Dear Mr. Gable: Hollywood’s Misfit King

Although The Misfits gave us one of Marilyn’s finest performances, it’s hard not to recall it without sadness. This is even more true for fans of Clark Gable, who died on November 16, 1960 (58 years ago this week), having suffered a heart attack two days after filming wrapped.

Gable had been Marilyn’s childhood idol (and an imaginary stand-in for her absent father.) He was probably her favourite leading man, and although her delays on the set often frustrated him, he remained a supportive friend to her throughout.

She was heartbroken by his death, and while some journalists blamed her for it, his widow would invite her to the christening of their only son in April 1961. Here’s a review from fansite Dear Mr. Gable, who are marking the King of Hollywood’s anniversary with Misfits-related posts on their Facebook page.

Gable on the ‘Misfits’ set with wife Kay

The Misfits is an apt title for this film, not only fitting for its group of wandering cowboys and recent divorcee, but for the cast portraying them: The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, who at age 59 was in no shape to be playing a 40-something-year-old cowboy in the hot Nevada desert. In fact, he failed his first physical for production insurance. After giving up alcohol temporarily and crash dieting to lose 35 lbs, he passed. And celebrated with whiskey and a steak.

Clark is paired as the unlikely romantic interest for the 34 year old Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was in a dark place at the time … This film to me is just sad. I wonder if I would feel the same way if it wasn’t Clark’s swan song and if he didn’t look so terrible in it. I’m not sure though; it’s just a bleak film. The screenplay is very poetic, full of perfectly executed prose that at times seems overdone … It’s unfortunate for us all that we never got to see Marilyn attempt to play such a dramatic role again.

His wife Kay recalled: ‘Most of The Misfits was shot on a blistering hot dry lake bed 50 miles from Reno. The thermometer generally registered 135 degrees by mid-afternoon. Many members of the cast and crew became ill. But Clark outrode and outwalked men half his age.He did take after strenuous take roping a wild stallion singlehanded … Clark explained they had filmed a scene in which he was dragged on a rope behind a truck going 30 miles an hour. I was appalled. “Why are you doing those scenes?” I asked. “You’ve got a stunt man who’s supposed to do them.” Clark confessed that he’d found the waiting so demoralizing he’d volunteered to do the scenes just to keep occupied.’

On November 4, 1960, production wrapped on the film as the final scene was shot: Clark and Marilyn, alone in the car, surrounded by darkness.

‘How do you find your way back in the dark?’ she asks.

‘Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it, it’ll take us right home,’ he says.

Those were the final words either of them would utter onscreen. There were no end credits, no ‘The End’ on the screen; it just faded to black. You can’t get more poetic than that.”

Earl R. Gilbert: Marilyn’s Lighting Man

Although he wouldn’t gain his first screen credit until 1965, Earl R. Gilbert began his career at Twentieth Century Fox in the same year as Marilyn (and at the same age.) In an article for Variety, James C. Udel looks back at Gilbert’s long career.

“Back in the age of directors calling ‘Lights, camera, action!’ lighting was an unsung craft. One crew member who raised the bar, employing natural-looking illumination like an artist uses his brush, is gaffer Earl Gilbert.

Gilbert was born in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1926. His father, Ray, an electrician at Twentieth Century Fox Studios, helped Earl obtain union status via ‘the sons of members’ provision. Joining in late 1946, Earl aced a grueling four-hour test pulling pound-a-foot cable 60 feet above the stage.

Serving as a rigger on pictures Forever Amber and Gentlemen’s Agreement (both in 1947) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Gilbert first demonstrated a talent for lighting on Elia Kazan’s 1952 Viva Zapata!

Continuing with Fox into the 1950s, Gilbert helped light classics such as The Robe, two Marilyn Monroe starrers — Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bus Stop … On Blondes, he recalls Monroe being shy but Jane Russell being gregarious: Russell’s cry of ‘Howdy, Earl!’ each time she greeted him on set, he says, made him feel like a million bucks.

Gilbert developed the art of using available location lighting. He ‘borrowed’ electricity by scaling telephone poles and tapping into overhead power lines — a gambit that risked electrocution.

