Category Archives: Blogs

Marilyn: ‘The Most Visible Star’

Marilyn in ‘Niagara’ (1953)

In an article for Film School Rejects, Angela Morrison asks why Marilyn’s acting achievements are still so often overlooked, and examines how her career was impacted by typecasting.

“What frequently happens when actors play the same types of characters over and over again is that audiences assume that the actor is their character in real life … many people believe Marilyn Monroe was genuinely being herself onscreen. This is inaccurate and does not give her very much credit for the hard work that went into her performances.

She essentially played the same character in all of her comedies, but brought a unique spin to each story … Flashes of her dramatic talents are visible in some of her early roles, such as her emotionally damaged babysitter in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), and and her femme fatale in 1953’s Niagara (one of my personal favorites of her performances).

Her final performance as Roslyn in John Huston’s The Misfits (1961) is just as powerful as Bus Stop, although perhaps more depressing … she was no longer playing young and naive ‘starlets’, but was instead portraying complex women. It takes talent to play both comedy and drama; however, dramas such as The Misfits require a different kind of depth than comedies such as Some Like It Hot (1959).”

Pin-Up Artists: Marilyn and Earl Moran

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A lavishly illustrated article about the photographer and artist Earl Moran’s risqué work with a young Marilyn in the 1940s has been posted at Messy Nessy Chic. The photos were used as a basis for his illustrations, and the model’s true identity remained a secret until the 1980s – proving that Marilyn’s more famous calendar for Tom Kelley wasn’t her first experience of posing au naturel.

“In 1946, a nineteen year-old aspiring actress in Hollywood was in need of a job, and fast. Born Norma Jean Dougherty, destined to become Marilyn Monroe, but in between, for those not-so-squeaky-clean modelling jobs, she preferred to go by Mona– with a going rate of $10 an hour.

The famous artist and the unknown aspiring actress struck up an unlikely friendship and for the next four years, Marilyn would pose regularly for Earl, and she credited him with making her skinny legs look better than they were in real-life.

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But with some of Moran’s illustrations the then little known actress’s body seems to have ended up with a not-so-familiar face to the iconic one we’ve come to know so well. Combining poses and facial expressions from more than one model was common practice for pin-up artists. The late artist’s surviving and most accurate depictions of Monroe are of course now considered his most valuable.”

April VeVea on Marilyn, Jayne and Typecast Blondes

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‘Bus Stop’ (1956)

April VeVea (author of Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life) has created a new blog, Classic Blondes – dedicated to Marilyn and her contemporaries. In her latest post, April examines the longstanding assumption that Marilyn’s talents were wasted due to her being typecast in ‘dumb blonde’ roles at Twentieth Century Fox.

“With the exception of Bus Stop, Marilyn’s dramatic roles were NOT making nearly as much as her comedic roles. Fox wasn’t going to throw money into pictures so Marilyn could play in serious roles when they could have hits if she stuck to her comedic skill set. The public was the ultimate typecaster of Marilyn, not Fox … Marilyn actually had a pretty diverse career. Her pictures were evenly spread out between serious and comedic and she shone brightly in most. Her ability to keep herself at a 50/50 split once achieving stardom is amazing. That deserves praise and recognition.”

In another article, April compares Marilyn’s career to that of another fifties bombshell, Jayne Mansfield.

“While Jayne’s movies never grossed as highly as Marilyn’s, it’s safe to say that she was a solid earner for Fox when she was in her element. People wanted to see Jayne in glitz and glamour but her movies also needed to have a solid story line, like Marilyn’s … Jayne wasn’t a bad actress nor was she ‘over’ before she hit 30. She was just promoted incorrectly by Fox and dumped when Marilyn went back to her niche.”

Marilyn’s Finest Comedy Hour

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Marilyn’s hilarious performance as the wide-eyed trickster Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is lauded today in ‘100 More Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy’, a virtual timeline for the Vulture website.

“Dumb-blonde jokes can be traced back as far as the 18th century, but it was Marilyn Monroe’s portrayal of Lorelei Lee that cemented them in modern pop culture. During this big dance number, Monroe’s iconic look, bleached-blonde and adorned in a thick diamond choker with a tight bright-pink dress, creates the prototype for a dumb blonde. She needs to be flamboyantly feminine, and speak softly and vapidly. As she says in the movie, ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.’ Monroe’s quick quips of feigned ignorance are supported by the groundedness of Dorothy Shaw, played by Jane Russell, in a rare-for-the-time female comedy duo. Helmed by Howard Hawks, a director famous for his ‘Hawksian’ tough-talking woman, the movie demonstrates comedy through the actress’s use of sexual agency. Monroe’s femininity is not an object but a tool to get what she wants — famously, diamonds. The sheer size of Monroe’s performance defined this fundamentally American archetype. Without her, there would be no Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Cher in Clueless, or Elle Woods of Legally Blonde.”

