The Fifties Films Of Marilyn

Marilyn made most of her major films during the 1950s, so it’s no surprise to find her movies cropping up in entries for the 5 Favourite Films of the Fifties blogathon, hosted today at the Classic Film & TV Cafe. Over at Silver Screen Classics, Paul Batter picks The Asphalt Jungle; at Aurora’s Gin Joint, All About Eve makes the cut. From Monroe’s starring roles, Annette Bochenek chooses Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on Hometowns to Hollywood; Texan blogger Story Enthusiast favours How to Marry a Millionaire; and finally, author Laura Wagner selects the decade’s last Monroe movie, Some Like It Hot, over at Lady Eve’s Reel Life.

“The 1950s were also Marilyn Monroe’s zenith years. She’d been only a starlet in the late ‘40s, with minor roles in minor films, and she lived not very far into the ‘60s. Throughout the ‘50s, however, she was a comet ablaze on silver and Technicolor screens around the world. A superstar.

She started the ‘50s with small roles in two classics, John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950). Lesser films continued but, thanks to Howard Hawks and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), she was able to demonstrate her gift for comedy and shoot to the stratosphere in the glittery role of a dizzy but good-hearted showgirl, Lorelei Lee. Later that year she co-starred with Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable in another huge hit, How to Marry a Millionaire, playing a near-sighted Lorelei Lee type. By the time she made The Seven Year Itch (1955) for Billy Wilder, she no longer needed big name co-stars to help attract a wide audience, she was a phenomenon. At this point Marilyn Monroe wanted to prove herself as a serious actress and so she next appeared in Bus Stop (1956), a William Inge drama directed by Josh Logan. She would finish the decade working with Billy Wilder again, this time on his comedy masterpiece Some Like it Hot (1959).

My Marilyn Monroe pick has to be Some Like it Hot, a flawless film. Penned by Wilder and his writing partner Izzy Diamond, a pair that produced some of the smartest, snappiest and most worldly screenplays ever, Some Like it Hot is classic screwball … The roles of Joe/Josephine, Jerry/Daphne and Sugar Kane give the actors  – Curtis, Lemmon and Monroe – showcases to die for. And each of them delivers and then some. Directing Marilyn was a task that tested Wilder to the limit. But he was convinced that if he could be patient enough to coax it out of her, he’d get the performance he wanted. And he did.”

Marilyn: An Icon in Pearls

The pearls worn by Marilyn in Richard Avedon’s publicity shots for Some Like It Hot have named as the most iconic pearl image in history, in a poll conducted by British chocolatier Thornton’s to promote their new ‘Thornton’s Pearl’ range, the Scottish Sun reports.

Marilyn and the Not-So-Dumb Blondes

Over at Refinery 29, Daniela Morsini looks at the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype so unfairly applied to Marilyn, and still a staple of lame jokes today. While I strongly agree that it’s an outdated, sexist trope, I’d like to add that in her movies, Marilyn often parodied those assumptions. Her characters were usually wiser than the men who flocked to them, and in reality, Marilyn was sensitive and intelligent. (Unfortunately, not everyone was smart enough to get the joke – then, or now!)

“Being blonde is loaded. You can be an expensive blonde like Gwyneth Paltrow. You can be rock’n’roll blonde like Debbie Harry. You can be sexpot blonde like Marilyn Monroe. Hell, you can be any kind of blonde you want – as long as you’re a dumb one.

Of course, of all the stereotypes women face, the ‘dumb blonde’ is a mild one, especially considering how harmful and dangerous the hair stereotypes faced by women of colour can be. But it is curiously persistent … I’ve never forgotten a date in 2016, after having what I believed to be pleasant chatter with a man for an evening, him uttering the immortal words: ‘Well, you don’t look clever.’

Historians roundly agree that the notion of blondes being dumb dates back to a play performed some 250 years ago, titled Les Curiosités de la Foire, based on the misdemeanours of the legendary courtesan Rosalie Duthé, which established blondes as both stupid and sexually available. Duthé took long pauses before she spoke, leading people to believe she was literally dumb, as well as stupid. Fast forward to 1953, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes hit the box office with Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei, epitomised as the dumb blonde. Portrayed as absent minded, slightly scatty and interested in marrying solely for money, some of Lorelei’s most famous lines only serve to emphasise the stereotype: ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.’

Over time, the dumb blonde trope has morphed into the ‘beauty and brains’ dichotomy, which at least allows a whole other crop of women to have their intelligence questioned. This is not a step forward, even if it does represent inching away from Western beauty ideals. Calling a blonde ‘dumb’ is a surprisingly effective way to curb someone’s appetite for life and confidence in their own abilities, effective enough to render them docile so they can’t unlock their powers.”

