Marilyn Takes TCM to the Jungle

US fans, take note: The Asphalt Jungle is on TCM tonight at 5:45 pm (EST.) Over at his 24 Frames blog, John Greco looks back on how the ultimate heist movie broke all the rules of star-making…

“[John] Huston cast the film with an excellent group of actors. For Sterling Hayden, this was his first leading role in a major film. Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe and Jean Hagen were known entities but lacked marquee strength. Marilyn Monroe was still a starlet in what was essentially her first substantial part in a major film. She was not even Huston’s first choice for the role; he originally wanted Lola Albright. Monroe does not have much screen time as the young plaything to the sleazeball lawyer but she manages to make a big impression with her limited exposure, and she looks great.”

Margot Kidder 1948-2018

Margot Kidder as Cherie in HBO’s ‘Bus Stop’ (1982)

Yesterday brought the sad news that Canadian-born actress Margot Kidder has passed away aged 69. Many children of the 1970s (myself included) will remember her as Lois Lane in the Superman movies. But did you know she also played Cherie in a 1982 television remake of Bus Stop? Filmed for HBO at the Claremont Theatre in California, it was a more literal adaptation of William Inge’s play, featuring additional characters not seen in Marilyn’s 1956 movie. If you’re curious about Margot’s performance, watch this Youtube clip from 6:20 onwards – and a full copy can be purchased for $23 from DVD Cafe.

Marilyn on Reelz: ‘It Happened Here’

It Happened Here is a documentary series on the US Reelz channel, charting key locations in the lives of legendary icons. The most recent episode focuses on Marilyn, visiting Zuma Beach, California (where she posed for some of her earliest photo shoots); The Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood (formerly the Villa Nova Restaurant, where she and Joe DiMaggio first dated); and the subway grate on Lexington and 52nd, NYC, where she filmed The Seven Year Itch. Guests include authors Lois Banner, Elizabeth Winder, and reality TV star Trisha Paytas. While it’s an interesting premise, fans tell me the show is marred by sensationalism and unfounded insinuations (which is unfortunately no big surprise, as Reelz previously aired a National Enquirer documentary on Marilyn.)

Marilyn Night on Sky Arts

Gemma Arterton in ‘It’s Me, Sugar’

Stock up on champagne and potato chips: It’s Me, Sugar, opening a new season of Urban Myths on UK TV’s Sky Arts tonight at 9pm, is part of a full evening’s programming dedicated to Marilyn, preceded by the 2011 documentary, Discovering Film: Marilyn Monroe (aka Stars of the Silver Screen), at 8 pm; and followed by Some Like It Hot at 9 pm; and two more documentaries, Billy Wilder: Nobody’s Perfect (2016) at 12:15 am, and We Remember Marilyn (1996) at 1:15 am. (Now, where’s that bourbon?)

Gemma Arterton on Playing Marilyn

Gemma Arterton has spoken with The Times about her role as Marilyn in It’s Me, Sugar, which opens the new season Sky Arts’ Urban Myths in the UK next Thursday (see trailer here.) While I don’t agree with all of Arterton’s comments – MM was not, as she claims, ‘the epitome of the casting couch’ – she does at least seem genuinely sympathetic to Marilyn’s experiences of harassment and sexism, and sensitive to the factors underlying her ‘difficult’ behaviour. (Interestingly, Arthur Miller is played by Dougray Scott, who took the same role in My Week With Marilyn.)

Thanks to Fraser Penney

“Gemma Arterton is screaming at the top of her voice. ‘F*** you!’ she roars. We’re alone in an empty changing room in a small production studio 17 miles south of London and the 32-year-old star of Tamara Drewe is tapping into her inner Marilyn Monroe. Almost unrecognisable in platinum-blond wig, blood-red lipstick and marble-white make-up, she is in between takes and casually unleashing her version of the screen legend, a volatile concoction of aching vulnerability mixed with furious hair-trigger passions.

