Marilyn’s ‘Niagara’: A Fifties Film Noir

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The Red and the Black: American Film Noir in the 1950s by Robert Miklitsch has just been published by the University of Illinois Press. As the cover art shows, Niagara is one of the movies featured in the book.

“Critical wisdom has it that we said a long goodbye to film noir in the 1950s. Robert Miklitsch begs to differ. Pursuing leads down the back streets and alleyways of cultural history, The Red and the Black proposes that the received rise-and-fall narrative about the genre radically undervalues the formal and thematic complexity of ’50s noir and the dynamic segue it effected between the spectacular expressionism of ’40s noir and early, modernist neo-noir.

Mixing scholarship with a fan’s devotion to the crooked roads of critique, Miklitsch autopsies marquee films like D.O.A., Niagara, and Kiss Me Deadly plus a number of lesser-known classics. Throughout, he addresses the social and technological factors that dealt deuce after deuce to the genre–its celebrated style threatened by new media and technologies such as TV and 3-D, color and widescreen, its born losers replaced like zombies by All-American heroes, the nation rocked by the red menace and nightmares of nuclear annihilation. But against all odds, the author argues, inventive filmmakers continued to make formally daring and socially compelling pictures that remain surprisingly, startlingly alive. Cutting-edge and entertaining, The Red and the Black reconsiders a lost period in the history of American movies.”

Debbie Reynolds 1932-2016

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Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain and other classic Hollywood musicals, has died after suffering a stroke, aged 84 – just one day after her famous daughter, Carrie Fisher, also passed away.

She was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas in 1932. As a child she moved with her family to Los Angeles, and was crowned Miss Burbank in 1948. She began her career at Warner Brothers, where she was renamed Debbie.

In Three Little Words (1950), a nostalgic musical about the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, she played Helen Kane, the singer famed for her 1928 hit, ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You‘ (later revived by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.)

Debbie Reynolds sings 'I Wanna Be Loved By You' to Carleton Carpenter in 'Three Little Words' (1951)
Debbie Reynolds sings ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ to Carleton Carpenter in ‘Three Little Words’ (1950)

After moving to MGM, Debbie’s big break came when she was cast in her first dancing role, as chorus girl Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), recently named as the all-time Greatest Movie Musical (and fifth-greatest movie overall) by the AFI. She went on to star in Frank Tashlin’s Susan Slept Here (1954), and with Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap (1955.)

In 1956, she played a bride-to-be in The Catered Affair. That year, her marriage to singer Eddie Fisher was feted by Hollywood’s fan magazines as the dawn of a new, all-American golden couple. They were swiftly paired in Bundle of Joy, with Debbie playing a shopgirl who takes in an abandoned baby.

Their daughter Carrie was born in 1956, followed by son Todd in 1958. He was named after Eddie’s mentor, theatrical impresario Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash soon after.  The Fishers’ seemingly idyllic life was shattered in 1959, when Eddie left Debbie for Mike Todd’s widow, Elizabeth Taylor. The scandal rocked Hollywood, although the two women resumed their friendship after Taylor divorced Fisher a few years later. Debbie married the millionaire businessman, Harry Karl, in 1960.

Debbie was the best-selling female singer of 1957, thanks to her hugely popular theme from Tammy. She later released an album, and went on to appear in Henry Hathaway’s How the West Was Won (1962), and opposite Tony Curtis in Goodbye Charlie (1964), in a role first offered to Marilyn Monroe.

Debbie With Tony Curtis in 'Goodbye Charlie' (1964)
With Tony Curtis in ‘Goodbye Charlie’ (1964)

In later years, Debbie would claim that evangelist Billy Graham approached her in 1962, after experiencing a premonition that Marilyn’s life was in danger. As Debbie did not know Marilyn well, she instead contacted a mutual friend, hairdresser Sydney Guilaroff, who allegedly spoke with Marilyn by telephone just hours before her death.

“She was a gentle, childlike girl who was always looking for that white knight on the white horse,” Debbie said of Marilyn, adding, “And why not? What sex symbol is happy?” Debbie also claimed that they attended the same church, although no further details have been uncovered.

Throughout the 1960s, Debbie played a three-month residency in Las Vegas each year. Her performance in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) earned her an Oscar nomination. Her second marriage ended in 1973. Four years later, her daughter Carrie Fisher found fame In her own right as Princess Leia in Star Wars.

