Over at Book Riot today, Jeffrey Davies suggests six great reads about Marilyn. Among them are several titles I’ve reviewed in depth, including Lois Banner’s MM – Personal, Michelle Morgan’s The Girl, Charles Casillo’s Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon, and Marilyn’s own Fragments; plus old favourites like Gloria Steinem’s Marilyn: Norma Jeane, and Marilyn’s 1954 memoir, My Story.
Bus Stop is one of my favourite Monroe films: an evocative character piece with an outstanding performance from Marilyn. However, many now find its gender politics – and Bo’s manhandling of Cherie – outdated and sexist. On the Culled Culture blog today, Genna Rivieccio considers why Bus Stop ‘didn’t do justice to how Marilyn Monroe fought to break free of the studio’s stereotype of her.’ (In her recent book, Some Kind of Mirror, Amanda Konkle takes a more positive view, noting that Cherie resists Bo’s advances until he learns to satisfy her desires.)
“Marilyn Monroe had spent months waiting out her unprecedented studio battle with 20th Century Fox. After fleeing to New York from Los Angeles like some sort of blonde haloed fugitive, Marilyn refused to ever turn back. To ever succumb to any of the dumb sexpot roles Darryl Zanuck wanted her to make in perpetuity. Yet the choice of ‘Chérie’–ultimately pronounced Cherry by the one who ‘wrangles’ her–in William Inge’s play, Bus Stop, didn’t seem to do much to distance herself from the image she so strongly claimed to detest. But maybe a part of her was terrified to shed it completely. For the thought of losing her adoring fans–the only source of true love in her life–was likely just as scary as forever being typecast. So it is that she went with the “just daring enough” role of Chérie … there is a meta tongue-in-cheek moment in which Chérie talks about her big plan to make it to Hollywood where ‘you get treated with a little respect.’ It’s an overt dig at Zanuck and 20th Century Fox (which Marilyn famously called 19th Century Fox for its backward treatment of female stars) …
Yet like Chérie, she can’t help but look to men for salvation. The two prototypes that would be her most tumultuous romances (and marriages), Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, are both apparent in Beau. Outwardly, his rough-hewn tactlessness makes him a closer match to DiMaggio … Upon learning of her ‘sordid’ past (a.k.a. that she’s been with a few men to further accent the fact that Beau hasn’t–Miller, too, was rather virginal, having only ever been with his first wife before Marilyn), Beau finds the key to unlocking her heart by telling her, ‘Well, I’ve been thinkin’ about them other fellas, Cherry, and, well, what I mean is, I like you the way you are, so what do I care how you got that way?’ Miller told her pretty much the same thing, never chastising her the way DiMaggio did for parading her sexy persona, which is a primary reason why she fell in love with him …
Once again in this film (as in life), Monroe is a little girl lost, who is put back on the right path by a male savior. This was not a departure by any means from what she had done in the past with the studio, and made one wonder how the accolades came in so readily for a movie such as this, when past roles in Clash By Night, Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara provided her far more opportunity for dramatic range.
Bus Stop is still billed as somewhere in between a comedy and drama, though it very much falls into an almost screwball comedy genre (for that’s kind of how one has to look at a movie so overtly dripping with misogyny and the suppression of the female will). Marilyn would only make four more movies after this, among them being one of the most praised of her career, Some Like It Hot (with another two, The Prince and the Showgirl and Let’s Make Love, being largely panned), a film in which, you guessed it, Marilyn relies on the comedic sex symbol shtick that launched her into the spotlight in the first place.”
Marilyn was one of the first stars to make jeans fashionable for women (and wore them onscreen in Clash By Night, River Of No Return, and The Misfits), so it’s only fitting that this 1945 photo of Norma Jeane (taken by Andre de Dienes) comes first in the timeline of British Vogue‘s Fashion History 101: The Classic T-Shirt and Jeans Combo (with the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Madonna following her lead.)
As Renee Zellweger brings Judy Garland back to the big screen, Indiewire’s writers have compiled a chronological list of the 12 Best Biopic Performances. Marilyn has been portrayed in numerous films and TV shows, but the results have rarely risen above the mediocre; partly because Marilyn is so distinctive (and familiar) that playing her convincingly would stump even the most gifted actress, but also because the scripts are so often inaccurate and sensationalized. I might have expected Michelle Williams’ award-winning turn in My Week With Marilyn (2011) to make the list, but blogger Kristen Lopez (Journeys in Classic Film) has chosen Kelli Garner’s performance in the TV mini-series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015) instead. While Kelli managed quite well in her role, I would argue that the poor material undid her best efforts (you can read my review here.)
“I watch a lot of biopics, particularly those of the classic film era variety. And I’m often the first to admit how wrong they are. But whenever the question comes up about who gives the best performance in a biopic I always point to Kelli Garner’s turn as Marilyn Monroe in the underappreciated Lifetime movie, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe. (Yes, it was on Lifetime, but no one stipulated these had to be theatrical.) Under the direction of Sherrybaby director Laurie Collyer, Garner’s portrayal of Monroe isn’t focused on the surface gimmicks of the actress as we know her. The physical resemblance between the two women is uncanny, but what Garner does is show how much of Monroe’s persona was an act. She inhabits the woman, not the actress, in a movie that wants to break down the myths and the wall that has been built up as part of the cult of Monroe. I don’t care who knows this, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe will always be my go-to best biopic.”
