severe depression; depression was believed to be a reaction to stressors and an inability to cope effectively. Hypomania can also involve impulsivity, racing and irrational thoughts.

Marilyn Monroe Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

I believe Marilyn might have been in a hypomanic or mixed episode in the end. Studies of near fatal suicide attempts that required medical intervention reveal that in about 25% of the cases, the person did not have suicidal thoughts or impulses five minutes before the attempt. About 70% report none an hour beforehand. Marilyn’s Bipolar Disorder certainly placed her at a higher risk for an impulsive suicide; the massive amounts of drugs prescribed by her internist, Hyman Engelberg, also placed her at high risk. From the spring of 1962 until her death, I was able to track over 700 units of medications. He concurrently prescribed Nembutal and Chloral Hydrate, contraindicated drugs, if taken together, can result in death.

Another high risk factor, is her Borderline Personality Disorder. This little understood disorder can manifest impulsive behavior such as the person taking her life to reduce emotional pain. In a Borderline crisis, a person might attempt suicide to express emotional pain and to cry for help or even set up a suicide attempt in order to be rescued.

Ralph Greenson (Marilyn’s psychiatrist, was clearly overwhelmed in his role, experienced counter-transference and abandoned all professional boundaries. His controversial treatment techniques were highly ineffective, and in fact, exacerbated Marilyn’s condition. His efforts very likely had an opposite effect than intended. Of course, Borderline Personality Disorder was introduced into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders nearly 20 years after Marilyn’s death, but it was described and studied since the late 1930s, and Greenson’s letters and recorded observations demonstrate that he noted Marilyn’s symptoms of the disorder.

The praise, adulation and affection for Marilyn never really got through to Norma Jeane. What prevented Norma Jeane from accepting Marilyn as her creation and recognizing the praise that was offered was for Norma Jeane as the artist who created Marilyn Monroe, just as, say, Lucille Ball could with her immortal Lucy?

Marilyn’s traumatic background impacted her by creating feelings of inferiority, shame, and worthlessness. This is the insidious nature of childhood neglect, physical and sexual abuse. She constantly looked for external validation and had very little ego strength. She was extremely resilient but nonetheless emotionally damaged, deeply and profoundly

Icon" The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe - Volume I Book Cover

Icon” The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I Book Cover

damaged, and the treatment she received, though state of the art for its day, was ineffective, perhaps even harmful. She wrote of feeling “subhuman”, as if she was “not existing” or unworthy of existing, and she constantly searched for feedback that reinforced this negative and self-defeating belief about herself.

It was challenging for Marilyn to believe she was worthy of the adulation; at times she felt as though the fame and success was happening to or focused on someone else. Marilyn also wrote of feeling this way about Miller genuinely loving her.  Her journals show she feared he would learn that she was unworthy and he would fall out of love with her.

Around the time she prepared her debut performance at the Actor’s Studio, she had a revealing dream that not only demonstrated her insecurity about acting, but also her insecurity as a worthy person. The dream depicts that her talent was a mirage, that she was empty inside, filled with sawdust, and everyone would eventually know she was unworthy. She would eventually disappoint everyone and they would reject her. This lack of identity and feeling empty is common in Borderline Personality Disorder, common among those with severe early childhood abuse and neglect histories.

Most don’t think Marilyn’s appearance at the birthday party for President John F. Kennedy was a credit to her. As time has passed, most think she demeaned herself? What is your opinion?

I don’t believe the footage had ever been intended for release to the general public. It was a private party for a particular crowd with many in-jokes; it was the entertainment field’s love-in for their liberal president, the first since FDR. The birthday gala wasn’t a televised event for the networks. It was only until later that the footage appeared in documentaries. It seems an appropriate performance for that particular crowd on that particular night. The audience was comprised of liberal, progressive Democrats making donations to the party.

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

I believe the organizers of the event commanded the quintessential Monroe persona for the performance, and she delivered what was intended. This was a political fundraiser, each admission cost between $500 and $1000, and she was the pièce de résistance. Her Jean Louis gown was nearly a recreation of the many diaphanous illusionary gowns the designer had made for Marlene Dietrich. We may think of the dress as somewhat scandalous, but Dietrich had been wearing very similar ones in concerts throughout the 1950s.