Marilyn’s Contemporaries: Gene Tierney

Gene TierneyIn a new series about Marilyn’s contemporaries for Immortal Marilyn, Leslie Kasperowicz profiles Gene Tierney, the beautiful star of Laura.  Gene found fame during the 1940s at Marilyn’s home studio, Twentieth Century-Fox. Her first husband was Oleg Cassini, one of Marilyn’s favourite designers (you may recognise Gene’s red Cassini dress in this photo, as it was also worn by Marilyn.)

Marilyn: Story of a Stutterer

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Marilyn at home in 1962

Theologian Gerald McDermott has written an article about Marilyn’s stutter for the multi-faith website Patheos, suggesting that the iconic breathy voice she used in her movies helped her to control it.

“If stuttering was a recurring pattern in this troubled actress’s life, how was she able to perform?  How did she become such a famous movie star that people are now surprised to hear that she was a stutterer?  The answer is not crystal clear, but there are strong clues.

We know that for many of her years in Hollywood Marilyn had an acting coach named Natasha Lytess, who taught the young actress to breathe and move her lips before she actually spoke.  A focus on breathing helps many stutterers.  But Natasha also instructed Marilyn to enunciate every syllable, especially final consonants.

This exaggerated diction might have helped distract Marilyn, as stutterers are sometimes helpfully distracted, from her problem with starting words.  But at the same time the staccato style can produce a stopping and starting that makes it more likely the speaker will block on words starting with difficult consonants or vowels.

We also know that in the 1950s ‘breathy breathing’ was a popular therapy among speech therapists.  Charles Van Riper, for example, taught stutterers to slow down speech and prolong their words, and to use gentle breathing.

Wherever she learned it, this method worked for Marilyn most of the time.  She made many movies, and her stutter was never readily apparent once the movies got to the screen.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  Her breathy speech became famous, and in fact is known today among speech therapists as a technique called the ‘Marilyn Monroe voice.'”

‘Marilyn Taught Me How to Walk!’

Marilyn by Jock Carroll, 1952
Marilyn by Jock Carroll, 1952

In a blog post for the Hips and Curves website, author Kim Brittingham studies Marilyn’s uniquely sensuous walk – and tries it out herself.

“In mere seconds, she transformed into a cinematic sex kitten. A subtle lifting of her shoulders. An alluring elongation of her back. The coy tilting of her head and a suggestive swing of her hips and va-voom! Immediately, people noticed. Our legendary bombshell was quickly surrounded by frantic admirers.

I imagined I was confident and beautiful. I psyched myself into a state of absolute belief. I felt it in my body.

I lifted my shoulders and immediately felt compelled to take a deep, cleansing breath. My limbs flooded with warmth and I felt my posture lifting and lengthening, my weight shifting from a burdensome sensation like a sandbag around my neck to a decisive, sure balance upon the backs of my hips. Then I let those hips sway.

There was definitely something to this. It was all in the way I carried myself. As if I felt like a million bucks. And all that pulsating and emanating I imagined I was doing – well, I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed one other person had picked up on it. And it had been easier than I thought. My god, I gasped. I’m a sorceress!

I began to suspect that beauty and attraction have less to do with the size and contours of our bodies, and more to do with the energy we emit. That when a woman fires up her inner Marilyn, the first thing people see is that je ne sais quoi that shimmers around her and winks, I’m special. That when we feel worthy of the space we occupy, we broadcast the best of what’s inside of us, like a radio signal, and the people we’re meant to take this journey with will pick it up.”

Marilyn and the Ladies of the Press

Marilyn with columnist Kendis Rochlen, 1956
‘Is this a new Marilyn?’ With columnist Kendis Rochlen, 1956

In her lifetime, Marilyn was considered a ‘man’s woman’. However, even then she had several champions among the fairer sex, and since her death, female appreciation of her has only grown.

Kate Cameron, film critic for New York’s Daily News, often praised Marilyn’s acting and wrote this sensitive tribute after her passing.

“The Marilyn Monroe I knew was a blithe spirit of the screen. I never met her in the flesh and had no desire for a rapprochement other than her communication to me as an actress.

