Marilyn Breaks Through in ‘The Asphalt Jungle’

Craig Thornton has reviewed The Asphalt Jungle for his Classic Movie Blog at WWNY.

“One of the most famous crime dramas of the gritty film noir period, this authentic crime caper is considered one of the best of the genres. Directed by one of Hollywood’s most esteemed storytellers (both writer and director) John Huston received two of his astonishing 15 Oscar nominations for co-writing and directing this film … Marilyn Monroe makes one of her earliest screen performances as Emmerich’s (Louis Calhern) mistress, Angela. Although it is a minor role, Marilyn exudes charisma and you can see the burgeoning love affair the camera will always have with her … If The Asphalt Jungle were made today, it would surely have a different ending. Its crime doesn’t pay message would be the exact opposite and the audience would be elated that the amoral bunch had gotten away with the big heist. Still the film is a great example of American realism of the 1950s.”

Save the Larry Edmunds Bookshop

The Larry Edmunds Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard has been serving lovers of movie literature and memorabilia since 1938. It boasts an entire section devoted to Marilyn, while one of its most famous customers, director Quentin Tarantino, recreated its Sixties facade for last year’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But like many other small businesses, the bookstore has suffered greatly since coronavirus forced the world into lockdown. Owner Jeffrey Mantor has launched a fundraiser, and you can also help by purchasing books now (enquiries welcome here.)

James Patterson on Marilyn, Jackie and JFK

James Patterson holds the New York Times record for the most books by one author to top their list. His novels account for 6% of hardback fiction bought in the US, and he is the most-borrowed author in UK libraries. He works with numerous co-authors, most recently the former American president, Bill Clinton. Now Patterson has turned his hand to non-fiction, co-writing a biography of another political dynasty with journalist and TV producer Cynthia Fagen. An excerpt from House of Kennedy has been published in Town & Country magazine, covering the Madison Square Garden gala celebrating John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday, when Marilyn topped a star-studded bill, singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President.’

In truth, there’s little here that isn’t already known (and what more can be said, really?) But I would like to point out that MC Peter Lawford’s running gag about ‘the late Marilyn Monroe’ was pre-rehearsed, and not an attempt to cover up for any tardiness on her part. It is also often noted that the First Lady did not attend the gala, but this was common practice. Regarding Jackie Kennedy, who never held any malice towards Marilyn, there are a couple of interesting quotes that are new to me at least, though the sources aren’t named here.

Marilyn with the president’s brother-in-law, Stephen Kennedy Smith, after her Madison Square Garden performance

“‘It had been a noisy night, a very “rah rah rah” kind of atmosphere,’ recalls Life magazine photographer Bill Ray. ‘Then boom, on comes this spotlight. There was no sound. No sound at all. It was like we were in outer space. There was this long, long pause and finally, she comes out with this unbelievably breathy, “Happy biiiiirthday to youuuu,” and everybody just went into a swoon.’

Despite raised eyebrows, Jackie tells her sister, Lee, ‘Life’s too short to worry about Marilyn Monroe.’ Instead of attending Jack’s fundraiser, Jackie and the children are at the First Family’s Glen Ora estate outside Middleburg, Virginia, enjoying what she calls ‘a good clean life.’ As spectators, including her husband, ogle Monroe at Madison Square Garden, Jackie is winning a third-place ribbon at the Loudon Hunt Horse Show.

Jean Kennedy Smith and her husband, Stephen, are in attendance at the Madison Square Garden event as well as at Arthur Krim’s reception, where White House photographers also capture Stephen posing alongside Monroe.

The next day, Jackie is furious—not with the president, but with his brother. ‘My understanding of it is that Bobby was the one who orchestrated the whole goddamn thing,’ Jackie tells her sister-in-law over the telephone. ‘The Attorney General is the troublemaker here, Ethel. Not the President. So it’s Bobby I’m angry at, not Jack.'”

Joyce Carol Oates’ ‘Blonde’ at 20

Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel, Blonde, turns 20 this year. With a Netflix adaptation starring Ana de Armas on the way, the book has been reissued with a cover photo by Milton Greene (from the 1954 ‘ballerina’ session), and a new introduction by literary critic Elaine Showalter.

In an excerpt published in The New Yorker, Showalter describes Blonde as ‘the definitive study of American celebrity,’ but many readers feel that Oates did Marilyn a disservice by blurring fact and fiction, and depicting her as a sacrificial lamb of Hollywood.