Every vocal nuance and physical gesture was premeditated, as we know from the rehearsal, so the organizers, director and producer were fully aware of what Marilyn’s performance was intended to be. Now, how much was generated by her and how much was directed, is a mystery. Photos show her in conversation with those organizing the event. I suspect that it was completely scripted and staged and not spontaneous. The only departure from the script may have been the dress which surprised the organizers who allegedly believed Marilyn would wear a high-neck black gown. Marilyn reportedly made the change in secret.

Marilyn was performing a characterization, a parody of her film persona. It seems contrary to the image she wished to convey as a serious actress at that point in her career, but I don’t think she realized the performance would become viral and iconic. Keep in mind the raw footage of the event reveals the crowd going wild. We hear the vocal roar . . . the crowd is loud and responsive throughout the performance. We hear a collective laugh at “Mr. President” in the Happy Birthday song. The audience applauds wildly during the “Thanks, Mr. President” song with acknowledgement of his achievements. Photos of the president’s box with Marilyn in the foreground demonstrate joy on the faces of the Kennedy family members in attendance, especially Ethel Kennedy. Other writers have noted that Jacqueline Kennedy was conspicuously absent. And the President, appearing immediately after Marilyn’s performance, seemed pleased and amused.

If people can remember the evening was the equivalent of an office party for those attending, the context puts Marilyn’s appearance in perspective.

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Marilyn Monroe – A Definitive New Biography by Vitacco-Robles

Friday, July 15th, 2016

#MarilynMonroe  #Movies #Hollywood

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

Marilyn Monroe is an enigmatic figure in the history of the entertainment industry. Half a century has passed since her death, yet she is remembered today as if she were yet alive. Her story has evolved into legend. Breathtakingly beautiful, talented and charismatic, she begins her career in the heyday advent of the movie industry. The widescreen CinemaScope technology and stereophonic sound present her on the wide screen as sensual, alluring and innocent – the undeniably seductive child-woman somehow untainted by the world. She was so compelling in her portrayals that two of her more successful films (Some Like It Hot and The Misfits) were produced in black-and-white. Other glamorous stars preceded her, but none secured the same lasting impact.

Marilyn Monroe is both the product and the victim of twentieth century America as the country moves into new-found affluence after World War II. The age is witness to the rise of materialism, the redefinition of sexual values, the questioning of the place of women in society and the leaderless rebellion of youth against the established order. Monroe’s name is associated with some of the elite of the era, Carl Sandberg, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Frank  Sinatra and Clark Gable among others.  It would only follow that many would try to exploit her memory for personal advantage. Over 600 books have been published about her. Many accounts distort the collective memory to such an extent the task of untangling and clarifying Ms. Monroe’s story takes on monumental dimensions.

Unassailable Credibility . . .

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles was not one to be deterred from the challenge of making certain truth would prevail. His two volumes, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes I and II constitute the definitive biography of the great actress. (See the earlier review of Volume I click here on this web site.) That Vitacco-Robles cares, and cares deeply, for his subject is clear. His compassion and sensitivity are never more obvious than when he addresses the less-than-glamorous episodes in her life. Readers can expect to be impressed with the depth of his research. Every scene is filled with poignant detail. His credibility is unassailable and thus the power behind his narrative flows from genuine empathy for his subject.

Volume II covers the turbulent years from 1956 to 1962, the year the star died of a tragic, accidental overdose. By 1956, Ms. Monroe has gained star status. The Seven Year established her securely as a box office draw. Successes followed including The Prince and the Showgirl, Bus Stop, and arguably the greatest comedy of all time, Some Like It Hot. The world comes to know the screen persona of the actress. What becomes central to the spiritual and psychological plight for Ms. Monroe is that the world does not know her for who she truly is. “Do you want me to be Marilyn?” she teases one guest. In private the actress finds the adulation, addressed as it is to a characterization, void of the affirmation she desperately seeks. She struggles with depression, the anguish of bipolar emotional swings and the unfulfilled yearnings with their roots in a deprived and abusive childhood. Vitacco-Robles has the professional credentials to state his own analysis, but he remains objective and quotes other authorities who knew Ms. Monroe whenever he wants to write about her tormented mental state. Throughout, the author is even-handed and balanced in presentation; neither apologist nor critic. He treats the actor’s professional growth in the same manner. Monroe’s contemporaries observe that she is at the height of her talent and growing as an actress at the time of her death.