With daughter Carrie Fisher in 2015
With daughter Carrie Fisher in 2015

Carrie would later become an acclaimed author. Postcards From the Edge, a novel about her close, if occasionally fractious relationship with her celebrated mother, was filmed by Mike Nichols in 1990, with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in the leading roles. Todd Fisher has also worked extensively in film, as well as assisting his mother with her business ventures.

The Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio opened in Los Angeles in 1979, and is still thriving. Her third marriage, to real estate developer Richard Hamlett, ended in 1996. She starred in several Broadway musicals and appeared in numerous television shows, including The Love Boat, Hotel, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, and Will & Grace. A former Girl Scout leader, she has also worked tirelessly for AIDS and mental health charities.

Debbie played herself in The Bodyguard (1992), and was reunited with Elizabeth Taylor for a 2001 TV movie, These Old Broads. One of her final roles was as Liberace’s mother in Behind the Candelabra (2013.) Her memoir, the aptly-titled Unsinkable, was published in 2015; and a new documentary, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, premiered at Cannes in 2016, and has since been acquired by HBO.

Debbie with her Hollywood costume collection
Debbie with her Hollywood costume collection

Debbie Reynolds will also be remembered fondly for her efforts to preserve the legacy of Hollywood’s golden age, which began when she purchased costumes from classic films (including many made for Marilyn) at an MGM auction in 1970. Her dream of opening a movie museum was sadly never realised, and in 2011, she relinquished her collection.

Among the many Marilyn-related items sold in a two-part event at Profiles in History was the cream silk halter-dress designed by Travilla, and worn by Marilyn as she stood over a subway grate in an iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch. The dress sold for $4.6 million, a sum surpassed only by the sale of Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress at Julien’s last month for $4.8 million.

Although the buyer was not named, the Seven Year Itch dress is rumoured to have been purchased by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the Canadian company which is the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate.

Marilyn: ‘Loved By You’ On Vinyl

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I Wanna Be Loved By You is a new vinyl compilation from the French label, Wagram (perhaps inspired by this year’s exhibition of the same name in Provence.) Among the twelve tracks are lesser-known gems like ‘Incurably Romantic’, Marilyn’s duet with Yves Montand. Now on sale at Amazon stores worldwide, the album is also available as an MP3 download.

Thanks to Fraser Penney

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2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

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In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

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In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

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Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

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In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

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In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

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June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

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In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

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August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

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In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

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In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

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In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

05E065FF-9E98-4677-8946-85623619BBF3-2686-0000014DE181D724_tmpFinally, in December the EYE Film Institute began a Marilyn movie season in Amsterdam. The Asphalt Jungle was released on Blu-Ray by Criterion. And actresses Zsa Zsa Gabor and Debbie Reynolds both passed away.

Zsa Zsa Gabor 1917-2016

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Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose flamboyant lifestyle and many husbands made headlines for nearly eighty years, has died of a heart attack at her home in Bel Air, aged 99.

The second of three daughters, Sári Gábor was born in Budapest on February 6, 1917 (although she later claimed the year was 1928.) She made her theatrical debut in a Viennese operetta at seventeen, and was crowned ‘Miss Hungary’ two years later. Her first marriage, at twenty, was to politician Burhan Asaf Belge.

In 1942 she married the American hotelier, Conrad Hilton. During their five-year marriage she gave birth to  a daughter, Francesca, and co-wrote an autobiographical novel, Every Man For Himself. In 1949 she rejected the lead role in a film adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and married the British actor, George Sanders.

Zsa Zsa with her third husband, George Sanders
Zsa Zsa with her third husband, George Sanders

In 1950, Sanders was cast as the acerbic theatre critic Addison DeWitt in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic Broadway satire, All About Eve.  Among his illustrious co-stars was Marilyn Monroe, as a beautiful young starlet who accompanies DeWitt to a party hosted by ageing star Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis.)

In her 1954 memoir, My Story, Marilyn remembered being seated next to Sanders during lunch at the studio, when a waiter called him to the telephone. On his return, a pale, nervous Sanders quickly paid for his meal and left. That afternoon, his stand-in asked Marilyn to keep her distance.

“I turned red at being insulted like this but I suddenly realised what had happened,” she wrote. “Mr Sanders’ wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor, obviously had a spy on the set, and this spy had flashed the news to her that he was sitting at a table with me, and Miss Gabor had telephoned him immediately and given him a full list of instructions.”

