Category Archives: Books

Director Casts Doubt on Netflix ‘Blonde’

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Despite reports this summer that filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s long-mooted adaptation of Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel about Marilyn, would be produced for Netflix in 2017, it is “not a done deal,” as Dominik admits in a new interview for Collider. (Criticised by MM fans for its factual liberties, Blonde will be available  via Kindle for the first time in English next March – so if you haven’t read it yet, judge for yourself.)

“When I spoke to you for Killing Them Softly, you were going to do Blonde next, but that was back in 2012. We’ve recently heard that Netflix was going to step in and finance that, so are you finally going to go into production on that film?

DOMINIK: I don’t know. I hope so, but it’s not, in any way, a done deal.

So, you don’t have a possible production date yet?

DOMINIK: No.

What is it about that film and that story that’s made you stick with it all this time, and still want to get it made?

DOMINIK: I think that Blonde will be one of the ten best movies ever made. That’s why I want to do it.

Why do you think that is?

DOMINIK: It’s a film about the human condition. It tells the story of how a childhood trauma shapes an adult who’s split between a public and a private self. It’s basically the story of every human being, but it’s using a certain sense of association that we have with something very familiar, just through media exposure. It takes all of those things and turns the meanings of them inside out, according to how she feels, which is basically how we live. It’s how we all operate in the world. It just seems to me to be very resonant. I think the project has got a lot of really exciting possibilities, in terms of what can be done, cinematically.

Are you still hoping to have Jessica Chastain play Marilyn Monroe, or will you have to recast the role once you finally get a firm start date?

DOMINIK: Well, it’s a chicken and the egg type of thing. But, I don’t think it’s going to be Jessica Chastain.”

Robert Wagner: ‘The Marilyn I Knew’

Marilyn films a screen test with Robert Wagner, 1951
Marilyn films a screen test with Robert Wagner, 1951

One of the last survivors of Hollywood’s golden age, Robert Wagner has written about Marilyn in his memoir, You Must Remember This, as well as providing the introduction to David Wills’ Marilyn – In the Flash. In his latest book, I Loved Her in the Movies: Memories of Hollywood’s Legendary Actresses, Wagner writes about her again, and an excerpt is published on the Town and Country website.

“I have no horror stories to tell. I thought she was a terrific woman and I liked her very much. When I knew her, she was a warm, fun girl. She was obviously nervous about the test we did together, but so was I. In any case, her nervousness didn’t disable her in any way; she performed in a thoroughly professional manner. She behaved the same way in Let’s Make It Legal, the film we later made—nervous, but eager and up to the task.

Years later, Marilyn began dropping by the house where Natalie [Wood] and I lived. Our connection was through Pat Newcomb, her publicist. I had known Pat since our childhood. She had also worked for me and often accompanied Marilyn to our house. I bought a car from Marilyn—a black Cadillac with black leather interior.

Marilyn (right) with Wagner's second wife, Marion Marshall, in 'A Ticket to Tomahawk' (1950)
Marilyn (at right) with Wagner’s second wife, Marion Marshall (second left) in ‘A Ticket to Tomahawk’ (1950)

Marilyn had an innately luminous quality that she was quite conscious of—she could turn it on or off at will. The problem was that she didn’t really believe that it was enough. My second wife, Marion [Marshall] knew her quite well; she and Marilyn had modeled together for several years, and were signed by Fox at the same time, where they were known as ‘The Two M’s.’ Marion told stories about how the leading cover girls of that time would show up to audition for modeling jobs. If Marilyn came in to audition, they would all look at each other and shrug. Marilyn was going to get the job, and they all knew it. She had that much connection to the camera.

When Marilyn died, Pat Newcomb was utterly devastated; Marilyn had been like a sister to her, a very close sister, and she took her death as a personal failure. Marilyn’s death has to be considered one of show business’s great tragedies. That sweet, nervous girl I knew when we were both starting out became a legend who has transcended the passing of time, transcended her own premature death.”

Publishing News: Marilyn’s Lost Photos, and More

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Limited Runs have produced a book based on their touring exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, featuring 21 images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Only 125 copies have been made, priced at $95. Hopefully it will be a high-quality product, but it still seems rather expensive for such a slim volume.

