When Marilyn Met Tab Hunter

Actor Tab Hunter, one of the great Hollywood heartthrobs of the 1950s, has died aged 86. Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York, he moved to California with his mother as a child, and lied about his age to join the U.S. Coast Guard at fifteen. He began acting in 1950, winning his breakthrough role in wartime drama Battle Cry five years later. Rumours of his homosexuality were first reported in Confidential magazine, but didn’t dent his burgeoning career as a teen idol. Over the next four years he was Warner Brothers’ most popular male star, with roles in Damn Yankees (1958), and They Came to Cordura (1959.) He also enjoyed a No. 1 hit single with ‘Young Love’ in 1957, and was given his own TV show.

From the 1960s onward Hunter also acted onstage, and starred in spaghetti westerns before returning to Hollywood in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972.) He later became a favorite of independent filmmaker John Waters, and made two films with legendary drag queen Divine. In his 2005 memoir, Tab Hunter Confidential, he spoke openly about the challenges he faced as a gay actor under the Hollywood studio system. The book inspired a documentary of the same name, and a biopic is currently in development.

Cover to Cover: Tab Hunter and Marilyn in the Chilean magazine, ‘Ecran’ (1957))

Just five years younger than Marilyn, Tab Hunter was also judged by his striking good looks during his early career and had to struggle to prove his talent ( a 2016 article on The Wow Report website even describes him as ‘the male Marilyn Monroe’.) In  2011, Tab spoke to Monroe expert Scott Fortner about (among other things) an encounter with Hollywood’s other favourite blonde, as recalled on the MM Collection Blog:

“I of course asked Mr. Hunter if he’d ever met Marilyn Monroe, and their paths did cross in the early 1950s at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Both were there for a Hollywood event, and upon meeting, Mr. Hunter told Marilyn, ‘I loved you in Clash By Night. No one wears a pair of Levis like you,’ to which Marilyn replied, (spoken in Mr. Hunter’s best Marilyn impersonation) ‘Thank you, Tab.'”

Beauty Queens: Garbo and Monroe

Over at the Watch More Movies blog, there’s an interesting post about Greta Garbo and her influence on Marilyn – with a special focus on their makeup styles. (Marilyn told one interviewer that she never missed a Garbo film on television, while Susan Strasberg mentioned Marilyn ‘doing her Garbo eyes’ for nights on the town.)

“Often when people talk about Marilyn Monroe’s predecessors, they can’t seem to get past her fluffy blonde hair. They draw endless parallels to Jean Harlow, with whom she shares little more than a hair color. Monroe herself idolized Garbo. And it shows if you’re looking for it.

All together, the lazy/sexy ideal is embodied by both women. Where Monroe usually infused this spirit into dizzy comedic roles, Garbo primarily put it to use playing women of mystery. Suffice it to say, both stars have reached an iconic status at least in part because their roles were intertwined so cleverly with their respective public images.

I look to Monroe’s eye makeup as the dead giveaway. Monroe and her makeup artist, Whitey Snyder, created much the same shapes but with gentler lines.

When Garbo first emerged with her long bob, it was admired by fans, but magazine writers were quick to point out that this was unflatteringly long and advised that only Garbo could pull it off. Likewise, Monroe was put down in the press for her too-long unstylish hair–some journalists even comparing her to a dog. (The ideal then being closer to Elizabeth Taylor’s neatly coiffed short curls.) Funny that both styles are considered almost universally flattering today.

According to Katharine Cornell, when Garbo was considering a return to the screen she wanted to star alongside Monroe. Garbo confided that she wanted to play Dorian Gray with Monroe as Sibyl Vane. If you’re queer-hearted like myself (and Garbo) it’s devastating that we never got that film.

I suppose I’ll sign off now with tears in my eyes for what could have been and for the mutual appreciation that Marilyn Monroe probably never knew about.”

Remembering Barbara Bates

Barbara Bates, ‘All About Eve’

Among the cast of All About Eve (1950), three would die in tragic circumstances: Marilyn, George Sanders, and Barbara Bates, who appears as wannabe actress Phoebe in the final scene. Although her screen time was brief, it amounts to one of the greatest endings in Hollywood history. Interestingly, her part was reportedly considered for Marilyn before she was cast as Miss Caswell. Barbara also appeared in another early Monroe film, Let’s Make It Legal (1951).

