This week I’m focusing on an interview with Elizabeth Winder, journalist and author. She lives in Washington, D.C. and has written Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, and more recently, Marilyn in Manhattan.
I spoke to Elizabeth last month about her reasons for picking Marilyn as a subject and what she learned in the process. Here’s part one of our chat:
What was it that first drew you to Marilyn? Was there a particular movie or picture that brought her to you?
Yes! I actually am not a lifelong Marilyn fan— for years I only saw the glamour shots, the studio approved photos where she was caked in makeup and strictly sexy. That didn’t interest me. But then I read Norman Mailer’s book on Marilyn. Her creative friendship and partnership with the photographer Milton Greene fascinated me. When I discovered the pictures he took of her they completely blew my mind. She’s so fresh and dynamic and vulnerable— you see the real Marilyn there. The makeup is light, her hair is messy and moveable. He shot her wearing baggy sweaters playing a mandolin or in scratchy woolen dresses that made her look like a convent girl. Thats when I first understood the magic of Marilyn.
Your book, Marilyn In Manhattan, covers the period following Marilyn’s arrival in NYC in 1955 – How do you think New York inspired Marilyn?
Marilyn loved New York— she really intended to make a life for herself there and buy a home in Brooklyn. And Marilyn always had great instincts— she always knew what project would work for her, which acting coach to seek out, which city might help her. For her, New York was the antithesis of Hollywood. She hated LA and all it represented— in fact, she once called Los Angeles “one big varicose vein.” She was a fish out of water in LA— no one wanted to talk about books or art or the life of the mind. In New York she could spend hours wandering around the Met, hang out with writers like Carson McCullers and Truman Capote. She could walk down the East River, sometimes crossing the bridge into Brooklyn Heights. In LA no one walked— in fact, she was once stopped by the police while taking a walk through Beverly Hills. No one took pleasure walks in LA- so the police assumed something had to be wrong.
Part two is coming soon!