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One of Marilyn’s best biographers and a friend of this blog, Michelle Morgan has recently published two new books via Lulu. The Marilyn Journal is the first in an anthology series, compiling newsletters of the UK Marilyn Lives Society, founded by Michelle in 1991. A Girl Called Pearl is a charming children’s novel – not about Marilyn as such, but it is set in the Los Angeles of her childhood, so it does have some interesting parallels, and would be a great Christmas gift for readers young and old (also available via Kindle.)

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Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, an 82-page catalogue (in French) accompanying the current exhibition at Aix-en-Provence, is available from Amazon UK for £8.44.

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Photo by Fraser Penney

In the November 19 issue of Scotland’s Weekly News (with Donny Osmond on the cover), Craig Campbell picks his Top 10 MM movies. Click the photo above to read the article in full.

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Finally, Marilyn’s love of Chanel No. 5 is featured in an article about favourite perfumes in Issue 3 of UK nostalgia mag Yours Retro.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Trinkets and Keepsakes

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Among Marilyn’s possessions were many items of sentimental value.  She kept this ballerina paperweight in her New York apartment next to a framed photo of 1920s Broadway star Marilyn Miller, who inspired her own stage name. In a strange twist of fate, she would also become ‘Marilyn Miller’ after her third marriage. She later gave the paperweight to her friend and masseur, Ralph Roberts, calling it “the other Marilyn.”

49D0AD3E-208B-4C7D-8A6E-BF4B8C120722-17167-00000949DDBC3B1D_tmpThis silver-tone St Christopher pendant was a gift from Natasha Lytess, Marilyn’s drama coach from 1948-54. (St Christopher is the patron saint of travellers.) Marilyn cut ties with Lytess after discovering she was writing a book about their friendship. She later gave the pendant to Ralph Roberts, telling him, “I’ve outgrown Natasha.

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This gold and silver-tone Gemini pendant reflects Marilyn’s close identification with her astrological sign, symbolised by twin faces. “I’m so many people,” she told journalist W.J. Weatherby. “Sometimes I wish I was just me.

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Marilyn was exceedingly generous to her friends, as the story behind this bracelet reveals.

“A rhinestone bracelet owned by Marilyn Monroe and gifted to Vanessa Reis, the sister-in-law to May Reis, Monroe’s personal assistant and secretary. In a letter to the consigner dated November 28, 1994, Ralph Roberts writes, ‘Reference Marilyn robe and bracelet. As best I recall, late one Saturday afternoon Marilyn and I were in the dining area of the Miller 9th floor suite at the Mapes Hotel. She had just changed into a robe, sitting on one of the chairs and I was massaging her back and shoulders. She showed me a bracelet she’d brought to Reno with thought of possibly wearing it as a [undecipherable comment] for Roslyn [Monroe’s character in The Misfits]. Upon discussing it, she and Paula [Paula Strasberg was Monroe’s acting coach and friend] had decided somehow it wouldn’t be appropriate. Just then May Reis entered with Vanessa Reis (the widow of Irving Reis, May’s greatly loved brother and film director). Vanessa had come up from LA for a long weekend visit – there’d been some talk of our going out to some of the casinos to do a bit of gambling. Vanessa told Marilyn how lovely she looked in that robe. Marilyn thanked her + impulsively held out the bracelet, Take this + wear it as a good luck charm. I was wearing it during dance rehearsals for Let’s Make Love, smashed into a prop, so a stone is loosened. I wish I could go with you, but Raffe is getting some Misfits knots out. And I should go over that scene coming up Monday. They left. Marilyn asked me to remind her to have the robe cleaned to give to Vanessa. Whitey, Agnes, May – all of us – knew from experience we couldn’t compliment Marilyn on any personal items or had to be very careful. She’d be compulsive about giving it, or getting a copy – to you.’ Accompanied by a copy of the letter.”

Jack Dempsey, a former world heavyweight champion boxer, wrote to Joe DiMaggio’s New York Yankees teammate, Jerry Coleman, in 1954. “Have been reading a lot about Marilyn, Joe and yourself, here in the east,” Dempsey remarked. “Best of luck to you and your family, and send Marilyn’s autograph along.

