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Joe and Marilyn Never Could Say Good-Bye

In the end, it all came down to Joe. The 1954 marriage of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio lasted only nine months, but when Monroe was found dead in her Brentwood, Los Angeles, home in 1962, it was DiMaggio who identified her body. He also planned her funeral: According to Joe and Marilyn, a juicy new book by C. David Heymann, DiMaggio warned beforehand that if “any of those fucking Kennedys turn up…I’ll bash in their faces.” As Monroe’s casket was closed, he whispered to her, “I love you, I love you.” DiMaggio even had half a dozen long-stemmed roses delivered twice a week to her crypt for decades. Their marriage was brief, but their love affair endured. “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio retired in 1951 at the age of 36, after leading the New York Yankees to nine World Series championships. In 1952, obsessed with a publicity photo of starlet Marilyn Monroe posing with a baseball bat, DiMaggio used his connections to arrange a meeting. She insisted on a double date and arrived 90 minutes late. David March, the other gentleman in the party, noticed that at the sight of the 25-year-old bombshell, “you could almost hear Mr. DiMaggio going to pieces.” After dinner DiMaggio and Monroe drove around Hollywood and Beverly Hills for hours. Monroe wrote in her memoir that “scores of men had told me I was beautiful,” but when DiMaggio complimented her it “was the first time my heart had jumped to hear it.” Marilyn invited Joe to spend the night, and the couple would be together, off and on, for the next 10 years. Between that first date and their marriage on January 14, 1954, Monroe’s career exploded with the release of Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. She may have dutifully copied down Mama DiMaggio’s lasagna recipes, but Monroe had no intention of giving up her career. During their honeymoon, in Japan, DiMaggio quickly learned what it meant to be married to the most famous woman in the world: The press there called him Mr. Marilyn Monroe and the Forgotten Man. DiMaggio declined to accompany his new bride on a USO trip to entertain the troops in Korea, where the soldiers’ adulation thrilled her. Still giddy from the attention, Monroe gushed to the Yankee Clipper, “It was so wonderful, Joe. You’ve never heard such cheering!” “Oh yes I have” was the only reply he could muster. But Monroe’s exposed panties were soon the last straw. Thousands of men gathered on a Manhattan street corner to watch Monroe and her costar, Tom Ewell, film The Seven Year Itch in September 1954. Take after take, the wind machine blew, the skirt lifted, Monroe cooed (“Isn’t it delicious?”), and the panties were flashed. Director Billy Wilder saw the “look of death” on DiMaggio’s face. Joe and Marilyn divorced three weeks later. Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956, but their five-year marriage was not a happy one. While filming The Misfits, in 1961, she screamed at Miller, “You’re an evil bastard! I should’ve stayed with Joe.” DiMaggio now played the role of guardian angel to his ex. When Monroe wanted out of a psychiatric hospital, she called DiMaggio. She was released after he told the terrified staff, “I’ll give you five minutes to get her out here, or I’ll tear this fucking place apart brick by brick.” A bittersweet passage in Joe and Marilyn may explain why DiMaggio carried a torch for Monroe for the rest of his life. While he was sifting through his late wife’s correspondence one day, the book recounts, “Joe’s face suddenly brightened. He’d come across a short letter Marilyn had recently written to him but never mailed: ‘Dear Joe, If I can only succeed in making you happy—I will have succeeded in the biggest and most difficult thing there is—that is to make one person completely happy. Your happiness means my happiness. Marilyn.’” DiMaggio never remarried. When he died, in 1999, his last words were “I’ll finally see Marilyn again.” Photo courtesy of Everett SHOP_Joe-and-Marilyn

