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.”

Marilyn at the Coronado Museum

Sixty years ago, the ‘Florida’ scenes for Some Like It Hot were filmed on Coronado Island near San Diego, California.

From now until January at the Coronado Museum of Art & History, a new exhibition – Coronado’s Golden Age of Film – explores the resort’s movie connections, hosted by the Coronado Historical Association and with items from Scott Fortner’s Marilyn Monroe Collection as its centerpiece.

“The Marilyn Monroe Collection comprises a lifetime of memories, both Marilyn’s and the collector’s. On loan to the Coronado Historical Association are a selection of Coronado-centric pieces from the collection consisting of items from Marilyn’s personal wardrobe, including a dress she wore off the set during filming of Some Like it Hot, cosmetics, books from her personal library, numerous personal and professional documents, a Marilyn Monroe signed bank check made payable to her acting coach Paula Strasberg, and other items directly from her estate.

Coronado’s film history is rich and vast beginning with a short documentary filmed by the Edison Company, through the golden age of silent film, into Hollywood’s golden age, to today. Visit the Coronado Museum to view some of Coronado’s earliest films, explore Coronado’s Cinema Hall of Fame, and get to know Marilyn Monroe by viewing her clothes, photographs, and papers.”

Marilyn’s ‘Diamond’ Dance to Glory

In an article for the Washington Post, Sarah L. Kaufman names ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, Marilyn’s signature number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as one of the greatest dance scenes in movie history.

“That hot-pink dress, that cherry-red backdrop, those long, long gloves. Marilyn Monroe is glamorous perfection in this scene, choreographed by the great Jack Cole. He brilliantly played up her strengths, focusing on those beautiful bare shoulders with a shimmy here, an arm extension there, a lot of shaking and — whoopee! — a well-timed gesture to her back porch. Restrained in vocabulary and uninhibited in style and spirit, this witty dance is an exuberant celebration of the female assets, performed by one of the most vibrant bodies in cinematic history.”

Marilyn Returns to Old Town Dayton

Marilyn filming ‘The Misfits’ inside the bar at the Odeon Hall on Pike Street, Dayton

The town of Dayton, Nevada is rightly proud of its connections to Marilyn and The Misfits, as Carson Now reports. On Wednesday, November 14, Laura Tennant of the Historical Society of Dayton Valley will give a presentation on the movie which was partly filmed on the streets of Dayton and the Stagecoach Flats in the summer of 1960. There will also be a photo display. This free event is at the Dayton Valley Community Center at 170 Pike Street, Old Town Dayton, beginning at 7 p.m. with refreshments. and the presentation starts at 7:30 p.m.

A scene from ‘The Misfits’, with Marilyn and her co-stars on the corner of Pike and Main Streets in Dayton, Nevada

Marilyn’s ‘Millionaire’ Turns 65

On November 4, 1953, one of Marilyn’s most popular movies – How to Marry a Millionaire – opened in Beverly Hills. It was Marilyn’s first big premiere, and she was dazzling that night. I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen earlier this year, and you can read my review here. Over at Marilyn Remembered, Lorraine shares some facts about the movie.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Hollywood Icons & Idols

A wide range of Marilyn-related items, including her 1956 Thunderbird, will be up for grabs at Julien’s Icons & Idols auction on November 17.  Another high-profile item is the white beaded Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business, purchased at Christie’s in 1995; as yet it’s unclear whether this is the same dress listed at Julien’s in 2016.

Marilyn owned several pairs of checked trousers, wearing them repeatedly throughout her career. This pair, seen in one of her earliest modelling shoots, was purchased from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.

A number of photos owned by Marilyn herself are also on offer, including this picture with US troops, taken on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a set of publicity photos for Love Nest; a photo of Joe DiMaggio in his New York Yankees uniform; and Roy Schatt‘s 1955 photo of Marilyn and Susan Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

A postcard from the Table Rock House in Niagara Falls was signed by Marilyn and her Niagara co-stars, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, in 1952.

This publicity shot from River of No Return is inscribed, ‘To Alan, alas Alfred! It’s a pleasure to work with you – love & kisses Marilyn Monroe.’

A set of bloomers worn by Marilyn in River of No Return (as seen in this rare transparency) is going up for bids.

