Spanish Novelist Retraces Marilyn’s ‘Nevada Days’

Bernardo Axtaga is a Spanish author whose 2014 novel, Nevada Days – a fictionalised account of his nine-month stay as writer-in-residence at the Centre for Basque Studies – is now available in English, and the early chapters include several references to Marilyn and The Misfits.

She is first mentioned when Axtaga flips through a copy of The Misfits: Story of a Shoot, Sergio Toubania’s monograph of the Magnum photographers who documented the production. “Individually, the photographs were really good,” Axtaga comments, “… but perhaps because the photographs were the work of different photographers, seeing them all together jarred somehow.”

He later visits Pyramid Lake, and is surprised to find no postcards from The Misfits in the gift shop.”There was one, I seemed to remember, that would have been perfect: Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable lying next to each other on the shores of Pyramid Lake. I asked the waitress, but she had never heard of the film. Nor was she interested in Marilyn Monroe.”

The final, extended passage about Marilyn occurs during a long drive, while Axtaga is talking to his wife Angela about Arthur Miller’s stay at Pyramid Lake in 1956, where he wrote the short story that would become The Misfits while waiting out his first divorce, and conducted a long-distance relationship with Marilyn, who was filming Bus Stop. Axtaga imagines Marilyn’s anguished telephone call to Miller from the set, as described in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends.

Axtaga then recalls the famous scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955), where Marilyn’s character, ‘The Girl’, sympathises with the monster in yet another movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon. (This was foreshadowed in an earlier episode, when Axtaga’s young daughter cries at the end of King Kong.)

As the author forms his own impressions of Nevada, Marilyn disappears from the novel. But her ghostly presence reflects how an outsider’s preconceptions about American life  can be shaped by literary and cinematic mythology.

Terenci Moix: ‘The Day Marilyn Died’

El día que murió Marilyn (or ‘The Day Marilyn Died’), an award-winning 1969 novel by the Catalan author Terenci Moix, has been reissued in Spanish. Moix, who died in 2003, was fascinated by the iconography of classic Hollywood, and a vocal critic of the Franco regime. An annual prize for LGBT literature has since been established in his name. Here’s the synopsis (via Google Translate…)

“The vital itinerary of the protagonists, two young people who were twenty years old in 1962, develops a kaleidoscope formed by their memories of childhood and adolescence during the fifties and sixties – the cinema, the comics, religious education – confronted with the memory of their parents about the Barcelona of the thirties and the civil war.”

Selected covers from previous editions

Marilyn in the ‘City of Myths’

Martin Turnbull is the author of the ‘Garden of Allah’ series of novels set during Hollywood’s golden age. Previous books have covered the making of such classic films as Gone With the Wind and Citizen Kane; historic events from World War II to the Red Scare; and threats to the movie capital from television and gossip rags. Now Marilyn’s conflict with Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck is featured in the just-published eighth instalment, City of Myths. Although his books are fictional, Turnbull has an encylopedic knowledge of Old Hollywood, and City of Myths begins, Marilyn is re-shooting scenes for River of No Return with Jean Negulesco (seen in the above photo), after clashing with director Otto Preminger. City of Myths is available in paperback or via Kindle – and it’s also on offer as part of an Amazon ebook bundle with Turnbull’s other novels.

“When you live in a city built on shifting sands of myth, it can be hard to know which way is up. Kathryn Massey spends her days spreading rumors and keeping secrets. Losing herself one headline at a time has left Kathryn’s personal identity scattered—and dumps her at the narrow end of the bargaining table with the man she trusts the least. Gwendolyn Brick has simpler aspirations. As a costume designer, her sights are set on glamour, not heights of fame. But her friendship with Marilyn Monroe puts her directly into the crosshairs of studio head, Darryl Zanuck—and he’s someone you don’t say no to. Marcus Adler is stuck in a much more precarious situation. Exiled in Rome but under the spell of an unexpected romance, he’ll have to learn to say goodbye to everything he’s accomplished in order to give love a chance. In City of Myths the road through Hollywood bears sharply to the right as those who dare to play its game can easily become lost in its intoxicating glow.”

