Marilyn Featured in Julien’s Hefner Sale

There are several Marilyn-related items in the Property From the Collection of Hugh M. Hefner sale, set for auction at Julien’s this Friday (November 30.) A personal copy of Playboy‘s first issue – featuring Marilyn as cover girl and centrefold  – is estimated at $3,000 – $5,000. Other lots include the 1974 calendar seen above, a tie-in with Norman Mailer’s Marilyn; several photographic books about Marilyn (by Janice Anderson, George Barris, Bert Stern, Susan Bernard and Anne Verlhac); a box decorated with a painting of Marilyn by Tony Curtis; a Marilyn-themed bowling shirt and tie; prints by Bruno Bernard, Milton Greene and Jack Cardiff; and a rather silly ‘trick photo’ appearing to show Hef checking out Marilyn’s cleavage (though in reality, of course, they never met.)

UPDATE: Hefner’s copy of the first Playboy issue was sold for $31,250.

Marilyn by Jack Cardiff

Marilyn’s Blu-Ray Double Bill

The recent Blu-Ray releases of Don’t Bother to Knock and Let’s Make Love from Twilight Time Video are reviewed by David Krauss for Hi-Def Digest.

“Don’t Bother to Knock offers the 26-year-old Monroe an especially rigorous dramatic workout as an emotionally disturbed young woman whose inner demons come to the fore while she’s babysitting a six-year-old girl in a New York City hotel … Despite her limited acting experience, Monroe tackles the tricky role well, juggling naïveté, passion, rage, and emotional distress with surprising aplomb. She also displays a heartbreaking vulnerability that makes us feel for Nell’s predicament despite her shocking and reprehensible actions. Though still rough around the edges and a bit studied, Marilyn’s work has a disarming authenticity, especially in her emotional scene … Don’t Bother to Knock, which runs a brief 76 minutes, begins sluggishly and the tale isn’t particularly well developed. Still, this throwaway B movie flaunts an impressive pedigree. Director Roy Baker, who would later helm the classic Titanic docudrama A Night to Remember, nicely builds tension, while cinematographer Lucien Ballard (The Wild Bunch) beautifully photographs Marilyn, maximizing the impact of every close-up.

Let’s Make Love is a pleasant, innocuous diversion, but it lacks the effervescence of more spirited romantic comedies. Though peppered by a few pointed barbs, Norman Krasna’s script meanders along, and the direction by the esteemed George Cukor is anemic at best …The only reason Monroe consented to do this inferior film was because she was desperate to fulfill her contractual obligations to Fox, which never really respected her talent and often saddled her with vapid, ornamental roles designed to exploit her sexuality. Yet despite looking a tad zaftig and occasionally glazed here, Marilyn does her best to rise to the occasion. She handles her free-spirited part like a pro, exuding marvelous warmth, sensitivity, and some welcome spunk. She’s at her best in a couple of lively musical numbers, the finest of which is her dynamite opening salvo, a coyly sexy, tongue-in-cheek take on Cole Porter’s ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ that stands as one of Marilyn’s finest screen moments.”

Marilyn Goes Wilder in ‘Some Like It Hot’

If you haven’t seen the new 4K restoration of Some Like It Hot on the big screen, there’s good news: it’s now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection, and with lots of extras too. Sam Wasson wrote ‘Some Like It Hot: How to Have Fun,’ an essay for the special edition, and while I don’t agree with him entirely (I believe Marilyn was a great artist), it’s an insightful piece. “I think it is way past time we celebrated Wilder for his women,” Wasson writes. “Look at the women. They’re Wilder’s heart.”

“More than any other director ever had or ever would, Wilder got Monroe inside and out, what she could do well and what she couldn’t. ‘The charm of her is two left feet,’ he said. ‘Otherwise she may become a slightly inferior Eva Marie Saint.’ Others had made the mistake of taking Monroe for an actress of real range; she wasn’t. Some took her only at face value, but she was, as we all know, something deeper than merely beautiful. Wilder split the difference. He understood that for all her sadness—which Some Like It Hot calls for—Marilyn the performer was a light comedian. Marilyn the woman was a girl …This wholesome innocence, coupled with that figure that suggests not-so-innocent things, let her have her cake and eat it too; it was the paradox that made her a star. ‘How do I know about a man’s needs for a sex symbol?’ she once asked. ‘I’m a girl.’

