Marilyn’s life and death is the subject of a new 3-part documentary in the Fox News Channel series, Scandalous. It began last night, and will continue over the next two Sundays. It’s being aired in the US and Australia, but not as yet in Europe. Interviewees include authors Gary Vitacco Robles, Charles Casillo, Donald McGovern and Keith Badman, plus Elisa Jordan of LA Woman Tours and photographer Larry Schiller and Leigh Weiner’s son Devik. This alone could make it worth watching, although fans have already complained about the use of Marilyn’s autopsy photo on both the show and tabloid coverage.
Although he hung up his blond wig back in 1997, Jimmy James remains one of the most beloved Marilyn impersonators. He talks about his plans for a documentary about ‘the Marilyn years,’ and more, in an interview for Instinct magazine.
“I did an L.A. Eyeworks ad (it was banished under threats of lawsuits from ever being seen for twenty two years until the internet set it free around 2012. Now I can sell the Limited Edition prints with mine and Greg Gorman’s signatures). It has become the most mis-identified photo of Marilyn Monroe in the world. It was actually even made into an African stamp by mistake, and juxtaposed with real images of Marilyn Monroe!”
Photographer Arnold Newman, who died in 2006, was known as the ‘father of the environmental portrait’, although according to the New York Times, he hated that title: “He was not interested in the details of his subject’s surroundings, but the symbols he could create with them.” In 1962, he photographed Marilyn dancing and chatting with her poet friend Carl Sandburg during a party at the Beverly Hills home of Something’s Got to Give producer Henry Weinstein. Dressed casually with minimal make-up, Marilyn appears thin and rather fragile. The photo shown above is featured in Arnold Newman: One Hundred, published last year to celebrate what would have been his centenary,
Newman was one of many notable photographers who appeared in Marilyn Monroe: Still Life, a 2006 documentary for PBS:
“He says it’s the real Marilyn, you know? It really is this portrait shot of her, cut out of a two shot of her talking to Carl Sandburg. I had looked at those pictures many times, and never seen that the portrait was actually just a cropped version of this photograph. So already the eye of the photographer is present, just in being able to see what he has in his own picture. And I said to him, ‘God, look at that. Carl Sandburg is just listening to her,’ and he said, ‘No, she was just pouring her heart out, she was miserable.’ He did that photograph in March of ’62 and she was dead by August of ’62. She was already very troubled, very sad. So the whole circumstance of the photograph was one that you didn’t necessarily know when first looking at it. “Gail Levin, filmmaker
The spectacular career of Bob Mackie, designer to the stars, will be explored in a new documentary, as Bronwyn Cosgrave writes in the Hollywood Reporter.
“Slated for a December 2020 release, the as-yet-untitled doc will examine the Burbank-based designer’s 50-year career, commencing from his start in 1961 at Paramount Pictures working as a sketch artist for Edith Head before moving on to assist Columbia’s costume designer Jean Louis. For Louis, Mackie innovated the nude-illusion sartorial concept by creating an illustration that proved to be the blueprint of the form-fitting, rhinestone-studded sheer gown in which Marilyn Monroe generated a sensation performing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in May 1962.”
The Lithgow Valley Film Society in New South Wales, Australia are presenting a wonderful double bill from 2 pm this Sunday, April 28 at their Main Street cinema. Introduced by an ‘MM expert’, the acclaimed 2012 documentary Love, Marilyn will be followed by the 1953 ‘Technicolor Noir’, Niagara, in a restored print, the Lithgow Mercury reports.
In her new documentary, Romantic Comedy (which has its US premiere tomorrow at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas), Elizabeth Sankey argues that Marilyn and Doris Day – both blonde and funny, though otherwise very different – dominated the genre in the 1950s, and as she tells Danielle Solzman on the Solzy At The Movies site, Sankey also believes that if Marilyn had lived to complete Something’s Got to Give, she could have transformed the genre forever.
