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.”

Dusty Mae Steps Into Marilyn’s Wardrobe

Drag artist Dusty Mae has posed for a tribute shoot with photographer Joseph Adivari, wearing Marilyn’s own clothes (courtesy of collector Greg Schreiner), reports Out magazine.

“I’ve always believed that she has endured because of her authenticity and personality. Beauty can make someone famous, but it can’t make them into a cultural icon who is still celebrated over 50 years after their death. She had almost no family, and she struggled with poverty, abuse, sexism, and much more, yet she never let it stop her, and she still became Marilyn Monroe. Everyone who knew her talks about how she always came from a true place of love and generosity. If someone said, ‘Oh I love your sweater!’ she would give it to them without a second thought. She wasn’t materialistic, even though people might assume she was. My friends and I love to imagine what Marilyn Monroe would have been like in the 70s and 80s. She had the ability to reinvent herself, which is why so many people see parts of themselves in her, or feel that they identify with her on a deeper level. I think the world really missed out on some amazing things because of her death, but it speaks to her talent as an actress, and charm as a person, the fact that she is still celebrated today, and will be remembered forever as a definitive icon of the silver screen.”

Mariah Joins Marilyn With Hollywood Tribute

Singer Mariah Carey is one of Marilyn’s most famous fans – she bought the star’s white piano at Christie’s in 1999, and recently revealed to Vogue that she also owns a compact belonging to Marilyn, containing handwritten notes for her Golden Globes speech. And today, Variety reports, Mariah will  follow her idol’s path as she dips her hands and feet in cement outside Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre.

“Even with a long list of accolades behind her and a number of upcoming projects ahead of her, being immortalized alongside legends such as Marilyn Monroe, one of her own idols, is not an event Carey takes lightly. ‘I have this picture of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell when they were doing their imprint ceremony. It’s an iconic photograph, and I have it hanging in my living room,’ Carey says. ‘It’s something that feels humbling, and I feel honored by it.'”

Wolf Alice Gets ‘Unconventional’ With Marilyn

The British alt-rock band Wolf Alice has just released the video for ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, the latest single from their Visions Of Life album, with singer Ellie Roswell seemingly taking style inspiration from Marilyn, as MXDWM reports.

Marilyn at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, 1953

“Perhaps the idea of the video gets at how a culturally ultra-conventional icon like Marilyn Monroe is actually an unconventional individual. To be conventional would one would have to be anything other than an American icon. To be conventional is to be part of the cultural masses—going to work, raising a family, having normal things to talk about. Monroe’s life was hardly normal, and she would stick out ‘sorely’ in a regular, everyday context. Convention is normal, beautiful unconventionality is someone who sticks out not like a sore thumb, but like Marilyn Monroe.”

Gwendoline Christie Inspired by Marilyn

Gwendoline Christie, the English actress who plays Brienne of Tarth in TV’s Game of Thrones, has revealed that Marilyn was a formative influence on her chosen career. “I remember seeing Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop on television and thinking, what she was doing was so incredibly extraordinary,” Christie told People magazine. “I didn’t come from an acting background, but I just knew —that’s what I want to to do.”

‘Some Like It Marilyn’ in Canberra

The sheer number of Marilyn-themed plays being produced around the globe at any given time is astounding. Unfortunately, many seem poorly conceived, so I don’t always mention them here. However, Some Like It Marilyn – a tribute show first staged in 2010, starring Australian actress Lexi Sekuless – could be something special, reports the Canberra Times. (You can book tickets here for this one-off performance on Sunday, September 10.)

“The show features hit songs from favourite Monroe movies including ‘Two Little Girls from Little Rock’ and ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and scenes from Bus Stop (1956) and Some Like it Hot (1959). Those who loved her and sometimes loathed her – such as co-stars Jane Russell and Tony Curtis, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and director Billy Wilder – are quoted and an excerpt from her third and final husband Arthur Miller’s autobiographical play, After the Fall, is featured, building up a picture of a complex woman with a difficult relationship to the stardom she seemed to both crave and dread.