Marilyn ‘Pops Up’ in London, Lewes

Marilyn will star in two ‘pop-up cinema’ screenings at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, South London this summer. (The Rivoli Ballroom is one of the last remaining intact 1950s-style ballrooms left in London.) First up is Some Like It Hot on  May 17; followed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on July 18. Screenings start at 8 pm, with admission from £10; check out the full schedule here.

Meanwhile in Sussex, There’s No Business Like Show Business will be screened at Lewes Depot on June 4 at 2 pm. (Tickets cost £4.) Lewes has a personal connection to Marilyn, as according to biographer Michelle Morgan, she visited the historic town in 1956, dining at The Shelleys Hotel with husband Arthur Miller. “She wore no makeup but looked really beautiful,” receptionist Peggy Heriot recalled. “They ate in the drawing room and when they left they thanked the chef and me profusely …”

Waiting For A Miracle With Marilyn

Country singer Willie Nelson and British actress Charlotte Rampling are an unlikely couple, and having Ms Rampling play a Marilyn impersonator is even more surprising. But that’s exactly what you’ll see in their offbeat new movie, Waiting For the Miracle to Come, as Joe Leydon reports for Variety. (It’s available in the US from today on DVD and streaming.)

Waiting for the Miracle to Come is the first dramatic feature written and directed by Lian Lunson, previously best known for such musical documentaries as Willie Nelson: Down Home … With help and encouragement from mentors and former collaborators — including Bono and Wim Wenders, who are credited among the executive producers, and Leonard Cohen, whose song provides the movie with its title — she mounted this small-budget labor of love with the obvious intent of telling a simple yet resonant story unbound by specifics of time and continuity, but infused with strains of melancholy, regret, and unreasonable hope. Call it a dream play, and you won’t be far off the mark.

Supernatural undercurrents sporadically reach flood level as Adeline Winter (Sophie Lowe), a young woman who dreams of performing as trapeze artist and tightrope walker, takes heed of a letter left by her recently deceased father (Todd Terry), and follows his directive to visit a ranch in Ransom, Calif., where she might find a goldmine. What she finds instead are the aforementioned ex-vaudevillians, Jimmy (Nelson) and Dixie Riggs (Rampling), owners and operators of ‘The Beautiful Place’ — hardly a gold mine, but rather a haven for abandoned horses, a home for two trailer park residents, and a place where Dixie occasionally dolls herself up like her idol, Marilyn Monroe, and sings for locals in a small theater near their memento-stuffed, Christmas-light-bedecked house.”

Marilyn Double Bill in Lithgow

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.

Elisabeth Moss on Marilyn’s ‘Heartbreaking Genius’

In an interview with GQ magazine ,actress Elisabeth Moss has explained how Marilyn influenced her in playing a tortured rock star in the movie Her Smell, which has just been released in the US. She also studied other self-destructive artists who battled with drug and alcohol problems and mental illness, including Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. (When Elisabeth talks about watching Marilyn being interviewed, she may be referring to documentaries like Marilyn Vs. Marilyn and Love, Marilyn, which intersperse audio clips with archive footage. There are relatively few recorded interviews with Marilyn.)

“GQ: I know you prepared for Her Smell by studying behind-the-scenes docs of Marilyn Monroe. I’m curious if that affected how you thought about Marilyn Monroe.

Elisabeth Moss: Some of the stuff that I saw was just her vulnerability and how messed up she was on drugs and how fragile she was. And people were just pretending like it was normal and not acknowledging it. I remember this one interview I watched where she was clearly in a really bad place, and clearly on some sort of pills, and she was so fragile and vulnerable. It sort of broke your heart to see somebody like that who’s such a genius artist but is just struggling so much and nobody’s helping her. She seems so alone.”

Don Murray Talks Marilyn in ‘Closer’

Don Murray, who made his movie debut in Bus Stop (1956), shares memories of his leading lady’s “uncontrollable anxiety, forbidden romances and secret acts of kindness” in a cover story for US magazine Closer.

Now 89, Don had a major role in the acclaimed 2017 revival of TV’s Twin Peaks, and is rumoured to be writing his memoirs. Out now in the US, the May 6 issue of Closer should reach British shores in a week or so (not to be confused with the UK magazine of the same name.)

“‘She was very, very nervous,’ Murray recalled to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue on newsstands. ‘She’d break out in a rash every time we’d shoot a scene.’

‘Paula would watch and listen and give Marilyn advice between takes,’ said Murray. ‘She was friendly and nice and a very good influence on Marilyn … [But] she would lose track of scenes very quickly, so they had to put her performance together out of small pieces. You never got the feeling of a complete scene or performance. I had to be at my best on every take — I couldn’t have a letdown.’

Despite the on-set struggles, Murray never regretted appearing in his first big film with Monroe.

‘I never really held it against her, because for her to agree to let me play this leading role was such a generous thing; she and I had never done a movie,’ said Murray. ‘I was always aware of that and grateful to her.'”

Thanks to Lorraine at Marilyn Remembered