‘Ms. Monroe’ Inspires Warsaw Radio

‘Ms. Monroe’, the new single from Brighton band Warsaw Radio (whose lead singer Brian McNamara hails from Limerick, Ireland), is inspired by Marilyn’s relationship with Arthur Miller, as Eric Lalor reports for JOE.ie. Taken from their debut album, Midnight Broadcast, ‘Ms. Monroe’ doesn’t mention the couple directly, but its lyrics evoke doomed love and the video’s use of found footage enhances the retro feel.

“The narrative imagines Monroe giving advice on relationships after the break down of her relationship with Miller when they were filming what would be Monroe’s last film (The Misfits) in Reno, Nevada … McNamara’s vocals have rarely sounded better … It’s a cracker from start to finish and would leave you wanting to hear more.”

UPDATE: In an interview with the Connacht Tribune, Brian McNamara revealed the inspiration behind the song…

“About two years I went to see a play about Marilyn Monroe at the Brighton Fringe Festival. I didn’t know anything about her, other than she was a movie star. I came home that night and started writing that song. A few days later it was finished. At the time we were recording our album and I was exploring this way of writing where you try to get other people’s perspective.”

Marilyn Meets Helen of Troy in NYC

Marilyn by Cecil Beaton, 1956

The first season at The Shed, a new multi-arts centre opening at the Hudson Yards next year, will include Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, an intriguing collaboration depicting Marilyn as the Spartan queen famed in Greek mythology, whose incomparable beauty was said to have sparked the Trojan War, as Andrew R. Chow reports for the New York Times.

“On Wednesday, the Shed’s artistic director, Alex Poots, revealed the first batch of commissions for the Hudson Yards venue’s inaugural season.

The ambitious, genre-melding performances will begin in the spring of 2019, and include a musical series conceived by Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones and a collaboration between the poet Anne Carson, the actor Ben Whishaw and the opera singer Renée Fleming.

A newly commissioned piece by Ms. Carson entitled Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, based on Euripides’ Helen, will be shown in the venue’s more intimate theater space. (The play draws a line between Helen and Marilyn Monroe, who was baptized as Norma Jeane Baker.)

‘I asked Ann, Would you ever consider writing a dramatic monologue for a performer?’ Mr. Poots recalled. ‘Within six to nine months, she sent me the first draft and said: ‘I’ve written this for Ben Whishaw. And he’ll do it.’ Mr. Whishaw will perform it with Ms. Fleming.”

Oscars 2018: The Shape of Marilyn

Marilyn may never have won an Academy Award, but she is so intrinsic to Hollywood lore that fans can usually find a Monroe reference or two on Oscar night.  This year, a brief glimpse of Marilyn singing ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ in Some Like It Hot was featured in the opening ceremony’s roll-call of all-time greatest movies.

On the red carpet, Irish actress Saoirse Ronan – nominated for her role in the delightful Lady Bird – wore a beautiful pink sheath with spectacular bow, designed for her by Raf Simons, creator-in-chief at Calvin Klein. As some commentators have noted, the dress echoes the famous Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Blade Runner 2049 – which features a cameo appearance by impersonator Suzie Kennedy as a futuristic Monroe clone – won Englishman Roger Deakins this year’s Oscar for Best Cinematography.

And finally, The Shape of Water – in which Marilyn’s long-lost song, ‘How Wrong Can I Be’, is heard in full for the first time – was the night’s big winner. taking home four gongs, including Best Picture and Best Original Score.

Marilyn and the Newman Brothers

Marilyn with Lionel Newman on the set of ‘Niagara’, 1952

The Newman brothers – Alfred and Lionel – were part of a Hollywood musical dynasty that continues to this day. They worked as composers and musical directors on Marilyn’s major films at Twentieth Century Fox, and as Lee Cowan reports for CBS News, Marilyn said she wouldn’t do a musical without Lionel. He would later write the sleeve notes to a 1973 compilation album, Remember Marilyn, which you can read here,

‘Becoming Marilyn Monroe’ in Palm Springs

Of all the Marilyn-inspired plays staged in recent years, Marilyn: Forever Blonde – a one-woman show starring Sunny Thompson – is perhaps the only one to win the hearts of fans as well as critical acclaim. And now Becoming Marilyn Monroe, Tammy Plimmer’s new hour-long documentary about the making of a star tribute, will have its premiere on April 10 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, as part of the American Documentary Film Festival.

“In 1952, a 10-year-old boy falls in love with a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a magazine. 47 years later he marries her. This improbable true story of a successful producer of musical revues who discovers a young girl from a small town in Northern Minnesota, marries her, and makes her the star of his one-woman theatrical tribute to Hollywood’s most famous star, Marilyn Monroe. This results in an award-winning, critically-acclaimed theatrical play with music, Marilyn Forever Blonde.”

Spanish Novelist Retraces Marilyn’s ‘Nevada Days’

Bernardo Axtaga is a Spanish author whose 2014 novel, Nevada Days – a fictionalised account of his nine-month stay as writer-in-residence at the Centre for Basque Studies – is now available in English, and the early chapters include several references to Marilyn and The Misfits.

She is first mentioned when Axtaga flips through a copy of The Misfits: Story of a Shoot, Sergio Toubania’s monograph of the Magnum photographers who documented the production. “Individually, the photographs were really good,” Axtaga comments, “… but perhaps because the photographs were the work of different photographers, seeing them all together jarred somehow.”

He later visits Pyramid Lake, and is surprised to find no postcards from The Misfits in the gift shop.”There was one, I seemed to remember, that would have been perfect: Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable lying next to each other on the shores of Pyramid Lake. I asked the waitress, but she had never heard of the film. Nor was she interested in Marilyn Monroe.”