Now retired and interviewed by Variety in his comfortable home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Gilbert reminisces … ‘I never used a light meter,’ he allows. ‘If it looks good, it is good, and if it’s not, fix it!'”

Marilyn and Judy Holliday Double Bill

Among the upcoming screenings of the newly restored Some Like It Hot is an intriguing double bill. At 1:30 pm on December 16, the 1959 classic will be screened at London’s Regent Street Cinema, followed by It Should Happen To You (1954) at 3:50 pm. Not only does Jack Lemmon appear in both films, but It Should Happen To You also stars Judy Holliday, the blonde star who, alongside Marilyn, was one of the leading comediennes of the era.

The film was directed by George Cukor, who later worked with Marilyn in Let’s Make Love and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give. Judy stars as an out-of-work actress whose life is transformed when she rents a billboard to advertise herself. In his first major film role Lemmon plays a photographer, while Peter Lawford – another figure from Marilyn’s life –   is cast as a rather caddish businessman.

A native New Yorker, Judy Holliday became a star on Broadway with her role as Billie Dawn, a gangster’s moll who falls in love with a straight-laced journalist hired to educate her, in Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday. Kanin later said that a young Marilyn had auditioned for the big-screen adaptation, but the role was ultimately reprised by Judy.

The two actresses – who both battled ‘dumb blonde’ typecasting, finally met in 1956, as Martha Weinman Lear revealed in a 1988 article for Fame magazine. (Sadly, Judy Holliday’s career would also be cut short when she died, aged 44, of breast cancer in 1965.)

“Thirty blocks downtown, a billboard dominated Times Square. This was in 1956, a cave age, but you remember that billboard. Even if you weren’t born yet you remember that billboard: Marilyn Monroe, starring in The Seven Year Itch, loomed twenty feet tall … in what was, and remains, one of the most powerful images ever to come out of movie advertising.

A few blocks east, more peekaboo: Judy Holliday, the Funny Girl of her day, was transforming herself nightly into just that paper doll, and packing them into the Blue Angel supper club with her impersonation — never mind the makeup, it was an act of brains and will, and it was brilliant — of Marilyn Monroe.

It was my first job, at Collier’s magazine, doing my own impersonation — eager researcher playing cool reporter — and yearning for some epiphanic professional moment. It came…

Leonard Lyons, gossip columnist for the old New York Post, was strolling down Fifth Avenue with Holliday one day, or so he reported, and they ran into Monroe. Reality and illusion head-to-head; how avidly the two must have eyed each other! Introductions were made. Someone said, ‘we ought to get together,’ and the women arranged to have tea at Judy’s apartment in the Dakota, Collier’s to record the event for some ravenous posterity. I was sent to take notes.

The photographer Howell Conant, was all set up in the living room. The appointed hour came, and no Marilyn. A half hour later, no Marilyn. Judy grew tenser. Finally, after an hour, a person arrived, and it appeared that this person was Marilyn Monroe.

Time has done nothing to dim the details: She wore a black cotton shirt, sleeveless, a brown cotton skirt and flats. There was a big grease stain on the front of the skirt. The belly protruded. The legs were covered with bumps and scabs, which she kept scratching. The platinum hair showed dark at the roots and, when she raised her arm, I saw a luxuriant dark undergrowth. This was before political statements; we were all shaving our armpits. She looked…tatty, a bit. Only the voice was unmistakable, pure sigh (was it afraid to be heard or demanding that we lean in to listen? I have never been sure). Only the skin, which was truly luminescent, would have stopped you in the street.

‘We were getting worried about you!’ Judy cried. Her voice shook, I think with wrath.

‘I’ve got mosquito bites,’ the goddess whispered, and bent to scratch yet again. And though the sequitur escaped me, I instantly and utterly forgave her for being late.

She wanted to makeup her face. Then the two of them thought that it might be fun for Judy to put on her Marilyn face first, while Marilyn watched in the mirror. They began, and it was impossible. Marilyn guided graciously, with soft breathy urgings: ‘Mm, make the eyebrow a little pointier … Yes, that’s right …’ But Judy couldn’t do it. She did it every night, but here, now, in the presence of the real thing…who did not herself look much like the real thing, which gave rise to problems of philosophic scope, because who or where was the real thing? Was it here, in this sweetly scruffy presence, or was this a mere mortal metaphor for the real thing, which was up there on the billboard?

