Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Marilyn Monroe”

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #49: The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie, by Tony Curtis

“Some people say that Some Like it Hot is the funniest movie ever made. I don’t know. All I know is that it gave me a chance to work with four comic geniuses: I.A.L. Diamond, Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, and Marilyn Monroe.”

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon

In Tony Curtis’s memoir, The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie the well-known Hollywood actor tells his version of what went on behind-the-scenes of one of the funniest movies ever made. Written with the assistance of film historian Mark Vieira, the book is packed full of great color and black and white photos from the set.

Curtis, who died in 2010, had already written two memoirs, Tony Curtis: The Autobiography (1994) and American Prince: A Memoir (2008). So why write a third? Two reasons. Some Like it Hot’s recent heralding as the #1 American comedy of all time by The American Film Institute (AFI).  And cashing in on the enduring popularity of Marilyn Monroe, which would certainly guarantee book sales.

While Curtis is always an entertaining read, his never-ending ego does grow tiresome after a while. He tries to sound humble, but can’t help pondering that he was possibly “the handsomest” actor in Hollywood: “Some Like it Hot did a lot for my development as an actor. It was enough for me to be a handsome actor, maybe the handsomest in town. It wasn’t enough to learn the lines and show up. Being around artists like Jack and Billy and Marilyn affected me. I wanted to know more. I wanted to get closer to the source of the art. I wanted to know how to create that magic, like stars did in the pictures I’d seen when I was a kid.”

Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, and director Billy Wilder

He complains endlessly about the “special treatment” that Marilyn received. “I looked at the film and I thought that in the beginning of it I was weaker than I really was. Everything was done to keep Marilyn happy. She was chosen, favored over Jack and me. That’s what colored my perception of the film for a long time. Too long. But I finally got past that.” He may have gotten past those feelings, but that didn’t stop him from writing about them, repeatedly. He clearly felt that Lemmon was director Billy Wilder’s favorite and that Marilyn’s difficult behavior earned her special privileges. But for all of the stories about Marilyn’s reputation for keeping people waiting or blowing lines, Curtis has just as many instances where she was letter-perfect or got a scene in one take. The scene where Sugar meets Shell Oil, Jr. on the beach had to be filmed quickly, as noisy jets from a nearby naval base were taking off every ten minutes. Marilyn got everything right on the first take.

Marilyn seemed to flub her lines more often when the camera shot was a close-up, when the pressure was on her and her alone. There are numerous accounts of how well she did in group scenes, getting everything right, and right away. As Curtis recounts, “I had seen her last picture, The Prince and the Showgirl. She did long scenes where the camera kept moving and there were no cuts. She was excellent, holding her own against the great Laurence Olivier. We saw the same thing in our film. She did well in uninterrupted scenes, yet when it came to two-shots or close-ups, she suddenly lost confidence.” Billy Wilder observed, “I’ve noticed that if she gets past the first two or three lines she sometimes can go on and on, even if it’s a long speech. She doesn’t seem to get tired. She’ll do take after take. She poops out the other actors, but she blooms as the day goes on. She’s at her best in the late afternoon, when the other actors are dropping like flies.”

Jack Lemmon had a different perspective on why Marilyn needed multiple takes to get a scene right: “Marilyn had a kind of built-in alarm system. It would go off in the middle of a scene if it wasn’t right for her, and she would stop. It would look like she was doing exactly what she’d done in the previous take. But for her, something wasn’t clicking. She knew she was limited. She knew what was right for Marilyn. She wasn’t about to do anything else. So would stand there with her eyes closed, biting her lip, and wringing her hands until she had worked it out.”

Joe E. Brown and Lemmon

Curtis repeats the now-infamous anecdotes of the “Where’s the bourbon?” scene which took 59 takes; and how the studio wanted a “big name” like Frank Sinatra to star (who didn’t seem at all interested). What I hadn’t heard before was that Danny Kaye wanted to be in the film, but that Wilder turned him down and requested Jack Lemmon. Curtis comes up with an elaborate explanation for his “like kissing Hitler” quote; and is still smarting from jokes about his line reading, “Yondah lies da castle of my faddah,” from an early film, Son of Ali Baba.

Even with all of his grand-standing, Curtis can’t help but be interesting on how Hollywood shaped his life. He describes how intense ambition for Hollywood success was the cornerstone of his marriage to Janet Leigh, “Our marriage changed that [feeling like he was a long way from stardom]. The explosion of publicity pushed both of us much farther than we would have gone in the same amount of time if we hadn’t gotten married.” He is unapologetic about his countless affairs — he had a reputation for having affairs with his leading ladies, and wife Leigh was used to it — it was part of the territory.

But he always comes back to Marilyn, which does make for the most interesting stories in the book. He claims to have had an affair with her, when they were both just starting out in Hollywood. That seems possible, but all such claims are suspect when they appear so long after the other party has died. What doesn’t ring true at all are his claims that later he had a one-night stand with her on the set of Some Like it Hot,which resulted in her becoming pregnant, complete with a show-down scene with her husband Arthur Miller.

Curtis signing autographs

Curtis clearly had no love lost with the famous playwright. He repeats a wicked quote from Wilder about Miller, “In meeting him, I had at last met someone who resented Marilyn more than I did.” Ouch, but observant. Curtis can’t wait to share another story which shines an unflattering light on Miller. At at a pre-movie Hollywood party he witnessed Miller being pretentious to Billy Wilder and co-writer I. A. L. “Izzy” Diamond, pontificating on comedy and tragedy. “Billy and Izzy just stood there, with faces down, listening to this bullshit. Finally Billy rolled his eyes and shifted his weight. Arthur backed off. I could see Marilyn. She was standing off to the side, watching. She looked uneasy. She knew that her husband had made a fool of himself and had insulted Billy’s intelligence. It was not a happy scene. It was not a happy way to start a picture.”

He’s alternately full of praise for Marilyn and knocking her down, saying she had hips “like a Polish washerwoman” and “an incredible, unique body.” Like so many, he couldn’t understand why she found some things so difficult. “She was the most important star in movies, she didn’t really understand that. She had so much power. She could have used it in so many ways, become so great. … So much of Some Like it Hot rested on her. If only she used her power to bolster her self-confidence. But she didn’t. Even if she was turning in this miraculous performance, she was losing her sense of self.”

Fun facts he includes about Marilyn:

Marilyn “stole” one of Jack Lemmon’s black dresses from wardrobe for herself to wear in the film.

She recorded her songs for the picture and then, unsatisfied, re-recorded them, “A picture has to be great to be good.”

She posed for countless publicity stills but only approved a few, as she was self-conscious about her weight gain — of which the press was unremittingly unkind. Marilyn had to put up with a lot of crap during filming about her weight. Wilder asked if she would consider losing a few pounds. She used humor to deflect the insult. “You want your audience to be able to distinguish me from Tony and Jack, don’t you? And besides, my husband likes me plump.” She was pregnant at the time.

She traveled with an entourage — secretary May Reis, acting coach Paula Strasberg, dance director Jack Cole, and hair designer Sidney Guilaroff.

Marilyn was unsatisfied with her first scene in the film, which consisted of just walking past the train, and complained to Wilder. He and Diamond then came up with the burst of steam that gooses her — and makes a much funnier, more memorable entrance.

Everyone came to see Marilyn on set, from extras to Montgomery Clift and Maureen Stapleton — they all were enthralled with her.

Curtis, Lemmon, and Montgomery Clift

Possibly the most important thing that Curtis reminds us of is that the two guys being in drag for most of the picture was quite daring and unusual for its time. That edge is exactly what makes Some Like it Hot still so brilliant, so entertaining, so funny today. But Curtis can’t just end his story there. His ego demands additional soothing. He quotes a review of the film by Philip Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times: “‘Curtis is good enough … But his Cary Grant accent (not his doing) annoyed the hell out of me.’ Some actors never read reviews. I do. Mr. Scheuer’s review annoyed the hell out of me. To make myself feel better, I bought the rights to the autobiography of the Italian poet Gabriel d’Annunzio, a wild, sexy artist not unlike myself.”