The swearing, for instance, is delivered with jump-out-of-your-seat urgency, in the midst of an explanatory monologue about Monroe’s mid-sentence mood swings. ‘She goes from [whimpering], Oh my God, love me! straight into the opposite,’ says Arterton, before swearing, chuckling and then adding: ‘Everything I’ve read about Marilyn points to how unpredictable she was. She could change just like that. People would be afraid to knock on her door and to ask her to come out on set. Whereas I think most people think of her [adopts archetypal Monroe squeak] like a wet blanket.’

‘Marilyn used her vulnerable side to get what she wanted and to manipulate people,’ says Arterton, on a break from filming a stingingly satirical scene in which Monroe and Strasberg discuss her ‘motivation’ for opening a door (Strasberg asks Monroe if her character eats cheese and Monroe replies: ‘Only on Fridays — she gets paid on Thursdays!’). ‘That was a powerful tool that she had, to make everyone feel sorry for her. But in that power she was in control. There’s a bit in our film where they’re 37 takes in and Wilder says, “Don’t worry about it!” And she says, “Don’t worry about what?” And she actually said that! So she’s very tongue-in-cheek. She knows what she’s doing. But she plays the childlike thing. It’s part of her act.’

The film’s writer, David Cummings (a regular collaborator with Paul Whitehouse on Nurse and Happiness), adds later that ‘Marilyn said in interviews, “Sex is fine, but I don’t actually want to be objectified.” So she hired Paula Strasberg and married America’s leading playwright … Every message she gave off was, “I’m more than this sexy moron!” And I tried to put that in the script.’

Indeed, a prerequisite for Arterton’s role as ‘the blonde bombshell’, she says, was an assurance that, in the era of Harvey Weinstein, Me Too and Time’s Up, this would be a different, more engaged Monroe. ‘When I read the script I loved it, but the Weinstein stuff was happening at the same time and I really had to think twice about it,’ says Arterton. ‘Because this is a funny script about a woman who has been abused … So we talked about it and we made sure that we were all aware of that.’

I don’t think that it was fun at times to be inside Marilyn’s head,’ says Arterton …’But at other times it must’ve been great. Joe DiMaggio, her second husband, once said, “It’s a nightmare being married to a lightbulb.” She gave off this glow. Some depressive people are like that. There’s the dark, but also the light. And I hope that’s what we showed.'”

‘It’s Me, Sugar’ Previewed on Youtube

A preview clip of the new short film, It’s Me, Sugar, set during production of Some Like It Hot and starring Gemma Arterton as Marilyn, is now on Youtube. Heading the new season of Urban Myths on the UK satellite television channel, Sky Arts, It’s Me, Sugar will be broadcast on April 12. If you’re in the UK but not a Sky subscriber, Sky Arts is also available on the Now TV streaming service.

The series has a somewhat checkered history: the last season included an episode featuring actor Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, which was pulled after accusations of whitewashing. Further episodes will cover a wide range of celebrity subjects. ranging from the disappearance of Agatha Christie to the Live Aid concert in 1985.

At first glance, It’s Me, Sugar seems to perpetuate the myth of Marilyn as a dumb blonde, playing an even dumber blonde. It will be interesting to see if it covers the theory proposed by author Donald Wolfe, who witnessed her playing the scene, that Marilyn ‘played dumb’ and blew her lines on purpose, to wear down director Billy Wilder into letting her play it her way.

NBC Confirms Plans to Bring ‘Smash’ to Broadway

Katharine McPhee onstage in ‘Bombshell’, 2015

Plans to remake NBC’s Smash – the 2012 TV drama whose first season focused on the making of Bombshell, a fictitious stage musical about Marilyn – as a Broadway show were announced following a one-off performance of Bombshell back in 2015. Since then there have been occasional updates on the project, such as a Hollywood Reporter article from last year. And as NBC’s Robert Greenblatt confirms in the latest episode of Variety’s podcast, Stagecraft, those plans are still in the works – although it now appears that Bombshell will be re-incorporated into Smash, rather than as a stand-alone musical.

