‘An Actress Prepares’ in Hampstead

Bulgarian actress Irina Diva has spoken about her one-woman show, An Actress Prepares, based on Marilyn Monroe’s last interview with Richard Meryman in July 1962:

‘Irina quickly tells me not to go along expecting an impersonation; the play is an introspective performance that uses Marilyn’s own words. Although most audiences expect to see the blonde wig a lot earlier in the show, Irina laughs, ‘‘People always say, ‘we expected more Marilyn’, and I say ‘it is all Marilyn!'”

Read interview in full at Vintage Seekers

An Actress Prepares is now playing at the New End Theatre in Hampstead, London, until July 10. It was recently reviewed in The Stage:

“Diva has hit upon the fascinating concept of stripping away all the cliches of the Monroe brand – so the blonde bombshell’s words are spoken by a brunette Bulgarian, purposely making no attempt to cover her accent.

This allows us to focus on the oft poignant words rather than the trappings of yet another Boo-boo-bee-doo impersonator and reminds us that Norma Jean never used to have platinum hair either.

That said, Diva’s performance is so eccentric that a breathy rendition of Happy Birthday wouldn’t be so amiss to anchor this in some kind of normality.”

And another review, from a previous performance at the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival:

“Irina Diva is a first class actress. She speaks slowly and clearly with much colour and emotive range in her voice. She is fit, attractive and intelligent in her performance. The setting of the play in the dressing room of the star, ably assisted by her silent dresser accentuates the intimacy of her analysis of female sexuality and her relationship with men who desire her. The dresser (Award Winning Graham Elwell) is gay and sees and touches intimately the body of this goddess, which must have been the ultimate desire of most men of her generation.

Diva has emotion, an intimate understanding of the text, strong stage presence and a noticeable accent. Here and it is only here that I part company with the production. Monroe had constructed phrases and caressed words that would make men shudder, it was softly spoken, sensual and full of implication. Diva’s accent is loud, strong, emotive and does not in anyway reflect the linguistic impact of Monroe’s sultry tone.”

Warhol and the Diva

An exhibition dedicated to Andy Warhol’s portraits of legendary divas – male and female – has opened at Manchester’s The Lowry, running until September 25.

“It was following Monroe’s death that Andy Warhol started to create his famous screen print works of famous faces, and it is widely known these now iconic works can be attributed to the Hollywood star, who represented the epitome of glamour and beauty which Warhol captured faultlessly and which other stars wanted to emulate.

Warhol’s image of Monroe was taken from a publicity shot of her 1953 hit, ‘Niagara’, and unlike many of his subjects with whom he was close friends, Warhol sadly never met Monroe. However, his image of her has become the lasting depiction of the star for generations after her death, her beauty and star status immortalized within popular culture and art history for ever.”

‘The Feminist Betrayal of Norma Jeane’

The Secret Knowledge: The Dismantling of American Culture is a new collection of essays by the dramatist David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Wag the Dog.)

The central theme of this book is Mamet’s disillusionment with the liberal left. One of his essays concerns the feminist author Gloria Steinem‘s 1986 book, Marilyn: Norma Jeane.

While I have reservations of my own about Steinem’s book – though sympathetic to Marilyn, at times she seemed to see her as a passive victim – I do think Mamet is being unduly harsh (and, dare I say, ungentlemanly.)

I was pleased to see how highly Mamet rates MM as an actress. But I also felt that his ‘defence’ of her was something of a ruse to attack Steinem and others who don’t concur with his recent swing to the political right.

While Steinem’s book is not perfect, it has led to other, more up-to-date feminist studies of Marilyn from Sarah Churchwell and Lois Banner.

Here is an extract from Mamet’s essay – you can read it in full at National Review Online:

‘Marilyn Monroe, then, though her work brought and brings delight to literally hundreds of millions of people, although she created for herself one of the most revered icons in show business, had an impossibly successful career, though she did this through persistence, talent, hard work, and guts, must be dismissed by the wiser, non-working Left, which finds her neither a serious actress nor a comedienne. She did not, sadly, fulfil the vision which Gloria Steinem had for her, because she was not an intellectual — she was an actual worker.

In a more equal world, a top-down world, a world of equality (as envisioned and enforced by the Left) Ms. Monroe might have been taken in hand (by whom?) early on, and cured of her unreal escapist self (her talent), and still be alive playing Mother Courage in some Resident Theatre somewhere.