Photos from Some Like it Hot

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #46: My Story, by Marilyn Monroe

In 1954 Marilyn, at the height of her fame and popularity, was persuaded by friend and publicist Sidney Skolsky to publish her autobiography. They enlisted screenwriter Ben Hecht (The Front Page, Monkey Business, A Farewell to Arms) to ghostwrite, and sat down for a series of interviews which they intended to have published in a magazine, not in book form, in The Ladies Home Journal. The interviews focused mainly on her rough and tumble childhood. Hecht’s agent, without his or Marilyn’s knowledge or approval, sold it as serialized articles to the London Empire News, who ran it between between May 9 and Aug 1, 1954. In 1974, twelve years after her death, photographer and former business partner Milton Greene produced a copy of the manuscript and had it published in book form.

There has been much debate about the authenticity of the book. Some of the stories may have been embellished or streamlined by Hecht, but the overall feeling rings true to Marilyn. Marilyn was well-known for telling and retelling the stories of her life, frequently heightening the drama. She was a born actress. According to Monroe biographer Sarah Churchwell (The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe), “Hecht reported to his editor during the interviews that he was sometimes sure Marilyn was fabricating. He explained, ‘When I say lying, I mean she isn’t telling the truth. I don’t think so much that she is trying to deceive me as that she is a fantasizer.’”

Norma Jean in 1946, photographed by Andre de Dienes

Marilyn may have pumped up some of the pathos in her early life and Hecht may have cleaned up the text, but of all the books on Marilyn Monroe that I have read recently (and I have been reading a lot) this is the best. Is it the most well-written? Absolutely not. But does it come closest to capturing the woman who fifty years after her death is still an icon, a movie goddess? It actually does. So many of the other books, by authors good and not-so-good, have quoted liberally from My Story, but somehow have missed Marilyn’s voice and personality in their desire to catalog her inevitable road to death. When read in full, My Story gives a far better impression of Marilyn, how she talked, how she thought, than any picked-and-chosen snippets could.

The articles were clearly originally intended as a Cinderella story, cataloging Marilyn’s “orphan” childhood to her fame and marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. With all of the emphasis on the waifdom, a palpable sadness does comes through. After readingMy Story the reader learns that Marilyn could never forget her youth, her deprived existence as Norma Jean. “My own costume never varied. It consisted of a faded blue skirt and white waist. I had two of each, but since they were exactly alike everyone thought I wore the same outfit all the time. It was one of the things that annoyed people — my wearing the same clothes.”

It may have been intended as a publicity piece, but Marilyn and Hecht don’t hesitate to touch on the seamy underbelly of trying to get ahead in Hollywood, “I’ve never heard anything about the Hollywood I knew in those first years. No hint of it is ever in the movie fan magazines. … The Hollywood I knew was the Hollywood of failure. … We ate at drugstore counters. We sat in waiting rooms. We were the prettiest tribe of panhandlers that ever overran a town.” A story about trying to cash her last paycheck, a mere $40, after her [first] firing from Twentieth-Century Fox, points to the easy availability of drugs, “After doing my shopping, I stopped in a doctor’s office. I had a cold, and I had not slept for several nights. The doctor gave me a sleeping pill. ‘I don’t usually recommend sleeping pills,’ he said, “but you been having hysterics too long. A good sleep will not only be good for your cold but cheer you up.” She shares an amusing story of her first Hollywood feud, with Zsa Zsa Gabor, apparently as a result of husband George Sanders’s love of “pneumatic” blondes. Reading My Story gives the impression that Marilyn had a lot of Hollywood stories to tell and would have been very amusing company.

Marilyn in 1954

On her changing her name to Marilyn Monroe, “When I just wrote ‘This is the end of Norma Jean,’ I blushed as if I had been caught in a lie. Because this sad, bitter child who grew up too fast is hardly ever out of my heart. With success all around me, I can still feel her frightened eyes looking out of mine. She keeps saying, ‘I never lived, I was never loved,’ and often I get confused and think it’s I who am saying it.”

Marilyn may have been one of the first well-known women to talk publicly about childhood sexual abuse. She claims her first sexual encounter happened when she was nine and was molested by a man named Mr. Kimmel, who rented a room from the foster family she was living with. The incident had ramifications on her dealing with the casting couch later in Hollywood, “Maybe it was the nickel Mr. Kimmel once gave me … But men who tried to buy me with money made me sick. There were plenty of them. The mere fact that I turned down offers ran my price up.”

The only bum note in My Story is the introduction by Andrea Dworkin, “She kept trying to hold on for dear life with a man, some man, who had his feet solidly planted in achievement. Instead, they had their feet solidly planted on her neck or other exposed flesh.” Although she tries to cast Marilyn in a good light, Dworkin regurgitates lots of unsubstantiated gossip about Marilyn in her introduction, including the rumored affairs with both Kennedy’s and 20 abortions. Disappointing.

“I didn’t think of my body as having anything to do with sex. It was more like a friend who had mysteriously appeared in my life, a sort of magic friend.”

Marilyn’s own observations about her sexuality are far more interesting and revealing. Her discovery of her own beauty and voluptuousness seems to have been as much a revelation to her as to everyone around her. “Why I was a siren, I hadn’t the faintest idea. … The truth was that with all my lipstick and mascara and precocious curves, I was as unsensual as a fossil. But I seemed to affect people quite otherwise.” She developed early physically, but was unprepared emotionally, “My admirers all said the same thing in different ways. It was my fault, their wanting to kiss and hug me. … I always felt they were talking about someone else, not me. … I not only had no passion in me, I didn’t even know what it meant.” An early marriage at the age of 16, to neighbor Jim Dougherty, “Was a sort of friendship with sexual privileges. I found out later that marriages are often no more than that. And that husbands are chiefly good as lovers when they are betraying their wives.”

Marilyn photographed by Philippe Halsmann

Much of My Story is written in hindsight, with Marilyn telling what she currently thinks and feels about her past, and trying to remake her future, “[When married to Dougherty] the thought of having a baby stood my hair on end. I could only see it as myself, another Norma Jean in an orphanage. … I feel different about having a child now. It’s one of the things I dream of. She won’t be any Norma Jean now. And I know how I’ll bring her up — without lies. Nobody will tell her lies about anything. And I’ll answer all her questions. If I don’t know the answer I’ll go to an encyclopedia and look them up. I’ll tell her everything she wants to know — about love, about sex, about everything!”

As much as her youth as Norma Jean haunted Marilyn, My Story is a very hopeful read. Marilyn’s dreams and her never-ending desire to improve herself come through loud and clear. Everyone knows how her story ended, which is the focus of most books about the star. My Story is how her story started, with hints of how it might have gone differently.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #44: Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, by Marilyn Monroe, edited by Bernard Comment and Stanley Buchthal

In 1982, after his death, Actor’s Studio Director Lee Strasberg’s widow, his third wife Anna, found two boxes of poems and other writings by Marilyn Monroe. Monroe had named Strasberg the primary beneficiary in her will. Strasberg, however, had not followed Marilyn’s final wishes:

With the exception of two letters, which he returned to their authors, during his lifetime Lee Strasberg never sold or gave away any of Marilyn’s personal effects — this totally contravened the instructions in Marilyn’s Will. It is clear that she did not intend for Lee Strasberg to keep her possessions, which included clothing, letters, documents, furniture, all her personal effects that she absolutely clearly stated, that she wanted distributed amongst her friends. — from Loving Marilyn

Although this action, or more accurately, inaction on Strasberg’s part would have disappointed Marilyn, it is because of his neglect that so many of her personal items remained intact, and are able to be viewed as a whole. Anna Strasberg, who had never even met Marilyn, asked family friend Stanley Buchthal to help her determine what to do with the boxes’ contents, and he soon enlisted the help of editor and essayist Bernard Comment. Together the pair sorted through the materials and created Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters a glimpse into Marilyn’s life and mind in book form.

photo

Buchtal and Comment have tried to present Marilyn’s writings in as straightforward a manner as possible, keeping things chronological. A photograph of the original item, in Marilyn’s handwriting,is presented on a left-hand page, while their transcription, sometimes joined by notes of explanation, appears opposite, on the right.

