As you may recall, a year ago Classic Hollywood Central reported that a unique Marilyn Monroe archive was discovered in Holland. The archive used to belong to Emmeline Snively, the deceased owner of the Blue Book Modeling Agency and Marilyn’s former boss/confidante. Astrid en Ben Franse, who own a store called Bennies Fifties, found out they had a box containing the archive under their desk for twenty years. Classic Hollywood Central spoke with Astrid Franse about her unique find.
Emmeline Snively has always remained a somewhat obscure figure in Marilyn Monroe’s past. It is known that Marilyn was discovered by a photographer on assignment while she was working and that he recommended that she’d visit the Blue Book Modeling Agency owned by Emmeline Snively. She did just that and Emmeline immediately recognized Marilyn’s potential. In august 1945 she signed, then still, Norma Jeane to her agency and started training her. But with all the information that is now known about the iconic Marilyn, very little is known about these modeling years.
Luckily, it turns out Miss Snively kept an extensive record on her protégé. Nobody seems to know what happened to her ‘Marilyn archive’ after Emmeline’s death. Only that Astrid and Ben stumbled onto it 20 years ago. A find that would change their life.
Items from the archive
But how do you stumble upon a treasure like this? Although it’s been twenty years, Astrid still remembers it clearly. She and her husband Ben were in Los Angeles buying things for their store, something they do quite often. Right as her husband was making a deal with a dealer they knew, something very unusual happened: “While they were negotiating, this guy walks up to them. Fairly large, a bit older, I think he was even wearing his slippers. And he walks up to the dealer with a box in his hands. So the dealer leaves Ben for a while and talks to him for a few minutes. When the dealer comes back with the box, Ben asks him what’s in it. He says: ‘I don’t know. Some press clippings and pictures of Marilyn Monroe. I only got to take a quick look, it was take it or leave it. If I didn’t buy it, he was going to offer it to someone else’. So we took a quick look as well and we saw some newspaper clippings about Marilyn Monroe from 1946. We thought someone had collected them”.
Astrid and Ben bought it and stored it under a desk. They thought they would look into it when they had the time. But as those things often go, time went by and the box remained untouched.
But what about that mysterious man who brought the box? “I have no idea! If I had known it was such an important box, I would have definitely asked him some questions. We do know how he got the box: he got it from a locker. We thought he meant a locker at a train station or maybe a bank or something. But whether he had it in his possession for a long time? I don’t know. That would be great, if we knew where it came from…”.
Twenty years later, coincidentally in the year that Marilyn had been dead for fifty years, they got a call that made them take a look at the box. “A jukebox dealer from America called us for a client of his that wanted a special jukebox. He told us that this guy was a Marilyn Monroe collector and that he had bid 1.2 million dollars at an auction on the dress that she wore when she sang for Kennedy. So Ben said: ‘We have a bunch of Marilyn Monroe stuff. I have a box under my desk with newspaper clippings and pictures’. Later that day, the jukebox dealer called back to say that his client was interested and if we could send some pictures”. That night, they finally found out what had been hiding under their desk all along. Astrid was stunned when she found that there was more to it than just newspaper clippings and pictures. There were folders in the box, containing negatives, letters and telegrams of Marilyn. When she found books about the Blue Modeling Agency in the box and business cards belonging to a Miss Emmeline Snively, Astrid soon realized she had the archive of the owner of the Blue Book Modeling Agency.
Norma Jeane’s information file for Blue Book (courtesy of cursumperficio.net)
We know Emmeline was the one who let the auburn Norma Jeane dye her hair blonde, taught her how to pose and that she was there for the beginning of her film career. But what her role in Marilyn’s life was exactly, remained a mystery. Until now. “She kind of became her ‘modelmom’. Miss Snively definitely had a warm heart. Marilyn was even friendly with her mother. Miss Snively was the one that made her big, she introduced her to the film industry. So she must have regretted that. Because then she kind of lost her”. But not entirely. When looking through the archive it is clear that Emmeline Snively and Marilyn kept in touch. Miss Snively send letters and visited Marilyn. They were in touch up to three weeks prior to her death.
