Category Archives: Television

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.”

TV Review: ‘Marilyn – Auction Of A Lifetime’

My review of the recent Channel 4 documentary, Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime, is posted today at Immortal Marilyn. At the time of writing, the programme is still available to watch online (UK only.) And if you’re looking for a more detailed view of the sale, it’s right here.

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)

Marilyn, Joan and a Hollywood ‘Feud’

Marilyn at the Photoplay Awards in 1953 (bottom left); and at the Golden Globes in 1960 (bottom right)
Clock’s ticking: Joan Crawford ‘watches’ over Marilyn at the Photoplay Awards in 1953 (bottom left); and at the Golden Globes in 1960 (bottom right)

The upcoming TV series, Feud: Bette and Joan, stars Susan Sarandon as Davis and Jessica Lange as Crawford, the rival actresses whose mutual enmity peaked when they collaborated on Robert Aldrich’s 1961 shocker, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

As Carolyn L. Todd reveals in an article for Refinery 29, Crawford also bore a grudge against Marilyn, which will be depicted in the show’s opening scene. The older star decried Marilyn’s daring attire – the iconic gold lamé dress – when she accepted a Photoplay award as most promising newcomer. However, while the basic story is true (as recorded by columnist Bob Thomas – more details here), the producers have transposed the event to an occasion closer to their main storyline. In this telling, Crawford makes her dig at Marilyn at the 1960 Golden Globes, where she was named Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for Some Like It Hot.

However, Marilyn’s appearance on this occasion was relatively demure and while Joan’s original remarks had drawn criticism because Marilyn was, in 1953, a rising star, by 1960 she was a far more established figure. After the public backlash, Joan had made no further comments on Marilyn’s later career. Citing her attack on Marilyn’s overt sexuality as an early example of ‘slut-shaming’, Todd seems unaware that the chronology has been altered.

While switching the date may fit the Feud narrative more neatly, it is also anachronistic and leaves one wondering how many other ‘alternative facts’ will be presented to viewers. Feud will have its premiere on Sunday, March 5, on the US cable channel FX, so for better or worse, we’ll soon find out.

2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

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In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

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In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

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Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

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In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

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In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

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June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

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In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

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August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

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In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

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In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

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In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

05E065FF-9E98-4677-8946-85623619BBF3-2686-0000014DE181D724_tmpFinally, in December the EYE Film Institute began a Marilyn movie season in Amsterdam. The Asphalt Jungle was released on Blu-Ray by Criterion. And actresses Zsa Zsa Gabor and Debbie Reynolds both passed away.

Director Casts Doubt on Netflix ‘Blonde’

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Despite reports this summer that filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s long-mooted adaptation of Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel about Marilyn, would be produced for Netflix in 2017, it is “not a done deal,” as Dominik admits in a new interview for Collider. (Criticised by MM fans for its factual liberties, Blonde will be available  via Kindle for the first time in English next March – so if you haven’t read it yet, judge for yourself.)

“When I spoke to you for Killing Them Softly, you were going to do Blonde next, but that was back in 2012. We’ve recently heard that Netflix was going to step in and finance that, so are you finally going to go into production on that film?

DOMINIK: I don’t know. I hope so, but it’s not, in any way, a done deal.

So, you don’t have a possible production date yet?

DOMINIK: No.

What is it about that film and that story that’s made you stick with it all this time, and still want to get it made?

DOMINIK: I think that Blonde will be one of the ten best movies ever made. That’s why I want to do it.

Why do you think that is?

DOMINIK: It’s a film about the human condition. It tells the story of how a childhood trauma shapes an adult who’s split between a public and a private self. It’s basically the story of every human being, but it’s using a certain sense of association that we have with something very familiar, just through media exposure. It takes all of those things and turns the meanings of them inside out, according to how she feels, which is basically how we live. It’s how we all operate in the world. It just seems to me to be very resonant. I think the project has got a lot of really exciting possibilities, in terms of what can be done, cinematically.

Are you still hoping to have Jessica Chastain play Marilyn Monroe, or will you have to recast the role once you finally get a firm start date?

DOMINIK: Well, it’s a chicken and the egg type of thing. But, I don’t think it’s going to be Jessica Chastain.”