Sanders with a young Marilyn in 'All About Eve' (1950)
Sanders with a young Marilyn in ‘All About Eve’ (1950)

But Zsa Zsa’s jealousy was soon reignited at a Hollywood party. “George went straight over to say hello to Marilyn, but Zsa Zsa got no farther than the door,” photographer Anthony Beauchamp recalled in his autobiography, Focus on Fame. “She too had spotted Miss Monroe, and she turned on me like an infuriated Persian kitten. In a voice that echoed across the room, and with the well-known Gabor intonations, she exploded in indignation: ‘How can you ‘ave this woman in your ‘ouse, I will not stay in the room wis her!’ Nor did she.  Zsa Zsa when she gets going is quite powerful – in lungs, accent and gesture.”

“Poor Marilyn was sitting quietly in a corner, making trouble for no one except perhaps for half a dozen men and their wives,” Beauchamp added wryly. “Zsa Zsa swept into a bedroom closely followed by her mother where they sat it out until George was ready to go home.”

Zsa Zsa with Louis Calhern in 'We're Not Married!' (1952)
Zsa Zsa with Louis Calhern in ‘We’re Not Married!’ (1952)

Zsa Zsa made her movie debut in the 1952 musical, Lovely To Look At.  Her next film, We’re Not Married!, was an anthology about a justice of the peace who accidentally marries several couples on Christmas Eve, two days before his license becomes valid. Marilyn starred as a beauty queen in one episode, and Zsa Zsa played the gold-digging bride of Louis Calhern in another. (Back in 1950, Marilyn had played Calhern’s mistress in The Asphalt Jungle.)

In November 1952, Look magazine further exposed what Marilyn called “the one-sided Gabor feud” by publishing ‘What’s Wrong With American Men?’, an article penned by Zsa Zsa, with marginal notes by Marilyn highlighting their very different attitudes towards the opposite sex (click on the photos below to enlarge.)

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Zsa Zsa went on to play roles in Moulin Rouge, The Story of Three Loves and Lilli. After she divorced Sanders in 1954, he went on to marry her sister, Eva. Nonetheless, Zsa Zsa would often describe him as the love of her life.

In the late 1950s, she starred in two cult B-films (The Girl in the Kremlin and Queen of Outer Space), as well as taking in a cameo role in Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Touch of Evil. She continued working in the theatre and was regularly seen on television.

Her sixth marriage was to Barbie doll designer Jack Ryan, and her eighth (to a Mexican actor) was annulled after just one day. In 1986, she joined the ranks of royalty by marrying Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, a German-American entrepreneur who had paid Princess Marie Auguste of Anhalt to adopt him six years earlier.

In 1989, Zsa Zsa was arrested for slapping a Beverly Hills policeman after he stopped her in her car for a traffic violation. She later recreated the incident in one of her last films, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991.)

“Marilyn was a very dull girl,” Zsa Zsa told Playboy (as quoted in The Unabridged Marilyn, 1987.) “She thought that if a man who takes her out for dinner doesn’t sleep with her that night – something’s wrong with her.” She went on to claim that she and Sanders had once counted four men visiting Marilyn’s hotel room in one evening during filming of All About Eve, a tale that is probably apocryphal. “That’s a terrible thing to say about somebody whom the whole country admires,” she admitted.

Zsa Zsa Gabor looks inside Marilyn’s trunk (2011)

By 2011, Zsa Zsa had mellowed considerably. “In the beginning I didn’t like her because she was flirting with my husband,” she said, while opening a trunk owned by Marilyn during a fan contest at Planet Hollywood. “We had lunch and we talked it over, and she was very nice and she never flirted with him again.”

Zsa Zsa’s final years were marred by ill-health, and legal and financial problems. When her estranged daughter Francesca died in 2015, Zsa Zsa was too frail to hear the news. She is survived by her last husband, with whom she lived for thirty years.

Marilyn’s Final Script Sold (Again) For $25,000

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Marilyn’s annotated script for her final, incomplete  movie, Something’s Got to Give, has been sold at the Nate D. Sanders Hollywood Memorabilia auction for $25,000. While reporters have poked fun at her minor spelling errors – such as ‘leeding him on’ – her comments are often perceptive. ‘Needs more jokes’, she remarked – an opinion shared by others during this troubled production.

If this script looks familiar, that’s because it sold at Julien’s only a month ago for $10,240. Other items from the event have also been spotted on auction sites like EBay, confirming that Marilyn’s personal property is becoming a magnet for investors. A disused grave marker from her crypt, also sold in November, attracted no bids this time around.

