Jennifer Jean Miller is a woman of many talents from a divorced mother, to her work as a journalist, photojournalist, columnist, and author, to starting her own online news site, PR, and publishing company J. J. Avenue Productions she handles it all with grace. Jennifer is also the personal press representative for the “Marilyn Monroe Family” representing some of Marilyn’s descendants. An avid fan of Marilyn’s since her childhood, she recently released her first book, Marilyn Monroe & Joe Di Maggio: Love in Japan, Korea, and Beyond.
What was it like growing up in New Jersey? What do you love most about living there?
New Jersey often gets a bad rap and has been the butt of jokes. “What exit are you from?” has been the longstanding jab about the state and its residents, asking what exit on the Turnpike residents live off of. How silly. The Turnpike does not even touch the part of the state that I grew up in, which is about an hour northwest of New York City.
I grew up in an area that was somewhat rural with farms and forests. It is a more mountainous part of the state with lakes and ski resorts as well, for year round recreation. The farming community has thinned out, as some sprawl has come this way, while people from closer to New York have retreated west for more peace and quiet, and lower costs. When I was a little girl, there were tons of working farms everywhere in the county, including my town. Today, it is a bedroom community for many who work east of Sussex County, this wonderful corner of the state, with approximately 150,000 residents. We are a tight-knit county, with some families having their roots implanted since the 1700s. Many in the community are working to sustain and revitalize the farming culture, and farmers’ markets and festivals are popping up around the area on the weekends, with some great produce, locally produced cheeses and honeys, and items from local artisans.
I liked it growing up, while at the same time I’m more of an ocean girl at heart. Thankfully, we have that too on our state’s coastline, and I spent a lot of time at one of the beach areas with my grandparents, a quaint little town and beach front called Avon-by-the-Sea, a place that I still absolutely adore.
I grew up by Lake Mohawk, in Sparta New Jersey, which is a lovely community, with a small downtown for the lake community, and the township at large, packed with a variety of eateries and buildings with interesting “lakestyle” architecture.
On the other hand, I did have the taste of what some may refer to as the “real” New Jersey, which is closer to New York City. That’s where my family originally hailed from, and I was actually born across the river in the Big Apple. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ home, with a view of the Empire State Building twinkling from my bedroom window. I embrace this area as well, because things are so accessible, and this is where my heart is, because I was close to my grandparents. To me, my grandmother, Jean Miller, especially was about love, so I try to return to the area where she lived from time to time, just to return to that nostalgia, and to the memories of the time we spent together, whether it was eating at a local restaurant, walking down the street to one of the shops, or going to the playground together. What has been fun too has been walking these same streets with my kids…though some of the places we used to go when I was a child are now long gone, many are still there, including the playground we’d walk to.
At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Ever since I could express myself in writing, I’ve wanted to write professionally. The influential immediate members of my family discouraged me, because writing was not “lucrative.” That is, meaning financially…or at least that’s what they’d thought. The same for acting, which I also enjoyed, and I was cornered into a “practical” career. I worked in Corporate America after college, as well as a teacher who taught a French for Travelers class. I didn’t feel fulfilled in education or in the work I was doing in Corporate, though I don’t regret those experiences. I believe they have paved the way and trained me for my business end of my work, plus, I will be sitting down as soon as I can, to publish my book about Marilyn in the French language, because there are many fans that live in France.
I had wanted to write a book about Marilyn from approximately 17 years old. I was troubled by her story, especially her death, and wanted to set the record straight.
I considered I might like to be a reporter, and was told that it was rare to be successful at it. I was reminded that one of my relatives (who I last saw at about age three, and we reconnected for the first time last year), who is a New York Times reporter is a rarity. What these family members didn’t tell this young girl was that she would become a “rarity” herself, as I have since done well and flourished in this career, earning award nominations and an award too. That award I am especially proud of, since it’s from the NJ Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma, which means that others have been helped and touched by something I have written.
