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.”
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.”
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.”
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, 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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
In addition to the Marilyn Remembered itinerary for this year’s memorial week, sister group Immortal Marilyn is also organising a programme of events to commemorate the 55th anniversary of her death, including a pool party on August 2 at the Avalon Hotel (where Marilyn shot her famous Life magazine cover with Philippe Halsman back in 1952), and on August 4, a sunset dinner and toast at the Santa Monica Pier, a favourite haunt from childhood to one of her photo shoot with George Barris in 1962. There is also a tour of Marilyn’s Hollywood from LA Woman Tours on August 1, and of course, the annual service at Westwood Memorial Park on August 5 – more details here.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will be screened at the TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman’s Chinese) on Thursday, August 3, as part of the memorial week activities organised by Los Angeles-based fanclub Marilyn Remembered to commemorate the 55th anniversary of her death. George Chakiris, who danced with Marilyn in the classic musical comedy, will be a special guest. Tickets are going fast, so if you’d like to attend, book here.
Marilyn herself visited the Chinese Theater many times as a child, and famously signed her name in cement outside the venue alongside co-star Jane Russell shortly after the enormous success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953. The original, rather risqué costume for her signature ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number, and another Travilla gown (not seen in the movie, but subsequently worn by Marilyn at public events) will be displayed on the night, courtesy of collector and Marilyn Remembered founder Greg Schreiner.
For more information on the Marilyn Remembered itinerary for this year’s memorial week, click here.
Filmgoers in the San Francisco Bay area will celebrate Marilyn’s life and career at Moraga’s Rheem Theatre on Saturday July 15, for an evening including movie clips, Marilyn Wines, a lecture by Derek Zemrak and music from Patti Leidecker.
Artist Lucille Clerc‘s gorgeous rendering of Marilyn – inspired by Milton Greene’s ballerina sitting – adorns posters for this year’s Champs Elysees Film Festival, celebrating independent French and American cinema. (And while you’re in Paris, don’t forget to see Bert Stern’s photos of Marilyn at DS World.)