47506260-4B71-4779-B8DB-0A5CDFC4355B-17167-000009531D6A9016_tmpThis small pine-cone Christmas tree, held together with wire and dusted in glitter, was given to Marilyn as a surprise by Joe DiMaggio one year when she had no plans, or decorations. Christmas can be a lonely time, and Joe made sure to bring some cheer.

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This vintage Hallmark card was sent to Marilyn one Christmas by her favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald.

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Author Truman Capote sent Marilyn a personally inscribed 1959 album of himself reading ‘A Christmas Memory‘ (an excerpt from his famous novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)

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Marilyn owned a leather-bound, monogrammed copy of Esquire magazine’s July 1953 issue, featuring an article about herself titled “The ‘Altogether’ Girl.”

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Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Korea to entertain American troops was one of her happiest memories. This photo shows her with the band and is accompanied by a letter from George Sweers of the St Petersburg Times, sent after their chance reunion when Marilyn took a short break in Florida in 1961.

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This endearing note accompanied a gift from Marilyn to Paula Strasberg, who replaced Natasha Lytess as her acting coach in 1956: “Dear Paula, I’m glad you were born because you are needed. Your warmth is both astonishing and welcomed. Love & Happy Birthday, Marilyn.”

In April 1955, novelist John Steinbeck wrote a letter to Marilyn, asking her to sign a photo for his young nephew.

“In my whole experience I have never known anyone to ask for an autograph for himself. It is always for a child or an ancient aunt, which gets very tiresome as you know better than I. It is therefore, with a certain nausea that I tell you that I have a nephew-in-law … he has a foot in the door of puberty, but that is only one of his problems. You are the other. … I know that you are not made of ether, but he doesn’t. … Would you send him, in my care, a picture of yourself, perhaps in pensive, girlish mood, inscribed to him by name and indicating that you are aware of his existence. He is already your slave. This would make him mine. If you will do this, I will send you a guest key to the ladies’ entrance of Fort Knox.”

Television host Edward K. Murrow sent Marilyn a Columbia Records album, featuring excerpts from speeches by Sir Winston Churchill, in November 1955. She had been a guest on Murrow’s CBS show, Person to Person, a few months previously.

 

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Marilyn’s custom-bound edition of Arthur Miller’s Collected Plays included a personal dedication. Miller had drafted a fuller tribute, but it was nixed – possibly because his first divorce was not final when it was published.

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“This book is being written out of the courage, the widened view of life, the awareness of love and beauty, given to me by my love, my wife-to-be, my Marilyn. I bless her for this gift, and I write it so that she may have from me the only unique thing I know how to make. I bless her, I owe her the discovery of my soul.”

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Costume designer Donfeld sent Marilyn this handmade birthday card one year, together with a small note that read, “M – I hope this finds you well and happy – My thoughts are with you now – Love, Feld.”

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This engraved cigarette case was given by Marilyn to Joe DiMaggio during their post-honeymoon trip to Japan in 1954.

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This souvenir brochure for the small town of Bement, Illinois was signed by Marilyn when she made a surprise appearance in 1955, during a festival marking the centennial of an historic visit by her idol, Abraham Lincoln.

Comedian Ernie Kovacs sent this rather cheeky letter to Marilyn in 1961. He would die in a tragic car crash in January 1962, aged 43, followed by Marilyn in August.

“The letter, addressed to ‘Marilyneleh’, invites Monroe to a get together at his home on June 15, giving the dress code as ‘… slacks or if you want to be chic, just spray yourself with aluminum paint or something.’ He continues, ‘I’ll try to find someone more mature than Carl Sandburg for you. … if Frank is in town, will be asking him. … don’t be a miserable shit and say you can’t come. … Look as ugly as possible cause the neighbors talk if attractive women come into my study.’ He signs the letter in black pen ‘Ernie’ and adds a note at the bottom: ‘If you don’t have any aluminum paint, you could back into a mud pack and come as an adobe hut. … we’ll make it a costume party. … Kovacs.'”

