Oscars 2018: The Shape of Marilyn

Marilyn may never have won an Academy Award, but she is so intrinsic to Hollywood lore that fans can usually find a Monroe reference or two on Oscar night.  This year, a brief glimpse of Marilyn singing ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ in Some Like It Hot was featured in the opening ceremony’s roll-call of all-time greatest movies.

On the red carpet, Irish actress Saoirse Ronan – nominated for her role in the delightful Lady Bird – wore a beautiful pink sheath with spectacular bow, designed for her by Raf Simons, creator-in-chief at Calvin Klein. As some commentators have noted, the dress echoes the famous Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Blade Runner 2049 – which features a cameo appearance by impersonator Suzie Kennedy as a futuristic Monroe clone – won Englishman Roger Deakins this year’s Oscar for Best Cinematography.

And finally, The Shape of Water – in which Marilyn’s long-lost song, ‘How Wrong Can I Be’, is heard in full for the first time – was the night’s big winner. taking home four gongs, including Best Picture and Best Original Score.

Marilyn’s 90 Years Without Oscar

Anticipating this year’s Oscar ceremony, the current issue of Entertainment Weekly (dated February 23-March 2) features extensive coverage of the Academy Awards’ 90-year history. Of course, Marilyn never won an Oscar, nor was she even nominated. But her role in Some Like It Hot, which won her a Golden Globe, is mentioned in a list of legendary ‘Oscar disses.’

Although Some Like It Hot is her best-known film, Marilyn’s screen time was less than her co-stars. Were it not for her top billing, her performance would arguably be more suited to the Best Supporting Actress category. Marilyn’s bombshell image and flair for comedy both worked against her being taken seriously by the Hollywood establishment. But perhaps the most decisive factor was her rebellion against Twentieth Century Fox.

After winning her contractual battle with the studio, her acclaimed comeback in Bus Stop (1956) was overlooked by the Academy – a snub she never forgot. Her next performance, in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), won awards in Europe, while her last completed film, The Misfits (1961), was also her most mature dramatic role. But at the time, neither were particularly well-received in the US.

In 1964, columnist Sheilah Graham petitioned unsuccessfully for Marilyn to be given a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award. However, this is not standard practice within the Academy and thus is highly unlikely to happen now. Nonetheless, Marilyn’s films remain hugely popular and for many, she is the most enduring symbol of movies and glamour – proof, if proof were needed, that you don’t need an Oscar to be a legend.

Oscars 2017: Marilyn Takes a Cadillac to La La Land

Photo by Scott at Marilyn Remembered
Photo by Scott at Marilyn Remembered

Marilyn may never have won an Oscar, but she continues to make her presence felt at the world’s glitziest awards ceremony. Last night’s broadcast included a new Cadillac commercial, featuring vintage photos of famous faces and their cars – headed up by Marilyn, photographed by Milton Greene in 1954. You can watch the Cadillac ad here, and see more of Marilyn and her cars here.

Marilyn presents an Oscar for 'All About Eve', 1951
Marilyn presents an Oscar for ‘All About Eve’, 1951

One of this year’s biggest movies was La La Land, the nostalgic musical which tied with All About Eve and Titanic for the most nominations in Oscar history. All About Eve was a breakthrough role for Marilyn, and she would present soundman Thomas Moulton with an award at the 1951 ceremony (the only time she attended.)

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Screenshots by Daniel at Immortal Marilyn

Packed with Old Hollywood references – including this street mural – La La Land was named as best picture by Warren Beatty (who recently shared his memories of Marilyn.) However, it appears he was given the wrong envelope, as it was announced shortly afterward that this year’s winner was, in fact, Moonlight.

F5AAA0A7-4BCD-4C5A-8D96-36B4F1431236-COLLAGEActress Charlize Theron wore a gold lamé dress (and diamond earrings), designed by Christian Dior and strikingly similar to the iconic Travilla gown worn by Marilyn to the Photoplay Awards in 1953. Charlize was once mooted to star in an MM biopic (which was never produced), and appeared alongside a digitally recreated Marilyn – in her original gold lamé – for a J’Adore perfume ad in 2011.