‘Well, uh…’ Marilyn began, and giggled, craning her own head back gingerly, as though trying to ease a stiff neck. And that was when I finally saw, quick study that I was, that both women had the same problem: They were both straining to impersonate Marilyn Monroe.

So they tried it the other way. Marilyn would make up first. ‘Oh, I look awful,’ she said, but in the mirror she took on authority. She set to work with that total Teutonic dispassion of models, a touch of shadow here, a dab of highlight there, an extravagance of mascara, an artful swirling of hair around the roots. I waited, wild with curiosity — Judy too — for the transmutational touch, peekaboo! But Monroe was doing no magic tricks; she was simply spiffing up what she had, as we all do.

And then came this remarkable moment. The child, Jonathan, appeared in the doorway. Judy bent to him and took his hand. ‘Jonathan,’ she said, ‘do you remember that lady we saw in the movie, Marilyn Monroe?’ The cherub nodded. ‘You want to meet her?’ Again he nodded, wide-eyed. ‘Jonathan,’ she said, and her hand swept across the room — flourish of trumpets, roll of drums — ‘this is Marilyn Monroe.’

Marilyn was standing. She had just hitched up her skirt to pull down the blouse from underneath. She looked at the little boy, and he at her, and in that instant it happened. She metamorphosed … And the head tilted easily back, the eyelids closed down, she licked her lips, became that myth and smiled full into the child’s face and sighed, ‘Hi-iiii.’

Conant shot hundreds of exposures that afternoon; not a single one of Marilyn was bad, and most were splendid. Ultimately, what one saw in the room did not matter. Her face, as they say of certain faces — as they first said of Valentino’s face — made love to the camera.

The pictures were never published because Collier’s, soon after, went out of business. The one shown here was taken as a souvenir for me, and I have never looked at it without remembering that moment of her transmutation, and wondering: What on earth she thought she was doing? And it must be that she simply had not thought at all, but had simply heard the bell and gone on automatic. If it was male it was her audience, her element, and she would play to it. This is a gift. It is not necessarily a gift that makes good actors, but it almost invariably makes great performers.”

Marilyn, Bruce Campbell and the Oscar Date That Never Was

Marilyn was (infamously) never nominated for an Oscar, and only attended the ceremony once, to present an award for All About Eve in 1951. However, in an interview for Hollywood Life, actor Bruce Campbell – who made his name in the cult 1981 horror film, The Evil Dead – reveals a family memory that may provide another tenuous link to Oscar.

“Show me a successful person, and I’ll show you someone who’s life is falling apart. It really is — it’s so true of so many people. Show business — show me a really successful actor, like really successful, and I bet their personal life is for sh*t.

I heard one time — Marilyn Monroe. No one would ask her out, because they always assumed she was with somebody. And an uncle of mine was an animator for Disney, years back in the Fifties, and they said, ‘hey, Marilyn Monroe’s looking for a date to the Academy Awards. Do you want to do?’ He’s like, ‘bullsh*t. She’s not looking for anything.’ And she didn’t go that year, because she didn’t have anyone to go with. Ain’t that weird?

Prettiest girl in school. Talk to the prettiest girl in school. Some guys may be like, ‘oh, she can’t — I can’t touch her.’”

Laurie Mitchell 1928-2018

Actress Laurie Mitchell, who played ‘Mary Lou’, the trumpeter from Sweet Sue’s band in Some Like It Hot, has died aged 90.

Born Mickey Koren in Manhattan in 1928,  she was a child model and was crowned ‘Miss Bronx’ while still in high school. Her family moved to Los Angeles where she took acting classes at the Ben Bard Drama Academy. In 1949 she married magician Larry White, and began performing onstage as Barbara White.

She made her big-screen debut with an uncredited role in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954.) More bit parts followed in movies and television, until she hit her stride under her new name of Laurie Mitchell, as Queen Yllana (the masked nemesis of leading lady Zsa Zsa Gabor) in the cult sci-fi flick, Queen of Outer Space (1958.)

