Ana de Armas Tipped to Play Marilyn in ‘Blonde’

30 year-old Cuban actress Ana de Armas, whose screen credits include Blade Runner 2049, may be cast as Marilyn in Andrew Dominik’s long-mooted big-screen adaptation of Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel loosely inspired by Marilyn’s tumultuous life, Collider reports – although Netflix have yet to confirm this. Naomi Watts and Jessica Chastain are among the big names previously suggested for the role. Dominik first announced his intention to direct Blonde back in 2010, but his pet project has endured many setbacks. A television adaptation starring Poppy Montgomery aired in 2002, to mixed reviews. While Blonde was a major literary success, many Monroe fans (myself included) feel that it takes too many liberties with the facts.

Anita Loos: From Lorelei to Marilyn

‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ was first filmed in 1928

In an article for Silent London, Pamela Hutchinson traces the career of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes author Anita Loos.

“In 1925, Loos published her masterpiece, first as short stories in Harper’s Weekly and then as a full-length novel. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a comic tour de force, and no less than Edith Wharton called it ‘The great American novel’. This breathless and ungrammatical text is presented as the no-holds-barred diary of one Lorelei Lee, a beautiful blonde gold-digger from Little Rock, Arkansas, and her adventures in pursuit of a diamond tiara with her friend Dorothy, a brunette with a one-track mind.

As Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a hit novel and play, of course it had to be filmed. The film was a hit too, but sadly it is now lost. The 1928 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had impeccable comic credentials, being directed by Keystone alumnus Mal St Clair, and starring two more former employees of Mack Sennett: Ruth Taylor and Ford Sterling.

Anita Loos with Marilyn’s idol, Jean Harlow (1932)

When the talkies came in, Loos was hired by Irving Thalberg to work for MGM … Who better than Loos, for example to write a script for Jean Harlow, the 1930s ultimate Lorelei Lee type, breathless, blonde and babyishly naïve? Except she was adapting a book by Katharine Brush called Red-Headed Woman, which was a cue for plenty of promotional jollity.

Anita Loos with Carol Channing at a Broadway rehearsal (1949)

After this, Loos went back to New York, and wrote for the stage – not without success. She wrote the book for a musical adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was a little milder than the novel and starred Carol Channing and Yvonne Adair as Lorelei and Dorothy.

Then, of course, 20th Century-Fox and Howard Hawks came for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It remains a great joy to see two great comediennes, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, both of whom were exploited by Hollywood in their turn, enacting this superb comic revenge on stupid men. The 1953 film has some great moments, but it’s a little sluggish in between times. Never mind: the song Diamonds are Girl’s Best Friend is the best possible tribute to Loos’s satirical pen, and the staging of Isn’t There Anyone Here for Love? in which Russell cavorts among an entire male Olympic team, must surely have tickled her. But Loos had nothing to do with the production, having struggled with her writing partner on the stage version. She did, however, say that Monroe was sublime casting. And of course, she was 100% right.”

Marilyn in Alan Moore’s ‘Cinema Purgatorio’

Comic book author Alan Moore (whose past creations include V for Vendetta and Watchmen) puts his own spin on Marilyn’s mysterious death in the final issue of his Cinema Purgatorio anthology – to be published on May 29, as Rich Johnson reports for the Bleeding Cool website.

“Cinema Purgatorio is the anthology that Alan Moore has been curating for the past two years for Bleeding Cool’s publisher, Avatar Press. Each perfect bound paperback volume begins with a comic by Moore and Kevin O’Neill that names the title, with someone trapped in a cinema in purgatory, watching classic films that have been twisted to reflect aspects of humanity of its history – especially that of movies. So we’ve had the tales of the Warner Brothers told using the Marx Brothers. Or corruption in cinema with the Keystone Kops.”

Gianni Russo Claims Affair With Marilyn

Actor Gianni Russo claims to have had an affair with Marilyn in his forthcoming memoir, Hollywood Godfather, as Michael Kaplan reports for the New York Post. Born in 1943, he began his career running errands for mobster Frank Costello. He made his screen debut as Carlo Rizzi, the abusive husband of Connie Corleone (Talia Shire), who is murdered by her brother Michael (Al Pacino) in The Godfather (1972.) Offscreen, Russo has released an album and a wine range, and was once a Las Vegas restaurateur.

Russo’s alleged affair with Marilyn rests on a snapshot taken at Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge near Lake Tahoe a week before her death in 1962. He identifies himself as the young man at her left (with singer Buddy Greco at right), which may be true although his face is conveniently hidden from view. Moreover, the photo in itself is no proof of anything more than a brief acquaintance (at best.)