Can this be feminism? A dismissal of the greatest comedienne in the history of the screen because her work did not meet the high standards of Gloria Steinem?Is it possible that the wise Ms. Steinem mistakes the performances of Marilyn with the person? She does conflate, and seems to connect causally, Marilyn’s screen persona with her use of sleeping pills, suggesting that she killed herself (an open point) because she was “denied the full range of possibility” and, so, was forced to disappoint Gloria Steinem.

Would Ms. Steinem be happier if Marilyn had lived to play Medea and Queen Elizabeth? Is she ignorant of the working lifespan of an actress? Did she never laugh or smile at one of Marilyn’s performances? Of course she did, but now she wants to throw it in reverse and, having derived enjoyment from her work, derive further enjoyment from her superior sad understanding of Marilyn’s essential “slavery.” Marilyn, though vastly wealthy, though widely accomplished, though revered worldwide (and to this day), was somehow a “slave to men.” Why? Because she was a woman, and acting, thus, was somehow not “an expression of her real self.”

What balderdash. Shame on you, Ms. Steinem, for promoting hypocrisy. For anyone who might be foolish enough to nod along with your sanctimony will, along with you, the next time they watch one of Marilyn’s films, laugh and smile; you, then, are promoting a dual-consciousness, an indictment of that which one enjoys, of a legitimate pleasure brought about through the work and the talent of an actual human being, who, in your sad lament, you belittle and patronize. Were or are you smarter or more talented than Marilyn Monroe? Make me laugh.

[And note, Ms. Steinem, that it is not the job of an actor to “express her real self.” (Which of us knows what his real self is?) It was her job to entertain the audience. That was her job. And she did it as well as anyone who ever acted. What entertainment has ever come from your beloved solipsism? Would you go to see such a performance — an evening of someone “expressing her true self”?]’

Champagne, Marilyn Style

The Independent reports on a new champagne named for Marilyn. Fans will notice that the model pictured here is lookalike Suzie Kennedy.

“A Norwegian beverage company has bottled the legend of Marilyn Monroe in an effervescent bubbly to be served in a curvy, voluptuous champagne flute in her honor.

Champagne Marilyn Monroe Premier Cru Brut debuts at the world’s largest wine trade fair in Bordeaux this week, where 50,000 attendees from 47 countries are expected to converge.

Produced by the French champagne house JM Gobillard & Fils for Norwegian company Rosmersholm, the Marilyn Monroe champagne is 50 percent Chardonnay, 25 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Pinot Meunier and is produced in the Hautvillers, Cumières and Dizy areas of Champagne.

Described as fruity, silky and delicate, the champagne has an elegant nose and has been cellar-aged for three years.

It’s expected to retail for about €65. The champagne also comes with a set of six curvaceous flutes that retail for €159 alone.”


‘Glamour of the Gods’

The photo above was taken by Ernest Bachrach while Marilyn was filming Clash By Night in 1952. (Note the book on the pavement: her exercise bible, The Thinking Body by Mabel Elsworth Todd.)

This photo – one of my favourites – features in ‘Glamour of the Gods’, an exhibition dedicated to classic Hollywood photography, featuring pictures from the John Kobal Foundation, opening at London’s National Portrait Gallery on July 7, running until October 23.

John Kobal was the author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life on Film (1974), one of the first picture books on Marilyn, and another of my personal favourites (it was only the second book that I read about her, and the first illustrated!)

Tango With Marilyn in Greece

An MM-inspired evening of dance, on June 26 from 10pm, is part of the ongoing ‘Marilyn Monroe in the Arts’ exhibit at DEKK, the International Exhibition Centre of Crete.

More details on Facebook, translated here via Google:

‘ The Institute for Cultural Exchange invites their friends to Tango in the foyer of the exhibition “Marilyn Monroe in the Arts”.

All lovers of tango and those who wish to experience the magic up close, you will have the opportunity to attend from 18:30 to 22:00, 40 minutes free seminars with the tango masters of Crete. Then follows a night of Argentine Tango (Milonga).

At the same time, guests can visit the showroom “Marilyn Monroe in the Arts”, which consists of 200 authentic artifacts, 80 international artists (Andy Warhol, Erro, Werner Berges, Mel Ramos, Heidi Popovic, etc.) inspired by most famous woman of the 20th century. The report is presented for the first time in Greece and during her tour in America, 651,000 people visited.