Marilyn Monroe in the  Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe in the Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

Several persons emerge from the author’s narrative as major influences in the star’s life. Arthur Miller’s emotional withdrawal from her while they are married leaves readers questioning the depth of artistic sensitivity. Joe DiMaggio’s devotion to her throughout her life is moving. Lee and Paul Strasberg seem to thrive on keeping Marilyn dependent rather than helping her move toward a more autonomous self-sufficiency. Readers may also conclude that Psychiatrist Ralph Greenson is guilty of cultivating a dependency. Monroe was on the verge of firing him at several points.

Approaching Ridicule . . .

Surprises await also. Ms. Monroe’s performance of Happy Birthday at JFK’s party can be seen on You Tube today. It may appear to be spontaneous. Not so, however.  It was rehearsed and she was very nervous before the performance. It was suggested that she appear in a more modest formal gown, but she decided to surprise the President and those attending with something of  her own choosing. The dress she selected was sewn on her. She wore no under garments. Emcee Peter Lawford, who was instrumental in bringing Ms. Monroe and JFK together in his home, built his introduction of the actress on a belittling patter that approached ridicule.  The “audience roared,” the author reports, when she crossed the stage.. Her seductive presentation borders on travesty, especially in the face of the rumors that were flying about her and the President. Public values were very much in transition at the time, but even today, many would see her act as an affront to the decorum expected in the presence of a head-of-state. “That was poor form on her part,” Mort Viner, Dean Martin’s manager said. Many would agree. The President, in acknowledging her performance, observes with humorous sarcasm that he enjoyed being serenaded in such a “wholesome” manner and the line drew a laugh from the crowd. Sarcasm is always a mixed message. Audience members may have roared at her appearance but for the most part it was at her expense.  One wonders whether she realized at some level that she may have discredited herself. At the very least, she was not well served by those who rehearsed her. Nothing highlights the dichotomy between the performing Marilyn and the private Marilyn as much as this short historic appearance. The author does not report that private Marilyn drew any satisfaction over how her performance was received. “I  liked it,” she said in response to a direct question about the party by reporters afterward.

Her Own Glittering Mist . . .

Arthur Schlesigner, Jr., JFK’s biographer, made a journal entry that speaks for most when he wrote, “I do not think I have seen anyone as beautiful. I was enchanted by her manner and wit, at once so masked, so ingenuous and so penetrating. But one felt a terrible unreality about her-as if talking to someone under water. . . . One never felt her to be wholly engaged. She receded into her own glittering mist.”

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

Vitacco-Robles, as an author, refrains from moralizing and passing judgement. Readers, however, will find the story he has presented as moving and tragic, so much so that one may feel Marilyn Monroe’s legacy looms much larger than her artistic achievements. Her performances will attest through the ages to the depths of her enormous talent. Given her kindness to others, her generosity and her forgiving nature, she stands, however, for so much more. It is not too difficult to imagine that she would have done everything within her power to make certain no child would ever again experience the horrors that she endured during her early years. Her memory needs to be invoked in every effort to assure a better world awaits the birth of every child than the dreadful circumstances she was born into. The psychological damage and painful disorientation of her early years remained with her throughout her life. It crippled her, locked her in “her own glittering mist” as she searched for fulfillment and true happiness. Her life is proof that no amount of fame or fortune can compensate for the loss of the nurturance, love and affirmation every child needs to establish a thriving, healthy sense of self and a belief in his or her essential worthiness.

Turning to conditions under which Ms. Monroe worked, the author provides insight into the workings of the major Hollywood studios. Marilyn Monroe was a money maker for them but she was never treated with the respect she deserved. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were driving the studio into bankruptcy with their self-indulgent behavior and shoddy performances on the set for Cleopatra. Yet they were coddled and catered to. Ms. Monroe may have had problems with punctuality and keeping her commitments to appear but her performances were always exceeded expectations. Yet she was ostracized and threatened with termination. The harsh uncharitable treatment kept her mindful of her the painful abandonment and abuse she experienced as a child.

