Estelle Parsons Remembers Marilyn

Actress Estelle Parsons – best-known for her Oscar-winning role in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and more recently, TV’s Roseanne – spoke to the Huffington Post about studying alongside Marilyn at the Actor’s Studio.

“You studied at the Actor’s Studio. Did you study with Marilyn?
She was always nervous when she worked. It was interesting because she didn’t seem to be that way in real life. I was thinking about that the other day, what was that all about? It seemed to be the thing that sort of attracted people to her, this kind of vulnerability that showed up when she was working. She was sort of an ordinary hard-boiled person like the rest of us. We were friends when she was married to Joe DiMaggio, my first husband was a part of that whole set. But this strange kind of nervousness came over her when she worked and it was very appealing to everybody. Well, to men anyway.

You know she’s on the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair?
No really? I don’t know what that says about the current crop of young women around.”

Estelle at right of Marilyn

POSTSCRIPT: Estelle was also one of the TV reporters who interviewed Marilyn after the announcement of her engagement to Arthur Miller in 1956. View the footage here

Thanks to Fraser Penney

‘An Actress Prepares: Women and The Method’

This new, academic study of method acting in the US by Rosemary Malague features Marilyn, arriving at the Actor’s Studio in 1956, on its cover. You can order it in paperback or as an Ebook from the Book Depository.

“‘I’ve been waiting for someone to write this book for years: a thorough-going analysis and reconsideration of American approaches to Stanislavsky from a feminist perspective …lively, intelligent, and engaging.’ — Phillip Zarrilli, University of Exeter ‘Theatre people of any gender will be transformed by Rose Malague’s eye-opening study An Actress Prepares…This book will be useful to all scholars and practitioners determined to make gender equity central to how they hone their craft and their thinking.’ — Jill Dolan, Princeton University ‘Every day, thousands of women enter acting classes where most of them will receive some variation on the Stanislavsky-based training that has now been taught in the U.S. for nearly ninety years. Yet relatively little feminist consideration has been given to the experience of the student actress: What happens to women in Method actor training?’ An Actress Prepares is the first book to interrogate Method acting from a specifically feminist perspective. Rose Malague addresses “the Method” not only with much-needed critical distance, but also the crucial insider’s view of a trained actor. Case studies examine the preeminent American teachers who popularized and transformed elements of Stanislavsky’s System within the U.S.–Strasberg, Adler, Meisner, and Hagen– by analyzing and comparing their related but distinctly different approaches. This book confronts the sexism that still exists in actor training and exposes the gender biases embedded within the Method itself. Its in-depth examination of these Stanislavskian techniques seeks to reclaim Method acting from its patriarchal practices and to empower women who act.”

Jane Fonda Remembers Marilyn

In a CNN interview with Piers Morgan last week, Jane Fonda recalled meeting Marilyn:

“I was very, very drawn to her. To me, she was like a golden child. She radiated light and vulnerability. And I think that she was attracted to me as — she used to gravitate a little bit to me at parties, because she knew that I was not very secure, either. And she was fragile. I was very touched by her.

Michael Jackson, also, someone who was fragile. You know, both of them had these beyond famous iconic images. And yet in their innermost selves, they were very, very vulnerable, damaged people. And it was the tension between those two things, perhaps, that made them so brilliant in their — each in their own way.”

The daughter of actor Henry Fonda, Jane was eleven years younger than Marilyn. In her 2005 autobiography, My Life So Far, Jane explained how she decided to train at the Actor’s Studio after meeting Marilyn and the Strasbergs on the set of Some Like it Hot.

 

Marilyn’s Directors: Howard Hawks

Another extract from Peter Bogdanovich’s essay on Marilyn, published in Who the Hell’s In It? (2004)

“Monroe was frightened to come on the stage – she had such an inferiority complex – and I felt sorry for her. I’ve seen other people like that. I did the best I could and wasn’t bothered by it too much. In ‘Monkey Business’, she only had a small part – that didn’t frighten her so much – but when she got into a big part…For instance, when she started her singing (for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’), she tried to run out of the recording studio two or three times. We had to grab her and hold her to keep her there…I got a great deal of help from Jane Russell. Without her I couldn’t have made the picture. Jane gave Marilyn that ‘You can do it’ pep-talk to get her out there. She was just frightened, that’s all – frightened she couldn’t do it.”

Hawks thought Marilyn worked best in light comedy, and was sceptical of Method acting:

“Monroe was never any good playing the reality. She always played in a sort of fairy tale. And when she did that she was great…She was trying, for example, at the Actor’s Studio, to formularize her approach: She didn’t want to squander her energies. I’m not convinced it helped her at all. But that was her aim – to make it even more real.”