“I think the real ‘wow’ moment for me was that on Marilyn Monroe’s last film she had planned to do a nude scene – she was going to swim naked in a pool to try and entice her husband back into her arms. This would have been groundbreaking and I think potentially could have changed the world of romantic comedies – and their relationship to sex – in an indelible way. But the film was never finished and instead re-made a year later with Doris Day [Move Over Darling] who was not someone who was keen for romantic comedies to contain sex or female characters with sexual agency. And they’ve never really changed since then. It’s bizarre that even in 2019 romantic comedies so rarely have the two leads having sex – most of them end with heady declarations of love before they’ve even kissed! I do wonder if this has influenced the way women are encouraged in society to prioritize love and romance, with their sexual desire being something they’re not ‘supposed’ to be concerned with.”
Making Montgomery Clift will have its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, screening at the Everyman on Thursday, February 28, and Friday, March 1, following rave reviews in the US. (As yet, it’s unclear whether Monty’s friendship with Marilyn features in the documentary, but The Misfits was one of his most important films, and likely to be mentioned.)
Thanks to Fraser Penney
“Co-director Robert Clift is the film’s onscreen searcher, heard in incisively written voiceover and seen poring over an astounding, and often poignant, assortment of Clift family memorabilia, items that go well beyond the usual photo albums and home movies … the film unravels the accepted wisdom that Clift’s life was one of inner conflict and painfully guarded truths. In footage of him at leisure, his joy and exuberance light up the screen. He might not have been ‘out’ — who was in those benighted times? — but his intimates testify that he was anything but closeted. By refusing to sign a studio contract, he was not only maintaining his artistic independence but protecting his private life from the kind of show marriage, like Rock Hudson’s, that the Hollywood publicity machine insisted on for gay stars.” – Sherri Linden, Hollywood Reporter
“That ‘secret’ – that Clift was gay during an impossible era (the 1930s through the 60s) – led many interpreters to conclude that the actor must have led a life riddled with fear and shame. It hardly helped lend nuance to that reading that Clift was a well-known and long-time abuser of pain killers and alcohol, actions which likely sped his death from a heart attack at 45 in 1966 … In fact, the attitudes he and his family held towards his relationships with men were strikingly modern.
[Robert] Clift asserts that the actor’s use of alcohol and prescription drugs stemmed, primarily, from a near-fatal car accident in 1956. He used them to numb his physical pain. The accident changed his appearance, and many biographers assumed Clift felt ruined by it and, so, drank more.
Many of the myths surrounding Clift sprang from two biographies: a salacious one by Robert LaGuardia and another flawed work by Patricia Bosworth, titled A Life. The film-makers interviewed Bosworth extensively for the movie, but they contrast her words with old taped conversations she had with the actor’s brother. He pleaded with her to make changes to her book to correct the mischaracterizations. While she sounds apologetic, the changes were never made.
As to why Bosworth drew on the gay-self-hate narrative, and why that view took hold, the directors blame the homophobia of the time the book was written, in the 1970s. ‘The view then about queer people was that they would be inherently conflicted or tormented about their sexuality,’ said [Hillary] Demmon. ‘If you have a story that tracks along that line, that will feel true to people. Which gives that narrative a lot of traction. Now we’re at a historical point in mainstream queer discourse where that story seems less viable.'” – Jim Farber, The Guardian
“And an alternative version of Monty, laid out by Making Montgomery Clift: Montgomery Clift was open about his sexuality. He was not ‘tormented’ by it. The man even had a sense of humor! Some of his favorite work came after that crash. Montgomery Clift’s story is not a tragedy of self-loathing, but a tale of a man who refused to be put in a box by the Hollywood system—only to be put into a different sort of box after his death, when he was no longer around to counter the narrative that began to calcify soon after his passing.” – Rebecca Pahle, Film Journal
The BBC documentary series, Icons: The Story of the 20th Century, has concluded with viewers voting the code-breaking British scientist Alan Turing the overall winner. Marilyn came second to David Bowie in the entertainment category, but as several commentators have noted, none of the female candidates – including Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Virginia Woolf, among other luminaries – made it to the final round.
“The gender-challenged outcome came despite efforts from a range of experts to push women in their field. This, incidentally, is a tactic favoured by the authors of a Harvard Business School (HBS) report about the pitfalls of consumer voting: namely, using a ‘curated list’ to ensure choices aren’t biased in the first instance.
