Following reports that Cuban actress Ana de Armas will star in a big-screen adaptation of Blonde, Karina Longworth – author of a new Howard Hughes biography, and podcaster at You Must Remember This – lists Joyce Carol Oates’ epic novel among the best Hollywood-inspired fictions in an article for the Wall Street Journal. While Karina believes Oates’ liberal attitude towards the facts is forgivable, I think there are many better novels based on Marilyn’s life (including Doris Grumbach’s The Missing Person, Adam Braver’s Misfit, and Sean O’Hagan’s Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog.)
“The magic of Joyce Carol Oates’s epic imagining of the life of Norma Jeane Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe) lies not in its realism or accuracy but the quality of its fabrication. All of the characters around the orphan-turned-bombshell feel not like ‘real people’—even though most of them are, or were—but like characters in a novel, each with an inner life as richly drawn as the protagonist’s. The star herself remains an enigma, which feels more true to life than any biography that has tried to psychoanalyze or explain this woman who seemed at best a fragmented puzzle to herself. Ms. Oates heartbreakingly juxtaposes the construction of the Marilyn image with its meaning, evident in a snapshot from the set of The Seven Year Itch: “She’s been squealing and laughing, her mouth aches. . . . Her scalp and her pubis burn from that morning’s peroxide applications. . . . That emptiness. Guaranteed. She’s been scooped out, drained clean, no scar tissue to interfere with your pleasure, and no odor. Especially no odor. The Girl with No Name, the girl with no memory.'”
“With the ever increasing popularity of television, it’s no surprise that The Mirisch Company would try and turn their most successful film: Some Like It Hot into a ongoing television series.
The series would focus on the mishaps and adventures that Joe and Jerry would face in their new identities, trying to recreate the magic that was created on film by bringing it into peoples homes and television sets throughout the year.
The premise of the show was this: Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon reprising their roles for the pilot) are still on the run from the mob, so they decide to up their game and go under the knife for a complete facial transformation (enter the two new actors playing Joe and Jerry: Vic Damone and Dick Patterson.)
There is no mention of Sugar in the pilot, she has been replaced by a character called Candy Collins (Tina Louise). Collins is Studs Columbo’s moll who eventually falls for Joe after he reveals his true identity to her … The pilot was shot at NBC studios in mid March 1961 and quickly vanished into thin air.”
Alexandra Pollard takes a fresh look at Marilyn’s ill-fated last movie, Something’s Got to Give, in an insightful piece for The Independent.
“She hadn’t been on a film set for over a year when she was cast in Something’s Got to Give, a remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife. Her time off had been plagued by illness and drug addiction … The accumulative physical toll had caused her to lose so much weight that she was thinner than she had been in all her adult life. The studio, Twentieth Century Fox, was delighted. ‘She didn’t have to perform, she just had to look great,’ said the film’s producer Henry Weinstein, ‘and she did.’
But in hindsight, Monroe wasn’t ready – either physically or mentally – to return to acting … ‘She was just fearful of the camera,’ said Weinstein, who recalled Monroe throwing up before scenes. Early on, he found her unconscious, in what he described as a barbiturate coma … The studio and production team had little sympathy for their star. ‘Yes this is a sick woman,’ said screenwriter Walter Bernstein, ‘but this is a movie star who’s getting her way, and who doesn’t give a damn about anybody else, and is being destructive and self-destructive.’
But watching Something’s Got to Give’s raw footage – most of which remained unseen for years after the film was scrapped – gives a very different impression. On camera, Monroe is earnest, demure, desperate to get her part right. If she messes up, she apologises profusely … She is gentle with her young co-stars, too. Alexandria Heilweil, who played her five-year-old daughter, is told to sit up straight. ‘If I do the right thing…’ says the little girl, but [George] Cukor cuts her off: ‘Be quiet.’ Monroe smiles at her. ‘You will,’ she says gently. It certainly doesn’t seem like the behaviour of someone ‘wilfully disruptive’.
And there were a few good days. During the now (in)famous swimming pool scene, Ellen takes a late-night skinny dip, attempting to lure her husband out of his bedroom. The set was closed, but a few select photographers were allowed to stay. When Monroe ended up removing the flesh-coloured swimming costume she had been given, they were caught completely off guard. ‘I had been wearing the suit, but it concealed too much,’ she later told the press, ‘and it would have looked wrong on the screen… The set was closed, all except members of the crew, who were very sweet. I told them to close their eyes or turn their backs, and I think they all did. There was a lifeguard on the set to help me out if I needed him, but I’m not sure it would have worked. He had his eyes closed too.’ Photos of Monroe emerging from the pool, sans suit, appeared on magazine covers in over 30 countries. By all accounts, spirits seemed high.
But things went rapidly downhill. On 19 May 1962, having been too sick to work for most of the week, Monroe flew to New York for President John F Kennedy’s birthday celebrations … Monroe had gained permission to attend the event long before filming began, but [Cukor] deemed it unacceptable. In June, just a few days after Monroe’s 36th birthday, she was fired for ‘spectacular absenteeism’, and sued by Fox for $750,000 for ‘wilful violation of contract’. ‘Dear George,’ wrote Monroe in a telegram to Cukor, ‘please forgive me, it was not my doing. I had so looked forward to working with you.’