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Always gracious to her fans, Marilyn gave child actress Linda Bennett a magazine clipping with the inscription, “I saw you in The Seven Little Foys. Great – Marilyn Monroe.” She also signed this photograph, “Dear Linda, I wish you luck with your acting. Love and kisses, Marilyn Monroe Miller.”

‘I Met Marilyn’: Interviews With Neil Sean

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Neil Sean is a British entertainment and royalty pundit for broadcast media in the UK And USA. He is also the author of three books: How to Live Like a Celebrity For Free (2012); Live at the London Palladium (2014); and The Downing Street Cats (2016.)

Co-authored with Michael Dias, he has now published I Met Marilyn, a collection of interviews with stars who knew and worked with MM. These include Mickey Rooney, Bette Davis, Celeste Holm, Jane Russell, Lauren Bacall, Johnnie Ray, Ethel Merman, Jack Cardiff, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, George Cukor and Cyd Charisse; and other celebrity acquaintances, such as Jerry Lewis, Eartha Kitt, Andy Williams, Sandra Howard, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, James Garner, Rock Hudson, Charlton Heston, Ricci Martin (Dean’s son), Buddy Greco, and Frank Sinatra Jr.

Mr Sean clearly has lengthy experience in the show-business world, with some interviews dating back to the late 1970s (and of course, most of his interviewees are now deceased.) His media profile has garnered coverage for I Met Marilyn in Scotland’s Weekly News and Sunday Post. He explains that the transcripts were made from his own notes and tape recordings. Unfortunately, the book is filled with run-on sentences, and punctuation so erratic that it’s often hard to distinguish between his own observations, and quotations from others. There are no pictures of Marilyn inside, but the interviews are accompanied by photos of Sean with various stars.

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As with Boze Hadleigh’s recent book, Marilyn Forever, the tone is often speculative and gossipy. Many of the interviewees seem to believe that Marilyn’s alleged affairs with President Kennedy and his brother Robert were common knowledge in Hollywood, and yet there is little direct evidence.

Jack Lemmon, who was a neighbour of Peter Lawford, claims to have seen Marilyn “frolicking” with Bobby in Lawford’s pool. This story has been told by his son Chris, who was a small child at the time. I have never before seen it attributed to his father, and this apparent indiscretion seems uncharacteristic of the gentlemanly Lemmon. There is also a question of plausibility: could he really have identified them from over the fence?

To his credit, Mr Sean shows some scepticism towards the more outlandish claims of Mickey Rooney, for example. Singer Eddie Fisher recalls that while married to Elizabeth Taylor, he performed a double-bill at The Sands in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra. Fisher told Mr Sean that Marilyn flirted with him all evening, but photos from the event show her gazing at Sinatra.

Whereas Boze Hadleigh depicted Marilyn as ahead of her time in embracing the gay community, Neil Sean portrays her as being unable to understand why closeted actors like Rock Hudson weren’t attracted to her. Both authors seem to be imposing their own views upon the past, but the fact remains that whatever her personal inclinations, Marilyn was never discriminatory. She had several gay friends, and defended her Misfits co-star Montgomery Clift against homophobic bigotry during a private interview with W.J. Weatherby (published posthumously in his 1976 book, Conversations With Marilyn.)

Perhaps the most insightful comments come from other women. “I was so upset [by Marilyn’s death] because she could have reached out, but the thing is she always wanted you happy first – she was selfless in that way,” singer Eartha Kitt told Sean. “I remember receiving one of her old fur coats to wear at a premiere because she heard me saying I did not have one. What a kind gesture, and to someone just starting out in the business.”

Cyd Charisse, who co-starred with Marilyn in the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, also gives a sympathetic account. However,    the interview includes several quotes attributed to Marilyn by Lawrence Schiller in his 2012 book, Marilyn & Me. (Cyd Charisse died in 2008.)

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I Met Marilyn is certainly an interesting read, but should probably be digested with a large dose of salt. Marilyn was essentially a loner, and didn’t have many close friends in Hollywood – and besides, stars are as susceptible to wild rumours as everyone else, especially when asked to provide a fresh perspective on an actress who died over fifty years ago.