Black and white photographs of Marilyn, frequently reading, also accompany the text. Marilyn wrote poems, letters, and kept journals. While perusing Fragments it is unavoidable not to feel as if one is prying, sneaking a peek at her diary. We are. But it is undeniably fascinating. Her notebooks contain notes from classes she took on Italian art, as well as from acting class. Some of her note-taking seems to meld with her poetry and become stream-of-consciousness prose poetry, as does this fragment, c. 1955:

On the stage — I will
not be punished for it
or be whipped
or be threatened
or not be loved
or sent to hell to burn with bad people
or feeling that I am also bad
or be afraid of my genitals being
or ashamed
exposed known and seen —
so what
or ashamed of my sensitive feelings — they are reality
or colors or screaming or doing
nothing
and I do have feeling
very strongly sexed feeling
since a small child — think of all the
things I felt then

Some of her notes are like puzzles or maps. Talk about fragments. She writes a paragraph in her notebook on the left hand page, and then continues, sometimes at an odd angle, on the opposite page, and then back again, drawing arrows, linking one thought to the next. She may not have been writing continuously, and went back to add ideas at a later time, or she may have purposely wanted to keep her writing difficult to understand and more private.

photo

Especially revealing are two poems she wrote, on Parkside House stationery, during her stay in England when she was filming The Prince and the Showgirl. Marilyn, newlywed to playwright Arthur Miller, was already feeling insecure about the marriage:

I guess I have always been
deeply terrified to really be someone’s wife
since I know from life
One cannot love another,
ever, really.

where his eyes rest with pleasure — I want to still be — but time has changed
the hold of that glance.
Alas how will I cope when I am
even less youthful —

Back in the U.S., at their home in Roxbury, CT in 1958, her life with Miller hadn’t improved much:

starting tomorrow I will take care of myself for that’s all I really have ever had. Roxbury — … I think I hate it here because there is no love here anymore. I regret the effort I desperately made here. … what I could endure helped both of us and in a material way which means so much more to him than me. … When one wants to stay alone as my love (Arthur) indicates the other must stay apart.

It becomes clear that many of these fragments are first drafts for notes or letters. One page in her notebook, scribbled in pencil, which she signs with multiple pet names, was confirmed by close friend Norman Rosten as a letter he received from her. Some of her notes seem to be character studies. There are also thoughtful observations about not just the character she would be playing, but other characters in a film with her, like this one about The Misfits:

I feel the camera has got
to look through Gay’s [the character played by Clark Gable]
eyes whenever he is in a
scene and even when he
is not there still has to be a sense of
him
He is the center and the
rest move around him
but I guess Houston [sic - director John Huston] will
see to that
He is both subtle and overt in his meeting them
and in his cruelty and his tenderness
(when he reaches out of himself for her – R. [R stands for Roslyn, Marilyn's character in the film])

There is a really interesting letter to Lee Strasberg, dated December 18, 1961, where Marilyn tells him she is forming an independent production company, possibly jointly with Marlon Brando, and that she would like him to be a part of it. Marilyn definitely had some big plans for her future, and was constantly trying to get more control over her career.

Strasberg wouldn’t accept Marilyn as a student unless she agreed to undergo psychoanalysis. This led to a whole additional host of problems for the already insecure star, and doctors who may have done her more harm than good. After her break-up with Miller, her New York psychiatrist Marianne Kris had her committed to Payne Whitney’s psychiatric ward — Marilyn thought she was only going to a hospital for a rest cure. This was one of the most traumatic events of Marilyn’s life. She reached out to Kris and the Strasbergs, but only ex-husband Joe DiMaggio was able to secure her release. Once she moved to Los Angeles, her psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson crossed all the boundaries of doctor/patient relations by having Marilyn socialize with his family. He may also have been instrumental in her taking more barbiturates than were necessary on the day of her death.

Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters stresses Marilyn’s love of books and her lifelong respect for writers. Writers also seem to have admired her greatly, as Buchtal and Comment take pains to point out.

In 1959 Karen Blixen asked to meet her, “… she radiates, at the same time, unbounded vitality and a kind of unbelievable innocence. I have met the same in a lion-cub … I shall never forget the most overpowering feeling of unconquerable strength and sweetness which she conveyed.”

Truman Capote, who met her in 1950, dedicated his short story “A Beautiful Child” to her.

Through husband Arthur Miller Marilyn befriended Carson McCullers, who wrote about her in “Illumination and Night Game.”

Norman Mailer tried to cultivate her friendship, but she demurred. He wrote the controversial “Marilyn,” which started the unsubstantiated-by-fact Kennedy/Marilyn rumor mill going on 1973.

Somerset Maugham approved of her proposed role as Sadie Thompson in a television production of “Rain,” which was never produced.

She admired British poet Edith Sitwell and met with her both in Hollywood and London, while filming “The Prince and the Showgirl.”

Marilyn met Carl Sandburg in 1959, and their appreciation of each other was very mutual. She loved his biography of Abraham Lincoln and he wrote, “She was not the usual movie idol. There was something democratic about her. She was the type who would join in and wash up the supper dishes even if you didn’t ask her.”

Buchtal and Comment also include some selected book covers from her personal library, which included:

Mme. Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Fall by Albert Camus
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Once There Was A War by John Steinbeck

Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters is an interesting, even unexpected look into Marilyn’s life, with the accent not on glamor, but on her thoughts and aspirations. Marilyn was always trying to learn new things and improve herself, and many of these fragments show her progress.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #41 & 42: My Week with Marilyn & The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me, by Colin Clark

“For five months, whether she turned up or not, she dominated our every waking thought.”

My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark actually contains two books, The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me, a diary that Clark published in 1995 based on his time on the set and detailing the  making of the film The Prince and the Showgirl, and My Week With Marilyn, from 2000, his revisionist view of the “lost week” he left out of the first volume and that he allegedly spent with the biggest star in the world at the time,Marilyn Monroe.

It’s interesting to read his intimate (fantasist?) diary first, and then read the more reporter-like journal of his days working on the film and catch clues to his possibly more intimate interactions with Marilyn. His dates don’t match up exactly, which doesn’t help with his credibility. In My Week with Marilyn he is present in her home on the night of September 18 when she suffered a miscarriage. He plays a very active, even take-charge role in getting a doctor, managing her entourage, etc. during the crisis (newlywed husband Arthur Miller was absent in New York at the time). In The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me he hears about Marilyn losing a baby while gossiping with her bodyguard, after the fact, on September 8. Does one of these scenarios sound more realistic than the other?

Olivier trying to direct Marilyn on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl
Williams as Marilyn and Branagh as Olivier in My Week with Marilyn

In a way, whether his memories are accurate or not don’t really matter. Both books capture what life on a film set was like, and how Marilyn’s erratic behavior affected all of the people around her. This factual ambivalence did not escape the makers of the film version, which adheres pretty closely to the second book. Director Simon Curtis cast My Week with Marilyn with the cream of British and American acting. The fact that none of them really resemble the people they are supposed to be portraying ultimately doesn’t matter. Michelle Williams, for me, did not look for one moment like Marilyn Monroe. Even with padding, she is not voluptuous, and lacks Monroe’s amazing hourglass silhouette. But she does, in her confusion and flickering moods, capture the behavior that we have come to believe was Marilyn’s. Likewise Kenneth Branagh does not immediately bring Laurence Olivier to mind, or Zoe Wanamaker Paula Strasberg, but they both ably convey the frustrations of their very different positions in Marilyn’s orbit.

The double-edition is structured so that one reads Clark’s lost diary first and then his more day-to-day account of the making of The Prince and the ShowgirlMy Week with Marilyn is probably as much fantasy as fact, but the reader still comes away with a sense of what Marilyn must have been going through during her time in London, such a fish out of water, endlessly pampered but also abandoned. It’s highly unlikely that Clark could remember verbatim so many conversations so long after the fact, but there is still a ring of truth in his exchanges with Marilyn. On an excursion the pair take to Windsor Great Park he has Marilyn say, “Why do I take all those pills? Why do I worry about what all those men think? Why do I let myself get pushed around? This is how I ought to feel, every day of my life. This is the real me … ” Maybe he writes her as he wishes she had been. But he somehow does manage to capture some essence of Marilyn.