In fact, it may not have been entirely Monroe’s doing. At the same time as Something’s Got to Give was being made, Fox was haemorrhaging money on its three-hour epic Cleopatra … The studio was panicking. ‘Tensions were high, nerves were frayed, funds were low,’ wrote Michelle Vogel in Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life, ‘and it’s clear that Something’s Got to Give and Marilyn Monroe were the scapegoats for some very anxious studio executives who felt they were spinning out of control with both productions. The lesser of the films had to go.’
A few days before she died, Monroe had given an interview to a journalist from Life Magazine, and the subsequent profile was published a few weeks later. It ended with the following: ‘I had asked if many friends had called up to rally round when she was fired by Fox. There was silence, and sitting very straight, eyes wide and hurt, she had answered with a tiny, “No”.'”
“Many people will have a vague awareness that this is the play in which Miller exorcises his feelings about his marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe. For Post-Industrial Productions, a newcomer on the Buffalo theater scene, taking on this notoriously challenging script, albeit in co-production with Subversive Theatre Collective, is a bold gesture.
The central character, a successful lawyer named Quentin, clearly stands in for the playwright. He enters talking and seldom stops … In time you might begin to wish that he would quit his whining. And then again, the whining of Miller is endlessly intelligent and nuanced. My recommendation is to settle in and indulge in the luxury of such an overabundance of Arthur Miller.
[Darryl] Hart maintains Quentin’s likability, which is tempered by his cluelessness over why his contrasting wives ultimately come to the same negative assessment of him … Bethany Burrows doesn’t waste a single moment of the delicious role of wife Number Two, ‘Maggie.’ This is the unflattering portrait of Marilyn Monroe, who is both self-absorbed and lacking in self-esteem. Among the several plot threads, the Maggie plot is the most engaging and haunting.”
Following a recent cover story in Yours Retro magazine, the 60th anniversary of Some Like It Hot also makes the front page of the latest Weekly News, plus a centrefold tribute from Craig Campbell.
On the weird side of Marilyn fandom, in Take A Break: Fate & Fortune‘s May issue, Emma Pearce of Cornwall shares her belief that MM is haunting her home – via a reproduction of a painting by Renato Casaro which she found in a rubbish tip (depicting Marilyn as Jesus, with Bogart and Elvis among her disciples, in a pastiche of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.) Maybe the ghost isn’t Marilyn, but an angry critic?
Further afield, the second issue of German magazine Nostalgie features a lovely Monroe cover. Sadly, the usual conspiracy theories about her death are trotted out inside.
Chris Lemmon, son of Jack, has talked to Fox News‘ Stephanie Nolasco about his dad, Marilyn, and Some Like It Hot – although as he was just four years old at the time of filming, his perspective comes from what his father told him. Nonetheless, it gives valuable insight into the dynamic on the set. (Later in the article, Chris also tells a more speculative tale about Marilyn and President Kennedy, which I discussed previously here.)
“Fox News: What was your father’s relationship like with Marilyn Monroe? Lemmon: It was terrific. He saw Marilyn for what she was, unlike the persona … Marilyn had her own gimmick. But that wasn’t her at all. She was a very dedicated actress and a very intelligent woman. But also a very troubled woman who was hit by stardom way too quickly. She just simply didn’t know what to do with it. So my father instantly took to her because he saw those qualities. My father easily took to everybody. Jack Lemmon could get along with a log.
Fox News: How did your father cope with Marilyn’s troubles on set? Lemmon: The truth is Marilyn did have some problems on the set. She was nervous that it could get in the way. There’s that famous story involving the line, ‘Hi, I’m Sugar’ … She had to do 30 takes of that. [Actually, the line was ‘It’s me, Sugar.’] That was the day before they shot that huge scene in the train car with the booze. Billy tended to be very rough with his shots. He didn’t want anyone messing around with his stuff.
But she and my father, they nailed it on the first take. That’s the performance you see on the screen. He easily befriended her. She was flirty with him because she thought it might bring some spice into the scene. And of course, he flirted right back. And that’s how that great scene between them was born. That was all one take.”
On its 60th anniversary, Todd Gilchrist looks back at Some Like It Hot for the Birth Movies Death website.
“I don’t want to sell short what Monroe brings to the movie, but even a casual investigation into the making of the film reveals the numerous issues that the actress was dealing with at the time, as well as the tremendous effort that Wilder and her co-stars made to draw out of her the great performance that she ends up giving. Struggling with addiction to pills, Monroe had trouble focusing to the tune of almost half a million dollars in cost overruns during the production just trying to get her to deliver her lines correctly. All was later forgiven when the film came together, but in spite of the obstacles, Monroe manages to sort of perfectly inhabit what the role needs, which is a flightiness and yet a solid core of goodness, wrapped in a bombshell’s body. It’s no wonder that Joe falls head over heels for Sugar, whose true sweetness far transcends her physical attributes.”