‘When she was married to Joe DiMaggio he wanted her to be Norma Jean [her real name] and she wanted to be Marilyn Monroe – with Arthur Miller she wanted the reverse,’ Sekuless says. ‘So many books have been written about her – I feel everyone wants a piece of her. They all want their filter to be the true one.’

By relying mostly on reported and published words from Monroe and others, and the songs and scenes from movies, Sekuless wants the focus to be on the star’s persona and her talent rather than on what she calls the ‘salacious’ aspects of her life such as her relationship with US president John F. Kennedy or the conspiracy theories surrounding her death.”

The Secret of Marilyn’s Timeless Appeal

Marilyn in  ‘River of No Return’ (1954)

In an insightful piece for the Ipswich Star, arts editor Andrew Clarke suggests that the reason for Marilyn’s enduring fame is not merely because of her beauty and dying young, but also her talent and charisma, best seen in her movies.

“The reason that Marilyn continues to be an international star, long-after her death, is a combination of good looks, striking personality and a fine actress. Once she hit her stride she also made some brilliant films, films that have become classics and still entertain audiences 60 years after they were made.

Films like Some Like It Hot and Seven Year Itch remain as bright and effervescent as the day they were made. If you research some of Marilyn’s lesser known films like Niagara or How To Marry A Millionaire with Lauren Bacall then you will find the performance and the material equally good.

Examination of her dramatic films such Bus Stop and The Misfits reveals a talented, thoughtful actress who connects with the character and with her audience. In these films, more so than her comedies, she played a character probably more akin to the real Marilyn, a vulnerable, emotionally exposed individual trying to find her place in the world.”

55 Years Ago: A Poem for Marilyn

Photo by Bert Stern, 1962

On Friday, August 3, 1962, Marilyn called her close friend Norman Rosten and talked about her plans to visit New York that fall, urging him joyfully, ‘Let’s start to live before we get old.’ By Sunday, the world was mourning her death. Norman wrote this poem while Marilyn was still alive, but she never had a chance to read it.

“We who spread the rainbow under glass
And weigh the most elusive sky and air,
Of that clan I come to track your heart –
But I’m baffled by those loose strands of hair.

You stand, finger at your lips, lost
In a long-abandoned heaven. No one within,
The angels gone, and all the harps undone.
What legend draws you there? O hurry down!

Surely your home’s with us, and not the gods.
Below your sealed window as you watch,
A river barge goes by, someone waves,
You laugh and throw a kiss for him to catch.

You’re not to be rescued wholly in this world.
It must be so. As many are saved,
That many drown. I see you clinging
To rooms, to phones, forgotten to be loved.”

Aleshia Brevard 1937-2017

Aleshia Brevard, the pioneering transgender actress, model and writer, has died aged 79, reports the Telegraph. She was born Alfred Brevard Crenshaw to Southern fundamentalist parents and grew up in abject poverty on a farm in the Appalachian Mountains. From an early age, Alfred dreamed of movie stars – and at 15 he took a Greyhound to California. So far, so Cherie in Bus Stop – but by the late 1950s, inspired by George Jorgensen aka Christine, America’s first transsexual, Alfred was working as a female impersonator at San Francisco nightclub Finocchio’s, and had begun the surgical  transition process.

Marilyn in 1960

In 1960, during a break from filming The Misfits, Marilyn saw Aleshia impersonate her onstage at Finocchio’s. One of Monroe’s early biographers, Fred Lawrence Guiles, first told the story in Norma Jean (1969.)

“Finocchio’s in San Francisco is one of the few tourist attractions of that city of special interest to show folk. It features some of the best female impersonators in the business. Marilyn had expressed an interest in seeing the show when others of The Misfits company came back talking about the place. Now it had been rumoured that one of the boys was impersonating her. She had seen and laughed at Edie Adams, a good friend, in her celebrated parody of Marilyn, but the Finocchio act was something special she would go out of her way to see.

Everyone in her party was a little tense as they took their ringside table at the club. [Allan ‘Whitey’] Snyder was frankly apprehensive and kept reminding Marilyn that she should keep in mind it was all in fun. And then the breathless moment arrived. The man was gusseted in a skin-tight sequinned gown, a wind-blown platinum wig on his head. The resemblance was uncanny. [Ralph] Roberts observed Marilyn’s eyes widening in recognition, and then she grinned. Her mimic was undulating his lips in the familiar insecure smile and cupping his breasts, taking little steps around the floor, wiggling his rear.

