Reinventing Marilyn’s ‘Misfits’ in Dublin

A stage adaptation of The Misfits is set to open at the Dublin Theatre Festival on September 27. Ahead of the premiere, Donald Clarke surveys the production for the Irish Times. As the photos indicate, the cast and crew are not going to replicate the 1961 movie (Aoibhinn McGinnity, who will play Roslyn Tabor, hasn’t seen it.) This is probably a wise decision as the original is so iconic – however, director Annie Ryan has much to say about it, and Marilyn’s performance.

“The picture has an awkward position in film history. It is remembered for a famously disordered production … Most poignantly, the last scene in The Misfits, showing Monroe and Gable sharing the front seat of a truck, stands as a farewell to both those imperishable stars.

Elements of the picture deserve celebration … Monroe really does make something of a dramatic role. Working with Paula Strasberg, one of the era’s great acting coaches, she managed to excise almost all traces of the breathy comic persona that helped her to superstardom.

‘The work in it,’ Ryan sighs. ‘You can really feel Paula Strasberg right behind the camera. She is going for a moment-to-moment method acting truth, but what I see there is the effort in every scene. I watch it thinking: that poor woman. From an acting perspective, it is absolute torture.’

The Misfits is something different. Even before we sit down, Ryan, her Chicagoan accent still largely intact, is giving out about the way Thelma Ritter is underused and about how uncomfortable she is with Miller’s attempts to ‘save’ Marilyn through art.

‘This isn’t a great film. It’s a really flawed film,’ she says. ‘I came upon it because it’s in his collected plays. My impulse came before the 2016 election. There isn’t a strong narrative, but there could be something to it. And it only has five people. I can’t afford a bigger cast than that unless I partner with a bigger company. Part of my thinking was: Can this work?’

She mentions the 2016 US presidential election. Obviously, all American art is now about Donald Trump. You can’t get away from him. The Misfits finds Monroe’s Roslyn, in Reno for a divorce, meeting three very different, but equally damaged, hunks of cowboy masculinity and then following them as they hunt mustangs in the nearby desert. Over 50 years ago, these characters were already complaining that the world had passed them by.

‘I suspect 60 or 70 per cent of those going in won’t have seen the film,’ Ryan says. ‘But they’ll know the iconography. They’ll have seen the photographs. Everyone knows about The Misfits even if they haven’t seen it. The image of the expanse. The image of Marilyn in the hat and the shirt. They are famous images. You have to accept they are in the room.’

It helps that Ryan is not working from the original script. Her production of The Misfits is officially an adaptation of a novella that Miller published to tie in with the release of the film.

‘That’s what I have the rights to cut,’ she says. ‘It’s very hard to get the rights to a film because the film company owns the rights.’

‘I think Miller did [Marilyn] a disservice by writing a version of herself,’ Ryan says. ‘He did this as a gift. But there’s no mask. She has an innocence. She has a compassion for all living things, which comes from Marilyn. She has an incredibly dysfunctional family background, which comes from Marilyn. Men are falling over each other to be next to her. There is a lot of language in the text about “the golden girl” arriving. No actor can play themselves. Most actors can’t face speaking in public, They just can’t bear it.’

Echoes of the #MeToo movement creep into The Misfits. The production will have much to do with how men interact with (and sometimes ignore) women in social engagements. Marilyn Monroe suffered more from those abuses than most. You see it in her films. You read about it in her life.

‘We see how she has become expert at saying “no” in a really nice way,’ Ryan says of Roslyn. ‘We have all been there to some degree. What would it be like to imagine that character now without sexing her up?’

 Some reclaiming and revaluating is in order.

‘I feel that we are doing this for Marilyn’s ghost in some way.'”

‘All About Eve’ on the London Stage

Following the news that The Misfits will be staged at the Dublin Theatre Festival later this month (see here), London’s Evening Standard reports that All About Eve will open at the Noel Coward Theatre next February for a limited 14-week run, with Gillian Anderson and Lily James recreating the lead roles played by Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Oscar-winning 1950 movie. Of course, All About Eve is all about life in the theatre, and it’s not the first time it’s crossed over to the stage. In 1970, Lauren Bacall won a Tony award for Applause, a hit Broadway musical adaptation. This new take will also feature music, by the acclaimed singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey. It’s not clear yet who will play the supporting character of Claudia Caswell, whose original incarnation gave Marilyn one of her first big breaks.