After my children were born was when I prayed on the subject of what to “do with the rest of my life.” I heard that calling during my prayer time to explore writing. When I did, and sent my sample in to a company that produced tribute biographies of notable and everyday people, I wrote about my grandmother, Jean Miller. I was told that my “writing abilities made up for my lack of published material” and was accepted. Though the company eventually announced it was going out of business, it gave me the confidence to pursue other assignments, eventually become a reporter, and to write my book.
Why do you think the act of writing can be such a powerful force?
There are power in words, and people who crave to absorb knowledge through the written word. I know because I’m someone who knows how to generate an impact with words, while being someone on the quest for knowledge. People thank me constantly for the things I write, and compliment the articles that I write.
Things written inspire me. I’m not at all a TV person. There is so much to see in the world, and so much that is preserved through writing.
Of course, writing can be destructive when it’s in the wrong hands. And in the case of Marilyn, I’ve seen a lot of destructive writing. Ugly rumors have surfaced about her, because of the lies and defamation that others have written. I hope what I’ve written is positive, yet tells her story. My book is about love, but it’s also not about fluff. It’s about the mental abuse she was subjected to by others. As I am as a reporter, I am not about sensationalism; I’m about getting to the heart of the truth, while presenting the truth in a heartfelt, sensitive, and objective way.
As someone who had encouragement early on do you think it is important that people be reminded of their abilities from time to time?
I actually did not have the encouragement I really needed to get going professionally at a young age from those closest to me. I hid my writings and poetry early on, and spent time quietly in my room, perfecting my craft. I was self-conscious about my abilities. Others who flaunted their own talents and appeared to trump me, didn’t realize what was developing behind the scenes. That’s because I wasn’t necessarily told I was good enough, or given the encouragement. I had to pray and to find that energy and peace within to know that what I was doing would make a difference, and that I did in fact, have talent.
One teacher especially inspired me to write when I was a little girl, and it was my sixth grade language arts teacher, Mr. Boeren. He was a kind and wonderful man, and very encouraging. I still keep my autograph book close to my proximity, because in it lays words of encouragement. No matter what untruths the world may try to tell each person, those who cared about me growing up, showered me with love in this book. My grandmother is now an angel, for example, and I can read a message that she wrote for me on Valentine’s Day, 1980, that oozes love and still warms my heart.
I hadn’t opened up the autograph book in a while, and found Mr. Boeren’s entry right after I published my book about Marilyn and Joe. It brought tears to my eyes, as I realized I had made it, and made a go of what he suggested I do. He penned this for me on my last day of elementary school, and I saw him once or twice after this. I still hold it dear to my heart, and it’s important to let people know how much you care about them. You never know the difference you will make in affirming their gifts, and dreams. He wrote:
“Jennifer, Your voice, writing, and personality all have something in common. They are all beautiful. I’ll miss you. Love, Mr. Boeren.”
I well up even relaying this message during this interview. I miss you too Mr. Boeren. Love and eternal thanks and gratitude back, wherever you are now.
How did becoming a mother change your world view?
It always sounds so cliché when one hears that parents always “want better for their children than they received for themselves.”
It’s so true though! I don’t want my children to ever experience the discouragement that I felt. I affirm them daily, tell them frequently how much I love them, and encourage them in their goals. It’s important for children to set goals, whether its playing a sport or acting in a play.
My son is involved in a lot of things for example. In addition to stellar grades, he plays soccer and saxophone. Last year, he was accepted as part of a select choir in his school. He ran track last season. We were in a play together, and the following year, he was asked to audition for the role of Jojo at the local high school for Seussical the Musical. The school sought a younger child for the part rather than a high schooler. Though he did not get the role, he was one of six boys in the district who was asked to audition, at age 10. To me, that was an honor in itself. The school asked the boys who did not win the role, to stay on and play Whos in the play, which he did. Watching him on stage was inspiring and amazing…he was so animated and my eyes just welled up watching him perform.