Russo claims that the affair began when he was sixteen and Marilyn thirty-three, which would date it back to 1959. He adds that their affair lasted for four years, but Marilyn died three years later. (I also highly doubt that Marilyn would have dated a teenager, when all her significant relationships were with older men.)

Costello had asked Russo to spy on Marilyn when she began her affair with John F. Kennedy, he contends (in fact, she may not have met the future president until much later.) He also believes that Marilyn was a gangster’s moll for many years, and it was the Mob who moved her to New York during her 1955 dispute with Twentieth Century Fox. This is untrue, as Marilyn arranged the move with photographer Milton Greene.

Gianni Russo in ‘The Godfather’ (1972)

Predictably, Russo also claims to know the truth about how Marilyn died. Mobster Sam Giancana had arranged to film her in flagrante with President Kennedy and his brother Robert during her last visit to Cal-Neva, Russo says. However, there is no conclusive evidence that Giancana was there that weekend, and the Kennedys were both elsewhere. Marilyn was invited by Sinatra himself.

Finally, Russo says that Marilyn was murdered by injection administered by a mob-connected M.D., probably on the orders of Bobby Kennedy. For more information on the Mafia and Marilyn’s death, I can highly recommend Donald McGovern’s Murder Orthodoxies.

Marilyn, Ben Hecht and ‘My Story’

Born in 1893 to Belarusian Jewish immigrants, Ben Hecht became a noted Chicago reporter and novelist before scoring his first Broadway hit with The Front Page (1928.) He later became one of Hollywood’s greatest (and most prolific) screenwriters. This month, two new biographies of Hecht will be published.

The first, Adina Hoffman’s Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures, is part of a ‘Jewish Lives’ series from Yale University Press. In it, Hoffman explains how Hecht came to be the ghostwriter for Marilyn’s 1954 memoir, My Story. (Julian Gorbach’s The Notorious Ben Hecht will be published at the end of March.)

Although Hecht was not an observant Jew, he became involved with the Zionist group Irgun during World War II. After the war ended, he openly supported the Jewish insurgency in Palestine, and in a 1947 open letter, he praised underground violence against the British.

A year later, the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association announced a ban on all films connected to Hecht. Filmmakers became reluctant to work with Hecht and thus jeopardize the lucrative UK market, and he was forced to take salary cuts and adopt pseudonyms until the boycott was lifted in 1952.

According to Hecht, Darryl F. Zanuck was “the only studio head who would hire me and use my name … [and he] got into a peck of trouble doing it.” As Adina Hoffman reveals in her book, Hecht worked with two longtime collaborators, writer Charles Lederer and director Howard Hawks, on a 1952 screwball comedy starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe. Originally titled Darling, I Am Growing Younger, it was later renamed Monkey Business.

In early 1954, Hecht spent five days in a San Francisco hotel interviewing Marilyn, whom he called ‘La Belle Bumps and Tears’. (His secretary Nanette Barber fondly recalled the sessions in a 2012 interview, posted here.) To Ken McCormick, the Doubleday editor who commissioned the project, he described the experience as “the longest series of log jams I’ve ever run into.” Hecht had back taxes to pay, and needed the money.

At first, he said, Marilyn was “100% clinging and co-operative”; but after her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, “the picture changed.” At DiMaggio’s behest, Marilyn’s lawyer demanded far tighter control. When the marriage collapsed months later, a devastated Marilyn refused to mention the divorce in the book.

Calling the situation “critical,” McCormick proposed “shift[ing] this all over into the third person and do[ing] a Ben Hecht biography of Marilyn Monroe … It seems to us that this would give you an elegant chance to write one hell of a book about Hollywood.” According to Hoffman, Hecht preferred to remain anonymous. Meanwhile, his shady agent Jacques Chambrun secretly sold the manuscript to a British tabloid. It was then serialised with neither Hecht’s nor Marilyn’s permission, landing the writer in legal trouble.

The book, My Story, wouldn’t be published until 1974, when both writer and subject were deceased. It was only in 2000 that Hecht was acknowledged publicly as the author. In a recent essay for Affidavit, Audrey Wollen wrote, “Hecht’s version of Monroe’s life set a cultural precedent for every future biography.” You can read more about its backstory here.

Marilyn: Portraits of a Sad Girl, Reading

Audrey Wollen (the artist and feminist scholar best-known for her Sad Girl Theory) takes an in-depth look at the numerous images of Marilyn reading – taken by various photographers at different stages of her career, and ranging from silly to serious – and how they have shaped public perceptions, in an article for Affidavit.