Barbara as Phoebe in ‘All About Eve’
Barbara with Marilyn in a publicity shot for ‘Let’s Make It Legal’

Barbara was born in Denver on August 6, 1925, and came to Hollywood in her teens after winning a beauty contest. There she met Cecil Coan, a publicist for United Artists. They were married, and despite Barbara’s extreme shyness, she submitted to his designs to make her a star, appearing in such films as Johnny Belinda, June Bride and Cheaper By the Dozen. Like Marilyn, Barbara alternated between bit parts and posing for cheesecake, but her career didn’t take off as Marilyn’s did.

By the mid-1950s, Barbara’s emotional instability made her increasingly unreliable, and her last screen credit was in a 1962 episode of the British TV series, The Saint. After her husband was diagnosed with cancer, Barbara gave up acting to care for him, but the strain made her depression worse. A year after his death in 1967, Barbara was remarried to a childhood friend in Denver. But sadly this still wasn’t enough to turn her life around, and in early 1969, she was found dead by gas poisoning in a car inside  her mother’s garage.

‘Let’s Make It Legal’ cast photo – Barbara at left, Marilyn at right
Barbara and Marilyn with Macdonald Carey in a scene from the movie

Marilyn Fans Respond to Celebrity Deaths

This last week has seen at least three suicides among people in the public eye, including fashion designer Kate Spade, chef Anthony Bourdain, and Inés Zorreguieta, younger sister of the Dutch Queen. Perhaps inevitably, this tragic news has led to some rather irresponsible headlines about an alleged epidemic, with some journalists citing the reported spike in suicides among young American women shortly after Marilyn’s death.

Marilyn’s death was ruled a ‘probable suicide’, although wild rumours and conspiracy theories have abounded ever since. While I personally would never rule out any possibility, having studied the evidence over many years I consider it highly unlikely that Marilyn was murdered. (This is my own opinion, and I don’t presume to speak for the membership of Everlasting Star.)

The recent unfortunate events have led to some soul-searching within the Marilyn fan community, and a serious examination of the mental health problems she faced. At the same time, an excellent article in the latest issue of American History explores her addiction to prescribed drugs, now the leading cause of death in Americans aged under 50 (see here.)

Psychotherapist Gary Vitacco Robles, author of Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, discusses these issues in a new blog post, ‘Myth-Busting Suicide.’

“I hear the public reactions to a publicized suicide such as, ‘He seemed happy’ and ‘She was planning for the future.’ The suicide seems incongruent with a recent, apparently positive mood state. However, people are at higher risk when they appear to being doing well and planning for the future. They now have the energy to complete the suicide which they didn’t have when they were experiencing major depressive symptoms.”

Scott Fortner addresses Marilyn’s death specifically on his MM Collection Blog today:

“In spite of the evidence that proves she died of an overdose of prescription drugs consumed orally, conspiracy theories surrounding Marilyn’s death are plentiful … Sadly though, these conspiracy theories, in a way, help keep her legend alive. Fans simply can’t accept the fact it was either intentional or accidental, and I am regularly surprised at the frequency in which people I talk to bring up, and believe, the outrageous theories.”

Over at Immortal Marilyn, Leslie Kasperowicz believes that fans need to confront these issues openly to support those at risk and end the stigma of suicide.

“Marilyn’s death could have – should have – been one of the biggest blows to that stigma.  But instead, by choosing to look for conspiracies and murder, we took away her impact.  An impact that may have helped the people named above and so, so many others, had we let the blow fall.  Who were we protecting?  Not Marilyn. She is already beyond protection.”

Helena Christensen Inspired by Marilyn

Supermodel and photographer Helena Christensen tells The Guardian today that Marilyn would be her ideal subject.

“I wish I could have shot Marilyn Monroe. Every picture of her shows so much rawness. Vulnerability. She’d been a male subject her entire life and is one of those people you want to go back and hold close to you, shield them.”