Vitacco-Robles’s writing style is sturdy and straightforward. There are moments when the author could have moved his story along more efficiently had he used footnotes to provide background data. On occasion the central story all but surrenders to detail and the trail of the narrative fades. The author includes an appendix that provides a synopsis of each of Monroe’s films. Extending the practice to include background information on some personalities and events would have served equally as well. These are the minor shortcomings of an impressive work of unflinching objectivity. Marilyn Monroe’s talent and memory deserved a biographer who brings to his task a dedication and skill that is worthy of her as a subject. Vitacco-Robles had done just that. He has paid her the highest possible tribute in completing this most memorable biography.

This review initially appeared in somewhat condensed form on the web site bookpleasures.com

Thanks for visiting my web site. Look for an interview with Gary Vitacco-Robles to follow this review. While you are here, please let me invite you to check some of the other pages of my site. Please feel free to enter your comments on this or any other feature in the area provided below.

Lesbian and Gay in 1950’s Hollywood: “My Life With Stella Kane” by Linda Morganstein — A Review

Thursday, August 14th, 2014
John J. Hohn, Author and Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Author and Reviewer

Nina Weise is 20, beautiful, intelligent, and connected. On summer break, she travels to California to work with her cousin Elaine, a publicist for some of the brightest stars in cinema. Elaine’s father runs Lumina Studio.   Gay and Lesbian

Elaine assigns Nina to handle publicity for Stella Kane, a stunning beauty and rising star. Nina is a quick study in handling logistically tricky promotions and narcissistic Hollywood personalities. The skills honed as a young girl among the wealthiest families in New England serve her well. Gay and Lesbian

In 1948, Hollywood is struggling. Television is cutting into box office receipts. The paranoia grips the county over communists infiltrating all levels of  society including the film industry. The contagion will vault Senator Joseph McCarthy into prominence as a final spasm to a shameful chapter in the nation’s history. A resurgence of moral righteousness fuels vigorous film censorship. All sex is taboo. Married couples cannot be shown sleeping in the same bed. The word “pregnant” cannot be spoken on screen.

Homosexuality is anathema, of course, condemned as a perversion. The film industry, like all the arts, flourishes because of the contributions made by gay men and lesbian women. In this era of repression, however, homosexuality is never discussed. Coming out or being accused means the end of a career. Some of the best and the brightest are forced to live double lives. “It will always be this way,” Hollie said, “This is one thing people won’t accept.” Gay and Lesbian 

Enigmatic, Beautiful Stella . . .

In the middle of it all, Nina finds herself intrigued with her client, the enigmatic, beautiful Stella. Nina refuses to acknowledge her own stirrings. But Stella knows what’s going on even if Nina doesn’t. Stella knows she can wait.

Book cover: "My Life with Stella Kane" as shown on Amazon

Book cover: “My Life with Stella Kane” as shown on Amazon

The summer ends. Nina returns to New York where she meets art critic, Sue Edelman. Edelman patiently coaxes Nina to examine her impulses and yearnings, and Nina acknowledges her attraction to Stella. “She’s complicated and impossible. She’s beautiful and unpredictable and unfathomable, and you never know when she’s real and when she’s acting,” Nina complains. Readers may find Nina’s exasperation understandable. Author Morganstein gives us very little background on the gorgeous movie star. Readers are not privy to her thoughts.

Upon graduating from Barnard College, Nina leaves Edelman and New York and returns to California, teams with Elaine again, and reassigned to work with Stella.

The real Stella eventually emerges. Traveling in Ohio, Stella’s home state, Nina witnesses an encounter between Stella and her stepfather, a man with the last name of Kubicek. The scene is one of the most powerful in the book.

Kubicek turned to Nina  again, ”Watch your step with her. She can’t control it, she can’t love it,”

“What do you know about love?” Stella spat out.

“Who’s gonna love her?” Kubicek taunted. “Who’s not just getting snared up in her? But that’s okay. She’ll take care of everything.”

