‘Making Montgomery Clift’ in Glasgow

Marilyn with Montgomery Clift at the ‘Misfits’ premiere, 1961

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

Why Marilyn and the BBC’s Iconic Women Lost Out

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

Marilyn Entertains in BBC’s ‘Icons’

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 

Zimbel’s Marilyn in Beijing

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.

Did Rock Hudson Reach Out to Marilyn?

In some ways, Rock Hudson was Marilyn’s male counterpart as a misunderstood sex symbol of 1950s Hollywood.  They partied together at the How to Marry a Millionaire premiere in 1953, and in 1962 Rock would present Marilyn with her final award at the Golden Globes. Sadly they never worked together, but Rock was the initial favourite for her leading man in Bus Stop; and in 1958, she was considered for Pillow Talk before deciding to make Some Like It Hot instead. (Doris Day got the part, the beginning of a great comedy partnership with Rock.)

Until now, it has been unclear how well the two stars knew each other (although a recent hack tome made the unlikely claim that Marilyn and Rock were lovers – as we now know, Hudson was gay.) In a critically praised new biography, All That Heaven Allows, author Mark Griffin draws on interviews with Rock’s secretary, Lois Rupert, who claims they often spoke on the phone. Although the frequency of their conversations may be questioned, the obvious affection of their Golden Globes photos combined with this information could suggest that Rock was one of the few Hollywood figures trusted by Marilyn in her final months – and Griffin also reveals that Hudson generously donated his fee for narrating the 1963 documentary, Marilyn, to a cause very close to her heart.

“It was while he was on location for A Gathering Of Eagles that Rock received word that a friend had died. As Lois Rupert recalled, ‘Rock met me at his front door with the news … “Monroe is dead” is all he said.’

Only five months earlier, Rock and Marilyn Monroe had posed for photographers at the annual Golden Globes ceremonies. In images captured of the event, Monroe, who was named World Film Favourite, is beaming as Hudson enfolds her into a protective embrace. With a shared history of abuse and exploitation, it was inevitable that these two should be drawn to each other. Recognising that he posed no sexual threat to her, Monroe had latched on to Hudson and had lobbied for Rock to co-star with her in Let’s Make Love as well as her uncompleted final film, Something’s Got to Give.

Lois Rupert remembered that in the early 1960s, Rock regularly received late-night distress calls from Monroe as well as another troubled superstar. ‘If it wasn’t Marilyn Monroe crying on his shoulder, then it was Judy Garland,’ Rupert recalled. ‘It was almost like they took turns. Marilyn would call one night and Judy the next. He was always very patient, very understanding with both of them, even though he wasn’t getting much sleep. I think he liked playing the big brother who comes to the rescue.’

Within ten months of Monroe’s death, 20th Century-Fox would release a hastily assembled documentary entitled Marilyn. Fox had initially approached Frank Sinatra about narrating, but when the studio wasn’t able to come to terms with the singer Hudson stepped in. Hudson not only provided poignant commentary – both on and off camera – he donated his salary to help establish the Marilyn Monroe Memorial Fund at the Actors Studio.”

Smithsonian to Screen ‘Marilyn for Sale’

Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime, the documentary about the 2016 Julien’s sale (in which Marilyn’s ‘birthday dress sold for $4.8m) has been acquired by the Smithsonian Channel, and will be screened on December 23 at 9pm, as Daniele Alcinii reports for RealScreen. Originally produced by Oxford Film and Television and broadcast in the UK on Channel 4, the documentary has been renamed Marilyn Monroe For Sale. You can read my review here.

Henri Dauman ‘Looks Up’ in the Hamptons

Henri Dauman, the French-born photographer who came to New York after losing both parents in World War II, is the subject of a new documentary,  Henri Dauman: Looking Up, which will premiere this weekend at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Dauman photographed Marilyn on several occasions, including the 1959 David di Donatello Awards (see above.) He has spoken about his long career in an interview for The Hamptons website.

“Henri Dauman is one of the world’s most preeminent photographers, working with the likes of JFK, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, Jane Fonda, Malcolm X, Miles Davis, Yves Saint-Laurent and many, many more. However, since Dauman came of age during a time when photographers weren’t widely recognized for their exceptional works, he’s not necessarily a household name, as he well deserves to be.

The photographer was featured in his first solo exhibition in 2014, and his photos have been showcased in several more since. Now his extraordinary life is the subject of the directorial debut of Peter Kenneth Jones’ Henri Dauman: Looking Up…

How did moving to New York impact your photography? 

HD: A lot because all of the sudden I was in the land that I was dreaming about while seeing American movies. When I was a child I went quite a bit to the movies and saw a lot of American movies. I said, ‘My god, I finally landed in Hollywood-land.’ I was very impressed with the skyscrapers, the size of the city, which was different than Paris which is smaller on the human scale. Here, everything was large…

What does it mean to you that your work still resonates deeply with people, many, many years after these photographs were initially taken?

HD: I’m very pleased because I thought my work was fading away, but apparently, unbeknownst to me, I had covered a great story overall of the evolution of the United States from the ’50s to the ’80s. I didn’t know it at the time, but I did so many varied stories – whether it’s a civil rights story or shooting Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot, when you add up all the stories, it added up to a narrative history of the United States.”

Why Marilyn Wasn’t ‘Always at the Carlyle’

Marilyn with Isadore Miller (1962)

Always At The Carlyle, a new documentary about one of New York City’s legendary hotels, puts paid to the enduring myth that Marilyn and John F. Kennedy enjoyed a romantic tryst in the Presidential Suite after the 1962 gala where she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him.  ‘Much is made of a story about how John F. Kennedy smuggled Marilyn Monroe through a tunnel to the Carlyle,’ the Times reports, ‘but then the idea is pretty convincingly debunked.’ In fact, at the end of the evening Marilyn accompanied her elderly former father-in-law Isadore Miller – who was her escort at the gala and after-party – back to his hotel, before returning home alone. This was confirmed by superfan James Haspiel, who clocked Marilyn entering her apartment building in the small hours.