I was an enthusiastic viewer of the various characters she presented on the screen. I had a definite picture of her as a real person in my mind and didn’t want that image of her changed in any way, although I’m inclined to believe that I would have found her as enchanting off screen as she was on.”

Columnist Liz Smith has held the title of ‘grand dame of dish’ ever since she first glimpsed Marilyn at the 1961 premiere of The Misfits. At 93, Liz is still on top, and found time to remember Marilyn’s birthday this week.

“Had she lived, the white hot of that fame would have inevitably passed by. But in a cooler climate, she might well have found all she desired. We would not talk of her as we do now, as an almost mythological figure, a repository of endless fantasy and speculation. She would speak for herself. And her work, which mattered to her more than people realized, would speak as well.”

Film scholar Lucy Bolton, who took part in a panel discussion at the BFI last year as part of their MM retrospective, took a closer look at Marilyn’s writings in a recent article for BBC Culture.

“The fragments which she wrote on bits of paper reveal a woman constantly striving to ground herself, help herself, and keep on top of her demons. They also show Monroe’s determination and strong will: whether it is in the planning of dinner parties or the preparation of a performance, Monroe was meticulous and dedicated to doing her best.”

Ashley Davies offers a personal take on ‘Why I Love MM’ in a heartfelt – and often funny – piece for Standard Issue.

“In public, she dealt with some of the undermining shit thrown at her with class. During one press conference, a female reporter asked her: ‘You’re wearing a high-necked dress. Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’

Her response, delivered with total sweetness, a pinch of faux surprise and not a hint of sarcasm: ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.'”

And finally, Sophie Atkinson argues that Marilyn is more relevant than ever ‘because she predicted the struggles of modern fame’, over at Bustle.com.

“When it comes to being a star, too much publicity will always be difficult for celebrities to shoulder., and the emergence of social media gives a new urgency to these issues of press intrusion that have existed for decades. Now celebrities don’t just field encounters with the journalists, and with fans, on the street, but in the privacy of their own homes as soon as they log onto Twitter. Monroe was right when she quoted Goethe: the highest form of acting or music requires that a person doesn’t just exist as a public figure, but has private reserves they can draw from.”

Sex, Music and Marilyn in ‘The Seven Year Itch’

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The Seven Year Itch is getting some well-deserved attention in the blogosphere right now. The Chicago-based psychotherapist, Dr Gerard Stein, recalled how Marilyn’s performance awakened him to sex – and classical music – on his blog this week. (You can watch ‘the Rachmaninoff scene’ here.)

“My earliest recollection of any connection between sex and music was the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, with Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe. The former imagined seducing the latter when a combination of circumstances fueled his fantasy: a stale, seven-year-old marriage; his wife’s temporary absence; and the availability of Ms. Monroe, his smoldering new neighbor. Ewell’s plan was to use Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2 to win her ardor. The scene above depicts his strategy.

Classical music in film usually isn’t intended to engender lust, although the cinematic hit 10, starring Bo Derek (with Dudley Moore playing the Ewell-like role), gave it a try in 1980, with Ravel’s Bolero serving to keep the erotic pace. Various recordings of the piece dominated the pop and classical charts in the months following.

The use of such music raises the question of whether a movie featuring a classic opus can open the audience to classical scores beyond those pieces featured in the film … Let’s start with the music attached to Ms. Monroe and Ms. Derek in the already mentioned films. Does any lonely soul watching Tom Ewell or Dudley Moore think he might achieve his romantic fantasy solely by his choice of CD while on a date? Surely no man with a recording of Bolero or Rachmaninoff playing in his living room regularly brings sex to the mind of women. Thus, a film’s featured sound track, if it is to cause anyone to listen after the cinema’s end, will have to stand on its own.”

Classic Screwball: ‘Some Like it Hot’

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Although made long after the genre’s 1930s heyday, Some Like it Hot is ‘arguably the best screwball comedy ever’, Nathaniel Cerf writes for Movie Fanfare.

“For a great example of nearly every line being a joke and building on the next line: When Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress up as dames to join an all-girl jazz band and avoid the mob in Some Like It Hot (1959), they try to pass themselves off as society girls who attended the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music, a silly-sounding institute they made up on the spot. A few scenes later, Curtis is now dressed as a millionaire trying to win over Marilyn Monroe, who doesn’t recognize him from their band. Monroe’s character tries to impress him by stealing his earlier line about attending the SCM. It is a funny moment topped by Curtis coolly acknowledging, ‘Good school.'”