“Superfans and hate-watchers, take note: You may not have seen the last of Smash.

So says Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment … The 2012 series about New York theater people was a polarizing phenomenon among real-life New York theater people — ‘Smash may have invented the concept of hate-watching,’ Greenblatt jokes — but it’s still got a following. ‘Interestingly enough, I hear more about people loving Smash now than I ever did when it was on the air.’

Which is one of the reasons Greenblatt and the show’s team of creators and producers are exploring a future life for Smash beyond the Actors Fund concert staging of the original songs Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote for Bombshell, the Broadway-show-within-the-show. “We’ve been thinking about different ways to think about a stage musical based on Bombshell or Smash,’ Greenblatt reveals. ‘That’s all I’ll say. There’s an incarnation which could sort of combine both. … You may not have seen the last of Smash yet. I think the next incarnation will be on stage.'”

Marilyn and Miller on HBO Tonight

Arthur Miller: Writer, the new documentary from daughter Rebecca Miller, has its US television premiere on pay-per-view channel HBO tonight. Over at The Ringer, Lindsay Zoladz has penned a rather wide-ranging article about Marilyn and Arthur, including hints of what’s in the documentary.

“When Arthur Miller met Marilyn Monroe, she was crying. Or at least that’s the story he always told her, the one she repeats in footage used in the new documentary Arthur Miller: Writer: ‘As he describes it, I was crying when he met me.’ As he describes it.

Comprising home movies and interviews Rebecca shot of her father in his later years, Arthur Miller: Writer has a homey, scrapbook intimacy … Rebecca was born in 1962, just weeks after Monroe died. Imagine grilling your elderly father, on camera, on what it was like to have been with Marilyn Monroe.

The portrait of Monroe that emerges from Arthur Miller: Writer, then, is inherently lopsided and not nearly as intimate as the one we get of Miller himself. One of the hardest parts of putting together the film, Rebecca admits, was finding ways to diminish Monroe’s presence, to prevent her from completely overtaking her father’s story … Monroe always seems to be doing that—inconveniencing narratives. It’s the most potent power she’s retained after death.

Monroe has, throughout the years, been a sticking point for feminists; the many contradictions of her story do not fit cleanly into the doctrines of any of its waves. Perhaps for the best, she maps particularly awkwardly onto this moment of pop-cultural ’empowerment feminism’ …  And yet gender stereotypes are exactly what imprisoned Monroe, and what her star persona was crafted to reinforce.

‘I just thought it would be a terrific gift for her,’ he says in Arthur Miller: Writer, ‘because she’d never had a part in which she was supposed to be taken seriously. And she really wanted to do that.’

Arthur Miller: Writer is, among other things, a fresh reason to mourn the fact that Marilyn Monroe never got to be old and wise like her last husband … But maybe, at least for a fleeting moment, Miller took her seriously. In Rebecca Miller’s interviews, filmed at his kitchen table in Connecticut near the end of his life, the playwright seemed to retain a real compassion for his second wife.

‘She was witty,’ Miller says, gazing wistfully from his kitchen table in Connecticut. ‘She was making fun of the situation as she was playing it. That was the difference. People thought they could imitate her by being cute. But she was being cute and making fun of being cute at the same time. There was another dimension, which is very difficult to do.'”

First Look: Gemma as Marilyn in ‘It’s Me, Sugar’

The first photo of Gemma Arterton in It’s Me, Sugar, the new TV comedy recreating the troubled production of Some Like It Hot, has been posted at Deadline (so at least they’ve got Marilyn’s orange robe right), along with a few more details: firstly, it’s produced by UK satellite channel Sky Arts; secondly, that Billy Wilder will be played by James Purefoy; and thirdly, it is just 30 minutes long and will be aired later this spring. You can read Gemma’s comments on the role here.