My daughter too, has been involved in dance. What a joyful day it was to watch my little girl twirl around onstage in a tutu, holding an inflatable microphone, and singing Dancing Queen. Recently, we’ve started a Facebook Page together, for a bracelet-making business she’s launching.
I back my children in their endeavors and activities. It’s what I didn’t always get as a kid. For example, I wanted to tap dance in the worst way…and play the drums. I was decent at both as I have good rhythm. I also sing too, by the way. My brother played the drums, and I was told that girls should not, because it was not “feminine.” Certain influential members of my immediate family told me I could not tap dance, that I must take ballet, because it was more “classy.” My grandmother went to bat for me, even offering to pay for it, and she was told to butt out. My daughter, by the way, has done ballet, tap, and gymnastics. My philosophy is to at least let a child try and find out if they have a gift at it themselves.
I have spent a lot of time taking my kids places for activities, and encouraging them to get involved. I have done this on my own as a divorced mom, while juggling my own schedule…even when I’m completely tired, it’s still for my kids, and I want them to get the most out of their experiences.
When I pondered what to do with my life, in addition to my number one and irreplaceable job as “mom” after they were born, I realized the importance of embracing and striving for a dream that I always wanted. Life passes by so quickly. We cannot give up on ourselves. The last thing I knew, I was the little girl getting ready for school and to sit in Mr. Boeren’s classroom, then, blink, here I am looking in the mirror as an adult and mother. I realized that I could not give up on my dreams. I wanted to instill that in my children and be that example.
One quality my son pointed out to me about me recently was my determination. He told me, “Mom, you never give up.” I cannot give up…especially as a divorced mother. Though I have finally been blessed to meet a wonderful significant other, it’s been that instinct for so long that I was on my own, and my kids needed to count on me.
What do you think is the most important thing a parent can teach their child when it comes to dealing with life as you find it?
My kids have seen that not everything has gone the way I’ve expected or planned. There have been ups and downs. They have seen that I am faithful, faith-filled, and trust in God, that none of life’s happenings are without reason. And that it’s important to persevere.
I believe when I am older and look back at my life, challenging times that I’ve experienced will likely just be a blip on the radar.
A revelation popped into my head recently, combined with gratitude, that it’s miraculous to even be on this earth. The likelihood to be born, and to live a life…we need to live it well and be grateful, no matter the circumstances, or hand that has been dealt to us.
Parents need to teach children to be appreciative and grateful for every single day, and when a day is hard, remember that a new day is ahead, with a new chance to start over.
As my precious grandmother, who was born in Scotland then moved to New Jersey, used to say when things would go wrong, “It’s not the bloody end of the world.”
At what age did you first discover Marilyn Monroe?
I’ve always known who Marilyn was. Her face is historical and recognizable, even if you don’t know her name. I especially had gotten déjà-vu moments in New York, where I used to spend a lot of time as a child, because those were the streets where she had walked less than 20 years prior. Marilyn is so ingrained into the heart and culture of New York City, even today.
It wasn’t until I was about nine though, that after my parents were divorced and I was in my father’s apartment one day, that I noticed a book on the shelf in his dining alcove that was simply titled, “Marilyn.” It was a book loaded with amazing photos of her, a book written by Norman Mailer. I was instantly captivated. My father let me take the book home after that visit, and, well…it’s stayed with me ever since.
Photos of her especially were enrapturing to me. She looked so beautiful and alive. As I read through it and I learned she was no longer alive, I broke down in tears. How could this beautiful angel be dead? It really troubled my heart. From then on, I have especially been on a quest to learn as much possible about her…and now as an author, to dispel the myths so many of us were fed about her childhood, her life overall, her death, and the aftermath.
Interestingly enough, my father also worked with Hal Berg, a photographer who had taken pictures of Marilyn…it was so fascinating to learn that and to know someone who actually knew her.
Why do you think she has become such a timeless icon?