In this 2014 article for Bustle, Anneliese Cooper ranked her favourites among Marilyn’s comedy performances, both on the big screen (in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot) and her famous offscreen ‘Monroeisms.’
Thanks to Eiji Aoki
On the night of September 15, 1954 – 65 years ago today – Marilyn filmed the iconic ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch to an adoring crowd. It is also said to have ended her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, though in truth they were already heading for a split. Over at Marilyn Remembered, Lorraine Nicol recalls one of the greatest promotional stunts of all time, with input from Fox publicist Roy Craft, and crewman Paul Wurtzel, who operated the industrial fan beneath the grate – and the many imitations which still abound in popular culture. (You can read a selection of past ES Updates posts on the ‘subway scene’ here.)
“The post-midnight hours of September 15th 1954, outside of the Trans-Lux Theatre near 52nd Street on Lexington Avenue, a luminous Marilyn wearing a white pleated halter dress, stepped over a subway grating. With a crew member operating a powerful fan positioned below the grille, the stage was set for a legendary scene. Hordes of reporters and spectators (estimates range from several hundred to five thousand) watched the crew film take after take of history-making moment.
The postscript of the film of this New York sequence was unusable. Her skirt had flown up to her waist, and the cheers of the crowd were clearly audible. The famous scene’s true setting was the controlled atmosphere of a Twentieth Century FOX soundstage. Unlike the iconic images that exist, in the finished film Marilyn’s skirt billows up only slightly above her knees and a full body shot is never shown. Back in New York, a fifty-two foot high picture of The Girl with the upswept skirt was mounted above the marquee of Loew’s State Theatre at Times Square.”
Some Like It Hot is featured (of course) in a chronological list of The 50 Best Comedy Movies of All Time over at Film School Rejects today, bridging the gap between silent comedians like Buster Keaton, screwball comedies starring Grant, and a wide range of comedies in the modern era.
“Marilyn Monroe was never taken seriously as an actress and comedienne, but just watching her keep up with comedy legends Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot is enough to see she was funnier than people gave her credit for. The film is really one of the most stacked comedies ever, with the aforementioned stars and director/screenwriter Billy Wilder and cinematographer Charles Lang (Sabrina, The Magnificent Seven, etc). It’s the perfect older comedy for people who swear that older movies aren’t funny. The smart dialogue isn’t delivered too quick for modern audiences. It’s silly enough to never get boring, but not outrageous enough that it’s campy. Some Like It Hot is a layered comedy that somehow springs more jokes the more you revisit it, but once you’ve seen it one time, you’ll gladly watch again.”Emily Kubincanek
Blogger Robert Horvat has listed his top 10 Marilyn movies on the Rearview Mirror site. With Some Like It Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire heading the list, it’s a great selection – and Robert has also reviewed Niagara, Blondes and Bus Stop separately. (Personally, though, I would choose Clash By Night, Don’t Bother to Knock and The Prince and the Showgirl over The Asphalt Jungle, River Of No Return and There’s No Business Like Show Business.)
Film historian James L. Neibaur, whose 25 books include a career retrospective for Marilyn’s idol Jean Harlow, has reviewed The Seven Year Itch on his website.
“The Seven Year Itch appears to be the film that defines Marilyn Monroe’s career. She is forever identified as the blonde airhead as she plays in this movie. People forget her range as an actress, including films like Don’t Bother To Knock, Bus Stop, and Niagara. That said, this Billy Wilder adaption of George Axelrod’s hit play is indeed the quintessential 50s-era adult comedy.
Now, in the 21st century, the narrative of The Seven Year Itch seems tame. But in 1955 it was edgy and titillating, although Billy Wilder would later state that he wished he had filmed it later on when censorship restrictions weren’t so strict. Today the film is significant for featuring the iconic Marilyn in one of her most notable performances, and as a brilliant representation of 1950s kitsch, with all of the fashions and furnishings that so clearly represent that decade. It also shows another side of the ways and mores of that decade, far different than the conservatism by which it remains defined, even in popular culture.
While it is not quite the classic it is cracked up to be, The Seven Year Itch is a pleasant comedy with some clever ideas and a great cast. Marilyn Monroe has become so incredibly iconic in popular culture, it is natural to for anyone to see the movie that best defines her screen persona.”
As we reach the 57th anniversary of Marilyn’s death, Megan Monroe reminds us of her true legacy in a timely blog post.
“So many people and society tend to view Marilyn as a victim, passed around from man to man and used throughout her lifetime. This both angers and frustrates not just me, but many fans, who have spent years taking the time to research legitimate sources and find out who Marilyn herself was. Often her death is viewed as a conspiracy-fueled, gossip-loving debate, so much so that she ends up no longer seeming like a young woman anymore, but an object of fascination.
It seems to me that it’s easier for people to believe in the distasteful lies and conspiracies that surround not just Marilyn, but many other celebrities and icons before and after her. People cannot comprehend someone as beautiful, talented and loved as her to have any demons or hardships … In the end Marilyn ends up being turned into a former shadow of her true self, which is just not acceptable to me and so many others – therefore, I will continue to try and dispel the lies and bring back her true character.
Furthermore, Marilyn’s death does not define her – intended or accidental it is still and will always be a tragedy, but, it does not take away from her 36 years of life and the achievements she made during and after her lifetime … Ultimately, this was the real Marilyn, the person that so often gets lost in the publicity of hearsay and money making headlines. “