Viewers, however, were not to be swayed … although actress Kathleen Turner suggested either Marilyn Monroe or Billie Holiday could triumph over Charlie Chaplin or David Bowie, it was the man from Brixton who won the entertainers’ subset.
Does this mean TV executives should halt the public vote in an attempt to save face? Roger Mosey, who has held many top jobs at the BBC, including editorial director and director of sport, thinks not. ‘Programmers like interactivity and think it’s great to get people involved.’ But he warns that it’s ‘very, very hard to control a vote’, especially in the age of social media because the temptation to ‘have a laugh and subvert votes even more’ can be too great to resist.
In the case of BBC Icons, it isn’t clear whether more men voted than women; a spokesperson declined to reveal a gender split – or, indeed, any further details about the poll. Which isn’t to suggest that women would automatically vote for a female candidate … Mosey suggests that, perhaps, the show was simply flawed.
‘The problem with Icons is that it’s a not very good remake of Great Britons, made when Jane Root was the controller of BBC Two. The problem with Icons is you’re comparing lots of people who aren’t very alike really. They should have spotted that the whole series was a little bit on thin ice.'” – Susie Mesure, The Independent
“‘I wasn’t surprised,’ Clare [Balding] said when asked by host, Strictly Come Dancing‘s Claudia Winkleman, about the lack of women. ‘I’m a bit disappointed, but not surprised because I think you can’t be an icon unless you are allowed to have the limelight. I think the 20th century largely was the history of men, told by men and women have started to find their voice and started to find their feet so that if we did this programme all of us back again in 50 years’ time, we’d be looking at people like Oprah Winfrey or J.K. Rowling. We’d be looking at Madonna or Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. We’d be looking at Serena Williams or Malala, Michelle Obama. I think there are so many women who have an influence in their sphere and outside it and they’re beginning to have an impact now, but almost the 20th century was too short. We need to be knocking into the 21st.'” – Digital Spy
“All of these women were disregarded in one way or another during their career, so it’s unbelievably disappointing to see a repeat pattern all these years later … The accolades of most of the women included in the BBC longlist are known to the majority of modern day people. Voters made a choice to ignore these women once again.
But blaming the average person isn’t the solution. Society is still clearly receiving the message that women’s achievements are nothing in comparison to men’s. Although a select group of people recognise this isn’t true, it’s the unconverted that need to be preached to. The people who still say female sports players aren’t as good as men. The young people who still grow up unable to name five prominent historical women off the top of their heads. The people who display everyday sexism without even realising.
The BBC’s programme may have started out with the best intentions, but the outcome was a sad reflection of society’s views. Changing those views isn’t going to be a quick process. It’s going to take months, maybe years, of government-funded campaigns, of media organisations bringing women to the forefront, and of average people pushing back against inequality.” – Lauren Sharkey, Bustle
Last night, Marilyn was featured alongside Charlie Chaplin, Billie Holiday and David Bowie in the entertainment segment of the BBC series, Icons: The Story of the 20th Century. The episode was presented by actress Kathleen Turner, with biographer Sarah Churchwell and photographer Douglas Kirkland among the guests. Marilyn was nominated as an icon of glamour; or in Turner’s words, ‘the sex symbol who took on Hollywood.’
Her frank admission to having posed for a nude calendar, and later on her triumphant battle with Twentieth Century Fox and setting up her own production company, were cited as exemplifying her refusal to be bound by the limitations imposed on her by an industry which failed to recognise that she could have both brains and beauty. Sarah Churchwell praised her ability to spoof feminine stereotypes, with clips from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes showcasing her comedic skill.
The public vote was won by David Bowie, who will now be featured in the series finale. As noted in Mixmag, Marilyn came in second. Viewers in the UK (with a current TV licence) can watch the full episode here.
Thanks to Fraser Penney
Zimbelism, the 2015 documentary about photographer George S. Zimbel’s 70-year career – including his iconic images of Marilyn filming the ‘skirt-blowing scene’ for The Seven Year Itch on a New York subway grate – will be screened tomorrow at The SLab in Beijing, China.