Lady Gaga on Pain, Fame and Marilyn

Pop star Lady Gaga has often referenced Marilyn in her work, sometimes with insight and sympathy (as in her past interviews with Vanity Fair and Google, and her ‘Dance in the Dark‘ lyric, ‘Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia/Tell ’em how you feel girls!’) At other times, however, she has depicted MM in a shallow, even crass manner (her ‘Government Hooker‘ song and ‘Do What U Want‘ video.) While she has also experienced the dark side of fame at first hand, her knowledge of Marilyn’s life and character seems rather limited.

Nonetheless, her latest comments about Marilyn – and other stars who died before their time – are quite intriguing, as Olivia Truffaut-Wong reports on the new Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, for Bustle.

“Speaking in her new documentary, Lady Gaga reveals that her wacky fashion choices come out of a desire for control in an industry that loves to take control away from its artists … ‘What I’ve done is that when they wanted me to be sexy or they wanted me to be pop, I always f*cking put some absurd spin on it that made me feel like I’m still in control,’ she says.

In the film, Gaga opens up about how the music industry and Hollywood treats women, particularly how men in positions of power, producers for example, think that female artists are there for their entertainment. ‘That’s not why I’m here. I’m not a receptacle for your pain,’ she says. ‘I’m not just a place for you to put it.’

To counteract those expectations of what a pop star should look like Gaga explains how she decided to show ugliness in fame while performing. ‘If I’m gonna be sexy on the VMAs and sing about the paparazzi,’ she says, ‘I’m gonna do it while I’m bleeding to death and reminding you of what fame did to Marilyn Monroe, the original Norma Jean, and what it did to Anna Nicole Smith.'”

Marilyn Through the Eye of Magnum

Cinema Through the Eye of Magnum, a new documentary about the legendary photo agency, will be screened for the first time in the UK tonight at 10pm on BBC4. This image, captured by Ernst Haas, shows fellow Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt among the cast and crew of The Misfits.

The Misfits was a pivotal moment in photographers’ relationship with cinema. Lee Jones, Magnum’s head of special projects in New York, decided that the film’s dream cast deserved special attention. Nine different photographers took turns over 3 months of the shoot to capture the ‘total chaos’ on what would be Marilyn Monroe’s last film.

Eve Arnold, Magnum’s first woman member, was Monroe’s trusted collaborator. Having previously worked with Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford, she started photographing Monroe when they were both relatively unknown. She spent two months on the set of the John Huston movie.

Photographer Bruce Davidson remarked, ‘Marilyn is really in torment – this was the movie where it all collapsed. And the hidden homosexuality, total neurosis, drugs, the whole works (on set). This film is a turning point, and the photographs document the disintegration of a system.’

Clark Gable had a heart attack the day after filming wrapped on The Misfits and died a few days later.”

Thanks to Nikki at Marilyn Remembered

Movie Greats: Barry Norman on Marilyn

Barry Norman, the British critic who fronted a weekly film show on BBC television from 1972-1998, has died aged 83. In the late 1970s, he wrote and presented The Hollywood Greats, a documentary series profiling legendary stars. An episode about Marilyn, featuring interviews with Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder and Eli Wallach, and many others, was broadcast in 1979 – you can watch it here.

He also wrote two books accompanying the series. The latter volume, The Movie Greats (1981), includes a chapter about Marilyn.

“What she most certainly was, and what she proved herself to be time and again, was a most wonderfully gifted comedienne, a woman whose contribution of abundant physical charms – a positive cornucopia of femininity – and wistful shyness made you at once want to laugh at her and protect her. Nobody since has come even remotely close to replacing her.

If only, you think, if only someone had given her a great big hug when she was still a little girl and said, ‘Hey, listen, I love you,’ then maybe everything would have been different. But in that case she would probably never have become Marilyn Monroe and the world would have been the poorer for it because Marilyn Monroe was something rather special.

You can take every possible identifiable ingredient that she had and put them together and multiply them and add in the date and the number you first thought of and at the end of it all you’ve got is a blonde, a small girl with a sweet face and a remarkably voluptuous body. But you still haven’t got another Marilyn Monroe.”

‘Bombshell’ Headed for Broadway

After a hugely popular, one-off benefit performance in 2015, plans to bring Bombshell – the fictitious Marilyn musical from NBC’s Smash – to Broadway for real are now taking shape, as Greg Braxton reports for the L.A. Times.

“Craig Zaden and Neil Meron, the award-winning producing team behind the Oscar-winning Chicago and NBC’s live versions of The Sound of Music and The Wiz, are joining forces with NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Green late for the project, with an opening date yet to be determined. Greenblatt has extensive Broadway experience, producing the musicals Something Rotten! and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.

Created by Theresa Rebeck, who also served as showrunner, Smash premiered in 2012 to critical praise. The Times’ Mary McNamara called it a ‘triumph.’ But after a strong start, the series ran into rough creative waters, including exaggerated side plots and strange song breaks. Ratings fell. When Smash returned for its second season, Rebeck and a number of characters were gone. But Smash still was canceled.

The appetite for the show has never died, Zaden said, and has found new life on Netflix. ‘It’s more popular now than when it was on the air.'”

