xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #36: Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of Marilyn Monroe, by Richard Buskin
“I think cheesecake helps call attention to you. Then you can follow through and prove yourself.” — MM, 1951.
Not only Marilyn’s movies but her surviving screen tests, her one television commercial, and an appearance she made on Jack Benny’s television show are included in the volume. Because of the nature of her film contract, Marilyn could not appear Whenever she chose on television, radio, or record music – she could not appear in different mediums as interchangeably as today’s stars can. One of the reasons modern movie stars have more freedom is because Marilyn fought hard to win hers.
|With David Wayne in How to Marry A Millionaire
Marilyn’s notorious “difficult” behavior is put into context by people who worked with her before she became a worldwide sensation. Marilyn learned early on in her career that people would wait for her.
“She was only making $500 a week but she enjoyed a remarkable position because she could come in at any bloody time she wished. … I mean, all of the studio personnel were alerted that no matter what time Marilyn came in, nobody was to bark at her or ask her where she had been, and the reason for that was that Joe Shenck, who owned 20th Century-Fox, was head over heels in love with Marilyn.” — Actor David Wayne, who worked with Marilyn in four films, starting in 1951 with As Young as You Feel, and then in We’re Not Married (1952), O. Henry’s Full House (1952), and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).
Interspersed in the behind-the-scenes sections on various films are some of the familiar stories that have appeared in many other biographies of the star, including her failed marriages and struggles with barbiturates. But Buskin is most interested and most interesting when he is chronicling Marilyn’s struggles and legal wrangles with her film studio, Twentieth Century-Fox.
“[After Marilyn fled Hollywod and formed her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions] Fox verbally promised to give her a $100,000 bonus for appearing in [The Seven Year] Itch, while also agreeing to pay drama coach Natasha Lytess, vocal coach Hal Schaefer, choreographer Jack Cole to work with her on [There's No Business Like] Show Business. What’s more, a new, more financially rewarding seven-year contract would be implemented in August 1954. Round one to Marilyn – at least in terms of her dealings with the studio.”
Perhaps the most fascinating and tragic story that Buskin tells in Blonde Heat is how completely insane were the dealings of the studio with their stars, especially Marilyn, during the making of the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give, the film that she was never able to complete before her untimely death in August 1962. The production had been troubled from the start. A remake of the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne comedy My Favorite Wife, Something’s Got to Give had an unfunny script that was constantly being tinkered wth, which added to the tension and dissatisfaction of everyone on the set. Things went crazy, and fast as the shoot progressed.
Because of the over-budget spectacle Cleopatra, Fox was going bankrupt, and decided to take its wrath out on an easier target than Elizabeth Taylor, who was still needed to complete the bloated extravaganza. Fox execs fixed on Marilyn, deciding to teach A lesson to all of its “wayward” stars, through her. Marilyn had missed many days on the set, due to a recurring sinus infection, and when it became clear that Something’s Got to Give was in serious trouble, Fox decided to fire her for breach of contract. They filed a suit against her for $500,000 and hired Lee Remick to replace her. But costar (and producer) Dean Martin refused to work with anyone but Marilyn, so Fox sued him for $500,000, too. Costar Cyd Charisse sued Dean for $14,000 for lost earnings. Not satisfied, Fox raised its lawsuit against Marilyn to $750,000, and sued Dean (as producer) for $3,339,000. Dean counter-sued for $5,885,000.
Even with all of this crazy litigation by August 1 the astute Marilyn had managed to patch things up with Fox. The lawsuit was dropped and she was rehired. She also signed a new two-picture deal — a raise on Something’s Got to Give, from $100,000 to $250,000 (the most she had ever made on a picture) and $750,000 for her next picture. Marilyn had also been busy, meeting and planning some other new projects — I Love Louisa (which became What A Way To Go!, Harlow, a musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and some potential projects with Brigitte Bardot, to be filmed in Europe. What a combo they would have been.
|A set photo from Something’s Got to Give, taken by Lawrence Schiller|
But as we know, Marilyn never was able to complete any of those films, or Something’s Got to Give. Her unfulfilled promise is why she still remains so elusive, so enigmatic. Buskin has done a great job covering her life and her films in his enumeration of Marilyn’s career in Blonde Heat. Marilyn is long gone, but her films remain, and what seems universally agreed upon is how she loved the camera and it loved her back. Marilyn was simply born for the camera.
“No matter what her lack of technique was every shot of her — as long as she didn’t back out of her light — was a treasure. She just could not be badly photographed. It was impossible.” — Actor David Wayne
“She doesn’t do anything right and she drives everybody crazy, but then you go in the projection room, look at her on screen, and go ‘Wow!’” — Director Jean Negulesco (How to Marry a Millionaire), to actress Jean Peters (As Young as You Feel, Niagara)
“She was practically perfect to photograph. … No two eyes are alike on a human face — one will be a bit smaller or a slightly different shape — and a real artist will capture the essence in getting the likeness of the person. However, if you could measure Marilyn’s eyes and facial features, they were almost perfect. The end of her nose was tipped up a bit, but it was charming, and she was absolutely lovely. She photographed perfectly from any direction.”— Cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The Prince and the Showgirl)
You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e