Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Arthur Miller”

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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 #28: Marilyn’s Men: The Private Life of Marilyn Monroe, by Jane Ellen Wayne

Marilyn’s Men: The Private Life of Marilyn Monroe by Jane Ellen Wayne is yet another recap of the actress’s life, focusing on her busted love affairs and not offering much real insight. It’s chock-full of sleazy unsubstantiated details and gossip added for prurient interest. I’m working on a long-form project on Monroe, so I’m reading everything I can get my hands on, but this one is not to be taken too seriously.

Wayne relies on quotes from Robert Slatzer, who gained fame with his claims of a supposed 1952 secret marriage to Marilyn that supposedly took place in Mexico, at the height of her romance with Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio. The marriage was supposedly annulled three days later at the insistence of Darryl F. Zanuck. That’s a lot of supposedlys. Slatzer’s credibility is not helped by other quotes by him that Wayne includes as facts, including basic facts of Marilyn’s early life, which he seems to get very wrong. Readers can draw their own conclusions about whether to believe any of Slatzer’s other claims about Marilyn, including his belief that she was murdered.

Marilyn entertaining the troops in Korea in 1954

Wayne also recycles unproved stories written by others, repeating a story from author Sandra Sherry, that Marilyn was pregnant during The making of The Seven Year Itchand had an abortion. There are many contradictory and conflicting “facts” in Marilyn’s Men. Wayne claims that Marilyn’s agent Johnny Hyde told her not to have children, so she had her tubes tied, which was reversed later. But she also recounts multiple concurrent abortions, which is in direct contradiction to a tubal ligation. And what about her attempts to get pregnant with husband Arthur Miller? None of the stories add up.

The bottom line is that this isn’t even a book for the casual fan of the star. Marilyn certainly deserves better.

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

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #26: Marilyn, by Gloria Steinem

Other iconic celebrities have died — Elvis, James Dean, Frank Sinatra, but none seem to have the enduring power of Marilyn Monroe. In 1986’s Marilyn, feminist Gloria Steinem presents her take on the iconic star, in a series of essays, aided by the beautiful photographs by George Barris, taken in a few sessions over the last two months of her life.

Steinem tries to present a sympathetic portrait of the star, but as she admits herself multiple times in the text, she finds Marilyn embarrassing. She goes so far as to compare her, more than once, to a drag queen. She shares a personal anecdote early on, claiming to have run out of a screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a teenager, embarrassed by the star’s performance, “How dare she be just as vulnerable and unconfident as I felt?”

She goes on to present a pretty stereotypical image of Marilyn as the dumb blonde who men see as, “a compliant child-woman … Offering sex without the power of an adult woman” a woman that other women envy or fear, “a sexual competitor who could take away men on whom women’s identities and even livelihoods might depend; the fear of having to meet her impossible standard of always giving – and asking nothing in return; the nagging fear that we might share her feminine fate of being vulnerable, unserious, constantly in danger of becoming a victim.”

She can hardly veil her dislike of Marilyn’s ’50s sexpot movie starlet persona, so she shifts her attention to Norma Jeane, for whom she has much more sympathy. She outlines the young fatherless Norma Jeane’s early life, her mother who was either absent or institutionalized, her shuffle from foster homes to an orphanage to a young (16 years old) marriage. The preternaturally beautiful girl was quickly spotted and encouraged to model, which led to her pursuing her life-long dreams and fantasies of movie stardom.

A quote from Marilyn, “In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo,” she wrote bitterly. “You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you $1000 for a kiss, and $.50 for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the $.50.”

Marilyn seems to have taken sex with producers and others who could help her in stride, as apparently all the young starlets did. From her early modeling days onward she found her beauty and her sex as a commodity. As much as Marilyn and other young aspiring actresses were used by men, we should also understand that she was very ambitious. She never saw herself as just another starlet. She was determined to become a star. Sex was one of the tools she used to get what she wanted in her career. She treated sex casually, an exchange of favors.

As is unavoidable with any discussion of Marilyn, Steinem details the actress’s many affairs — including possible, probable, and definite lovers — a veritable Who’s Who of prominent men of the ’50s: Howard Hughes (his interest in the young hopeful may have prompted rival studio Twentieth Century-Fox to hire her), Elia Kazan, Johnny Hyde (her agent), Joe DiMaggio (2nd husband), Arthur Miller (3rd husband), Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Yves Montand, Jim Dougherty (1st husband), Freddy Karger (her voice teacher). She devotes an entire chapter to John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, who she most likely had fairly open affairs with. She met Jack first, before he was president, but soon moved on to and was more serious about his brother Robert. Their affair was a well-known secret. Columnist Art Buchwald even made jokes about Marilyn and the President in his Washington Post column. It may have sounded funny in 1960, but it sounds beyond sexist now.

“Let’s Be Firm on Monroe Doctrine”

Who will be the next ambassador to Monroe? This is one of the many problems which President-elect Kennedy will have to work out in January. Obviously you can’t leave Monroe adrift. There’re too many greedy people eyeing her, and now that Ambassador Miller has left she could flounder around without any direction.