Margot Kidder 1948-2018

Margot Kidder as Cherie in HBO’s ‘Bus Stop’ (1982)

Yesterday brought the sad news that Canadian-born actress Margot Kidder has passed away aged 69. Many children of the 1970s (myself included) will remember her as Lois Lane in the Superman movies. But did you know she also played Cherie in a 1982 television remake of Bus Stop? Filmed for HBO at the Claremont Theatre in California, it was a more literal adaptation of William Inge’s play, featuring additional characters not seen in Marilyn’s 1956 movie. If you’re curious about Margot’s performance, watch this Youtube clip from 6:20 onwards – and a full copy can be purchased for $23 from DVD Cafe.

The Goddess Paradox: From Marilyn to Beyoncé

Reviewing Beyoncé’s recent Coachella performance for Vox, Constance Grady argues that the singer is a truly iconic star because she embodies and resolves a specific problem of our time, with an interesting reference to Marilyn:

“One of the things that separates a star who will fade from an icon who will last is this: Icons can reconcile a major cultural paradox through the power of their images. A star is a person onto whom the rest of us project all of our fantasies and fears, so when the star is able to resolve one of those fears, to make us feel that it is meaningless and insignificant just for as long as we’re looking at them, we love them for it. We turn them into icons.

Marilyn Monroe is the prime example here. Marilyn was both pure sex and pure innocence at once, in a time that was profoundly anxious about sex and women’s bodies. You didn’t need to be worried about whether sex was corrupt or dirty when you looked at Marilyn because she made sex feel innocent just by existing as Marilyn.

Today, you might think of Angelina Jolie, who is both a sex symbol and a mother figure, or Oprah, who is both our wise, empathetic, and selfless best friend and a brilliant businesswoman mogul: They have resolved a contradiction that we don’t like, and because of that, we love them.

The Bey Paradox does the kind of work that made Marilyn Monroe an icon. It takes one of the major questions our culture frets over — Should women be naturally beautiful/good at their work/perfect in general? Or should they take pride in working hard and earning their perfection? — and it answers, yes. Both. Natural perfection and high-maintenance perfectionism, both at the same time.

Beyoncé dreams it and works hard, and then she wakes up flawless. That’s what makes her Queen Bey.”

Gemma Arterton on Playing Marilyn

Gemma Arterton has spoken with The Times about her role as Marilyn in It’s Me, Sugar, which opens the new season Sky Arts’ Urban Myths in the UK next Thursday (see trailer here.) While I don’t agree with all of Arterton’s comments – MM was not, as she claims, ‘the epitome of the casting couch’ – she does at least seem genuinely sympathetic to Marilyn’s experiences of harassment and sexism, and sensitive to the factors underlying her ‘difficult’ behaviour. (Interestingly, Arthur Miller is played by Dougray Scott, who took the same role in My Week With Marilyn.)

Thanks to Fraser Penney

“Gemma Arterton is screaming at the top of her voice. ‘F*** you!’ she roars. We’re alone in an empty changing room in a small production studio 17 miles south of London and the 32-year-old star of Tamara Drewe is tapping into her inner Marilyn Monroe. Almost unrecognisable in platinum-blond wig, blood-red lipstick and marble-white make-up, she is in between takes and casually unleashing her version of the screen legend, a volatile concoction of aching vulnerability mixed with furious hair-trigger passions.

The swearing, for instance, is delivered with jump-out-of-your-seat urgency, in the midst of an explanatory monologue about Monroe’s mid-sentence mood swings. ‘She goes from [whimpering], Oh my God, love me! straight into the opposite,’ says Arterton, before swearing, chuckling and then adding: ‘Everything I’ve read about Marilyn points to how unpredictable she was. She could change just like that. People would be afraid to knock on her door and to ask her to come out on set. Whereas I think most people think of her [adopts archetypal Monroe squeak] like a wet blanket.’

‘Marilyn used her vulnerable side to get what she wanted and to manipulate people,’ says Arterton, on a break from filming a stingingly satirical scene in which Monroe and Strasberg discuss her ‘motivation’ for opening a door (Strasberg asks Monroe if her character eats cheese and Monroe replies: ‘Only on Fridays — she gets paid on Thursdays!’). ‘That was a powerful tool that she had, to make everyone feel sorry for her. But in that power she was in control. There’s a bit in our film where they’re 37 takes in and Wilder says, “Don’t worry about it!” And she says, “Don’t worry about what?” And she actually said that! So she’s very tongue-in-cheek. She knows what she’s doing. But she plays the childlike thing. It’s part of her act.’

