‘Marilyn: The Exhibit’ Returns

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The widely popular Marilyn Monroe exhibit has returned to the Hollywood Museum for the third year running, notes Haute Living, in an article listing various MM-related locations to visit in Los Angeles. It is now a permanent annual exhibit. (Other local landmarks include the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and the Formosa Cafe.)

The Misfits: End of An Era

Marilyn and Eli Wallach, 'The Misfits'
Marilyn and Eli Wallach, ‘The Misfits’

Yesterday we learned of the death of Marilyn’s friend and co-star, Eli Wallach. At 98, he was one of America’s finest character actors. I will post a longer tribute soon, but for now here’s a great review of The Misfits from Carley Johnson over at the Black Maria blog – a movie that was so greatly enriched by Eli’s performance as the likeable, but untrustworthy Guido. While Marilyn, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Thelma Ritter all died within a few years of making The Misfits, Eli went on to even greater triumphs – winning a lifetime achievement Academy Award in 2010, the same year his last movie was released.

“By 1961, the Hollywood Studio System had begun a slow rot from the inside out which would, by decade’s end, see to its total collapse thus ending the Golden Age of classical Hollywood. The Misfits, directed by John Huston and penned by Arthur Miller, is a fascinating relic from those years in flux that bewildered its audiences just as much as it bewildered the execs. On paper, the words Clark Gable (the king), Marilyn Monroe (the queen) and Montgomery Clift (the rebel) looked like box office magic. The result is a mixed bag that would be Gable and Monroe’s final film, and one of Clift’s last.

Miller masquerades a deeply intimate, and highly modern, character study under the guise of a Western romance. It was no secret that Miller wrote the screenplay for his wife. The role of Roslyn could have been played by anyone, sure, but perhaps no other performance would have been nearly as truthful.

Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach were all Method actors. Monroe’s close friend and acting coach happened to be Paula Strasberg who was a constant presence on the set. Gable came from a more… square shooting school of acting, perhaps best summed up by Jimmy Cagney: know your mark and know your lines.

There is no denying the fact that The Misfits proved enormous strain on Gable, physically and emotionally. But. Be that as it may, the truth is, The Misfits didn’t directly kill Gable anymore than the Kennedy’s killed Marilyn. The strenuous Misfits shoot did not cause Gable’s premature death– but at the same time, cannot be disqualified as one of its many contributing factors.

Clift was greatly shaken upon hearing of the tragic death of his dear friend Marilyn, and was noted as having said ‘Hollywood deaths always come in threes. First Gable, now Marilyn… who’s next.’

The eerie lyricism of Miller’s words would prove to be hauntingly prophetic: ‘Honey, nothing can live unless something dies.'”

 

‘The Peacock and the Nightingale’

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It seems like every theatre company launches a Marilyn-related play at some point, and most of them have sunk without trace. However, David Bottomley’s The Peacock and the Nightingale has an interesting premise, at least – the meeting of Marilyn and Dame Edith Sitwell, playing at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center, San Diego, on July 3rd, as part of the city’s annual fringe festival, with British actress Claire Jared playing MM.

“1953. Eccentric English poet, Edith Sitwell, is in Hollywood working on a blockbuster movie script for George Cukor about the Tudors. When she meets film star, Marilyn Monroe she’s desperate to play Anne Boleyn. But who will let her?”

More details at Broadway World

Mariah Carey Inspired by Marilyn

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Singer Mariah Carey has spoken about her long-standing admiration of Marilyn in a revealing interview with Out magazine.

“Her first, and most enduring influence was Marilyn Monroe, and you don’t need to spend long in her company to see that the identification runs deep. When I note the dazzling butterfly ring on her finger, she extends her hand theatrically, like a caricature of Monroe’s Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. ‘This is Van Cleef and it’s missing a diamond, and it is shocking,’ she says, faux dramatically, before riffing, ‘shock and awe, shock and awe—I’m very upset now, Aaron, I gotta tell you.’ She pretends to fling her ring across the room, before anticipating how this might read in print: ‘It’s missing a diamond, She tosses it on a couch.‘ Another bubble of laughter. ‘There, I did it, so now you can say I did it.’

Carey traces her obsession with Marilyn Monroe back to her childhood, when she received a copy of Norman Mailer’s hefty biography of the actress as a Christmas gift. ‘I couldn’t have been more than 10,’ she says. ‘I was a reader as a child, believe it or not.’

‘Why should I not believe it?’

‘It doesn’t go with the ditzy image, I guess. I have too many highlights!’ She breaks into laughter, and I ask if that image—of the ditz—frustrates her. ‘No,’ she replies. ‘I flirt with it, and I play with it. If it pisses people off, whatever.’

‘Marilyn Monroe was pretty smart,’ I point out.