Where the book is at its most observant and entertaining is in his (frequently catty) observations of the other key players. He has no use for Marilyn’s husband of a few weeks, playwright Arthur Miller, “… Arthur Miller takes it all for granted — his house, his servants, his driver, his wife’s bodyguard, and even, so it seems to me, his wife. That is what makes me so angry. How can you take Marilyn Monroe for granted?”

He is incredibly sympathetic to Marilyn, and frequently criticizes his boss (and family friend) Olivier for his callous treatment of her. “The rest of Olivier’s circle, including Olivier himself, actually welcomed reports of her deteriorating condition as evidence that their opinion of her had been right all along. It was only toward the end of his life that Olivier was able to relent.” He repeatedly describes her ill treatment on the set and wishes that Olivier and others could be more kind, patient, and understanding with her. “[Lighting cinematographer Jack Cardiff] is the only person on the set who treats Marilyn like a chum. As a result he is the one crew member to whom she can relate, and certainly the only Englishman she trusts. In return he uses all his artistry to bring out her beauty. He clearly adores her, and because he’s an artist, with no ulterior motive, she responds to him very well.”

My Week with Marilyn, ultimately, is a bit of fluffy wish-fulfillment romance, with the two unrequited lovers parting amicably, never to see one another again. Clark’s earlier book, The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me, is a much more straightforward account of Clark’s experience during the making of the film. Although the focus is squarely on Clark, including some accounts of youthful, fumbling, sexual encounters, it gives the reader a good sense of life on a movie set; all the drama and romance, as well as describing how shots are set up and what the crew does, including lighting, sets, and make-up.

Clark comes off as a bit of a cad as he boasts of his dealings with the “wdg,” his nickname for a nameless wardrobe girl. He is a rich kid, who got the job through his connections with the Oliviers (Laurence and actress Vivien Leigh), friends with his parents. His father was Kenneth Clark, the famous art historian. He is a snob, too, sharing all of his superior attitudes about extras and frequent name-dropping of his parents’ friends. But he does bring to life the chaos and management of all of the minute details that go into making a movie. He outlines how difficult it was to wrangle extras for the coronation scene in the film (from the pool of extras as well as a ballroom dancing club) as well as the ridiculous but long-standing power of film unions. He recounts how he wasn’t allowed to fetch or move a chair so that elderly actress Dame Sybil Thorndike (who played the Queen dowager in the film) could sit down (a scene included in the film version, with Judi Dench as Thorndike) while they waited for Marilyn to appear on the set — a prop mover insisted that only he or one of his fellow union members could do it, so everybody stood around for ten minutes while that was accomplished.

Even with all of his upper class and film world connections, Clark had to fight to get work on the film. He is quickly blown off by the head of Laurence Olivier Productions when he shows up for a job, but he perseveres, showing up every day, and tries to make himself useful. After a week or so his persistence pays off as he is tasked with finding a suitable house for Marilyn to stay in while filming. He comes up with a clever solution, by securing two houses for the company, but it is also undeniable that his family connections also came in handy, as he travels in the circles where securing an available manor house is a regular occurrence. His success leads to a job as a third assistant director, or gofer, on the film set.

In The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me Clark seems less impressed and sympathetic about Marilyn, “She has got a cute smile, but so far she only turns it on for the cameras. Her figure — and especially her bust — is fantastic but a little on the plump side. Problems — too much fakery: peroxide hair, dead white make-up, heavy lipstick, but that is her image. She looks confused too, lost, troubled.”

One interesting anecdote: for some reason they filmed tests with Marilyn first without make-up, and then after in full make-up, wig, and costume. Clark is amazed by her transformation. “The film was magical, and there’s no other way to describe it. Stuff we shot in the morning, although it resembled a police lineup mug shot, was quite heartbreaking. MM looked like a young delinquent girl, helpless and vulnerable under the harsh lights. The afternoon footage was even more extraordinary. What an incredible transformation. Now MM looks like an angel — smooth, glowing, eyes shining with joy (Jack [Cardiff]‘s lights), perfect lips slightly parted, irresistible.”

He is much less understanding of her personal problems and vulnerability in this book. “It’s true that MM doesn’t notice much of what is going on around her, but the knowledge that 60 actors and technicians are waiting for you, and at enormous cost to you personally, it’s hardly one to induce calm in anyone, let alone someone with such a fragile grip on stability as MM. … MM is so difficult to work with that even hardened technicians are driven crazy. But when she doesn’t show up, we miss her! What a paradox.”

Amusingly and consistently, he hates Arthur Miller, and never hesitates to say so, in both books, “AM seems big headed, insensitive, and super selfish. I never saw him look tenderly at MM, only with what looks like a sort of boasting self-satisfaction. What bad luck on MM. Why couldn’t she have found what she really needs — someone sympathetic to support her? She doesn’t move around with those sort of people I suppose.”

He doesn’t just reserve his criticisms for the Americans. He can be just as tough on his boss, Olivier. Clark may love and respect his old family friend, but he never stints on honesty where he is concerned. “[Olivier] has made many films — some great and some mouldy. Only on stage, to a very limited audience, can he be seen as the great actor he is.”

Both books offer a kaleidoscopic view of the difficulties behind making the film. Although Marilyn most definitely added another layer of mayhem, Clark’s recounting reminds us that most film sets are chaotic worlds, and that it is a miracle that with so many disparate and opposing elements that any movie gets completed at all. One of the volumes may be more fiction than fact, but together they offer a glimpse behind-the-scenes of the only film produced by Marilyn Monroe Productions. As Clark frequently reminds the reader, none of the tensions, bickering, or even all-out hatred that may have been felt by the parties involved is evident on screen. Marilyn is fresh and lovely and walks away with the picture from a stiff and old-fashioned Olivier. Movie magic.

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #40: Joe & Marilyn, by Roger Kahn

In Joe & Marilyn, published in 1986, author Roger Kahn, probably best known for his book The Boys of Summer, announces early on that he is convinced Marilyn had mental problems, was depressed, and killed herself. That is his opinion, and he is entitled to it, but such a sweeping, un-nuanced statement leaves out any other possible interpretations. And it also keeps his hero, Joe DiMaggio, at a safe distance.

“They were exquisite lovers, wonderful friends, but perfectly wretched as husband-and-wife.”

Maybe the simple approach, at least as applied to DiMaggio, is the correct one. Joe was and still is a national hero, but he also seems to have been a fairly uncomplicated personality. Others might use the term rigid. But he was a product of his Sicilian background and the times he lived in. His main talents were applied to a sport that is about numbers and winning and losing. The complex emotional terrain of Hollywood was something he had no true understanding of and unconcealed disdain for. So how and why was he drawn to showgirls, and especially the ultimate movie star? That is a question that Kahn and others leave unanswered. Maybe Joe was more complex than he let on, even to Marilyn. Or maybe he always needed to play the hero, on and off the field, and Marilyn was often a damsel in distress.

Joe visits Marilyn while she is filming River of No Return

Kahn’s interest and sympathy is clearly more invested in Joe, and he spends a great many chapters detailing his amazing career with the New York Yankees, up to his retirement in 1951. Joe’s first wife was showgirl and sometime actress Dorothy Arnold, who he married in 1939. But Joe wasn’t around for much of the marriage and Dorothy moved to Reno to file for divorce three years later. Like his relationship with Marilyn, it was up and down, apart and together. Joe got Dorothy to relent, and they got back together for a few more years, but she was back in Reno in 1944 and this time it was final. Even after the divorce, Joe didn’t give up on the possibility of getting back with Dorothy — that is, until he began seeing Marilyn in 1952.

“As Lady Macbeth instructs us in high school English classes, raw ambition is unattractive and somewhat frightening. So shrewd young women with their eyes on stardom learn to conceal the drive behind the smiles and charm that are part of the acting craft.”

Kahn is talking in that quote about Dorothy. It’s a fairly sexist statement, but it does shed light on the obstacles that Marilyn also faced as she tried to pursue her own dreams of stardom, which conflicted with her other dreams of marriage and motherhood.