The archive even reveals what Marilyn would have done had she not died; she would have starred in a play written by none other than Miss Snively! A play about ‘Runaway Girls’ is a part of the archive as well. Miss Snively sent it to Marilyn, the receipt she had to sign is even in the box, and Marilyn agreed to star in it. It was Miss Snively’s intention to have Marilyn star with one of her other famous discoveries…. Miss Snively had written the play with her assistant fifteen years prior, but since Marilyn was keen on doing stage work at this point in her life, Emmeline decided this was the right time. Unfortunately, as we all know, Marilyn passed away soon after.
Miss Snively gave one interview in her office after Marilyn’s funeral, which she attended. Strangely, she ended the interview with the words that she had opened her archive on Marilyn one last time only to ‘lock it away forever’. But she didn’t do that. “The archive continues until seven years after Marilyn’s death. She tried to get it made into a book or a documentary”, Astrid explains. All the people she offered this to declined, but as Astrid’s son said: “At the time nobody could have imagined that Marilyn would be such an icon 50 years after her death”.
Disappointed that nobody was interested in her archive, Miss Snively decided she was going to take matters into her own hands: she started writing a book herself. She wrote seven chapters, which are part of the archive as well. Strangely, she stopped writing her book and organizing the archive very suddenly a couple of years before her death. Astrid has no idea why and it is a mystery that she would like to solve.
But Marilyn has more fans and admirers now than she did in the years following her untimely death. So finding people who were interested in the archive today proved to be no problem for Astrid. “I was flooded with reactions! When the press release came out, all my staff did was answer calls the whole week. We had interviews with shows all over the world”. They did not just get calls to do interviews though: a big auction house in Beverly Hills called to buy some of the things in the archive. But Astrid wouldn’t hear of it. “I know what a picture of her is worth and I know what a negative is worth. Especially when it’s never been published. But I want this story to be told. There are still so many Marilyn Monroe fans. And all the books are usually about her movie career, the men and her childhood. But that time in between, not much is known about that. And an auction house isn’t interested in that, they just want the pictures, the letters, the autographs….I don’t want that, it has to stay together”.
They also got a lot of calls from documentary filmmakers and writers who wanted to capture the archive and the story that it tells in a documentary or a book. Astrid loved that idea, but she had some demands. “I really have to have the feeling, when I work with someone on this, that they want the same thing as I do. That they want to keep Marilyn on her pedestal. Because so many people would love to finally throw her of it after all these years. I rejected one of the biggest producers in Holland, because he did not have the same vision as I do”. Though she is still negotiating on a book with interested parties, she has signed on to do a documentary.
It is clear that Astrid wants to do right by Marilyn. She explains that she feels she really got to know Marilyn since she discovered the archive and that she relates to her. “We were Marilyn fans before, but I didn’t know everything about her life. When I got the archive, I started doing research and I read a lot of books about her. I realized we had a lot in common…It’s emotional for me. I understand her”. Since discovering the archive, Marilyn has played a big part in her life: “It really starts to control your life, it really does. When we travel, I don’t just bring a book anymore, I bring a book about Márilyn. Off course, I know most of it by now, but it’s always interesting to find new information”.
But this story is not just about Marilyn. It’s about Emmeline Snively too. “I’m really continuing Miss Snively’s work. What she has always wanted and what never happened, I’m doing 50 years later. It’s really a tribute to her as well. A tribute to the woman who discovered Marilyn. Because if she hadn’t been around, there would not have been a Marilyn. She discovered her, saw her potential”.
As someone who not only has a unique Marilyn Monroe archive, but who also did some extensive research on her, why does Astrid think Marilyn is still so loved? “Well, first of all because she was a gorgeous woman. And her perseverance, which is respected by many. But also because she was always abused, emotionally. That combined with the story of her childhood, makes you feel for her. You just instantly feel a connection to Marilyn, she just exudes that”.
Of all the things in this archive what is her absolute favorite item? “A letter Marilyn wrote to Miss Snively in 1946. That’s a very touching letter. She had to be in Las Vegas for six weeks, because of her first divorce. She has to stay a while longer, because things aren’t going so smoothly. And then she writes this very long letter and she’s still….she almost writes it as if she were a child really. She meets movie stars there and she’s invited backstage and then she goes out to dinner with these people. And she’s all: ‘I’ve met this star and that star!’ and ‘cross my heart’, she’s so excited. And then I think: ‘If only you knew how big you will become’”.