‘Marilyn was reading Nietzsche on the set of Something’s Got to Give,’ she responds. ‘Marilyn Monroe Productions was the first female-owned production company in Hollywood. She paved the way for women in Hollywood, and every single woman owes something to her for that, whether they agree with her image or not.’ [Actually, Marilyn was preceded by a few other women, including Rita Hayworth – but she still qualifies as an early pioneer.]

It’s tempting to hazard that some of Carey’s struggles, in her personal life and within the entertainment industry, parallel her idol. With both women their public persona served as a disguise for a much more thorough grasp of their circumstances than either is given credit far. Like Monroe, Carey has also experienced the ways in which the entertainment industry tries to control women…Her explanation for wanting to purchase Marilyn Monroe’s baby grand piano at auction in 1999 is instructive. ‘It was her only piece of the childhood she’d never had,’ she says. ‘It was very important for her to find something to cling to.'”

Pure Cinema: Revisiting ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’

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Writing for the Chicago Reader, Ben Sachs reviews Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, recently screened in the city. Though he focuses more on Howard Hawks’ direction than Marilyn’s performance, it’s an interesting read. He examines Jane Russell’s ‘Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love?’ setpiece in depth, though as a comment below the article notes, this was actually choreographed by Jack Cole, and that by choice, Hawks had comparatively little input on the musical numbers.

“What I want to address here is how Gentlemen Prefer Blondes approaches what Alfred Hitchcock called ‘pure cinema’, the conveyance of meaning through the harmonious interplay of all aspects of filmmaking. The presentation of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in front of single-tone backdrops is one example of this. Against the bold color, they seem, literally, like jewels, and this underscores the Monroe character’s materialism as well as the overpowering charisma of both women.”

Greene Photo Auction in Poland

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The ongoing saga of Milton Greene’s missing Polish photo archive has taken another unexpected turn, reports the New York Times. A collection of 3,100 prints will be auctioned this Wednesday, June 25 – on condition that the archive stays in Poland, and that the buyer give all but 100 prints to a Polish museum. You can learn more about the auction here.

“This Wednesday, DESA Unicum in Warsaw will be auctioning 3,100 of Greene’s pictures of Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities. It is the largest — and final — lot to be offered since a successful offer of 403 prints in 2012.

‘It was the greatest auction in Polish history,’ said Julius Windorbski, the chairman of the auction house. ‘From a P.R. point of view and a financial point of view. There were over 650 bidders. The average bidding and final price compared to starting price was 10 to 15 times more.’

Understandably, Joshua Greene, one of the photographer’s sons, differs. Already upset over the 2012 auction, he was flabbergasted to learned that a much larger lot was to be auctioned this week. He said he was outraged that the collection was no longer in the family’s possession and that it was being mishandled. ‘They misidentified things,’ he said. ‘They did not know the difference between a modern day print and a vintage print.’

Before Mr. Greene died of cancer in August 1985, he had named as heir and co-executor Joanna Thorman, a 29-year-old model whom he had met five years prior, and one whom the family had gone so far as to bar from the hospital during his illness. After a two-year legal battle, the estate became the Milton Greene Trust, with Ms. Thorman as the trustee and the two sons the primary beneficiaries.

Greene left behind vintage prints, negatives, color transparencies — and a great deal of debt. To save the estate from bankruptcy, Ms. Thorman hired an acquaintance named Dino Matingas, a Chicago real estate investor and steel-company owner who later admitted to American Photo magazine that he knew nothing about photography. He agreed to acquire the Greene estate, ‘to get Joanna to stop bugging me about buying it,’ he told the magazine in 1993.

Mr. Matingas purchased it for $350,000 without looking at it. The problem is he bought the copyright to the images, too.

While all of this was going on, Mr. Matingas had been doing business with the Polish Foreign Debt Service Fund, known as FOZZ, secretly buying up foreign debt. According to an August 1992 Chicago Tribune report, the Polish government sued Mr. Matingas, claiming he had used 20 or more investment subsidiaries in business dealings that resulted in his being unable to account for $15.5 million in Polish funds. A spokesman for Poland’s Ministry of Finance said that when the government liquidated FOZZ, they tried to recover Mr. Matingas’s debt.

All Mr. Matingas formally owned at the time was a collection of 3,500 photographs, mostly of Marilyn Monroe.

Mr. Matingas could not be reached for comment. A call to a number that had once been linked to him was answered by someone who said he no longer lived there. Nor could Ms. Thorman be reached.

A bank acting on behalf of the Polish government took possession of the prints and held on to them until 2012, when they were brought to Warsaw. That fall, two auctions were held at the DESA Unicum, generating 2.4 million zlotys (about $750,000 then) from the event.

Joshua Greene who runs Archives LLC in Oregon, where he sells digitally restored prints of his father’s historical collections, said he was unaware of this week’s Warsaw auction. ‘If that is something you know about, I would love to know about it, too,’ he said.

He had already been hit hard last year, when 75,000 of his father’s celebrity negatives and slides, including 3,700 unpublished black-and-white and color negatives and transparencies of his Monroe archive were sold at auction — along with copyright — through a website called Profiles in History, in Los Angeles.