Michelle Williams, nominated as best actress in 2011 for My Week With Marilyn, was up for best supporting actress this year in Manchester By the Sea, losing again to Viola Davis in Fences. As Immortal Marilyn member Phil noticed, Fences –  directed by, and starring Denzel Washington – apparently uses the same ‘New York Street’ set from the Twentieth Century Fox lot, as seen in Love Nest some 66 years ago.

Photo by Phil at Immortal Marilyn
Montage by Phil at Immortal Marilyn

Why Oscar Snubbed Sugar

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As another Oscar night looms, the Huffington Post notes that comedies have traditionally been overlooked. Some Like it Hot won just one in 1960 –  Best Costume Design ( for Orry-Kelly.)

The classic comedy lost out in five other categories (including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.) While Marilyn would win a Golden Globe for her role as Sugar, she was not nominated for an Oscar that year, and never would be.

Marilyn had previously been snubbed by the Academy in 1957, when her acclaimed performance in Bus Stop failed to gain a nomination, but her co-star, newcomer Don Murray, did.  She believed this was a deliberate punishment for her victorious battle with Twentieth Century Fox, and perhaps also for marrying Arthur Miller during his stand-off with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Simone Signoret, who won the coveted Best Actress award for Room at the Top, was then Marilyn’s neighbour at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Her husband, Yves Montand, was filming Let’s Make Love with Marilyn, and they would later have an affair.

As Hollywood’s leading sex symbol, whose niche was in comedy, Marilyn did not fit the profile of an Oscar winner. Her breakthrough dramatic role, in The Misfits (1961), would also be ignored.

Although she had top billing for Some Like it Hot, her screen-time was relatively short. If only she had been eligible for the Best Supporting Actress category, she might have pipped her pal Shelley Winters (who won for The Diary of Anne Frank) to the post.

‘Marilyn: The Quest For An Oscar’

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As this year’s awards season gets underway, many MM fans will bemoan the fact that she never won, or was even nominated for an Oscar. Of course, there will always be sceptics who believe she was more of a star than an actress. However, when we consider how many acclaimed films she appeared in, and how even her lesser works remain hugely popular, that opinion doesn’t hold much water.

Of the hundreds of books devoted to Marilyn, only a few have focused exclusively on her work in movies. Carl Rollyson’s pioneering biography, Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress is perhaps the cream of the crop, with honourable mention for Richard Buskin’s Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Crown’s Marilyn at 20th Century Fox, and Cindy de La Hoz’s Platinum Fox, although these books are more visually based.

Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar is the latest book to join this small pantheon. Author James Turiello has previously published a similar book about Errol Flynn, and is working on a third volume about James Dean. Turiello concentrates solely on Marilyn’s career, arguing that her unique beauty and charisma made her a kind of female counterpart to Flynn, whose acting credits were also overlooked by the Academy.

In agreement with most critics, Turiello singles out The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve among Marilyn’s best early films. He also praises her first starring role in Ladies of the Chorus, a B-movie musical that would otherwise have been forgotten. But to my surprise, he virtually ignores her performances in Clash By Night and Don’t Bother to Knock. Her comedic turn in Monkey Business and even her brief cameo in O’Henry’s Full House also deserve further attention.

1953 was the year when Marilyn became an international star, with a string of hit movies (Niaqara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire.) Turiello recalls his own experience of first seeing Marilyn on the big screen in two 1954 movies, River of No Return and There’s No Business Like Show Business. Although these are generally considered inferior vehicles, Turiello notes how Marilyn made the most of mediocre material, using her star quality to overcome other limitations.

The Seven Year Itch (1955) was, Turiello argues, Marilyn’s first Oscar-worthy role. He analyses this film in depth, and her brilliant later roles in Bus Stop, The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like it Hot and The Misfits, skipping over the less feted Let’s Make Love and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give.

Naturally, there are a few minor factual errors. As an author myself, I understand how difficult it is to get everything right – especially with a subject as fabled as MM. But I was a little disappointed to find some quotations commonly misattributed to Marilyn in a chapter devoted to her famous witticisms. In a chapter dedicated to trivia, Turiello also claims that she had an IQ of 168. While Marilyn was certainly an intelligent woman, there is no evidence that she ever took this test.

