At the Jewish Museum’s “Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz & Marilyn” exhibit September 24 pre-opening reception a woman looking at Monroe’s conversion document exclaimed: “I knew Elizabeth converted but I didn’t know Marilyn Monroe did too!”
For Taylor and Monroe fans this show is a nostalgic treat. Struck by a huge display of 40 movie magazine covers from the late 1940’s through ‘60’s of the two screen goddesses, it reminded me of my teenage correspondence with Taylor in 1945 after being rejected as a hopeful for MGM’s “National Velvet” casting search which called for someone who could ride a horse and spoke British accented English [I did neither]. When Taylor landed the role, I sent her a congratulatory note and received a hand-written reply from her accompanied by an autographed photo.
I finally met Taylor in 1981 when she was honored with Emunah Women of America’s “Freedom Award” at an SRO event at Manhattan’s Milford Plaza Hotel. It was noted that following her conversion and becoming a “Jewish daughter” in 1960 she had purchased $100,000 worth of Israel Bonds.
Arriving through the kitchen doors surrounded by a phalanx of body-builder bodyguards, Taylor made her entrance in a flowing red chiffon gown, bouffant hairdo, double string of pearls and blinding diamond earrings. At her side, her then husband Senator John Warner and Maureen Stapleton, her co-star in the Broadway production of “The Little Foxes.” In their rush to “touch” her, one woman was pushed against a buffet table, tripped and her sheitl (wig) fell into a bowl of coleslaw.
In her inimitable whispery voice Taylor spoke of “My love for Israel… my love for children… our children are our future, our tomorrows.” Accepting the plaque from then Emunah National president Shirley Billet, Taylor concluded in Hebrew with “Hazak ve ematz”.
In 1991, C. David Heymann, author of biographies of Jackie Onassis [“A Woman Named Jackie”] and Barbara Hutton [“Poor Little Rich Girl”] was then working on a Taylor biography and told me that in January 1983, Elizabeth took a trip to Israel from her villa in Gstaadt, Switzerland seeing herself “as some kind of peacemaker between Lebanon and Israel.” On the way to Ariel Sharon’s house in the desert, her Mercedes limousine crashed into another car. “Many were seriously hurt,” said Heymann, “but Elizabeth got the press coverage. She was taken to Hadassah Hospital, treated for whiplash, a broken finger and strained ligament… She met with Menachem Begin who was surprised that despite her injuries she would travel to see him. According to those present the two chatted and Mr. Begin later remarked that it was ‘a much more rewarding meeting than with others who only gave him lip service’.”
As for Marilyn Monroe — I met her briefly at a photographers’ reception in 1953 when I worked at the American Society of Magazine Photographers. In the January 1953 edition of the ASMP’s publication “Infinity”, photographer Ben Ross described his first encounter with Monroe in a piece titled “My Date with Marilyn.” He wrote: “I was lying down on Monroe’s bed nursing the remaining half of my head when the little girl with the big blue eyes walked in. As I weakly attempted to rise, Marilyn assured me it was all right to stay there… being a gentleman of the old school I courteously exited.”
While retyping Ross’s piece, I inadvertently transformed exited into excited! Corrected before publication, Ben later told me my malapropism was a more accurate description of his then reaction to Monroe.