Marilyn Onstage in Milan

The Last Tapes of Marilyn Monroe, a new play starring Italian actress Marianna Esposito, was staged in Milan last Saturday. While Marilyn’s alleged stream-of-consciousness tapes for Dr Ralph Greenson have never materialised, and detective John Miner’s self-proclaimed transcription is also highly questionable, the play – written and directed by Guilio Federico Janni – has nonetheless been praised by diehard fans, including Gianandrea Colombo who posted his review on the Marilyn Monroe – Italia Facebook group.

Marianna Esposito

“A well-written and sincere monologue, which ‘undressed’ Marilyn from the clichés of stupidity and frivolousness. Among ‘educated’ quotations – from Shakespeare to Joyce – Marianna Esposito cried and smiled, retracing the last hours of Marilyn through the ‘relationship’ with her therapist. Being in the front row, I was able to enjoy the skill of this actress whose strong point is a mime and intense expressiveness, the ability to pass from languid glances to inconsolable crying, to stage the same effervescence of the glass of sparkling wine that her Marilyn sips during the show, telling of life, love and cinema. Marianna Esposito crosses the border between actor and spectator with firmness, direct looks and a physicality exhibited without hesitation. A minimal setting, soft lighting and the magic of a play written and certainly acted ‘from the heart’, elevates the soul of the woman behind the mask of the myth.”

How Marilyn Helped Writer to Confront Abuse

Author Joy McCullough has revealed how a youthful fascination with Marilyn spurred her to write a play, and how her subsequent decision to volunteer at a YWCA helpline for sexual assault victims triggered memories of an abusive relationship with her high school pastor, in an article for Signature Reads.

Joy’s debut novel, Blood Water Paint, is based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century painter who was raped in her teens, and after taking the perpetrator to court, expressed her rage in art. While some might say that Marilyn wasn’t an ideal role model for a self-harming adolescent, it may be that her own tragic history of sexual abuse and mental illness that started Joy on the long and painful journey towards confronting her own demons.

“I was fascinated by Marilyn Monroe – her life, her death, her sexuality, her victimization. The play I wrote about her won an award and was staged by the university.

In my apartment the next school year, I hung a poster of Marilyn gazing directly at the camera, wearing an enormous tulle skirt and clutching the bodice to her chest. I’d never articulated why Marilyn became an obsession. Like my gut need to volunteer for the YWCA, I had followed a driving instinct. But sitting alone in that room, staring at that poster, the connections became clearer.

With Marilyn gazing out at me, I wielded a knife against my own skin. I wanted to see blood – a visible, logical reason for the pain that only intensified the longer I tried to dismiss it.

I didn’t believe Marilyn had intentionally taken her own life, but however it ended, it had been in deep pain and loneliness. If I stayed alone in my room with only my knife and a poster of a long-dead film star for company, I could end the same way.”

Marilyn Meets Helen of Troy in NYC

Marilyn by Cecil Beaton, 1956

The first season at The Shed, a new multi-arts centre opening at the Hudson Yards next year, will include Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, an intriguing collaboration depicting Marilyn as the Spartan queen famed in Greek mythology, whose incomparable beauty was said to have sparked the Trojan War, as Andrew R. Chow reports for the New York Times.

“On Wednesday, the Shed’s artistic director, Alex Poots, revealed the first batch of commissions for the Hudson Yards venue’s inaugural season.

The ambitious, genre-melding performances will begin in the spring of 2019, and include a musical series conceived by Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones and a collaboration between the poet Anne Carson, the actor Ben Whishaw and the opera singer Renée Fleming.

A newly commissioned piece by Ms. Carson entitled Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, based on Euripides’ Helen, will be shown in the venue’s more intimate theater space. (The play draws a line between Helen and Marilyn Monroe, who was baptized as Norma Jeane Baker.)

‘I asked Ann, Would you ever consider writing a dramatic monologue for a performer?’ Mr. Poots recalled. ‘Within six to nine months, she sent me the first draft and said: ‘I’ve written this for Ben Whishaw. And he’ll do it.’ Mr. Whishaw will perform it with Ms. Fleming.”