‘Bus Stop’ Comes Back to Paperback

William Inge’s Bus Stop, a Broadway hit for actress Kim Stanley before being adapted for the screen, is often revived in America’s regional theatre and has now been reissued in paperback (and audiobook) by Wildside Press. Although the cover shows original artwork of Marilyn in the movie, the play’s text is somewhat different, focusing on other characters as well as Cherie and Bo.

The play was published in 1956 with Marilyn on the cover, while the movie’s UK release was accompanied by Bus Stop: A Story of the Twentieth Century Fox Film, a 96-page booklet featuring photos and a mini-novelization.

Retracing Marilyn’s Rise to Stardom

Marilyn at the premiere of ‘Call Me Madam’, 1953

Ten Movies at a Time: A 350-Film Journey Through Hollywood and America 1930-1970, a new book by film historian John DiLeo, includes a chapter about Marilyn’s rise to fame, as Tavo Amador notes in his review for the Bay Area Reporter. (DiLeo’s book is also available via Kindle.)

“DiLeo discusses ‘Starlet Rising in the West: The Unsteady Climb of Marilyn Monroe (1950-1953).’ By looking at Monroe (1926-62) from her earliest days, DiLeo shows that her stardom wasn’t pre-ordained.

Other chapters cover the Cold War; post-WWII domesticity; musicals written for the screen, and those adapted from the stage; a decade of Westerns; and 50s remakes of 30s classics … DiLeo’s knowledge is encyclopedic, his opinions informed, his humor pointed. This makes for compulsive reading and lively discussions with other film buffs.”

Nevada Neighbours: Marilyn and ‘The Misfits’

Film historian Robin Holabird will be giving a talk about her 2017 book,  Elvis, Marilyn, and the Space Aliens: Nevada Screen Icons (which includes a full chapter on The Misfits) at 6pm on February 13, as part of a ‘Nevada Neighbours‘ series presented by the Capital City Arts Initiative at the Community Development Building, 108 E. Proctor St in Carson City.

“In her Nevada Neighbors talk, Holabird will explore the blending of icons and Nevada, along with her personal experiences of watching movies, talking with famous people, and showing off a diverse range of stunning and iconic locations like Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Area 51. She will discuss how Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and space aliens, like the Transformers, share a surprising connection along with James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Rocky Balboa — all beloved icons who have played active roles in movie and television projects set in Nevada.

In her new book, Elvis, Marilyn, and Space Aliens, Holabird shows how Nevada’s flash, flair, and fostering of the forbidden provided magic for singers, sexpots, and strange creatures from other worlds. She also gives readers an insider’s look into movie-making in Nevada by drawing on her extensive experience as a film commissioner. Holabird will share her personal take on film history and culture in her Nevada Neighbors talk.”

Beloved Collaborators: Capote, Avedon and Marilyn

Richard Avedon and Marilyn had a dear mutual friend – the novelist Truman Capote, who provided the text for Avedon’s 1959 book, Observations.

“Truman leapt at Dick’s invitation to collaborate on a book project. He sent his text to Dick in stages, written in his fussy little hand on yellow legal pads and always accompanied by a note that endearingly began ‘Beloved Collaborator.’ Dick was dazzled by Truman’s lapidiary descriptions of his portraits … Marilyn Monroe – ‘a waif-figure of saucy pathos … an untidy divinity – in the sense that a banana split or cherry jubilee is untidy but divine’ … Though Truman’s contributions would be labelled as ‘comments’, they added up to a composite portrait of their own and succeeded in making Observations as much a book with pictures as a picture book with text.”

From Avedon: Something Personal by Norma Stevens & Steven M. L. Aronson

The Millers in Avedon’s ‘Observations’, 1959