Steinem may not connect with the woman Marilyn became, but she is sympathetic to how difficult her road could be. Elizabeth Taylor was getting $1 million for Cleopatra from Twentieth Century-Fox when Marilyn averaged only $100,000 a film. Although she never seemed to suffer financially, she was not paid equitably. Marilyn may have frequently called in sick, causing delays and creating difficulties on her films sets, as a form of protest. It also may have been her way of knowing she was was needed, was not being overlooked, as she had been throughout her childhood. “People are waiting for me. People are eager to see me. I’m wanted.”

As much as her illnesses may have cropped up too often to suit her producers, directors and costars, Marilyn’s health issues dated from her youth. She was on painkillers from a very early age, to deal with excruciating menstrual pains. Her young body endured multiple abortions and operations, including an appendectomy, tonsillectomy, plastic surgery, gall bladder surgery, and many procedures to ease painful endometriosis. She was a woman who had to be obsessed with her body, inside and out.

Drugs were a huge part of Marilyn’s life. As Steinem notes, “Physicians have been more likely to prescribe sleeping pills and tranquilizers than to look for the cause of Monroe’s sleeplessness and anxiety. … even after she attempted suicide several times. … It was my first understanding that women are more likely to be given chemical and others arm’s-length treatment and to suffer from the assumption that they can be chemically calmed or sedated …”

As popular as conspiracy theories continue to be, Marilyn’s death was unlikely murder, or even a completely intentional suicide, but it does seem that there was a cover-up. According to Steinem, Bobby Kennedy may have even tried to take a still-alive Marilyn to the hospital with Peter Lawford, her body only returned to her home later, after her death. If that is too far-fetched to believe, it does seem to be true that Lawford, Marilyn’s maid, and others cleaned up the place, either suppressing or eliminating evidence. The local police and even J. Edgar Hoover held back phone records that showed her links to the Kennedys.

Marilyn was a troubled, at times drug-addled, soul. Extremely lonely, ever in search of unconditional love. She was also generous to a fault; always concerned with others before herself. Part of her enduring mystique is that she was frequently misunderstood and underestimated. Some of the people closest to her didn’t seem to really get her at all. Marilyn told her maid Lena Pepitone, about a scene in The Misfits, the script that playwright husband Arthur Miller had written for her, where she convinces Clark Gable’s character not to sell wild mustangs to a slaughterhouse, “I convince them by throwing a fit, not by explaining anything. So I have a fit. A screaming crazy fit … And to think, Arthur did this to me … If that’s what he thinks of me, well, and I’m not for him and he’s not for me.”

Monroe desperately wanted to be taken seriously, as more than just a sex object. She had more praise and understanding from her director, John Huston, “She went right down into her own personal experience for everything, reached down and pulled something out of herself that was unique and extraordinary. She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn. But it was Marilyn, plus. She found things, found things about womankind in herself.”

The Misfits was Marilyn’s last completed film and the death knell to her four-year-plus marriage to Miller. She went on a downward spiral after the divorce, from which she never completely recovered. Miller certainly didn’t help things any with his response on hearing Marilyn might be being depressed to hear he was already expecting a child with his new wife Inge Morath (a Magnum photographer that he met on the set of The Misfits), “She knew I was a father before; she knew the children, she knew it wasn’t anything wrong with me that kept us from having children.” What a guy, huh?

Marilyn was fired from her next film, Something’s Got to Give, but it looked like she had smoothed things over with producers and was set to resume filming in the fall of 1962. Unfortunately that film and many others she was slated to appear in were not to be. Steinem presents Marilyn almost as a split personality, always haunted by her true self, Norma Jeane. It becomes a bit much after a while in Marilyn, but the glorious, natural-light photographs by George Barris help to show how the girl Norma Jeane who became the woman Marilyn Monroe endures.  Marilyn was vulnerable, concerned with others, but also had an innate understanding of her own power:

“As soon as I can afford an evening gown I bought the loudest one I could find. It was a bright red low-cut dress, and my arrival in it usually infuriated half the women present. I was sorry in a way to do this, but I had a long way to go and I needed a lot of advertising to get there.”

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

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #25: MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe, by Lois Banner

I have been researching Marilyn Monroe for a project I am working on, so have been immersing myself in the iconic Hollywood star’s life via a lot of different books. MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe presents the contents of two file cabinets that were left after Marilyn died in June 1962 as a peek into the star’s private and professional life. Author Lois Banner and photographer Mark Anderson have reverently presented everything from letters, memos, and telegrams to jewelry that may have belonged to Marilyn, and even items of clothing. Some of the items are photographed placed on rose petals, which is admittedly kind of corny; but page after page of piles of saved receipts, although mundane items, still serve as a touching reminder of Marilyn’s brief but compelling life.