This is illustrated most strongly by an entirely imaginary rape scene, referred to below. While Marilyn was certainly frank about her experiences with predatory men in the film industry, her shrewdness in keeping the worst of them at bay and using the best to her advantage has been distorted by Oates’ misrepresentation.

“Oates found herself obsessed by the intricate riddle of Marilyn Monroe. Blonde expanded to be her longest novel, and, indeed, the original manuscript is almost twice as long as the published book. As Oates writes on the copyright page, Blonde is not a biography of Monroe, or even a biographical novel that follows the historical facts of the subject’s life. Indeed, Monroe’s dozens of biographers have disagreed about many of the basic facts of her life. Blonde is a work of fiction and imagination, and Oates plays with, rearranges, and invents the details of Monroe’s life in order to achieve a deeper poetic and spiritual truth. She condenses and conflates events in a process she calls ‘distillation,’ so that, in place of numerous foster homes, lovers, medical crises, and screen performances, she ‘explores only a selected, symbolic few.’ At the same time, Oates develops and deepens background themes inherent in Monroe’s story, including the growth of Los Angeles, the history of film, the House Un-American Activities Committee’s witch hunt for Communists in the film industry, and the blacklist. Each of these story lines could be a novel in itself, but, like the chapters on cetology and whaling in Moby Dick, they heighten the epic quality of the novel.

Of the hundreds of characters who appear in the book, some are identified by their real names, including Whitey, the makeup artist who created and maintained Monroe’s iconic look, although the name also ironically suggests the white-skinned, platinum-haired doll he crafted. Others, including two gay sons of Hollywood, Cass Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson, Jr., are invented. Monroe’s famous husbands are given allegorical names—The Ex-Athlete and The Playwright—and are fictional characters rather than portraits of Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Similarly, fragments of poems by Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, and George Herbert appear along with bits of poetry attributed to Norma Jeane, which Oates composed herself.

Oates also drew on the literary traditions of the fairy tale and the Gothic novel. In a 1997 essay on fairy tales, she notes their limited view of female ambition and the way they promote simplistic wish fulfillment … The Hollywood version of that fairy tale is the romance of the Fair Princess and the handsome Dark Prince, the plot of the first movie Norma Jeane ever sees, and the recurring fantasy of her life … Moreover, in the Gothic version of the fairy tale, the Dark Prince is a powerful male who imprisons the princess in a haunted castle. The Studio stands for this macabre space, as Norma Jeane works her way up through a system run by ruthless, predatory men she must pacify, satisfy, and serve.

When Blonde was published, in 2000, it was nominated for literary prizes and widely reviewed as Oates’s masterwork. But it was also called lurid, eccentric, and fierce. Darryl F. Zanuck, the model for Mr. Z, had been called a cynical sexual predator—but that was just rumor. Readers of Blonde today, however, will recognize in that hellish rape scene a script from the casting couch of Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood moguls, whose years of molestation, harassment, abuse, and sexual assault of aspiring actresses were brought to light in 2017, when accusers came forward to create the #MeToo movement … Just a few years ago, it could still be read as sensationalizing the story of Monroe. Now it must be seen as a passionate and prophetic defense.”

Jennifer Tilly’s ‘Marilyn Voice’

Actress Jennifer Tilly, best-known for her recurring role in the Child’s Play movies, was Oscar-nominated for Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway (1994), has guest-starred in TV sitcoms Cheers and Frasier, and is a professional poker player. In an interview with Closer Weekly, she talks about her distinctive voice, similar to Marilyn’s breathy tone in films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot (although Jennifer’s is pitchier, like Judy Holliday’s in Born Yesterday.)

The ‘baby voice’ or ‘ditz voice’ Marilyn developed helped to conceal her occasional stutter, and many close to her, like director John Huston, noticed that her natural voice was quite different. If you listen carefully to her delivery in other films, you’ll hear subtle variations on those familiar girlish tones. Learn more about Marilyn’s voice here.

“You have a distinctive voice. Would you say it was more a help or a hindrance?

