Marilyn at Julien’s: Notes On Acting

Marilyn on the set for 'Let's Make Love' (Frieda Hull Collection)
Marilyn on the set of ‘Let’s Make Love’ (1960)

Among the many revelations to be found in the new Julien’s catalogue are a series of notes made by Marilyn on her work at the Actors Studio, where she once played Blanche DuBois in a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A black board notebook with red spine containing lined notebook paper with notes in Monroe’s hand. A very large letter ‘M’ is drawn inside the front and back covers. There are multiple notes written in another hand on the first page of the book, but the next page contains notes in Monroe’s hand in pencil with ideas for a ‘Street Car Scene’ reading in part, ‘begin with ? (1st grade happening Mexican boy accuses me of hurting him – having to stay after school it was nite [sic] outside – have place – concern because of Stan K. accusations plus – getting dress for Mitch trying to look nice especially since what Stan K. has said.’ The note also suggests she hum ‘Whispering while you hover near me,’ which is a song standard found in her notebook of standards in the following lot, only the lyric is ‘Whispering while you cuddle near me.’ The front and back of the last page of the book contain notes from acting class, including ‘during exercise – lee said let the body hang’; ‘2 exercises at one time/ cold & Touch/ one might not be enough for what’s needed’; and ‘sense of oneself/ first thing a child (human being) is aware of (making a circle) touching ones foot knowing himself is separate from the rest of the world,’ among others.”

Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)
Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)

Marilyn also studied the role of Lorna Moon in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, writing her lines twice to memorise them.

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Also on offer is an undated note which reads in part, “keeping all of the changes of pantomime & grimaces etc inside, then it forces the eyes – it all comes through the eyes”; and “Constantly practicing that letting go/ in which you don’t do in life which isn’t necessary or something/ feeling how it feels and practicing that/your spirit speaks.”

Marilyn and James Dean: The Love That Never Was

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Marilyn at the ‘East of Eden’ premiere, 1955

Actor James Dean is the latest subject – or victim – of celebrity biographer Darwin Porter, whose 2012 book, Marilyn at Rainbow’s End, was slated by fans. Co-written with Danforth Prince and due for publication in April, James Dean: Tomorrow Never Comes makes the eye-popping assertion that Dean was embroiled in a sado-masochistic relationship with Marlon Brando. And according to the Daily Mail, ‘Dean supposedly also had a fling with Marilyn Monroe when they spent two weekends a beach house on Fire Island, an idyllic getaway East of New York.’

The Daily Express has more detail, rendered in Porter’s trademark purple prose:

“Amazingly Dean dreamed of marrying Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Dean met Monroe in 1955 and the pair quickly adjourned to a romantic weekend at a beachfront cottage.

‘He was very loving, very romantic,’ Monroe told actress Shelley Winters. ‘I’ve agreed to marry him one day.’ But after several weeks they recognised that marriage would be disastrous.

‘Let’s admit the truth: both of us need babysitters,’ said Dean. Monroe agreed: ‘It wouldn’t work. We’d end up destroying each other.’ However even after they split Monroe remained possessive, berating him about his fling with Taylor.”

Marilyn did, in fact, visit Fire Island on several occasions during 1955, as the Strasbergs owned a holiday home there. Dean was friendly with the Strasbergs due to his association with the Actors Studio. However, no such tryst has ever been mentioned until now. As with the Brando story, it seems unlikely that an encounter between such iconic stars would take so long to be revealed.  (Porter has also claimed that Marilyn had affairs with Elizabeth Taylor and Ronald Reagan in his previous biographies, but once again, there is no solid evidence for this.)

In her 1989 memoir, Shelley Winters recalled seeing a Los Angeles preview of Brando’s film On the Waterfront with Marilyn and James Dean in early 1954. As Marilyn had just married Joe DiMaggio and was spending most of her time in San Francisco while in dispute with Twentieth Century-Fox, this seems questionable. However, Winters did know both Marilyn and Dean quite well, and some fans have suggested that the preview may actually have been Brando’s 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire.

James-Dean-coat

In any case, Winters’ memories did not suggest any intimacy between Marilyn and Dean. She recalled that after the movie, she and Marilyn drove to film director Nick Ray’s bungalow at the Chateau Marmont, and that Dean rode ahead on his motorcycle, ‘playing chicken’ with them – which angered and upset Marilyn.

Needless to say, the quotations attributed to Winters in Porter’s book do not appear in her own memoirs – which make no mention of an affair between Marilyn and Dean. And the quotations attributed to Marilyn do not appear in any other source.

Before his untimely death in September 1955, Dean was said to have been one of several actors considered as a possible co-star for Marilyn in Bus Stop (the part eventually went to newcomer Don Murray.) And director Henry Hathaway had hoped to pair Marilyn and Dean in a remake of Of Human Bondage. The film was later made with Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey.

Although they may have been united in countless tacky Photoshops, the only time Marilyn and Dean were connected publicly was at the 1955 premiere of his film, East of Eden. The event was a benefit for the Actors Studio, and Marilyn served as an ‘usherette’. She was accompanied by Milton Greene, and was later photographed with comedian Milton Berle – but not with James Dean, because he wasn’t there!

Marilyn and John Strasberg

 

Marilyn drives the black Thunderbird she later gave to John Strasberg

John Strasberg, son of Lee and Paula, will be familiar to MM fans as the lonely teenager to whom she gave her black Thunderbird. John’s sister, actress Susan Strasberg, published a family memoir, Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, in 1992.

John went on to become a teacher of acting, developing the ‘Organic Creative Process’, distinct from his father’s Method. His 1997 book on acting, Accidentally on Purpose, is also the title of a documentary.

Actress and writer Sheila O’Malley remembers attending a workshop taught by John on her blog, and also posts a chapter from his book where he recalls a lesson with Marilyn at the Actors’ Studio, working on a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“Marilyn and I rehearsed in the tentative fashion that is common when actors are exploring a new world. We did a lot of anxious searching in one another’s eyes. This longing for eye-contact is one of the things I remember most about her, as she trembled with the desperate hunger of a child for life, comfort, love. Beneath whatever mask I was presenting to the world, I trembled in the same way, but no one ever saw it, not even me.”

Read John Strasberg’s account in full here

Vintage Trailers: The Misfits

Film School Rejects have featured The Misfits among their favourite vintage trailers:

‘It’s truly fantastic that in this world of course, Clark Gable once made a movie with Marilyn Monroe. It’s even better that it’s an existential love story that plays like Streetcar Named Desire in the middle of Nevada.

The bonus is that Monroe is insanely good at paddle ball, even if it does lead to bar fights.

It’s the 1960s answer to the Western genre, modernizing it and placing a gorgeous blonde bombshell right in the middle of Gable and Montgomery Clift to see who can make it out alive.’

View trailer here