On the Brink of Fame

“Know what,” she said, “I have to learn to smoke for my next picture. Give me a cigarette and you can take pictures of me practicing.” That sounded like a good idea, and Jock shot an entire roll of film while Marilyn Monroe, propped up on the bed in her hotel room, struck a number of different poses.


When my father, Jock Carroll, died in 1995 at the age of 76, he left behind thousands of photographs he had taken while on assignment for Weekend Magazine. Weekend was a Sunday newspaper supplement in Canada where, over a period of 20 years, he was a photojournalist, war correspondent and associate editor.

He interviewed and photographed many famous people while at Weekend, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lewis, Gloria Swanson, Joe Louis, and Arnold Palmer. When Jock left the magazine, he acquired the copyright to all his photographs and articles, and to date two books of his black-and-white photographs have been published: Falling for Marilyn: The Lost Niagara Collection (Friedman/Fairfax, 1996), and Glenn Gould: Some Portraits of the Artist as a Young Man (Stoddart, 1995). Although Jock was involved in planning both books, he did not live to see either published.

After having been discharged from the Royal Canadian Air Force at the end of World War II, Jock was determined to become a writer. He figured a reporter who could also take his own pictures would be doubly valuable (but not doubly paid, he would discover). A self-taught photographer, he became a freelance photojournalist, and kept very busy working for Canadian newspapers like the Toronto Telegram and American magazines such as Colliers and Sports Illustrated.

Jock was particularly well suited to cover sports. An accomplished athlete in his own right (football, handball, and golf), he came from a sports family. His father, Frank Carroll, was a professional boxer, and also coached the Toronto Arenas Hockey Club when the team won the Stanley Cup in 1918.

For Jock, photography was a practical matter-he took pictures to accompany the articles he wrote. Nevertheless, he was a talented photographer and, to boot, many of his subjects were particularly photogenic. In 1952, Jock was sent to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, to do a feature article on Marilyn Monroe. She was there filming the movie Niagara. She was 26, and just at the beginning of her career- Niagara was her first leading role. This worked in Jock’s favor: He was able to stay on the set for two weeks, saw a great deal of her, and took hundreds of photographs. Timing is everything, and he had photo opportunities that would be inconceivable just a few years later.

Marilyn Monore in front of the Falls. This photo did not appear in the original magazine article.

Jock was also at the beginning of his career. In the book Falling for Marilyn, he recounts an exchange with Frank Neill, publicity coordinator for the film, who arranged time with the star: “On our way to Marilyn’s room, Neill said, ‘She likes you. Because you’re taking time to get to know her.’ Neill seemed to think that this was cleverness on my part, whereas it was simply my lack of experience. “

New at the game, yes. A fool, no. Jock realized it was an incredible stroke of luck that Marilyn liked him, and this was the reason he stayed for two weeks instead of the two or three days he had originally planned.

They discussed the books she was reading and talked about her childhood, they went for a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist and did several off-set photo shoots. One night, at about ten o’clock, she called him to ask if he would drive her across the border to the United States. She had bought a sweater for Joe DiMaggio, and if she mailed it from Canada it would have to go through customs, which would take time, but if she got it to an airport on the US side before midnight he would get it the next day. So jock smuggled Marilyn and the sweater across the border in the middle of the night.

Meeting Marilyn had a significant impact on Jock’s life. For the next several years he spent his spare time working on the only novel he wrote, a black comedy about a young, idealistic photographer who falls in love with a glamorous movie star named Gloria Heaven.

Today, the novel would not even be considered risqué, but in the late 50s it was impossible to get it published in North America. So Jock turned to the same man everyone else did when they could not find a publisher in those days: Maurice Girodias, editor of the infamous Olympia Press in Paris. Girodias had published J P Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and The Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs. They all appeared in The Traveller’s Companion Series, his signature imprint. Most of the books he promoted could by no means be considered serious literary efforts. More typical titles were The Enormous Bed, Until She Screams, and Helen and Desire. Earlier, Girodias had published the first English edition of The Story of 0.

Indeed, erotic novels were the mainstay of Girodias’ publishing enterprise, and many, if not most, were banned in the United States and Britain. But to his credit, Girodias was the first to publish important works by writers like Donleavy and Burroughs, and also the first to publish Watt, a novel by Samuel Beckett, the future Nobel laureate. There was no middle ground at the Olympia Press, the title list swung from one extreme to the other. Girodias liked Jock’s book, originally titled Bottoms Up, but unlike U.S. publishers who thought the book had too much sex in it, Girodias didn’t think it had enough. He asked Jock to spice it up a bit. That Jock did, and it was published as Number 86 in the Traveller’s Companion Series in 1961.

It was subsequently rereleased by Stein &Day in New York in 1964, under the title The Shy Photographer, the name by which it is best known. The book was eventually translated into half a dozen languages and sold nearly one million copies. Very few authors mode money when Girodias published their books. He rarely made advance payments (even when promised), and never paid royalties, because he kept no records. He ended up in a 20-year legal battle over Lolita, both with the censors and the author (what Nabokov would later refer to as “Lolitagation”). Jock, however, made money when he sold the movie rights to The Shy Photographer. Although a poster for the film appeared at Cannes in 1974, plans to shoot the movie fell through at the last minute. Nevertheless, between the movie rights and the royalties  from the Stein & Day edition, Jock made over $30,000 – a considerable sum of money in the late 60s.