The price of the ticket includes:
· Drink
· Free tango classes (supply teachers)
· Free entrance to the exhibition “Marilyn Monroe in the Arts”

Friendly participation:
Department of Styling IIEK MORFI and Schools KEPANSI

General Admission: 8 euros
Student ticket: € 6

Nicholas Smyrnakis

Marilyn at the Hollywood Bowl

Marilyn with Danny Thomas at the Hollywood Bowl, 1953

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look back at the history of the Hollywood Bowl:

“Comedian Danny Thomas (with Marilyn Monroe) hosted a September 1953 concert at the Bowl to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Monroe was the evening’s main attraction and performed a song from ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.”

Some accounts suggest that the benefit actually took place in July, not September of 1953. Unfortunately, no audio or movie footage has resurfaced as yet, though Marilyn was widely photographed at the event, by Bruno Bernard and others.

She wore her orange dress from the dining room scene in Blondes. Co-stars Jane Russell, and Robert Mitchum (River of No Return) also attended.

George Forrester, who worked as a security guard for Marilyn that night, spoke to Hollister Freelance News in 2007:

“Forrester was a 22-year-old college student in Los Angeles when he worked a temp job in 1953 at the Hollywood Bowl where comedian Danny Thomas hosted a huge fundraising event for his St. Jude Children’s Hospital charity. Forrester was hired to man the stage entrance for the show. He saw a parade of famous film celebrities pass through, and the biggest star of all was Marilyn Monroe, the main attraction of the evening. Everyone waited anxiously for midnight when the movie goddess would end the show by performing songs from her hit film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.

Fate somehow maneuvered George Forrester to literally bumped into Monroe. He had gone backstage to get a Coke to drink. When he turned around, he accidentally collided into the actress and spilt his soda on the star’s tangerine-colored skin-tight dress.

‘She was able to brush it all off,’ Forrester told me in a phone chat the other day as we discussed the differences between Monroe and Smith. ‘Her bodyguard grabbed me by the neck and lifted me into the air. It was Marilyn who said, “Sam, put him down. Put him down.” ‘

After Sam had set Forrester back on the ground, Marilyn tried to comfort the young man. ‘She made me feel comfortable because she saw that I was shook up,’ he recalls. ‘She apologized for (Sam’s behavior) and we sat down.’

Although this was a big night where Marilyn was the focus of everyone’s interest, the actress focused her own attention on Forrester. She asked him about his life plans and he told her he was a senior in college majoring in drama and minoring in pre-dental. He told her about his ambitions to be a big-shot actor. Perhaps all too wary of the ways of the motion picture business, she advised him to stick to pre-dental.

Perhaps this very down-to-earth conversation with Forrester helped shield Monroe’s mind from the overwhelming media hype she had to face that night. ‘I have a feeling she kept me with her because everyone was trying to get a photo-shoot with her or talk to her,’ Forrester said. ‘She looked at me, her eyes looked in my face constantly when we were talking, which always makes you feel good.’ “

According to biographers, Marilyn’s debut at the Hollywood Bowl occurred much earlier, when as a child she appeared in a religious pageant. She also briefly lived with her mother in a bungalow at Arbol Drive, close to the Hollywood Bowl (the house was later demolished.)

Meeting Bert Stern in Toronto

Over at The Mmm Blog, Melinda Mason recounts her meeting with photographer Bert Stern – now 82 – at his ‘Jewels’ exhibition in Toronto’s Izzy Gallery.

“Marilyn fans the world over have fawned over Stern’s photographs that he took in July 1962 shortly before her death.  Regardless of your view on whether he should have published photos that Marilyn herself had X’d out there is no denying his photographs are truly legendary.  I am personally a big fan of this time period and Marilyn style and The Complete Last Sitting is one of my favourite books.”

Gallery owner Izzy Sulemanji was interviewed in Canada’s National Post:

“‘This is the top of the mountain to get Bert,’ Sulejmani says. ‘The biggest thing is that he’s coming, because if it’s not New York or a big museum, he doesn’t go for his openings.’

Now in his eighties, Stern rarely accepts interviews and makes few public appearances. But there was something about the friendly gallery owner that he liked. Sulejmani says that after remaining largely silent during a New York City business lunch two months ago, the photographer said at the very end, ‘You’re OK, Izzy. I like you. I’ll see you in Toronto.’ After signing the contract, Stern left.”