American Goddess: Gillian Anderson as Marilyn

As reported here last summer, Gillian Anderson has appeared as Marilyn for her ‘Media’ role in ‘Lemon Scented You’, the fifth episode of American Gods, a new sci-fi series on the US Starz channel. While Gillian may not resemble Marilyn physically (I was reminded of another Hollywood icon, Barbara Stanwyck) her performance has been praised by both critics and fans of the show. Morit Chaplynne  reviews it on Culturess:

“The two best things about this episode are Gillian Anderson and Gillian Anderson. Sure, Shadow —and us along with him — manages to learn a little more about his new weird reality, and that’s definitely interesting. But Gillian Anderson appears as both David Bowie (in the teal Ziggy Stardust suit with the short red hair) and as Marilyn Monroe (in the iconic white dress from The Seven Year Itch) and it is everything.

Back at the police station, they lock Shadow and Wednesday in an interrogation room … Someone unlocks the door. It’s not the cops. It’s Marilyn Monroe.

Media floats into the room and speaks to them in a breathy whisper. Shadow asks Wednesday to tell him it isn’t real. He does not. The mysterious Mr. World enters the room, all overcoat and fedora, apologizing to Wednesday for not reaching out ages ago, but he hadn’t seen him.

Wouldn’t you like an upgrade? A brand new lemon-scented you?

Media gives an extensive sales pitch. Wednesday wants no part of it. He smells a con. When he laughs in Mr. World’s face, Media blows him a high-powered kiss that knocks out his two front teeth and leaves his mouth bloody.”

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gillian talks about her multifaceted role:

“I didn’t know all that much about Marilyn as much as we all know what’s in the greater consciousness: the key pieces of her death and her struggle and her marriage and all that. And actually, I was surprised at how easy I found it to immerse myself in that and how much fun it was. She was definitely the one I had the most fun doing, just because there’s an imminent joy to her. There is also with Judy [Garland], but there’s something so delightful and delicious about Marilyn that was a lot of fun to jump into. And there’s a mechanism that we used to get her floating — I was on this robotic contraption that had been built with fans in it so that my skirt was constantly moving, even though they were going to recreate and enhance some of that in CGI. So for the majority of that scene, it was me being driven around via remote control with fans blasting vertically up my dress. So, that was fun.

The fact that [Media] does manifest as male and female and however Bowie might identify himself… I mean, certainly, you say ‘worship,’ and Michael Jackson was worshipped as much as any female icon we’ve ever had. Actually, we discussed Michael Jackson at one point as a character I might do, and Prince. But to me, what was important for Media, male or female, was that we got to see that the women, the female gods, and the females in general are and can be as powerful as the male gods and the men [on the show]. That they are equal. I guess it makes sense that one of the most powerful gods in the story is embodied as female.”

TV Rewind: Marilyn in ‘The Kennedys’

Actress Charlotte Sullivan looks back on her role as Marilyn in the 2011 TV mini-series, The Kennedys, in an interview for Monsters and Critics. The show received mixed reviews – I thought Charlotte did her best with a poorly-written character – and her comments reveal the challenges of playing someone as iconic as Marilyn.

“I played a drug addict for my husband in this one film, and it took me five minutes to get ready. But Marilyn Monroe took like two and a half hours! The whole team of people who put me together for that…they are just the most insanely talented people.

Also, the thing with the Marilyn look was it’s such a contrived beauty, which is actually what I love about it. This is something like what Dita von Teese does. I love her so much, she believes everybody can be glamorous.

But playing Marilyn…I got a lot of flack for that. I got a lot of hate for that. It’s a poisoned chalice. First of all, the opportunity to play that kind of character is a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. Especially being surrounded by such a cast, it was a spectacular opportunity.

I knew going into it I would be eviscerated because there are so many people obsessed with her, in love with her, and I can’t live up to that. You just have to be confident. I think the thing with me during that particular time in my life was I didn’t have any confidence. I kind of harness that because Marilyn didn’t have any either.

What do I have in common with this woman? I know that she desperately wanted to be thought of as a good actress, and that’s something I have always wanted – to be great at what I do. I struggled, there have been times I feel good about my work then I lose it. It’s a really strange art form.”

Marilyn, Joan and the ‘Feuding’ Dress

Screenshots by Patrick at Immortal Marilyn
Screenshots by Patrick at Immortal Marilyn

As reported by ES Updates last week, Marilyn’s spat with Joan Crawford was recreated in the opening scene of FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan, although the date (and the dress) has been changed. In an article for Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson explores the true story, which unfolded at the Photoplay Awards back in 1953.

There’s still some confusion, though – while Robinson concedes that Marilyn won a Golden Globe for Some Like It Hot in 1960, not ’61 as depicted in Feud, she goes on to say that both Crawford and MM were ‘intoxicated’ that evening. It’s not entirely clear which year she is referring to, but her source is Golden Globes veteran Judy Solomon.

In fact, Marilyn did not attend the 1961 ceremony. She returned in ’62, however, to collect an award as ‘World Film Favourite’. The red dress worn by actress Alisha Soper as MM in Feud appears to be inspired by the ‘nude’ gown she wore to sing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ a few months later.

Marilyn at the Golden Globes in February 1962 (left); and at President Kennedy's birthday gala in May (right)
Marilyn at the Golden Globes in February 1962 (left); and at President Kennedy’s birthday gala in May (right)