Marilyn in Korea, 1954

Among the mementoes from Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Japan and Korea are two fans and an army sewing kit.

Also among Marilyn’s personal property is this ad for There’s No Business Like Show Business, torn from the December 24, 1954 issue of Variety.

Marilyn’s hand-written poem inspired by Brooklyn Bridge is also on sale.

Among Marilyn’s assorted correspondence is a latter dated August 22, 1954, from childhood acquaintance Ruth Edens:

“I have long intended to write you this letter because I have particularly wanted to say that when you used to visit me at my Balboa Island cottage, you were a shy and charming child whose appeal, it seems to me, must have reached the hearts of many people. I could never seem to get you to say much to me, but I loved having you come in and I missed your doing so after you’d gone away. I wondered about you many times and was delighted when I discovered you in the films. I hope the stories in the magazines which say you felt yourself unloved throughout your childhood, are merely press-agentry. In any case, I want you to know that I, for one, was truly fond of you and I’m proud of you for having developed enough grit to struggle through to success … I hope you are getting much happiness out of life, little Marian [sic]. I saw so much that was ethereal in you when you were a little girl that I fell sure you are not blind to life’s spiritual side. May all that is good and best come your way!”

Marilyn’s loyalty to the troops who helped to make her a star is attested in this undated letter from Mrs. Josephine Holmes, which came with a sticker marked ‘American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

“My dear Miss Monroe, I was so happy to hear from Mr. Fisher about your visit to the Veterans Hospital. When I spoke to Mr. Alex David Recreation he said the veterans would be thrilled, probably the best present and tonic for them this holiday and gift giving season. I am sure it will be a wonderful memory for you, knowing you have brought happiness to so many boys, many have no one to visit with them. Thank you, and may God bless you and Mr. Miller for your kindness.”

Marilyn wore this hand-tailored black satin blouse for a 1956 press conference at Los Angeles Airport, as she returned to her hometown after a year’s absence to film Bus Stop. When a female reporter asked, ‘You’re wearing a high-neck dress. … Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’ she replied sweetly, ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.’

Paula Strasberg’s annotated scripts for Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot, Let’s Make Love, and her production notes for The Misfits are available; and a book, Great Stars of the American Stage, inscribed “For Marilyn/With my love and admiration/ Paula S/ May 29-1956” (the same day that Marilyn finished work on Bus Stop. )

Letters from Marilyn’s poet friend, Norman Rosten, are also included (among them a letter warmly praising her work in Some Like It Hot, and a postcard jokingly signed off as T.S. Eliot.)

Among Marilyn’s correspondence with fellow celebrities was a Christmas card from Liberace, and a telephone message left by erstwhile rival, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

File under ‘What Might Have Been’ – two letters from Norman Granz at Verve Records, dated 1957:

“In the September 5, 1957, letter, Granz writes, ‘I’ve been thinking about our album project and I should like to do the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to an album called MARILYN SINGS LOVE SONGS or some such title.’ In the December 30, 1957, letter, he writes, ‘… I wonder too if you are ready to do any recording. I shall be in New York January 20th for about a week and the Oscar Peterson Trio is off at that time, so if you felt up to it perhaps we could do some sides with the Trio during that period.'”

Also in 1957, Marilyn received this charming card from the Monroe Six, a group of dedicated New York teenage fans, mentioning her latest role in The Prince and The Showgirl and husband Arthur Miller’s legal worries:

“Marilyn, We finally got to see ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ and every one of us was so very pleased. We are all popping our shirt and blouse buttons. Now we will be on pins and needles ‘til it is released to the general public. You seemed so relaxed and a tease thru the whole picture and your close ups, well they were the most flawless ever. You should be real pleased with yourself. No need to tell you what we want for you to know now is that we hope everything comes out all right for Mr. Miller and real soon too. Guess what we are working on now. We are trying to scrape up enough money for the necessary amount due on 6 tickets to the premiere and the dinner dance afterwards. Well again we must say how happy we are about T.P.+T.S. and we wanted you to know it. Our best to you.”

Among the lots is assorted correspondence from Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, dated 1958. In that year, Marilyn sent Xenia a check which she used to replace her wallpaper. She regretted being unable to visit Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot, but would write to Arthur Miller on November 22, “I wanted to tell you how much your visit meant to me and how glad I was to see you and my beloved Marilyn being so happy together.”