Some Like It Hot opened at cinemas across the US sixty years ago today, on March 29, 1959. In an article for Perth Now, Troy Lennon celebrates the diamond anniversary of one of the most beloved movies in history.
“The press were out in force at Marcus Loew’s newly refurbished Capitol Theatre on Broadway in New York to cover one of the biggest film premieres of the year. It starred matinee idol Tony Curtis and up-and-coming comic talent Jack Lemmon, best known from comedy hits Mr Roberts and Bell Book And Candle.
The support cast of actors was also stellar, with big names from classic gangster films … Quirky, sexy, slightly subversive and the work of one of the most in-demand directors at the time, Billy Wilder, it had hit potential. But what really made Some Like It Hot such a big deal was that it was Marilyn Monroe’s first film in nearly two years. Monroe had been taking time off to focus on her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.
On the night of the premiere, March 29, 1959, 60 years ago today, Monroe, accompanied by Miller, told reporters Lemmon was the ‘funniest man in the world’ and like the rest of the audience laughed all the way through the film. Critics also loved it and Some Like it Hot is now regarded as one of the all-time great film comedies.
The film was inspired by a 1935 French farce titled Fanfare d’Amour (Fanfare Of Love), about two musicians, Jean (Fernand Gravey) and Pierre (Julien Carette) … Gravey’s love interest, bandleader Gaby, was played by Australian actor Betty Stockfeld.
The story and screenplay were co-written by German screenwriters Michael Logan and Robert Thoeren, who had fled Germany in 1933 after the Nazis came to power. After the war they returned to Germany and in 1951 remade the film as Fanfaren der Lieben.
For the leads Wilder wanted Frank Sinatra as musician Joe and singer Mitzi Gaynor as bandmember Sugar. But Sinatra never turned up for the audition and when Monroe discovered Wilder was doing the film she wanted to play Sugar … having Monroe as a drawcard gave Wilder a freer hand with the rest of the casting. He had already asked Tony Curtis to play Jerry, but without Sinatra he instead cast him as Joe and Lemmon as Jerry.
The director was fastidious about the look of the film. It was to be shot in black and white, because it was a period piece and a tribute to gangster films, also so that it would be easier to pass off Curtis and Lemmon as women. Famous Australian-born designer Orry-Kelly worked on the costumes (winning the film an Oscar).
During filming, Monroe was as difficult as ever … Curtis did his best to disguise his irritation but Lemmon was sympathetic, trying to calm Monroe’s nerves.
But the result was screen magic. From the moment Monroe sashays past Lemmon at a train station causing him to utter ‘That’s just like Jell-O on springs’ the farce hardly ever lets up.
It won three Golden Globes, an Oscar and a BAFTA and made bigger stars of Curtis and Lemmon, but was arguably Monroe’s last truly great role.”
Ian Griffiths, the British-born creative director of the Italian women’s fashion house, Max Mara, has talked about Marilyn’s influence on his work in a new interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. (The Jean-Louis designs worn by Marilyn in Let’s Make Love, and the iconic beach jacket she wore on Santa Monica Beach for photographer George Barris, were major inspirations for Max Mara’s Fall 2015 collection.)
“My first celebrity crush was Marilyn Monroe. In her films, I saw strength and talent in her above and beyond the blonde bombshell she was portrayed as. You could see her intelligence, and beneath that vulnerability there was a strength I admired.
When I became a punk in the ’70s, Marilyn emerged as a symbol of rebellion. We subverted the whole meaning of Marilyn and played with it in our scene. We wore T-shirts with her face on it and peroxided our hair.”
In an interview with The Times, Ben Whishaw reveals more about his intriguing role in Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, which opens at New York’s hottest new arts venue, The Shed, on April 6 through May 19.
“Whishaw, 38, is rehearsing a play called Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, in which he plays a man who likes to dress up as Marilyn Monroe. ‘We just got the costumes,’ he says. ‘I wear a dress that’s a replica of the one she wore in The Seven Year Itch — the white one where the wind comes up. They’ve also given me the bum, hips and breasts. I don’t think they’re as big as Marilyn’s, but they’re proportionate to my body. It’s a strange thing. I’m not playing Marilyn, I’m playing a man who’s infatuated with her. The play is set in the year she died and he’s in mourning for her. Apparently there was a spate of copycat suicides that year.’
To research the role, Whishaw has been reading a book called Fragments. ‘It’s bits of Marilyn’s diary, notes on hotel paper, poetry,’ he says. ‘She writes beautifully. Arthur Miller was here with her when they were doing the film The Prince and the Showgirl, and she opened his diary and read about how disappointed he was with her, how embarrassed he was being around his intellectual friends with her. Apparently this was devastating to Marilyn. All these men say how difficult she was. It makes you want to strangle them. But she really was amazing. She had a lot going on, a lot of sadness on her plate, poor darling. To be a star in that star system and those men.’
If she had been born 50 years later, does he think she would have been part of the #MeToo movement? ‘I’m sure she would have. I’ve been listening to interviews with her. She doesn’t seem afraid of anything.’
Fearless and vulnerable. It’s a contradiction that could possibly describe both of them. ‘Yes,’ he smiles.”