by Colin J. Warnock

Aug 20, 2014

Scoring a Love Affair With Nina Simone

Nina Simone’s voice was notable for its range of expression: It could be jubilant, reverent, haunting, despairing, angry, fierce, scathing, gentle, sensual, bawdy and even more. She punctuated and teased it out with masterful piano arrangements, but the riches were always in that voice. Whether singing standards associated with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald or the signature tunes of George Harrison, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, Simone made each indelibly her own. With the controversial biopic Nina, starring Zoe Saldana, potentially forthcoming this year, what better time to get reacquainted with the real deal? A longed-for career as a classical pianist eluded Simone; instead she plumbed gospel, Broadway, jazz, soul, pop, folk and rock. Her subjects ranged from racism, crime, sin, death and the blues to black pride, feminism, freedom, redemption and love. On this last topic she was a virtuoso, passionately narrating love’s beginnings, ups and downs, and endings. She left dozens of examples, and narrowing those down for this playlist meant rejecting many worthy contenders, including “I Got It Bad, and That Ain’t Good,” “Since I Fell for You,” “To Love Somebody,” “The Other Woman,” “Since My Love Is Gone,” “The End of the Line,” “Forget,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “My Man Is Gone Now,” “Spring Is Here” and “For a While.” Every fan has special favorites, but here are some of mine—all involving the many forms of our central human concern, as expressed by the inimitable Nina Simone. Declarations Simone delivered messages of love in a variety of styles. Her poignant rendition of the Gershwins’ “I Loves You, Porgy” is a masterpiece of emotion and understatement, while a plaintive howl conveys love’s “awful ache” in her cover of Billie Holiday’s “Tell Me More and More and Then Some.” In the rollicking recording of “Love Me or Leave Me” on her 1966 album Let It All Out, Simone romps through an exuberant piano interlude, an ode to her favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Longing In these three songs made for dancing close and slow, Simone gives a suggestive twist to mundane household tasks (“I want a little steam on my clothes”), and she campaigns for romancing in the dark and in the light: “In the Dark,” “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” “Turn Me On.” Lust The eight-minute song “Jelly Roll” is about as smooth and swinging as they come, and there’s no mistaking Simone’s meaning. She’s not singing about pastries when she exults, “I could go for a ride on your sweet jelly roll, but I wouldn’t give nothing for my juicy, juicy soul.” Runners-up: “Chauffeur,” “Do I Move You?” Bed of Roses Simone admitted to having a tumultuous personal life, and songs about relationships going well are relatively few in her catalog. Her hit “My Baby Just Cares for Me” is given a bizarre (creepy, even) treatment in Aardman Animation’s 1987 music video. Hear also: “Seems I’m Never Tired Lovin’ You,” “You Better Know It.” On the Rocks “Be My Husband” is the bleakest of marriage proposals, made to a man who treats the singer “so doggone mean.” Discussing relationships in an interview, Simone stated that she would not do housework, yet here she sings, “If you want me to, I’ll cook and sew”—a clear sign this entreaty is made under duress. Also try: “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “I Put a Spell on You.” Cheating Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring” and “Don’t Explain” are stripped-down and grief stricken, while “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” is brassy and sassy. The End “Do What You Gotta Do” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas” are both beautiful, but let’s close with Simone’s wrenching cover of “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes).” Be sure to stick around for her phrasing on the final lines: “I get along without you very well, ’course I do, ’cept perhaps in spring. But then I should never ever think of spring, for that would surely break my heart in two.” Photo courtesy of STEVE WOOD/Rex USA/Everett CONNECTS_Nina-Simone