Stella shouts at the old man to stop and covers her ears to keep from hearing him. This glimpse of the real Stella stuns Nina who, moved by what she has seen, lets her affections for Stella surge unrestrained. Stella’s reaction to her stepfather moves Nina, not what the old man says.

Haunting Uncertainty . . .

Morganstein’s deliberate ambiguity in the old man’s rant is intriguing. The impact his words have on Stella is clear, however. She is suddenly more vulnerable than Nina, or readers for that matter, have seen. Morganstein uses the least articulate of all her characters to provide a very critical insight into Stella. As with so many other situations in the book, readers are left with a haunting uncertainty.  Gay and Lesbian

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Marilyn Monroe — Icon: The Life, Times and Movies of Marilyn Monroe

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962, yet she has remained alive in the minds and hearts of people throughout the world ever since. While 600 books have been published about the actress, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, is a prodigious achievement that easily relegates the efforts of all others to obscurity.

Meticulously research, Vitacco-Robles digs for all the details; i.e. Marilyn’s attire, choices in reading, housekeeping habits — the minutia that is part of her day-to-day existence. The result is that the reader experiences Monroe almost as if she draws breath, steps out of the pages, comes into the house and sits down to chat.

With a sturdy, straightforward prose style, the author takes a balanced, compassionate approach to his subject. He begins with Ms. Monroe’s great-grandparents and traces her lineage through her out-of-wedlock birth to a mother who was hospitalized off and on throughout her life due to mental illness. Marilyn is shunted from household to household as a child. By the time she attains age 16, she is a ward of no less than 12 different caretakers. The impact of being abandoned, rejected, and abused is beyond calibrating.

Gary Vitacco-Robles, Author

Gary Vitacco-Robles, Author

Vitacco-Robles, a psychotherapist, reports objectively about the damage done Marilyn during her nightmarish childhood. About one of Marilyn’s early successes, he writes:

The little girl who had never been told she was pretty and who bathed in the dirty water left behind by others, now commanded attention. There was no turning back.

At another critical point in the text, he observes:

Marilyn compensated for her lack of parental support by endearing herself to motherly and fatherly figures who could help her attain her dream of becoming an actress . . . Acting had now become more a religious calling to Marilyn, and like spirituality, it provided her with purpose and meaning. 

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

The author offers clear insights as Marilyn matures and confronts her demons. He avoids the jargon of his profession and debunks many of the unsubstantiated claims of others. Marilyn, it turns out, did go into psychoanalysis very intensively at one time. In addition, she began working with Lee Strasberg in Actor’s Studio where she was required to delve deeply into her own emotional past to give power to her performances. She eventually gives up on her therapy sessions because she decides that they are not good for her. Strasberg and his wife, however, nurture her through her strongest film achievements.

The book is filled with quotes from the greatest stage and screen actors and directors of the era who testify to Marilyn’s power and sensitive delivery in her roles. She was, and often still is, seen only as a dumb blond, a sex symbol, but the author breaks through this stereotyping to depict Marilyn Monroe as an incomparable artist.

The author reminds his readers of the prevailing cultural values of the times. These references provide a backdrop of relevance to his subject’s struggles and triumphs. He presents a synopsis of all of the films in which Marilyn appeared, even those in which she had bit parts, and for good measure provides much more detail on each in an addendum. He takes the time to draw poignant thumbnail bios on many Hollywood personalities – actors, directors, producers, hairdressers, coaches – helping readers viscerally grasp the impact of Marilyn’s interactions with the people around her.

The book takes Marilyn’s story up to 1956, a year in which she goes over the top and finally achieves the recognition her hard work and extraordinary talent have earned. The author reports on Marilyn’s three marriages, giving a studied, objective view into each. Her first marriage to James Dougherty was arranged by her legal guardian when she was only 16 years of age. He abandoned her for the merchant marine. Then along came Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, who was physically abusive, controlling, and jealous. The reader is treated to a good dose of adolescent behavior on the part of DiMaggio and Sinatra as the latter goads the ballplayer into breaking into an apartment one night where they expect to find Marilyn in bed with another. The author adds credence to his reports by using the testimony of friends close to Marilyn in writing about such incidents.