“She played dumb-blonde roles in musicals, speaking in a breathy staccato voice that seems affected now. It projected beguiling sex in the 1950s to a country that had not yet invented the R-rated Hollywood movie.”

When Kahn does write about Marilyn, he focuses mainly on her sex life prior to Joe, claiming that she only “slept around” in Hollywood with someone she felt really valued her. If she was expected to put out, she refused. He alleges she lost her first Fox contract for refusing to submit to Darryl Zanuck’s demands, and her Columbia contract for refusing the same with boss Harry Cohn. Maybe she just wasn’t attracted to either of them. She did have a (possibly sexual) relationship with elderly Fox board chairman Joe Schenck, who helped her get the Columbia contract. “I used to go to dinner at Schenck’s house. That was important because after Fox let me go, I was not eating so good on my own. He was always nice and friendly and open and warm to me, but I was not Schenck’s girl [bedmate], not ever. He was genuinely fond of me as a person.”

A relaxed Marilyn and Joe

One of the most interesting stories Kahn tells about DiMaggio directly parallels Marilyn’s struggles with her studio, and may tell more about why they could relate to one another than their obvious animal magnetism. In 1938, during his third season with the Yankees, DiMaggio demanded a raise, from $15,000 to an unprecedented $40,000 a year, which would have made him the highest paid baseball player at that time. He was the Yankees’ biggest star (as Marilyn was later Fox’s) and believed he deserved to be compensated accordingly. But Yankee president Colonel Jacob Ruppert (like Fox chairman Zanuck) insisted that $25,000 was more than enough. The tussle lasted weeks, even into the starting season, and there was plenty of (bad) press for the slugger as a result. DiMaggio finally had to accept Ruppert’s figure, and his fans turned against him temporarily for his stubbornness and perceived greed.

The majority of Joe & Marilyn treats them each separately, as entities on their way to one another. There is precious little about their two-year romance prior to their wedding, and understandably, not too much about their short, nine-month marriage. Kahn includes an oft-told tale about their wedding night: “Although they had been lovers for many months and reporters knew it, someone interviewed the room clerk who had checked them in, probably paying for the information. Yes the clerk said, DiMaggio had asked for a double bed. Anything else? He had also wanted to know if the room came with a television set. Another impudent joke. Who in the world, on his wedding night with Marilyn Monroe, wants to watch television? Joseph Paul DiMaggio, the almost perfect knight. (She would later complain seriously and sometimes angrily that he spent much too much of their time together fixated before a television set, not enough tending to her sexual needs.)”

Checks and houndstooth, in color

Soon after they became husband and wife Marilyn went back to work and Joe entertained himself with sports, and friends. They don’t seem to have spent much time together. “They settled briefly in his San Francisco house. Marilyn insisted she was having a wonderful time learning Italian cooking. In fact, there wasn’t much for her to do. Joe’s sister Marie ran the household. She’d been running it for years. DiMaggio lapsed into his familiar routine, playing golf and spending evening hours with male friends.”

Possibly the most interesting aspect of their relationship is how their friendship endured, even deepened, after their divorce, but this is not the book for anyone interested about that aspect of their lives. Marilyn and Joe may not have been destined for marital success, but they did seem to have been meant to be in each other’s lives. But for stories about Joe’s enduring passion and Marilyn’s continued respect and dependence on the former Yankee other sources will need to be consulted.

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #37: Timebends: A Life, by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s Timebends: A Life, his time-hopping autobiography, was first published in 1987, when the renowned playwright was 72. In it he chronicles his youth in Brooklyn, his life in the New York theater, and his trials and tribulations and his ability to not “name names” to the House Un-American Activities  Committee during the McCarthy red-baiting scare of the 1950s. All fascinating stuff. The book, not unexpectedly, is well written, even poetic at times. But the bulk of (this) and many other readers interest in Timebends is that it is also the first occasion of Miller speaking publicly about his second wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Happy times — Miller and Marilyn dancing at the April in Paris Ball, Waldorf Astoria Hotel ballroom,  c. 1957. From Vintage Everyday

As long and as interesting as Miller’s life had been up to the point of his writingTimebends, he spends the majority of the book discussing the period of his life that included Marilyn. He first met her in 1950, when he was touting a screenplay in Hollywood with director Elia Kazan. She made an indelible impression, one that apparently never left him. Miller also made an impression on Marilyn, and she kept in touch with him, exchanging letters over the years.

He based one of his characters, Lorraine, in a(n unfinished) play he was working on in 1951 on Marilyn, although he had only met her the year before, briefly “By now, even after only those few hours with Marilyn, she had taken on an immanence in my imagination, the vitality of a force one does not understand but that seems on the verge of lighting up a vast surrounding plain of darkness. I was struggling to keep my marriage and family together and at the same time to understand why I felt as though I had lost a sort of sanction that I had seemed to possess since earliest childhood. Whom or what was I writing for?” Sounds like a combination of the seven-year-itch and Miller being in search of a muse. There is little to no mention of his life with his first wife, Mary and his family in Timebends.

Miller may not have realized how his private life was seeping into his work, but his colleagues and contemporaries did. He even ruefully quotes playwright Clifford Odets’ slam of his 1953 play The Crucible to Elia Kazan: “Just a story about a bad marriage.” It may be an overstatement, but Miller admits that before even embarking on the project, the central conflict of his guilt-ridden protagonist John Proctor, who has had a sexual relationship with his servant girl Abigail Williams, might be more related to his own life than he would like. His attraction to Marilyn was already influencing him, and providing a subtext in his work.

As much as Miller was obviously attracted to Marilyn as a woman, he also might have felt that she offered a new chance for him, a new medium for his writing — film. “I could not help thinking in 1953-54 that time was running out, not only on me but on the traditional American culture. I was growing more and more frighteningly isolated, in life as in the theater.” As much as Miller admits to being pulled towards her, he never comes out and simply says that he loves Marilyn. But he spends a lot of pages analyzing her and theorizing about her. His descriptions of her don’t always sound like a real woman, but rather a character he is fashioning. More than once he says that she is cursed, presumably by her rough childhood. It’s unclear whether he believed this on his own, or because he thought she believed it.

Once Marilyn left Hollywood (and Joe DiMaggio) for New York in 1955, she and Miller quickly made their friendship something much more. Miller got a quickie Reno divorce while Marilyn was filming Bus Stop and they married in 1956.

“I was forever saving her from crowds, crowds she could handle as easily and joyfully as a minister moving among his congregation. Sometimes it was as though the crowd had given her birth; I never saw her unhappy in a crowd, even some that ripped pieces of her clothes off as souvenirs.”

Miller may have loved her, but Timebends  and its author maintain a superior tone when he talks about her insecurities and what he deems as her unfounded suspicions of others’ motives. They had departed for London for their honeymoon and for Marilyn to film The Prince and Showgirl with Laurence Olivier co-starring and directing. When their two very different acting styles clashed, Miller, unfortunately for his marriage, chose the wrong side, unable to believe an actor of Olivier’s calibre could ever be in the wrong, “It was simply impossible to agree that he could be the cheap scene-stealer she was talking about. … Marilyn verged on the belief that he [Olivier] had cast her only because he needed the money her presence would bring. I wanted to believe that this was only half the truth; I was sure he saw the legitimate dramatic contrast between their social and cultural types, and if his motives were indeed partly cynical, they did not cancel his valid artistic judgment in casting. … inevitably, the time soon came when in order to keep reality from slipping away I occasionally had to defend Olivier or else reinforce the naïveté of her illusions; the result was that she began to question the absoluteness of my partisanship on her side of the deepening struggle.”

By the time they were filming The Misfts the marriage, and their faith in each other, was shattered. “… With The Misfits I was preparing to dedicate a year or more of my life to her enhancement as a performer — I would never have dreamed of writing a movie otherwise …”Not entirely true, as he had been shopping a screenplay back in 1950, when he first met her. He writes that he hopes The Misfits will save their marriage. Yet he doesn’t detail any concrete problems between them, except what he views as her innate despair. He writes about their life from a distance, rarely mentioning her intake of sleeping pills, or the second baby they lost.