by Amy K. Hughes

Aug 19, 2014

The Dark Life of Madeline’s Daddy

In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.... They left the house, at half past nine... The smallest one was Madeline. Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline books are classics of children’s literature, and yet his own childhood reads like a dark parable. When he was six, his father abandoned him and Ludwig’s pregnant mother. (In the same swoop, his father abandoned his pregnant mistress, who committed suicide.) Bemelmans’s mother shipped the rebellious Ludwig off to work in one of his Uncle Hans’s hotels. During an argument, 16-year-old Ludwig shot the head waiter. He was given two choices: reform school or America. Ludwig chose America, but dear old dad, now living in New York, forgot to collect his wayward son, so Ludwig spent Christmas Eve 1914 on Ellis Island. He was carrying two pistols—he might have to shoot angry Indians, after all. From this Dickensian upbringing sprang the willful, intrepid Madeline. Madeline in New York, a glorious exhibit at the New York Historical Society, honors Bemelmans’s career and celebrates the 75th anniversary of the publication of Madeline, his greatest creation. Children of all ages will delight at more than 90 works on view, including the original Madeline manuscript and Bemelmans’s own paint box. While the redheaded girl who fearlessly says “Pooh-pooh” to the tiger in the zoo lived in Paris, Madeline is really a New Yorker. The artist once said, “I am part of New York, as so many foreigners are, and I love this city.” Bemelmans’s daughter, Barbara, remembers living in the Hotel Irving near Gramercy Park and eating dinner “oh, almost every night” at Pete’s Tavern. (Bemelmans wrote the first lines of Madeline on the back of a Pete’s Tavern menu.) Last winter I spent a cozy afternoon nursing a $20 black russian in the Hotel Carlyle’s Bemelmans Bar. A resident of the hotel, Bemelmans agreed to paint a mural on all the walls in exchange for 18 months’ free rent. Madame Clavel, Madeline and the 11 other nameless little girls in two straight lines are there in a corner by the bar (pictured). Bemelmans suffered a nervous breakdown while serving at a mental hospital during World War I. Desperate not to become like the inmates, he turned to drawing to ease his mind. “I have started to think in pictures and make myself several scenes to which I can escape instantly when the danger appears.” After the war, Bemelmans worked as a cartoonist, but his life changed the night May Massee, the children’s book editor at Viking Press, came to dinner. Thrilled by Bemelmans’s drawings, she told him, “You must write children’s books!” The idea for Madeline came to Bemelmans when he was laid up in the hospital, having been struck by a car while on vacation. There he met a small girl “who had had an appendix operation, and, standing up in bed, with great pride she showed her scar to me.” Madeline’s worldwide success (the book was followed by five sequels) gave Bemelmans the resources to indulge his favorite passion: travel. He loved life, noting “one who has known how troubled life can be, has a real appreciation of it when it is good.” After such stormy beginnings, Ludwig Bemelmans lived a good life. That’s all there is; there isn’t any more. Photo courtesy of Colin J. Warnock CONNECTS_Madeline

by Colin J. Warnock

Aug 18, 2014

“The Giver” Got Kids of the 1990s Into Self-Determination

Lois Lowry’s controversial 1993 novel The Giver is now a staple of the children’s literary canon; its film adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, opens today, in fact. Back when I was more or less the right age for the book, its Newbury Medal was newly minted, but I wasn’t immediately certain that I was allowed to read it. Being an advanced reader in elementary school necessitated lots of negotiations with my parents and teachers in attempts to balance my appropriate reading level with my corresponding level of emotional development. I got a green light for The Giver, however, which renewed my faith in grown-ups who would entrust young readers with complicated moral questions—in this case, the thorny issue of assisted suicide. In broad terms, The Giver is, for many children, an introduction to dystopian scenarios, as well as a parable about the insidiousness of conformity. These points weren’t lost on me as a kid, but what impressed me most about the story was that, while the protagonist, Jonas, deals with his own problems—he is assigned to a life as the keeper of his community’s collective memories, both pleasant and terribly painful—bit by bit the tale emerges of another person who was once cursed with the same responsibility. This girl, named Rosemary, chose “release,” i.e., lethal injection, over continuing to experience how raw life could be outside their restrictive society, which had embraced a program of “sameness” to shelter its people from emotional pain. This book marked the first time I gave serious consideration to the question of why a person might want to commit suicide and whether that could ever be something another person could support. It felt like a worthwhile ethical exercise, one I was equipped enough to start grappling with, if not make up my mind about. It was definitely much more than could be said of the pedantic takeaways from other stuff I was reading at the time, literary material like a Baby-Sitter’s Club spin-off series about little sisters, along with British children’s classics such as The Secret Garden. But as the American Library Association’s list of 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s proves, in an ironic parallel to the world of Lowry’s novel, not everyone is ready to allow children to ponder big issues. The Giver ranks at number 11. I was pleased when I started to see trailers for The Giver’s film adaptation earlier this year, and I’m awfully glad I got my hands on the novel when I did. It’s certainly worth renewing public interest in this one for a new generation, and of course Meryl Streep looks as if she’ll be austerely amazing in it—something all generations can enjoy. Photo courtesy of Everett CONNECTS_The-Giver

by Emilie Ruscoe

Aug 15, 2014