Posts Tagged ‘Marilyn Monroe’

The battle for Arthur Miller’s papers: and the winner is … no surprise.

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018
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Arthur Miller, University of Michigan grad, in 1939

When I saw a New York Times headline about the acquisition of the Arthur Miller papers, I hoped it would have something to do with our common alma mater. But it looks like the University of Michigan was long ago priced out of the market for its most glorious literary alum:

More than 160 boxes of his manuscripts and other papers have been on deposit for decades at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, uncataloged and all but inaccessible to scholars, pending a formal sale. Another cache — including some 8,000 pages of private journals — remained at his home in rural Connecticut, unexplored by anyone outside the intimate Miller circle.

Now, the Ransom Center has bought the entire archive for $2.7 million, following a discreet tug-of-war with the Miller estate, which tried to place the papers at Yale University despite the playwright’s apparent wishes that they rest in Texas.

That battle pitted two of the nation’s most prestigious, and deep-pocketed, archival institutions against each other, in a mini-drama mixing Milleresque high principle with more bare-knuckled competition. And it cracks a window onto the rarefied trade in writers’ papers, and the delicate calibrations of money, emotion and concern for posterity that determine where they ultimately come to rest.

Miller opted for the Ransom Center years ago, when it was positioning itself as one of the most aggressive players in the increasingly aggressive archival world. (Oil dollars are behind its quick climb to the top). The author and playwright was hard up for cash and looking for a tax break.

The archive includes everything from the development of Death of a Salesman and The Crucible to Miller’s confrontation with the House Un-American Activities Committee. It also includes his advocacy against censorship from his last years before his death in 2005.

But what everyone wants to know: are there more hot letters to his second wife, Marilyn Monroe? Unlikely, but something better: his unfinished essay, which he started on the day of her funeral on Aug. 8, 1962. It was frequently revised, but never published, and from the snippet view on the New York Times page, it was very, very bitter. “Instead of jetting to the funeral to get my picture taken I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery,” Miller wrote. “Not that everyone there will be false, but enough. Most of them there destroyed her, ladies and gentleman.”

Read the whole thing here.

Postscript on 1/12: Our favorite archivist (and also friend) Elena Danielson, former director of the Hoover Library & Archives (and author of The Ethical Archivist), favors us with a reaction once again:

Thank you, Elena!

Whenever these million dollar deals are announced in the press, ordinary donors start to get grand ideas about the financial value of their papers and it takes a while for the asking price to come down to earth. The tax break referred to in the article is the result of Nixon’s huge tax break for donating his own papers. In response the law was changed, you cannot get the tax break for donating your own papers, however your heirs on the other hand can claim the deduction. Determining the market value of a collection is an imprecise science.

The auction value and the research value are usually two very different things. Auction value depends primarily on name recognition. In this case, however, the collection has both artifactual and research value, so the price tag should probably be high. And keeping a collection together, all in the same place, retaining its integrity, is a basic ethical principle. The Arthur Miller papers are a national treasure, so the main thing is to keep it in the U.S. in a well funded, well run archival repository, which the Ransom Center fortunately is.

Orwell Watch #16 – Bye, bye Che, Einstein, and the Simpsons: “icons” past their expiration dates

Monday, August 8th, 2011
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I think I'll give it a miss.

Several weeks ago, Eric Felten decried “the endless recycling of images, whether from film, photos or art, that have become—and here’s that dreaded word again—iconic.  What is an icon these days but a cliché on stilts?” His Wall Street Journal article is here.

The occasion at hand was the installation of J. Seward Johnson‘s 26-foot rendering of Marilyn Monroe in Seven Year Itch. He didn’t “make it new,” according to Tom Durham:  “J. Seward Johnson’s sculptures have always been bad clichés that have infuriated good sculptors.”

I’ve thought some time about this article, hoping to find some penetrating thought to add to his – how do visual clichés affect the way we write, what is the path from eye to pen?

So I raided the comments section. According to Bill Melater:

“I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘trite’. Trite art has been around forever and it’s getting more common all the time. It gets laughable and is usually driven by dollars. It eventually goes away…

“…but then it comes back! There’s usually a 20- to 30-year lag before some artist while perusing some old clip art sees the image; becomes inspired, and back it comes. You see this in all the 50’s and 60’s clip art that shows up today (e.g., line art of the quintessential 50s housewife, or the pipe-smoking man in a suit). It happens a lot in the world of type. The Indiana Jones-like display type that said Raiders of the Lost Ark was 40s and 50s vintage postcard art repurposed.”

I have to agree with James Domingo:  “To take something and simply amplify it in size 100 or 1000 times requires zero creative thought. Anyone can do it. It takes no imagination, hence the ubiquity.”

No... just, no.

It brought to mind other images past their expiration date: While in Poland, one of the nation’s leading literati wore this Warhol image on a t-shirt with a sportcoat (see right).  What, exactly, is it supposed to mean, other than a social signal that one is on the inside of the inside of an unfunny joke?  That one is, in fact, one of the world’s wrinkled potheads?

Felton offers this handy rule of thumb: “If an image has found its way into a Simpsons episode, you know it is past exhaustion.”

He adds:

“Iconic images end up, like other recyclables, empty. Is the halter-dressed Marilyn supposed to signify anything? Perhaps she is meant to be an emblem of carefree sexuality. If so, it’s a message rather at odds with the unpleasant circumstances of the image’s creation. When director Billy Wilder shot that scene one night in 1954 at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street, a thousand Manhattan gawkers stood around leering at Ms. Monroe’s unmentionables. Her husband at the time, Joe DiMaggio, was there, seething. His rage led Ms. Monroe to end their marriage. I rather doubt this ugly backstory is what the spokeswoman for the Chicago site’s property manager had in mind when she described the giant Marilyn as ‘art that makes people think.'”

Retire it.

Nyet.

Hmmmmm… As Chris Knop pointed out:  “Anything blown up large and put in a prominent place will make us think. Frankly, the artist in charge of putting this up was just doing the old ‘counter culture’ routine. ‘Look at yourselves, people’ it says, ‘look at our collective media history and where we came from.’  The author correctly points to the use of these symbols as tacky. They are.”

Speaking of thinking, Felton adds:

“And just as the picture of old Ernesto has become a tired trademark for Revolution, pictures of crazy-haired Albert Einstein have become the universal visual shorthand for Genius. May I suggest that crazy-hair-signals-a-supercharged-brain-pan be added to the list of shopworn conventions best retired? Malcolm Gladwell, call your barber.”

What is the link between mysterious eye and pen?  Jack Worthington, zen-like, didn’t explain it, but demonstrated it instead:

This is as American as it gets. It may as well be a fiberglass dinosaur on Route 66. … The bottom line is some images just bring us all together. Nighthawks was about living, Marilyn Monroe was about living, the VJ Day Embrace was about living, Che Guevara was about living, all of these images scream Live! And that’s what being an American is all about. …

How does that make Americans different from anyone else?  Hmmmm… It’s that thinking thing again.