“During the shooting of Let’s Make Love and Some Like It Hot I had all but given up any hope of writing; I had decided to devote myself to giving her the kind of emotional support that would convince her she was no longer alone in the world — the heart of the problem, I assumed. I went so far as to do some rewriting on Let’s Make Love to try to save her from a complete catastrophe, work I despised on a script not worth the paper it was typed on. It was a bad miscalculation, bringing us no closer to each other.” He neglects to mention, of course, well-documented in other sources, his agreeing, for a lucrative sum, to work on Let’s Make Love during a Writer’s Guild strike in Hollywood, which caused Marilyn to lose faith in him and his integrity.

He calls her role as Roslyn in The Misfits, more than once, her first serious part, but that is far from true. What of Bus Stop, Niagara, and The Asphalt Jungle, just to name a few? He spends a lot of pages explaining his ideas behind The Misfits, but skirts how his “Valentine” to his wife created such a negative story. “One afternoon Marilyn, with no evident emotion, almost as though it were just another script, said, ‘What they really should do is break up at the end.’ I instantly disagreed, so quickly, in fact, that I knew I was afraid she was right. But the irony was too sharp: the work I had created to reassure her that a woman like herself could find a home in the world had apparently proved the opposite.”

Even after so many years, he really fudges what was going on behind-the-scenes on the shoot. He points out Marilyn’s escalating lateness caused by pills, tension, and personal problems, but waves away director John Huston’s staying up all night shooting craps as something that may have adversely affected the shooting of the movie. Instead, he views Huston’s casino time as a byproduct of Marilyn’s behavior and not the fact that Huston was more than happy to be shooting a movie set in Reno for his own reasons. Miller claims that Marilyn moved out of their shared hotel suite to Paula Strasberg’s because “Her control over Marilyn was now so complete… Paula had finally won our long undeclared war. Still, this might clear the air, I thought, and free Marilyn to concentrate solely on the work she now said she wanted to do.” Marilyn moving out of a room shared with her husband had nothing to do with the fact that his rewrites showed her in an increasingly unflattering light, or that he had met photographer Inge Morath (who he would marry a year later) on the set?

Awkward — Marilyn and Miller dancing on the set of The Misfits

As he is watching Marilyn film a scene with costar and Hollywood legend Clark Gable near a lake, “I was almost completely out of her life by now, but from my distant view the film seemed purely a torture for her. … To be fair, her work in the film looked far more authentic to me in later years than it did during that bad time. I now marvel at how she managed, under the circumstances, to do as well as she did.” Once he is through with The Misfits, through with Marilyn (for the most part), he finally writes about Inge Morath, but not until page 493. But Marilyn soon re-enters his life, andTimebends, through her death.

“Coming out of the ’40s and ’50s, she was proof that sexuality and seriousness could not coexist in America’s psyche, were hostile, mutually rejecting opposites, in fact. At the end she had had to give way and go back to swimming naked in a pool [in Something's Got To Give] in order to make a picture.”

Miller’s take on the people who surrounded Marilyn differ from other accounts. He demonizes her business partner Milton Greene, but lionizes her doctors, describing psychiatrists Dr. Marianne Kris (in New York) and Ralph Greenson (in Los Angeles) as both “physicians of integrity and unquestionably devoted to her.” It is understandable, as he views them as trying to help her, and failing, as he once did. But more recent takes on Kris and Greenson show that they may have done Marilyn more harm than good, and not just by the endless supply of barbiturates that they sent her way. Miller had no contact with Marilyn, or real knowledge of her life in California after they divorced, so his assumptions are just that.

“… She had always been one of those people for whom time is a sticky entanglement that they don’t want to touch, perhaps in denial that a past exists.”

In Timebends Miller writes about her poetically enough, but Marilyn, his conception of Marilyn, rarely comes across as a real person. She is still a muse to his words, almost thirty years after their break-up and her death. Perhaps that is all she really ever was to him. The exception is one story that he tells about her during the filming of The Misfits, where she is being shot up with Amytal by a local, reluctant doctor, while he and acting coach Paula Strasberg look on. An irritated Marilyn sees him and mutters “Get out” repeatedly until he slinks out of the room. Not a pretty scene, but one that has the ring of truth.

He wraps up the book with details of his controversial play After the Fall — controversial because of its main female character’s uncanny resemblance to Marilyn, as well as his being able to bring productions of his other plays to places as remote as Russia and China. Miller, who died in 2005, had a successful and productive career, producing some of the most lauded and memorable plays in American theater,The Crucible, All My Sons, and Death of A Salesman, for which he will always be remembered. But he will also clearly also always be remembered as Marilyn Monroe’s second husband, or as they were dubbed by  the press at the time, “The Egghead and the Hourglass.” He seems to be at peace with that fact in Timebends, if not completely convinced that it all really happened.

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #36: Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of Marilyn Monroe, by Richard Buskin

In Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of Marilyn Monroe author Richard Buskin chronicles all of Marilyn Monroe’s thirty films, highlighting the dramas that occurred behind-the-scenes, as well as giving details of the casts, crews, and plots of each film. He also includes quotes from some of her directors and costars over the years, including Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, Jean Peters and Jane Russell. Buskin also includes some interesting quotes from the actress herself:

“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 WifeSomething’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)

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #35: Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, by Donald Spoto

I remember taking some of Donald Spoto’s film theory classes at The New School in the late eighties. He had written a nice book on one of my favorite film directors, Alfred Hitchcock, and I enjoyed the class discussions and being exposed to some great films I might never have gone to see on my own, like The Battle of Algiers and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. He has written many celebrity biographies over the years, including books on Laurence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Marlene Dietrich. His book on Marilyn Monroe is considered one of the most definitive biographies of the star. The facts of her life and death seem to be elusive (or even fabricated) to most who write about her, so I had high hopes for Spoto.

For the most part, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, doesn’t disappoint. If it does nothing else, Spoto’s meticulous research does seem to debunk once and for all the highly unlikely claims of Robert Slatzer, who has told anyone and everyone who would listen about his three-day “marriage” to the star. Spoto points out how other biographers, like Anthony Summers have used Slatzer as a credible source and have allowed the cult of mis-information about Marilyn to snowball. Spoto also identifies Marilyn’s “friend” Jeanne Carmen as a fraud, another person who has trumpeted her “close relationship” to the star, only after Marilyn’s death, to her own financial benefit. But the most interesting and useful of Spoto’s discoveries is that Marilyn may have had a one-time fling with President John F. Kennedy, as did many, many other Hollywood starlets, but that she never had an affair or any other sort of intimate relationship with his brother, Robert Kennedy. If the “Kennedy conspiracy” is subtracted from Marilyn’s life and death, her story is not only very different, but much more believable.

“Beginning in 1955, a formidable file on Marilyn Monroe also began to accumulate in Washington – records of which she was never aware. They comprise a ludicrous waste of paper.”

Spoto believes that if there is anyone to “blame” for Marilyn’s death it is the highly unethical behavior of her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, and her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, who Greenson had Marilyn hire shortly after she moved back to Los Angeles from New York. They do seem to have worked as a team, with Murray keeping tabs on the star and reporting back to the doctor. Marilyn was seeing Greenson almost daily at this point in her life, so the extra spying seems completely over-the-top, but Spoto makes a great case for Greenson’s desire to “possess” his most famous patient, and highlights his extremely unprofessional behavior throughout his career. While he doesn’t go so far as to accuse them of murder, he comes awfully close, suggesting that Murray (a person with no medical training) may have administered barbiturates to the already drugged-up star on Greenson’s orders, and that the dose was what put her over the edge.

