We reshare this 2019 article by resident historian Ann Kessler in memory, and in tribute.
We learn from her family that Kessler died on August 19th, after a long and fierce battle with leukeumia. We will have more to say soon about her life, her loves, and her knack for finding fascinating stories in unexpected places.
For example: This article, featuring two Hollywood icons, captured lightning in a bottle. It is our second most popular piece, behind the late Marjorie Rachlin’s 2012 article about what squirrels eat. And now you know that Elvis and Marilyn play second fiddle to squirrels. Ann Kessler thought that was hilarious.
by Ann Kessler
Forest Hills has seen its share of celebrities, but two of the biggest icons of all time – Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe – passed this way in the 1950s and left lasting impressions.
The TV interview that got Elvis Presley all shook up
Elvis Presley visited WMAL-TV on Friday, March 23, 1956 when the station was located in the Chevy Chase Ice Palace at 4461 Connecticut Avenue NW. It was early in his career. His first number one hit, “Heartbreak Hotel,” had been released that January. To promote his performance that night aboard the Potomac cruise ship S.S. Mount Vernon, Presley appeared on WMAL-TV’s “Town and Country Time Show,” hosted by Jimmy Dean (of sausage fame) at 6:30 p.m. This broadcast interview has become legendary. Presley’s responses to questions were so brief as to be almost nonexistent.
Jimmy Dean: So you’re gonna to be on the S.S. Mt. Vernon tonight, are you Elvis?
Elvis Presley: Yep.
Dean: Have you ever worked on a boat before?
Dean: I imagine you’re looking forward to this, aren’t you?
Years later, Presley apologized to Dean, saying that he had been scared by the camera and couldn’t speak. As far as the impression Elvis left that night, one witness told the Evening Star newspaper that although Presley hadn’t said much he had been cooperative and “went mad signing autographs.”
Presley would visit Washington only three more times – for the infamous meeting with President Richard Nixon at the White House on Dec. 21, 1970, and for concerts at Cole Field House at the University of Maryland in 1974 and Capital Centre in 1977.
Marilyn Monroe tries to go incognito
Marilyn Monroe was married to the playwright Arthur Miller from 1956 to 1961. When the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was investigating Communists in the United States, it subpoenaed Miller, who supported liberal causes including the abolition of HUAC. Miller willingly agreed to testify but not to reveal any names of those he knew might be involved in Communist activities. He was held in contempt of Congress.
His subsequent trial in May 1957 before Judge Charles McLaughlin brought Miller and Monroe to Washington. Monroe wanted to support her husband by coming to DC, but didn’t want to stay at a hotel where she would be constantly mobbed by the press and fans. For that same reason she couldn’t actually attend any of the court sessions.
Miller contacted his lawyer, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., a widely respected civil rights attorney and co-founder of the Americans for Democratic Action, to ask his suggestions for housing in DC. Joe Rauh invited Miller and Marilyn to stay on the sofa bed in the den of his house at 3625 Appleton Street NW. The next day Rauh’s son Carl, a junior at Wilson High School, drove to Union Station to pick up a woman “wearing a dark wig, a head scarf, and sunglasses.” That was Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe spent the next week at Rauh’s house with Olie Rauh, Joe’s wife. She bicycled around the neighborhood (wearing sunglasses and pedal pushers), sat at the Rauh’s backyard pool, read books and followed the trial as closely as she could from afar. The neighbors had no idea that Monroe was still present, having assumed she had only briefly visited the Rauh’s. In reality, Monroe and Miller had left the Rauh home and then returned for their extended stay.
On the last day of her week’s visit someone tipped an Evening Star reporter to Monroe’s presence and the lawn was soon full of representatives of the press. Monroe held a brief news conference.
When asked what she thought of Washington, she said, “I love your city. I think it’s the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been here before.” Soon after, Monroe and her husband, as scheduled, left for Union Station to catch a train to New York. Sadly, Monroe, who had been pregnant while she visited the Rauhs, miscarried in New York. Monroe and Arthur Miller divorced in 1961 and she died of a barbiturate overdose on August 5, 1962.
Anyone considers himself lucky to see just one icon in person in his lifetime. In 1956 and 1957, we had two right here in our own neighborhood.