‘You’re all terribly sweet,’ the mimic said in a little-girl voice. Marilyn put her hand to her mouth. ‘I love you all!’ the man was saying as he began to point at the men in the audience in turn. ‘You … and you …’

While Marilyn might have worn her black wig and tried to control the fits of girlish laughter that would give her away, this night she had not wanted anonymity. She had told the others she might leave them later on and wander down to Fisherman’s Wharf to visit DiMaggio’s Restaurant and then perhaps Lefty O’Doul’s. Neither establishment would find a Marilyn incognito especially amusing.

The mimic, discovering his model, could not avoid playing to her. There was a rising buzz of whispers around them as the audience saw the rapt and smiling original. Regretfully, Marilyn suggested they leave. The impersonator rushed to finish his turn. It was a short one anyway. No one could sustain such a parody for very long. As Marilyn and her friends were leaving, the man, blowing kisses to the audience and then to Marilyn removed his silvery wig.”

Aleshia at Finocchio’s

The Telegraph reports that Marilyn wrote in her diary that evening that the experience was ‘like seeing herself on film.’ However, Marilyn did not keep a regular diary and this remark doesn’t appear in her private notes, so it’s more likely that she said this to one of her friends. Aleshia would share her own account in her 2001 memoir, The Woman I Was Not Born to Be: A Transsexual Journey.

“Newspaper columnists touted me as Marilyn’s double. That was flattering, but it was only good publicity. Mr Finocchio paid for such fanfare. I was young, professionally blonde, and sang, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ in a red knit sweater, but that does not a legend make. I knew the difference. Marilyn was the epitome of everything I wanted to become.

The nation’s favourite sex symbol came to Finocchio’s to catch my act. She must have read the publicity.

‘Marilyn left after your number,’ I muttered to myself.

That was true. I might be reacting to the pre-op medication, but I wasn’t hallucinating. Miss Monroe had watched me perform her song from Let’s Make Love – and fled.

‘Well, I wouldn’t be sittin’ my famous ass in some nightclub watching a drag queen sing my number,’ I mused. ‘Not if I was Marilyn Monroe! No way, darlin’, I’d have better things to do with my life.”

Marilyn and Aleshia

When Marilyn died, Aleshia was recovering from her long-awaited operation and would recall, ‘I felt as though I’d lost a close, personal friend.’ She later became a Playboy Bunny, and appeared in a film produced by Robert Slatzer, a man notorious for his exaggerated stories about Marilyn, claiming they were secretly married and linking her death to the Kennedys.

“Most of my audition time had been wasted by Slatzer’s bragging about his marriage to Marilyn Monroe,” she wrote. “‘Joe DiMaggio maybe; Bob Slatzer, never,’ I thought. My Marilyn, I believed, would never have married the man I personally regarded as a blustering, rotund, B-grade movie maker. I didn’t believe a word he said.'”

Nonetheless, Slatzer gave Aleshia a part in his 1970 film, Bigfoot – as a seven-foot mother ape! “A munchkin from The Wizard of Oz would play my Sasquatch child,” Aleshia cringed. “There would be no Academy Award for this acting stint. In film history, no Sasquatch has ever received the coveted statuette. The only appeal to the potboiler was its cast. John and Chris Mitchum, brother and son of screen luminary Robert Mitchum, were in the debacle … John Carradine taught me to play poker – and I paid dearly for the privilege.” After enduring long days in full gorilla makeup without filming a scene, Aleshia contacted her agent and, much to Slatzer’s chagrin, the Screen Actors’ Guild intervened.

Aleshia went on to work in television, and after earning a master’s degree, she taught film and theatre studies to supplement her income. She was married four times, and followed her successful autobiography with a novel and further memoir. After her death on July 1, author Gary Vitacco-Robles, who interviewed Aleshia for his 2014 biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, paid tribute on Facebook: “She was a brave and lovely woman. May Aleshia’s memory be eternal.”