There is a bit of a mystery behind how these files and the book came to be. When Marilyn was married to Joe DiMaggio he helped her find a new business manager, Inez Melson, to help take care of her mother, Gladys Baker Eley, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and was in and out of mental institutions most of her adult life. Inez not only managed Gladys but also Marilyn’s burgeoning career, helping her with her financial affairs. When the marriage with DiMaggio went bust and Marilyn left California for New York, she soon also severed ties with Inez, apart from her continuing custodianship of Marilyn’s mother. But Inez didn’t want to lose Marilyn and managed to stay connected through the years.

When Marilyn died Inez was called, and there is some dispute over whether she may have tampered with evidence in the apartment, as far as removing prescription medicine bottles in an effort to protect Marilyn. She did help plan the funeral with Joe DiMaggio. She managed to immediately secure one of Marilyn’s two file cabinets, and then bought the other at auction, using her nephew’s name for the purchase, even though they both rightfully belonged to Lee Strasberg, the major beneficiary in Marilyn’s will.

What Inez did was clearly fraud, but if she hadn’t maneuvered getting hold of Marilyn’s belongings the contents of the file cabinets would have certainly been tossed or scattered by now. Instead, readers get to flip through these intact, daily records of Marilyn’s life. At times it’s admittedly a little creepy, like going through her drawers, shuffling through her papers. Drugstore receipts for enemas and colonics tell the tale of quick weight loss methods, common to Hollywood actresses, but did we really need to know that? Marilyn surely wouldn’t have wanted to tarnish any mystique she may have had with her public. Some of the items are frankly boring or indecipherable. But some, mostly letters, are interesting, and shed a light on Marilyn’s personality, as well as her more familiar Hollywood persona.

– Marilyn wanted Frank Sinatra, not Tony Curtis as her co-star in Some Like it Hot (a terrible idea, as Sinatra just wouldn’t have worked and we would have lost the Curtos/Lemmon dream team). She had an affair with Sinatra much later, shortly before her death, after she broke up with husband Arthur Miller.

– In a typewritten (probably by a secretary) note to magazine illustrator Jon Whitcomb, who did an illustration of the actress that appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitanin March 1959, Marilyn’s distinctive voice and humor comes through, as she apologizes for the hold-up in their getting together:

“Please forgive the long delay in answering, but I have been up to my derrière in preparation for two movies for the near future… I would love to have the picture from you and I repeat ‘at last to be a Whitcomb girl!’ .… I am looking forward to meeting with you and I want you to meet Arthur [husband Arthur Miller].”

Her sense of humor also shines through in letters to Miller’s son and daughter, which she wrote as if from their dog or cat.

– In a telegram to director George Cukor after she was fired from Something’s Got to Give, she blames herself and offers to make it up to him, by cleaning his house, “I can dust.”

– The are some intriguing fan letters that she chose to keep, including the offering up of a newborn baby girl for adoption. It makes one wonder if she was seriously tempted to accept the baby.

– One of the more interesting letters is an apology from public relations man Joe Wolhandler in reaction to her anger at a magazine article quoting Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Billy Wilder about how difficult she was to work with during Some Like It Hot.

“As you know, TIME Magazine is, of all the ghoulish press, in a class by itself for unmitigated nastiness and inaccuracy. It has been a “middle-class confidential” for a long period. I don’t believe they are quoting Wilder and Curtis accurately. We have asked for a retraction…”

– More poignant is a letter from April 1952 that she taped to her stomach before an appendectomy, begging, “Dear Doctor no ovaries removed – please again do whatever you can to prevent large scars. Thanking you with all my heart, Marilyn Monroe”

– Some of the receipts do tell heartbreaking stories — gifts of roses and a bed jacket from a maternity store from Arthur Miller, given right before two separate miscarriages.

So much has been written about how difficult Marilyn was to work with, with the focus in most biographies on her addictions, men in her life, and instability, but the more and more I learn and read about her this behavior seems to also speak of her quest for power. If she wasn’t considered such a valuable commodity to the studio, she would have been fired and replaced, and that would have been that. She used her frequent illnesses and perpetual lateness to protest scripts she didn’t like, or too-controlling studio executives. Marilyn used many different methods to have more control of her career and her life, not an easy thing for a woman of her time.

History professor Banner frames the bits and pieces of Marilyn’s life in biographical sections. Her text jumps around chronologically and at times is a bit repetitive, as the reader is told in at least three separate sections about her infamous stroll from one end of the studio to the other in a see-through negligee. Apparently that exhibition of her sexual power made quite an impression on the author. She even repeats the anecdote in another book she wrote on the star, Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox. There are no major revelations here in the oft-told story of Marilyn’s tragically short but eventful life, but some of the items photographed by Anderson and selected by Banner do help frame her life in a more easily relatable and approachable context.

MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe is by no means a definitive text on the star, but it is an interesting glimpse into the actress’s life, and it makes one wonder how our own lives might be pieced together by the detritus of our daily lives.

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

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