We know Marilyn is hot, but Wilder saw that she was warm too, and in Some Like It Hot, he permits her coziness to cuddle some clemency into his ruthless good time. She is the heart of the comedy, the only one not playing for laughs (though she gets them), and if you, like me, think she walks away with the picture, it’s because Wilder handed it to her. Rarely does Lemmon or Curtis have the screen to himself; Monroe often does. Her close-ups—a rare occurrence in Wilder country—reveal a girl twinkling with chaste enthusiasms. ‘Good niiiiiight, Sugaarrrr,’ Jerry stage-whispers to her across the train car. She pops her head out of her bunk, and after a vulnerable split second wondering who called to her, she opens into the most playful, the most self-nourished, the most sincere smile I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s not sexy. It’s genuinely happy. ‘Good night, honey!’

And here we are again, back to having a good time. ‘A good time’: not a phrase we readily associate with the famously heartsick Marilyn Monroe. Seeing her so happy must have been fun for Some Like It Hot’s 1959 audiences, but for us, knowing what we know about her depression and self-loathing and death, watching Marilyn truly enjoy herself is, today, the movie’s most painful pleasure. When she calls back, ‘Good night, honey!’ I’m probably not alone in feeling, in addition to delighted, very sad, and not because we lost in Monroe a great artist (she wasn’t), or a great beauty (she was), but because, in Some Like It Hot, it’s clear she was, at times, abundantly capable of enjoying life.”

What Makes ‘Some Like It Hot’ Timeless?

As the new 4K print of Some Like It Hot continues its big-screen run, Paul Whitington ponders its enduring appeal in the Irish Independent.

“I say timeless, but its enduring appeal has sometimes baffled me. After all, it’s set in the 1920s, was made in the late 1950s and its major theme is sexual politics and the illusory nature of love. Nothing dates quite so fast as attitudes to sex, and since the film was made, the western world has hurtled through flower power, the feminist awakening, the sexual revolution, the gay rights movement, same-sex marriage and #MeToo. Taking all that into account, Wilder’s film ought to be an offensive anachronism: so why isn’t it?

Perhaps because it was made not by an Eisenhower-era American, but by a sophisticated Weimar-era Berliner, who wasn’t shocked by much and instinctively felt that, within reason, anything goes. Some Like it Hot was way ahead of its time, and helped sound the death knell of a stifling puritanical movement that had muffled Hollywood’s wilder excesses for several decades.

It also laughed at Hollywood itself, the blindingly glitzy dream machine that had made billions of dollars flogging the fantasy of perfect love. There was nothing perfect about the love stories in Wilder’s film, in which men dressed as women fell in love with women and even other men, none of whom seemed too bothered when they discovered the truth.

Mitzi Gaynor, who’d initially been cast as sultry nightclub singer Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk, was replaced by Marilyn Monroe. Her presence would prove a mixed blessing … For all her neuroses, however, Monroe delivered a brilliant, pitch-perfect portrayal of a vulnerable but lovable young woman. She only made two more movies, and was dead within three years.

What’s so interesting about this film is the deep strain of compassionate realism beneath the music, the comic routines and the jokes. Wilder and Diamond’s story constantly suggests that romantic love depends on illusion. Joe (Curtis) falls for Sugar’s blinding glamour, but she’s a sad and dreamy girl who always picks the wrong guy. And she only falls for him when he pretends to be a super-wealthy oil tycoon.

The producers wanted to tinker with the finished film after it screened poorly for test audiences, but Wilder stood his ground.

‘This is a very funny movie,’ he said, ‘and I believe in it just as it is.'”

Remembering Nicolas Roeg, and ‘Insignificance’

Britain’s greatest arthouse filmmaker, Nicolas Roeg, has died aged 90. Born in London in 1928, he began his career in 1947 as a humble tea-boy at Marylebone Studios. By the 1960s, he was cinematographer for Lawrence of Arabia, Fahrenheit 451 and Far From the Madding Crowd.

In 1970, Roeg made his directorial debut with Performance, which starred Mick Jagger and has become a cult classic. Roeg followed it with Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth (starring David Bowie), Bad Timing, Eureka, Castaway, Track 29, The Witches, and Cold Heaven. His final film was released in 2007.