Laurie Mitchell at left (in headscarf)

Her role in Some Like It Hot was also uncredited, but she considered it a highlight of her career. Her husband also played the trumpet, which may explain her casting. As Mary Lou, she brings a box of crackers to the impromptu party at Jack Lemmon’s bunk on the overnight train.

She later recalled that all the girls in the band were required to ‘go blonde’ by director Billy Wilder. Marilyn was unhappy with this, and insisted they should sport a darker shade than her signature platinum do.

Laurie later played a showgirl in That Touch of Mink (1962), starring Cary Grant and Doris Day, and a ‘saloon girl’ in Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1963), with Audie Murphy. She also made guest appearances in many TV shows, including 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Addams Family, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Ironside, and Hogan’s Heroes. Her final screen appearance was in 1971.

Her marriage to Larry White, with whom she had two children, ended in 1976.  She later remarried, and became a much-loved fixture on the celebrity expo circuit.

Marilyn and Joe at the Tides Motel

Gary Vitacco-Robles, author of Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, has posted the first installment of an in-depth, 2-part article about Marilyn’s March 1961 holiday with ex-husband Joe DiMaggio in Florida – focusing on the complex love story behind their stay at the Tides Motel – on his Tampa Bay Author blog today.

“When DiMaggio and Marilyn reconnected during the Christmas holidays of 1960, following her separation from playwright Arthur Miller, Marilyn felt validated by DiMaggio’s insightful comment that, after progressing in therapy, he realized he would have divorced a man like himself, had he been in her shoes.

DiMaggio deeply loved Marilyn, and  her attraction to him remained strong. ‘Marilyn knew where she stood with him,’ publicist Lois Weber Smith said. ‘He was always there, she could call on him, lean on him, depend on him, be certain of him. It was a marvelous feeling of comfort for her.’

In late march, Marilyn and DiMaggio escaped the hectic pace of their public and professional lives and the cold of New York and together traveled to Tampa Bay’s Suncoast … The couple registered in separate guest rooms across from each other in the main building of the exclusive Tides Resort & Bath Club on the Gulf of Mexico … Eventually, the resort’s management relocated the famous couple to the rooftop for more private sunbathing … In the evenings, the couple dined intimately at the Wine House Restaurant, later the Wine Cellar, on Gulf Boulevard, located next to the Zebra Lounge.”

64 Years Ago: Heartbreak on the Subway Grate

September 15 marks the 64th anniversary of the filming of Marilyn’s most famous movie scene, standing over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch with her skirt blowing up in the breeze. In an article for Mama Mia, Polly Taylor looks at the personal heartache behind one of Hollywood’s most iconic moments.

“The scene was filmed in public to generate publicity for the movie, and DiMaggio was among the crowd. Director Billy Wilder described the ‘look of death’ on DiMaggio’s face as Monroe’s skirt flew up and onlookers cheered, as reported by The Telegraph.

George S. Zimbel, one of many photographers on set, recalled DiMaggio becoming irate and storming off, riled up by the uproarious press and onlookers who were gathered to watch the scene … Just a month later, in October 1954, Monroe divorced DiMaggio on the grounds of ‘mental cruelty’.”

Burt Reynolds 1936-2018

Burt Reynolds, one of the most popular actors of the 1970s and beyond, has died aged 82. Born in Lansing, Michigan in 1936, he came from a military family and his father later became a chief of police. Burt attended Florida State University on a football scholarship, and when injuries ruled out a sporting career, his interest turned to acting. He moved to New York to pursue his new career, where as Vanity Fair reports, he caught his first glimpe of stardom.

“The actor’s life was brimming with stories like this, close brushes with some of the most famous women in the film industry. Reynolds also had a particularly bittersweet anecdote about taking an acting class with Marilyn Monroe as an up-and-comer in the late 1950s. He would walk with her from 58th Street to the Actors Studio, he said, surprised by the blonde icon’s quietude. ‘She didn’t say much, but she didn’t have to,’ he recalled in a March interview with Conan O’Brien. He was also surprised to see that one of the most famous women in the world wasn’t getting swarmed on the street. ‘How come they don’t jump up and down?’ he asked her, referring to the people breezing past her. ‘She said, “Oh—do you wanna see her?”’ And with that, the actress threw her shoulders back and started strutting with purpose. Within 20 feet, she was ‘surrounded by about 40 people,’ Reynolds said. ‘I liked her so much . . . she was so real and sweet and kind.'”