‘Becoming Marilyn Monroe’ in Palm Springs

Of all the Marilyn-inspired plays staged in recent years, Marilyn: Forever Blonde – a one-woman show starring Sunny Thompson – is perhaps the only one to win the hearts of fans as well as critical acclaim. And now Becoming Marilyn Monroe, Tammy Plimmer’s new hour-long documentary about the making of a star tribute, will have its premiere on April 10 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, as part of the American Documentary Film Festival.

“In 1952, a 10-year-old boy falls in love with a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a magazine. 47 years later he marries her. This improbable true story of a successful producer of musical revues who discovers a young girl from a small town in Northern Minnesota, marries her, and makes her the star of his one-woman theatrical tribute to Hollywood’s most famous star, Marilyn Monroe. This results in an award-winning, critically-acclaimed theatrical play with music, Marilyn Forever Blonde.”

‘Bus Stop’ Comes Back to Paperback

William Inge’s Bus Stop, a Broadway hit for actress Kim Stanley before being adapted for the screen, is often revived in America’s regional theatre and has now been reissued in paperback (and audiobook) by Wildside Press. Although the cover shows original artwork of Marilyn in the movie, the play’s text is somewhat different, focusing on other characters as well as Cherie and Bo.

The play was published in 1956 with Marilyn on the cover, while the movie’s UK release was accompanied by Bus Stop: A Story of the Twentieth Century Fox Film, a 96-page booklet featuring photos and a mini-novelization.

Hit and Miss: Marilyn’s Life Restaged in the UK

Two new Marilyn-inspired plays are currently being staged in the UK, earning very different reviews. Lizzie Freeborn’s Hot Lips and Cold War, now playing at the London Theatre Workshop, imagines Jackie Kennedy asking a naive White House intern to spy on her husband and Marilyn, and is roundly panned by The Upcoming‘s Mersa Auda.

“The far-fetched fictional narrative, mixed with an underwhelming representation of real-life characters, makes the piece not only disappointing, but also potentially detrimental in the way it recycles stereotypes. Marilyn is a two-dimensional bombshell and Kennedy a full-time womaniser, and some dialogues lack believability to the point of becoming unintentionally humorous (such as the moment Marilyn proclaims in front of a group of White House staff that she hopes to have a private encounter with Kennedy following the public ceremony they are both attending).”

Meanwhile, Darren Haywood’s The Late Marilyn Monroe, staged last week at the Blue Orange Theatre in Birmingham, takes the all-too-familiar format of showing Marilyn (played by Tania Staite), alone with her thoughts on the night of her death. Fortunately, this production got a warmer response from Selwyn Knight at Reviews Hub.

“Haywood clearly has affection for Monroe and has taken time to research her life and last hours thoroughly to provide a moving account; however, it feels a work in progress. Some of the scenes are repetitive and could use some pruning to tighten up the narrative. Nevertheless, The Late Marilyn Monroe does shine some light on how her life might well have ended.”


‘Hollywood Revisited’ in Palm Springs

The movie costume collection of Marilyn Remembered president Greg Schreiner – around 500 garments in total, including this red dress originally designed by Oleg Cassini and worn by his former wife, Gene Tierney, in On the Riviera (1951) , and by Marilyn a year later in promotional shots and at the premiere of Monkey Business – returns to the spotlight in Hollywood Revisited, a musical extravaganza at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs on February 22, the Desert Sun reports.

“‘It began with Marilyn,’ Schreiner beams. ‘She was always my No. 1 star.’ In those early days of collecting, he says he could fetch a vintage garb from $200 to $500. ‘It was one of the first times [auction houses] had done something like it; nobody had thought the costumes would ever be worth anything.’ As prices for movie costumes shot north over the years, especially Monroe-related items, Schreiner fell deeper in love with collecting all kinds of movie wardrobe items.

In 1987, Schreiner formalized the genesis for what is now Hollywood Revisited in a very small way — in nursing and retirement homes. Things snowballed after that. This year, Schreiner has shows booked in major theatrical houses around the country — from West Palm Beach and Santa Monica to Chicago. He is now heralded for being one of the most well-known collectors of classic movie costumes worn by Monroe, Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Katherine Hepburn, Mae West, Judy Garland, and countless others. In fact, 30 of Schreiner’s costumes are on display in the Hollywood Museum.”