Roeg is also known to Monroe fans for Insignificance, the surreal comic fantasy based on Terry Johnson’s play, and starring Roeg’s then-wife, Theresa Russell, as ‘The Actress’, a character based on Marilyn.  It is one of the more successful films to feature Marilyn as a character. The story is set on the fateful night in September 1954 when Marilyn filmed her famous ‘skirt-blowing scene’ on a New York subway grate. Other characters included ‘The Professor’ (Albert Einstein), ‘The Ballplayer’ (Marilyn’s soon-to-be ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, played by Gary Busey.) In an ironic twist, ‘The Senator’, based on Joseph McCarthy, was played by Tony Curtis, Marilyn’s co-star in Some Like It Hot.

Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum reviewed Insignificance for the Chicago Reader:

“Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 film adaptation of Terry Johnson’s fanciful, satirical play has many detractors, but approached with the proper spirit, you may find it delightful and thought-provoking. The lead actors are all wonderful, but the key to the conceit involves not what the characters were actually like but their cliched media images, which the film essentially honors and builds upon … But the film is less interested in literal history than in the various fantasies that these figures stimulate in our minds, and Roeg’s scattershot technique mixes the various elements into a very volatile cocktail—sexy, outrageous, and compulsively watchable. It’s a very English view of pop Americana, but an endearing one.”

When Insignificance got the Criterion Collection treatment in 2011, Rosenbaum revisited the movie in an essay, which he has now posted to his blog:

“Insignificance pointedly doesn’t sort out the differences between fact and fancy; it’s more interested in playfully turning all four of its celebrities into metaphysicians of one kind or another … All this sport, to be sure, has specifically English inflections. These crazed American icons are being viewed from an amused and bemused distance, and much of the talk qualifies as fancy mimicry.

‘I didn’t write Insignificance because I was interested in Marilyn Monroe,’ [Terry] Johnson avowed in a 1985 interview with Richard Combs for the Monthly Film Bulletin (August 1985). This film occasioned an extensive rewrite and expansion of the original by Johnson, but even then he couldn’t be sure whether or not he’d ever seen The Seven Year Itch … One perk of his lack of interest in Monroe is complicating and confounding the popular notion of her as a dumb blonde — a stereotype that she’d helped to create herself — in order to shape and justify his outlandish plot.

The play stays glued over its two acts to Einstein’s hotel room. The film adds crosscutting and incidental characters … The new locations include not only the Trans-Lux Theater, but also a bar where McCarthy and DiMaggio nurse their separate grudges, and the shop where Monroe buys her demonstration toys. Perhaps the most significant additions are the brief, telegraphic, and sometimes cryptic flashbacks pertaining to the respective youths of Monroe, Einstein, and DiMaggio, and last but not least, the Elephant in the Room, the H-Bomb itself — which one might say puts in a crucial, last-minute appearance as the celebrity to end all celebrities, dwarfing and making irrelevant all of the others.”

Marilyn, Hefner and the Sex Tape That Never Was

Marilyn is the victim of yet another ‘fake news’ story today, as it’s been reported that Playboy founder Hugh Hefner dumped a sealed casket containing his vast collection of sex tapes into the sea before he died.  ‘Marilyn [Monroe] was definitely in them as well as many superstars who graced the pages of his magazine,’ an unnamed source told UK tabloid The Sun. While Hefner’s admiration for Marilyn is well-known, there’s a big hole in this story: by his own admission they never met.

Fake News: Marilyn in the ‘Examiner’

The US scandal sheet, National Examiner, has a typically ludicrous front page story this week. Inside, it is claimed that Marilyn killed her Misfits co-star Clark Gable with pills and sex. Needless to say, there was no affair between Marilyn and Gable, who was happily married and expecting his first child when he tragically died shortly after filming wrapped in 1960.

This is just one of many headlines over the years which has sought to blame Marilyn for Gable’s death. While her chronic lateness certainly tested his patience, Gable’s own poor health, his heavy drinking and smoking habits combined with his insistence on doing his own stunts, all contributed to his fatal heart attack.

The source for this story, the Examiner claims, is actor Charlton Heston, who supposedly told all on his deathbed in 2008. However, Heston never worked with Marilyn and was only seen with her once, at the Golden Globes in 1962. Why the legendary actor would have been talking about a woman he barely knew in his dying breath is never explained.