Remembering Lurene Tuttle in Indiana

Publicity shot for ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’

Actress Lurene Tuttle, who appeared in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) and Niagara (1953), will be the subject of a presentation by Elten Powers of the Steuben County Genealogical Society at the Carnegie Public Library in Angola, Indiana on Monday, September 17 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm, KPC News reports.

Born into a family with theatrical connections in nearby Pleasant Lake in 1907, Lurene Tuttle became a radio actress in the 1930s, and made her movie debut in 1947. In Don’t Bother to Knock, Lurene plays Ruth Jones, who is staying in a  hotel with her husband during a business conference, when the elevator operator suggests they hire his niece, Nell Forbes (played by Marilyn) to babysit their young daughter.

It soon becomes clear that Nell is a troubled young woman, and after Ruth leaves her alone with the little girl, Nell puts on Ruth’s negligee, jewellery and perfume. Towards the end of the film, Ruth returns to find her daughter bound and gagged in the bedroom, and a struggle ensues in which Ruth ultimately overpowers Nell.

This brief scene was recreated in a rather lurid series of publicity photos featuring Lurene and Marilyn. They did not appear together in Niagara, in which Lurene plays Mrs Kettering, the cheerful, long-suffering wife of honeymooning ad-man Ray Cutler’s loquacious boss. Her character mirrors that of Polly Cutler (played by Jean Peters.)

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’.”

Elisabeth Moss Inspired by Marilyn

Actress Elisabeth Moss – whose performances in Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale won widespread acclaim – has told IndieWire that Marilyn was among the troubled stars who influenced her latest role as a self-destructive rock singer in Her Smell, which just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is currently seeking a US distributor.

“I watched any music documentary I could get my hands on, honestly. All the usual suspects, ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,’ which I’d already seen but now I’ve seen a million times, ‘Amy,’ the Amy Winehouse documentary. And also things on Marilyn Monroe, like that kind of thing, just to get a grasp of that fame and that addiction. Anything I could find about somebody who was incredibly famous or successful, but also dealing with addiction, was very helpful.”

Marilyn, Jayne Mansfield and a Hollywood Taboo

Bathing Blondes: Marilyn in 1962 (left), and Jayne Mansfield in 1963 (right)

In 1962, Marilyn was set to become the first American actress to appear nude in a mainstream movie since Pre-Code days – but following her untimely death, that honour went to another blonde star, Jayne Mansfield, in a film released just a year later, produced independently with Tommy Noonan (who had played Marilyn’s love interest a decade earlier in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.) And as with Marilyn’s shelved nude scene, Jayne’s big moment would make the cover of Playboy.

Although Jayne would reveal more than Marilyn did, both scenes showed the stars bathing (Marilyn in a pool, Jayne in a tub), and discovered by a shy, bespectacled man (Phil Silvers and Noonan respectively.) Kristin Hunt reports on the story behind a Hollywood watershed for Vulture – and if you’d like to learn more about Jayne, read Puffblicity, an illustrated biography by April VeVea, author of MM: A Day in the Life.

Marilyn in ‘The Misfits’ (left) and ‘Something’s Got to Give’ (right)

“Monroe filmed two nude scenes — one for 1961’s The Misfits and one for 1962’s Something’s Got to Give — but neither made it into theaters in one piece. The first scene was cut and the second was a mere fragment of an unfinished movie … The Something’s Got to  Give scene was a little more intentional. Monroe’s character Ellen is supposed to swim nude, as a means to entice her estranged husband Nick from his hotel room. The footage of Monroe skinny-dipping in a pool is now available in multiple YouTube clips, but the movie never screened for era audiences, since Monroe was fired and then died before filming wrapped.