“I think it all goes so quickly so it’s better to live in the moment,” Lauren Bacall told Mr Sean. “And when people ask me about what, say, Marilyn Monroe was like, it’s not like we were the best of friends or anything. I mean, we made a movie together which was very successful, but it was a long time ago…”

I Met Marilyn is available now in paperback and via Kindle.

Marilyn in Holy Wood: A Graphic Novel

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Holy Wood : Portrait fantasmé de Marilyn Monroe, a new graphic novel, has been published in France. In an interview with Le Dauphine, author Tommy Redolfi reveals that he spent nine years creating this Gothic fairytale set in ‘Holy Wood’, a dark forest populated by circus freaks where a young dreamer called Norma Jeane seeks fame and fortune.

BD9FA6C0-719B-490B-A5EC-0CE82A2D4626-11394-000006B34AFAE240_tmp“I think she adhered to an image proposed to her. She was told: ‘If you’re like that, people will love you.’ So she agreed to be that person to be loved. She lacked love and recognition. That’s what she was looking for and that’s what we gave him, but not necessarily for the best reasons. She a little pact with the devil, although in this case, the devil is not really bad. And besides it is this ambiguity which I like. There are not really nice, not really bad … In the end, maybe it was just the wrong choice …”

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John Gilmore 1935-2016

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John Gilmore, author of Inside Marilyn Monroe, has died aged 81. Like Marilyn, he was born in the charity ward of Los Angeles County General Hospital, and spent time in Hollygrove, the orphan’s home where she had stayed a few years earlier.  After serving an apprenticeship as a child actor, Gilmore became a contract player at Twentieth Century Fox. In 1953, he was introduced to Marilyn by actor John Hodiak, who lived nearby her apartment complex.

Eight years later, Gilmore was up for a part in Marilyn’s next movie, an adaptation of William Inge’s play, A Loss of Roses (renamed as Celebration.) The project was shelved, and would finally be made after Marilyn’s death, starring Joanne Woodward as The Stripper.

After penning a series of pulp novels, Gilmore turned his hand to true crime, publishing books about Elizabeth Short (aka The Black Dahlia) and the Manson Family. He also wrote memoirs, detailing his encounters with James Dean and many others.

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Inside Marilyn Monroe (2007) grew from the story of his acquaintanceship with Marilyn to a full-scale biography. Gilmore interviewed many Hollywood insiders who had not spoken about Marilyn before, and created a nuanced psychological portrait, while debunking some of the fantasists who have profited from her legacy.

Gilmore was a member of Marilyn Remembered, and spoke fondly of her at the annual memorial services at Westwood. His final book was On the Run With Bonnie and Clyde (2013.)

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More Marilyn Book News

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First published in 2013 (and reviewed here), Marilyn: Her Life in  Pictures, edited by Martin Howard and Oliver Northcliffe, is now available in French.

Two academic studies make significant references to Marilyn this autumn. From Reverence to Rape, Molly Haskell’s feminist critique of Hollywood, is now in its third edition. Haskell writes well about how typecasting hindered Marilyn’s career. In Modern Acting: The Lost Chapter of American Film and Theatre, Cynthia Baron considers the influence of the Method on her performances. Adrienne L. McLean also mentions Marilyn at the peak of her glamour in Costume, Makeup and Hair, the latest in Rutgers’ Behind the Silver Screen series.

On a lighter note, Marilyn is among the bevy of bombshells featured in Richard Koper’s Fifties Blondes, and the stories behind some of herfavourite Hollywood haunts are revealed in L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a coffee-table tome by George Gerry.

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And finally… I Met Marilyn , a new collection of interviews with friends and associates by Neil Sean, is out in paperback and via Kindle. Here’s a synopsis:

“Having been a fan of the legend that is Marilyn Monroe since an early age, it seemed whoever I interviewed had either met / worked and known something about her during my journalistic career. As the years went on I noticed this even more, to the point I was lucky enough to meet and interview some very famous people whom have not had their ‘Marilyn’ stories told before. I started with a trusty cassette player, which along the way had me meeting the likes of Sir Lawrence Oliver, Charlton Heston and even Sir Norman Wisdom. What is fascinating when reviewing the tapes – along with never broadcast interviews with Tony Curtis, Mickey Rooney and Debbie Reynolds to name just a few – is how revealing the whole conversations are. I urge everyone to take a look at the book if you’re a true Marilyn fan, as it will give you a rare insight into her final months: and as Ricci Martin (Son of Dean) who met Marilyn many times told me, ‘it’s the biggest story in the world of showbiz ever and yes I was party to it in many ways which is frightening.'”

