Now much larger in fame and idolatry more than 40 years after her passing than she ever was in life, her memorabilia and image have proliferated worldwide.
On the local scene, in commemoration of her birthday, the Eldorado Hotel/Casino in Reno is featuring a display of some 50 assorted photos of the famous star in the Gold Room of that establishment. The display has been up since June 1. On Friday nights from 5 to 8 p.m. the exclusive room on the Eldorado’s second floor opposite the lobby area is open to the public. A number of the photos, all exquisitely framed, are on sale and there are some interesting discounts below the retail price.
Strangely enough, the only picture relating to her time in Reno in 1960 for the filming of her final picture, “The Misfits,” is a small black and white close-up head shot of her and co-star Clark Gable.
Many different photographers are credited with the various shots but none list the names of Don Dondero and Doc Daminsky, two locals who each took hundreds of pictures of the blonde bombshell during her stay here. Dondero got into the action early as he was on hand for all of the social activities in which the famous cast and crew participated during their months-long stay in the “Biggest Little City.” Since the entire company, some 90 and all, was housed in the Mapes hotel. I had retained Dondero to be on hand for any happenings in the Mapes, which included many press conferences and individual interviews by the Hollywood Press of the celebrities that included Monroe, Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter, John Huston and Arthur Miller. Dondero was also omnipresent at the “location” shoots that occurred about the city. His longest-living and most profitable picture of Monroe was the one he snapped at the Cal-Neva Lodge at North Shore Lake Tahoe. The occasion for that picture came about when Frank Sinatra, who was appearing at the Cal-Neva, invited the principals of the “The Misfits” to attend his Saturday night dinner show as his guests. The invite got a little hairy when all agreed to accept the invitation except for Gable, who said he would only attend if the entire company was invited. That added about 150 more persons. When I informed Cal-Neva owner “Wingy” Grober of Gable’s stipulation he almost fainted, but eventually acquiesced. The evening provided Dondero with that famous photo of Marilyn and Sinatra seated at a small table with Wingy hovering between them and smiling benevolently. That shot has become a standard, purportedly because it is the only picture ever taken of Marilyn and Frank together. The picture appeared recently in the Reno Gazette Journal in relation to a current story on the Cal-Neva and Grober was misidentified as Maitre ‘de.
As for Doc Daminsky, he was a neophyte photographer at the time when he received a call from the production company of “The Misfits” to sign on — at a very hefty retainer — to go on location shoots around the area and chronicle the activities of the film company. Because of that, Kaminsky has his own voluminous collection of “Misfits” pictures that have never been circulated, since while he was shooting the film for the production company he was also using another camera to take his own private collection.
Many film critics and movie history buffs claim that Marilyn Monroe was the most photographed motion picture star of all time. It would be hard to dispute that claim based on the thousands of pictures of her this writer has seen.
In the Eldorado Gold Room exhibit there is an interesting mix of color, black and white and even sepia displays of Marilyn. In fact, one is labeled the “Last Sitting” and was done by photographer Bert Stern. There are a number of different poses and in the last one Marilyn is bare-breasted, with a footnote that reads, “Not bad for 36.”
Most of the “Misfits” overlong stay in the Reno area was due to the fact that Marilyn was tardy and even absent on a daily basis and when she did show up dozens and dozens of takes were necessary for her to get her lines good enough for the demanding director, John Huston. I witnessed such a goings-on one day when they were shooting scenes at a remote ranch, up a dusty road on the way to Pyramid Lake. If you’ve seen the film, which airs regularly on cable channels, it is part of the segment when Monroe, Gable, Wallach and Ritter travel out to the rickety ranch house that Wallach had been building for his now deceased wife. The liquor flows, the music plays and Gable and Monroe end up in a dance scene. I watched them film the end of the dance at least a doze times, until finally a exasperated Huston took Monroe’s place and waltzed about with Clark. None of the crew could stifle their chuckles as these two Hollywood “he men” spun about and finally Clark dipped Huston, who looked up at him, fluttered his eyelids and said, “Oh, Gay” (Gable’s first name in the flick).
As stated above, the display in the Eldorado Gold Room takes Monroe through a gamut of poses, some of them her most glamorous — such as the iconic skirt blowing high that was the logo of her “The Seven Year Itch film — to a number of candid offerings where her ingenue personality shows through dramatically. She is equally believable as the most glamorous seductress in the history of Hollywood, its most “ditzy” blonde (“Some Like It Hot”) or a free-spirited and innocent child of nature.
Following the Eldorado show the photos will be on display at the Art Source art gallery on South Virginia Street.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune. Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own.