Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “The Prince and the Showgirl”

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 #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.

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