The film’s writer, David Cummings (a regular collaborator with Paul Whitehouse on Nurse and Happiness), adds later that ‘Marilyn said in interviews, “Sex is fine, but I don’t actually want to be objectified.” So she hired Paula Strasberg and married America’s leading playwright … Every message she gave off was, “I’m more than this sexy moron!” And I tried to put that in the script.’

Indeed, a prerequisite for Arterton’s role as ‘the blonde bombshell’, she says, was an assurance that, in the era of Harvey Weinstein, Me Too and Time’s Up, this would be a different, more engaged Monroe. ‘When I read the script I loved it, but the Weinstein stuff was happening at the same time and I really had to think twice about it,’ says Arterton. ‘Because this is a funny script about a woman who has been abused … So we talked about it and we made sure that we were all aware of that.’

I don’t think that it was fun at times to be inside Marilyn’s head,’ says Arterton …’But at other times it must’ve been great. Joe DiMaggio, her second husband, once said, “It’s a nightmare being married to a lightbulb.” She gave off this glow. Some depressive people are like that. There’s the dark, but also the light. And I hope that’s what we showed.'”

Carol Richards: Singing With the Stars

Carol Richards (1922-2007) was an American singer who also dubbed many stars in classic Hollywood films. She began her career at a radio station in Indianapolis. After winning a Bob Hope talent contest, she moved to Hollywood and appeared in many television shows. Best-known for her duet with Bing Crosby, ‘Silver Bells’, she was also a vocal double for actresses Vera Ellen in Call Me Madam, and Cyd Charisse in Silk Stockings, among others.

Marilyn rehearsing a number for ‘Some Like It Hot’

Interviewed for SeaCoastOnline, Carol’s grandson, Michael Scharff, claims she also worked with Marilyn:

“Richards was hired to dub for Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, but instead convinced Monroe to do her own songs, and trained her to ‘act the song,’ Scharff says.

The lesson shared with Monroe informs his own work as a singer and vocal teacher, ‘acting as singing,’ he says. ‘I say every song is a monologue set to rhythm with melody. It’s a singer’s job to interpret those lines. It comes right from my grandmother.'”

Personally, I find it unlikely that Marilyn ever seriously considered being dubbed. She had already proved herself in several musicals, released hit records and performed live. Marilyn also worked closely with the Matty Malneck Orchestra for Some Like It Hot. Furthermore, the film is not among Carol’s credits.

However, Some Like It Hot was Marilyn’s first movie in two years, so she have needed to brush up her vocal skills; and with the possible exception of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her songs as Sugar Kane are probably the most ‘in character’. So while unconfirmed, it’s possible that Carol did help to coach her for the role.

Marilyn Featured in Ella Fitzgerald Biography

Marilyn is featured in a new book by Geoffrey Mark. ELLA: A Biography of the Legendary Ella Fitzgerald is fully illustrated, and in the text, Mark describes the two iconic women as ‘true girlfriends, each had the other’s back as both felt overworked, put-upon, and under-appreciated by the men in their lives as well as their employers.’

The story of Marilyn’s helping Ella secure a nightclub engagement in Hollywood has been somewhat exaggerated over the years (more info here), but there does seem to have been a genuine affinity between them. Geoffrey Mark gave his take on their friendship in an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News.

“Mark told Fox News Fitzgerald’s estate gave his book ELLA their blessing and he had full cooperation from the star’s recording companies. Mark also assisted Fitzgerald in her later years and befriended her inner circle. Mark insisted that despite Fitzgerald’s sweet, sunny voice that easily lit up any stage, few fans know the full measure of the cruelty she endured as a child before finding fame.

‘It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances,’ said Mark. ‘Ella’s mother died in a car accident. And the man who was her mother’s companion, turned to Ella for comfort. He drank too much and forced himself on Ella, forcing her to run away from home… And because she ran away… the government grabbed her and stuck her in this awful place where children were sent — far away from where she was living.’

‘Marilyn Monroe began going to Ella Fitzgerald’s concerts and nightclub gigs,’ Mark explained. ‘She struck up a conversation with her and what they found out was they had both been teenagers forced out on their own, they had to survive for themselves, they both had to deal with being women in a business that was completely dominated by men… And Marilyn saw how Ella was treated sometimes for being black, for being overweight and for being in the jazz world.'”