UPDATE: Hollywood Revisited will be staged again at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, Los Angeles on Match 26, to benefit the Musical Theatre Guild’s extensive youth outreach programs.

Rewriting History: Marilyn, Arthur and #MeToo

In the wake of last year’s revelations about sexual abuse in Hollywood, Marilyn’s own experiences have often been cited as historical precedent. While she certainly did experience sexual harassment, it’s notable that she managed to succeed without recourse to the fabled ‘casting couch.’ She resisted Harry Cohn’s advances; was a friend but not a mistress to Joe Schenck; and her relationship with Johnny Hyde was based on real affection. As for Darryl F. Zanuck – perhaps the most significant Hollywood figure in her career – they were never close, and Zanuck himself admitted that Marilyn’s triumphs were of her own creation.

In a new article for the Daily Beast, Maria Dahvana Headley turns her attention to Arthur Miller, claiming that he ‘smeared’ Marilyn and ‘invented the myth of the male witch hunt.’ She begins with his 1952 play, The Crucible, based on the Salem witch trials of 1692, but widely perceived as an allegory for the contemporary ‘red-baiting’ crusade by the House Un-American Activities Committee, in which Arthur would later be implicated – but ultimately exonerated.

Arthur and Marilyn first met in 1951, when he was still married. There was a strong attraction between them, and they corresponded intermittently thereafter. Headley is not the first to argue that the adulterous affair between the teenage Abigail Williams and John Proctor might have been inspired by his conflicted feelings for Marilyn – Barbara Leaming also suggested this in her 1999 biography, Marilyn Monroe. Many historians have pointed out that Miller’s depiction of these protagonists is not accurate – Abigail was still a child, and there was no affair with Proctor. This mooted association between Abigail and Marilyn is purely speculative, however, and Miller would hardly be the first playwright to fictionalise events. (For a factual account of the trials, I can recommend Stacy Schiff’s The Witches.)

But Headley goes further still, conflating the story of Arthur rubbing Marilyn’s feet at a Hollywood party (as later told by Marilyn to her acting coach, Natasha Lytess) with an incident noted in the Salem court reports that inspired The Crucible, of Abigail touching Proctor’s hood and then becoming hysterical, crying out that her hands were burning. ‘Women, unless they are very devout and very old, The Crucible tells us, are unreliable and changeable,’ Headley writes. ‘They’re jealous. They’re vengeful. They’re confused about sex and about love. They might, given very little provocation, ruin the life of a good man, and everything else in the world too.’

Headley is on firmer ground with her interpretation of After the Fall, Miller’s 1964 play which featured a self-destructive singer, Maggie, who marries lawyer Quentin – a relationship widely acknowledged to be based on Arthur’s marriage to Marilyn (though he seemingly remained in denial.) ‘Maggie uses sex to bewitch Quentin out of his marriage to the long-suffering Louise,’ Headley writes, ‘marries him herself, and then becomes a catastrophe. By the end of the play, Quentin is wrestling a bottle of pills out of her hand. She drains their bank accounts, uses all of his energy for her own career, and demands endless love.’

This is a harsh portrayal of Marilyn, and many felt that Miller went too far. However, it is not without compassion. By focusing on the real-life parallels, Headley sidelines the broader themes of both plays. The Crucible was about the persecution of innocents for imaginary crimes, and After the Fall was, at least partly, a reckoning with the Holocaust (as well as Arthur’s own guilt over Marilyn’s death.) While the victims of the Salem witch hunts were mostly women, it is not surprising that Miller would identify more closely with a male protagonist. And the horrors of his own time – the holocaust, and HUAC – claimed both men and women.

In his final work, Finishing the Picture, Arthur revisited the troubled production of The Misfits. ‘She’s ceased to be the sex goddess she’s supposed to be,’ Headley says of Kitty, the Marilyn-figure in the play. ‘Instead, she is once again a naked girl in the woods, glimpsed running from the rest of the story, and in her flight, she makes everyone around her miserable … In Miller’s final statement on the matter, she’s what the world might become if a woman wanted too much consideration.’