Thanks to All About Marilyn

Clash By Night: Marilyn’s Female-Led Noir

Over at Vulture, film critic Angelica Jade Bastien names  Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952) in a list of ’10 Female-Led Noirs’. Some might argue that Clash isn’t a classic noir, as it’s not set in a major city and no serious crimes are committed – but for me, its gritty treatment of post-war discontent, and repressed sexuality and simmering violence place it firmly in the canon. (I would argue that Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara also partially qualify, thanks to Marilyn’s gripping scenes with Anne Bancroft and Jean Peters, respectively.)

“What happens when the woman people view you as isn’t who you really are, nor who you want to be? Clash by Night poses this question by beginning where most noir ends. Mae Doyle (Stanwyck) has grown accustomed to a decadent life, but is forced to return to her hometown of Monterey, California, after that life falls apart. Soon, Mae settles into a life in which she’s uncomfortable, navigating marrying a gruff fisherman (Paul Douglas) and having a daughter quickly after. She finds herself drawn to the far more exciting, equally restless Earl (noir stalwart Robert Ryan). Clash by Night is a domestic noir bolstered by its rich insight into the ways women feel confined by society, as well as by its amazing direction by the legendary Fritz Lang and its performances, including a magnetic supporting turn by Marilyn Monroe. But it’s Stanwyck’s performance as a woman of temerity who is far too bold and yearning for the prosaic existence she finds herself trapped within that earns it a spot on this list.”

Secrets of the Marilyn ‘Lollapalooza’

Marilyn on The Jack Benny Show, 1953

In an article for ValueWalk, Mark Tobak applies superinvestor Charlie Munger’s ‘Lollapalooza’ concept to explain Marilyn’s enduring popularity.

“How has this remarkable woman and icon of the 1950s cast a worldwide spell that is still undiminished more than fifty years after her tragic death? Her image and persona earned a reported $27 million in 2011 (according to Forbes), just behind Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. While Elvis and Michael primarily market lucrative recordings, Marilyn earns millions with nothing but an image, a voice and a singular human presence in a small ouevre of movies, newsreels and television appearances.

Could she be a Lollapalooza? Yes! Witness six of Charlie’s cognitive distorting powers that combine to help Marilyn cast her delightful spell:

  1. 1)The Power of Incentive: Marilyn offers the untroubled love of a spectacular beauty to all who behold her, young or old, never rejects and never hurts.
  2. 2)The Power of Social Proof: Who would not be swept up in the adoring crowds, both male and female, who flocked to Marilyn’s film and public appearances?
  3. 3)The Power of Availability: In the 1950s Marilyn was everywhere: film, ads, photos, books, magazines, public, radio and TV appearances, and her famous USO tour.
  4. 4)The Power of Liking/Loving and Reciprocation Tendency: Most professional beauties seem elite and untouchable. But Marilyn seemed more like a deity who loves us all. Who would not love her back?
  5. 5)The Power of Pavlovian Association: Marilyn is pictured with all things good: beaches and pools, Coca-Cola, public events and celebrations, jewelry, gowns, new cars, vacations, and other celebrities basking in her glow.
  6. 6)The Power of Excessive Self-Regard: Marilyn appeals to the narcissism of every man who thinks he could win her, and inflates his ego with an illusory near-miss. Still he does not envy the high status males who did win her; they are his proxies. Women have often admired her without envy, devoted fans who may even see a bit of themselves in her, and her in them. Indeed a new book by Michelle Morgan, The Girl, notes that Marilyn was a businesswoman, and ‘an unlikely feminist.’
  7. Each of these six of Charlie’s powers, together with Marilyn’s extraordinary beauty, talent, intelligence, courage, fierce ambition and hard work, combined to make her a singular superstar, and to remain one to this day. And despite Hollywood’s formidable ability to concoct stars using plastic surgery, artifice, dress and makeup, lighting, writing, directing and cutting, there have never been any that reach the iconic status of Marilyn Monroe. Even those the studios promoted as ‘the next Marilyn Monroe.’
  8. As Charlie Munger has noted, unmasking these cognitive distorting powers does not diminish their efficacy. No one can halt a Lollapalooza. Take a look for yourself at Marilyn in her glory: romancing the hopelessly unlovable pennypincher, Jack Benny (see powers 1, 4 & 6 above) in a dream sequence on his 1953 TV program at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWdtCYWkwKM. Or entertaining spellbound and delighted US troops in Korea in 1954 (see powers 1,2,4 and 6 above) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDA0084gZWc. Certainly Charlie’s right: in this case, the whole has proven far greater than the parts — and longer-lasting as well.”