Marilyn was timeless, even when she was still walking this earth. She was a woman who was ahead of her time in so many ways, and I think that’s why she is still so embraced even today. I believe she will continue to be remembered, and have a place in our history, for generations and generations to come.
Do you find it a little sad that there is more focus on her persona as a star than on who she was as an individual?
Marilyn was a private and shy person in real life. I’d like more people to know that, and emphasize that in my book. She has been looked on for her outer appearance, which many saw as the fur stole-clad woman, peeking over the mink, with the platinum blonde hair, luscious lashes and crimson lipstick.
That wasn’t who she really was. She preferred to dress casually, with little makeup, and romping in her home in bare feet. She never owned her own home until the last year of her life, and lived mostly in small spaces and hotels. She was simple, and preferred the company of her books and her pets, rather than large groups of people.
I met a woman who lived in one of the same neighborhoods with her, and the two used to have tea together at the lady’s apartment. This lady was shocked to learn of the atrocious things that have been written about Marilyn over the years.“Why would anyone write that about such a sweet person?” she asked.
That I find sad…that those who knew and loved Marilyn like this lady know the truth about her…and are voices barely heard. Many prefer to embrace the lies, because they enjoy the sensationalism.
I also find it sad that many who knew her, outside of those who are up in years and not Internet savvy as that lady was, allow these rumors about her to fester, and don’t say a thing about them, or down them in her defense. Some of them prefer to keep Marilyn embroiled in controversy, because it benefits them and their tall tales about her, which support their money making activities.
Do you think Marilyn was largely underestimated in her time?
Yes and absolutely yes!
I remember mentioning her name at the home of a girl that I was visiting as a kid for a play date. Her father, who was a crusty British man, looked up from his coffee, cigarette, and newspaper, and began to rip into Marilyn, about how untalented she was, what a “floozy” she was, and how low-class and stupid she was. I went to bat and defended her. It made me very upset. I think many looked at her this way, because she was blonde and beautiful…and from there, she was easily judged and stigmatized.
Many of the portrayals of her today from imitators depict a woman who threw her head back at the camera, her eyes closed, an open-mouthed smile plastered across her face. That was a role that she only played occasionally. If you look at most of the newsreels now of Marilyn, while she implemented that facial expression from time to time, she was a regular lady, who radiated light and beauty. That hair tossing thing was not really her, and that’s what has been exaggerated.
She was an intelligent woman with many gifts. However, those gifts were capitalized on and exploited by the wrong people. She trusted too much, and gave her trust liberally to people that did not have her best interests in mind. They kept her roped in with psychiatric medications, and by other means. Eventually, these people controlled everything, from her mind, to her pocketbook. And today, they still make money off of her persona and body of work. It is not an inheritance…it is blood money.
What led you to write Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio: Love in Japan, Korea, and Beyond?
As someone who owns a few small items that once belonged to Marilyn, as well as some previously unpublished photos, I knew I wanted to share what I have with fans. I have small collections of photos within my collection, and one of these mini-collections is from her time in Japan and Korea. She often described this period as “the highlight of her life.” It was her second honeymoon with Joe, and actually, a trip to open up the baseball season in Japan. While she was there, she was asked to perform for the troops in Korea. It was such a special time for her that I felt it was important to collect relics, relating to that joyous time in her life.
What was the most challenging thing you faced while writing it?
I am someone who is the toughest on myself when it comes to deadlines. So I was kicking myself when I didn’t “make” what I had in mind for my deadline, which was Marilyn and Joe’s anniversary. However, I wanted to release the photos around the time of the 60th anniversary of the photos themselves, which was in February. Marilyn and Joe spent most of February 1954 in Asia. I ended up releasing the book officially on Valentine’s Day 2014, during the 60th anniversary of their stay there. This was a perfect day because it is also a timeless love story. To me, I should have looked at God’s greater plan, and instead of getting hung up on my own deadline. Sometimes things don’t turn out as we’d like…and can turn out even better, such as in this case.
