Marilyn and Jack Cardiff on the London Stage

Jack Cardiff – the legendary cinematographer who befriended Marilyn on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl – is the subject of a new play, Prism, at the Hampstead Theatre in London, as Holly Williams reports for the Telegraph. The  play is written and directed by Terry Johnson, author of Insignificance – the surrealist fantasy featuring a Marilyn-inspired character, which became a successful movie in 1985 – and Cardiff is played by the popular English actor, Robert Lindsay. Prism runs until October 14 – more info here.

“In a garage in Ely, Cambridgeshire, hangs a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. On it she has written: ‘My darling Jack, if only I could be how you made me look.’ Cardiff called Monroe ‘as near perfect as any cameraman could wish for’. She in turn called him the best cinematographer in the world.

The seed was planted seven years ago, shortly after Cardiff’s death following a struggle with Alzheimer’s. The youngest of his four sons, Mason – a film writer/director, named after James Mason – met Robert Lindsay in a local pub, and as their friendship developed, the actor became fascinated by stories of how Alzheimer’s had suspended Cardiff in his glory days as a cinematographer.

Mason showed Lindsay the garage where the family kept all the film memorabilia they’d surrounded Cardiff with in his final years. And when Lindsay spied that signed portrait – and then heard how the frail Cardiff had become convinced that one young care assistant was, in fact, Marilyn Monroe – he knew they had a show. The pair took Johnson to lunch to discuss writing the script; by pudding, he was convinced too.

Cardiff also adored her, admiring with a cameraman’s eye her beauty. ‘She had a classically sound bone structure,’ he once said. ‘But I had to be careful about her nose, so delightfully retroussé. For if the key light was too low, a blob would show up on the tip.’ Prism shows the pair getting close during a photo shoot – ‘art’, as Cardiff also liked to say, ‘is an intimate thing’, although in reality their relationship probably never went beyond mutual affection.”

Marilyn’s a Montblanc Muse

If you’re a wealthy scribe – sadly, most of us aren’t – and you’re looking for a luxury item this Christmas, these new Marilyn-themed pens (priced at £500 upwards) from Montblanc Muses may be for you, as Nancy Olsen reports for Forbes.

“This pen is the first in the Muses Edition to be rendered—cap and barrel—in lipstick red. The rich and sensual tone is beautifully paired with champagne-tone gold-coated fittings that fan the flame of color rather than cool it down. The shape of the pen is inspired by the four-inch heels Monroe wore so well, and the slanted cap top of the pen is decorated with the Montblanc emblem, also coated in champagne-tone gold.

If you’re old movie-star buff, as I am, you know that Monroe, who was born in 1926, was married to American Major League Baseball player Joe DiMaggio, though their marriage lasted a mere 274 days. But that apparently allowed him time enough to buy her, among other things, a single row of Akoya pearls, which she was often seen wearing. Thus the pen’s clip is set with a single pearl as a romantic reference to the couple’s short-but-sweet love affair.

‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,’ Monroe’s song sensation from the film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, earned the actress additional kudos for her charming delivery, so the cone of the Special Edition writing instrument is engraved with diamond shapes alongside her engraved signature. The 14-karat gold fountain pen nib is coated in champagne-tone gold, and it is decorated with an engraved portrait of the actress. The traditional (and necessary) rounded hole in the nib, often called the ‘heart’ of the nib, is in this instance actually shaped as a heart adding a very feminine touch to the overall appearance of the pen. The collection also includes a rollerball pen and a ballpoint.”

‘Some Like It Marilyn’ in Canberra

The sheer number of Marilyn-themed plays being produced around the globe at any given time is astounding. Unfortunately, many seem poorly conceived, so I don’t always mention them here. However, Some Like It Marilyn – a tribute show first staged in 2010, starring Australian actress Lexi Sekuless – could be something special, reports the Canberra Times. (You can book tickets here for this one-off performance on Sunday, September 10.)

“The show features hit songs from favourite Monroe movies including ‘Two Little Girls from Little Rock’ and ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and scenes from Bus Stop (1956) and Some Like it Hot (1959). Those who loved her and sometimes loathed her – such as co-stars Jane Russell and Tony Curtis, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and director Billy Wilder – are quoted and an excerpt from her third and final husband Arthur Miller’s autobiographical play, After the Fall, is featured, building up a picture of a complex woman with a difficult relationship to the stardom she seemed to both crave and dread.

‘When she was married to Joe DiMaggio he wanted her to be Norma Jean [her real name] and she wanted to be Marilyn Monroe – with Arthur Miller she wanted the reverse,’ Sekuless says. ‘So many books have been written about her – I feel everyone wants a piece of her. They all want their filter to be the true one.’