Inside the Actor’s Studio

In his 2004 collection of essays on movie actors, Who the Hell’s In It?, director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) recalled his sole encounter with Marilyn:

“Only one time was I in Marilyn Monroe’s presence, and she never would have known it. During the winter of 1955, I was sitting a row in front of her at a Manhattan acting class being conducted by Lee Strasberg. Marilyn was 29, at the peak of her success and fame – with seven years left to live – wearing a thick bulky-knit black woolen sweater, and no make-up on her pale lovely face. The two or three times I allowed myself to casually glance back at her, she was absolutely enthralled, mesmerised by Strasberg’s every word and breath.  In his autobiography, Arthur Miller, who would marry her the following year, wrote that he felt Strasberg, though worshipped by Monroe, was a heavy contributor to his breakup with the actress, and that the acting guru’s domination was self-serving and exploitative of her. From the glimpses I had of Marilyn, Strasberg certainly had her complete attention and support, but in a strangely desperate way. She didn’t look contented or studious; she looked quite anxious and passionately devoted to Strasberg as somehow the answer to her troubles.”

Marilyn and John Strasberg

Marilyn in 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

Washing Dishes With Marilyn

Marilyn at the Actor’s Studio, 1955, by Roy Schatt

Martha Coigney, who worked at the Actor’s Studio in the late 1950s, recalls meeting Marilyn Monroe in an interview with the Moscow Times. (Director Elia Kazan is named as the teacher here – he was a founder of the Actors Studio, as well as Marilyn’s friend.  By the time Marilyn joined, Lee Strasberg was the head teacher. Kazan was less active but still connected to the Studio, and probably kept a protective eye on Marilyn.)

“One of Coigney’s many tasks at the Actors Studio was to stop students who arrived late for class from entering the room until the first break. Monroe, whom Coigney recalls as a ‘lovely, sensitive woman that Hollywood typecast terribly,’ was invariably among that group.

Elia Kazan, the director conducting Monroe’s class, resolved to make an exception for the popular Hollywood actress. ‘When Marilyn arrives late, just let her in,’ he once told Coigney.

‘I can’t do that,’ Coigney told him. ‘I can’t make everyone else sit and wait and let her go in alone.’

‘Just do it,’ Kazan said.

But Coigney would not. When Marilyn invariably arrived late, Coigney would open the door, let Marilyn in and then invite the rest of the late students to enter with her.

This caused Kazan to have a private talk with the actress.

The next morning Coigney arrived at her usual early hour to open the studio and get it ready for the day’s work. A few minutes later Marilyn Monroe showed up.

‘What are you doing here so early?’ Coigney asked in surprise.

‘Kazan said he knew I would never come on time,’ Monroe explained. ‘But he said, Can’t you come early instead of late? So here I am.’ After a pause, Monroe added, ‘As long as I’m here, is there anything I can do to help?’

‘Sure,’ Coigney said, ‘you can help me wash the dishes.’

Monroe happily joined in cleaning plates and glasses.”

Louis Gossett Jr Remembers Marilyn

Louis Gossett Jr, who won an Emmy for his role in Roots and an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman, recalls working with Marilyn Monroe in his recently published memoir, An Actor and a Gentleman:

“The person I considered the most talented actor in my class was Marilyn Monroe. She would walk into class with Arthur Miller’s shirts tied at her waist, her feet in flip-flops, the sweet musky smell of Lifebuoy soap wafting after her. Her hair, pulled back with a rubber band, was always a little wet, as if she’d just stepped out of a shower. If she’d stayed with Miller, I believe she would easily have won five Academy Awards.

One afternoon I was sitting in my place on the Lower East Side when my phone rang. I picked it up, and a voice said, ‘Hi, Lou. It’s Marilyn.’ ‘Marilyn who?’ I answered, and when she said, ‘Marilyn from class,’ I had a genuine fit. She was asking me to be in her love scene from Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo at her next class. She was probably being nice to me because I wasn’t one of the stellar students in the class, like Sidney Poitier, and nobody else was asking me to do love scenes. But here she was, inviting me to play the sailor to her hot-blooded Serafina delle Rose.

I was a kid then, full of juice. I considered myself to be hot to trot, but I knew there was no way on earth I could play that scene. I was so starstruck, I wouldn’t have gotten out one word onstage. I must have stammered something, because she got off the line pretty fast, and I think it was Marty Landau who ended up playing that scene. (I happen to think Mr Landau is one of the most consummate actors I have ever seen on the stage or screen.) To this day, if I catch a whiff of Lifebuoy soap, my olfactory senses take over and I am undeniably aroused.”