I have to admit that I don’t completely buy Spoto’s reconstruction of Marilyn’s last days. He claims that she and Joe DiMaggio were planning to remarry on August 8 and she was excited and happy about it. There are receipts for a special dress and hair appointments and catering arrangements that help back up this idea. But he offers no reason for why, paradoxically, two days before her supposedly planned nuptials, she became suddenly upset enough to start the whole alcohol/pill/depression cycle again. He suggests her plummeting mood on the day of her death may be connected to her regular daily session with Greenson — he claims that she tried to fire the doctor that day. Maybe. She started drinking and popping pills and called Joe DiMaggio’s son, Joe Jr., twice that day, and did finally get through to him in the evening (he later said they had a pleasant conversation), but there are no records of her trying to contact Joe at all. Wouldn’t she have called her fiancé at least once, if she had been so disturbed, either by her meeting with Greenson or by something else?

Hollywood reporter Sidney Skolsky, a hypochondriac who worked out of the famous Schwabs drugstore (where he had easy access to sampling their products), befriended Marilyn. Once before an audition he “gave her three sleeping tablets so that the anxiety of preparing would not exhaust her before the test.”… Joe called Marilyn and Sidney Skolsky “pill-pals, not pen-pals.”

“Barbiturates to sleep, amphetamines to stay awake, narcotics to relax – in Hollywood, these were as plentiful as agents, and could easily be obtained through the studio front office.”

“[Her internist, Dr. Hyman] Engleberg visited Marilyn at home every day but six during July; except for the fourth, the sixth through the ninth and the 16th, she received injections – liver and vitamin shots, she said. But these transformed her mood and energy with alarming rapidity.”

The last few days of Marilyn’s life aside, which we are unlikely to ever fully know all the facts of, Spoto does paint a wonderful portrait of Norma Jeane and how she became Marilyn Monroe. Her great ambition, her constant struggles with health, and the huge difference between how she looked and how she felt inside, are meticulously and chronologically presented. He isn’t afraid to show her weaknesses and bad decisions, but he is also eager to show the screen goddess in a flattering light when he can, and has the facts to back up his debunking of old rumors — such as Marilyn’s family didn’t have a history of insanity as has been endlessly reported. Her grandfather died from a brain infection and her grandmother “of heart disease, which caused impaired mentation due to insufficient oxygenation of the brain.” Marilyn’s mother Gladys did fear genetic mental disease, especially after she had heard that her own grandfather committed suicide. Spoto points out that his death was related to his ongoing bad health and imminent eviction, not mental illness, Gladys was never aware of those facts. Gladys certainly suffered from anxiety and depression, but there was no Prozac for Marilyn’s mother in 1935, so she chose to opt out of life and spent most of her life in sanatoriums.

He charts her uneven childhood. She lived in many foster homes — but not as many as usually reported, and most of her foster parents were friends of Gladys, not unknown to her. She was in the Los Angeles orphange for two years. Maybe because of this bounced-around upbringing, always having to please a new set of adults, Marilyn throughout her life would seek out a patron of some sort, usually a family, like the Strasbergs, or an older man, like agent Johnny Hyde. But even with powerful people on her team she still had to work hard to get noticed, to get a decent part in a picture.

Cinematographer Leon Shamroy: “This girl had something I hadn’t seen since silent pictures.… She got sex on a piece of film like Jean Harlow. Every frame of the test radiated sex.… She was creating effects visually. She was showing us she could sell emotions in pictures.”

George Sanders: “She showed an interest in intellectual subjects which was, to say the least, disconcerting. And in her presence it is hard to concentrate. … She so obviously needed to be a star …”

Marilyn, about this time in her life, “… I didn’t have any friends. I had teachers and people l could look up to — nobody I could look over at. I always felt I was a nobody, and the only way for me to be somebody was to be — well, somebody else. Which is probably why I wanted to act.”

Spoto has a very different take on Marilyn’s sexual history than most of the other lurid biographies of the star. The author claims that rumors of multiple abortions are ridiculous. She never had even one. “Later there were two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy requiring emergency termination, but no abortion.” Marilyn had lifelong struggles with endometriosis (for which she had multiple operations to try and ease the symptoms) and uterine bleeding which would cause her great pain. She, the great goddess of sex, was most likely unable to bring a pregnancy to term because of her physical problems, one of her life’s great disappointments.

Spoto uses quotes from many people in Marilyn’s life to document how she was able to turn on and off her “Marilyn” persona at will — when she had the need to feel glamorous, to be recognized. He uses these instances to support his underlying theory of her internal conflict of identity, of her never really reconciling her two (or more) selves. This Norma Jeane vs. Marilyn idea is hardly new. But what Spoto doesn’t acknowledge, probably because he has never personally experienced it, is that this sort of conflict exists in most women. Marilyn was an extreme case, surely, but most women have to deal with their public and private faces daily. Women are judged primarily visually. We are bombarded with cosmetics and media images that we are expected to at least attempt to aspire to. Men are judged by what they do, first, before how they look. For Marilyn, both how she looked and how her work was perceived, was incredibly important to her and to everyone in her orbit.

The best part of Marilyn Monroe: The Bigraphy is Spoto’s detailed recounting of just how hard Marilyn worked to become Marilyn. Once she became a star, we all know that things got even tougher for her, but Marilyn stayed strong and did things that no one would have ever expected of her — she started her own production company, married and divorced two very different American icons, worked hard to be taken seriously as an actress. Her death is tragic, and others certainly had a hand in helping her find the crutches that eventually killed her. But however she died, what really resonates from Spoto’s book was how she lived — always questing, reaching, trying to improve herself, trying to grow. That’s a new and valuable image of Marilyn.

Images from: Dr. Macro’s High Quality Movie Scans

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #33: Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, by Susan Strasberg

In Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, Susan Strasberg tries to tell what it was like to have Marilyn Monroe enter her life and the life of her family. Her father was Lee Strasberg, head of the Actors Studio, and guru to many of the film and stage actors of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s (Marlon Brando, Geraldine Page, James Dean, Elia Kazan, Eva Marie Saint, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, etc.) Her mother was former actress Paula Strasberg, who became Marilyn’s personal coach and factotum. For a short spell their home was a haven to Marilyn, who had fled Los Angeles after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio. Marilyn was looking for a new life as an actress, and was scheming with photographer Milton Greene about starting her own film production company, which would free her from the dumb blonde roles that her studio Twentieth Century-Fox was determined to lock her into.

Written approximately 30 years after Marilyn’s untimely death at the age of 36, Strasberg is still able to write from a teenage perspective. She may have been in awe of the glamorous movie star, but she was mostly envious of the attention her father payed her. Even while in the throes of a passionate love affair with Broadway costar Richard Burton, Strasberg can’t help but complain how available her father made himself for Marilyn at all hours. Once Marilyn moved to New York and started taking private acting lessons with Lee, she used the Strasberg home as her refuge — before, during, and after her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.

Paula became a surrogate mother, but Lee was her barometer — she constantly sought his approval. Apparently everyone in his orbit felt the same way, including his daughter, who seems to have fought a lifelong battle with resisting but desiring his help and input in her own work. Marilyn managed to get his attention more than most. That is what Strasberg is most jealous of. She idolizes her father, but she doesn’t seem to want to truly understand him. When he does offer her praise she doesn’t believe him, and becomes even more insecure. She had more in common with Marilyn than she realized.

Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe and Susan Strasberg visit backstage (Cort Theatre) in 1956.

Strasberg may be unwilling or unable to personally criticize her father, but she does allow others to share their viewpoints:

Johnny Strasberg: “He [Lee] was really fascinated by her, but that’s like saying about someone who is so fascinated by animals they put them in a cage so they can study them. In that sense you could say he loved her. He did have this great generosity in his work, although usually he never considered the needs of anyone else before himself. His gift to Marilyn, his great gift, was that he took her seriously in her work, and even personally, too, up to a point. Marilyn was there more than anyone before had been. Lee adored her; at least he seemed to do anything to please her.”

Strasberg does share a story that shows just how brainwashed and dependent everyone became on Lee. She was offered the role of Allison in Peyton Place (to be filmed at Twentieth Century-Fox, Marilyn’s studio, and the same one that once fired Lee) for $150,000. It was a great part and a great sum — Marilyn hadn’t made that much per picture yet. She asked her father if she should take it. He said no. When the family objected, he then told her to ask for more money. The studio refused to pay more, but still wanted her at the original sum. She debated about whether she should take the part anyway, without his permission (she was 19 and already her earnings were helping support the family.) Strasberg ultimately turned it down, and regretted it, but also justified her decision by saying she was avenging her father’s previous firing at Fox. Lee was using both his daughter and Marilyn to try and avenge his wounded ego. Strasberg doesn’t seem to see how her early success on stage (at age 16, in The Diary of Anne Frank) may have threatened her father. She didn’t study with him (although her mother coached her.) She never seems to consider that he may have helped her behind-the-scenes. Marilyn and Me is almost better reading between the lines.

