- HIS SUMMER WITH MARILYN
Living in interesting times often involves living with interesting people. One of the most interesting men I’ve ever known was an artist named Phil Renaud. And he spent an entire summer with Marilyn Monroe without becoming the least bit infatuated with her. Really, he did. Let me explain.
Phil was a brilliant artist who came to us from Canada. His career as an artistic interpreter of the world around him began early—when he was growing up on the northern prairie, surrounded by forests, mountains, and lakes. He developed an appreciation for the beauty in the natural world around him, and was able to put what he saw on paper for everyone to appreciate. His hand and his brush took us into the woods he explored and across the landscapes he traveled as a young man leaving us with snow-covered branches; a scrub of trees silhouetted against stark mountains; a solitary bird waiting for spring. But he is best remembered for his magnificent renditions of the human form. When he put his charcoal to a length of cream drawing paper, he made the human figure come alive: vibrant, graceful, and exciting. You notice I speak of Phil in the past tense. He left us last year. The world and I are poorer for his exit.
- The artist Phil Renaud with wife Carol
But this article is not about Phil’s artistic skills—or even his legacy of paintings and drawings. It is about a memorable summer that he spent with one of the iconic figures of our time—Marilyn Monroe.
- Marilyn Monroe by Norman Baugher
The Artist and His Icon
There is a great deal of hype right now about a movie called “My Week with Marilyn”. The film is based on the true story of a young man named Colin Clark who, in 1957, talked his way into a job on the set of “The Prince and the Showgirl”, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Like much of the civilized world, young Mr. Clark (he was 23) was besotted with the beauty, vulnerability, and sweetness of the 30-year old Ms. Monroe. By a twist of fate, Monroe’s then-husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, was away from Paris, where the movie was being shot, and production was on hiatus. The young man and the actress were alone for an entire week. They talked, they went skinny-dipping in the moonlight, and more may (or may not) have happened. Whatever. The experience cast a spell on Colin Clark from which he was never freed. He recorded it in a diary, which later became a book, and finally, a film.
But this piece is not about Colin Clark and his week with Marilyn, It is about Phil Renaud who spent a summer with the star and escaped unscathed.
The Artist and the Movie Star
In the summer of 1954, Phil was just 19 years old and trying to earn enough money to go to art school by working as a night desk clerk at the elegant Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada. During that summer, film director Otto Preminger brought movie stars, Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum, to Jasper to film The River of No Return. Since they all stayed at the Jasper Park Lodge, Phil saw Marilyn every day, although he recalled she didn’t mingle much with the rest of the cast or the crew. He was struck by her youth (late 20s), beauty, and a kind of vulnerability that made everyone want to protect her. But, unlike the other males on the set (and later Colin Clark), Phil did not fall madly in love with Marilyn. He was already captivated by a secretary to the hotel manager—an older woman of 31—whom he described as “really something”. Phil and the secretary had a thing for each other that summer until Robert Mitchum came along, bypassed Marilyn (who was actually attracted to him), and took over the secretary, effectively breaking Phil’s heart. Phil never cared much for Mitchum after that, although he and the secretary did pick up where they left off when the filming ended.
But back to Marilyn. Phil recalled a night when he saw her walking forlornly to her quarters away from the main lodge. Seems she had been denied admittance to the formal dining room by a haughty maitre’d because she was unescorted and she was wearing pants. In those days, respectable women (with the possible exception of Katherine Hepburn, who may or may not have been so respectable) did not wear slacks in public restaurants. Marilyn did not pull a “do you know who I am” act. Nor did she change into a dress and go back to the dining room. And Phil did not follow her to offer comfort or companionship. He stayed on duty, and she chose to order room service and eat alone.
If Phil were with us today, I’m sure he’d chuckle at the cinematic depiction of Clark’s lifelong obsession with Marilyn. And he would remember the time when he could easily have been in that young man’s shoes, but chose, instead, to walk away. Phil went on to art school and became one of the great painters of our time.
- Nude: conte crayon on paper by Phil Renaud
Filed under: Living in Interesting Times