Either scene would’ve made Monroe the first American star to go nude in a Hollywood movie in decades. But in Monroe’s absence, it was Jayne Mansfield who shattered the long-standing tradition. Like Monroe, Mansfield was a buxom blonde with a complicated reputation — but unlike Monroe, she craved the industry’s constant spotlight, and frequently used her body to get it.

While onscreen nudity certainly existed before 1962, it had been outlawed in the U.S. for decades under the Production Code … It was against that backdrop that Mansfield made her topless debut in the 1963 swingers cruise-ship comedy Promises! Promises! The actress was in a bit of a career slump at the time … Mansfield had always been famous for her crass publicity stunts, which often involved her ‘accidentally’ losing her clothing … Those blatant headline grabs had launched Mansfield’s career, landing her a star-making role in the 1956 comedy The Girl Can’t Help It, and they also made her distinct from her blonde-bombshell rival Monroe, who generated tabloid fodder without really trying.

Shortly after Monroe’s 1962 death, The New York Times ran an article explaining why each ‘successor’ to Monroe was an inadequate replacement: Ava Gardner was too reclusive, Kim Novak too serious, Natalie Wood too slight. But the newspaper reserved some of its meanest comments for Mansfield. ‘Jayne Mansfield, whom 20th Century Fox was building as a Love Goddess nominee, suffers from too much publicity and too few roles,’ The New York Times wrote. ‘She has become rather a caricature — like Mae West — and alienates the segment which takes sex seriously.’

If she was already a caricature, it made sense for Mansfield to seek out the absurdity of a sexploitation film. Promises! Promises! was a translation of Edna Sheklow’s 1960 play The Plant, about two couples on a cruise ship who swap partners in a drunken haze, and then have to figure out who fathered which pregnancy. Actor Tommy Noonan purchased the film rights after nearly starring in the stage show, planning to write, direct, produce, and act in the movie.

Tommy Noonan co-starred with both Jayne and Marilyn

Noonan would’ve known as well as anyone the risks of including a nude scene, even within the context of this racy plot … But a code violation didn’t carry the weight it once did, because by 1963, the entire system of censorship was running on life support … Mansfield’s nude scene arrives fairly early into Promises! Promises!, soon after the couples have settled into their cabins. Her screen husband Jeff (Noonan) has just been to see the ship’s medic about his sperm. When he returns — in high spirits, after receiving a placebo from the doctor — he finds Sandy (Mansfield) stepping out of a bath, where she was just cooing the song I’m in Love under a blanket of bubbles. She appears in the doorway, patting down her torso with a towel that does nothing to obscure her chest. The shot lingers for a few seconds before she closes the bathroom door to dress.

As the crew filmed, a photographer for Playboy took extra shots to run in the magazine, pocketing them for the eventual publicity campaign. Despite Mansfield’s name, Promises! Promises! was a B-film to its core, shepherded by an actor-turned-auteur who was not quite a household name and who harbored no artistic pretensions. The movie entered markets without MPAA approval or studio backing, which meant it had to rely solely on advertising. You can guess what the publicity team focused on.

Marilyn and Jayne’s nude scenes were (un)covered by Playboy

Playboy published its behind-the-scenes images in the June 1963 issue, promising ‘The Nudest Jayne Mansfield’ on the cover. Enterprising movie exhibitors were only too happy to join in the ogling … But in many cities, the exploitative advertising and lack of MPAA approval were a liability, with censorship boards in Maryland, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and other markets attempting to keep the film out. When the Playboy issues hit newsstands, Hugh Hefner was arrested and hauled into Chicago court for ‘publishing and distributing an obscene magazine.’ The city based its complaint on two ‘particularly obscene’ images showing Mansfield lying naked on a bed with a fully clothed man. The case ended in a mistrial, letting Hefner off the hook.