This is a familiar tale, similar to anecdotes shared by Eli Wallach, Sam Shaw and others – but Burt’s comments are warm and sensitive. He began to make his name during the 1960s, with appearances on television shows including Gunsmoke. His big-screen breakthrough was in Deliverance (1970), proving he had more to offer than just good looks. He famously posed nude for Cosmopolitan in 1972, the magazine’s first male centrefold. Over the next two decades, he juggled blockbuster hits with more dramatic roles, and branched out into directing.

Like Marilyn Monroe, Burt’s racy image meant that he wasn’t always taken seriously, though he would win a Golden Globe – and Oscar nomination – for Boogie Nights (1997.) He was married to actresses Judy Carne and Loni Anderson (a blonde bombshell in her own right), but by his own admission, his greatest love was Sally Field. In 2014, he faced bankruptcy. Burt Reynolds died of cardiac arrest, and his final movie was fittingly entitled The Last Movie Star.

Christopher Lawford 1955-2018

Christopher Lawford, the son of actor Peter Lawford and wife Patricia ‘Pat’ Kennedy, has died aged 63.  He had suffered a heart attack while at a yoga studio in Vancouver.

Christopher was born in 1955, a year after his parents’ marriage. He had three younger sisters, and was raised at the Lawfords’ beachfont home in Santa Monica.

Marilyn grew close to both Peter and (especially) Pat after returning to Los Angeles in 1961. Christopher shared a childhood memory of Marilyn in his autobiography…

“There were a lot of beautiful people hanging around our backyard pool on the beach in Santa Monica. Marilyn Monroe was there in her scarf, trying to stay out of the sun. She had a quiet voice, would smile at me and head out to walk on the sand with my mom. My mother told me Marilyn was like ‘her little sister.’ It surprised her that Marilyn was so open with her. My mom didn’t come from a background where emotions and feelings were openly shared. Marilyn Monroe trusted my mother’s love for her. There was nothing Marilyn had that my mom needed.”

After his parents divorced in 1966, Christopher moved to New York with his mother.  Unfortunately, he developed a serious drug problem in adulthood, and was forced to confront his demons when his cousin David died of a drug overdose in 1984.

Having earned qualifications in both law and psychiatry, in 1988 Christopher decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, acting on television (including a 3-year stint in the soap opera, All My Children.) He also worked as an independent film producer, and tried unsuccessfully to make a film about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. His memoir, Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption, was published in 2005.

Christopher was also politically active, working for the Democratic National Committee and for his uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy. He also worked tirelessly to help people suffering from addiction.

Married three times, Christopher is survived by a widow and three children. You can read more about Marilyn and the Lawfords here.

Did Marilyn Pass Through Hong Kong in 1954?

Today’s obituary page in the Daily Mail includes an interesting anecdote from Timothy Goss, son-in-law of Derek Bishop who died recently, aged 85. Apparently, Derek met Marilyn at the former Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong one freezing night, while on guard duty as part of his national service in the British Royal Air Force.

Although the story is dated as from 1952, Marilyn didn’t travel to the Far East until 1954. National service usually lasted for 1 year, sometimes more. And I haven’t heard of her visiting Hong Kong before, but it’s possible she passed through while returning to husband Joe DiMaggio in Japan after entertaining US troops in Korea.

However, as April VeVea points out over at Marilyn Remembered, “That seems really far out of the way when Hong Kong is roughly 2000 miles [from South Korea] and Kobe, Japan is 800.” So did Derek really meet Marilyn, or another blonde starlet that night?

“When his shift came to an end at 9pm, Derek and another solider were asked if they would stay on because a delayed flight was expected and there was a ‘celebrity’ on board.

They agreed and when the plane landed at 11pm, the famous passenger who stepped out was none other than the woman who would become the ultimate screen goddess.

Derek said she was dressed in ‘everyday’ clothes and wore very little make-up. She insisted on thanking him and his pal personally for working late and took them for a drink in the Nissen Hut that served as the mess.

He had half a lager and his only comment was that ‘she had no side to her.'”