The seller, according to the auction house, was an anonymous American photography collector who purchased the archive about 10 years ago, and the images came with their copyrights from the Greene estate via the financial institution in Poland.

‘That was a nightmare that came back to haunt me and my family,’ Joshua Greene said.

Mr. Greene explained he had agreed to the transfer of the copyright to Polish officials 10 years ago because he wanted to end the dispute that had arisen from Mr. Matingas’s financial dealings.

This week’s auction in Poland is very different. ‘We are not selling negatives and we are not selling the copyrights,’ Mr. Windorbski said. ‘We are only selling vintage and licensed prints.’

And they will be sold with one strict condition.

‘We decided with the Ministries of Culture and of Finance that this has to go to a museum or a city that creates a museum that is made up of this collection,’ Mr. Windorbski said.

Whoever buys the collection can keep only 100 prints. The rest must end up in a museum. In Poland.

‘Milton Greene will probably have his own museum in Poland,’ Mr. Windorbski said. ‘It’s quite strange, but we’re very excited.'”

Chris Lemmon’s Poolside Memories

Marilyn with Jack Lemmon in 'Some Like it Hot'
Marilyn with Jack Lemmon in ‘Some Like it Hot’

Jack Lemmon’s son, Chris, is currently starring in a one-man show, Jack Lemmon Returns, at the Laguna Playhouse. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he shared his memories of growing up among the stars, including one decidedly fishy story about Marilyn and her alleged paramour, President John F. Kennedy:

“I was walking by Marilyn’s house. We used to live at Harold Lloyd’s old house, my mom rented it from him, and sure enough there’s this helicopter in a low lazy circle and these guys in funny suits and funny glasses standing around watching Marilyn Monroe and JFK having a frolic in the pool. I was six or seven years old and these guys went, ‘I think it’s time for you to leave,’ and they yanked me out of there.”

Chris Lemmon was born in June 1954, so this would place the story around 1960-61. Marilyn was filming in Hollywood at the time, but did not have a permanent residence. She returned to her home New York in October 1960, and did not move back to Los Angeles until summer of 1961. (John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president in January of that year.) She then rented an apartment at North Doheny Drive, West Hollywood, for the rest of 1961. But she did not have a pool there, and according to her neighbours, lived very quietly.

In early 1962, Marilyn bought a modest bungalow in the middle-class suburb of Brentwood. She did have a pool there, but seldom used it. In any case, the pool was in the back garden, and could not be seen from outside. The house was located off the beaten track, in a quiet cul-de-sac. A high gate at the front of the bungalow ensured maximum privacy.

Peter Lawford's pool
Peter Lawford’s pool

Chris Lemmon may be thinking of Peter Lawford’s much grander residence, which was indeed located in Santa Monica, right by the beach. Marilyn often visited the Lawfords there, from late 1961 until her death. And of course, Lawford was married to Patricia Kennedy. Her brothers, John and Robert Kennedy, also visited the house whenever they were in Los Angeles.

Marilyn met Jack and Bobby at the Lawford home on a handful of occasions. However, even if she had ‘canoodled’ with JFK there, it’s hard to believe that he would have drawn attention to the fact by having a helicopter flying ahead. And while she was a regular guest, it was never ‘Marilyn’s house.’

Would it be too cynical to suggest that he had few memories of his father’s erstwhile co-star (after all, Some Like it Hot was filmed when Chris was just four), and when pressed for an anecdote, drew on the well-worn gossip surrounding his former neighbours, the Lawfords?

‘Marilyn Forever’ Opera Set for Long Beach

Photo by Thomas Sandberg
Photo by Thomas Sandberg

Marilyn Forever is an opera by British composer Gavin Bryars, with a libretto by Canadian poet Marilyn Bowering (author of Anyone Can See I Love You, a 1987 volume about MM.) Marilyn Forever was previously workshopped in Canada, with singer Eivør Pálsdóttir in the title role. Now the Long Beach Post reports that Marilyn Forever is heading to California, opening at the Long Beach Opera in March 2015.

ABG Unveils ‘Mini Marilyn’ Brand

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The official licensing wing of Marilyn’s estate, Authentic Brands Group, has announced yet another range of Marilyn-related merchandise, which looks quite sweet although ABG’s commercial ventures so far have been a mixed bag. It also raises issues of whether it is ethical to directly target younger consumers, but then, that is nothing new.

‘Mini Marilyn is targeted to girls, ages 8 to 16, with playful, age-appropriate styles,’ reports License Mag. ‘With her trademark blonde hair and red lips, Mini Marilyn is designed to empower girls to be confident, take risks and dream big…ABG will debut the new brand for the first time at Licensing Expo next week in Las Vegas, Nev. Target categories for the brand include apparel, accessories, tech accessories, toys, mobile apps and virtual goods.’