When I started, I was doing this breathy Marilyn Monroe, little girl thing, but it was sort of a trick voice. It was a weird crutch, like I couldn’t act without it. And when I did [1994’s] The Getaway, the director cleared the set and said, ‘I want you to talk in your normal voice.’ And I said, ‘I literally cannot.’ He’s like, ‘Of course you can — that voice you were talking in before you started acting.’ And I said, ‘All the attributes I plug into the characters, this is the voice that comes out, I can’t force it.’ But now I have more of a husky, wispy voice, a lot lower. It’s a good voice for cartoons. I play Bonnie on Family Guy, and a [2020] series based on Monsters, Inc., [Disney+’s] Monsters at Work, so I’m doing a lot of that voice now.”

Marilyn Spotted in Sag Harbor, NY

The Sag Harbor Cinema on Long Island was due to reopen this month, after a four-year closure and extensive renovation following a 2016 fire. With New York now suffering some of the highest rates of casualties in the world from coronavirus, that reopening has been delayed. However, the venue is now operating a virtual cinema (along with 200 independent theatres across the U.S.)

While no Monroe movies are currently screening at Sag Harbor, fashion photographer Steven Klein posted the above snapshot to Instagram yesterday, with Marilyn blowing kisses to passers by. The poster was created for a promotional event on St. Valentine’s Day, using an iconic image shot by Arthur Fellig aka ‘Weegee’, as Marilyn arrived in New York in September 1954, ready to film location scenes for The Seven Year Itch.

Tate Modern’s ‘Virtual Tour’ of Warhol Exhibit

Although London’s art galleries are currently closed, you can still view a seven-minute ‘virtual tour‘ of Tate Modern’s Andy Warhol retrospective online – as reviewed by Brian Allen for The Art Newspaper.

“After treating his early commercial work, the exhibition makes hay of the big serial pictures using Warhol’s signature screenprint and acrylic paint technique. It is what you’d expect from Warhol—ironic, fun, sly, colourful, oh, and a plane crash, a car wreck and a suicide. Everything is perfectly installed. Marilyn, Jackie and Mao are there, as are a few Brillo boxes tucked in a corner.

Again, the show’s about his presence. It took plenty of his handwork to degrade Marilyn Monroe’s multiple images, side by side, row after row, as if she’s fading from overuse and overexposure. Making these works look mass-produced was Warhol’s retort to the Abstract Expressionist painters and their love of paint and gesture. I know Warhol’s Marilyns, Coke bottles, and Elvises celebrate, even parody, mass-marketing, but seeing them in the flesh reaffirms their sheer beauty. Lots of Warhol’s later work, especially the portraits from the 1970s and 80s, is jaunty and gaudy. His work from the 1960s can be very moving.

Warhol made Marilyn Diptych in 1962, right after Monroe died. Americans were used to movie-star crash and burn but Monroe, via her looks, marriages and headline struggles, wasn’t your average star. The picture’s neon palette turns grisaille, while the contours go from bold to broken and faded. The luscious, full-lipped, peroxide blonde Marilyn slowly recedes into fragments. Memory and oblivion aren’t far. Warhol’s newspaper pictures like 129 Die in Jet! (Plane Crash) or A Woman’s Suicide, both from 1962, make me shiver. Part of the pathos comes from realising how fleeting those 15 minutes of fame really are. Fleeting, too, is life. Warhol takes the Old Master vanitas and gives it a makeover.”

Looking Back at ‘After the Fall’

Arthur Miller (left) and director Elia Kazan (right), backstage with actors Barbara Loden and Jason Robards

As a part of a series on great American plays, Broadway World presents some interesting facts about After the Fall, Arthur Miller’s controversial play which explored aspects of his personal life, including his marriage to Marilyn. (You can read further posts about the play and its history here.)

After the Fall premiered on Broadway in 1964. The production was directed by Elia Kazan, and starred Barbara Loden as Maggie and Jason Robards Jr. as Quentin. Barbara Loden won the 1964 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play, and Jason Robards was nominated for the 1964 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.

The play is based off of Miller’s recent divorce from Marilyn Monroe, and is considered to be one of Miller’s least popular plays with critics. The plot is non-linear and takes on surrealist elements.

After the Fall was revived Off-Broadway in 1984. It was directed by John Tillinger, and starred Frank Langella and Dianne Wiest.

The play was revived on Broadway in 2004 by Roundabout Theatre Company. It was directed by Michael Mayer, and starred Peter Krause and Carla Gugino. The production was nominated for the 2005 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design of a Play.”