Becoming Marilyn Monroe, the new documentary about Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show (Marilyn: Forever Blonde), is set to have its world premiere at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs on April 10. Sunny recently spoke about her long-running stage role with Bruce Fessier of the Desert Sun.
“Why is Marilyn still fascinating more than 55 years after her death?
I think it has a lot to do with her softness. You can see it in her eyes in all of her photos … I have met young girls who came to the play and said they were big Marilyn fans and yet they had never seen a movie with Marilyn in it. Only her photos! They had fallen in love with an image.
After 10 years, what did you learn that was most interesting about her?
Maybe how absolutely terrified she was facing the press and yet how charming and witty she was at answering their questions, like coming up with something engagingly clever.
Have you learned to turn the Marilyn character on and off the way Marilyn did?
Funny you mention that because I think I might have an inkling as to how Marilyn must have felt around people. She couldn’t really just be herself … People come up to me and say ‘You play Marilyn Monroe?’ And if I just say yes, they are disappointed. But if I light up and sparkle a bit, and give them a little Marilyn look, then they go away happy.
How would you describe Marilyn’s state of mind on the last day of her life?
I lived that day on stage hundreds of times and I always felt Marilyn was feeling unloved and disillusioned. I play her reliving her life before an audience and deathly afraid that when her looks go and her body goes she will be nothing! I want to believe she didn’t purposely take her own life.”
Of all the Marilyn-inspired plays staged in recent years, Marilyn: Forever Blonde – a one-woman show starring Sunny Thompson – is perhaps the only one to win the hearts of fans as well as critical acclaim. And now Becoming Marilyn Monroe, Tammy Plimmer’s new hour-long documentary about the making of a star tribute, will have its premiere on April 10 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, as part of the American Documentary Film Festival.
“In 1952, a 10-year-old boy falls in love with a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a magazine. 47 years later he marries her. This improbable true story of a successful producer of musical revues who discovers a young girl from a small town in Northern Minnesota, marries her, and makes her the star of his one-woman theatrical tribute to Hollywood’s most famous star, Marilyn Monroe. This results in an award-winning, critically-acclaimed theatrical play with music, Marilyn Forever Blonde.”
On the anniversary of Marilyn’s death earlier this month, Los Angeles performance artist Alice Toohey created ‘Becoming Marilyn Monroe’, a unique installation reimagining her last day alive. She spoke to LA Weekly about the experience:
“The details of how Monroe spent her final hours are mostly conjecture, though most historians agree that she woke up that day sometime between 8 and 9 a.m. and died that night sometime between 8 and 10 p.m.
But Toohey isn’t aiming for historical accuracy — we know how the story ends. For her,Becoming Marilyn Monroe is part endurance test, part wish fulfillment and part emotional journey ‘about life and death,’ which has been years in the making.
‘I was always interested with the idea of women in their rooms, in their personal space, particularly women in the public,’ Toohey tells the Weekly. ‘What is their life like in their bedrooms? How do they spend their days? I want to create an opportunity to look into the possibilities of her life and to see that, if this was our last day, what would that be like for us?’
A Buddhist, Toohey was conceived on a Vermont commune and raised in Maine. She didn’t watch Monroe’s movies as a kid, though as a teenager she had a poster of Monroe in her iconic subway-vent pose from The Seven Year Itch. (‘Then she was larger than life for me.’) But what really piqued her admiration for the blond bombshell was a photo in a book of Monroe standing next to French actress Simone Signoret, who was married to Monroe co-star (and rumored lover) Yves Montand.
‘I just looked at her and something in me said, That’s a woman,’ Toohey says. ‘That is what I’m meant to grow into.’
Before moving to L.A. with her husband, Toohey performed a small theater role inspired by Monroe. But, over coffee at a shop in Glendale, she explains that two crucial events two years ago pushed her into fully immersing herself in Marilyn’s world: her father’s death and a miscarriage.”