“Monroe’s handwritten pencil notes begin with her character’s (Ellen Wagstaff Arden) introduction in the script on page 12 and carry through to the end on page 149, even including notes on the verso of the last page and back cover, such as a note reading, ‘Joke writers Mel Brooks / Herb Gardner / Need spice / raisins / Need some funny lines.’ There are notes in Monroe’s hand on approximately 42 pages in the script, ranging from simple dialogue corrections and changes to in-depth sense memory notes when doing a scene that required a deeper emotional connection and understanding. Regarding her character’s introduction, as she interacts with naval personnel who saved her after being marooned on an island for five years, Monroe writes, ‘1 – Gayity [sic] 2 – Excitement 3 – Then Dazed.’ In one scene, Monroe references Arthur Miller’s children to better help her relate to her character’s children, ‘Bobby M. / and early Janie / except their [sic] mine.’ Throughout the script, Monroe writes succinct dialogue and character notes: ‘Stunned / Dazed – sky high with adventure’, ‘dead pan/I really don’t know’, ‘anticipating the joys’, ‘Trying to think or remember’, ‘start to wonder what’s from now on’, ‘I don’t know he knows’, ‘easy/very intimate/very real’, ‘[L]et me get into something more comfortable / leading him on -‘. Included is a small card with call times and scenes to be shot, and a small scrap of paper with a note in Monroe’s hand wondering why they are shooting out of sequence, as well as notes about using Miss vs. Mrs.”

This copy of the script is dated March 29, 1962. Another version, including revisions dated April 23 and 27, and with eighteen pages annotated by Marilyn, went unsold, after being purchased at Julien’s last month for $12,800.

“Some of the highlights include notes Monroe made for Scene 168, in which she interacts with her children in the movie, who don’t recognize her as they were too young when she became stranded on an island for five years and presumed dead. These hand-annotated typewritten pages were inserted into the script for this particular scene – one of the few that Monroe completed before her untimely death. Within these pages, Monroe writes a series of notes regarding her preparation: ‘Real thought’, ‘Mental Relaxation’, ‘Look for the light’, ‘Place the pain/feeling where it is not in the brow’, as well as specific sense memories to help find the emotional truth with her character’s feelings toward her on-screen children, ‘Substitute children – B & J if necessary’, perhaps referring to Arthur Miller’s children Bobby and Jane. There are also some notes from Monroe regarding her work with a Swedish dialect coach. Peppered throughout the script are further dialogue notes, changes and line strikes. Interestingly, the script also includes notes in an unknown hand giving blunt, critical assessments and insights of the script’s scene descriptions, direction and dialogue. These notes start on the script’s first page, ‘Note for Marilyn/He has to woo her not the way it is / new blue pages’ and continue in blue pen, ‘Dull’, ‘Naggy, ‘Make it funny!’ and ‘Smugly’. Interestingly, Monroe reacts to some of these notes, either changing dialogue and scene direction or, in some cases, striking the note itself if she doesn’t agree with it.”

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And in other news, a Frank Powolny portrait of Marilyn – signed by the lady herself to ‘Jimmie’ – was sold at R.R. Auctions for $24,959 this week, as part of the Tom Gregory Collection.

Marilyn at Amsterdam EYE

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Photo by Ralf at Immortal Marilyn

If you’re in Amsterdam this Christmas, don’t miss the Happy Birthday Marilyn: 90 Years Ms Monroe  exhibit (featuring the Ted Stampfer collection), on display at De Nieuwe Kerk until next February. And from next Thursday (December 22), the city’s EYE Film Institute will be screening seven of Marilyn’s best movies: Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot and The Misfits.

TCM Brings Marilyn Back to the Big Screen

Marilyn filming 'Some Like It Hot'
Marilyn filming ‘Some Like It Hot’

The TCM Big Screen Classics program for 2017 features two MM films. All About Eve will be shown in selected theatres across the US in March, with Some Like It Hot following in June. More details here.

Moment by Moment: John Loengard’s Marilyn

IMG_1550This photo of a radiant Marilyn opening the Sidewalk Superintendents Club at the Rockefeller Center in New York on July 2, 1957, is featured in a new book, Moment by Moment, as Liz Ronk reports for TimePhotographer John Loengard worked for Life magazine, and it would be interesting to know if he captured any other images of Marilyn that day.