The book ended up as a spinoff from a larger biography about Marilyn that I’m currently penning, and will finish with her second cousin, Jason Kennedy. I felt I wanted a book specifically on the subject of Marilyn and Joe. There are some out there about the two, but they focus on one or the other. And there is one that has been released recently, that is loaded with lies and inconsistencies.
My biography focuses on both of them, their lives up until their deaths. Many Marilyn fans don’t know a lot about Joe, and that is to their detriment. Joe was an important part of Marilyn’s heart, and he continued to mourn and love her until his dying day.
One of my other challenges, in addition to my pressure on myself, and caring for my family, was my health. Many don’t realize I have an underlying health issue because I tend to be very energetic. Like Marilyn did, I also deal with ulcerative colitis though, and had a horrendous attack at the very end of finishing my book. I did not let it deter me. I was battling fevers, plus working on a local history book, and managing my local news site, and PR business. My doctor prescribed additional medication to calm the health flare up, one that can actually cause insomnia, so I capitalized on my inability to sleep, and finished up the book as I healed. Many told me to wait it out and rest. How can I rest if I can’t sleep? To me, this would have ruined the timeliness of the anniversary of her trip to Japan and Korea and was an absolute “no.”
From start to finish, I completed and published this book, approximately 121,000 words, with about 70 photo inserts, in less than two months.
What do you personally find most remarkable about the relationship between Joe and Marilyn?
There are many myths about the relationship of Joe and Marilyn. They truly loved and cared for each other. There was a bit of a codependency and immaturity in the earlier part of their relationship, which is why it didn’t work when they were married, but there was always love. This love is what drove them to the altar…something that was to happen for the second time on August 8, 1962…she died four days earlier. I feel that Marilyn and Joe grew closer over time and couldn’t bear to be without each other. I feel Arthur Miller was a rebound relationship and Marilyn realized how Joe really cherished her. Arthur latched on to Marilyn for money and fame. In actuality, Arthur couldn’t stand Marilyn and wrote horrendous things about her in his diary, something she discovered early on in their marriage. After Marilyn and Joe broke up, Joe dated beauty queens, but he honestly didn’t have the joy in his eyes in photos as he did with her. Nor did he ever have the sadness in photos that he exemplified the day of her burial. He was traumatized for the rest of his life and never had a serious love interest or remarried…his final words on his deathbed were that he would finally get to see Marilyn, 37 years after she had died.
What do you hope your readers take away from reading the book?
As I had said before, I am about truth, not sensationalism. I want people to learn who Marilyn and Joe really were, and toss out the myths they’ve been fed about both, for so long.
How did you come to be the personal press representative for Marilyn Monroe Family? What have you learned from that whole experience?
Jason Kennedy, Marilyn’s second cousin and I, met because of a comment I saw that he posted on a page about Marilyn, from Marilyn Monroe Family in January 2012. Being a seasoned genealogist, I wondered if his Marilyn Monroe Family site was legit, as I always prayed to find members of Marilyn’s family, beyond her half-sister Berniece and niece Mona. As I researched the documentation of the relationship, I realized it was legitimate. And guess what? Marilyn had tons of relatives.
Jason sent me a personal friend request after he liked a comment that I posted to Marilyn Monroe Family on a discussion thread. We have similar sentiments about those who stole Marilyn’s persona and still take advantage of her memory today. We also were each seeking some information about her death, and our research was extraordinarily intertwined on the same path.
On a personal note, I learned from him that Marilyn is my distant cousin, which was very exciting to learn, after years of being an admirer (Jason didn’t know his exact relationship to her until 2011, due to rifts in his family, and separation from his birth mother). Mine is a cousin relationship through one of my second great-grandfathers and Marilyn’s grandmother Della. Jason’s great-grandfather, William, was Della’s brother. Marilyn and Jason share the same great-grandparent, Tilford Marion Hogan, who is Marilyn’s great-grandfather, and Jason’s second great-grandfather. It’s a very cool family connection. Essentially, Jason’s grandmother and Marilyn’s mother were first cousins, though his grandmother was born a year after Marilyn was.