In November 2017, Anna Graham Hunter accused actor Dustin Hoffman of sexually harassing her as a 17 year-old intern on the set of Death of a Salesman, the 1985 TV adaptation of Miller’s most famous play. According to the Hollywood Reporter, film director Volker Schlondorff responded with the glib remark that ‘I wish Arthur Miller was around, he would find the right words, but then he might get accused of sexually molesting Marilyn Monroe.’ Since then, other women have come forward with allegations against Hoffman. Whatever Schlondorff may believe, it’s impossible to know what Arthur would have made of the scandal, but it’s worth remembering that he reportedly disliked Hoffman’s performance in the prior stage production, although it had won a Tony award for Best Revival.

Anna Graham Hunter’s story needs to be heard, as do countless other victims of predatory men. In Marilyn’s case, however, there’s a danger of rewriting history. While Headley’s literary critique is valid and interesting, her attempt to recast Miller as an abuser of women is grossly unfair.

Remembering ‘Marilyn! The Musical’

Must Close Saturday: The Decline and Fall Of The British Musical Flop, a new book by Adrian Wright, covers the short-lived 1983 show, Marilyn!  The Musical. It failed to win over critics and closed after 156 performances, but its talented star, Stephanie Lawrence, won critical acclaim and that year’s Best Actress award from the Variety Club of Great Britain, as well as a nomination for the Society of West End Theatre awards (now known as the Laurence Olivier awards.)

“The show was intended as a tribute to another popular icon who died young, but it failed to capture the public imagination,” Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian. “The one person who emerged with credit was Stephanie Lawrence. She not only captured the externals of Marilyn Monroe – the wiggle, the walk, the passionate pout, the vocal breathiness – but conveyed the carmined innocence and soft vulnerability within. It should have been her passport to fame but the show failed to live up to its star.”

Her performance is fondly remembered by Monroe fans, and in 1995, she released an album, Marilyn: The Legend, featuring songs from the musical as well as covers of Monroe tracks. Stephanie, who also starred in more successful musicals including Evita, Starlight Express and Blood Brothers and acted on film and television, died suddenly in 2000. Michael Billington described her as “an actress of rare glamour” and “a pillar of British musical theatre”, who nonetheless “never fully achieved the 40-carat stardom that came to her no-more talented peers.”

2017: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

In January, amateur footage from the set of The Seven Year Itch was uncovered, and Twentieth Century Fox launched a perfume range inspired by Marilyn’s movies. Buddy Greco – the jazz pianist and singer believed to have taken the last snapshots of Marilyn – passed away aged 90.

In February, Marilyn appeared in a TV ad for Cadillac, first aired during the 2017 Oscar ceremony. A new memoir by Patricia Bosworth, including reminiscences of Marilyn at the Actors Studio, was published. And New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where Marilyn lived in 1955, finally closed its doors.

In March, Marilyn in Manhattan, Elizabeth Winder’s book about Marilyn’s first year in New York, was published. The All About Marilyn fan club launched a new weekly podcast, while film historian Karina Longworth presented a three-part special on Marilyn for her popular series, You Must Remember This. Marilyn’s infamous spat with Joan Crawford was recreated in TV’s Feud: Bette and Joan. Julien’s Auctions held an online photo sale, ‘Marilyn Through the Lens.’ Supermodel Karlie Kloss recreated ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ for a Swarovski commercial, while Kendall Jenner posed Marilyn-style for Love magazine. James Rosenquist, one of the first artists to make Marilyn his muse, and Lola Albright, the first choice for Angela in The Asphalt Jungle, both passed away.

In April, Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime – a documentary about the Julien’s sale of 2016 – was broadcast in the UK. Ella Queen of Jazz, a children’s book by Helen Hancocks about Ella Fitzgerald’s friendship with Marilyn, was published, marking the singer’s centenary. And Cecil Beaton’s 1956 portrait of Marilyn (her own favourite) was projected onto the Empire State Building, celebrating 150 years of Harper’s Bazaar.