Of course, Marilyn is not the only performer neglected by the Academy. Turiello devotes a chapter to other talents who lost out. However, she is easily one of the most prominent names on that list. Turiello suggests that she should be given a posthumous Lifetime Achievement award. While many fans will agree, the Academy has never awarded a lifetime honour posthumously.

Marilyn: The Quest For An Oscar includes black-and-white photos on almost every page, and makes for a pleasant, undemanding read. Whether or not the Academy takes note, fans will certainly appreciate Turiello’s heartfelt crusade to champion Marilyn’s extraordinary achievements in cinema.

2015: A Year in Marilyn Headlines

10888615_10152588248917584_8987576087019859357_nIn January, Marilyn was named as the ‘new face’ of Max Factor cosmetics. Also this month, Joe Franklin (Marilyn’s first biographer) and Anita Ekberg, a fellow blonde bombshell of the fifties, both passed away.

In February, New York Fashion Week included a Fall 2015 collection from Max Mara, inspired by Marilyn’s 1960s style. A hologram of multiple Marilyns appeared in the Oscars opening ceremony. Also this month, Richard Meryman – the last person to interview Marilyn – passed away.

adf8341a9d7c6e436611f9b166316971In March, Marilyn was featured in a vintage-inspired ad campaign for Coca Cola. In book news, the long-awaited first volume of Holding A Good Thought For Marilyn, a two-part biography by Stacy Eubank, was published.

eubankMarilyn Forever, an opera by Gavin Bryars, had its US premiere. And Marilyn: The Strength Behind the Legendary Monroe, showcasing the collection of Ted Stampfer, opened in Liechtenstein.

In April, a viral hoax news story, claiming that a CIA agent had made a deathbed confession to Marilyn’s murder, was debunked. Plans for a monument to Marilyn in South Korea were announced. And in book news, Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe, edited by Marcelline Block, was published.

fan phenomIn May, Dr Cyril Wecht – one of the world’s most renowned forensic pathologists – gave an interview to Immortal Marilyn’s Marijane Gray, laying to rest some of the many myths about Marilyn’s death. Marilyn was the subject of two controversial TV shows: Autopsy – The Last Hours of Marilyn Monroe, a documentary; and The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, a mini-series based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography, starring Kelli Garner.

bfi monroe_season_posterOn June 1 – Marilyn’s 89th birthday – the British Film Institute launched a month-long retrospective of Marilyn’s movies, and a nationwide reissue of The Misfits. Menswear designer Dries Van Noten used iconic images of Marilyn in his Spring 2016 collection. A benefit performance of Bombshell (the Marilyn-inspired musical subject of TV’s Smash) spurred plans for a full Broadway run. And Marilyn Monroe: Missing Moments, a summer-long exhibit, opened at the Hollywood Museum.

jpegOn June 29, Julien’s Auctions held a Hollywood Legends sale dedicated to Marilyn, and her floral dress from Something’s Got to Give sold for over $300,000. Sadly, it was also reported that the ‘Dougherty House’ in North Hollywood, where Marilyn lived from 1944-45, has been demolished – despite protests from local residents. And George Winslow, the former child actor who appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, passed away.

hollywood-legends-catalogIn July, Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, a new book by Michelle Morgan, was published. Limited Runs launched the Red Velvet Collection, a US touring exhibition featuring Tom Kelley’s famous nude calendar shots of Marilyn, as well as rare photos by Gene Lester. In Los Angeles, the Andrew Weiss Gallery launched their own exhibition, Marilyn: The Making of a Legend, and published a catalogue, 17 Years.

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In August, the Marilyn Remembered fan club’s annual memorial service was held at Westwood Memorial Park, marking the 53rd anniversary of Marilyn’s death. It was reported that hip hop producer Timbaland would sample ‘Down Boy’, a ‘lost’ song recorded by Marilyn for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And the Daily Express published rare photos of a young Marilyn in Salinas.

In September, a large number of rare candid shots of Marilyn were auctioned by Profiles in History. A new exhibition, Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn, opened in New York. And Norman Farberow, the psychologist who contributed to the first official report on Marilyn’s death in 1962 , passed away.

wills marilyn in the flashIn October, Marilyn – in the Flash, David Wills’ stunning sequel to MM: Metamorphosis, was published. Members of Everlasting Star discovered rare photos of an early public appearance by Marilyn at the Hollywood Legion Stadium in 1947. October also marked Arthur Miller’s centenary, and the death of movie legend Maureen O’Hara.

