Men, Movies and Marilyn

Ahead of TCM’s Marilyn movie marathon on August 4th, Rafer Guzman studies her impact for Newsday – arguing that, even in her most farcical roles, she was never just a dumb blonde.

“If people remember Monroe as a distressed damsel, that’s because of her personal life — failed marriages, failed pregnancies, a sorrowful death by drug overdose at the age of 36 — and not because of her movies. Monroe rarely played sad or tragic roles; her final film, 1961’s The Misfits, written by her soon-to-be ex Arthur Miller, is an exception. Rather, Monroe specialized in versions of herself: a regular girl from Little Rock or Colorado (though she was born in L.A.) who has grown up to be an actress, model or showgirl, all bubbles and energy and good cheer.

People also remember Monroe as a dumb blond — but again, she rarely if ever played dumb. Frequently in her movies, some poor chauvinist suddenly realizes there’s an intellect inside that hourglass figure. ‘That’s a very interesting line of reasoning,’ Ewell admits in The Seven-Year Itch after Monroe explains why she prefers married men. ‘Say, they told me you were stupid!’ says a spluttering businessman after hearing Monroe’s Shakespearean soliloquy on love and wealth in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In All About Eve (1950), a snobby theater critic corrects her manners, only to find himself corrected. ‘You have a point,’ he says. ‘An idiotic one, but a point.’

Despite the frequently condescending attitudes, there’s something wonderful about the way men interact with Monroe on screen. They tend to be Average American Males, a now-extinct species recognizable by their fedoras and enormous confidence. These fellas knew how to approach a girl, as long as she knew how to be approached; there were rules about these things. There’s a line that Richard Widmark uses on Monroe in Don’t Bother to Knock that men today can only dream of using: ‘Are you doing anything you couldn’t be doing better with somebody else?’ It worked, too!”

Celeste Holm 1917-2012

Celeste Holm at top right, with Marilyn in 'All About Eve'

Actress Celeste Holm – who played Karen Richards in All About Eve – has died aged 95, reports The Guardian.

Born in New York, Holm made her name as Ado Annie in the 1943 Broadway production of Oklahoma! She won an Oscar for Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947), and narrated A Letter to Three Wives (1949.)

After the success of Gentlemen’s Agreement, Holm asked Darryl F. Zanuck, head of Twentieth Century-Fox, for a pay increase. He responded by suspending her contract, and then ‘called the head of every other studio and said he had fired me because I was too difficult to work with.’

Celeste Holm, 'All About Eve'

Nonetheless, director Joe Mankiewicz cast Holm in All About Eve (1950) as Karen, best friend to temperamental stage star Margo Channing (Bette Davis.) According to Sandra Shevey, author of The Marilyn Scandal, Mankiewicz insisted that Holm be paid three times her contract salary. However, Zanuck got even ‘by having my dressing room put in the alley outside the soundstage. The others were inside.’

‘That girl will be a big star,’ said actor Gregory Ratoff, who played agent Max Fabian, during filming of All About Eve (1950). Holm rolled her eyes and retorted, ‘Why, because she keeps everyone waiting?’ To which Ratoff replied, ‘She has a quality.’

‘I confess I saw nothing special about her,’ Holm admitted. ‘My natural reaction was: “Whose girl is that?” She was scared to death, because she was playing in a pretty big league…I never thought of Marilyn as being an actress, even in the films she did later on.’

Holm was a friend of Dr Ralph Greenson, who became Marilyn’s psychoanalyst in 1960, and she would met Monroe at one of his house parties. This surprised Holm, perhaps because she considered herself to be part of Hollywood’s intellectual elite and had hitherto dismissed Marilyn as a dumb blonde.

Holm also noted that the young Marilyn idolised Betty Grable, with whom she would later co-star in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953.) This was confirmed by Grable herself, according to Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed.

Holm returned to Broadway, but later sang ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ with Frank Sinatra in High Society (1956.) In 1968, the won the Sarah Siddons award for Distinguished Achievement in Chicago Theatre. (Ironically, the Siddons award had featured in the storyline of All About Eve.)

Holm continued working in television and film until the early 1990s, and her former ambivalence towards Marilyn did not hinder her from appearing in various documentaries about her.

In recent years, Celeste Holm been treated for memory loss, and was in poor health for some time. She is survived by her sons and a fifth husband, opera singer Frank Basile.

Celeste Holm at 80



‘Forever Marilyn’ on Blu-Ray

Four of Marilyn’s funniest films – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot – will be released in Fox Video’s Forever Marilyn boxset on July 23. UK fans can pre-order now at HMV or Play.

A special edition Blu-Ray of Some Like it Hot, released in the US last year, is also coming to our shores on July 23. All About Eve is already available worldwide, but as yet, The Misfits is on sale in the US only.


Marilyn on Broadway

At a Broadway premiere, 1956

The Bowery Boys blog takes a look at Monroe movies with a Broadway connection – including All About Eve, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop. Her most succesful film, Some Like it Hot, was later adapted for Broadway.

I would add to that list Clash by Night (based on a play by Clifford Odets), and The Prince and the Showgirl (based on a London theatrical hit by Terence Rattigan.)

Because Marilyn played a showgirl so often, you could also count There’s No Business Like Show Business and Let’s Make Love. And her last film, The Misfits, was the first screenplay by playwright husband Arthur Miller.

Miss Caswell Steals the Show

Jerry Caesar reviews Marilyn’s show-stopping turn in All About Eve (1950):

“Bette Davis is the practised end of the spectrum and while Eve – as the alleged ingenue, all innocence and eagerness – should be her opposite pole, the most striking counterpoint comes from a short appearance by Marilyn Monroe. Then around 24, Monroe is a young actress on the make, and the moment she’s on the screen you stop looking at Davis. Now that’s power, and Davis must have known it.”

MM Film Season in NYC

Filming ‘The Seven Year Itch’, New York, 1954

Fourteen of Marilyn’s films will screen next month at New York’s BAM Rose Cinema, reports the New York Post

July 1: The Asphalt Jungle, Don’t Bother to Knock

July 2: The Seven Year Itch

July 3-4: Some Like it Hot

July 5: Bus Stop

July 6: Monkey Business

July 7: How to Marry a Millionaire

July 8: Niagara

July 10: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

July 14: River of No Return

July 15: The Prince and the Showgirl, Let’s Make Love

July 16: All About Eve

July 17: The Misfits