“In 1999, Christie’s auctioned off nearly 400 books from Marilyn’s personal library, a roster of classics ranging from Proust to Hemingway, which publicly solidified her intellectual identity and provided hard evidence against all those who claimed the plentitude of reading photographs were staged. But staged, of course, they were. They are hardly a homogenous document of fact; taken across decades, their only consistent element is the subject (Monroe), the act (reading), and the light, the aura that emits from the promise, the flattened proof, that beauty is real. Some call this being photogenic. Feminist accounts of Marilyn Monroe often take great trouble to declare the photographs’ candid status as a way to defend her ability to think, as if to pose with a book is to admit one cannot read it. But it is the slipperiness of their authenticity that make these photographs so mesmerizing.”

Marilyn Book News: Women Writers Take Charge

Some Kind of Mirror: Creating Marilyn Monroe is a new academic study of Marilyn’s movie performances by Amanda Konkle. Although set for publication on February 28, it’s already in stock at The Book Depository.  Having just read it, I can whole-heartedly recommend this book: it’s thoughtful without being stuffy, and puts the focus back on Marilyn’s work. Some Kind of Mirror is illustrated with screen-captures from Marilyn’s films, as well as the beautiful cover photo by Eve Arnold (showing Marilyn during filming of The Misfits, toasting her loyal friends and co-workers.)

Sarah Churchwell’s excellent 2005 ‘meta-biography’, The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, will be reissued in March, as well as being published digitally for the first time. (The only downside for me is no Marilyn on the cover!)

And looking further ahead, The Little Book of Marilyn: Inspiration From the Goddess of Glam – the latest from ace biographer Michelle Morgan – is coming in July.

“A lifestyle guide and tribute to the style, glamour, and showmanship of Hollywood’s most iconic star, with Marilyn-inspired lessons and inspiration for today’s woman.

While the 1950s was in many ways an era of repression for women, Marilyn Monroe broke barriers and rebelled against convention — and charmed the world with her beauty, talent, and irresistible personality. Filled with gorgeous photos, The Little Book of Marilyn will show you how to bring a touch of that glamour into your own life through:

  • * Tutorials on recreating the star’s makeup looks
  • * Style advice and tips on where to find Marilyn-like fashions
  • * Décor ideas from Marilyn’s own homes
  • * Everyday inspiration from her life that will let your inner Marilyn shine, and much more!”

Marilyn’s Misfits and the ‘Big Bang’

Marilyn and the making of The Misfits are among the many historical touchstones featured in Big Bang, David Bowman’s posthumously published novel of mid-century America, as John Williams reports for the New York Times. (According to Publisher’s Weekly, Bowman – who died in 2012 – also delved into the origins of The Misfits in 1956, when Arthur Miller and Saul Bellow were waiting out their divorces in Nevada. Events which followed the movie – such as Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy in 1962, and Miller’s depiction of her in the 1964 play, After the Fall – are also mentioned.)

“The novel’s central nervous system is formed around American politics — it ends as well as begins with Kennedy’s death, and spends considerable time on the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Watergate. But J.F.K., Jacqueline Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, Richard Nixon and Ngo Dinh Diem are joined in this story by — among others — Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Dr. Benjamin Spock and his wife, Jane, George Plimpton, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, the literary critic Leslie Fiedler, J. D. Salinger, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Elizabeth Taylor, Raymond Chandler, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Frank Sinatra and Maria Callas.

The events recounted in Big Bang include, but are far from limited to: Mailer stabbing his wife, Burroughs shooting his wife, Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, Khrushchev at Disneyland, the director John Huston making The Misfits, Fidel Castro’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Nixon playing the piano on The Jack Paar Show, the release of the Ford Edsel, Montgomery Clift nearly dying in a car wreck after leaving a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills and, for about the blink of an eye, a young George W. Bush in the car with his mother, Barbara, after she has suffered a miscarriage.”

Letters From Marilyn in Los Angeles

Dear Los Angeles: Letters and Diaries 1542-2017, edited by David Kipen, is a new anthology featuring two missives from Marilyn herself among its assorted diary entries and correspondence. The first – dated February 2nd, 1962 – is extracted from a letter to her stepson, Bobby Miller, recounting her meeting with the Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy during a dinner party at Peter Lawford’s home. (You can read it in full by clicking on the images below.)

The second – which she wrote just over two weeks later, on February 17 – is a brief note to the German Consul, Mr. Volkmar von Fuehlsdorff.

Marilyn was also mentioned by director Elia Kazan (her friend and former lover) in a tongue-in-cheek letter dated July 27, 1955. It’s unclear who Kazan was addressing, but his words are clearly in jest (Marilyn was in New York at the time.)