Marilyn congratulates Susan backstage at The Diary of Anne Frank on opening night

As much as the Strasbergs offered Marilyn a second home, they may not have been the best port in the storm, as they had their own problems, including a strange way of expressing and dealing with anger. Lee would rage so much he would sometimes get a nosebleed, scaring everyone. Paula would get hysterical and threaten suicide. Susan would hide in a closet, silently screaming. But none of this would have mattered to Marilyn, who had finally met someone who showed her some respect:

Marilyn, “The best thing that ever happened to me was when your father took me seriously. I’ve always wanted for people to see me, not the actress, the real person. Your daddy does. He treats me like a human being. … I worked with this woman in California for years [her first acting coach, Natasha Lytess]. She taught me, educated me, like your father, gave me books to read, but even she thought I was a dummy. He doesn’t, and the most important thing is, with your father for the first time I feel it’s okay to be me, the whole kit and caboodle, you know, the whole mess.”

Once Marilyn gathered the courage to attend classes at the Studio and to even do scenes, her confidence increased, if only temporarily. Strasberg ran the Studio as a place where actors could experiment, be free. People may have thought she was a joke when she said she wanted to play Lady Macbeth, but they might have reconsidered if they had known Lee’s ideas for her in the part. He envisioned Lady Macbeth as “a sensitive, driven, compulsive woman, who used her sexuality and power to get her husband to do these terrible things. It was a side Marilyn possessed, but that she had never shown in her work.”

Strasberg is never able to truly focus on Marilyn without dragging herself into the picture, as she does when telling about Marilyn recounting her horror story of being locked up in a psychiatric hospital ward by her New York shrink Dr. Marianne Kris: “‘I was always afraid I was crazy like my mother or that I’d get that crazy with age. You know women sometimes to go nuts then, but when I got in there with really crazy people, I realized I had problems, but I saw I wasn’t as bad as they were.’ She made it sound as if it hadn’t been that bad. Yet I had heard that it had been worse. Was she trying to protect me from how horrible life was, or didn’t she trust me? Who was she lying to? Me or herself? Why?” It’s not all about you, Susan.

With all of Strasberg’s competitive neuroses, she still comes across as likable, and as someone, who with all the envy, did care for Marilyn. “[Marilyn] took ordinary black-and-white light and reflected it back to us in Technicolor, in epic proportions. Yet she kept it accessible. As famous as she was, she remained human.” Marilyn and Me is a very human book about the star and an entertaining read. Strasberg may have been jealous of her, loved her, but she never ceased to be amazed by Marilyn and her power. At the 1962 Golden Globes, when Marilyn attended to accept the World Film Favorite Award, “There was a room full of the biggest stars in the world, and when Marilyn walked in and made her way slowly to the table, her dress was so tight she could barely move; some people in the room stood on chairs, just to get a look at her, like kids. I’d never seen stars react to another star like that.” Strasberg’s judgements and impressions may not always be accurate, but they do offer a personal glimpse of a woman and a movie star who for most, still remains a mystery.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #30 & 31: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes & But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, by Anita Loos

Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a sensation when it was first published, in serial form, in Harper’s Bazaar in the early 1920s. Heroine and flapper Lorelei Lee narrates her own escapades and those of her best pal Dorothy Shaw. The two gals are besieged by suitors on both sides of the Atlantic. Although Lorelei is always out to get a nice piece of jewelry or some other gift from an admiring genteman, it’s hard to label her a gold digger. She and Dorothy are not exactly husband hunting — they are more often the quarry.

Once Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was published in book form in 1925, it soon became a best-seller, and Loos was asked to write a sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, which was published in 1928. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes also spawned a successful Broadway musical and two film versions, one made in 1928, which has been lost, and the classic Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell female buddy movie from 1953. Loos was first inspired to create the character of Lorelei after watching writer H.L. Mencken, a friend and writer that she greatly admired let a girl, a blonde, that she considered a bubblehead wrap him completely around her finger. Mencken not only didn’t mind being teased in print, but he helped her get it published.

I read an edition that included both novels, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady and But Gentlemen Marry BrunettesThe original Harper’s illustrations, included in this double-edition by Ralph Barton really capture the era of flappers and speakeasies. Readers familiar with the technicolor film directed by Howard Hawks will be interested to see what survived from Loos’s original characterization of Lorelei to Monroe’s version.

“So I really think that American gentlemen are the best after all, because kissing your hand may make you feel very very good but a diamond and safire bracelet lasts forever.”

Both books are written as entries from Lorelei’s diary. Little Rock’s most famous fictional debutante has decided to become a writer, and Lorelei never lacks for anything to say about herself and her endless quest for “education,” or the merits and faults of those around her. Comic misspellings are peppered throughout both books: “Eyefull Tower,” “safire,” “Dr. Froyd,” “negligay,” etc. Lorelei always has her eye on the prize — and the next prize, and the next prize. She constantly complains about her best pal Dorothy’s behavior, but Dorothy seems to do quite well for herself.

“I mean I always encouradge Dorothy to talk quite a lot when we are talking to unrefined people like Lady Francis Beekman, because Dorothy speaks their own languadge to unrefined people better than a refined girl like I.”

“Safires” and “encouradgements” aside, Lorelei has no problem spelling words like “diamonds” or “champagne.” Lorelei and Dorothy’s antics are always amusing to read about. There is a bit of suspense involved in which suitor Lorelei will finally say “yes” to and mean it this time. No matter how much they might depend on a gentleman to take them to lunch at the Ritz, or take them shopping for bracelets and “negligays,” Lorelei and Dorothy always seem in charge of their own destinies. And they seem to be having a great deal of fun, too. From the introduction by Regina Barreca:

“Loos’s Lorelei and Dorothy didn’t fall into vice; they jumped. The leap was a fortunate one. Lorelei manages her affairs, financial and sexual, with great success. She’s a broker for her own goods. Her heroicism relies on her intelligence even more than on her blondeness, and on her willingness to understand the pleasures and penalties of the choices she makes.”

As funny as Lorelei and her narrative are, Dorothy invariably gets the best lines, as she sizes up another “gentleman” while the girls are traveling in Paris:

“… so Dorothy spoke up and said, ‘I hear that they number all of you Louies over here in Paris.’ Because a girl is always hearing someone talk about Louie the sixteenth who seemed to be in the anteek furniture business. I mean I was surprised to hear Dorothy get so historical so she may really be getting educated in spite of everything. But Dorothy told Louie he need not try to figure out his number because she got it the minute she looked at him.”

No matter how many fiancés or adventures they have, the girls’ most important relationship is with each other, as Lorelei proves in But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, when she takes up writing again, but this time to tell Dorothy’s story, which is quite a humdinger. Dorothy grew up in a carnival, and we follow her from the carny life to the stage, the Ziegfeld Follies, and beyond.

Lorelei may be a little distracted by her new married state, and even motherhood,

“And I always think that the sooner a girl becomes a Mother after the ceremony, the more likely it is to look like ‘Daddy.’”

but she still is serious about writing. She even manages to get an invitation to join the Algonquin Circle. Of course Dorothy is not so impressed.”Well, Dorothy finally finished her chicken hash and spoke up and said that she had overheard enough intellectual conversation for one day, so she was going out to hunt up a friend of hers who only talks about himself when he has a toothache.”

Both books are humorous and quick reads. It would certainly help to be a little familiar with the 1920s, especially New York and Hollywood. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes aren’t dated, but they are definitely a humorous time capsule. Lorelei and Dorothy don’t let anyone hold them back. They are sassy and witty and completely unapologetic. They aren’t exactly role models, but they are strong women who get what they want out of life. And that is always appealing to a girl like I.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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