Though Promises! Promises! made money, it was too crass and too indie to recoup Mansfield’s struggling stardom — and her career never bounced back to its 1950s heights. Critics savaged the film, with Variety calling it unsuitable for ‘anyone whose mentality surpasses that of a 5-year-old.’ But the topless scene did indicate where films were heading in respect to the policy against nudity. The following year in 1964, The Pawnbroker challenged the Production Code with a much more artistic — and much more upsetting — use of nudity through a Holocaust flashback sequence. The film had a celebrated director in Sidney Lumet and a serious method star in Rod Steiger, and due to this pedigree, it had more of a lasting impact than Promises! Promises! could, setting a precedent that would make it easier for movies to include nude scenes.”

How Marilyn Captured a Critic’s Heart

In an article for Cardinal & Cream – the student magazine for Union University in Jackson, Tennessee – Randall Kendrick reveals how watching Some Like It Hot for the first time changed his opinion of Marilyn.

“Growing up, I never understood the appeal of Marilyn Monroe. Monroe just seemed like a dated icon, a symbol of Hollywood sex appeal in the much idolized decade of the ’50s. Never having any experience with any of her film roles, I figured her personality was as shallow as those of the girls in early James Bond movies (i.e. a one-dimensional accessory that’s just there to look pretty).

For a long time, I’ve had the classic 1950s comedy, Some Like It Hot, on my watch list, and for much of that time, I wasn’t even aware that Monroe was in it. Even after I learned that Monroe starred in it, her appearance had no weight on my decision to watch the movie, and frankly, I didn’t think my opinion of her would be changed afterward.

As talented as the male leads are, though, they are absolutely out-shined by Monroe. The first time Monroe’s smile filled the screen, she completely stole the movie. Her charm and magnetic personality completely sold me on her appeal. Totally unlike my original perception of her, Monroe had her own personality that shined through the screen and made her more than a pretty accessory to the plot. She was a very talented actress that created some of the funniest and most memorable moments in the film.

Monroe was so likable and had me so enraptured, that before the movie was even over, I considered going online to buy (or at least browse) Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. I didn’t end up following through with that thought, but that it even crossed my mind is a testament to why she had an incredible impact on people during the ’50s. She was the quintessential Hollywood actress with a brilliant smile, an irresistible personality and glamorous looks.

While Some Like It Hot is a good comedy on its own, it wouldn’t have achieved the status it has without the energy that Monroe brought to the table. After seeing her in action, I now honestly feel sorry I doubted the charm of Monroe and the people who propped her up as a Hollywood legend.”

‘Cold War’ Star Inspired by Marilyn

In Cold War, the new film from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, Joanna Kulig plays Zula, a folk singer who begins a doomed love affair with a pianist in the aftermath of World War II. In an interview for The Guardian, Joanna reveals the inspirations behind her acclaimed performance.

“In Cold War, the narrative is fragmented, the actors more than unusually responsible for the film’s emotional continuity as the action leaps forward several years at a time. ‘With each instalment she is different: sometimes she’s a street urchin and bad girl, sometimes she’s melancholy and then she can be sarcastic with dry wit,’ Pawlikowski says. ‘Joanna has wit but she’s not sarcastic, she’s got a very kind disposition. It was a huge challenge and it didn’t come easily, but I knew she had all these different colours in her.’

Indeed, Cold War requires a dizzying range of emotions to play across that mutable face, which can switch from blunt and defiant one moment to pinched and wounded the next. Kulig is a fine-grained actor, never more so than in those instances when she is conveying layers of contradictory feelings from beneath a showbiz veneer. One scene in particular, in which she must register from the stage her recognition of a familiar face in the audience, and then, after the interval, react to the shock of the now-vacated seat, all while persevering cheerfully with her musical number, is an unbeatable example of the performer as plate-spinner or high-wire walker.

What is she thinking of when she sings? ‘It depends,’ she says. ‘Sometimes I thought about Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, how theirs was maybe a similar relationship. Or it helped to think about Amy Winehouse and her personality. I feel Zula has something of that: she is so nice and talented but at the same time she wants to destroy something.’ Whatever the situation, Kulig feels at her most charged when she is singing. ‘The emotions are closer to the surface. It is all there. Agata Trzebuchowska, who played Ida, told me: “Joanna, I love your acting, but you act the most wonderfully when you are singing.”‘”