Gloria Heaven was clearly based on Marilyn Monroe. In the novel, the photographer, Arthur King, discusses several books he finds in Gloria Heaven’s hotel room. They are the very same books Jock had seen when he was taking pictures of Marilyn: The Thinking Body by Mabel Ellsworth Todd, and Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. In one scene in the book, Gloria  appears in her bathrobe. Across the bock of the robe, in bold letters, is embroidered Sherry Netherland Hotel. This was the robe Marilyn was wearing when Jock first met her. In the original Weekend article, Jock reported, “It was the most effective hotel advertising I had ever seen, because when Miss Monroe walks, she engages your full attention.”

In fact, much of the dialog between the two characters is exactly what was said between Jock   and Marilyn, as recorded in the original article and later, in more detail, in the book Falling for Marilyn. Perhaps the most poignant discussion they had occurred after Jock and Marilyn had been on the Maid of the Mist. During the boat trip, the conversation turned to the question of people jumping over the falls. Marilyn asked the captain if it happened often and he said that it did. Back at the hotel Marilyn said that people sometimes try to commit suicide by shooting themselves but botch it and in the end are worse off than before. After a long silence she told  Jock, “Sleeping pills are much better.”

Editor’s Note:

An exhibition of Monroe photos and art recently opened at the McMichael Gallery in Ontario, Canada on February 19, 2011. It runs to May 15, 2011, at the Kleinburg gallery. Many of Jock Carroll’s photos are included. For more information go to:


Nothin’ but a hound dog

In 1956, Jock was sent to New York to interview Elvis Presley, then 21 years old. Jock did not want to go He did not think much of New York, and even less of “rock’n’roll” Still, it was an assignment, and he flew to New York and spent two days with Elvis the weekend he was to make his first appearance on national television. Like Marilyn, Elvis was at the beginning of his career. He had several hits under his belt-including Heartbreak Hotel- but he was not yet a  superstar.

Once again, Jock’s timing was fortunate. On Sunday, July 1, Elvis performed two songs on The  Steve Allen Show. The first was I Wont You, I Need You, I Love You, the second an unrecorded song called Hound Dog. Elvis recorded the song at the RCA studios in New York the next day, and it would go on to become one of his biggest hits. Although Jock took just a handful of photographs in the course of this assignment, one of them happened to be of Elvis on stage singing Hound Dog to a bewildered Basset Hound.

Ed Sullivan, who had said he would never have Elvis on his show, apparently changed his mind when The Steve Allen Show eclipsed his own show in the ratings because of Elvis. Sullivan had Elvis on his show on September 9 – an estimated 54 million viewers tuned in.

The title of Jock’s article was I Like Elvis Presley. Expecting the worst, Jock was no doubt surprised. He found Elvis to be polite and modest. He didn’t drink, smoke, or swear. And he went to church. In his hotel room, Jock interviewed him along with two other reporters. When asked about his plans for the following week, Elvis said he would be in Memphis. Only when prompted for more information did he reveal that the show was a benefit for the Memphis Variety Club.

When asked how he felt about some of the critical stories that had been written about him, he said, “1 don’t blame them. They’ve got a job to do, just like me.”

Inevitably, the question came up about how he came to make his first record. “Just by accident,” Elvis answered. He had seen a sign for Memphis Recording Services while driving a truck, and returned later on his own time. For $400, he recorded That’s When Your Heartaches Begin by the lnkspots and My Happiness, a popular ballad.

Sam Phillips, who owned Sun Records, was there, and Elvis said,”He buried his head in his hands for 45 minutes. When I finished he said, ‘You have a very interesting voice there.’ He said he would call me. A year and a half later he did.” RCA Victor subsequently bought his contract from Phillips for $40,000. That turned out to be an extremely good investment.

Although Jock liked Elvis, he misread the situation. He thought Elvis was a flash in the pan, that the furor would die down quickly and he would soon be forgotten. When Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, eager to get his artist as much press coverage as possible, asked Jock to join them for the next two weeks on tour, he declined. “That was a mistake,” Jock later admitted.

Elvis was already traveling all the time and doing about ten shows a month, a schedule that would get even more demanding. Though Jock read Elvis’s future wrong, the young singer’s  mother proved a near-psychic.

“What about these songs you’re singing now? It’s a question basically of selling sex, isn’t it?” one reporter asked.

 “I never looked at it that way. I don’t try to sell sex,” Elvis said.

 “How about your parents? What do they think about it?”

 “Well, my folks are in the same boat as I am. One day I said, ‘Momma, do you think I’m vulgar on the stage?'”

 “What did she say?”

 “No, son, you just do what you feel. But you work too hard. You’re never going to be an old man. You’ll wear yourself out.”






This article first appeared in Black and White Magazine, Issue 7, June 2000.

All photographs by Jock Carroll.

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