In May, Marilyn made the cover of Yours Retro magazine, with an article inside by Michelle Morgan about her time in England. Actress Gillian Anderson appeared as Marilyn in TV’s American Gods. Unmissable Marilyn, an exhibition curated by collector Ted Stampfer, opened in Rome. Dinner With DiMaggio, a memoir of the baseball legend by Dr Rock Positano, was published; and James Spada, author of Monroe: A Life in Pictures, and Hollywood publicist Joe Hyams both passed away.

On June 1st, fans celebrated Marilyn’s 91st birthday. Also this month, her final home in Los Angeles was sold for $7.25 million. Some Like It Hot returned to theatres across the USA as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series, and Marilyn graced the cover of a Saturday Evening Post special on the golden age of Hollywood. Her final days at Twentieth Century Fox were examined in a new book by French film historian Olivier Rajchman, while in Finland, a new fiction anthology, Marilyn, Marilyn, was published. And Bill Pursel, who befriended Marilyn in the late 1940s, reporter Gabe Pressman, and British collector David Gainsborough Roberts all passed away.

In July, the beaded ‘nude’ dress worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy – purchased by Ripley’s Entertainment in 2016 – started a world tour in Canada. Marilyn’s address books were published on Kindle. And actor Martin Landau, who befriended Marilyn in New York, plus Aleshia Brevard – the transgender impersonator who once performed for Marilyn herself – and film critic Barry Norman, who wrote and presented a 1979 documentary about Marilyn as part of his Hollywood Greats series, all passed away.

August marked the 55th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. In Los Angeles, Marilyn Remembered – the fan club which organises her annual memorial service at Westwood – celebrated its own 35th birthday with a series of events including a charity gala at Hollygrove, and a special screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Chinese Theatre. The Immortal Marilyn fan club was also present, hosting a pool party for fans at the Avalon Hotel, and a toast to MM on Santa Monica Beach.

Also in August, original photographs of Marilyn by George Barris and others went under the hammer at dedicated auctions in New York and Los Angeles. Some Like It Hot topped a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Comedy Films, and The Misfits was re-released in France. Twentieth Century Fox: A Century of Entertainment, a mammoth study of Marilyn’s home studio was published, and she also made the cover of Reminisce magazine. And comedian Jerry Lewis, who befriended Marilyn when she appeared on his radio show in 1953, passed away.

In September, The Essential Marilyn Monroe, a new retrospective of her work with photographer Milton Greene, was published. Another weighty tome, Marilyn Monroe’s Film Co-Stars From A to Z by David Alan Williams, was also released. Prism, Terry Johnson’s new play about cinematographer Jack Cardiff, opened in London, and Marilyn also featured in a new documentary, Magnum Through the Camera Eye. Wolf Alice singer Ellie Roswell paid homage to Marilyn in the ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ video. Versace reinvented the iconic ‘Marilyn dress’; and Montblanc launched a range of Monroe-inspired pens. Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy empire, died aged 91, and was buried in the crypt next to Marilyn at Westwood Memorial Park.

In October, Marilyn (as Sugar Kane in Some Like It Hot) graced one of 100 covers of UK magazine Total Film, and her favourite red taffeta and black lace gown went on display at the French Embassy in New York. Terry Johnson’s play, Insignificance, was revived in London, and lookalike Suzie Kennedy made a cameo appearance in Blade Runner 2049.

In November, a pair of gold-plated earrings worn by Marilyn in promotional shots for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was sold at Julien’s Auctions for $112,500. Marilyn: Her Untold Story, a magazine special, was published in the US. And gossip columnist Liz Smith, a longtime champion of Marilyn, died aged 94.

And in December, 21st Century Fox Entertainment – including Marilyn’s cache of classic films – was purchased by Disney for $52.4 billion.  Photos of Marilyn by Sam Shaw, Bert Stern and others went on display at the Galerie De L’Instant in Paris. A brief guide to one of Marilyn’s earliest movies, Love Happy, was published; and Richard Havers, author of Marilyn: A Life in Words, Pictures and Music, passed away.