Jason had been seeking a partner to work with him on his Marilyn projects. After chatting and first getting to know each other via Facebook over a period of months, and later talking by phone, he asked me to work with him. I was honored and it’s been a blessing to work with Marilyn’s close relatives, and to learn I am a distant one to her (Jason and I are still looking to see if there are closer connections between Marilyn and me).
On another personal note, Jason and I get along great beyond our mutual adoration of Marilyn. We have a lot in common and discovered that once we started speaking about topics beyond Marilyn. Though of course, Marilyn is a very frequent topic of conversation. Before we met each other in person, we’d have marathon chats on Facebook, as we’d both be working on different things on our then different corners of the world. We both have easygoing personalities, so we interact very compatibly together.
I understand you were interviewed for the upcoming documentary What Ever Happened to Norma Jeane? Are you excited to see a film made out of such deep respect for her come into being?
I’m not a fan of most of the films out there currently about Marilyn. They are sensationalized and based on lies. What I love about What Ever Happened to Norma Jeane? is the search for the truth, and the love and reverence for Marilyn that Ian, Eric, and the rest of the team, have for her. I am looking forward to its release.
What was it like to do that particular interview?
It was wonderful to first of all, meet Ian and Eric in person, after a marathon chat that Jason and I had with them one day on Skype, as well as Facebook correspondences. They are both wonderful people.
It was an overall moving experience, and an honor to be asked to be a part of their film. I am very grateful to have been asked. For me as well, being an interviewer by trade, as it is now, it is interesting to have the roles reversed. I had done a short on-camera interview at one time, and have done a few radio interviews. This was different for me. Though I was shy as a young girl, I am comfortable speaking and found I was able to articulate comfortably about Marilyn and my book. Speaking about her death, as it was writing about it, was very emotional for me. I could not get through my multiple edits of that section, nor Joe’s death, without crying.
What advice would you offer others who wish to pursue a career similar to your own?
Never give up, and don’t listen to the naysayers. They only want to tear you down because they see how much you are loved, and are jealous of that…because you are what they secretly aspire to be. Focus. Persevere. Write as often and as much as you can. Don’t let anyone keep you from the greatness that God has intended personally for you.
Do you have a dream project you would most like to accomplish?
There is more than one. I tend to be a multi-tasking person, with my hands in a lot of different areas at once. I will keep you posted.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I have a number of different manuscripts in the works, some Marilyn-geared, some not.
My local history book Stanhope and Byram, for Arcadia Publishing and their Images of America book series, is coming up for publication in November and is on Amazon for pre-order already, which is very exciting.
In addition to that, I have my freelance projects, PR business, and online news sites NJInsideScene.com and InsideScene.LA, which both are growing.
Jason and I have also started our online store, Blondels.com, where limited edition fine art prints of some of the previously unpublished photos that I own, from my book of Marilyn are for sale. There are some other photos of mine of the group, Duran Duran, and I have some other photos to be released in the next couple of days.
Blondels will be specializing in some items from artists and artisans, including something special I am working on for the store. Books signed by authors are another offering that will soon be on Blondel’s. We also have some vintage magazines for sale that I acquired from a source local to my area, mostly from the 60s and some from the early 70s, that I have listed and continue to list as I can (sorry Marilyn fans, none of our girl). I will be offering some collections as well of scrapbook clips of many stars coming soon.
Jason is working on his book about the Surgeon Story, which is Marilyn’s first-hand, written account about the emotional abuse she suffered. I am working with him behind the scenes providing my knowledge, as well as editing. We have some other book projects in the pipeline together.
Is there anything you’d like to say before you go?
Thank you Tina for this wonderful opportunity. I wish you all the best for continued success in all of your professional and personal aspirations. And I wish the same to all of your readers.