An aspiring author confronts the literary demons of the world and sets off in search of an agent.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Tale of Two Interviews

I've been ruminating over the stark contrast between two interviews concerning the topic of the friendship between Marilyn Monroe and Carl Sandburg.

The first  interview was conducted by Meredith Vieira of The Today Show with photographer Lee Steckler about a set of recently rediscovered pictures taken of a visit between Monroe and Sandburg. What a phenomenal opportunity to learn something new about two fascinating personalities. Vieira might have asked “What topics did they like to talk about?” Instead, she chose to inquire whether there might have been a romance between the two.

My reaction was three-fold:
  • Please! Monroe was thirty-five and Sandburg was in his eighties at the time. 
  • It's the type of question I'd expect from a serial gossiper, not a thoughtful interviewer.
  • The playwright Arthur Miller once said of his ex-wife: “… she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” With her display of prurience, it seems Vieira has joined the rabble of clothes-pullers.
Now, contrast Meredith Vieira’s approach with the following from PBS’ American Masters series that featured an interview with Gail Levin about her film: Marilyn Monroe: Still Life.

Q: Of the thousands of photographs you looked at for this film, which ones gave you the most insight into her true personality?

A: That one in particular, the Arnold Newman one. He says it’s the real Marilyn, you know? It really is this portrait shot of her, cut out of a two shot of her talking to Carl Sandburg. I had looked at those pictures many times, and never seen that the portrait was actually just a cropped version of this photograph. So already the eye of the photographer is present, just in being able to see what he has in his own picture. And I said to him, “God, look at that. Carl Sandburg is just listening to her,” and he said, “No, she was just pouring her heart out, she was miserable.” He did that photograph in March of ‘62 and she was dead by August of ‘62. She was already very troubled, very sad. So the whole circumstance of the photograph was one that you didn’t necessarily know when first looking at it.

Somehow the second interview got beyond the superficial to "the real Marilyn" (which seems an important topic for a wannabe writer like myself to ponder). The second interviewer successfully set up the context for us to recognize the poet in Marilyn Monroe. And speaking of poets, here’s an excerpt from Sandburg’s Clark Street Bridge – I can almost imagine he was thinking of Marilyn when he wrote it:

     Voices of broken hearts,
     . . Voices singing, singing,
     . . Silver voices, singing,
     Softer than the stars,
     Softer than the mist.

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