The final, extended passage about Marilyn occurs during a long drive, while Axtaga is talking to his wife Angela about Arthur Miller’s stay at Pyramid Lake in 1956, where he wrote the short story that would become The Misfits while waiting out his first divorce, and conducted a long-distance relationship with Marilyn, who was filming Bus Stop. Axtaga imagines Marilyn’s anguished telephone call to Miller from the set, as described in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends.

Axtaga then recalls the famous scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955), where Marilyn’s character, ‘The Girl’, sympathises with the monster in yet another movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon. (This was foreshadowed in an earlier episode, when Axtaga’s young daughter cries at the end of King Kong.)

As the author forms his own impressions of Nevada, Marilyn disappears from the novel. But her ghostly presence reflects how an outsider’s preconceptions about American life  can be shaped by literary and cinematic mythology.

Streaming the Classics With Marilyn

Marilyn in the spotlight on Filmstruck

‘Can you be a film buff in a streaming world?’ Andrew Clarke asks, in his arts column for the East Anglian Daily Times. (Clarke has written before of his admiration for Marilyn, in a 2017 article for the Ipswich Star.) Most of her major movies – and several documentaries – are available on Amazon Prime, but subscription services tend to favour contemporary films. All About Eve is the only Marilyn film currently available on Netflix, while the more specialist Filmstruck has The Prince and the Showgirl.

“The early 2000s proved to be a golden age for the film buff getting new prints of classic films by such stars as Marilyn Monroe (The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot) … Streaming makes access to films easier but the companies have to make sure that those historic titles are both preserved and made available for our children and grandchilden to enjoy. Great films never go out of fashion.”

Dissecting Marilyn’s ‘Ditz Voice’

Marilyn at her breathiest, singing ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ in “Some Like It Hot”

In an article for Atlas Obscura, Jody Amable examines the breathless tone (or ‘ditz voice’) famously associated with sexy female stars from Marilyn to Kim Kardashian. It’s an interesting piece, though in Marilyn’s case, the ‘baby voice’ was partly an attempt to conceal her lifelong stutter (as discussed by Gerald McDermott here.) As careful study of her movies will reveal, her ‘breathiness’ has been greatly exaggerated by impersonators.

“A version of this voice has existed since sound met film and, in a way, since a little before that. Actresses of early film played mostly damsels in distress or wide-eyed young women, and by the time talkies took over, women were still portrayed as less headstrong, more head-in-the-clouds … Along with these girlish figures came a girlish voice—high-pitched, a bit breathy, and a little bit unsure, evident in Clara Bow’s pouty purr, and even Betty Boop’s singsong.

Shortly after the advent of sound in cinema, the scrappy, spunky flappers of the ‘20s were relegated to supporting characters—’the gangster’s moll, the cocktail waitress,’ says [Max] Alvarez. Musicals of the era, says Alvarez, were bastions of these kinds of wise-cracking wacky sidekicks …The speaking voices filling these film’s chorus lines were still childlike as in the decade prior, but started to show signs of the modern-day ‘sexy baby voice‘: a little bit breathy, a little bit nasal, and with fewer harsh consonant sounds.

Leading ladies like Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall portrayed feisty women through deeper voices as America entered the Rosie the Riveter era. It wasn’t until the 1950s, when women were less vital in the workforce, that softer voices took center stage again. And boy, did they ever. ‘We think of blondes as being dumb because we tend to think of Jean Harlow and Marilyn,’ says Alvarez. Though Marilyn was famously influenced by ‘30s screen siren Jean Harlow, her bubblier, breathier speaking style—most notably, her immortal rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’—still have a stranglehold on the voices used to denote ‘sexy, but not very smart.’

The unnaturally high pitch used over the years is all a diversion tactic, says Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at UC Berkeley, Robin T. Lakoff. Sounding ‘masculine’ often invites ridicule, so, whether they do it consciously or subconsciously, these hyper-feminine, childlike voices and mannerisms associated with un-serious women could be the result of them over-correcting to stave off criticism.

 It’s also important to note that the actresses cast as wisecracking sidekicks or tawdry sex maniacs were generally savvy and intelligent in real life  … Marilyn Monroe famously attended the prestigious Actor’s Studio to hone her craft … Though Kim Kardashian’s vocal fry is a far cry from Marilyn Monroe’s breathy lilt, the aim is still the same. ‘What people will not want to hear is it’s still with us,’ says Lakoff. ‘[They] still wanna please and [they] don’t wanna frighten.'”

Ray Anthony Remembers Marilyn

Marilyn with Mickey Rooney (left) and Ray Anythony (right) at the ‘My Marilyn’ party

Bandleader Ray Anthony, who had a hit in 1952 with ‘My Marilyn’, has shared his memories with the Hollywood Reporter – and unlike so many others who knew her (such as Mickey Rooney, pictured above), he has never embellished their brief acquaintance. A short film retelling the story, Marilyn and I, was released in 2015.

“When he wasn’t performing at A-list parties in his 1950s heyday, Anthony was recording music for 20th Century Fox Pictures (his rendition of ‘The Bunny Hop’ has been featured on soundtracks from 1955’s How to Be Very, Very Popular to TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond).

On the Fox lot, he met a beautiful starlet named Marilyn Monroe. ‘We threw this big party for Marilyn at my house in the Valley,’ recalls Anthony. ‘She was pretty happy about that. It probably helped a little bit with her fame.’

While the two were photographed together looking mutually enamored, Anthony says they were ‘just friends’ who were ‘pretty busy at the time’ focusing on their careers.

But he did woo another blond star — Mamie Van Doren, his wife from 1955 to 1961. Says Anthony of the Teacher’s Pet bombshell, ‘We had fun together.'”