In November, Marilyn’s blue gabardine suit from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was sold at Bonham’s for $425,000. Congressman Tony Cardenas introduced a bill to rename a Van Nuys post office after Marilyn. Cartier unveiled a new ad, featuring a diamond-themed homage to Marilyn. And the Writers’ Guild of America voted Some Like it Hot as the second funniest screenplay of all time.

And finally … in December, Marilyn-related items from the collection of Dame Joan Collins were sold at Julien’s Auctions, and Ferragamo launched a capsule collection featuring a Marilyn-inspired shoe. Over in Toronto, the TIFF Cinematheque launched a season of movies starring Marilyn and her greatest Hollywood rival, Elizabeth Taylor.

Multiple Marilyns Open the Oscars

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Multiple Marilyns graced the open ceremony of this year’s Oscars. In presenter Neil Patrick Harris’s musical tribute to Hollywood, Marilyn was mentioned in the same breath as Charlie Chaplin, another true immortal who never won an Oscar (except for a Lifetime Achievement award.)

The footage of Marilyn is lifted (of course) from her celebrated performance of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. You can watch the opening ceremony in full on the Oscars website (US only) or Youtube; and the Marilyn segment is here.

Marilyn in 1961: An Oscar-Worthy Misfit

At the 'Misfits' premiere, 1961
At the ‘Misfits’ premiere, 1961

“The sexpot goes serious, and the serious actresses go sexpot…it’s a weird year in 1961!”

Over at his Who Should Have Won the Oscars? blog, Robert James looks at the Best Actress category for 1961, noting that the nominations included two stars hitherto more celebrated for their beauty than acting – Audrey Hepburn (for Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and Sophia Loren, who won for Two Women. While I believe Sophia was a worthy winner, I agree that Marilyn should also have been nominated for her great performance in The Misfits. (She is also noted as deserving of a nomination for Some Like it Hot at the previous year’s Oscar ceremony, and I would argue that her earlier performance in Bus Stop should also have been recognised.)

‘Oscar-Worthy’ Marilyn as Sugar

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“Hey, Garbo never won, either. Monroe was never even nominated.” – Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

With awards season underway, Entertainment Weekly has named the 51 Greatest Performances Overlooked by Oscar – with Marilyn’s unforgettable turn as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot ranked fifth. (She did, however, win a Golden Globe for her role.)

“This film picked up several nominations for the men involved in making it, but there was no love for its lead actress that year—or any year. Maybe she was already too big a movie star. Maybe that blinded the Academy to a performance that was arguably the strongest ever from one of the 20th century’s most iconic stars. Monroe never got quite enough respect when she was alive, but there’s a reason she endures as a legend. Her ukulele-strumming Sugar Kane Kowalczyk almost tempts Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon out of the feminine disguises they’ve donned to hide from the mob. Sugar captures the allure and effervescence of a sex symbol while showcasing the warmth and soulfulness of the woman beneath. How much of that is thanks to the actress herself, and how much is her acting? That’s why it’s a great performance—almost as good as Norma Jean’s portrayal of Marilyn Monroe herself.” —Anthony Breznican

The Guardian‘s Paul Howlett also nominates Some Like it Hot among 10 Films that Kids Will Love – and So Will You…

“It must be said that Curtis looks quite the part as Josephine, Lemmon less so as Daphne; though putting both in close proximity to 50s sex goddess Marilyn Monroe as the vulnerable singer Sugar Kane is a comic gift that keeps giving, with the lovestruck Joe and Jerry permanently on the verge of being discovered, permanently on the verge of revealing their true selves, as it were, to Sugar.

In the hands of director Billy Wilder, this is actually a sophisticated sex comedy with uncomfortable hints of voyeurism, but much of that will sail straight over younger heads, leaving plenty of innocent, laugh-out-loud gender-swap farce…’Nobody’s perfect’ is Osgood’s legendary last line, but this fizzy, scintillating film is pretty close to it.”