By relying mostly on reported and published words from Monroe and others, and the songs and scenes from movies, Sekuless wants the focus to be on the star’s persona and her talent rather than on what she calls the ‘salacious’ aspects of her life such as her relationship with US president John F. Kennedy or the conspiracy theories surrounding her death.”

Ranking Marilyn’s 29 Films

Marilyn made 29 films during her 15-year career (excluding the unfinished Something’s Got to Give.) Around half of these were made while she was still a starlet, and her screen-time is often quite limited although she always made the most of her role. In the first of an New York Magazine series profiling classic Hollywood stars, Angelica Jade Bastien has taken on the daunting task of ranking all 29 films from worst to best, with insightful commentary on each one. I don’t agree with all her opinions – for example, I would put The Seven Year Itch (ranked 10th) in my top 5. There’s also a question of whether to judge each movie as a whole, or by Marilyn’s performance – for example , her debut film, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (ranked 24th) is enjoyable fluff, but Marilyn’s role was cut to ribbons. Whereas her next ‘bit part’, in Dangerous Years (ranked just below at 25th) was more enaging. Let’s Make Love (ranked 22nd) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (ranked 15th) are among my least favourite of Marilyn’s major films, but her musical numbers are superb. However, we all have our own preferences and it’s always great to see Marilyn’s true legacy in the spotlight, where it belongs.

“Hollywood has been creating a mythology around blonde bombshells since its beginnings. But no blonde sex symbol has had a deeper and more long-lasting impact on film and American culture than Marilyn Monroe. You probably had an image of Monroe in your mind long before you ever saw her on film. The dumb blonde. The white-hot sex symbol. The foolish girl-woman. The picture of mid-century femininity — wasp-waisted, platinum blonde, and buxom. The tragic victim. These warring images have lasted long after Monroe’s death in 1962 at 36 years old, and they’re easy to twist into caricature. She’s been flattened onto dorm-room posters, mugs, T-shirts, artist renderings. She’s been linked to falsely attributed quotes, conspiracy theories, and lurid rumors. But Monroe was more complex than her legacy suggests, as both an actress and a woman. This ranking of Monroe’s 29 films — based on her performance in each — gives a sense of what a supremely talented comedian and dramatic actress she was, with a keen understanding of the camera that few actors can replicate.”

Richard Anderson 1926-2017

Actor Richard Anderson – best-known for his role as Oscar Goldman in the popular 1970s TV shows, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman – has died aged 91. You can read more about his encounter with a young Marilyn here.

Marilyn: A Proto-Synaesthete?

Norma Jeane by Richard C. Miller, 1946

In an article for the New Yorker, no less, Robin Wright says, ‘I have something in common with Marilyn Monroe – and you might, too.’ That shared condition, she claims, is synaesthesia…

“Marilyn Monroe had a condition called synesthesia, a kind of sensory or cognitive fusion in which things seen, heard, smelled, felt, or tasted stimulate a totally unrelated sense—so that music can be heard or food tasted in colors, for instance. Monroe’s first husband, Jim Dougherty, told Norman Mailer about ‘evenings when all Norma Jean served were peas and carrots. She liked the colors. She has that displacement of the senses which others take drugs to find. So she is like a lover of rock who sees vibrations when he hears sounds,’ Mailer recounted, in his 1973 biography of Monroe.”

While Marilyn was never diagnosed with synaesthesia, there’s a good reason for that – it wasn’t an established concept during her lifetime, although Wright believes it has been described in literature for centuries, noting that many artists, musicians and writers exhibit aspects of synaesthesia.

Maureen Seaberg first suggested that Marilyn might have been a synaesthete in a 2012 article for Psychology Today – a hypothesis supported by Mona Rae Miracle. (It would be interesting if a psychologist could examine other incidents from Marilyn’s life from this perspective.)

Marilyn photographed by Milton Greene, in costume for ‘Bus Stop’ (1956)

“It didn’t disturb me that Mr. Mailer did not refer to Ms. Monroe’s displacement of the senses specifically as synesthesia — no one was using that word in 1973. I decided to follow up with her survivors and spent months seeking them until an email arrived from her niece, Mona Rae Miracle, who with her mother, Berniece Baker Miracle, wrote a well-received biography of her famous aunt herself, titled My Sister Marilyn.

‘Synaesthesia is a term Marilyn and I were unaware of; in the past, we simply spoke of the characteristic experiences with terms such as extraordinary sensitivity and/or extraordinary imagination … Marilyn and I both studied acting with Lee Strasberg, who gave students exercises which could bring us awareness of such abilities, and the means of using them to bring characters to life. As you know, the varied experiences can bring sadness or enjoyment … Marilyn’s awesome performance in Bus Stop (the one she was most proud of) grew out of the use of such techniques and quite wore her out.'”