Nitpicking, the text is nearly flawless except in the handling of some proper names. Bennett Cerf is correct; not Bennett Cert. Bob Fosse; not Fob Fosse. And finally, is Miller’s home on “Goldmine Road” or “Gladmine Road?”

This review covers only volume one which ends with the marriage between Arthur Miller and Ms. Monroe, an event that surprised many at the time but makes perfectly good sense once those unacquainted with both parties grow to know them better. The second volume, according to the publisher, is due out at the end of the summer, 2014. Vitacco-Robles has written a monumental, definitive work on one of greatest actresses and enduring public personalities of all time. The next volume will carry Marilyn’s story forward to her untimely death in 1962. Readers have every right to expect that the same balanced, compassionate treatment will follow the actress through to what ultimately must be viewed as a horrible tragedy.

This review was initially written for and published in bookpleasures.com.

Thanks for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to look through some of the previous posts and the other pages of the site. My novel Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds, is available in the Kindle version through Amazon for $1.99. Watch for the sequel to it, Blood Lots, which is due out sometime this summer.

 

Duryea: The Movies — An Exquisitely Presented Book from BearManor Media

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

 

 

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

Duryea: The Movies, by Joseph Fusco, is another beautifully produced book by BearManor Media. The publisher presents books that are thoroughly researched and brimming with documentation including news articles, vintage photos and advertizing. Like so many other volumes from BearManor, Duryea: The Movies not only makes for an engaging first read but will serve the cinema aficionado as an excellent reference work that earns its own shelf pace in the viewing room.

The book opens with a brief biography. Duryea was not part of the volatile Hollywood scene at any time during his career. Or as Fusco writes,

The irony of Duryea’s career is that the man who created a roster of scoundrels, connivers, murderers and thieves was actually a mild man who enjoyed a fulfilling home life and a marriage that lasted thirty-six years and produced two sons.

Fusco traces Duryea’s career from the very beginnings with his bit parts in movies produced in the 1930’s, through his rise to stardom and top billing in 1950’s, and the roles in the 1960’s that featured his talents in strong supporting roles. During those years, Duryea appeared with all the legendary greats including Charles Laughton, Edgar G. Robinson, James Stewart, Gregory

Peck, Gary Cooper, James Mason, Jane Russell and Barbara Stanwick, to name only a few. Never memorable for yelling in the streets of New Orleans, as Brando did, or cursing the crew from the helm, as Laughton did, Duryea characterized himself as a “bread and butter” actor. His physical assets included a broadly handsome face, especially winning when he smiled; a distinctive reedy baritone voice, and a physical stature that blended into any scene without upstaging anyone. Fusco cites the actor’s genius lay in his ability to create a wide range of portrayals without ever abandoning his own natural if somewhat limited emotional range as an actor.

Author Fusco divides the book into sections based upon the time period and the prevailing popular themes of the day. Everyone of Duryea’s movies is discussed in the book with a very well written, concise synopsis that includes commentary on all theDuryea: The Movies – Book Cover

Duryea: The Movies - Book Cover

Duryea: The Movies – Book Cover

members of the cast and often the director and producer as well. The author delivers a balanced, thoughtful review of each

production. Readers will benefit from recalling the movies as Fusco discusses them. In fact, using the book as a guide to choose

movies on DVD would greatly enhance the viewing experience.

Fusco is an excellent writer and critic. In a paragraph devoted to Peter Lorre to illustrate, the author writes,

He was diminutive, with a reptiles tortured face and eyes that popped with he spoke. . . . In the movie, he is an obscene piece of putty in a tuxedo.

At a time when research is a snap because of the internet, a book like Duryea: The Movies reminds the reader that research need not be a clinical pursuit of the facts but a full and rewarding reading experience; a pleasure in itself, in other words, when presented as thoughtfully and artistically as Joseph Fusco does with BearManor Media publishers.

Link to Amazon listing: http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Duryea-Movies-Joseph-Fusco/dp/1593937377/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392813491&sr=1-1&keywords=duryea+the+movies

Thanks for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to look through the other pages or perhaps check on some earlier post. All comments are appreciated. Please use the comment area below. Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds is currently available in paperback and Kindle. Kindle is just $1.99. Thanks. – John