In April 1959, Marilyn received a letter from attorney John F. Wharton, advising her of several foundations providing assistance to children in need of psychiatric care, including the Anna Freud Foundation, which Marilyn would remember in her will.

This telegram was sent by Marilyn’s father-in-law, Isidore Miller, on her birthday – most likely in 1960, as she was living at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love. She was still a keen reader at the time, as this receipt for a 3-volume Life and Works of Sigmund Freud from Martindale’s bookstore shows.

After Let’s Make Love wrapped, Marilyn sent a telegram to director George Cukor:

“Dear George, I would have called but I didn’t know how to explain to you how I blame myself but never you. If there is [undecipherable due to being crossed out] out of my mind. Please understand. My love to Sash. My next weekend off I will do any painting cleaning brushing you need around the house. I can also dust. Also I am sending you something but it’s late in leaving. I beg you to understand. Dear Evelyn sends her best. We’re both city types. Love, Amanda Marilyn.”

Here she is referencing her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and Amanda Dell, the character she played. “Dearest Marilyn, I have been trying to get you on the telephone so I could tell you how touched I was by your wire and how grateful I am,” Cukor replied. “Am leaving for Europe next Monday but come forrest [sic] fires come anything, I will get you on the telephone.”

There’s also a June 30, 1960 letter from Congressman James Roosevelt (son of FDR), asking Marilyn to appear on a television show about the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research, to be aired in October. Unfortunately, Marilyn was already committed to filming The Misfits, and dealing with the collapse of her marriage to Arthur Miller.

In 1961, movie producer Frank McCarthy praised Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits:

Rather touchingly, Marilyn owned this recording of ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ sung by Adriana Caselotti. The record copyright is from 1961, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was originally released in December 1937, when Marilyn was just eleven years old.

This pen portrait was sketched by George Masters, who became Marilyn’s regular hairdresser in the final years of her life.

On July 5, 1962, Hattie Stephenson – Marilyn’s New York housekeeper – wrote to her in Los Angeles:

 “My Dear Miss Monroe: How are you! Trusting these few lines will find you enjoying your new home. Hoping you have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Fields by now. Found them to be very nice and the childrens [sic] are beautiful. Got along very well with there [sic] language. How is Maff and Mrs. Murray? Miss Monroe, Mrs. Fields left this stole here for you and have been thinking if you would like to have it out there I would mail it to you. Miss Monroe Dear, I asked Mrs. Rosten to speak with you concerning my vacation. I am planning on the last week of July to the 6th of August. I am going to Florida on a meeting tour. Trusting everything will be alright with you. Please keep sweet and keep smiling. You must win. Sincerely, Hattie.”

Hattie is referring to Marilyn’s Mexico friend, Fred Vanderbilt Field, who stayed with his family in Marilyn’s New York apartment that summer. She also alludes to Marilyn’s ongoing battle with her Hollywood studio. Sadly, Hattie never saw Marilyn again, as she died exactly a month later. Interestingly, the final check from Marilyn’s personal checkbook was made out to Hattie on August 3rd.

After Marilyn died, her estate was in litigation for several years. Her mother, Gladys, was a long-term resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, which had agreed to waive her fees until her trust was reopened. In 1965, Gladys would receive hate mail from a certain Mrs. Ruth Tager of the Bronx, criticising her as a ‘hindrance’ due to her unpaid bills. This unwarranted attack on a sick, elderly woman reminds one why Marilyn was so hesitant to talk about her mother in public.

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!'”

Sugar Draws Back the Curtain

Today, Some Like It Hot is considered one of the funniest movies ever made. Next week, the new 4K restoration will hit UK cinemas. But what did the critics make of it back in 1959? Sight & Sound magazine looks back at their first review.

“Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot will not appeal to those who find female impersonation unamusing in any circumstances; and certainly, since it also contains two painfully accurate re-creations of gangland slaughter, its opportunities for offence are considerable … Although the comedy never quite shakes off this basic confusion in styles, it comes to life from the start … Marilyn Monroe is charmingly herself, if a little wan, but her role of innocent at large is too peripheral to strike a useful balance with the film’s blacker and more clinical humours.”