Category Archives: Television

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.”

Rachel Bloom’s ‘Crazy’ Marilyn Moment

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Comedienne Rachel Bloom has spoofed a classic Marilyn moment from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in an episode of her musical sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (in which she plays Rebecca, a woman in the thrall of romantic delusions), reports the Los Angeles Times. You can watch the scene (from Season 2, Episode 3) in full here.

“‘There was kind of a self-indulgent hubris, where she truly thinks she has two men in love with her,’ said Bloom of her quest to capture the sound of that romantic delusion musically. ‘She thinks she is the center of everything. That’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. That’s Marilyn Monroe. That’s a ’40s song where you’re surrounded by boys.’

So when inspiration struck, she did what any good songwriter on a deadline would do: She reached for her laptop that sat on her bamboo bath caddy and started jotting down lyrics.

It wasn’t long before the show’s music producer, Adam Schlesinger, received a voicemail with Bloom’s bare-bones rendition of this week’s big musical number, ‘The Math of Love Triangles’, which finds Rebecca cooing in a baby-doll voice — a la Monroe in ‘Diamonds’ — about what a hardship it is to have two guys in love with her.

‘The hardest part of writing these songs is landing on the specific idea,’ Bloom said. ‘Once we’ve landed on it, then stuff starts rolling. And there’s editing and there’s tweaking and there’s rewriting. But there’s a kind of rolling down the hill that you feel once you hit on the right comedy premise.’

And a bit of creativity is sometimes needed when trying to get certain aspects of those premises to pass Broadcast Standards and Practices. For example, with The Math of Love Triangles, the line, ‘Are you erect?’ could only pass muster if Bloom’s Rebecca was physically adjusting the posture of a dancer.

On the day of production of The Math of Love Triangles, Bloom was concerned that she might be revealing too much side boob because of her blue strapless gown or that the male dancers should be more expressive with their facial reactions.

After a take was complete, she slipped out of her character’s strappy heels and into some slippers to watch a playback.

‘I think it’s great,’ Bloom said. ‘It all came together!'”

Drunk History: Marilyn and Ella

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The story of how Marilyn helped Ella Fitzgerald to secure a lucrative nightclub engagement is heart-warming (albeit much-mythologised.) In the latest episode of Comedy Central’s Drunk History the tale is retold, starring Juno Temple (who has described Marilyn as ‘a huge inspiration‘) and Gabourey Sidibe.  Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya has reviewed the segment for the AV Club website.

With 'Drunk History' host Derek Waters
With ‘Drunk History’ host Derek Waters

“But the best segment of the episode comes in the middle, with Tymberlee Hill retelling the story of Ella Fitzgerald’s friendship with Marilyn Monroe … Gabourey Sidibe and Juno Temple give heartfelt and truly compelling performances as Fitzgerald and Monroe, having fun with Hill’s drunken, quick dialogue but also bringing genuine emotion to their scenes. Both are hugely popular cultural icons, but by focusing on their friendship, the story humanizes and complicates these two legendary women. The story deals with broad ideas like racism in the music industry, but it does so through the very specific lens of these two women and their beautiful relationship. A famous white woman following through on true, selfless solidarity for a Black woman in her industry by using her own power to elevate a marginalized voice? That’s a story with a lot of present-day relevance—one that famous white women of today should listen to. ‘These two women, they literally need each other,’ Hill says, never once downplaying the intense emotions and complex relationship dynamics that make this an incredible story. She ends it by saying Fitzgerald ‘loved that lady,’ placing an emphasis on ‘loved’ that isn’t mere drunken exaggeration. It’s coming from her heart. And it looks like she says it through tears.”

Gillian Anderson’s Sci-Fi Marilyn in ‘American Gods’

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Actress Gillian Anderson – best-known as Agent Scully in The X Files, and her recent stage triumph as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire – is striking a classic MM pose in her latest role, as ‘Media’ in American Gods, an upcoming TV series on the Starz channel.

Based on a fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman, the show will make its US debut in 2017.  “American Gods follows an ex-convict named Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) who, upon early release from prison, is hired as the bodyguard of a mysterious con man named Wednesday (Ian McShane),” Kelvin Melrose reports for Spinoff. “However, it’s soon revealed that Wednesday is an incarnation of All-Father Odin, who’s traveling America recruiting his fellow forgotten deities to wage an epic battle against the new American gods — manifestations of modern life and technology, like the internet, media and credit cards.”

As Kimberly Roots reports for TVLine, Anderson’s character is described as “the mouthpiece for the New Gods, functioning as their public face and sales representative, by taking the form of various iconic celebrities. She lives off the attention and worship that people give to screens — to their laptops, their TVs, to their iPhones in their hands while they watch their TVs. Ever the perky spokesperson, and always in control, she spins stories in whatever direction best suits her.”

“In the book, Media, one of the new gods (the goddess of television, in fact) often took on the form of various pop culture icons—like Lucille Ball in her role as the titular Lucy in I Love Lucy,” James Whitbrook reports for io9. “But it looks like she’ll be changing into at least one new form, if Marilyn is any indicator.”

Marilyn and Arthur on Sky Arts Tonight

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For those in the UK who subscribe to the Sky Arts channel, Marilyn and Arthur Miller are featured in the latest episode of the documentary series, Artists in Love, tonight at 8pm.

“I’d been disgruntled by this series. Featuring famous partnerships, it had chosen pairings where the man was the genius and the woman merely his muse. Why not tell us about Leigh/Olivier or Plath/Hughes, marriages where the woman does a bit more than wash the dishes and spark up her man’s imagination?

The series corrects that tonight by focusing on the short marriage of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. When Miller first met the blonde bombshell he immediately saw past her sexual image, saying to her: ‘You’re the saddest girl I’ve ever met.’

And yet, despite seeming a sad ‘girl’ to this intellectual man, he was in awe of her, recalling of this first meeting: ‘I had to flee or walk into a doom beyond all knowing. With all her radiance she was surrounded by a darkness which perplexed me.’ And this impressed Marilyn: he walked away rather than swooning, pawing and patronising her.” – Julie McDowall, The National

Enquirer to ‘Investigate’ Marilyn’s Death

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The US cable channel, Reelz, has announced a new documentary series exploring celebrity scandals, in association with the National Enquirer, reports PR Web. The first episode will focus on Marilyn’s death and is due to air on May 28. (One can only hope that the programme will be of a higher standard than the Enquirer is generally known for, but I wouldn’t bet on it…)

Brad Goreski Inspired by Marilyn

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Brad Goreski, who co-hosts TV’s Fashion Police, has spoken of his admiration for Marilyn in an interview with Sherry Wright for Examiner.com. ‘I’ve been obsessed with Marilyn Monroe since I was a little kid,’ he says. ‘My room was covered in photos of her, I watch all of her movies, I listen to her music. She’s a constant style muse for me, so that would be a dream come true.’

In his autobiography, Born to be Brad, Goreski recalls first seeing a photo of Marilyn as a child at a supermarket. His grandmother Ruby showed him her video of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Brad was entranced by the vision of Marilyn singing ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a pink Travilla gown.

Brad later made his own video, starring his cousin as Marilyn, for an eighth grade class presentation, and covered his bedroom walls with images of his idol (and a commemorative Franklin Mint plate hanging near his bed.)