An interview with Dale Corvino

Helen  Rizzo & Marilyn Monroe

Helen Rizzo & Marilyn Monroe

Dale Corvino recently wrote the personal essay Marilyn Monroe, Baby Sitter which highlights his grandmother Helen Rizzo’s relationship with Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio for Salon.com. Dale operated a photo studio in DUMBO and worked for some of New York City’s largest real estate interests. For more on the article you’ll enjoy: http://www.salon.com/2013/09/26/marilyn_monroe_baby_sitter/

What was it like growing up in Brooklyn when you did?

I was born in Brooklyn only because my mom was very attached to her doctor, who had delivered her, was her pediatrician and obstetrician. They’d moved out to Long Island before I was born. I grew up in a postwar suburb, equally split between white collar and blue collar, Jews and Italians, living in tract developments built on reclaimed marshland. I felt alienated and out of place there from jump-start. It developed amidst the social upheavals and racial unrest of the late Sixties — a “White flight” enclave. I’ve come to see that this unrecognized dynamic, of self-segregating denial, was part of what alienated me.

What are some of your fondest memories of growing up in an Italian family? What would you say is the most important thing you learned from your family through the years?

Food. My grandmother ruled the kitchen, and taught me how to cook, but more importantly, she taught me to honor and respect the bounties of nature. The house I grew up in was on a creek. There was a mussel bed on one end, and a spit of beach on the other, where I’d rake clams. We caught crabs off the dock, too. My grandfather kept a kitchen garden in the yard. My grandmother prepared whole meals out of what we caught in the creek and what we grew in the garden.

Are there any little known things about you that you’d not mind sharing with our readers?

I’ve been writing and publishing under a pseudonym for a decade. Stay tuned for the reveal.

What do you love most about New York?

I challenge those who profess their love of New York to love her with their feet. Love her completely, too — not just the southern half of Manhattan Island. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Weeksville. Hike up Broadway to Dyckman Street. Check out P.S. 1, then have dinner in Astoria.

What inspired you to write the Marilyn article for Salon? Are you surprised at the response it has gotten so far?

I wanted to share my family’s experience with Marilyn Monroe with the wider world, and add some nuance to her biography. I’m surprised at how overwhelmingly positive the response has been. Marilyn is an icon, and her fans are very protective of her. When I first floated this story, I had skeptics claim the photo is a fraud. I’ve had fact checkers calling me out for false claims. I did my research though, stuck to what I knew, and sought to verify my family’s recollections against the public record.

Do you think the day at the Amusement park you speak of in the piece offered Marilyn a much needed moment free from fame?

Yes, my grandmother gave me the impression that Marilyn’s dream of a life with Joe was a reaction to her growing fame. She wanted to raise children.

Did your grandmother Helen speak of Marilyn often? Did she ever mention what she was like as a person opposed to the star she became?

Sometimes at Sunday family dinners. When she told it to a crowd, it was just an entertaining story, one of many. We had a lot of storytellers in the family. When I’d ask her about it and it was just the two of us, her tone was different. There was true affection, a bright spark in her eyes, and grief for her lost friend. She couldn’t even talk about Marilyn’s death. She’d just choke up. She blamed Peter Lawford, to some extent.

Helen Rizzo

Helen Rizzo

Did your mother ever mention what it was she liked about Marilyn so much as a child?

My mother was six at the time, and doesn’t remember too much about the event. She remembers that she definitely liked Marilyn, and was fascinated with her hair. She remembers the scary experience of being mobbed by the crowds and rushed out of the park.

As an author what do you love most about the act of writing?

I need the solitude and the quieting catharsis of writing. As I find an audience, I love the interactivity. Writing being read results in silent, almost telepathic communication between reader and writer. Readers are in a solemn state, picking up the writer’s inaudible pitch.

What led you to write the remembrance of society decorator Stuart Green? What did you admire most about the man and his work?

I spent my twenties as his assistant, his draftsman, his companion, and his romantic obsession. I didn’t know his full story until after his death; he was brought up on keeping secrets. He created interiors for high profile New Yorkers — Ralph and Ricky Lauren, Anne Cox Chambers, Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg. He was unwittingly embroiled in the murder of John Lennon. His story is one that illuminates the cultural dynamics of American society. He had an impeccable eye for color, and a love of the sublime in nature.

What it is like to run a photo studio at DUMBO?

I had a loft for photo shoots and events in an industrial building at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, with views of the bridge, New York Harbor, Lady Liberty — and the World Trade Center. From those windows, I stared at the smoke trails from the WTC for that tracked over Brooklyn for days after the attack. Production companies stopped shooting in NYC after 9/11, so we turned to events, especially weddings. Hundreds of New Yorkers held their receptions in the space. It was healing, and incidentally saved my business. I’m still in touch with some of those couples.

Why do you think the imagery found in photography is often such a powerfully emotional experience for so many people? What do you personally love most about photographs?

Photography has been embraced by our culture so intimately. It’s enmeshed in tradition, ritual, and family history. A photo like the one at the center of this piece diagrams a moment in time, and colors it with light and dark. All these decades later, the photo invites me to imagine the scene in that photo booth — the emotions, the charge, the smells. However my imaginings may fail, they are rooted in a document of time.

Do you have a dream project you’d most like to accomplish?

 I’m on the second draft of a memoir. It’s back-burnered right now, since I’m facing deadlines and assignments for shorter pieces. It’s all one body of work, but the memoir is a big dream.

Anything you’d like to say before you go?

In tribute to Ginsberg’s holy rant, I hereby vow to not let my work become “the cowardly robot ravings of a depraved mentality.”

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2 thoughts on “An interview with Dale Corvino

  1. Ian Ayres says:

    Reblogged this on Voyeur and commented:
    Dale Corvino’s interview (which includes never-before-known memories of Marilyn Monroe) is heartfelt, down-to-earth, and deep.

  2. Jack Jeffers says:

    A very unique perspective. Thanks for the look.

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