 

Inge Morath on Miller, Huston and Marilyn

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Inge Morath: On Style is a new book focusing on the late photographer’s work in fashion and film. Her images of Marilyn on the set of The Misfits are elegant and tender, and the knowledge that Morath would become Arthur Miller’s third wife adds a note of poignancy. Author Justine Picardie writes about Inge’s work with director John Huston, and her later encounter with Arthur which led to a long and happy marriage, in a blog post for the Magnum website.

“This was also the period when Morath first started working with the director John Huston; one of her earliest assignments was to photograph the stills for his film Moulin Rouge in London in 1952, which was to be the start of a lifelong friendship … Huston would later describe Morath as ‘a high priestess of photography,’ a woman with ‘the rare ability to penetrate beyond surfaces and reveal what makes her subject tick.’

Morath’s friendship with Huston was to play an important part in her personal life, as well as her career. In 1959, she travelled to Mexico to photograph the making of his film The Unforgiven … The following year, Morath visited the set of another of Huston’s films, The Misfits, accompanied by her Magnum colleague, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

When Morath was subsequently asked by the New York Times about the experience of photo- graphing Monroe, she described the actress as ‘kind of shimmery. But there was also this sadness underneath. A poetry of unhappiness. That was what was so mesmerizing, the twofold thing you got, the unhappiness always underneath the joy and the glamour…that was the poetry.’ In the same interview, Morath added one more intriguing fragment to the story. ‘I once dreamt we both danced together, Marilyn and I. It was beautiful.'”

Collaborators: Marilyn, Miller and Kazan

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Richard A. Schwartz, a Professor Emeritus at Florida International University and author of several books about the Cold War era, has published a new play, Collaborators: Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Beginning with the accidental death of a journalist on the eve of Marilyn’s 1956 wedding to Arthur, the action then looks back to their first meeting five years earlier, when he unsuccessfully pitched a movie to studio head Harry Cohn. Marilyn was casually dating Arthur’s friend and creative partner, Elia Kazan, at the time.

However, it was Arthur she fell for – it has often been rumoured that he continued corresponding with her after returning to his wife and children in New York. Using a split stage, Schwartz imagines what Arthur might have written to her, comparing his inner turmoil with her heady rise to fame (and ongoing association with Kazan.)

The other main strand of the drama is the very different responses of Miller and Kazan to the red-baiting era. Although it’s clear that both had long since left their youthful dabblings with communism far behind and posed no threat to national security, Kazan chose to inform on fellow travellers in the theatre, thereby saving his Hollywood career, while Miller – supported by Marilyn – refused to ‘name names’, and was ultimately vindicated as a liberal hero. Unsurprisingly, their alliance came under strain, and they didn’t work together again until after Marilyn’s death, on the controversial After the Fall.

The Millers’ marriage is portrayed in two scenes: the beginning is represented by Marilyn’s alleged discovery of unflattering comments in Arthur’s journal, during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl; while the end is marked by another heated argument during production of The Misfits. But that omits a long period of relative stability in Marilyn’s otherwise turbulent life. Perhaps Schwartz could have added a further scene to reveal Marilyn’s vulnerability, and show how painful experiences, like her multiple miscarriages, may have caused her depression.

As it is, Schwartz’s portrayal of a self-destructive Marilyn seems to echo Maggie, the suicidal star in Miller’s After the Fall. He is on safer ground with his male protagonists, and the trial scenes are compelling – perhaps because those events are a matter of public record, rather than private conjecture – and with careful revisions to his characterisation of Marilyn, Collaborators could be a genuinely provocative play.

For those interested in learning more about this topic, Barbara Leaming covered it in detail in her 2000 biography of Marilyn, and Ron Briley’s The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan will be published next month.